The best camera is the one you have with you... unless it's an iPhone
June 25, 2013 5:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm ready to up my photography game. I live in a gorgeous place with lots of interesting things to photograph-- wildlife, birds, water and mountains, abandoned infrastructure-- and my iPhone 4 can't produce pictures that are rich or detailed enough to do it all justice (or blow up for prints, or be good blog fodder). However, I'm not interested in a DSLR because I know I'm unlikely to actually have it with me when opportunities present themselves, and at this point I'm not really technically proficient enough to justify the cost. What point and shoot models should I consider?

- My primary frustration with the iPhone is the lack of zoom, which is really limiting especially for birds and other wildlife.
- I mostly take pictures outdoors.
- I would like something with really intuitive controls that can be ready really quickly-- oftentimes I'll see a moose or something from the passenger seat, and by the time the driver has slowed down and I've gotten the phone out / camera on, it's gone.
- Along the same lines, shutter lag drives me crazy.
- Should produce pictures that can be blown up to 8x12ish without loss of resolution and that will show up nicely on my (totally standard, blogger) blog.
- I use iPhoto for light editing and assume that everything is compatible with that?
- I also assume that everything in this category is fairly compact and would fit easily in a small bag or large pocket?
- Budget ~ $400ish, less is better.

I saw these two similar questions but they're from 2012 and mostly concern DSLRs.
posted by charmcityblues to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Look at the Micro four thirds cameras. I found a Panasonic GF3 on sale and when I can get a "pancake" lens it'll fully pocketable. Now the gotcha with your budget is the lenses, any good lens is just pricey. But the 4/3 cameras often come with an acceptable to great zoom in the base package. Other than the price of some lenes all the 4/3d's I looked at easily covered all your other points.
posted by sammyo at 5:55 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I bought a Canon Powershot S95 a couple of years ago for pretty much every reason you outlined above. The online reviews are quite good across the board, and I haven't noticed much in the way of shutter lag. It's the only camera I took on my trip to Iceland, where I took a huge number of photos leaning out of the passenger side of a car (you can check them out here if you're interested in image quality). It's quite lightweight and pocket sized and I like the controls a lot. I believe I paid around $350 on Amazon.
posted by makonan at 5:56 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

wildlife, birds

These are some of the most expensive things in the world to photograph, because good photos of them generally require lenses like these as you have no choice but to stand far away from your subjects, which are often fast moving.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 5:59 PM on June 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

On camera recommendations I go with Ken Rockwell, who would recommend that you get the Canon S100 ($304). It has some zoom functionality, but nothing in the point-and-shoot space at that price range will get you the interchangeable long lenses of a DSLR you'd need for great zoom.

It'll work fine with iPhoto, all cameras should.
posted by TimeDoctor at 5:59 PM on June 25, 2013

I love my Panasonic DMC-ZS20. It's not a super small camera but it's compact and fairly light. I upgraded from another Panasonic because I wanted a better zoom, and this one is 20x. It's got good ratings from the camera review sites and it takes really good pictures.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 6:09 PM on June 25, 2013

I don't think you need to spend anywhere close to $400 for a camera to do what you're wanting. The best deal right now, imo, is the Canon PowerShot ELPH 330 HS. Check all the specs and then the special pricing of only ------ $199. Seriously, it's hard to beat.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:13 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The camera that probably fits your criteria the best is the Canon S110. In addition to doing most of the things you expect from a camera in its price range, the S110 can shoot in RAW.

