That’s a pretty broad question, Bonnie, and the answer depends on your budget, expectations as to feature set and the size of your pocket. However, many serious photographers own a digicam with a built-in zoom lens in addition to their D-SLR systems. They carry the small camera when they’re not specifically planning to shoot but want to be prepared for a quick photo opp. During a photo seminar in Dubai most of the ten instructors—all professional photographers—carried a 10-megapixel Canon Powershot G10 or a Nikon Coolpix P6000 when we went out for dinner and a walk around the city.
Both were very rugged, high-grade cameras with D-SLR-style controls and features, Live View and a small optical viewfinder plus a zoom lens of superb quality. Canon’s current model is the Powershot G12 ($550) with a 28-140 mm equivalent lens and a flip-out rotating 2.8-inch LCD screen. The latest Nikon model, the Coolpix P7000 ($500), features a fixed 3-in. LCD with incredibly high resolution and a 28-200 mm equivalent lens. (With both cameras the lens retracts into the body when not in use.) Neither is tiny/lightweight but fits nicely into a jacket pocket or a medium-size purse.
Panasonic also offers a strong contender in the “premium-grade camera with built-in zoom” category. The new Lumix DMC-LX5 ($500) with a 3-in. fixed LCD and a very fast Leica DC 24-90 mm equivalent f/2-3.3 lens that you might prefer if you love wide-angle photography. The LX-5 is actually shirt-pocket size though it’s a bit heavy too because it also features a metal body. This one is not equipped with an optical viewfinder, but accepts an optional electronic viewfinder.
I’m quite sure that most serious photographers would classify these three cameras as among the “best” of the digicams with built-in zoom lens. They’re all equipped with a vast range of amenities such as 720p movie mode, image stabilizer, built-in flash plus hot shoe for external flash, many modes and overrides, a Raw capture mode and some unique functions. If your budget allows for spending $500+, check the Specs for all three and select the one with the feature set that will meet your own personal needs.