There are two types of photographs: the kind we set out with the intention to make and the kind that happen when we’re doing other things. For the latter, if you’re like me, you don’t want the burden of an SLR at dinner parties or out on the town with friends. These cameras will slip discreetly into a pocket, ideal for capturing memories when you want to be part of the action.
While you shouldn’t expect the same performance and control you’ll get from an SLR, each of the models we’ve selected here offer something unique—a cool trick or two—that makes them noteworthy. All will take excellent photos under most conditions for everyday photography. And in addition to still photos, many do HD video recording, too.
1. Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
Shoot image-stabilized, 12.1-mega-pixel stills or 720 HD video with this slick PowerShot. Mini-HDMI output lets you display your video and photos directly on your HDTV. For photos of people, Face Detection Technology tracks faces even as they move and can alert you if your subject blinks during the exposure. List Price: $379.
2. Casio EX-FC100
The 9.1-megapixel Casio EX-FC100 can capture still photos at an amazing 30 frames per second and high-speed video at up to 1,000 frames per second. It also can record 720 HD video and offers a Best Shot mode to automatically select optimal settings for the subject. List Price: $329.
3. Fujifilm FinePix REAL 3D W1
Capture your subjects in “3D” with the first camera to offer Fujifilm’s REAL 3D system. The camera captures two shots of the same image from different perspectives and merges them into a single 10-megapixel image. Two lenses and two CCDs make the magic possible. Fujifilm is also introducing a 3D digital viewer and 3D printing service to complement this new technology. List Price: TBA.
4. Leica C-Lux 3
Sleek and stylish, the 10.1-megapixel Leica C-Lux 3 is extremely compact, with a 5x zoom lens and image stabilization. The lens starts at a wide 25mm (35mm-equivalent) perspective and zooms to a moderate telephoto of 125mm. One of our favorite features of this camera is the ergonomics: When you’re holding the camera, your thumb rests comfortably over the controls on the right—focusing your attention on the bright 2.5-inch LCD. List Price: $549.
5. Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj
Want to share your photos on the nearest wall? Nikon’s 12.1-megapixel COOLPIX S1000pj has a VGA projector built in, allowing you to show off your shots from up to 6.5 feet away. The five-way Vibration Reduction has a variety of tactics to ensure your shots are sharp, and Face-Priority AF will keep up to 12 faces in focus. List Price: $429.
6. Olympus FE-5020
Photographers who like wide-angle perspectives will appreciate the wide-to-moderate-tele 5x zoom on the 12-megapixel FE-5020. At the wide end, you have the 35mm equivalent of a 24mm. Face Detection and AF Tracking, and in-camera Art Filters make this a fairly sophisticated camera for the price—about $159.
7. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8
With fast startup and AF performance for a camera in this class, the DMC-FP8 has a sleek design and 12-megapixel resolution. At the wide end, the 4.6x zoom offers a 35mm equivalent of 28mm. It features 720 HD video, 27 Scene modes and Face Recognition that, once trained, can put names to faces. List Price: $299.
8. Pentax Optio W80
Outdoorsy types will love the rugged character of the 12-megapixel Optio W80. It’s waterproof up to 16 feet, shockproof for bumps and short drops, and braves freezing temperatures down to 14 degrees F. It also offers 720 HD movie recording, close focusing on objects as near as 0.4 inches and Face Detection technology. List Price: $299.
9. Samsung TL225
Trying to get the perfect self-portrait for Facebook? This new camera features two touch-screen LCDs—one on the front of the camera—for easy arm’s-length portraits, or to let your subject see the composition, too. The camera knows when your subject is smiling and will take the shot. In addition to 12.2-megapixel stills, you also can record 720 HD video. List Price: $349.
10. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3
Want to upload photos directly to popular photo-sharing sites? The 10.1-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-G3 includes WiFi connectivity to let you do just that. It also has 4 GB of memory built in, Face Detection and Intelligent Scene Recogni-tion to identify what you’re shooting and select the right settings. List Price: $499.