Zoom lenses sell cameras these days, so it's no surprise that manufacturers are doing everything they can to get longer lenses into increasingly smaller bodies.
A 3x or 5x zoom lens used to be the standard for ultracompact cameras -- those measuring 1 inch thick or slimmer -- but in 2012, you can easily find a skinny point-and-shoot with a 10x optical zoom.
The frontrunner here is the sub-$250 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150 thanks to its excellent features, fast autofocus, and the quality of its pictures and video (though its color accuracy could be better). Most of the category consists of sub-$200 cameras, though, so there are several options if you're just looking for a simple pocket camera with a long lens.
Editors' note: This post was originally published June 1, 2012, but is updated frequently. It was updated September 26 to include the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7
Giving the Sony WX150 some strong competition, the SZ7 has a 10x f3.1-5.9 25-250mm lens and Panasonic's Light Speed AF system. If you don't need all the Sony's bells and whistles or just want to save a few bucks, the SZ7 is the way to go. Read the review.
Nikon Coolpix S6300
The S6300 is essentially the same as 2011's S6200 except for one important change: the sensor. Nikon switched to BSI CMOS from CCD, which adds 1080p30 and slow-motion movie capture and burst shooting up to 6fps at full 16-megapixel resolution. Read the review.
Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS
The smallest camera here, with the biggest zoom range -- 12x, f3.4-5.6, 28-336mm -- and also the most expensive, the 520 HS was disappointing compared with past PowerShots. Still, if you're looking for a tiny long-zoom camera to slip into a small bag or pocket, it'll do the trick. Read the full review.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690
The W690 has the same 10x, f3.3-5.9, 25-250mm lens as the WX150, but in place of the BSI sensor is a slow CCD sensor. The difference in performance and features is great because of it, so you'd be better off coming up with the extra cash for the WX150, or considering the Panasonic or Nikon models. Read the full review.