Having had a chance to fully test and review dozens of cameras during the year, and having had a chance to informally test and consider several more models, here's my list of the best cameras I've seen that were released in 2011, listed in alphabetical order.
Canon's latest Rebel camera -- the T3i -- builds on the successes of past Rebel DSLR cameras while incorporating the latest technologies and features, which gives it a spot on the best 2011 cameras list.
The T3i uses an APS-C size image sensor and uses Canon EF lenses. With 18 megapixels of resolution, the T3i is near the top end of consumer DSLR cameras. The award-winning T3i allows for nine AF points and includes a 3-inch high-resolution LCD that can swivel away from the camera.
Finding a good-looking, compact camera with a large zoom lens isn't always easy, but Canon's recently announced PowerShot SX230 HS camera fits well in this area of the market and is an easy choice for one of the best 2011 cameras.
With the SX230, you'll find a 14X optical zoom lens, a 3-inch LCD, full 1080p video capabilities, and a 12.1MP CMOS image sensor. Additionally, the PowerShot SX230 is part of Canon's "high sensitivity" system (HS), which aims to improve low light performance. The TIPA award-winning SX230 also has a popup flash unit. It's available in black, red, or blue.
The Casio TRYX camera provides a very interesting looking model that can provide support for odd-angle photos.
The award-winning TRYX introduces a new form factor from Casio, as a thin frame surrounds the camera. The frame can rotate away from the camera body, providing the ability to support the camera at odd angles -- as shown in this photo -- or to provide a grip for an odd-angle shot. If you leave the frame in place, it works just like any digital camera. This very interesting and fun design makes the TRYX easily one of the best 2011 cameras.
The Casio TRYX includes a 12-megapixel CMOS image sensor and a 3.0-inch touch-screen LCD. It includes some wide angle capabilities and the ability to shoot 1080p HD video. However, it has no flash (using an LED to light subjects instead) and no optical zoom lens.
The P500 carries a 36X optical zoom lens. In addition, Nikon has given the P500 strong wide angle capabilities with a zoom range of 22.5mm to 810mm, and Nikon says the P500 is a strong macro performer, thanks to its powerful lens.
You'll find 12.1 megapixels of resolution in the P500's CMOS image sensor, a high-resolution 3-inch LCD screen, and 1080p HD video capabilities. The P500 carries a strong list of specifications ... and, not surprisingly, it carries a bit of a high price tag, at around $350. However, for an ultra-zoom camera, this price comparatively is a good bargain, making it the best ultra-zoom on the market now and one of the best cameras in 2011.
The Coolpix P500 is available in either red or black.
Olympus has created what it calls the world's smallest and lightest PEN camera, which, considering the history of the PEN family of cameras, makes it one of the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens cameras from any manufacturer. The PEN E-PM1 is a fun camera, and it may be the most colorful DIL camera, too, as Olympus is offering it in brown, black, pink, purple, white, or silver camera bodies.
The PEN E-PM1 offers some really nice features, too, including 12.3 megapixels of resolution with a CMOS image sensor, full 1080p HD video, and a 3.0-inch LCD. It measures only 1.33 inches in thickness (before you attach the lens) and it weighs only 7.65 ounces for the camera body.
I thought the Mini was a lot of fun to use, and it produces great photos, which gives it a spot on my best 2011 cameras list. It just edges out its big brother in the PEN family, the PEN Lite, on this list, but the Lite is an outstanding camera, too.
Panasonic has paired a wide-angle, high-quality lens with Wi-Fi capabilities in the Lumix DMC-FX90. This camera allows photographers to upload photos immediately to social networks, thanks to its Wi-Fi connection (which works with the 802.11g, 802.11b, and 802.11n standards).
Additionally, the FX90 features a high-resolution, 3.0-inch LCD, a 12.1MP CCD sensor, full 1080p HD video, and a 5X optical zoom lens, which includes good wide-angle capabilities. The F2.5 lens should yield very good image quality. All of these features qualify the FX90 for my best cameras in 2011 list.
The Lumix FX90 is available in black only.
Count Pentax among the manufacturers who have added digital interchangeable lens (DIL) cameras to their product line alongside DSLR cameras, and it's a great model, qualifying for my list of the best 2011 cameras.
Because of the mirror-less design for the camera's interior, DIL cameras are smaller than DSLRs. However, they use a different lens system than DSLRs, meaning lenses cannot be shared between the two types of cameras.
Pentax's first DIL camera is the Pentax Q, which is currently available for sale in white or black. Japanese photographers had access to the Q for a few months before photographers in the United States. The Q offers a 12.4MP CMOS image sensor, 1080p HD video, a 3.0-inch high-resolution LCD, a built-in flash, and five frames per second capabilities.
The Cyber-shot WX9 includes a CMOS image sensor, which improves the camera's low-light performance. And, as I found in my WX9 review, this camera does a nice job in low light, with or without the flash.
Sony included limited wide angle capabilities in the WX9's 5X optical zoom lens. This camera can shoot 16.2MP still images and 1080i HD video. Look for the WX9 to be available in black, red, and silver.
With its low price and terrific feature list, I think the WX9 is the best budget-priced digital camera introduced in 2011.