Another factor to consider is how much control you want over the quality and artistry of your photography, now and in the future. If you envision wanting to experiment with the camera’s settings to see what effects you can create, then you will want a camera that will allow you to take greater manual control of the settings as you grow as a photographer.
Our Best Digital Cameras Under $200 For 2021:
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Choosing a Camera for Selfies, Portraits, and Pets
If you take lots of selfies of you and your friends, then one of the most important features for you is a wide angle lens, especially if you take selfies of large groups of friends. PC.com and Ars Technica recommend cameras that have wide-angle zoom ranges of at least 28mm or 24mm. The lower the number, the wider the angle and the more the camera will include in the photograph from side to side.
For portraits, you will want a camera with a zoom lens that can range from around 150mm or 100mm to the wider angles that are best for selfies. This range lets you capture your photographs from a greater distance so that you can capture candid shots or include some of the background in the image. You can then use the background to tell some of the story of the photograph. For example, a vacation shot with an iconic landmark in the background or a photograph of your child with a newly won award that shows previous awards in the background.
Portrait scene modes give priority to readings taken from your main subject when choosing the settings for the camera, but some also take into account readings from the background so that it also appears sharp and in focus.
Face recognition and smile recognition software comes with most cameras and operates automatically when the camera is set to such automatic scene modes as portrait mode or night portrait mode. Cameras with face recognition choose the face that is closest to the camera as the main subject but some recognize two, three, or more additional faces and use those faces as well as the main subject to determine the camera settings that will produce the best portrait.
You can set the shutter delay button on some cameras to automatically delay taking the photograph until the moment someone smiles. Some cameras with face recognition also can be set to delay taking the photograph until a new face, the photographer’s face appears in the picture.
Some cameras recognize the faces of children separately from those of adults, and some let you choose whether to give the priority for smile recognition to the child’s face or the adult’s face.
Some cameras with face recognition also come with pet recognition or even software that specifically recognizes cat faces and dog faces. Cameras with pet recognition software usually have automatic scene modes for pet portraits. Face and pet recognition software make it easy to capture great photos of fast-moving kids and pets.
An additional factor to consider when choosing a camera for selfies and portraits is whether you shoot most of these images indoors, outdoors, or both. You should refer to those sections of this article to read about other camera features that will help you to capture the best images possible.
Choosing a Camera for Indoor and Low Light Photography
To you and your eyes, normal indoor lighting appears sufficiently bright. You certainly wouldn’t regard it as a low light setting, but your camera does.
In low light settings, your camera is less able to distinguish between true white and light gray, so the autofocus may treat a shade of light gray as if it were white, throwing off the recognition of light and dark neutrals and colors for the entire image. That is why indoor photographs can come out so much darker than you expect.
Automatic scene modes for nighttime, low light, and various indoor and low light situations change the camera settings so that the autofocus is more likely to correctly recognize true white instead of substituting a light gray.
While some cameras limit you to the automatic settings chosen by the camera, others allow you to take varying degrees of control of the setting to achieve better focus.
Even within the scene modes, some cameras will allow you to lighten or darken the settings the camera has chosen by up to three settings.
While it may seem the opposite of what you would think, if an indoor setting is too dark, you should darken the image by decreasing the exposure compensation or exposure value by -1 to -3. Darkening the settings enables the camera to distinguish more variations among the darker areas of the image so that it is more likely to distinguish true white from light gray.
Another option that may seem slightly more scary is to take the camera out of autofocus mode so that you have more manual control over the camera. With the camera out of autofocus and scene mode, you have several options without taking full manual control of the camera:
- Digital cameras automatically focus on the object at the center of your image that is closest to your camera and use it as the main subject because that is how most photographs are composed. If your camera has a touch screen, however, you may be able simply to select an area of your touch screen where there is a high contrast between dark and light that is about the same distance from your camera as the subject you want to photograph and set the camera to focus on that area. Then, compose your image with your subject at the center and shoot your photo. If you don’t have a touch screen that allows you to change the camera’s focal point, then turn the camera to center an edge where black and white are in sharp contrast, push the shutter button halfway down and hold it in that position while you turn back to compose your image with your subject where you want it to be in the final photograph, and then push the shutter button the rest of the way down.