Canon also has the SX50, which is a little bulkier but comes equipped with 50x optical zoom. It also allows you to shoot in RAW format.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:41 PM on June 25, 2013

You might look at this Nikon P7700. Long zoom, and up to 8 frames per second. For what it's worth, it is endorsed by Jim Brandenburg (see the video on the page).
posted by starman at 7:07 PM on June 25, 2013

I'm very happy with my Panasonic Lumix LX7. It has one of the fastest (largest aperture) lenses found on a point and shoot (f/1.4) which gives pretty good low-light performance. The top end of the zoom isn't huge (90mm 35 mm-equivalent) but works well enough for framing shots. The other feature that is totally rad is that it shoots 11 frames per second at full resolution in burst mode so if you're trying to capture something transient, you can "spray and pray".
posted by scalespace at 9:39 PM on June 25, 2013

I recently went to China and took along a Nikon 1 V1. It's super light, has insane shutter speeds, it's easy to use and produces really lovely images. Also it's a compact system, so you can switch out lenses if you'd like - or just stick to the default 10mm lens (which served me perfectly well the whole time). The prices on it have dropped substantially in recent years due to the release of newer models, so it's affordable as well.
posted by thebots at 11:30 PM on June 25, 2013

I love, love my Canon G12. The new one, the G15 is supposed to be brilliant although like the G12 has limitations on zoom. But I never take the DSLR out now. The newer G1X has a large sensor but reviews consistently mention it is slow.

When I last did a trawl of the reivews and detailed comparison between cameras like the G15 the standout camera was the Sony DSC-RX100, which I think meets all your criteria bar price. But I'd definitely splurge if you can find the cash. My G12 is not quite in the same league and I still think it's such a step up from the $400 cameras that I'm glad I paid the premium at the time.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:47 AM on June 26, 2013

Seconding the Canon S110. Bought one for my wife a few months ago, and it shoots beautiful photos pretty much no matter what you do. It's various modes (aperture priority, etc.) do what they say on the tin, and it's all manual controls are well laid out.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:48 AM on June 26, 2013

G12 seriously rocks. I haven't seen the newer G15, but I'd suppose it is an update.
I have a friend who prints photos from his phone, and they are surprisingly good. (they are animal portraits, not landscapes).
posted by Goofyy at 5:24 AM on June 26, 2013

Another alternative to look at is the Canon Powershot SX260HS - we've been enjoying this camera now for several months, and we find it pocketable with a great zoom and very pocketable. No optical viewfinder is my only nitpick.

Beware of the 'upgraded' SX280HS (WiFi version), as there are reports of battery indicator / battery life problems that haven't been addressed with firmware updates. We got the '260 locally for about $250.
posted by scooterdog at 6:20 AM on June 26, 2013

FYI, the Sony RX100 may drop in price very soon which may bring it into your price range. The rx100mk2 (the second revision) is expected to be announced today/tomorrow, and that should in theory drop the price of the original RX100.

From my research, it seems to be regarded as one of the best - if not the best - compact cameras out there.

I'm personally waiting for the second revision but it's going to be at a higher price point.

The panasonic LX7 is another one i would personally consider, but I work at sony so that makes the decision a bit easier.
posted by escher at 8:18 AM on June 26, 2013

I'm professionally involved in the marketing of the Nikon 1 range of mirrorless cameras like the V1 mentioned above by thebots, so feel free to take the following with a large pinch of salt, but...

The entire range is all about speed. Quick to start up, very fast to focus, shutter lag is close to zero, very fast rapid burst shooting, and a couple of other nifty features. All that, and interchangeable lenses too. Given the emphasis on speed in your question, I'd say these are worth a look.

All the Nikon 1s can be used as easily as a point and shoot, or you can get busy in the menus and come close to DSLR type settings. The S series are the simplest, the J series in the middle, and the V series are the most serious.
posted by ZipRibbons at 10:32 AM on June 26, 2013

Seconding the Canon SX2** series. Great pocketable camera with excellent zoom(26x optical). You would be surprised how versatile the zoom is especially in a small package.
posted by radsqd at 1:53 PM on June 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I'm going shopping on Friday and will let you know what I end up with!
posted by charmcityblues at 12:48 PM on June 27, 2013

Response by poster: I ended up with a Nikon S9400... it was a toss-up between that and the Canon SX260. Testing it out this weekend at Denali National Park, hopefully will have the opportunity to put it through its paces! Thanks for all the advice.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:21 AM on July 5, 2013

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