What's the best ultra compact 5 megapixel (or more) digital camera that I can get?
January 6, 2006 4:07 AM   Subscribe

UltraCompactDigicamFilter: What's the best ultra compact 5 megapixel (or more) digital camera that I can get?

I'm in the market for an ultra-compact digicam. From looking at Amazon (where I'll be buying, thanks to some Christmas gift cards), I figure I'm looking in the £200 range, give or take. I know it's been previously discussed, but the last one I could find was way back in May (specifically asking about compacts) and the market is drastically different now. Here's what I'm looking for:

Ultra small - I'm talking card camera styles here

Big LCD - the standard appears to be 2.5" on the newer cameras

Good(ish) low light performance - I'm guessing lots of my pictures will be taken indoors, hanging out with friends

Still able to take good outdoors/landscape pictures - I want to be able to snap away when I'm out for a walk and that perfect picture presents itself

Decent lens quality - don't want the lens to be complete crap either.

Fast performance - shutter lag, AF, and off-to-picture time

Battery life - I'd like it to be reasonably decent

Video mode - 640x480 required, 30fps a nice-to-have

Sexiness - much as I hate to admit it, the sexiness factor is definitely important.

So far, my contenders are the Nikon Coolpix S1, Canon Ixus 55 (SD450 in N.A.), Sony DSC-T5, Casio Exilim EX-S500, Fuji Finepix Z1, and the Kodak EasyShare v550. Does anyone have any experience with any of these cameras? Any suggestions on brands to avoid at all cost? Any clear winners out of that list? They are all approximately the same size, have approximately the same specs (more or less), and are approximately the same prices. I've got a quick specs comparison up for anyone who might be interested in what I've researched so far... So - any ultracompact officianados out there?
posted by antifuse to Technology (24 answers total)
Best answer: Just to note, Casio has just come out with the Exilim EX-S600. I have an old 3.2 MP and it was great, except it didn't have an optical zoom and low light performance was just OK. I just did a lot of research on a new camera and went with the Sony DSC-200. I chose that over the credit card cameras (including Sony's) because of the amazing picture quality, low lens distortion, great low light quality, ability to manually select aperture and exposure, and full quality mpeg video (30fps). It's still pretty small, but I can keep it in my front jeans pocket no problem. If I had to go with a credit card size, I'd seriously take a look at the Casio. I love the one I owned.
posted by qwip at 4:21 AM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and I suppose the Sony DSC-T33 fits into this category as well. The DSC-200 is pretty nice, and fits into my price range, though it's a bit low on the sexy side... hehehe... however, I'm willing to sacrifice sexiness if the image quality is significantly better. How is it on battery life?

The S600 looks nice, but I'm thinking the S500 would suffice for my needs, at least as far as the Casios are concerned. :)
posted by antifuse at 4:28 AM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: The Fuji F10, while again not particularly sexy, has an excellent reputation and outstanding reviews, particularly for image quality & low light. I was waffling between it and the more expensive Sony Ixus, but I've basically settled on the F10 -- reputation from people whose opinions I trust (ie, reliability, performance) means a lot to me.
posted by Marquis at 4:59 AM on January 6, 2006

Wait until CESis over, then wait a month or so for reviews to come out ...
posted by intermod at 5:02 AM on January 6, 2006

intermod has it right. But I have been very, very happy with the Canon SDxxx series, which are tiny, and great cameras for that size. I have the SD200, and have used several of the other ones. Easy to use even the advanced features.

I think David Pogue did a review of cameras with these specs in the New York Times recently—you might look for it.
posted by grouse at 5:22 AM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: I have a DSC-T7, and it meets almost all of your criteria - the low light shooting is occasionally junk, but the flash is good enough to make up for it should you choose to use it. And the sexiness factor is way, way up.

Here's a few example shots from my collection. Most of these were shot with little scene composure in mind, usually on auto-settings with the flash off.

Video will shoot at 640x480@30fps if you so desire.
posted by Remy at 5:40 AM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: I got the Exilim S500 for Christmas and love it. I already had a digicam, a Canon G2, but the problem was I rarely took any pictures of the fun moment in life because it was too big to carry around all the time.

My requirements were similiar to yours: small, sexy, able to take good party pix fast.

