I'm looking for a newer digital camera in the $300-$600 range with decent native zoom (12x) and stitch assist.
October 30, 2012 12:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a newer digital camera in the $300-$600 range with decent native zoom (12x) and stitch assist.

Since 2006 I've had a Canon S3 IS. It's old and the quality is not great, but honestly I still like its feel & features. I am just barely a "prosumer." But I do have a graphic design background and have become much pickier about photography in the last year.

In 2013 I plan to do a lot of travel throughout Europe and the Middle East. I would like something I can cart around while bicycling and not feel like I'm worried about a fragile $1200 device, for example. When I travel I use the stitch assist/panorama function a lot, as well as zooming to faraway things. I like the modes of the S3 (night, sports, etc) and would love to find something comparable that suits an amateur like me.

Just to get an idea, here are some models I'm looking at on Amazon:

• Nikon COOLPIX P510
• Olympus SZ-31MR 16MP
• Fujifilm FinePix HS25EXR
• Canon PowerShot SX260
• Canon PowerShot SX40
• Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V

I am feeling overwhelmed with all the options, though, and having trouble pulling the trigger.

I've been told to avoid super-zoom cameras because it compromises overall image quality and better to just get a lens kit. Does that make sense?

I've also considered printing some travel photos out for framing, and wondering if shooting in RAW would also be a desired feature for higher quality?

Any other advice would be great - thanks!
posted by critzer to Technology (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you can compromise on zoom then maybe take a look at the Canon G15. But it has a 5x zoom. I have a G12 and it is such an awesome all rounder that I barely take the DSLR out all. It would do 90%+ of what you'd want to do and not be as bulky as the larger halfway house cameras with the bigger zooms. It can shoot in RAW. It has the various modes you like and if it is like the G12 (and pics suggest it is) it will have quite a chunky, solid feel to it.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:35 PM on October 30, 2012

Thanks, I did actually check out the G15 and the G1x, but the lower zoom discouraged me somewhat.
posted by critzer at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2012

I'm a fan of the Panasonic Lumix brand cameras. They're rebranded Leicas and tend to have very fast lenses. I think they err on the side of "more pixels of less quality!", which is bullshit, but the images turn out good regardless and the lenses are fantastic.

The FZ200 in particular looks like a great all-rounder, if it isn't too bulky for you. It has a massive zoom range and a fast (f/2.8!) lens. I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

If you don't need the zoom, for $600 you're in the range of one of the Micro 4/3 cameras with a kit lens, which wouldn't be a bad decision. You could also go for a high-end point and shoot like the FZ200 that isn't all about the zoom, like the DMC-LX7, which has a wide-angle f/1.4 lens.
posted by jsturgill at 1:27 PM on October 30, 2012

If you are willing to blow more money, I've been very curious about some of the truly high-end fixed lens cameras. These are all very expensive, but well built and easy to carry around.

Fujifilm FinePix X100, which has an APS-C size sensor (still not full frame, but huge for a point and shoot) and fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens.

Sigma DP2, which has 45mm f/2.8 lens on a 46 megapixel sensor (or the DP1, which has a 28mm lens)! Medium format in your pocket! With a few quirks and lousy battery life, apparently. But still.

Sony DSC-RX1, which gives you a full frame sensor and f/2.0 lens. For a few thousand dollars.

Leica X2, which has another APS-C sensor with a 24mm f/2.8 lens.

I like reading about things I will never own. The Sigma and the FujiFilm are right at $1,000, which makes them almost not crazy to purchase.
posted by jsturgill at 1:53 PM on October 30, 2012

The FZ200 in particular looks like a great all-rounder, if it isn't too bulky for you.

Does it have stitch assist / panorama? I don't see that in the specs.
posted by critzer at 1:54 PM on October 30, 2012

(I appreciate the feedback, folks. At the same time, my question specified a higher zoom, stitch assist and a price range. I'd really just like camera suggestions pertinent to those specific things..)
posted by critzer at 1:59 PM on October 30, 2012

If you can live without the higher zoom you might look at a Sony Mirrorless camera. I just bought one for my graphic designer daughter and she loves it.
posted by doctord at 2:04 PM on October 30, 2012

Have you looked at the Lumix zs20? Reviews here. It has 20x zoom and panorama mode. I have the ZS19 which is sometimes on sale at Costco for <$200. It is the same as the ZS20 minus the GPS feature.
posted by oneear at 2:05 PM on October 30, 2012

Here's the thing about "zoom" numbers quoted in terms of a ratio like "12x": they don't mean anything. All they tell you is the difference between the widest and longest settings on the camera. A 10x zoom can be from 50-500mm or from 25-250mm. Both are a 10x ratio, but one gets you twice as close to the subject as the other. This is what you're really looking for with a long lens - reach, not difference from a short lens.

Also, the longest settings on compact camera lenses aren't really that great, because its really hard to get a picture of the sorts of things you typically use long lenses for with them. The biggest applications for long lenses are sports and wildlife, where you can't just walk closer to the subject. Compact camera lenses aren't bright enough to capture these things without blurring them except on the brightest of sunny days, making these long "10x" zooms more marketing gimmick than actually useful.

I'd much rather have a 24-70mm f2.0 than an 28-335mm f4.0-5.6, especially in a compact camera where the small sensors don't handle low light as well.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:45 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Critzer, the FZ200 has a panorama shooting mode. I believe all the current Lumixes have that feature.

Speaking to tylerkaraszewski's point, the FZ200's lens is is 25mm to 600mm, which is astonishing, and the max aperature is a constant f/2.8 regardless of zoom.

It's bulkier than most point and shoots, but if that's not a problem, I doubt you can do better for the price.
posted by jsturgill at 4:27 PM on October 30, 2012

I'm gonna throw the Canon S100 in the ring. It doesn't have the zoom you want, but like tylerkaraszewski says above, in that price range 12x optical zoom is not going to be very useful in any situation except bright sunny days outside. As for stitching, it may be cheaper (and better) to do it on a computer instead of the camera.
posted by reformedjerk at 4:35 PM on October 30, 2012

Long lenses on a tiny light camera only work in really bright light, since the camera will wobble a lot. You can always crop a high-quality picture to get the equivalent of a longer zoom; many cameras have this as a built-in feature called "digital zoom".

Mirrorless cameras (basically, SLRs without a prism/viewfinder, and a screen instead) have made remarkable progress in recent years. Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic all make ones that are now available at quite nice prices. They're a bit larger than most fixed-lens digital cameras but make up for it in remarkable image quality, especially in low light.
posted by akgerber at 6:25 PM on October 30, 2012

I picked up a Canon SX230 HS for traveling around Europe last month and I couldn't be more pleased. (I posted a bit about it on another AskMeFi.) The picture quality is great, the long zoom is so handy, and it's tiny so I carry it with me everywhere now, as opposed to my big bulky DSLR which stays home when I travel. As they say, the best camera for you is the one you'll use!

Since the SX260 is the most current upgrade, it sounds like it's right up your alley. The only thing I would warn about is the relatively short battery life (I can squeeze one full day of photos out of it - maybe about 200 shots or so?), but I just picked up a spare battery and have it charged and ready to swap out whenever I need it.
posted by platinum at 6:46 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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