I put this together for a friend at work and decided to post it as a general guide for anyone who might want to read. The information is all gathered from personal experience. It was written to help alleviate some of the stress induced by all the spin and ad rhetoric, but it is by no means a panacea. Prices are in Canadian dollars and my camera store references tend to be local to Saint John, NB! 😉
The key is to remember the following “Chris’ Rules of Camera Shopping – The Point & Shoot Version”. Don’t let any snot-nosed kid at a department store try to tell you anything different, and understand that the people working at real camera stores will most likely recognize that you have done some homework! 😉
- (1) Megapixels…
Megapixels is basically a selling feature and is an almost useless gauge for measuring a point & shoot camera’s capabilities. The more megapixels it has makes a great ad blitz, but it also means you need a bigger memory card and more hard drive space to store all your pictures! A good 5 or 6 megapixel camera with a good lens can take much better pictures than a 10 or 12 megapixel camera with a crappy lens. Most people will never need any more than 5 or 6 megapixels (that is plenty to get a good 8 x 10 print). That said, it is getting tough to find a camera with less than 10 megapixels. They all want to keep up with the competition and it is cheaper to increase megapixels than to increase camera quality.
- (2) Zoom Zoom Zoom
Always use OPTICAL zoom and not DIGITAL zoom when determining your zoom needs. OPTICAL zoom is real zoom, whereas DIGITAL zoom is crap (that’s a technical term! 😉
The way zoom on a point & shoot works is a 3X zoom will give you a zoom factor 3 times that of the widest opening. For example, if 35mm is the widest opening, a camera with a 35mm wide angle and a 3X zoom could zoom out to the equivalent of 105mm. A camera with a 35mm wide opening and a 5X optical zoom could zoom to the equivalent of about 175mm.
Digital zooms use software to ‘enhance’ the picture and zoom in electronically, not with the lens. This technology is great for selling to unsuspecting buyers, but generally delivers quite poor quality images. If you really need that zoom of Bigfoot in the Rocky Mountains and the only way to get it is with digital zoom, OK, but other than that, avoid it… On second though, don’t even use it then, you’ll just end up with yet another grainy Sasquatch image that everyone will suspect you tampered with and spend the rest of your days trying to convince people you aren’t nuts.
- (3) Which Brand?
I know I may take some heat for this, but I recommend sticking to one of the “camera” manufacturers – a company that made cameras first, then got into digital, not electronics companies who decided to get into cameras to make some cash. So, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax (and Minolta when they were still around) are all very solid names and normally, you can’t go wrong with them. You may pay a little extra for them, but it is a few dollars that are generally worth the price.
Unfortunately, like anything you buy these days, they also have come out with some crappy products at the low end to lure in the casual buyer, so buyer beware still applies -> you get what you pay for!
- (4) Where to buy?
Buy from a real camera store and not Future Shop, Staples, Bargain Giant, SuperStore, Wally-World, etc. Real camera store employees tend to know what they are doing, they tend to pay a “living” wage as opposed to minimum wage, they are much better at helping with warranty issues, and we should all try to keep these stores in business! In Saint John, the last true camera store left standing is Applebys.
- (5) Conclusion
Most mid-level point & shoot cameras will do a decent job of capturing images for the average user. In many cases, the auto mode is all many users will ever need/use. Plus, most decent point & shoot cameras allow you to manipulate the settings, so down the road, if you want to get creative, you can play with them and try to change it up a bit.
You should get at least one spare battery, at least two memory cards. 2 or 4 GB cards are what you need for an 8 or 10 MP camera and should easily be found in the ~$30 range. A spare battery will run you about $60. Trust me, you will need the spare cards and batteries. One will always die or be full when you need it the most! You also need a decent camera bag with a zippered or velcroed pocket to store the spare battery and memory card (probably in the ~$30 range). If it won’t seal shut, you will eventually lose either your spare battery, spare memory card, or both!
You really should only expect a 2 – 3 year lifespan on any new digital camera you buy, unless you never take it anywhere and never use it… I am a firm believer that they really do use “planned obsolescence” when they make electronics these days, plus the technology keeps changing. Suck it up and be aware! 😉
- (6) Recommendations
At this point, while I own two Canon Digital SLRs and I have friends with Nikon and Pentax cameras too, I would highly recommend the Olympus Shockproof & Waterproof line of point & shoot cameras. We bought one for my six year old son Aidan for Christmas and it has worked wonderfully in his hands (and three year old Natalie’s as well!).
These cameras take great pictures right out of the box and they handle rough treatment (cameras in travel bags get beat up a lot! 😉 and water (I don’t have to tell him not to use it in the rain!). Plus, Olympus cameras can be plugged directly into any computer without installing software (handy if you are not near home).
Option #1 – OLYMPUS STYLUS 850SW ORG 8.0MP
$249.99 today at Henrys.com (Appleby’s in Saint John will normally match Henry’s pricing)
Aidan has this one – Has a 3X zoom and 8 megapixels, which is more than enough! The lens length covers 95% of what you would want, there is just no long zoom shots on birds, etc., which most won’t people don’t do anyway.
Option #2 OLYMPUS STYLUS TOUGH 6000
$349.99 at Henrys.com (Appleby’s in Saint John will normally match Henry’s pricing)
Chris’ Choice (if he were buying today) – This is a newer camera, has a 5X optical zoom and 10 megapixels, so better at close-ups and a bit more data to crop your photos if you only want one part of a photo and not the whole thing. This newer one has a bit more ‘Ooomph’ than the 850SW, but you may not need the extra features. That’s a personal decision! 😉
They each use Secure Digital card which are small, relatively inexpensive, and fast. You may want to buy your spare cards somewhere other than the camera store if budget is an issue
Hope this helps!