What's a good digital camera?
July 5, 2011 8:33 PM   Subscribe

What's the best digital camera to take environmental photos with? We're looking to purchase a new camera and am considering spending between $1000-$1500 total. We take many photos of the wilderness, lakes, mountains, etc... Since we do a lot of backpacking, we would like it to be somewhat compact. Any suggestions would be helpful.
posted by Direwolf to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You want something with a wide angle lens.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:41 PM on July 5, 2011

Adding: If by "wilderness" you mean landscapes, then you want something with a good wide angle lens. If by "wilderness" you mean animals, you want something with a good telephoto lens.

If you get a DSLR (not so compact) you can get both types of lenses. But there are "somewhat compact" cameras that do allow you to switch out lenses. I don't know if there's one that will allow you to have both good wide angle and telephoto lenses however.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:44 PM on July 5, 2011

Adding again: If you want to shoot both landscapes and animals, requiring both wide-angle and telephoto lenses, but you want something somewhat compact, you might check out some micro 4/3 lenses and the cameras that work with them.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:49 PM on July 5, 2011

I don't think you can spend a 1000 bucks on an actual compact camera. I have been out in the wilderness (backpacking, mostly) for the last month or so with a Canon s90, and have been super-happy with it. Long battery life, great low-life performance, very compact, etc. The s95 is supposed to be even better.

Otherwise, the micro 4/3s stuff is supposed to be pretty great, and you won't pay nearly the weight penalty of a true digital SLR, while getting the flexibility that multiple lenses will give you.
posted by rockindata at 9:11 PM on July 5, 2011

I think this review of using the GF1 in the Himalayas has sold a lot of micro 4/3 systems. I have one and absolutely adore it. It's easy to carry, and the pictures look great.
posted by duien at 9:17 PM on July 5, 2011

Consumer Magazine has a free one-day subscription today. I just read their piece on digital cameras and it was WAY detailed. Helped me narrow down what I need (which is the opposite of what you want, so I won't give you any specific suggestions).
posted by lollusc at 9:23 PM on July 5, 2011

I'm sort of inclined to say to just get a medium-format film camera and a good scanner if you want to do landscapes.

On the other hand, you can still do a hell of a job with a used GF1 body and a 7–14mm ultra-wide lens for it, and you could probably get that combination for under $1,000. Plus if you get the 20mm pancake lens, you have basically the ultimate travel camera. Read the thing Duien linked. Do it. Do it now.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:02 AM on July 6, 2011

I've got an S90, and it's great. Much more control and better pictures than I got with a Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot at almost the same size. The small size and weight is a key criterion for me. (If you do take extended trips away from outlets with it, get some spare knock-off batteries off eBay for a couple dollars each so you can have a couple batteries per week.)

But I'm no expert photographer. A friend of mine takes her Canon G10 backpacking and takes amazing pictures, with a more featured camera than mine, and more skills than I have.

A SLR (or µ4/3) will be an even better camera, with more technical possibilities, but bigger and more expensive.

From the information you post, I can't really advise what you should pick on the size vs price vs features continuum.
posted by JiBB at 12:48 AM on July 6, 2011

The ricoh GR3 is a fantastic, fast (f1.9) wide angle (fixed at 28mm equivalent) compact camera. I carry one with me everywhere. It has a durable magnesium body and great image quality (better than the s95 for the same sensor size.

I *love* it for scenic shots and also for street photography as it is dead silent and you can configure it so there are no flashing lights on the front.

You can get them for about $450 USD. If you like really wide angles (which I do) there is an excellent wide angle adapter that will take you out to 20mm equivalent.


Carl C-M
posted by ccoryell at 1:16 AM on July 6, 2011

Came to post, and will settle for seconding, the Himalayas link.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:32 AM on July 6, 2011

OP will need to clarify many of the questions above, but my suggestion would be for a Panasonic LX5. Real compact, and the shutter is generally inaudible. 24mm @ F2.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:33 AM on July 6, 2011

You can definitely spend $1,000+ on a compact camera.

As a side note, the commentors here are giving you some great information but I wanted to shed a little light on something that may be hard to understand. It's about sensor size. In the film days, the rolls of film came in standardized sizes. Most people would get a roll of 35mm film (this is the type that comes in that oddly shaped spool-thing). The 35mm refers to the width of each frame (which is to say, the sensitive part of the film strip).

For some, this type of film wasn't good enough. Let's say that a given photographer wanted to enlarge their picture to poster size or bigger. If they tried to enlarge a 35mm negative to that size, they might not get a very sharp image (the edges of the subjects inside the picture may be blurry). A bigger negative, which is to say bigger film, could help solve this. This photographer may be interested in what is called "Medium Format" (MF) film. Their are many more standard sizes (and shapes) for MF film.

Why am I telling you this? Well, nowadays we don't use film, but we do have an analog in the camera sensor. Today, the sensor is basically the "film".

The confusing thing is that the physical dimensions of the sensor aren't really related to how much you can enlarge your image in the way the physical dimension of the film are. The variable that will indicate how mush you can enlarge your pictures is Megapixels. This compact camera has 12 mp. This pro camera does too. Same Mp...so what gives?

There is more to a sensor than megapixels and your ability to enlarge the image. Compositionally, there is depth of field (which you can read about here). The important thing is that the smaller your sensor the deeper your DOF.

The typical compact camera (G10, S90) has a tiny sensor. That means a deep dof. The D3s I linked to has a sensor that is the same size as a piece of film, 35mm wide. Naming conventions are not necessarily intuitive so I'll list sensor smallest to biggest:

1. Compact
2. Micro 4/3
3. APS-C
4. Full-Frame
5. Medium Format

So how does this apply to you? If all you plan on photographing is landscapes, then sensor size isn't as important since you want deep depth of field. On the other hand, with a shot like this a larger sensor will help.

fyi that last pic was taken with a camera that has an APS-C sensor, just like the fuji I kicked this answer off with.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get a decent DSLR. Your budget is not ehough to go for top of the line. But should be able to get something like Canon XSi, T1i, T2i or a T3i.

If by wilderness you mean wild life get a good telephoto lens. Something like 70-200mm f/4.
posted by WizKid at 12:16 PM on July 6, 2011

Thanks for all of the great feedback! I think I've narrowed it down a bit...
posted by Direwolf at 8:19 PM on July 18, 2011

I know that this thread is long dead, but I just have to chime in- the s90/95 have much larger sensors than a typical compact camera (a good bit smaller than SLR, almost comparable to micro 4/3s) Hence, it has a much higher light sensitivity, and lower noise. There are a number of other compact cameras that are similar.
posted by rockindata at 12:51 PM on August 17, 2011

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