- With film cameras, photographers choose films that capture light at different speeds to compensate for different photographic situations. The ISO settings on digital cameras determine the camera’s sensitivity to light and correspond to the speeds of the various types of film. Higher numbered ISO settings of 800, 1600, and higher are for low light situations. Look for a camera with an ISO setting of at least 800 and choose that setting or a higher one for nighttime and low light photography.
- Most digital cameras that give you some manual control of the camera, even if it’s limited control, will allow you to set the camera to give the priority to either an aperture setting or a shutter setting that you choose. In aperture priority mode, you choose how far the aperture or lens of the camera opens when it takes the photograph. The wider the opening, the more light the camera absorbs for the picture. The camera then adjusts the shutter speed and the ISO setting to complement your chosen aperture setting. In shutter priority mode, you choose how quickly or slowly the shutter opens and closes. The more slowly the shutter operates, the more light the camera absorbs. The camera then adjusts the aperture and ISO settings to complement your chosen shutter speed.
Because low light and nighttime photography requires very slow shutter speeds, look for a camera with image stabilization. Most cameras have it. Optical image stabilization stabilizes the image before capturing the photograph, so it is the best option. Digital image stabilization uses the camera’s image processing software to correct the blur caused by movement after the image has been taken. Once the camera has made these adjustments, it’s difficult to correct them if the camera didn’t quite get the correction right. Some cameras combine both types of stabilization.
Even if your camera has image stabilization, you should consider purchasing either a full size or tabletop tripod for your camera if you take a lot of low light photographs. In most cases, though, if you are using a tripod, you should turn optical image stabilization off because when a camera is mounted on a tripod, the movements of the stabilization mechanism in the lens can cause vibrations that result in image blur.
When you’re working with a digital camera, you can use scene modes or autofocus when you are trying to capture a shot that may last only a fleeting moment, but you can improve your photographs by experimenting with your camera’s settings whenever you know you will be able to retake the image if you don`t like some of your results. You can always use delete so that no one will ever see the ones you don’t like. The more you experiment with your camera, the more you will know about what it can do and which settings you like in different situations.
Choosing a Camera for Sunrises, Sunsets, and Brightly Lit Beach and Snow Scenes
Sand, water, and snow reflect sunlight which creates the opposite of the issues created by low light. In brightly lit scenes, digital cameras can have a problem distinguishing between white and the lighter colors in the scene, so the lighter colors such as pale yellows and oranges may all appear as white in the photograph. Even though the rest of the sky may be dark, the bright sun on the horizon creates the same problem for digital cameras when you try to photograph a sunrise or sunset.
Many cameras have automatic scene modes for beach and snow scenes, and some also have a scene mode for sunrises and sunsets. If the lighter colors are missing in your photograph and too much of the image appears as white even though you’ve used a scene mode like beach or snow, lightening the image by increasing the exposure compensation or EV (exposure value) by +1 to +3 and retaking photograph in the scene mode may help the camera distinguish more of the lighter tints of color.
As with low light photography, if you are able to take your camera out of auto and scene mode, you gain some manual control of the camera’s settings without taking full manual control.
- Again when dealing with a scene with a brightly lit area surrounded by dark areas, focusing the camera on the border between those areas and then recomposing the image as you want it to appear in the finished photograph helps the camera better distinguish between the many shades and tints of both dark and light areas.
- ISO settings of 100 or lower reduce the camera’s sensitivity to light and the amount of light absorbed in the finished photograph.
- Using aperture mode to reduce the size of the lens opening or using shutter mode to increase the shutter speed are other ways to reduce the amount of light absorbed from a very bright scene.
Again, digital cameras set you free to experiment with the camera’s settings in situations where you can easily reshoot the image.
Choosing a Camera for Outdoor and Nature Photography
Beach and snow scenes are specialized outdoor photographic situations that can create problems for digital cameras. If you are primarily interested in outdoor and nature photography, however, there are more general considerations to keep in mind when choosing a camera.
