Camera reviews are taking over my sanity
September 6, 2009 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Following my previous question, I've narrowed down my camera options and done a lot of reading, but I'd love some Hivemind input.

My Previous Question

Since asking, I've been reading reviews online and went to B&H to play with some of the models I thought I liked. End result, I walked out with two different ideas than when I walked in. Below are the ones I'm considering most and why, but I'm having issues with the reviews I read online because I know every product will irk someone and it's a question of cutting through that to get to what matters.

I'm also trying to keep in mind that a) I'm upgrading a 4 year old camera and b) I don't need perfection on every shot. I'm not ready to make the jump to DSLR because I don't take pictures nearly enough anymore, but I want a camera that can take good landscape shots, a good zoom to take pics at sporting events from bad seats and ability to shoot close up (i.e. Macro). I have pros and cons below. Do you have any experience with these cameras? Anything I'm missing? As I've said, I'm familiar with the review sites and have read extensively. If those are all to be believed, there's no decent camera out there.

*Sony HX 1 - Pros: good zoom, I have media for the camera, familiarity w Sony cameras, good battery life, feels good in my hand, without a doubt the best video capabilities. Cons: 9.1mp, Price, video stuff I don't need (I don't know what 1080i/p means, and I rarely shoot video)

*Nikon P90 - Pros: 24 optical zoom, known for good sports photography, good macro, price. Cons: hate the look and feel of camera, reported poor battery life, no zoom while shooting video.

*Olympus SP-590 - Pros: Price, 26x zoom, good response time with fast photos (sports).Cons: AA battery (although I don't mind this too much, means you're never caight without batteries), dial seems weak

*Canon SX 1 - Pros: 20x zoom, known brand, RAW support, Cons: AA battery (see above), hate hate the fold-out LCD, least zoom (although I'm upgrading from 12x so it's still big jump

So, I'm still torn. At the moment, I'm leaning Olympus but I don't know enough about the brand. I covet the Sony but at 399 even on Amazon (have $65 credit so likely to buy there) it's steep. I came out of B&H really not liking the Canon at all but I feel like I should because it's such a known brand that people love. Nikon was my first choice walking in, but I really don't like the body of this camera.

Anyone have any input or am I destined to eenie meenie miney mo? Thanks in advance!
posted by TravellingCari to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
AA battery is a pro, not a con. Replacing is a snap, they tend to last for quite a long time. Rechargeables and disposables are easily had.

You will be happy with all those cameras. They are nice cameras. But don't get a camera based around the "deal". If all goes according to plan, you're gonna have this puppy for 5+ years. Over that kind of time and extra $50 - or even $100 - will not be missed. But the other qualities very well could be.
posted by smoke at 8:34 PM on September 6, 2009

I wouldn't let the media or megapixels factor in to strongly in this decision.

An 8 GB SDHC card can be bought for around $20. See megapixel myth for more on why you don't want to judge cameras based on the number of megapixels.

If you are having trouble finding a suitable camera in your price range, you might want to consider buying a discontinued model (that retailed in a higher price range). You can usually get recently discontinued models for $100 or more off the regular street price, so you'll be able to afford a better camera for the money. The latest generation of cameras haven't added much in terms of still photography - most manufacturers have pretty much plateaued feature-wise, they're mostly just stuffing more video features like HD video into the lower-end cameras.
posted by kenliu at 8:38 PM on September 6, 2009

Response by poster: Smoke: that's what I think - but speaking with folks at B&H I asked why those two models were cheaper (Olympus significantly so) they cited the AA batteries. I like AA for the reasons you mention, not to mention the fact that I have approsimxately a gazillion from my current two paperweights.

Kenilu: thanks for that link. Dec One said similar when I asked a related question. I'm upgrading from 5mp so I'll see a jump in size I can print at either way, not that I print that big. Oddly enough I had that idea re: previous model but some (esp the Olympus 70) seem to now be going for higher. The exception was the Nikon L100 but that's a significant step down from the P90. I'm OK spending what the Olympus and Nikon are going for, esp wth the $65 Amazon credit because I know they'll last.

THanks both!
posted by TravellingCari at 8:54 PM on September 6, 2009

I recently bought the Canon SX10 and love it. The fold out LCD that you mentioned as a con- it swivels 180 degrees and then snaps back in place, flush with the camera, so you don't have to have it sticking out all the time.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 9:10 PM on September 6, 2009

I used to have a Canon SX-something for work as an emergency backup and while honestly, it was no good at all for what I needed (newspaper photography - way too slow) it was awesome to take with me on my own time and just snap things with for fun.

