Digital Camera
April 4, 2005 1:03 PM   Subscribe

I have about $150-$200 to spend on my first digital camera and have no idea what to buy. I am looking for 3+ megapixels and an optical zoom, portability, good memory and battery and nothing too complicated. Basically just for family stuff, but my old automatic was some big fancy thing that took awesome shots, so I am a little spoiled.
posted by alexg23 to Technology (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Canon SD110 Digital Elph is $195 on Amazon right now. Good, if a bit older, camera at a great price. Here's a review.
posted by me3dia at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2005

I've been very, very pleased with my Canon PowerShot S200, which doesn't meet your resolution requirement since it's rather old now. Still, I recommend the PowerShot line after using mine for a few years and using friends' newer ones. They're small, durable, and have features necessary to handle unusual shooting environments. One thing I wish my camera had is RAW mode. Maybe I just imagine I need it, but if you're in the market for a new camera, it won't hurt to have more features than you need right away. You never know what you'll get in to later, so you might as well be prepared.

For memory, I like CompactFlash-based cameras since I can plug the memory directly into a PCMCIA slot in any laptop using an adapter instead of a dongle or an extra USB cord that inevitably gets lost. I just leave the adapter in the laptop and forget it's even there. Most operating systems glady mount the memory without any extra software necessary, which is fantastic.

Rechargeable batteries (and at least one spare) are a must, in my opinion.

So, that's my take on the generalities.

On preview, it looks exactly like the one pictured in me3dia's link.
posted by odinsdream at 1:21 PM on April 4, 2005

I got some great recommendations when I asked a similar question last year. I paid a bit more for my Konica-Minolta Dimage xg, but I'm guessing prices have dropped since then.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:26 PM on April 4, 2005

I bought my parents the SD110 that M3dia mentions for Christmas. They love it. Keep in mind while looking at prices for digicams to add in the prices for media. SD or CompactFlash cards can add up. I spent $300 for the camera and another $100 on the media.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:51 PM on April 4, 2005

Canon's PowerShot A-series (A70, A75, etc) have always been among the cornerstones of their market segment, being top-selling perennials in the "most camera for least $" category due to having better optics, larger zoom ranges, and a much richer feature set than the more compact and expensive S-series ELPHs. The Canon A510 [Review] is the newest and most aggressively priced member of the A-series lineup (about $170-180 online) and features Canon's latest Digic image processing as well as boasting a new 4x zoom to boot. [Buy online from: B&H, Newegg,, Beach Camera]
posted by DaShiv at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2005

DP Review will take you by the hand and lead you to the digital camera promise land.
posted by Hankins at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2005

FWIW, I bought an A85 and I'm very happy with it. It has 4 mp + 3x zoom. I chose this over others, due to price, and the ability to adjust everything manually. I'm no photo guru, but I know you can adjust the shutter speed, aperature, etc. Plus, you can screw on additional lenses. So, you get a digital cam, with fully adjustable shooting modes read: manual . It is kind of bulky, with the 4 AA batteries, but well worth it.
posted by AllesKlar at 2:17 PM on April 4, 2005

I love my Olympus Stylus 400--great pictures, four megapixels, very compact, water resistant, and it has put up with considerable abuse. Amazon lists it for over $300, but a Froogle search turns it up for $200 at The 3.2 megapixel model should be less. It uses xD cards, which are a bit more expensive than SD and other formats, but that is a one-time expense.
posted by LarryC at 2:18 PM on April 4, 2005

Don't buy the Canon Elph SD110 that me3dia recommended. Nice camera for its time, but outdated. The newer Elphs in the line, the S410 and S500, are going for a steal now. $250 and $300 respectively at Amazon. It's a bit above your range but they're excellent cameras if you want something small. (And no, I'm not on commission).
posted by Nelson at 2:20 PM on April 4, 2005

I have a Konica Minolta X20 which is very compact and has extra-fast startup; plus a zoom lens, straightforward menus and it takes standard AA batteries and cheap SD memory cards. The current near-identical X31 model is in your price range (it's a less fancy version of the Xg recommended above).
posted by cillit bang at 2:37 PM on April 4, 2005

Another Canon recommendation- definitely a Canon. I have an A80, and I couldn't be happier. I've sold people on it by letting them handle it.

