Looking for a point-and-shoot that can handle action and macro. Want quality photos, not high MegaPixels!
August 9, 2010 8:52 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a point-and-shoot that can handle action and macro. Want quality photos, not high MegaPixels!

I'm graduating from my Canon PowerShot SD630. I loved it but I want to get something better now.

I'd like to be able to take nice macro shots, in natural light. I'd also like to take great action shots of the dogs outside, and hopefully inside. I HATE using the flash, the colors are never nice. So I always turn the flash off and try to get as much natural light as possible. Other requirements: It will be dropped outside, so it should be metal like the powershots. Would like a large screen and a tripod ... hole?

I don't care about zoom or megapixels, if it can't process the pixels into a clear photo it's not worth it. I'd be happy with 8-10 if it takes nice photos.

I bought the PowerShot 1300IS and returned it in less than a week. The photos were blurry or grainy and it couldn't get a decent action shot of the dogs. I'm not a GREAT photographer, but this camera seemed worse than the 630.

When I returned it, a salesguy mentioned he had bought and returned it as well, and he recommended two others.

Sony CyberShot W330 - Looked nice, photos may have been a little grainy.
Nikon Coolpix S3000 - I liked this one best, when I took photos in the store it seemed like it had a great shutter speed, it took clear crisp photos with no flash inside.

Any others to look at?
posted by jesirose to Technology (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Canon S90is is a great little point and shoot camera and has excellent low light performance.
posted by iamabot at 8:56 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The camera that has pleased me best over the years is my Sony Cybershot DSC-T77. This is not because it takes the best pictures all the time; it is not because it has the most pixels. It is mostly because it is -there-. It's so easy to carry around that I get pictures all the time. The pictures are good, not great, but I -get- the pictures because the camera is in my pocket and it's available. I'm a Sony hater in general and it took a lot for me to even look at a Sony product but this camera has been wonderful for me. I've taken macro shots that are good enough and action shots that are certainly fast enough. This camera has been enough for me; it's given me more pleasure than any other camera and I have had a raft of them.
posted by jet_silver at 9:21 PM on August 9, 2010

I've got a Canon S90 and it's pretty great, particularly with the CHDK open firmware installed.
posted by signalnine at 9:39 PM on August 9, 2010

You didn't mention budget, but b1tr0t's suggestions are good. The S90 and G11 get consistently excellent reviews. The Lumix are also supposed to be nice. I wouldn't go with the current Nikon P&S, although information is surfacing about their new G11 competitor the P7000. But it's obviously not available (nor official) yet.
posted by michswiss at 10:01 PM on August 9, 2010

b1tr0t's advice is all you need to know. Aside from those models, there really isn't anything in the P&S market that compares to those. I have the LX3 and I love it to pieces. One benefit with the LX3 video is that it's 24p so it has a nice film-like quality. But it's only 720p if that's an issue. It also doesn't autofocus or zoom while the video is rolling. The manual focus on the LX3 is really nice too.

If you need slightly more features than this, you might want to go next step and check out micro 4/3rds cameras: The Lumix GF1 (want! want!) or the Olympus PEN, or the Sony NEX. These are even better image quality and have good video options PLUS interchangeable lenses, which can be pretty handy.
posted by jnrussell at 10:28 PM on August 9, 2010

Best answer: Indeed, b1tr0t is right. I've recommended the LX3 (and the soon upcoming LX5) before here on the green. I'd like to throw another one into the mix: the Samsung TL500 (EX1). In the review I've linked from dpreview.com, you can see that they compare it specifically with the LX3, and it's quite comparable. What's interesting, is that the Samsung has an even faster 24-72mm equivalent F1.8-2.4 image stabilized lens vs LX 3 - F2.0 - 2.8 24-60mm equivalent stabilized lens... pretty amazing. Further, it's as wide as the LX3, but slightly longer (though the LX5 will be longer yet). So there are some choices. I'd think like this: (1)Panny LX5, (2)Samsung EX1, (3)Canon S90. The Canon G11 is a bit bigger, not exactly a compact P&S, but if you can go bigger, then it's a respectable choice.
posted by VikingSword at 12:04 AM on August 10, 2010

