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Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera Performance

There are many ways to measure a camera's mechanical performance, from autofocusing ability to shutter lag (how long the camera takes to actually record an image after you press the button) to recycle time (how long it takes to reset for a second photo). Budget point-and-shoot digital cameras tend to be pretty slow compared with mid-range and high-end cameras.

Some perform a bit better than others in certain areas, so we'll point out some highlights and lowlights of each model in our comparison.

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Digital Camera Speed.

The Canon PowerShot A3400 IS has a fast and accurate autofocus, says a reviewer from Camera Labs. However, PC Mag's review of this point-and-shoot digital camera notes that the recycle time is on the slow side. The other Canon PowerShot on our list, the A2400 IS, can also take some very nice photos provided you're not in a hurry between shots. CNET measured the recycle time at about 2.8 seconds -- tolerable but still slow.

The Olympus VR-340 has noticeable shutter lag of about half a second, according to PC Mag. But a reviewer from Digital Camera Info praises the fast autofocus, without which users would struggle to take photos of moving subjects, such as kids running around. Trusted Reviews reports that the Fujifilm FinePix T400 has a hard time focusing in low light -- not an uncommon problem in point-and-shoot digital cameras but still an unwelcome one. The Nikon Coolpix S3300 likewise had trouble locking on to its subject in low light in a test of digital camera speed by experts from Digital Versus.

Ease of Use and Shooting Modes.

One area where budget point-and-shoots really shine is their simplicity. Digital cameras have become very easy to use, with automatic settings that eliminate the need for any tinkering. We noticed no complaints about these cameras having awkward interfaces or complicated menus. In fact, point-and-shoot digital cameras like the Fujifilm FinePix T400 may be almost too heavily automated for users who prefer to have the option of a few manual controls.

Pre-set shooting modes give images a little extra oomph and take some of the guesswork out of shooting nice-looking photos. Sunning at the beach? Watching a burst of fireworks? Chasing after a frisky pet? All our top picks have automatic modes that adjust shutter speed, light sensitivity, and color balance to suit a variety of occasions and venues. Professionals may cringe, but these and other convenient aids help amateurs fill albums and hard drives with photos that aren't half bad.

Review continues below

Image Stabilization.

When you take pictures without a tripod or a flash in low light, you need a camera with image stabilization to minimize the blurring effect of unsteady hands or a moving subject. Optical image stabilization used to be pretty rare in budget models, which relied on digital tricks to reduce blurring in photos. Now the feature is commonplace and shows up in all our top point-and-shoot digital cameras. A reviewer from Camera Labs says the optical image stabilization on the Canon PowerShot A3400 IS performs very well, steadying shots that would otherwise turn out blurry. A reviewer from Digital Camera Info praises the Olympus VR-340 camera's image stabilization, saying it effectively reduces blurring.

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