Dealcam can give you a good idea of prices.
posted by fake at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2005

Canon A 95, but probably out of your price range at this time.
posted by justgary at 3:11 PM on April 4, 2005

I've got the Canon Elph S500, and I just figured that all cameras in that range take great shots. Wrong. A friend sent me a couple of photos from his comparable Sony Cybershot and I was shocked by the artifacts, noise, and bad color. I saw the same problem with an older Sony digital that my mom had. These are just personal observations, but I'd suggest considering a Canon and steering clear of the Sonys.
posted by letitrain at 3:17 PM on April 4, 2005

Canon Digital Elphs, like everyone else said, are the best point and shoot cameras out there. Easy to use and take great photos, and incredibly small. The removable media is cheaper now than when DaShiv bought it. I just bought a 1GB card for my SLR for $63... which means you should be able to get 256MB (more than enough for 3 megapixels) for $20 or so. I've had good luck with Beach Camera for good deals on cameras. Also Amazon tends to have a decent price on the Canon Elphs.
posted by knave at 3:30 PM on April 4, 2005

This site was linked in an earlier AskMe thread.

Their recommendation is the Canon A75 which is currently $170.44. I've never used one personally, but I have friends that love this camera and their pictures are always great.
posted by purephase at 4:05 PM on April 4, 2005

I just picked up a minolta g400 on ebay from these folks for $105, and of all the digital cameras I've wrangled with in my day, it's my absolute favorite.

it's 4.0 megapixels, has a 3x optical zoom, is incredibly small, and a battery and charger are included in the package. it's also very fast, once you slide the cover off it's ready to shoot. oh, and it uses both SD and Sony Memorysticks for storage. I'm sure you can pick one up for ~$120 and have plenty leftover to get a nice memory card.
posted by mcsweetie at 4:43 PM on April 4, 2005

Canon, canon, canon. I use a powershot A75 at work all the time, and I'm about to buy an A85 or A95 for personal use. The A75 is great and I would recommend it to anyone.
posted by TurkishGolds at 4:58 PM on April 4, 2005

Listen to DaShiv, AllesKlar, and purephase here. The A-series Canon PowerShot cameras are really wonderful. I have taken some pretty gorgeous pictures with mine (A70), and it's the perfect thing for someone who has used a 35mm camera-- the manual override options allow it to be much more than a typical point-and-shoot digicam.
posted by yellowcandy at 5:00 PM on April 4, 2005

Canon A75, another vote for.
posted by JohnR at 5:57 PM on April 4, 2005

I second the DPREVIEW recommendation above , which incidentally has just reviewed Canon PowerShot A510 which , oy what a combination, is in your price range !

I got a Canon A300 and an old Canon S20. I'm definitely not a big expert but they both satisfied my convenience-amateur expectations.

I highly recommend you any camera that can use common AA 1,5V batteries AND rechargeable batteries. You'll save lots of money with rechargeable (which are eco-friendly, too) and eventually you'll be able to buy batteries anywhere if you really need some quick and soon.
posted by elpapacito at 6:07 PM on April 4, 2005

Why not try plugging your desired specs into a shopping site like Epinions or and sorting by price or best best rating? I undrstand wanting the MetaFilter nod before you open your wallet, but I think you'll benefit from doing a little research before you come here.
posted by scarabic at 10:49 PM on April 4, 2005

Damn you guys! I wasn't planning on purchasing a a digital camera, but after reading this post and encouragement from a buddy 2 weeks ago I think I'll get a Canon A510.

Thanks MetaFilter!
posted by sbutler at 11:36 PM on April 4, 2005

Dashiv, are you sure that the 510 has "Canon's latest Digic image processing"? I was looking at this camera and had decided against it because it seemed that it did not have this tech. Perhaps I missed it in the review, it seems that it would be explicitly stated.
posted by flummox at 4:54 AM on April 5, 2005

The A510 certainly doesn't sport the Digic II moniker of Canon's latest DSLR's, but IR's tests (A510, A75) show that despite using only half the batteries of the A75 (significantly reducing the A510's size and weight), the A510 still retains about 60% of the shooting life and 75% of the playback life of the A75. Lower tested image noise was also mentioned. These power and processing improvements were among the features that motivated me to upgrade from a Digic I DSLR to a Digic II one -- for example, witness the new Rebel XT's use of a smaller battery with lowered noise compared to the old Rebel, curtesy of Digic II -- and it looks like Canon is also applying the same image processing lessons to their lower-end models. So yes, Canon has actively improved the A510's "digital guts" rather than simply re-styled the body and numbering, bolted in a new lens or sensor, and called it a new camera (which is all some companies do for their "yearly upgrades").