If your favorite nature shots are wide open, expansive panoramas or close-ups of flowers, then you definitely want a camera with a wide angle option. However, if you also like to photograph birds and wild animals, then a camera with a versatile zoom lens that can go from wide angle to telephoto range is your best choice. For telephoto photography, both Ars Technica and PC.com recommend lenses with an optical zoom range of at least 200mm to 400mm, and lenses with longer ranges are available.
Optical zoom lenses focus in tightly, at a narrow-angle, on distant subjects. This helps assure that the light absorbed by the camera for its readings comes mainly from your subject and is less influenced by the background.
Digital zoom can extend the range of your optical zoom lens, but digital zoom functions like the crop feature of image editing software. It simply enlarges the area of the photo that you select and crops the image down to your selection. If the resolution of the image isn’t high enough for the required enlargement, digital zoom can create a blurred, indistinct image. For this reason, it’s better to rely on a camera with more pixels and an extended optical zoom range than on a camera that relies on an extended digital zoom range.
Because of the tight focus, images taken through optical zoom and super zoom lenses can easily be blurred by camera shake from a handheld camera. For that reason, it’s best to purchase a tripod for your camera for this type of photography.
If you are certain that your subject won’t be startled or suddenly decide to leave the area, you should check to make sure that the animal, bird, or object you are photographing is completely in focus from front and to back. Focusing in tightly reduces the depth of field or the area in the foreground and background that is in focus. You may have to widen out the focus of the shot to also widen the depth of field and keep your entire subject in focus.
Choosing a Camera for Action Photography
When considering a camera for action photography, one important feature is the camera’s ability to track your main subject using continuous focus. In continuous focus mode, you focus on the subject, and then the camera uses reading of how far the subject is from the camera, the direction of motion, and the speed of motion to predict where your subject will be and stay in focus. The camera uses color, shape, and in the case of human and animal subjects, face recognition to track your subject.
You can use continuous tracking mode in portrait mode and pet portrait mode. Most cameras also have a scene mode for sports photography.
If you are taking photos from the bleachers as your child participates in a sport, you’ll want a zoom lens with a range of at least 200mm to 400mm.
Action photography requires capturing the image quickly without the opportunity to absorb much light, which is a similar situation to capturing images in low light when there isn’t much light to absorb. Using a high ISO setting increases your camera’s sensitivity to the light that will be available at the faster shutter speed needed to capture a still photo of the action.
Choosing a Camera for Travel
When you’re traveling, you are likely to be taking photographs in a wide variety of situations – selfies, low light, bright light, indoors, outdoors, panoramas, telephotos, close-ups, action shots, and shots of architecture. You’ll want a very versatile camera with a wide ISO and zoom range. If you scuba, you may want to consider a camera that has scene modes for underwater photography from a manufacturer who offers a waterproof case as an accessory.
Choosing a Camera for Capturing Video
While some vloggers (video bloggers) have switched to 4K for their blog posts and say that they can tell the difference between 4K and 1080p HD on the internet, 1080p HK has been the standard for a while.
Videos shot in 1080p still look fine on HD TVs and on the internet, and they take up less storage space than 4K videos. If you are shooting videos to share on the internet, you don’t have to rush to begin shooting in 4K. The resolution of videos shot in 1080p will still look professional when posted on a vlog.
If you share videos with family and friends by email, you will want a camera that shoots videos in 720p. Videos shot at this resolution have smaller file sizes which means that they upload and open more quickly when your recipients receive them.
When you are capturing video, you will definitely want continuous tracking of your subject, even if you are moving with your subject. If you are moving with your subject as you shoot, you will need optical image stabilization. You will also want a camera with a zoom lens so that you can vary your shots, showing the overall scene some of the time and then closing in on a smaller group or just on your main subject at other times.
Because the camera’s built-in microphone can pick up the noise from the zoom lens as it operates, you should look for a camera that either has noise reduction or a jack for a separate microphone. If you shoot outdoors, look for a camera with wind noise reduction.
