2012 was another very good year for digital cameras, with plenty of innovations. As they have for several years, prices continue to drop, giving photographers more value for their dollars. Advanced fixed-lens cameras have been especially plentiful from manufacturers, offering a clear set of advantages over point-and-shoot models and cell phone cameras.
Having had a chance to test and review several cameras during the year, and having had a chance to informally test and consider dozens more models, here are some of the best cameras I've seen during 2012, listed alphabetically.
The sharp-edged design of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS gives it an interesting look for a point and shoot camera. And it has some good photographic features to match its cool design.
The ELPH 520 HS includes a 12X optical zoom lens, which Canon claims makes the 520 HS the world's thinnest 12X zoom camera released in 2012. The ELPH 520 HS measures 0.76 inches in thickness.
In addition, the ELPH 520 HS uses a 10.1MP CMOS image sensor, which should improve low light photography results. It has a high-resolution 3.0-inch LCD and full HD video capabilities. The ELPH 520 HS is available in blue, red, silver, and black camera bodies, depending on your location in the world.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS provides some very impressive features for a point and shoot camera, giving both beginner and intermediate photographers a 2012 model with plenty of nice options.
You'll find 12.1 megapixels of resolution, a 20X optical zoom lens, a 3.0-inch high-resolution LCD, and full HD video options with the SX260 HS.
In addition, the PowerShot SX260 HS features a built-in GPS unit and a popup flash unit. It's an expensive camera, but it has quite a few features that you won't find in other point and shoot models, making this camera well worth considering.
2012's Canon EOS Rebel T4i isn't exactly cheap, but it's much more affordable than the professional-level EOS-1D X.
The T4i includes some impressive features of its own, including 18MP of resolution in a CMOS image sensor, full HD video, five frames per second shooting speed, and a 3.0-inch widescreen LCD that swivels and tilts away from the camera body.
4. Fujifilm XF1
With the Fujifilm XF1, the company has created one of the most stylish fixed lens cameras in 2012.
It is going to grab some attention with its sharp looks, as the XF1 has black, dark red, or light brown camera bodies that look like leather. All three cameras have silver metal trim.
The f/1.8 aperture lens on the XF1 is a high-quality piece of glass, even though it only offers a 4X manual zoom lens. The XF1 also has a 12MP image sensor, a 3.0-inch LCD,and full HD video capabilities.
Fujifilm's X-S1 digital camera is a fixed lens camera that includes some high-end features that you may find with a DSLR camera.
The X-S1, which was announced by Fujifilm just before CES 2012, offers a precision Fujinon 26X optical zoom lens. It includes a popup flash and a viewfinder, along with a 3.0-inch, high-resolution LCD.
The highlight of the X-S1, however, is its large image sensor, which is a 2/3-inch sensor. This allows the X-S1 to excel in low light.
You won't find many fixed lens cameras in such a high price range, so it may be tough for Fujifilm to gain a lot of traction here, but it's impossible to argue with the great features of this camera.
Few cameras can match the top-of-the-line DSLR offerings from Nikon and Canon. When one of those two companies releases a new advanced camera, it's almost always taking a really close look.
It also can shoot 1080p HD video, includes a 39-point autofocus system, can shoot at 5.5 frames per second, and works with a large variety of Nikon interchangeable lenses. The D600 is a very strong full frame camera.
The latest "mini" camera from Olympus, the PEN E-PM2, should be another very nice DIL model to build upon the recent success of the Olympus Mini PEN E-PM1, which made my list of the best cameras in 2011 last year.
The E-PM2, which is now available in silver, black, white, or red camera bodies, features 16.1MP of resolution, interchangeable Micro Four Thirds lenses, a 3.0-inch touch screen LCD, and full HD video.
Panasonic's latest high-end fixed-lens camera, the Lumix DMC-LX7, offers a high-quality lens, a 1/1.7-inch MOS image sensor, and high-end features, including an aperture ring.
With its high-end image sensor, having 10.1 megapixels of resolution will provide you with impressive results. In addition, the LX7 carries a 3.0-inch high-resolution LCD, full HD video capabilities, 3D photography options, and a 3.8X optical zoom lens with good wide-angle options. The LX7 is available in either black or white camera body colors.
Its high price tag means the Lumix LX7 might not appeal to everyone, but this is one of 2012's strongest fixed-lens cameras, and it can help you achieve great photos.
Panasonic has built quite a few very interesting features into a point and shoot camera that measures only 1.1 inches in thickness with its Lumix DMC-ZS20 model.
The ZS20 includes a 20X optical zoom lens, a 3.0-inch high-resolution touch-screen LCD, and a built-in GPS unit. In addition, the Lumix ZS20, which was introduced at CES 2012, includes 14.1MP of resolution and full HD 1080p video recording capabilities.
That's a lot of high-end features in the ZS20, which is a beginner-level camera that's available in black, red, silver, and gray/white camera body colors.
10. Pentax Q10 DIL
Building on the successful launch of its first DIL camera last year -- which received high marks in my Pentax Q1 DIL review -- Pentax's second-generation Q10 DIL camera is a great-looking model that remains small while being able to make use of interchangeable lenses. In fact, you can use either Pentax Q-mount lenses or K-mount lenses (with an adapter).
The Q10 can shoot at 12.4 megapixels of resolution and at five frames per second in burst mode. With a CMOS image sensor, the Q10 performs well in low light, shooting at an ISO up to 6400. You can shoot full 1080p HD video with this model, and it's available in red or silver camera bodies, both with black trim.
There is an aspect to photography and cameras that many camera reviewers forget about -- the "fun" factor. Cameras should work well, certainly, but they also should be fun to use, especially point and shoot cameras. With that in mind, Samsung's latest DualView camera, the DV300F, does a really nice job of succeeding on both fronts, making it one of the most enjoyable cameras released in 2012.
With its two LCD screens and Wi-Fi capability, the DV300F is perfectly built for sharing photos via social networking. This camera also shoots photos that are of a much higher quality than you'd expect to find in the sub-$150 price range.
In addition, the DV300F has 16.1 megapixels of resolution, a 5X optical zoom lens, and 720p HD video.
12. Samsung WB850F
If you're someone who just can't decide between a point and shoot camera that provides great telephoto capabilities or one that can shoot wide angle images, Samsung may be ready to come to your rescue.
Samsung's recently released WB850F provides a 21X optical zoom lens, while it also can shoot at a wide angle of 23mm, providing photographers with the best of both worlds.
In addition, the WB850F has a built-in WiFi capability, which is a nice feature for uploading a photo quickly to social networking sites.
The WB850F's other photography-related features include 16.2MP of resolution, a 3.0-inch high-resolution AMOLED screen, and full HD video capabilities.