Way after my regular camera was fixed I hung onto the little Canon and took it everywhere with me so I didn't have to haul mountains of lenses/flash etc etc with me if I felt like taking a pic of the seaside or my friend visiting or poolside cocktails, or whatever.

It had enough manual controls that you had some flexibility in what you could achieve, lovely saturated colours and a really easy to use menu. It went down to 2.8, too, which made it pretty good for taking pics at parties, the pub, wherever there was low light. And I'm betting the ISO has improved since my model, so you'd have even better luck in low light now. I mostly used Program and Manual, but there were loads of auto and scene settings including a sport setting which, as far as I could tell, seemed to work great.

Also, you don't have to use the LCD folded out - you can just pull it out, flip it round, push it down, and it sits flat on the back of the body like a regular LCD screen. It's a two-twist movement. And you can just leave it there if that's the way you like it.

The AA batteries are great (mine took four at a time, I think). Just get yourself a charger and eight rechargeables and you're good to go.

The only slight downsides were i) the lens cap would come off quite easily in my bag and ii) it was a bit too big to carry comfortably in a small bag. I was always fishing it out and wiping the lens. I don't think this would be a problem if you kept your camera in a dedicated camera bag though. Re the size, that's just my personal preference, you know? I like to chuck my camera in my handbag. When I bought my own point and shoot this year, I compromised and got an SX200 which has a 12x zoom and is quite little - but no RAW and uses a lithium rechargeable. I'm happy with it, but it's not quite as capable or as flexible as its big brothers.

If you're looking for snapshot fun, want something a bit better than point and shoot, but not quite ready for an SLR, I'd totally recommend it.

/end Canon shill!
posted by t0astie at 9:18 PM on September 6, 2009

Recommend the SX1 that is.
posted by t0astie at 9:21 PM on September 6, 2009

I haven't surveyed the digicam market recently, but the guy at Luminous Landscape does good camera reviews. He mostly focuses on DSLRs and super-expensive medium format digital gear, but he also reviews a pocket-sized digicam every now and then, usually ones with unusual features that stand above the crowd. The reviews stress control, speed, ergonomics, and practical concerns. These are the things you should care about, not megapixels. They might be a little above your price range, but pocket digicams are getting so good these days that you may not have to buy one for a long time.
posted by scose at 9:21 PM on September 6, 2009

OK, a few more points. Small digital cameras have physically small image sensors, maybe a third of an inch diagonal. At this size, each individual pixel is so tiny that it is not able to capture many photons. In all but the brightest conditions, this means that the camera has to apply a large amount of electronic gain to the sensor to boost its output voltages into the appropriate range for analog-digital conversion. Background noise also gets amplified, and the pictures come out grainy. More megapixels != a physically larger sensor, so the problem gets worse when you try to pack 12+ megapixels into these sensors. One could argue that after 7 MP or so, the quality actually goes down.

The lenses on these cameras usually have small apertures, so less light comes in. Zoom lenses usually have variable aperture, so even if you're at a decent f/2.8 maximum at the wide end, you could be down to f/11 or worse at the telephoto end. This means you either boost the ISO speed, aka analog gain, and make the photo noisy -- or use a slow shutter speed and make the picture blurry. Furthermore, the overall optical quality of the lens is compromised to get that wide zoom range. The crux of the matter is that for a given size/price range of lenses, a smaller zoom range will have higher optical quality. Of course, the highest quality comes from fixed focal length lenses.

So, resist the urge to go for the large megapixel and zoom numbers. That 14 MP (or whatever) sensor you're putting behind the lens far exceeds the resolution that the lens can actually resolve, so basically, you're just using more storage space for pictures that are blurrier, and noiser, than those from a more modestly spec'd camera.
posted by scose at 9:34 PM on September 6, 2009

AA batteries do tend to make the case slightly larger, but they've saved my bacon / vacation a couple of times. Much easier / cheaper to replace than custom packs, too.

Flip out screens are awesome. Again, they might make the case slightly larger, but they also allow you to shoot at very different angles - from the hip, from the ground, from overhead in a crowd - that you just can't do otherwise. I simply won't buy a point and shoot without a fold out display. I'd recommend reconsidering your opinion on that given the creative flexibility it affords. I'm currently thinking about buying the Canon G11, to be my 3rd Canon point and shoot with a fold out display.

One other note - a 20x zoom (let alone more) is going to be difficult to hand hold even with image stabilization. Not impossible, but difficult. I'm surprised that point and shoot cameras offer anything higher than that. I wouldn't count 20+ zooms to be a superior feature... instead I'd just expect to zoom in to 10x and then crop the image to get the rest of the way. That's why you have so many megapixels anyway.

