Wide angle/superzoom cameras
February 10, 2009 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Digital camera recommendations in the wide angle/super-zoom/everything-but-a-DSLR category?

I'm looking to buy the best digital camera I can get that's a step below a DSLR, as I'm unlikely to actually use one on a regular basis and can't afford much over $500. I am looking at several models around $400 that have wide-angle lenses, including the following:

Canon SX10IS

Nikon P80/P90

Fuji S2000 HD

The wide angle lens and general image quality and availability of manual features are my main concern - I would like to get professional-quality images without lugging a DSLR and lens kit around, but haven't been paying any attention to the market in the last few years since I was satisfied with my previous camera (an older Fuji similar to these new models but without the wide angle - I was waiting to replace it with a camera that came with a wide-angle, and it seems these have just become available). All of these cameras have relatively similar features but I don't know how the brand names compare at this level (it sounds like Nikon is not as good with non-DSLR cameras as one might expect based on some online reviews I read).

Also, the Nikon P90 seems to be a step above the Canon and Fuji models as well as the P80, but won't be out until mid-March. Will it be worth waiting for? (I need to either buy a camera tomorrow or wait a long time for international shipping since I'm on a quick trip to the US now, so unless the P90 is significantly better, I'd rather not wait.)

On what basis should I choose among the cameras I listed? Are there other models I should be thinking about? If anyone answering this has one of these or a similar camera in the same price and feature range, feel free to post your flickr page. Thanks.
posted by xanthippe to Technology (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Consider also the Panasonic Lumix LX3. dpreview review - it has a ton of manual features, shoots in raw, and goes out to 24mm. I have an LX2, and love it. From what i've read, the LX3 is everything the LX2 is and more. It took me months to decide on the LX2 fwiw.
posted by duckstab at 4:58 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nikon S620, $270. They claim it has a wide-angle lens (and 4X zoom, and a macro mode that can focus at 2 cm). It's a 12 megapixel CCD (same as the P90). It's designed to fit in your pocket (the lens untelescopes when it's off).

I don't own one, but I was considering getting one.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:03 PM on February 10, 2009

Since you were looking for testimonials, I can say that I own a Nikon L-18, which is part of the next family down from the S620, cheaper and not as good. I've been amazed at just how good it really is, considering it's bottom-of-the-line.

They don't sell the L-18 anymore, but here's the data page on the L-20, which replaced it.

I can't say that the result is "professional quality", but it's damned good for a hobbyist. And I would think the S-620 would be better, for the price.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:10 PM on February 10, 2009

Canon G10. The wide end is the same as the SX10 (28mm equivalent), and it'll give you spectacular image quality and great manual controls. The G10 doesn't have the zoom that the SX10 has, but it's a better camera overall. The G-series are Canon's top-of-the-line sub-SLR cameras. I could not be happier with my G9.

Also, I've disliked every Nikon digital camera I've owned, unfortunately. I used to be a big Nikon fan--still have a N70 film SLR and several lenses--but their digitals are far inferior to Canons, at least in my experience.
posted by The Michael The at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2009

I don't have an LX-3, but I do have an LX-2, and find the colors a bit garish. The b+w however is pretty good I think. It (like the LX-3) has plenty of manual settings.

The LX-3 has a fast lens, useful for low light. One thing to remember about the LX-3 however is that the zoom is only 2.5x; so it maxes out at 2.5 x 24mm = 60mm equivalent. The LX-2 on the other hand is 4.0 x 28mm, so it goes to 112mm. The long end is pretty useful at times. If you want the zoom, you might look for a second-hand LX-2.

You can always search Flickr by camera for sample shots. I have some LX-2 shots on my flickr page, via my contacts page, if you are interested.
posted by carter at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2009

Also - the Pannies have a 16:9 aspect ratio option, which is nice. I'm not sure about the other cameras mentioned here.
posted by carter at 5:32 PM on February 10, 2009

I have the Panasonic LX-3 and think its pretty fantastic, because its small enough to go in my pocket, and if I can't put a camera in my pocket I'm always going to hesitate about whether to bring it along, and if I'm not carrying my camera when the picture comes along it doesn't matter how great it is.

There are some other Panasonics in the TZ line that have longer zooms (10x) and 28 mm lenses and pretty cheap, like $250, but are slightly bigger and less manual than the LX-3, like this.

I've also owned several Canons of various sizes, and like them, but think that the Pannies clearly have the best lens combinations out there for sub-DSLRs right now.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:52 PM on February 10, 2009

I have a Nikon D70, which I love, and a Leica D-LUX 4, which now goes everywhere with me while the Nikon stays at home in its 6 million dollar home and comes out only on special occasions. The D-LUX 4 is basically the same as the Panasonic LX3, except for the red dot and the Leica firmware. It's small enough to fit in my briefcase, big enough to feel comfortable in my hands, and offers enough options for me to enjoy taking pictures with it. And the f/2 lens with a 24mm equivalent wide angle is great for low-light, hand-held photography. The main limitation, as carter mentions, is that the maximum zoom is 60mm equivalent. It works for me, but it might not for you.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:38 PM on February 10, 2009

I really don't mind having a bigger camera like the ones I mentioned - I'm actually disinclined to take the smaller cameras like the Nikon Coolpix S620 seriously for some reason and I do use the longer zoom quite a bit.