Other Features to Consider When Choosing a Camera
Built-in Wireless Connections
Built-in Wi-Fi allows your camera to connect to the internet from anywhere where you have or can find a Wi-Fi connection. That means you can upload your photos or videos to your social media accounts or cloud storage while you’re out and about, clear your internal storage, and take more photos and videos.
Built-in Bluetooth lets you connect wirelessly to other Bluetooth devices so that you can share your photos with others or print them directly from your camera.
Built-in NFC (Near Field Connection) lets you instantly share photos and videos with other NFC devices by simply touching the NFC connection points together.
Built-in wireless connections also can let you control your camera remotely from your cell phone or tablet so that you can, for example, put yourself in the photograph without having to rely on the camera’s timer delay or face recognition features. Taking control of the camera remotely also eliminates the chance that pressing the shutter will cause the camera to move and blur the picture.
Full Manual Control
If you are more comfortable relying on the camera’s autofocus and scene modes and you have no desire to use some of the tips for taking even partial control of your camera’s settings, then a fully automatic camera is for you.
If you think that you or some member of your family might want to experiment with your camera’s settings at some point, then you should look for a camera that gives you the option of taking both partial and full control of your camera’s settings.
Scene modes and built-in filters may provide the option of, for example, enhancing the mood of a picture by applying warmer or cooler tones or more vibrant colors. If you have full manual control, however, you have more choice over the degree of the changes that are made, whether it’s changing the warmth, coolness, vibrancy, brightness, contrast, or some other adjustment that creates an image that conveys the feelings or message that you want to convey.
Full manual control frees you to become an expressive artist. Full manual control allows you to develop as a photographer without having to replace your camera or thwart your development as you are learning.
Neither choice is superior. The choice depends solely on why you take pictures.
The Candidates for Best Digital Camera Under 200
The Canon Powershot ELPH 190 IS takes photos at a resolution of 20 MP. You can enlarge photos with this resolution to poster size to frame and hang on your walls or give them as gifts without worrying that the images might become blurred or pixelated. You might even be able to sell your photographs.
The zoom lens has an optical zoom range from 24mm to 240mm with an additional optical zoom or 40x which is equivalent to 960mm. This is a good range for selfies, landscapes, architecture, and mid-range portraits and still life photos that include some of the background. If you want to shoot more distant subjects, you should look for a camera with a greater optical zoom range.
This Canon Powershot also offers scene modes for portraits, backlit subjects, and low light situations.
The ELPH 190 includes optical image stabilization, a continuous focus for tracking your subject, and face recognition. You can use the settings for the shutter delay timer to tell the camera how many faces should be in your photo so that the camera waits to snap the shutter until the right number of faces are in the photograph. You can also select the camera’s ISO speed, shutter speed, or aperture setting or use P mode to take full manual control of the camera.
You can use the ELPH 190 to capture video in HD at a resolution of 720p. While 1080p is the standard used by vloggers, you can share videos of this resolution on the internet, and it is the best size for videos shared by email.
The ELPH 190 has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities which means that you can upload your images directly to the internet from your camera, share photos with other NFC devices, control your camera remotely from your smartphone or tablet, and print directly to PictBridge printers.
All of this makes the ELPH 190 a versatile camera for most photographic situations. However, if you want to use your camera for vlogging,
- Face recognition which can be tied to a shutter delay timer
- Optical image stabilization
- Tracking of the main subject
- Scene modes for backlit and low light settings
- Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC allows sharing of photos, upload to internet, and controlling the camera remotely from your cell phone or tablet
- Varying degrees of control of camera settings from partial to full control
- Optical zoom range extends only from 24mm to 240mm relying on the additional 40x digital zoom for telephoto photography
- Captures HD video but only at a resolution of 720p
- Lacks built-in Bluetooth connectivity
Like the ELPH 190, the Sony Cyber-shot DSCH300 takes JPEG photos with a resolution of 20 MP, but it has a greater optical zoom range, from 25mm to 875mm. Its ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 for brightly lit scenes to 3200 for low light, night, or action photography.
