Looking for digital camera reccommendations for my girlfriend...
September 15, 2005 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriends 23rd b-day is coming up and she has hinted at wanting a digital camera. She is not a professional photographer. She will mostly be using it for photos taken of friends, on trips, in bars, etc. So I'm basically looking for a digital camera that can be used in social situations. She will probably want one that has video mode. However, she won't like it if it is too technical. But she will want it to produce high quality images. Any suggestions? Price range up to $500.00. Prefereably, something that she can show off to her friends so they can see what a cool boyfriend she has : )
posted by ieatwords to Technology (37 answers total)
http://www.dpreview.com <--- really, i mean that.
posted by trinarian at 9:42 AM on September 15, 2005

I'm being very judgemental here but, since she's a woman, she'll probably want something that also looks good and is small enough to slip into an already full handbag.

In which case, I recommend the Canon Digital IXUS 40.

It is essentially the same as the 400 version apart from the fact that it has a bigger LCD and is substantially slimmer since it uses SD instead of Compact Flash.

Avoid Sony, unless of course you like getting locked into their propriatory and expensive MemoryStick format - not to mention that you can't put the card into many other products.

If 4 megapixel is not enough (or too much) then there is a 30 and 50 version which provide 3 megapixel and 5 megapixel respectivily.

I have the IXUS 500 which is the compact flash version of the 50 and wish I'd waited and got the 50 as it's a hell of a lot smaller, lighter and has a far better screen.
posted by ralawrence at 9:45 AM on September 15, 2005

I just bought my girlfriend a Casio Exilim after buying one (different model, same brand) for me a few years ago. They are great, I have no complaints. Things I like: big screen & easy to use interface. Digital cameras are great for taking pictures, yes. But they are also great for showing off pictures to your friends, get one with a good size screen and you'll enjoy it.
posted by pwb503 at 9:53 AM on September 15, 2005

Seconding ralawrence. Definitely get the Canon.
posted by TurkishGolds at 9:57 AM on September 15, 2005

I second ralawrence's recommendation for this camera body. The series is called SDxxx in the U.S. I have an SD200, which is an excellent, excellent camera for being so tiny.
posted by grouse at 9:57 AM on September 15, 2005

no question, the new model of the Digital Elph. (aka the Canon PowerShot SD20)

in my consumer technology guide i recommend the Sony CyberShot U-40, but the new CyberShot model is way too big. so it's time to go back to the Elph.

cost is about $300 - try B&H Photo for decent prices.
posted by mark7570 at 10:07 AM on September 15, 2005

In the US, the IXUS line is called the ELPH. Looks like they've got a new SD30 model. Great little cameras. I carry mine around even when I've got my digital SLR.
posted by aneel at 10:13 AM on September 15, 2005

Another vote for the SD200, or similar, as discussed above.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:18 AM on September 15, 2005

My entire family and circle of friends have versions of the Elph (the Ixus in Europe, no?). None of us have any had any problems with them, and that's saying something based on all of our different tech capabilities, ruggedness and clumsiness. I have the SD230, which is now about 3 or 4 years old and still working ridiculously well, considering the abuse I put it through. It's also very small for its age, and the new ones are small, easy to use, and take a good picture for their size. You really can't go wrong with any of the pictures in that line; some of the variables that you'll have to investigate include zoom ability and size of screen. If you think she'll want to zoom for pics (while travelling?), a slightly bigger model with a bit more optical zoom is better IMHO. If not, go for the sleek size and small zoom.
posted by fionab at 10:22 AM on September 15, 2005

I have to clarify that I am only recommending the SD200 or similar, not the SD20.
posted by grouse at 10:22 AM on September 15, 2005

Not a specific suggestion but in your research I'd look most strongly towards shutter lag - the #1 thing that drives most normals batty is not getting the shot they want when they want.

I'd also keep an eye towards battery type. My girlfriend despises specialty batteries so she bought a Nikon digital that takes AAs. It means she takes a charger far larger than the one I use for my Canon S500s specialty batteries and I can carry 5 batteries(*) in the space she uses for 2 of the 5 sets of AAs she lugs around. But it means a lot to her that she can just pop into any corner store and get some if every one of her NiCads is dead.

