Point-and-shoot digital camera advice.
June 24, 2013 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking it might be time to upgrade my digital camera. Is it worth it? If so, what models should I be looking at?

I have a 10-year-old Casio Exilim EX-Z750 camera (now available for $50 on Amazon!). I'm thinking of upgrading.

Based on this previous question, it seems like it might be worth it for me to upgrade for the sensitivity. Now that we have a baby, we're taking a lot more indoor photos. With our current camera we basically always have to use the flash inside. Would a newer camera change that significantly?

I'm not at all expert in photography, but I've been very happy with the little Casio. The things I like about it that I'd want in a new camera are:
- it's small and light
- it's very easy to use, the controls are in good places and the settings are intuitive. It doesn't have 3 billion menus like some friends' cameras I've seen.
- the battery life is long
- the pictures that it takes in basic snapshot mode usually look quite good
- it has some preset modes for things like flowers (macro focus and high color saturation) and landscapes (infinite focus and high color saturation) that work well
- it's easy to take video

Things I don't like:
- as mentioned above, I pretty much always have to use the flash indoors
- the flash is wimpy
- the camera doesn't automagically orient the photos when I download them like I hear all the cool cameras do these days

Do you think a new camera would be worth it? If so, what models would be good to consider based on my criteria?
posted by medusa to Technology (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Years ago, I was a 2 camera guy. I had a DSLR and a point & shoot... mostly for the times I didn't want to lug around my DSLR.

Then I got an iPhone. I haven't touched my point & shoot since. In fact, after a few months, I gave it away.

If you're going to spend the money on a point & shoot, you'll probably be thrilled by what you get since they've come a long long long way in the last 10 years, but I'd strongly recommend you think about getting a smartphone instead. I'm guessing you don't have one, only because so many people seem to be replacing their point & shoot cameras with smartphones. I'm so much happier with my iPhone as a camera than I ever was with a point & shoot. The apps are fantastic. The ability to share photos is superb. And best of all, it's always with me, which means I use it more often.

To be honest, I never wanted a smartphone. I thought they were dumb. I only bought an iPhone because I wanted it for the camera... but now I love that thing. It's the best piece of tech I've ever owned. It's the easiest to use too.

...food for thought.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:22 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Technology has come a long way in 10 years..... if you were to get something new, what is your budget?
Photos from any camera will usually not look good in low light, and worse when the flash fires. Getting near a window is the cheapest and best solution.
posted by starman at 4:29 PM on June 24, 2013

So, there is a great divide in "point and shoot" these days. I could (and might still) bore you with different scenarios and enticements for each one, but here's what you should buy depending on what you want to spend:

- Best compact ever made (rivals mid-level dSLRs in image quality):

Sony RX100

- Excellent compact with larger sensor and very fast lens:

Panasonic LX7 or Samsung EX2F (never pay more than $300 for either. Sales abound)

- Small "standard" and inexpensive point and shoot (this is most likely what you're looking for):

Canon ELPH 320HS or Panasonic SZ1

I totally understand when people say, "my iphone/galaxy/win8 phone has replaced my p&s", but that's still a few years off for me. Even the $100-ish cameras above will easily best even the new Nokia phones in all-around capability.

Basically, get the SZ1. It's a great camera and checks all your boxes for under $140. If you wait around for a sale you can get them for closer to $100. Check out Slickdeals for previous low-prices.
posted by lattiboy at 4:41 PM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here is a handy little flow chart to help you choose a digital camera. I can't tell when exactly it was last updated, but it is fairly recent.

When you buy a new camera, I really encourage you to sign up for a digital photography class. I took one a few years ago through my town's Parks & Rec department, and it was so worthwhile- explaining all the menus and options. There were people there with fancy pants DSLRs worth more than my car, and people there with little Point & Shoots needing help getting the photos off their camera, and everyone in between. You can do really an awful lot of neat stuff with a P&S these days.
posted by ambrosia at 4:56 PM on June 24, 2013

Technically you're looking for the Canon S110 these days, the old S90 (which is AWESOME) is the S110 in it's modern incarnation. The S110 is about 400, the S100 is about 300, the S95 is probably 200ish if you can find them. The S90 is probably about 100-150 if you can find it.

The reason you feel like you always have to use flash indoors is the speed of the lens. The Canon S110 would handle this readily (f/2). Basically, the S90 (S95, S100, S110) and so on has been my point and shoot recommendation by default for years because it's simply a fantastic camera with that awesome fast lens on it.