Overall I'd recommend the Canon - their Digic 4 processor is absolutely solid and I've had good luck with durability over the years.
posted by pkingdesign at 9:37 PM on September 6, 2009

Huh, I always hated cameras with AA batteries. They never last and have to be replaced all the time, even with the expensive batteries. The rechargeable ones (Nimh) are even worse. I can take around 1100 pics on one charge of my Li-Ion battery pack in my Panasonic FZ8, and that seems to be more than enough between stops at an outlet.

Also, I don't know if you considered Panasonic Lumix cameras, but I'm a big fan. I think they have the best image stabilization out there, and they come with Leica lenses. Out of the ones you've listed though, I'd go with the Canon. They've got their stuff down pat in that range.
posted by sanka at 9:56 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Years ago, I went through the same labor intensive search that you're doing now. I even checked out DPReview, read multiple reviews, and in the end, when I went to buy the camera, I started playing with the models on display, and completely changed my mind. I ended up with a Canon Ixy/Elph instead of the Olympus mu, mostly because, at that time, the UI on the Olympus was so counter intuitive that even the clerk had to go ask another person to figure out how to delete a photo. I've been with Canon every since, and recommend them without pause. Very intuitive controls, as well as a lot of options when it comes to using manual mode. I'd go with the Canon.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:00 PM on September 6, 2009

I forgot to mention that I am a huge fan of Canon and am always impressed by the picture quality of their cameras. RAW support is a great thing, too.

Ditto what the others said about the flip-out screen - once you figure out uses for it, you'll love it. Great for shooting overhead in a crowd.

The discontinued model trick really only works if you are buying within a month or two after a new camera is released, when retailers are trying to get rid of their inventory.

BTW, rereading your post, I think you are asking a lot from a medium-range P&S camera. You want a camera that is good for landscape and sports photography (nearly all decent P&S cameras have an ok macro mode). Usually a camera that excels at landscape is not going excel at sports photography (wide angle vs. super zoom), and vice versa. Even DSLR photographers usually carry two different lenses for those two different purposes. You're going to have to decide which one of these is more important and look for a camera that works for that purpose or just accept that you can get an all around good camera that doesn't have a wide angle lens or super zoom.
posted by kenliu at 10:03 PM on September 6, 2009

Echoing some of the comments about megapixels not being that important on such small sensors. But more importantly, I think you're going to be disappointed with any of these cameras if you want to take pictures of sporting events from bad seats. At the longest end of any of these cameras, you're going to have issues with blur because the lenses have such small apertures that you just won't be able to get enough light in. If you're set on not getting an SLR (and even the kit lenses on those won't let you take sports shots from far), you might want to consider the new Canon S90.
posted by reformedjerk at 10:47 PM on September 6, 2009

A P&S is not going to be good at sporting events because it takes too long to change the zoom factor (due to the motorized zoom) and you won't be able to switch to a long focal length lens. Why not check out an intro-level DSLR such as a Nikon D40, which solves all of these problems?
posted by lsemel at 5:05 AM on September 7, 2009

My own two cents, i'll mostly condense and reword some of Scose's points:

- you won't use zoom as much as you think. Notice how the big expensive SLRs come with a 3x zoom when you buy the kit lens. The highest rated compact camera on is the Panasonic LX3, with a zoom of 2.5x but with a wide-angle 24mm lens.

- Higher megapixels on smaller cameras are usually a liability. Take some test photos at higher ISOs to see what I'm talking about. What happens is you can get some stunningly clear shots when you have perfect light, but awful shots when you're trying to take an photo without a flash with darker lighting. It's getting better every year so I wouldn't agree to a general "7mp max" rule, as 7mp would get awful results a few years ago and would probably be too low to even find now. Bear in mind my new Nikon D3000 is 10mp, less than almost any other Nikon compact right now.

- As the owner of a Canon A720 (AA batteries) and an SLR, I gotta say I'm pretty floored how much better battery life is on the SLR. Especially with L-I rechargables (compared to some Duracells), my battery is dies after 50-80 shots. It takes like 10 hours to charge 4 of them. I get 500 with the SLR's battery that seems to recharge in about an hour. I also bought a wide-angle adapter for the A720 but the focus would never catch. I was told that one of the reasons might be that AF systems need a lot of power, which they don't get from AA's, so using the adapter was likely too much. The AF is also a bit slow. And it takes about 30 seconds to take another shot after using the flash.