* if you can live with a propriatary battery, eBay is your friend. I bought 4 additional batts for my S500 for $20 plus shipping. This is an area where the aftermarket is kicking serious ass. Far superior to buying the OEM ones at best buy for $40 each.
posted by phearlez at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2005

I have this one from Kodak. I am a total amateur so to me it is great because it is easy to use. I just take pics of the family and print them out or post them on my website. It has the video mode and whatnot, which is also easy to use. It has a nice big LCD. It is not small however relative to many other digital cameras I see people toting around. The link says it's $399, but I'm sure maybe you can Froogle for deals
posted by poppo at 10:47 AM on September 15, 2005

Another vote for the Canon SD series - I got a SD300 for the wife and she loves it - even though I find myself using it more than she does. They just had a recent price drop from US$350 to US$300.
posted by marc1919 at 10:53 AM on September 15, 2005

Yet another Canon SD/Digital Elph recommendation here. I have the SD500, which is 7 megapixels, takes video, good quality, and small.

However, for someone taking casual pictures (I have delusions of actually being able to use an SLR someday) the SD200/300/400 would probably be better--still good quality pics, but a fair bit cheaper, and even smaller.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 10:57 AM on September 15, 2005

I like the Canon Powershot models. The newest one I have experience with is the A70. Does short videos, and has 3X optical zoom. It takes AA batteries. (NiCads, phearlez? Get her some NiMH batteries, and she'll only need two sets.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:58 AM on September 15, 2005

Whatever you get, add a big memory card (1gb) if she is going to be using the movie mode. And set up a Flickr account for her and an account with an online photo printing service at the same time for maximum boyfriend brownie points!
posted by LarryC at 11:00 AM on September 15, 2005

I love my Canon A80! People keep commenting on the great color saturation in my pictures. It's a great camera and great bang-for-the-buck.
posted by gallois at 11:06 AM on September 15, 2005

I second Kirth Gerson's recommendation above. I got a Canon Powershot A85 last year, and it's great - feels substantial and camera-like, pretty easy to use, takes regular old batteries and fancy rechargeable ones, takes super photos/makes decent little movies. But the first comment here - to look at lots of reviews - is a good one too; that's how I decided what I wanted. I'll add www.dcresource.com, which has a neat little tool to narrow down the bajillions of choices.
posted by mdonley at 11:14 AM on September 15, 2005

I am a thorough nikon guy, and every time I've advised a family member or friend who is not a photography fiend (and doesn't want to be one), I told them to get a canon. Their consumer stuff is incredibly reliable. Plus, the direct print system is great for people who just want to take pictures and print them out - essentially you can plug any canon camera into any canon printer and press one button, and a photo comes out. No computers, no drivers, no need to manage the local photo collection, etc.

So, get a canon. Powershot A?? series are slightly heavier/bulkier, but pack a lot of punch for the buck. The smaller cameras are incredibly well-built but obviously more expensive. If you or her already have other memory storage card, that might end up being the determining factor as to which model to get - a CF one, or SD.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2005

I spent april 2004--may 2005 working in a high-end optics store.

Here are *some* of my point and shoot observations:

Nikon's current line up with *ED* (extra-low dispersion) lenses always produce the best photos. The super-small chip size that a p&s uses calls for topnotch optics with resolving power. The ED element eliminates the purple fringing you'll see around the edges of contrasty lines.

Canon's new SDXXX (us) line touts a new "UA" lens... but in my experience, it doesn't reduce "fringing" worth a damn.

"Scene modes" are a fairly important feature that canon tends to overlook. With the nikon, you just select the type of situation you are in... and presto, it loads matrix of settings into the working memory.

Olympus also has a nice selection of these modes, but their over-all interface is a bit more complex.

Also, a new feature of their newer Nikons with ED lenses is "face-priority" which does a pretty dang good job of discriminating a face, and using it for the focus and weighted metering. No worries. Just click. Face-is-in-focus.

All that said, in december 2004 I bought the SD300 (the line mentioned numerous times above.)

Why? Why? Why? Shutter-lag. Shutter-lag was the single most important feature too me. At the time, nikon had not updated their point and shoot camera line in a year, and was using older processors that took a heck of a lot longer to focus than the brand-new canon sdxxx line. HOWEVER. The present Nikon ED models have solved this issue with an updated chipset.

If I could get a "redo" on year later. I'd get the new, slick, fast nikons. Specifically, the Coolpix S3 or the Coolpix 7900. But that's just cause the black body is sexy. (the 5900 might be the more sane choice, 5mp is a lot easier for a computer to deal with than 7!)

Also, the Nikon has an in-camera software-based automagic red-eye fix. Hard to beat the utility of that!

I'd also get a Lowe-Pro DPod neoprene bag that tightly fits whichever model you get (take the plastic logo off... it can bump into the screen and cause damage.). As well as an extra 3rd party battery (delkin's are usually cheap and sturdly.) And a *high-speed* sd card. (512mb or 1gb should be fine.)

