Monday, January 24, 2011

Camera Selection for Casual Photographers and Non-Photographers, Part 4

It is difficult to recommend specific cameras between $150 and $400 because there are so many good cameras in that range.You could probably buy any new camera in that range and it would work fine for any casual photographer.

But there are several features that I believe can help make your photos better while making life easier for you, so here are a few cameras which include most of these features. Unfortunately there is not one camera which has every single one of these features so you will need to choose between them based on your own photographic needs.


Samsung Tl500


Fast Lens

A fast lens is one that lets more light in, making it easier to take pictures in darker places without a flash. Usually this is noted on the lens of each camera with an "f" in front of it and the smaller the number is, the more light it lets in. The Samsung Tl500 has an f1.8 to 2.4 lens which is very fast. It lets several times more light in than the usual compact camera which is generally about f3.5 at the wide end of the zoom range and f5.6 at the narrow end. I would recommend any compact camera that has a lens of f2.8 or lower over a camera with a slower lens.

Tilting viewscreen

The Tl500 also has a viewscreen that tilts and swivels so you can hold the camera over your head to take pictures of performers, zoo animals, etc. which are obscured by a crowd in front of you or hold it down close to the ground so you can take pictures of flowers, small children or pets without having to crawl on your belly.

Optical image stabilization

When you are taking pictures in dim light or of things far away, the shake of your hands holding the camera can make your pictures blurry. Optical image stabilization uses tiny motors in the camera to move the lens or other parts in the opposite direction of that shake to minimize the blur. I recommend that you only buy a camera that has optical image stabilization. Note, however, that "digital image stabilization" which is advertised on some cameras is not the same thing and is usually pretty useless.

Moderately small size

Unless you really need the absolute smallest camera, I generally recommend buying something a step or two up in size. Although the Samsung Tl500 will not fit comfortably in a pants pocket, it should fit easily in a coat pocket or purse and the extra size makes the controls larger and easier to use as well as giving room for a larger viewscreen.

One thing which I wish was different on the Tl500 is the way that you look at pictures that you have already shot. To look at those picture, you press a button on the back of the camera. If you hand the camera to a friend so that they can look at your photos, if they bump into the shutter button or some of the other buttons on the camera, it will put the camera back into picture taking mode which is rather annoying. I prefer cameras which have a setting on the knob on top of the camera which sets this function so there is no way you can accidentally switch off of it.

Another is the lack of an optical viewfinder which may make it hard to take pictures when it is very sunny outside but the extra-bright viewscreen may help to make up for that.


Nikon Coolpix S1100pj

This camera has one unique feature which may make it the best choice for certain photographers. It has a built-in projector so if being able to share your photos with friends and relatives when you are away from home is important to you, this might be a good choice.

The projector is not very bright so it is probably only good for a relatively small image in a room where the lights can be dimmed somewhat, but it still might be useful to some. It has optical image stabilization and is a pretty nice camera overall but it does not have a very fast lens and its controls do not look terribly intuitive.


Olympus Stylus Tough 6020

If you or your children like swimming or snorkeling, this waterproof camera may be the perfect camera for you. You can hand it to the kids to take have fun taking pictures in the pool and you don't have to be as concerned about them dropping it because it is also shockproof.

And even if you don't go in the water at all, it is a great camera to take to the beach or out in the woods. Since it is sealed, you don't have the problem of sand and dirt getting inside of it.

If you like taking a camera out to nightclubs or concerts but don't want to worry about it getting bumped into or dropped, this camera is also a better choice than most since it is shockproof and since its lens does not extend out of the camera. The worst damage that can happen to a digital compact camera is dropping it or banging it into something when the lens is extended, as that is usually the most sensitive part of the camera.


Canon Powershot SD1300

Although I recommend slightly larger cameras for casual photographers, if you really need to have a very small camera, the Canon Powershot SD line are very nice in that respect. They are small and good looking but fairly rugged cameras. The SD1300 is once of the most affordable in this line. It also has a decent sized 2.7" viewscreen and optical image stabilization.


PowerShot A800

At $89, this is pretty close to the lowest price you can find for a digital camera from a name brand manufacturer and about the lowest I would recommend to a casual photographer. I have always found the Canon "A" series cameras (A800, A1200, etc. ) to be a very good value for the money. They are slightly larger than the very smallest Canons but other than that you usually get more features for the money than with the smaller cameras.

The A800 has a decent sized 2.5" viewscreen and, as with many Canons, it has an optical viewfinder. It also runs on AA batteries which is kind of nice since you can buy more anywhere if your rechargeables run out. It does not have many of the features that the higher priced cameras do, but for the price, it is quite a nice little camera.

Under $80

Although you may find a few digital cameras under $80, I would be very cautious about them as there are many off-brand cameras in this range which are not very good at all. I also would not recommend that casual photographers and non-photographers buy used digital cameras. Modern electronic cameras are much more fragile than cameras used to be and, unless you really know what you are looking for, it is very possible to buy a digital camera which appears to work but has been damaged.

If you really can't afford to spend more than $80, I would suggest buying a film camera and having your photo developer make a CD of your images or post them online when you have them developed.

Even a disposable film camera can actually make some quite nice images if you use it carefully and work within its limitations. I'll write about how to do this in future posts.

And some of the nicer compact film cameras can give great photos. Often you can find these at rummage sales of flea markets or get them for free from relatives or friends who are moving to digital cameras.

I have always found the Olympus Stylus Epic series of cameras to be very good although there are many other compact film cameras from other name brands that are just as good. If you get one that looks like it has been carefully taken care of, it is more likely to work just fine than a used digital camera.

Until next time, have fun!

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