Buy a new digital camera
April 15, 2007 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me buy a new digital camera.

I plan on buying a new digital camera for my trip to China this summer. My Nikon Coolpix 3200 has served me well for the past few years, but lately it's been having occasional problems with the lens opening or turning on/off. I figure due to tech developments I can get a much better camera now for the same price I paid for it back then(around $150-200), but I thought I would ask for advice first.

I'd like my new camera to meet the following criteria. I don't know much about photography or digital cameras, so apologies if some of these criteria are impossible to fulfill.

1) Takes nice pictures in general - sharp, vibrant color, and all that. I'll be taking a lot of outdoor pictures on my trip, so this is the most important one.

2) Versatile enough to take good, non-blurry pictures in different settings without requiring me to manually adjust things like white balance and exposure time, but still allow me to play with these things if I want. It should have lots of different settings to experiment with(indoors, nighttime, dusk, etc). It should take sharp pictures in all of these settings without a tripod. My hands are pretty steady, but my current camera ALWAYS takes blurry pictures whenever I take pictures indoors or at night.

3) Takes nice indoor pictures, especially of food. My current camera has two ways of taking pictures indoors:
a) sharp picture, but horrid lighting reminiscent of Wikipedia user-contributed images - you know, dark background, subject lit up by flash, everything looking very cold and colorless
b) Warm, yellowish lighting, but almost always blurry, and maybe a bit too yellow-colored sometimes.

My ideal camera would be able to take nice-looking non-blurry pictures indoors with accurate lighting(i.e. lighting the way my eyes see it). I especially want to take nice pictures of food(like you see in food magazines).

4) Hardy enough to withstand a little bit of rough treatment. I do not really care about the size, although smaller/thinner is better. It should also be able to withstand sandy gusts of wind and the sand/dirt you might find in the average pants pocket.

5) Don't care about the batteries, but if it is the kind you charge up, it should include a charger that can be used internationally.

6) Price range: preferrably around $200 or less, but I'd be willing to pay up to $300 if I had to. Not MSRP, but the usual price you can get on websites that sell this sort of thing.

7) It doesn't actually have to be a "new"(as in recently came out) camera, just match all of the above criteria and be reasonably easy to find online.

Bonus points if you can direct me to a site that gives tips on taking better pictures with a digital camera/in general, or if you can list some of the specifications of digital cameras and how they would relate to the criteria above. Thank you!
posted by pravit to Shopping (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Digital Photo Review is your friend. Look at Canon cameras, compare them side by side
posted by seawallrunner at 3:39 PM on April 15, 2007

N'thing dpreview, I just recently discovered it. My uncle is in your price range, and I'll be getting him an SD1000 for around 250 bucks (Amazon).

You'll probably want to get this seconded by an expert, but I've recently dished out the big bucks for a DSLR based on the conclusion that you can't get blur-free quick-shooting non-DSLR cameras (that's a lot of hyphens!).
posted by theiconoclast31 at 3:51 PM on April 15, 2007

Canon S3? Easy to use but very powerful.
posted by Memo at 3:57 PM on April 15, 2007

Agree with b1tr0t. This question seems to show up on AskMe almost everyday!
posted by special-k at 5:24 PM on April 15, 2007

Apologies that the question gets asked so often.

Thanks for the recommendations; I did find that website but I prefer personal recommendations made after hearing my (admittedly picky) requirements.

I'm not interested in a DSLR, so those are out of the running.
posted by pravit at 6:02 PM on April 15, 2007

Canon S3. B&H has it for 410 but that includes a high cap memory card, batteries and charger (it takes AA) and case.
posted by Mitheral at 6:04 PM on April 15, 2007

Steve's Digicam review of the S3. Bare cam is available from Adorama for 309.

  1. 12X optical zoom
  2. SD memory
  3. decent manual control for a non-SLR
  4. Manual popup flash even in full auto mode
  5. positional screen that can be folded for protection
  6. View finder for sun shots
  7. video mode limited by card size that allows zooming during

posted by Mitheral at 6:31 PM on April 15, 2007

People are recommending ultrazoom cameras when pravit hasn't mentioned any sort of shot that would call for a long telephoto.

For indoor photos of non moving objects (like food) a camera with image stabilization is probably a good choice. The image stabilization should help with the blur, but it won't do anything about the color cast you get when you use the ambient lighting. For that, you'll probably have to set the white balance yourself.