(for folks looking for a larger zoom-oriented camera... the konica-minnolta Z6 dominates everyone else... they use ED glass and a rather nifty Anti-Shake System)
posted by mmdei at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2005

As someone who owns a Canon PowerShot A80 (as recommended by gallois), I want to make a point along the lines of the one phearlez made (about shutter lag).

Once you have the camera on, it's not so bad. The AF can be a little slow sometimes, but not enough to matter for most uses. What really irks me about the camera, and may well irk a "casual" user, is the amount of time it takes from when you push the power button to when the camera is ready to shoot. For trying to capture a fleeting moment, it can cause you to miss getting a shot.

Other than that, though, I don't have any other major complaints. The dial on the top makes switching modes easy (though there might be too many for some people), but it can be inadvertently turned to something else when in a bag. The movie mode works well, with 3 minute recording (instead of 30 seconds as with some cameras, though the resolution is lower). The degrees of freedom for the LCD are convienient for getting shots at strange angles, and the screen can fold face-in to the camera to protect it against scratching. The lens seems rather wide-angle, so a 3x optical zoom doesn't mean 3x zoom from what you see with your eyes--this can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the situation.
posted by Godbert at 11:57 AM on September 15, 2005

I'd recommend a Casio EX-S100. I got my wife one and it's just awesome. Very small, very sleek, lots of nice advanced features, and it takes wonderful pictures.
posted by bshort at 12:24 PM on September 15, 2005

The reason why there has been so many Canon recommendations on this thread is that Canon's Powershot series has been ridiculously consistent at producing quality cameras. It's true that some models are better than others (and many are even truly, truly excellent), but you can throw darts at Canon's Powershot lineup all day and never, ever hit a bad camera, particularly when it comes to delivering consistently good and pleasing images. The older Powershots definitely have sluggish AF's (translating into slower shutter lag), but the newer ones are much improved in that department.

That said, my recommendation is the Fuji F10. Rather than pushing megapixel counts ever-higher, Fuji has done a very interesting thing in working on dramatically improving the ISO sensitivity of their new F10 instead, resulting in an almost DSLR-like noise performance in a compact camera. This is hugely useful for social shooting (largely indoors I would imagine): all she has to do is learn to set ISO 400 or 800 on the F10, and her photos will automatically be far better than those from her friends' cameras in low-light shooting conditions, either because of less flash needed (thus allowing more of the ambient light into the picture to reduce the "black background" look) or because flash may not even be needed at all at those ISO levels. The main drawback to the F10 is the lack of manual controls, which your girlfriend won't even notice if she's not a serious photographer.

Oh, there's another drawback to the F10 -- it doesn't look as sleek and flashy as many of the other digicams (particularly the Canon ELPH's, the Casio Exilim's, etc) as far as being as show-off camera goes. But its high ISO photos speak for themselves, if it's the photos that matter most to the both of you.
posted by DaShiv at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2005

I have a Cannon PowerShot S-series camera (of which the S60, S70 seem to be within your price range) which is great. The S-series is slightly bulkier and more feature-ful than the SD-series that is mentioned (frequently) above.

One camera that may be worth looking into is the Fuji Finepix F10, which apparently has a fast focus/shutter speed and excellent low-light performance.

And, again, after you pick a camera, make sure you get a big-ass memory card to go with it (at least 512 MB).
posted by sad_otter at 12:51 PM on September 15, 2005

Doh! It looks like DaShiv beat me to the punch on the F10.
posted by sad_otter at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2005

Yet another F10 fan. Another non-obvious advantage it has is battery life: Canon's is ok, Casio's is better, the Fuji F10's is huge. The other brands need to find out what Fuji are doing to get that duration from their little battery.
posted by normy at 1:08 PM on September 15, 2005

I'd pay a bit more and lurk on Ebay and try and get a decent Leica Digilux.
posted by hardcode at 1:38 PM on September 15, 2005

I'll fourth the Fujifilm Finepix F10 recommendation:

1) It's tiny and gorgeous (speaking as a chick with chick sensibilities) but still easy to use by a woman with average sized hands.

2) Great ISO range up to 1600, though I doubt you'll have to go beyond 400 or 800.

3) Mostly manual, with ISO and flash the only things you'll play with much. You can get excellent shots on auto or with the various scenes pre-sets, but once you learn the basics of ISO settings, that little bit of knowledge gets excellent results..

4) Very fast response wher starting up, shotting and writing to the card.