I have a G11 which takes great, even amazing pictures, in low light. When it does use the flash, even these look pretty great. It's a bit bigger than most point and shoots, but is still portable enough.
posted by beerbajay at 12:59 AM on August 10, 2010

Hey there,
It is very challenging to use a P&S for action photography. It is possible to use tricks like prefocusing, and of course, understanding exposure and selecting the proper holy trio (iso/shutter/aperture) to decrease shutter lag. But in general, an slr would make a better choice.

Macro wise, while point and shoots allow you to focus very close to the camera, that's giving you an insane perspective of the object, not necessarily magnification. If you need magnification well... time to look at slrs, or even cameras with bellows attachments.

Quality: Relatively speaking, a P&S will not compare very well when pixel peeping against a larger format like a crop sensor dslr. That said, if you are not printing too big, shooting for web, or shooting at low isos on the P&S, it is generally fine.

Sony vs Nikon:
Not a fan of sony. I've had 4 sony point and shoots (MVC-FD7 all the way to the F717), they are great, just I prefer other brands of point and shoots (e.g. Panasonic, Canon are my favourite brands for P&S. I use panasonic atm.)

Nikon: I shoot with nikon dslrs. I dislike nikon point and shoots. When you say it's crisp and clear, are you reviewing on the lcd on the point and shoot, or at 100% on a screen at home?

This doesn't answer your question, but I humbly suggest, to step up to a dslr if you truly want to see a big difference. It's a compromise in build and carry about factor, but the results will speak for themselves.


PS: My focus on photography is more on wildlife/zoos. A typical action shot for me would be a falcon catching a tossed piece of food; puffins flying home with eels in their mouth.... quite challenging to track even with a slr so... ymmv. The only dog sport I've shot is flyball; had to prefocus for the dogs running head on.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:16 AM on August 10, 2010

Seconding Canon PowerShot G11. Great little camera.
posted by pyro979 at 5:25 AM on August 10, 2010

I also have a S90, and it takes great photos with available light. I barely ever use the flash. I love it.

Given that, there are trade-offs. Most of these better cameras are a bit bigger than the one you tried. The S90 is not as pocketable as the old Powershot I had, and the G11 isn't pocketable at all really. They are also significantly more expensive, like double the price.
posted by smackfu at 5:27 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Ugh I wrote a long reply and the internets ate it.

Thanks all!! I wish I'd waited until this morning to post, thanks to all you nightowls! :)

I'm willing to spend up to 400, but getting too much more than that is out of the hobby range - but I can wait a month and add another few hundred to buy a 300-400 camera, if it's going to meet my needs. So the models you guys have suggested are fine. I'm going to read the reviews/links today.

@Trinsic - The factors that turn me off of a DSLR are price and size/weight. I've used a Canon DSLR for years and it was great - for product shots in the lightbox. Outside it was too heavy for me to hold long and keep it steady. I also know I'm not going to take something that big and heavy to the dog park or beach.
I'm not trying to shoot dog sports yet, just my dogs playing. Or heck just moving. I took a series of the dog chewing a bone with the Canon PS1300IS and EVERY shot was blurry, when I knew I had great light and was focused. I'm expecting a brand new P&S in bright light should be fast enough to catch a slow movement - and that was what I liked about the Nikon P&S, I had my boyfriend move in the store and took pics, and it got great pictures.
posted by jesirose at 5:58 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Oh and BTW: I never print my photos, I am shooting entirely for my blog, shots of the dogs training/playing/sleeping, and food. (er, people food.) They're all going to be displayed around 500-600 pixels on a monitor.