If you want to take photos of food like you see in magazine without a dSLR with a fast lens, you'll almost certainly need at least one off-camera flash and you'll probably want to bounce it off something. There are non DSLR cameras that can drive an off camera flash, you can poke around to find specific models.

Look into the Canon a710. It has optical image stabilization, and is probably available at the top of your stretch price-range. It's about $50 less than the S3. The main difference seems to be the wider zoom range, and popup flash on the S3. Neither support external flashes. I'm not recommending either, just pointing out options.
posted by Good Brain at 7:46 PM on April 15, 2007

Good Brain is right - I almost never use the zoom on my current camera, and don't plan making much use of one on a future camera.
posted by pravit at 8:42 PM on April 15, 2007

I am a total canon fanboy, so I would second the A series. They are inexpensive, have decent controls, and take nice pictures. One thing I would worry about is the build. It has a plastic covering which could potentially break easier (though i've never seen one break before, a plastic body is probably less likely to stand up compared to a metal body).

One suggestion I will add is that before you buy, definitely go out to your local best buy, etc., to try out your prospective new camera. Sometimes you don't like the feel or see something you prefer at the store.

And finally, in the OP's defense, even though this question gets asked alot, digicams come out fairly often and a year can sometimes make a big difference.
posted by carpyful at 10:27 PM on April 15, 2007

I've used the Canon A-series and think they're good cameras, but honestly, I have never taken better pictures than I have with the Casio EXILIM cameras. I use the EXZ750 every day and sometimes use the manual overrides (and they're as good as the Canon A-series manual controls), but usually I don't and just use the several best-shot modes to take photos. Plus, I think the camera can be found for less than $200 if you shop around a bit.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:33 PM on April 15, 2007

You want excellent indoor and nighttime quality, yet you don't want a DSLR... Hrmmm. Unfortunately, many compact digicams are pretty much shit at precisely those things (unless you use flash, in which case you get lovely washed out faces). I'd second image stabilisation - I think Canon's doing a lot more IS on their smaller cameras now - but you have to keep in mind that image stabilisation only helps with *camera shake* - if your subject is moving at all, it will still blur mightily.
posted by antifuse at 3:20 AM on April 16, 2007

b1tr0t is being an ass, but yes, this question has often been asked. The difference here, is that you're looking for a cheap digicam, when most Askers are looking for a DSLR.

Your requirements -
1. Manual overrides for automatic controls.
2. Good, non-blurry indoor pictures, especially close-in.
3. Cheap.

The main thing you're looking for is a fast lens (larger aperture), so that you can take pictures at higher shutter speeds (see for explanations). Since you're looking in the land of digicams, though, and since the fastest lens you're going to be able to get is an f/2.8 or so, you're really looking for good high ISO performance.

If you don't mind finding a camera that's about 5 years out of date, I'd recommend getting a Nikon 990 or 995. The 990 will take AA batteries, and would be my preference, but the 995 has a better flash. They're rugged cameras, they have the twisty form factor, and they take excellent pictures.

If you're looking for something newer then I'd recommend something like the Fuji F30. It has spectacular performance at high ISOs for a digicam, and can be found for a low low price.

More important than the actual camera you get, though, is finding out how your camera works. If your pictures are yellow in indoor settings, then you need to learn about white balance. If your backgrounds are too dark when using the flash, then you need to learn about the slow sync mode.

And definitely get a table-top tripod!
posted by bshort at 11:01 AM on April 16, 2007

Just an OP followup for whoever may find this thread.

For one, I realized that I did find size important, because I wanted to be able to stick the camera into my pocket, and this is kind of annoying with my current camera. Thus, I limited my search to "ultracompact" cameras.

I had a hard time deciding between the Fuji F30 and the Canon SD700 IS. Going off of the DPreview site, the Fuji F30 seemed to have better low-light/indoor peformance, whereas the Canon SD700 seemed to have better results in general. Low-light performance is important to me, but the main reason I'm getting this camera is for my trip, where I'll take mainly outdoors photos, so I decided to go with the Canon SD700. Already having SD cards but no XD cards was also another factor pushing me towards the Canon.

I haven't had it for long, but so far I'm very pleased with the performance both outdoors and indoors. It's certainly way better in low-light than my old camera was.
posted by pravit at 8:08 PM on April 26, 2007

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