I also like shooting in natural light and rarely use flash, so a camera that can produce better low-light images would be ideal. The P90 and a couple others have ISOs up to 6400 but I'm not sure how this actually works since there are other factors involved in the quality of images produced by digital cameras... what should I be looking for in this regard?
posted by xanthippe at 7:42 PM on February 10, 2009

I second the Canon G9/G10 recommendation. It's a great little camera.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:21 PM on February 10, 2009

Given that the G10 lens is the equivalent of 35mm - 140mm, what makes it more desireable than the SX10IS or the others I mentioned that seem to have much better lenses? Having a big zoom lens is one of the main selling points for me. Same question for the Panasonic LX3.
posted by xanthippe at 8:49 PM on February 10, 2009

what should I be looking for in this regard?

Principle factors for low light photography are:

- shutter speed - the slower the shutter speed, the higher the risk of blur. 1/60 second is about standard, 1/30 sec can be done by bracing yourself, and slower speeds can be obtained with a tripod or by sitting the camera straight on a table. Slower speeds are also possible with various forms of image stabilization technologies; these vary in performance from camera to camera and so you you should check reviews on dpreview.com etc. for image samples.

- aperture - basically, the size of the hole in the lens. The wider the diameter of the lens, the more light can be let in, and the more light that can be let in, the more you will be able to shoot in low light. Aperture is usally expressed as an 'f' number, the lower the f number the wider the lens and the better its performance in low light. One trade-of is that using a lower f number reduces the amount of the scene that is in focus, and focusing can be a bit trickier. The LX-3 has a pretty low f number for a compact camera (f 2.0) and thus lets in a lot of light.

- iso - this used to refer to the light sensitivity of photographic film. Low ISO is less sensitive, has to be used in brighter light, and captures finer detail. High ISO is more sensitive, can be used in lower light, and blurs out detail. 100 ISO is a standard speed, especially for outdoors. I don't think that compact digitals have very good higher ISO performance.

So you want to look for image stabilization, compare the widest (lowest) aperture, and compare image quality at higher ISOs, for instance by looking at reviews at dpreview.com.

You also want to compare weight and size (with case), maybe by going into a camera shop.

You should also search flickr by camera/model, looking for examples of how they perform in low light. One caveat: a camera such as the LX-3 will not automatically help you take good quality low light pics. You have to learn how to use it and to exploit its features.

I may sound a bit luke-warm about the LX-2 above but it is a brilliant little camera, and has a nice feel in the hand for me. I think it works quite well in low light, but you need to put some work into it to achieve some good results.

Re. zoom length, one of the main uses for me of a longer lens is to move further away from a subject in order to take a nice portrait. The high-res portrait of Obama as president that was released recently was shot at 105 mm, which some consider to be a classic portrait length.
posted by carter at 8:56 PM on February 10, 2009

G120 versus others - there's a big difference between a 35mm and 28mm lens. The latter captures more image. Again this is probably best appreciated by going to a camera shop and looking at both examples. The LX-2/3 at 28mm and 16:9 captures a lot.
posted by carter at 9:02 PM on February 10, 2009

I meant G10.
posted by carter at 9:04 PM on February 10, 2009

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50. My true love.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:18 PM on February 10, 2009

nthing G9/10. Wonderful cameras. FWIW this is the camera that a lot of professional photographers take on holidays. RAW capture, manual controls. Nice wide angle on the G10. Can't go wrong...
posted by chromatist at 9:50 PM on February 10, 2009

Given all the different 28 mm options, why the Canon G9/10?

The Nikons go up to ISO 6400, which is what made me think they look best (on paper). Does anyone actually use them, or is there a general consensus that Canon and Panasonic are superior? (And why?)
posted by xanthippe at 10:10 PM on February 10, 2009

One more thing - I tend to beat up my cameras a bit. The Fuji I currently have has taken a few falls and lasted several years. Which of the models we're talking about can handle tough love and are likely to be the most durable?
posted by xanthippe at 10:12 PM on February 10, 2009

To answer your question - 6400 ISO on a P&S will be literally useless. The amount of gain that's applied to such a small sensor will be so extreme as to make it grainy par-excellence. DSLRs have significantly bigger sensors, and even they are only just starting to be able to produce usable images at 6400. Realistically, you're not going to want to use more than maybe 800 on anything.

FWIW, while I don't have one, the G10 has constantly impressed me and everyone else at the results from such a small camera. Also, read this: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/kidding.shtml - The Hassleblad/Phase One system he's referring to costs upwards of £20,000 (iirc)
posted by Magnakai at 3:30 AM on February 11, 2009

I'm late back to the party here, but I think people were misreading the G10 specs. Its "35mm equivalent" is 28mm... that is, if it were a camera that uses 35mm film, its widest angle would be 28mm. The same as the other cameras we're talking about here.

Also, the G10 is metal. I beat on my G9. It's great.
posted by The Michael The at 4:55 AM on February 14, 2009

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