Personally, I'd be looking at one of the ruggedized point and shoots, as a couple of them now have a decent f/2 lens...which was the biggest piece o game the S90 and it's progeny brought to the table. We grew out of taking pictures of the little one indoors (have 2 year old, will travel) and now find ourselves all over the place and the last thing we want to worry about is whether the camera will survive the toddler or the weather or both.

Current ruggedized favorite (although I don't own one yet) is the Olympus TG-2 - retails about 320. It's on the list of things to get when the next kid shows up in the fall.
posted by iamabot at 6:17 PM on June 24, 2013

I love to take pictures when I travel but I really hate the idea of carrying around a gigantic camera. So I've only ever used point and shoots when traveling. My last upgrade was to the Canon S95 and it's the best camera I've ever owned. Takes wonderful pictures in all sorts of conditions, and easily slips into a jacket pocket. Even though cellphone cameras have come a long way, my iPhone 4S is no comparison to my Canon S95 in versatility, picture quality, and ease of use (gripping a slippery smooth phone and taking a shot one-handed is difficult!)

There might be a newer model of the S95 out (S100 maybe?), but basically you want that little boxy matte black camera. I remember paying ~$350 for it and this was in a retail store in Canada, two years ago.
posted by pravit at 6:19 PM on June 24, 2013

I have one of these guys, and it's a decent camera. In fact, it takes incredible pictures outside. Indoors in lower lighting, however, it's not so great -- it lags when it focuses. The videos come out great, and it even has a 240 FPS feature. I paid $105 for the camera + SD card + case at Best Buy when they were trying to get rid of inventory.

My sister's iPhone 5, on the other hand, outshines my camera in almost every situation. I've heard nothing but good things about Samsung's S4 as well. If a smartphone is at all an option, I'd recommend either of those.
posted by spiderskull at 7:03 PM on June 24, 2013

A used Canon S95 will give you tremendous bang for your buck. There are other, newer, more expensive alternatives, but it's hard to say that they'd be much practically better than the S95, especially considering how tiny it is. It takes great pictures, and it's small enough to hide in your mouth. What's not to like?

I own an Olympus XZ-1 myself, and it's pretty great. Very ergonomic, very well-designed, takes great photos. Another nice thing about it is that the lens is significantly faster across the whole range (1.8-2.5 vs. 2-4.9). However, while it is very small, it is slightly bigger than the S95. The XZ-1 would be somewhat awkward to stuff in the front pocket of my dressy work pants, for example, whereas the Canon S95 is, as mentioned before, tiny. This may or may not matter to you.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:33 PM on June 24, 2013

Not to thread shit, but Canon is lagging well behind Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung, and Sony in the ‚ÄĚserious compact" market.

Feature for feature (especially lens speed and build quality) the Canon s series seem quaint.

Based on what you said I honestly think the lower end Panasonic a Gould buy. If you find yourself needing more detail or better low light, look to the others I mentioned.

posted by lattiboy at 10:13 PM on June 24, 2013

Note that the Sony RX100 has a problem with macro shots - it can't focus any closer than 5cm. It's otherwise pretty phenomenal, but you had specifically mentioned wanting to do macro shots of flowers, and that is its Achilles' heel.

When picking a camera, first think about what your budget is (which you haven't given us!). $100? $200? $500? $854,291.24?

Your best bet for general camera advice is to go to snapsort and to compare cameras which you are considering. IGNORE the overall score - those scores can be pretty daffy. Just look at the itemized list of features between your options, and see what best suits your needs. You'll find that there are many comparably excellent options to choose from, especially if you open yourself up to buying older cameras used. You'll also find that you don't care about a lot of features in actual practice. For example, I would never care about an extra .5" in the LCD screen, or an extra 2 megapickles, and yet snapsort feels obligated to apparently weight those kinds of factors.

Then, go to Flickr and actually look at photos taken by your options. Don't look at test shots made for camera reviews, unless you're really into shooting test charts and scientifically controlled still life. See what the differences look like in practice. You'll find that, after a certain quality point, the results all look pretty similar, especially when viewed on a computer.