It's very small, and more importantly, very thin. I keep it either in my jacket pocket, or when I ditch the jacket, the front pocket of my jeans with no embarassing bulge.

I'm very happy with the pix it takes and it has fast performance for a digital camera.

The built-in memory is comically insufficient: 8MB. But it takes SD, so I was able to upgrade it to 1GB for $50 after rebate. Also, you need to hook it up to its base station to get the images off, unless I'm mistaken.

These are probably the costs of making it as small as it is.
posted by justkevin at 5:54 AM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: Remy: it's things like the blur in this picture that I'm definitely trying to avoid. Thanks for the sample photos though!
posted by antifuse at 5:57 AM on January 6, 2006

We have a Canon SD400 and have been very pleased with it. It has quite a bit of bang for the buck. For quick pictures, put it in the "pets and kids" preset or the "sports" preset. It uses a faster focusing algorithm.
posted by plinth at 6:02 AM on January 6, 2006

The battery on the DSC-200 is very good. I can take over 200 shots with flash no problem (as much as my memory card holds at the highest quality.

As far as the bluring, you are going to find that all of these small cameras suffer from it. Looks fro the widest aperture setting you can find to minimize. The Sony I have is pretty good, but I still get that slight motion blur in low light. You have to plan for it and take lots of extra shots to get the one you want to keep.
posted by qwip at 6:04 AM on January 6, 2006

Seconding the Sony T7 or T5. I've had both and the T7 just edges it for me due to size - in fact, it's my current everyday camera - though the T5 might be less prone to shaking in low-light situations since it's a bit heavier. Virtually all ultracompacts are going to give you that blurred effect when used indoors without a flash.
posted by blag at 6:22 AM on January 6, 2006

I recently picked up the SD500, which has the 2" screen instead of 2.5" -- I figured I would maximize battery length that way and I've been very impressed so far. At 7.1megapixels it may be more than you need, but I do like the small size, easy interface and toughness of these cameras. I had the SD110 before that for several years and was similarly happy, although at 2.1megapixels it was time to upgrade. I also find the low-light ability (even without flash!) to be excellent, important when you are trying not to blind everyone in the bar ;)
posted by id girl at 6:29 AM on January 6, 2006

My boyfriend got this one for Christmas and is very pleased with it so far. Can't answer your more specific questions, but I think it's sexy. It takes good low-light photos.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:49 AM on January 6, 2006

There's still quite a price/capacity premium for MemoryStick over SD. You'll also find that newer MemoryStick media, even in its adaptor, won't work with older card readers. SD is cheap, and works everywhere I've tried it.
posted by scruss at 6:49 AM on January 6, 2006

i.e. he got the Fuji Finepix Z10 - just so you don't have to click on the link...
posted by altolinguistic at 6:50 AM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: Given your interest in low-light photos, I would check out the various options that include image stabilization--it reduces the effects of camera shake and permits for longer exposure times. Your list has the Lumix LZ2, which includes image stabilization; I would add the FX9, which is smaller, has a 2.5" LCD and includes more manual controls. Other options with IS:

Konica Minolta X1
Kodak EasyShare V570 (newly announced--dual lens system with separate wide-angle and telephoto lenses; review here)
Pentax Optio A10 (also brand new)

Among those, the FX9 wins in battery life. It's rated at 270 shots per charge, vs. 150 for the X1 and V570, although I haven't found the rating for the A10 yet. Though they don't have IS, several Casios in the same price/size range have battery lives upwards of 400 shots. Check them out here.

Like Sony's Memory Stick, the XD Picture Cards used in Fujis and Olympuses tend to command a premium over SD and have lower capacities--keep that in mind.

As far as personal experience goes: I've had the Pentax Optio S, one of the first "ultra-compacts", for almost three years. I've been very pleased with it--it's incredibly sturdy for something that small, and the issues I've had with it (primarily response time and low-light performance) have been remedied in newer models. As such, I'd check out the Optio A10 once reviews start appearing.
posted by disarray at 7:17 AM on January 6, 2006

I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7. It has a 2.5" screen, Leica lens, optical image stabilization, and has decent low light response if you set it to ISO400. And it uses cheap SD cards.