The Sony DSCH300 offers face recognition as well as smile recognition. You can set the shutter delay button to wait until it recognizes a smile on your subject’s face, and when you are photographing an adult and a child, you can set the smile recognition shutter delay to give priority to the child’s smile or the adult’s smile. When you use smile recognition in portrait mode with Intelligent Scene Recognition, the camera chooses the best settings for the faces in your portrait but also uses scene mode to ensure that the background behind your subjects is well focused and well lit.
Tracking focus tracks a moving subject for you.
The Sony DSCH300 also lets you take 180° or 360°panoramas by sweeping the camera horizontally or vertically.
As already mentioned, this Sony Cyber-shot has a portrait and sweep panorama scene modes. It also has scene modes for night portraits, landscapes, night scenes, pets, fireworks, snow and beach scenes, and a high sensitivity setting for shooting in low light settings without a flash to capture candid shots, images of sleeping children or pets, or shots of wildlife. Gourmet mode adjusts the colors to show food at its most appealing while party mode optimizes the flash and color settings to capture bright, vibrant colors.
P mode lets you take partial control and select, or program some settings while letting the camera adjust the rest, and M mode gives you full manual control of the camera.
When shooting movies, you can choose between HD at a resolution of 720p for videos you want to share by email or full HD at a resolution of 1080p for videos you want to upload to social media or show on your TV.
Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization lets you walk and move to follow your subject while shooting still images or videos.
The DSHD300 does not have built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or NFC connectivity that would allow you to control the camera with your phone, share photos and video instantly, or upload videos and photos to the internet from the camera anywhere you had a Wi-Fi connection. However, you can upload photos wirelessly by purchasing an Eye-Fi card separately.
- Optical zoom range from 25mm to 875mm
- ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 3200
- Face and smile recognition with shutter delay timer tied to smile recognition.
- Tracking focus to track your subject
- Portrait mode paired with Intelligent Scene Recognition selects the optimal camera settings for your subjects and the scene behind them
- Shoots 180° and 360° vertical or horizontal sweep panoramas
- Scene modes for portraits, night portraits, landscapes, night scenes, pets, and low light photography without a flash
- Captures video in HD 720p and HD 1080p
- No built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or NFC connections
- Cannot control the camera remotely from a phone or tablet
- Does not capture video in 4K
The Kodak PIXPRO AZ421 offers a resolution of only 16 MP, but it has an optical zoom that ranges from 24 mm to 1008mm with an additional 4x of digital zoom. It includes optical image stabilization.
The AZ421 adds wink detection and pet face recognition to face recognition and smile detection, and you can set the shutter delay to delay releasing the shutter until it recognizes a wink, smile, or human or pet face. You can use wink detection to control the camera remotely by delaying the shutter until the camera detects a wink and then deliberately winking after you have positioned yourself in the scene. Setting the shutter to activate when it recognizes a pet face makes it much easier to get photos of your active pets. The camera also will track moving subjects.
The camera has scene modes for capturing portraits, night portraits, landscapes, sunsets, night landscapes, panoramas up to 180°, sports for capturing high-speed action, children, pets, and snow scenes.
This Kodak PIXPRO lets you shoot videos in HD at a resolution of 720p, which is fine for sharing by email or on the internet. If you want to attract viewers to a vlog, though, you should choose a camera that lets you shoot in HD at a resolution of 1080p at the minimum.
If you want to take partial control of the camera, you can select P mode to change the exposure value, S mode to select the shutter speed, or A mode to select the aperture opening. Selecting M puts you in full manual control of all of the camera’s settings.
The AZ421 lacks built-in wireless connection, so you will not be able to control your camera remotely with your tablet or cell phone. However, you can upload photos wirelessly with an Eye-Fi card which can be purchased separately.