Newer cameras aren't always better (for example, the A85 is a significant downgrade from the A80) but in this case the improvements (including the longer zoom lens) are tangible, IMO.

I think the main reason why the A510/A520 didn't earn the coveted "highly recommended" from DPR is that they retained the same lethargic autofocus and card write speeds typical of last year's digicams, whereas the market (especially Sony and Casio) has moved aggressively forward in improving on these areas. Expectations for Canon are also extremely high -- Canon puts out so many good cameras garnering so many good reviews (just look at DPR's review history) that the DPR staff is quick to pounce on any weaknesses in a Canon camera to placate the "Phil is biased" crowd on their forums. For instance, Phil came down extremely hard on the Canon G5 for chromatic aberrations despite awarding higher ratings for competing cameras that tested worse in that department. Despite being (rightfully) dinged for not being the most responsive camera though, the A510 does continue the Canon trend that in terms of sheer optics, image quality, and bang for the buck, Canon digicams are pretty tough for the other manufacturers to match, nevermind beat.

I do hope that Canon will start following their competition in the quest to turn the shutter lag of digicams into a relic of the past. There are already a number of point-and-shoots out there that rival DSLR's in their responsiveness, and none of them are from Canon.
posted by DaShiv at 6:03 AM on April 5, 2005

DaShiv -- I'm in the market for a camera, to replace my venerable but still quite functional Canon A20. However, my number 1 criteria lightning-fast shutter/write speed, in order to capture evanescent cute baby moments. Is there a Sony or Casio model in particular that really gets the job done with speed, while still generating high quality images, and in that $150-$300 price range?
posted by MattD at 6:36 AM on April 5, 2005

Unfortunately, critically fast shutter lag (such as on the Sony V3 and Casio P-600) is mostly found on high-end models out of your budget. Write speed is often dependent on image quality, and while many cameras can write quickly if you turn the image compression up and the size down, few non-DSLR's can maintain this at max quality (and few non-DSLR's have intelligent buffers in non-continuous mode that allow simultaneous writing and shooting). So to fully satisfy what you're looking for, it's hard to avoid pumping money into either a high-end digicam or a DSLR proper.

Having said that, there are still some that are better in this department than others. The Sony T1 [test] is "possibly the fastest consumer-level digicam I've tested to date" according to IR. Ricoh's R-series (RX, R1, R1V) [news] boast "the world's fastest shutter response time of 0.01 seconds" but reviews are few [one review], image quality is only so-so, and availability/distribution is extremely spotty. Some of the budget digicams are faster than others, but none really approach DSLR-like speeds when it comes to focusing, writing, and buffering (which appears to be what you're looking for). I think you'll get a more thorough rundown on all the possibilities by pouring through the various reviews on DPR and IR, and asking some specific questions on their forums about what you're looking for. I think no matter what you decide on, it's likely that you'll have to make some hard compromises (most likely in the writing, buffering, and frames-per-second departments). Good luck!
posted by DaShiv at 7:23 AM on April 5, 2005

I second the high recommendations of the Canon. My Canon point-and-shoot (S30) and my girlfriend's A60 were both excellent (disclaimer: both died after about 16 months of heavy use. I suspect it's because we knocked them around so much, but she held it against Canon and got a Minolta that I'm not impressed with).

The A series models are particuarly awesome because they take double-A batteries — a set of NiMH rechargeables will hold charge well and save you money, and in a can't-miss-the-shot situation you can pop into any corner drugstore as a back-up plan.

I upgraded to a Nikon dSLR and have really thrown myself into photography, but I'm shopping around for a smaller camera so I can stop lugging the massive SLR with me every time I go get a bite to eat. I'm really leaning toward the A95, which is slightly over your price range ($250-$260 or so) but for me the swivel-screen is a must.
posted by rafter at 11:48 AM on April 5, 2005

Thanks for all the help here...and sorry for not getting back sooner. I was leaning toward a Canon before coming here, but hearing so many good things about Canons has sealed the deal. Now to shop around for the best price and finally make the plunge!
posted by alexg23 at 9:26 AM on April 19, 2005

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