Marketing research has discovered that consumers hate having no choices. But they are also exhausted and confused by having too many choices. In supermarket tests, given one, three, or 30 alternatives, people will buy most frequently when they have three choices. Thirty choices makes them...cross.
The current consumer digicam market is a "30-choice" equivalent. Except that the real number is closer to 300 than 30. There are far too many models of small pocket digicam and far too little to distinguish one from the next. Too many to compare, in fact, unless you wish to consign yourself to an extended tour in wee minicam hell.
A good, solid choice that many photo writers—myself; Ken Rockwell; David Pogue of the New York Times; etc. (dpreview.com likes it too)—all recommend, is the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS. Personally I like it because it has a wider lens than most digicams (to 28mm-equivalent); it doesn't have too long a lens (tiny lenses with too much range tending to have more optical compromises, like slow speed, linear distortion, and falloff); it has "real" IS (image stabilization); and it doesn't have an optical viewfinder. This last I approve of on the theory that sometimes, in some cases, not having one of something is actually better than having a really awful one of that thing. The SD880 IS is also relatively crisp in its actions and simple in its configurations. A camera that does less, well, is better than a camera that does more, less well.
And, too: the pictures, the pictures. The SD880IS's image quality is very good, especially if you're willing to learn a few basic software moves. Of course, like most pocketables, it doesn't do well at high ISOs; but then, summer's coming, and summer's when the sun rises early, and sets late, and shines fiercely in between, and people go to the beach and stuff. Lots of light serves digital point-and-shoots well, and vicey-versey.
Keep in mind we don't really like digital point-and-shoot cameras (although the essay at the link is a rant, and will be too pungent for the squeamish; beware). But people buy them, and any good list of recommendations needs one good one, and the Canon SD880 IS is a very good one. And, contra to what I just said two paragraphs ago, when you want to take pictures, having a camera with you is infinitely better than not having a camera with you.
It's also available in silver. As of this writing, at these links, the silver one costs three dollars more. You can go figure that one out.
For an alternative if you have only half as much money to spend, a stalwart and serviceable option that our readers also like is the Canon Powershot A590 IS. If you have less money than that, put it towards getting a phone with a little better camera built in.
Featuered Comment by Bahi: "I believe this is the first time that Mr Angry can write to TOP following a list of camera recommendations and claim to have just cancelled his subscription in disgust. Good times."
Featured [partial] Comment by Paul De Zan: "A great choice; I've given away two as gifts and heard nothing but astonished praise in return...another great feature of the 880 IS is the marvelous 3" LCD which is easily the best available in this class of camera."
Featured Comment by Player: "Another slap-in-the-face of the amazing Ricoh GRD2, but alas, it's not a toy, and it only comes in basic black.
"Too bad reviewers, who should know better, help to keep the consumer shooter in the dark, and relegated to using toys."
Mike replies: Mr Angry er, Player, the Ricoh is a nice camera, no question. The reason I didn't choose it is that a) it's not widely available in the U.S. as Ricoh is not officially imported here (although it is available from Amazon/Adorama), and b) it costs well over twice what the Canon SD880 IS costs, and in my view is thus too expensive for a basic "pocket camera" recommendation. Bear in mind that some people complain the SD880 IS itself is too expensive, which is why I also mentioned the half-as-pricey A590 IS.
The Ricoh GR Digital II only costs 105 more pounds than the Canon in the U.K., which might make it a more sensible alternative there. But as I've said before, I'm an American, I write from the United States, and a certain amount of gringo parochialism is unavoidable.
Nothing against the GR Digital II, if it floats your boat; just not quite the right camera for this particular list, in my judgement. But please, don't cancel your subscription....
Featured Comment by Lazy Aussie: "What are you talking about 'summer's coming'? We just had summer. Winter is coming. Summer ended in February. Are you smokin somethin'?"
Mike replies: I still don't know how you guys walk around hanging upside down like that.