5) Shockingly good video for a consumer quality camera of this size. I took some extended video on a 1Mb card at a concert, but based on what I saw through the HUGE 2.5 inch LCD, I thought it was going to be lousy. But I got surprisingly good video, even capturing the singer plunging way into the crowd with lousy lighting, and the mono sound was decent.

6) Very nice macro settings. If she wants to take close-up pictures of people, pets, tiny devices, she'll get excellent results.
posted by maudlin at 1:56 PM on September 15, 2005

I five-hundredth the Canon recommendation, but (warning: personal preference) really would stay away from the SD/ELPH series — who would ever want anything that small? Especially when you're trying to take a steady shot (indoors or in the evening) — you need something with a little bulk to it, that feels like a camera in your hands.

Thinking jaw-dropping features: the S2 IS is as "holy cow" as it gets and is within your price range. The 12x optical zoom is huge, especially compared to the ELPHs/SD which hover around 3x, awesome macro, and — most importantly — check out the quality and size of the sample movie. My mother has an S1 IS, which really pales in comparison to the S2, and it's the envy of all my aunts and uncles. It is a little on the bulky size but isn't too big to stuff into a bag. (You really just need to just go to a Best Buy and hold the cameras in your hands to get a feel for this.)

(All that said, DaShiv may be the most spot on here. The number one complaint about digital cameras from pretty much anyone is their handling of low-light situations. I don't know anything about the Fuji he recommends, but if it handles well in lowlight without a lot of noise, that gets a lot more mileage than all the megapixels and zoomage in the world.)
posted by rafter at 1:56 PM on September 15, 2005

*ignores glaring typos in previous post*

Yes, this has excellent battery life with its little custom battery. I've never been caught short with a dead battery and the charging procedure is dead simple. And 6.3 megapixels means you can get huge, high quality pictures that can be cropped enough to make up for the 3x optical zoom.
posted by maudlin at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2005

I have recommended Canon's compact line (e.g. the S40, S50, etc.), which are a size bigger than the Elph/Ixus but still small enough for pocket or purse, to three different women and all three have been thrilled with the camera. Looks like the current model in that line is the PowerShot S70, though a new (even smaller) S80 has recently been announced. Both should be within your price range.
posted by kindall at 2:46 PM on September 15, 2005

Ricoh have a family of cameras that come with a LiIon battery pack, but the compartment will also accept two AAs. I know they have a video mode too. Have a search for Ricoh.
posted by krisjohn at 3:44 PM on September 15, 2005

If video mode is particularly important, look into the Canon Ixus 50 (and presumably later models too?) as that does a very nice 640x480@15fps (and 320x480@30fps).
posted by rjt at 3:55 PM on September 15, 2005

Go to DPreview.com, click on reviews, then click by rating. Then choose among the 5 star reviews.
posted by gen at 4:47 PM on September 15, 2005

The new Ixus models are nice; significantly faster than the older ones, and a lot thinner, so highly pocketable. My Ixus 430 is slow and chunky by comparison.

Although I'm not sure it's the right sort of camera for your gf, the S2 IS is nice, and you can get a nice collection of add-on lenses for it making it impressively flexible (I have a wide-angle and macro lens for it atm). It's my favourite camera since the Olympus C-750, although the Olympus probably had fewer problems with chromic abberation. Battery life is also really really good (400+ shots on a single charge with room to spare with 2100mAh NiMh's).

As with the C-750, a lens tube and UV filter to protect the big-ass lens is probably a good idea if you don't mind it being even chunkier; either Canon's official one or a LensMate one (who's colour suits the camera better). Also, avoid the official Canon bag unless you like doing origami with the strap every time you want to put the camera in it (and it's utterly useless with a lens tube). Don't forget a mini-tripod for those extreme-telephoto/macro/long exposure shots, too.

I find the movie mode, while good, tends to overflow the camera buffer and stop quite easily, at least with my 2.5M/s card. Good for clips, but hardly a camcorder replacement. Also it's not that great at getting a focus lock in low light, despite the AF assist lamp, and the low resolution from the EVF/LCD makes manual focus hit-and-miss.
posted by Freaky at 6:03 PM on September 15, 2005

Odinsdream, you ruined your camera by strapping it to your kite? That is a great story. I am surprised that noone has commented on it already.

I hope you at least got some great pics out of the deal.
posted by intoxicate at 9:40 PM on September 15, 2005

Well, I ruined a Powershot A40 by letting it get sucked into an MRI magnet. Yanked it right out of my hand. (Canon repair service is great.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:09 AM on September 16, 2005

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