- Optical zoom that ranges from 24 mm to 1008mm with an additional 4x of digital zoom
- Face, smile, wink, and pet recognition which can be used to activate the shutter
- Scene modes for portraits, night portraits, landscapes, sunsets, night landscapes, panoramas, sports, children, pets, and snow scenes
- Shoot videos in HD but only at a resolution of 720p
- Lack built-in wireless connectivity, but an Eye-Fi can be purchased separately
The Sony DSC-W830 Cyber-shot captures images at a resolution of 20 MP. Its zoom lens ranges from a wide angle of 25mm to a telephoto range of 875mm with an additional 8x of digital zoom.
Like the Sony DSCH300, the DSC-W830 offers face and smile detection, and you can use the smile timer to delay the shutter until the camera detects a smile. Use tracking focus to keep moving subjects in focus.
Optical SteadyShot image stabilization keeps your images in focus.
Scene modes include portrait, backlit portrait, night portrait, backlit subject, landscape, night scene, beach, snow, fireworks, pet mode, and high sensitivity mode for shooting in low light without using a flash. The high sensitivity mode can help you capture the ambiance of the setting as well as help you capture candid shots of people, shots of wildlife, or shots of sleeping children or pets.
Macro mode lets you shoot small subjects up close, and sweep panorama mode lets you easily capture 360° and 180° vertical or horizontal panoramas simply by sweeping the camera across the scene.
Program mode (P mode) lets you take partial control of the camera settings you choose while letting the camera adjust the others, but when your ready, you can gain full control of the camera’s settings in M mode.
The DSC-W830 captures HD video at a resolution of 720p which, again, is acceptable for sharing videos with friends and family by email or on social media, but to establish a vlog, you should choose a camera that shoots video at a resolution of at least 1080p.
The DSC-W830 does not have built-in wireless connectivity so you cannot upload pictures or video to the internet directly from the camera or control the camera remotely from your tablet or cell phone. However, you can purchase an Eye-Fi card separately and use it to upload your images wirelessly.
- Optical zoom range of 25mm to 875mm with an additional 8x of digital zoom
- Face and smile detection which allows the shutter to be automatically delayed until a smile is detected
- Scene modes for portraits, night portraits, backlit portraits and subjects, landscapes, night landscapes, beach and snow scenes, and a high sensitivity mode for shooting in low light without a flash
- Captures video at a resolution of 720p only
- Lacks built-in wireless connectivity
The Best Digital Camera Under 200
While other cameras on this list have features we like and some may be better choices for certain uses, for a best digital camera under $200, we choose the Sony Cyber-shot DSCH300 for its overall versatility.
This camera lets you shoot in fully automatic mode or choose from scenes modes with preselected settings for shooting portraits, night portraits, landscapes, night scenes, snow and beach scenes, pet, fireworks, and low light scenes without using a flash. The camera offers face and smile recognition, and you can set the shutter delay button to wait until a smile is detected. The DSCH300 tracks moving subjects, and when you pair portrait mode with Intelligent Scene Recognition, the camera selects the best settings for both your main subject and the background.
As you develop as a photographer, you can take increasing control of the camera’s settings, so you can continue to grow with this camera.
The optical zoom range from 25mm to 875mm gives you the wide angle you need for selfies, landscapes, and architecture as well as the telephoto range you need for long distance subjects and tightly focused action shots. It also gives you a range of focuses for your videos so that you can capture an overall image, close into mid-range to capture a small group, or focus on a single individual.
With this camera, you can capture vertical or horizontal 180° or 360° panoramas simply by sweeping the camera across the scene.
You can capture video in your choice of HD at a resolution of 720p or full HD at a resolution of 1080p. You’ll have the more compact resolution that’s best for sharing videos by email with family or friends, but you`ll also have the standard resolution that will let you start a vlog inexpensively while you learn and build an audience and income.
With the purchase of an Eye-Fi card, you can upload your images to the internet directly from this camera. If you don’t want to purchase an Eye-Fi card though, you can use the USB cable that comes with the camera to connect the camera to your computer, upload your photos and videos to your computer, and then upload them from your computer to the internet. It just takes a few extra steps.
So, for an inexpensive camera that provides you with a versatile list of photographic options, we choose the Sony Cyber-shot DSCH300.