The purpose of our Best Consumer Camera of 2010 poll, as we stated on the voting FAQ page, was to find the camera that would appeal to the most Digital Camera HQ readers, the compact point-and-shoot with the best combination of performance, features, and low price. After one month of voting and much deliberation among the Digital Camera HQ staff, the Best Consumer Camers of 2010 is...
Winner: Panasonic Lumix FH20
We knew that we liked the FH20 pretty early on this year, and we were pretty sure that it would catch on with readers as well -- we just didn't expect it to catch on to the degree that it did. The FH20 garnered almost one-third of all reader votes, and 50 percent more votes than the second-place Canon SD1300.
For a few years, Panasonic has been the go-to manufacturer for thin cameras with huge zooms that somehow maintain excellent image quality. It's a popular configuration, one that almost any kind of photographer can benefit from; a little extra zoom comes in handy every now and then, and won't get in the way the rest of the time.
But these thin Panasonic zoomers have been pricey, usually selling for at least $250. Now that there's an affordable model in the FH20, consumers are snapping it up in droves.
Based on voter comments, the FH20 has been a big hit because of that thin frame/big zoom combination, and also because it's pretty cheap -- as little as $150 through some retailers, though the average price (at the time of writing) is more like $170. The performance is quick and smooth, the auto modes (particularly iAuto) are accurate and easy for anyone to use, and the image quality is very solid considering the cost. Its HD video capability is always a welcome feature, too. We have been a bit generous in our assessment of the FH20's low-light ability in our comments section, but we still believe that its performance in dim lighting is commensurate with that of a more expensive camera.
Other cameras in this poll have the FH20 beat in a certain aspect; the Canon SD1300 has better image quality, the Sony W370 has a richer feature set, and the Nikon S4000 has a slicker interface. But the FH20 is incredibly well-rounded, and as such appeals to a huge range of photographers, from complete novices to casual shooters to hobbyists and even advanced users. It's clearly not meant to be a photo enthusiast's primary camera (those are far more expensive), but it could work as a reliable, affordable, pocket-sized backup.
As our reviewer said about the FH20 back in February: “I'm typically reticent to recommend a camera to a huge variety of users. Most cameras, no matter how good they are, work best for certain niche groups ... but I think nearly anyone, regardless of skill level, age, camera abilities, or expectations, would be pretty satisfied with the FH20.”
We were looking for the camera with the most mass appeal, the one that would work for most people in most situations for the most reasonable price. This year, it's the Panasonic FH20.
1st Runner Up: Canon SD1300 IS
Canon's Digital ELPH series (or those given the SD tag), have been the most consistent pocket-sized performers since the digital age began. While they're not always the most feature-packed cameras on the market, ELPHs have always produced stellar images for the style-conscious consumer -- and have consequently sold by the bucketload.
The SD1300 IS doesn't stray far from this tested tradition, offering an average feature set paired with typically superb Canon build quality. Notable specs include a 4x zoom, image stabilization, a slew of automatic scene modes, and decent handling for a camera so small. At this price point Canon skimped out on a couple things, most notably HD video. The omission of a viewfinder (which is great for bright daylight) is an odd choice as well considering that it was one of the features that set its predecessor, the SD1200, apart from the pack (that camera is still readily available, for less than the SD1300 too).
But all told there's really very little to complain about with this little beast, and it may have even garnered the top spot if it had a longer zoom range and a video mode that wasn't stuck in 2004. As it stands, the SD1300IS offers the best image quality of any camera on this list in a compact, trustworthy, and affordable package.
2nd Runner Up: Sony Cybershot W370
In third, we have the Sony W370. The Cybershot brand name has a great reputation among consumers, and these models tend to have more stylish designs than the competition. The W370 has a slick feature set to match its exterior, including a generous 7x zoom, HD video, and iSweep panorama, all stuffed into a compact frame. Our reviewer had a generally positive experience with the W370, citing the ease-of-use and the aforementioned iSweep mode.
Judging by the voter comments, that feature set helped it grab votes, as did the Sony nameplate. The electronics giant has been so influential for such a long time that they'll have an audience for just about any gadget they release.
While the features are impressive, other expert and user reviews found that the imaging performance leaves something to be desired. It's a bit on the slow side and there are some focusing issues, resulting in a few too many soft-looking shots. The Sony-brand lens is a point of contention for disgruntled commentators, and it's just 34mm (equivalent) at the wide angle, which is uncommonly narrow; group shots will be tough with this camera.
Regardless, the W370 is, overall, a solid camera for the price, and plenty of consumers will find the the feature set appealing, particularly Sony enthusiasts who have some old Memory Stick media cards laying around.