I do have Photoshop (although I usually just use Piknik on Flickr now) and can adjust a poorly exposed photo to some degree, but the blurriness/graininess I can't deal with.
posted by jesirose at 6:04 AM on August 10, 2010

Best answer: Throwing my hat in the ring for the Panasonic Lumix (I have a DMC-ZS1). If you hate using a flash, this is a good camera to have--does natural/low light very well. The screen is nice and big and it has a good 12x zoom.

I've taken some beautiful macro shots with it--action shots aren't as good (I have never found anything to beat the little Nikon Coolpixes for clear action shots--their sports mode is better than anything else I've dealt with).
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:24 AM on August 10, 2010

Do have a look at the Sony NEX-5 as well... It's an SLR-like camera (in terms of image quality and exchangeable lenses) at the size of a compact.

Not quite as cheap though but may be cheaper in the long run than buying compact cameras that may not be able to satisfy your needs (the tiny sensors in them always compromise quality as others have mentioned).
posted by Morbuto at 8:35 AM on August 10, 2010

I love my Panasonic Lumix, too. I went through extensive macro comparison modes when I bought it, and not only did the macros look terrific, but I also appreciated that it took video with sound for as long as the memory card could hold. Many other cameras (back then) would only take a couple minutes worth of video.

My flickr account and etsy account are linked in my profile...all of the shots are taken with my Lumix. I am a fussy fussy macro taker, and I am particular about my colors, and my Lumix suits me quite well.
posted by redsparkler at 9:16 AM on August 10, 2010

S90 can be found on good sales these days if you look around... I shoot the occasional gig here and there, and I have been very impressed with the results, especially for what I paid for it -- It replaced a Nikon P5100 that I used to carry around with me all the time, and it is superior in absolutely every way possible.

You will see mixed reviews on it, but most of the negatives I have seen criticize it for not being as noise free as a DSLR (You won't find that in a pocketable camera, period) and for not maintaining the F2.0 aperture throughout the entire range (which is, frankly, absurd for a compact camera. Look at ANY fixed aperture lens to see why this is stupid.) The one semi-legitimate complaint is that focus modes are only auto, center, and manual - There's no option to move the center focus point, it's either full auto or center if you want AF. In practice, this has NEVER been a problem.

It has the additional bonuses of having negligible shutter lag when prefocused, being able to deal with extraordinarily low light situations, and it's incredibly easy to work with, and customize to your liking, without being completely overwhelming with features that you will honestly never use.

It will meet all of your criteria, from what you have mentioned. I've fired it at ISO 1600 and got amazingly clear shots. PLUS, you can customize all of the auto modes to NOT use flash by default -- which I absolutely LOVE, I can just hand it to someone and get a picture close to how I'd like it.

I've used the Panys and Nikons before. The panasonic cameras I've seen have had OVERLY technical interfaces, and many impressive features, but lacked in a few key areas like focus speed and usability. The LX may be different, but it's a significantly higher cost of entry than the S90 these days, with little benefit.

Nikon can't make a P+S worth anything anymore. The P5100 was really teetering on the edge of usability, I've absolutely hated every single one I've used since then.

One last thing on the S90 - If you are already familiar with Canon's interfaces, this will be extra easy for you... You will gain a couple of control rings you can use for exposure and ISO by default, or just about anything else, and you can manual focus in a pinch - This comes in very handy for macro.

If I sound like I'm writing way too much about it, it's because it's the first compact I've ever used that I've been legitimately excited about -- It handles simply, produces terrific results, and it's easy to customize how I want. Plus, I got mine for $300, and for that cost, it astounds me.

For producing jpgs for web content, I think you probably not notice most of what a lot of what cameras in this range have to offer.... What you will gain with the S90 is light sensitivity and dynamic range that trounces the majority of compacts.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2010

Also, if you care about this sort of thing, there's this:


They don't test every compact by far, but it will provide a good frame of reference for how the sensor performs in regard to dynamic range, color representation, and low light... I don't put a ton of weight into those comparisons, but you may find it useful..
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2010

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