Don't reify the overall numerical score which snapsort (via DxO) uses to represent image quality. After a certain quality point, those scores are meaningless without more context. For example, the Canon S95 has better high ISO performance than the Olympus XZ-1, but the XZ-1 has a faster lens, so it's a wash between the two. One camera might have, say, greater dynamic range over another, but this difference might not be noticeable in actual practice, especially if the "worse" camera has better design, a better lens, or whatever else. Nobody is going to look at your photos of your baby and say, "yeah, this photo of your baby would be great, but I see that 10% of the highlight detail has been lost in the clouds, therefore I hate it."

I would then go to a camera store and play with the top choice(s), if that's physically possible in your area. (Then again, it might not be temporally possible, given the presence of a new baby.) Which feels best in your hands? Does the autofocus feel right? Are the menus well-designed, or thoughtlessly-inflicted?

Finally, if you don't otherwise have a size reference, go to CameraSize and see how your options compare sizewise. Remember that "the best camera is the one you have on you". The Acme WonderCamera might not be such a wonder if it's just slightly too big for concealed-carry.

I would also consider looking at cameras with flip-out screens. The screens add some bulk, but flippy screens are very useful, especially since P&S cameras almost never have eye-level viewfinders.


I strongly recommend buying cameras used or refurbished from a reliable dealer. Cameras depreciate at lightning speed, which means that bargains await you. That which was state of the art in 2010 is often quite cheap nowadays. I would much, much, much rather have an old S95 than a new cheapo point and shoot, just as I would much rather pocket the $150 difference between an old S95 and a new S110.

A year from now, your brand new camera will be trounced by some new contender, and then it'll be trounced again next year, and again and again the year after that. You might as well never step on the "upgrade treadmill" in the first place. It's also worth noting that refurbished cameras typically have the same exact manufacturer's warranty, just as you can get, say, a $40 2 year warranty on used merchandise from Adorama.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:29 AM on June 25, 2013

After a lot of searching for a decent "second camera" to my Canon 60D, I came to the Fujifilm X20.

It's small, it's light and and it has an optical viewfinder. I also love the retro look - it's less imposing to subjects than any dSLR I've used. It's a bit awkwardly pocketable if needed.

With my shooting style the big thing is being able to take photos without flash, indoors or out, and this does it with no problems. For a wide angle it has a respectable f/2.0 - and at telephoto it's still a very decent f/2.8. People have spoken of the "grain" at 800 and 1600 ISO to be fairly good looking. I agree. It also does RAW as well as JPEG - not needed for everyone, but certainly allows you do go further with the camera if you want.

Macro is as close as 0.4 inches.

The battery has been said to be lower capacity but I haven't noticed. I shoot with the LCD off so that adds to the lifespan... but there's lots of inexpensive third-party compatible batteries available.

You can go pretty deep technically with the camera but you can also just barely scratch the surface (full auto modes) and get some really great shots.

Here's some shots taken with the X20 that I took in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.

I punched those RAW files up a bit in Adobe Lightroom, but the JPEGs were nothing to be scoffed at either directly from the camera.
posted by Fat Elvis at 7:38 AM on June 25, 2013

I just got a Casio EX-ZR300. Casio no longer sells in the US, but you can get it at Amazon, who sells it for a Japanese company. You have to switch the menu from Japanese to English when you get it.

Why I like it: Before I had a Panasonic Lumix which has much better specs on paper (which is why I've learned not to trust these spec comparison web sites). It had all the problems you mentioned such as key features hidden down in multiple levels of menus. I could never seem to get the photos I wanted out if it and I'm just a point and shoot person--maybe that's the problem. I take photos of my kids at places we visit and when they are in sports. If there's a good shot I want to press a button on top and take it in seconds, not wait minutes wading through incomprehensible menus.

The Casio can turn on these features very quickly:
1. Multi-shot enable button on top (in this mode, takes a sequence of shots at 30 frames/second--great for someone hitting a baseball, for example).
2. High dynamic range shot (for when kids are in the shadows near a bright area)
3. Movie mode--just one button. Plus you can take photos while it is filming.
Plus it has one of the best batteries of any hand-held camera and has great low-light capability, so you don't need to use flash in many shots.

It has some extras that are fun to play with such as 1000 frames/second video and very close macro.

Plus, like you, I once had an older Casio, so I was familiar with where to find the things that are in the menus. Casio has a consistency in their menus between cameras.
posted by eye of newt at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2013

Looks like Casio now has the similar EX-ZR700, which has a much bigger flash, which was one of your requirements.
posted by eye of newt at 12:02 AM on June 26, 2013

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