- I also vouch for Canon making a solid camera. They're like Nokia... sometimes a little ugly, never very flashy (like Nikon putting GPS in the p7000?!?) but almost always rocks solid with performance.

- Also, for the prices your looking at why not consider spending a little more and getting an SLR? I've always saved that $100 to get a cheaper high-end compact, but it's just not the same and I've always regretted it. They're automatic enough to take good pictures on the fly, but manual enough to let you grow in to them in ways a compact never will. The Nikon D3000 even has a "Guide" on the dial built into the software that asks you what type of shot you want and then sets it up for you. That extra 20% of cost and size gets you 50% better shots.

- Only the HX-1 has a review on DPreview so far. If the camera has been out more than a few months and has no review, it usually means it didn't perform very well. They usually don't rate compact Nikon's very well, Canon compacts are almost always highly recommended (except the G-series, which takes A-series pictures at SLR prices), and Olympus and Panasonic compacts are a mixed bag. Older Olympus's seem to get rated better, newer Panasonic's are rated higher.
posted by trinarian at 5:35 AM on September 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all!

Ghidorah, totally sympathize with what you're saying about coming out confused. B&H made my head spin, yet I'm glad I went because it raised my awareness of some I wasn't aware of.

Agree and understand re: MP. I had a feeling that it wasn't to be a huge issue because as I said, been shooting for four years with a 5mp and never had an issue that it was too few. My pocket cam, the DSC 650 was a 7.2 and I didn't notice an appreciable difference.

I disagree somewhat on the landscape and sports-been able to do both. Self Links for examples: upper deck at new Yankee Stadium, again, balcony sunset in Tel Aviv, AC boardwalk, row 16 at Giants Stadium, again. Most of the sports shots are full zoom, some using the optical as well. I've never had a problem with them, but I can see a longer zoom might make it more challenging. I guess it takes patience that I've learnt? As that's by far and away what I use the camera most for, it's the zoom that means the most. I can live without Macro, I do most often when carrying around the little 650, which doesn't do macro well at all. lsemel, I'll look at the Nikon and reformedjerk, I'll see if they have the S90 to look at.

t0astie, totally know what you mean re camera in the purse. I test drove a couple of purses and one was eliminated because it didn't ft my cameras.

Sounds like I should be looking harder at the Canon. I'll go to my local Best Buy to play with it again, see if I can un hate it since I thought I was dismissing it for poor reasons anyway.

THanks all for the help (and appreciate more). I'll update when I decide. I've resigned myself to the fact that I won't have a camera for the Giants opener.
posted by TravellingCari at 8:23 AM on September 7, 2009

Response by poster: ETA: trinarian thanks for the insight on timing of the reviews. Thing I've found myself thinking this time is I'm overthinking. I read reviews last time but didn't obsess. I got the camera that I liked the most and seemed to perform the best after walking back and forth in Osaka's Den Den Town. Come to think of it, I did the same with my Nikon in 2001 - loved both, so not sure why I'm obsessing now.
posted by TravellingCari at 8:48 AM on September 7, 2009

Another vote for "megapixel amounts are over-rated". You're not Annie Leibowitz or Scavullo.

Buy the Sony.

These were shot with a 3.2 megapixel Pentax Optio and I'm no professional, either.
posted by Zambrano at 10:14 AM on September 7, 2009

Response by poster: Zambrano: what's your preference behind the Sony? That's the one I'm leaning away from (despite having the media already) because of price and crap I don't need, like HD video. Nice photos by the way.

I went out today and played with the Canon again. Realized I misunderstood how the LCD works. It can flip out but doesn't have to.

Still thinking. Thanks all.
posted by TravellingCari at 8:04 PM on September 7, 2009

Re: AA batteries vs custom packs:

I have Sanyo Eneloop batteries in my Canon point and shoot. I've recharged them twice, I think, and I've taken at least a couple thousand shots in that time. Basically that's more than enough battery life, and they recharge in an hour.

I've worn out two battery packs for my Canon digital rebel and have been dragging my feet on buying a third. I can take about a hundred photos on charge right now and I'll have to spend another $20-30 for a new pack. At their best I've never gotten more than about 500 shots on one of those packs... still plenty, but certainly not better than 4 AA batteries. And more expensive. And slower to recharge. And harder to find while traveling.
posted by pkingdesign at 9:53 PM on September 7, 2009

Response by poster: Not that anyone is likely to still be looking at this, but in the event someone finds the thread, I went with the Canon SX20IS which went on major special around Black Friday. Haven't used it exhaustively yet, but I'm really enjoying it. Happy with my choice. Also stocked up on rechargeables.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:18 AM on December 1, 2009

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