Engadget's back to school guide: Digital cameras

Welcome to Engadget's Back to School guide! We know that this time of year can be pretty annoying and stressful for everyone, so we're here to help out with the heartbreaking process of gadget buying for the school-aged crowd. Today, we've got our optical viewfinders set firmly on digital cameras -- and you can head to the Back to School hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month. Be sure to keep checking back -- at the end of the month we'll be giving away a ton of the gear featured in our guides -- and hit up the hub page right here!

Time for us to open up chapter two of this year's Back to School advice compendium. Up for discussion today are digital cameras, which have been in the gym all year working on their processing prowess and return today with 720p HD video as an almost standard feature. We've got a good cross-section of young pretenders and finely aged veterans for your perusal, so why not give your mouse a little exercise as well and click past the break?

On the cheap

Samsung TL210

Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

It may seem like a tacked-on gimmick at first, but the DualView feature on the TL210 is a real boon during self-portrait compositions -- which, let's face it, are a critical part of college life in this Facebook-dominated age. A 3-inch screen on the back gives you access to a veritable litany of smart modes and auto-detects, which together with the built-in optical image stabilization should make this an uncomplicated point-and-shooter to use. Should you want it even cheaper, you can step down to the TL205, but beware the significant feature loss that will entail.

Key specs: 12 megapixel CCD sensor, 5x optical zoom, 720p / 30fps HD video.

Price: Starts at $140 online

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Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Pentax Optio H90

If you're really feeling the fiscal squeeze, this quirky little number will get you the same 720p video, 5x optical zoom and 12 megapixel CCD as on the Samsung, but at a cheaper price and within a rather more cheerful enclosure.

Price: $110 from Amazon

Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS

Out of Canon's army of affordable shooters, we've opted for the extremely elegant SD780 IS. It's smaller than a bar of a soap, but goes to 3x of optically stabilized zoom, records 720p video, and allows for pleasingly quick and easy operation.

Price: $169 from B&H


Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS (aka IXUS 300 HS)

Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Great ease of use, up to par feature list, and terrific image quality for its class. Canon's latest mid-ranger might not stand out in any specific way, but its resounding all-around competency has earned it plenty of plaudits and our admiration to boot. Throw in the fact that its price has finally dipped to relatively sane levels, and we consider the SD4000 IS an easy recommendation to make.

Key specs: 10 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 3.8x optical zoom, 720p / 30fps HD video.

Price: $314 from B&H

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Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Sony DSC-TX5

Quite the marvel of engineering, the TX5 resists dust, water and cold shoulders, while delivering 4x optical zoom, 720p video and a 3-inch touchscreen. Price is a bit steep, but feature set is supreme for its size.

Price: $350 from B&H

Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Canon PowerShot S90

A relative oldie but a major goodie, the S90 misses out on HD video, but makes up for it with superb image quality, a RAW shooting mode, and sophisticated control options that will appeal to more serious photographers.

Price: $344 from Newegg

Money's no object

Nikon D5000 body + Nikkor 18-200MM F3.5-5.6 VR II zoom lens

Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

We reckon it's about time we did more than just pay lip service to the old dictum that the lens is the most important part of a camera. Save some cash by going for the D5000 from Nikon -- which packs the same magnificent 12 megapixel sensor and HD video mode of the D90 inside a smaller body -- before splashing out on the excellent 18-200mm own-brand lens. Sure, it's not the fastest there is, but its versatility is almost unequaled and you'll have a photography kit good enough to go to war (or CES) with.

Key specs: 12 megapixel CMOS sensor, 720p / 24fps video, 11x optically stabilized zoom

Price: D5000 body is $630 from AmazonNikkor lens is $765, also from Amazon

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Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Panasonic Lumix GF1

There's a lot to love about the Micro Four Thirds GF1: it's extremely compact for the performance punch it carries, does its work swiftly, and image results are more often than not outstanding. Interchangeable lenses and excellent video capture (hackable to 1080p) are just extra cherries on the cake.

Price: $725 from Amazon

Engadget's back to school guide Digital cameras

Canon EOS 7D

Sure, it might have a vast 18 megapixel resolution, 1080p video clean enough to eat off of, and a magnesium body to die for, but the 7D's real attraction is its uncompromising image quality. As such, it's a mighty fine choice, should you be able to afford it.

Price: $1,799 from Walmart