Digital camera advice
January 4, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

It's time for a new digital camera. Please help guide me, as I feel overwhelmed by the research process. I am looking for suggestions of specific cameras OR features I should be searching for in a camera. Specific requirements inside.

Budget: ~ $250.

Needs: I am getting this to take photos for a new etsy store, featuring my video-game embroideries. I need something that can take clear, sharp pictures, in both regular and macro mode, in natural light. I want to be able to show both how the pieces look in a natural-looking setting (i.e. on a wall, in a room) and details of the piece. My current digital camera is about 6 years old and take either horrible, blurry, orange-y shots in natural light, or washed out, ugly pictures with a flash.

The pieces range from 4"x4" to 11"x13" in size. There are also occasional smaller pieces (hairclips, etc) that I need to shoot as well.
posted by piratebowling to Shopping (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think that your budget allows for a mid range Canon Powershot or Nikon Coolpix. I'm a Nikon guy as far as DSLR's go, but the Canon Powershots I think have more compelling features. I think I'd start your search there.
posted by pjern at 11:45 AM on January 4, 2010

Looking at Amazon, I think this camera might do you well. It's powered by AA batteries- a plus when you're out somewhere away from a proprietary charger.
posted by pjern at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always say you cannot go wrong with a Canon P&S. That said, almost any new major brand camera for $250 will be pretty good in terms of feature set and should have a macro function.

You probably will want to invest a little bit of money for an inexpensive tripod if you plan to shoot interiors with natural light. The blurry shots come from low shutter speed - if you use a tripod you will be able to shoot at a low shutter speed without the blur.
posted by kenliu at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2010

Several members of my family and a few friends have gotten the Canon Powershot series. If you get one of them, getting the image stabilizer (designated by "IS" in the model number, e.g. "A480IS") is worth the money. It gives you at least an extra stop before you need to use the flash, which often makes the difference between flash and no-flash indoors.

I've seen the output from them and, for compact cameras, they're quite impressive. I believe they all have a macro setting as well.

Something else you might want to consider, regardless of camera choice, is a small softbox and lighting setup. Ten bucks spent on a DIY softbox will make more of a difference in output than the difference between any two cameras in the $99-200 price range. (That article is assuming that you'll use the softbox with an external flash; you don't have to — it will work just as well with a couple of old desk lamps, or even next to a sunny window.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2010

I love my Canon PowerShot SD850; Amazon tells me that the SD780IS is the newer equivalent.

When I was looking, I did some comparison shopping between retailers (Best Buy, B&H, Amazon, local places, etc.) and got advice from some friends who are dedicated amateurs (own multiple DSLRs as well as a couple point and shoots). Amazon had the best price on a nice package, particularly because they offered free shipping that made up for the cost of the accessory pack. I got this kit, which came with a decent basic case and (most importantly) an extra battery and SD card. Buy LOTS of SD cards, especially if you're going to do video. I've been able to do some nearly professional video stuff with mine, and it's been so surprisingly easy and awesome. The sound is good, too.

In addition to a tripod (these gorilla pod things are pretty cool, even the generic kind that costs way less at Target), you probably want to consider a light tent for your smaller pieces. I forget which one I got for my mom, but they seem to be fairly standard.

Have fun!
posted by Madamina at 12:06 PM on January 4, 2010

Try this: (1) Plug what you want in My Product Advisor and it'll churn out a handful of recommendations based on what's most important to you, then (2) take the top recommendations and check out reviews of them online and (3) pick one that gets great reviews.
posted by n'muakolo at 12:08 PM on January 4, 2010

I just got the camera that pjern recommended - the Canon PowerShot SX120IS. It's a great little camera and takes very nice quality shots.

I'm a professional photographer who normally shots with a dSLR, but I picked the PowerShot as a little pocket camera to keep on my person when I don't want to haul gear.
posted by MorningPerson at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2010

Almost any current camera will meet your needs. You can probably do well for $100 or so. Get a tripod, and learn to use the white balance feature.
posted by jon1270 at 12:35 PM on January 4, 2010

I got the Canon PowerShot S90 as a Christmas gift and LOVE it - it is over your budget, though. I normally shoot with a dSLR, but I've owned other Canon point and shoot cameras and have loved them, so I guess I'm weighing in to heartily recommend their line.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:50 PM on January 4, 2010

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4K. If you need to see detail you need a Leica lens. I'm sure you can pick one up for $250 - $300 somewhere.
posted by Zambrano at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2010

The orange is not a problem with the camera - it's your white balance. You will have the same problem with a new camera. There is likely a setting on your dial at the top that will produce satisfactory results - "indoor mode", perhaps. Otherwise look for a setting in the menu for white balance and experiment (tungsten, fluorescent, etc.) until the pictures look right.

If I were to buy a digital camera in the $250 range, I'd get the Panasonic Lumix DMC zs3 but you can buy a much cheaper camera and get the results you want. Take pictures during the daytime without direct sunlight - called diffused light - and you can use the same settings you've been using to get acceptable shots.

Your needs are pretty basic. Buy last year's model (because you don't need the bells and whistles - like video or instant upload to Flickr) and you'll save a boatload of money.
posted by AquaAmber at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can still take a decent photo with my seven year old Canon Powershot S45. Investing some time in learning how to set white balance, ISO and exposure compensation in full-manual mode would be a good idea before you decide that you absolutely need something new. For your budget you can get more megapixels than your current camera, but that may or may not matter depending on how large you are displaying your photos on Etsy (and more megapixels does not necessarily indicate higher image quality in the end).

If you decide to go new, the Powershot SX120 that others recommended does come with image stabilization which is nice. I say spend $50 on a cheap little tripod, softbox, and a book on basic digital photography, then decide if you need the features of the new camera.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:42 PM on January 4, 2010

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