There's a FX9 available now, too, which is even better.
posted by cillit bang at 7:28 AM on January 6, 2006

I got the SD450 for Christmas. I absolutely love it, without reservation. It goes with me everywhere now and I'm very happy with the picture quality.
posted by jerryg99 at 7:58 AM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: For reference, I found the Pogue review of some of these cameras. It seems as though the Fuji F10 came out as taking the best pictures. I have concern with all of these cameras that don't use SD cards - will I be stuck with something useless if I ever decide to upgrade down the road? Or will it really matter that much? It appears as though the prices (at least on Amazon) are about the same for XD cards as SD, which is somewhat of a relief.

disarray: all of those cameras you listed look incredible, but fall a bit outside my price range (the FX9 sells for £399 at Amazon.co.uk, just as an example).

So far, it's looking like the Fuji F10 is in the lead... The LZ2 was up there (due to a friend absolutely LOVING the LZ1, and the kickass 6x optical zoom) but the review on dpreview pans it for noise at ISO 100+, which ain't all that hot...
posted by antifuse at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2006

D'oh... sorry about that. I probably should've mentioned the FX8 as well. It's 5MP instead of 6 and has a lower-res screen (though still 2.5"), but the battery life is longer (300 shots) and it still has image stabilization. It might be closer to your price range, though I don't know anything about the Amazon merchant offering it at £210.
posted by disarray at 8:33 AM on January 6, 2006

Dis: The current itteration of the Panasonic Lumix ultracompact line is actually the FX9, not the FX8. It's 6.4 MP and the screen and battery life are improved. Perhaps the most important feature in a camera this size is anti-shake, which the FX9 has.

I have one and I love it. But know this: any ultracompact is going to do poorly in low light, have an underpowered flash and show significant noise at ISOs over about 180. Having said all that I think the Panasonic FX9 is the current best of breed.
posted by The Bellman at 12:21 PM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: You should probably be aware that many of your goals are contradictory. Smaller cameras have lenses that are generally slower (take in less light) and have more optical imperfections (distortion, fringing, etc). The small bodies have less room for batteries. Big screens draw more power. Smaller sensors and higher megapixels compromise low light performance.

This is not to say that you won't be able to find a camera that you are happy with, but it helps to be aware of the various compromises you might have to make.

One "compromise" you should make right off the bat is to avoid anything much over 5 megapixels. The lenses on most compact cameras aren't up to resolving much over 5Mpix anyway, plus the smaller pixel sizes result in more noise in low-light situations.

For low-light performance, you want a camera that supports high ISO/ASA equivalents >=400 and that has acceptable levels of noise at those settings. You also want a camera with a fast lens aperature (smaller numbers are better).

Image stabilization probably isn't very useful for taking candid photos indoors. IS lets you use lower shutter speeds to get photos in low light by compensating for camera movement that would otherwise cause blur. It does absolutely nothing to help with motion blur from people moving and gesturing and generally having an animated time.

Other things to be aware of, the shortest focal length on most compact digicams is roughly equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera, which is longer than is typically used for landscapes.

I think in general most modern cameras will have decent response times. High quality movie modes are also pretty common.

Check out DPreview.com for extensive rundowns on a lot of digital cameras. They do a great job of exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the cameras they review, and the sample images can be instructive. You can use their side-by-side comparison to look at specs. I already set one up with most of the cameras you listed.

One thing I notice, only the fuji supports speeds over 400ISO, but it also has a lens that is almost a full stop slower at its widest aperature, which is kind of a wash.

It doesn't look like they've done full reviews on the cameras you metion, but there may be similar models they go into depth on. For example, my understanding is that the SSD450 is primarily update of the SD400 with a larger LCD
posted by Good Brain at 1:11 PM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: Good Brain: Thanks for that... I do understand that I'll be stuck making compromises - I'm sorta just looking for "best for its type" in these things. I do understand that battery life and lens quality will be worse than, say, your average camera that's not quite as tiny, but from the reviews I've been seeing there seems to be quite a bit of variation even within the ultracompact range. I'm just trying to avoid getting a COMPLETE crap one :)
posted by antifuse at 3:53 AM on January 9, 2006

Response by poster: In case anybody cares, I decided to go with the Canon SD450/Ixus 55 :)
posted by antifuse at 9:09 AM on January 13, 2006

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