Today I want to continue the discussion on new cameras by taking a look at point and shoot cameras. This is kind of a broad category so I think it might be best to take a look at these cameras this week and wrap things up next week with the mirrorless and dSLR cameras.
Before starting the discussion, I’d like to state that the cameras I’m writing about today may or may not be best for you even if think that a point and shoot camera is the right choice for you – there are just too many cameras out there to list every make and model and of course, new models are introduced all the time so what may be the greatest thing since sliced bread today might be yesterday’s news tomorrow. I’d also like to share a website with you – www.dpreview.com. DPReview.com has been around a long time and I actually referred to it back when I bought my first digital camera. It is a great resource for digital photography and they regularly review new cameras as they are introduced to the market. If you have a camera in mind, it is worth taking the time to read what they have to say about it at dpreview.com. Their reviews include the specs, photo examples, and their opinions but of course, they are not you and they can’t tell you what is absolutely the best camera for you any more than I can but we both can point you in the right direction.
I have one last thing I want to address before we take a look at specific models – megapixels. Obviously, the more the better, right?
WRONG! There are perfectly good reasons to buy a camera with loads of megapixels but those reasons (mostly) do not apply to point and shoot cameras. As you know (or you will after you finish reading this paragraph), a megapixel is made up of one million pixels (picture elements or light gathering receptors). When you look at a digital image, you are looking at a series of colored dots (red, green, and blue) that make up the full color photo. One could be forgiven for thinking the more the better when it comes to the number of megapixels but there are a few considerations. First, enough is enough and any more is just more than enough. If you are unlikely to print (you still do that with your photos, right?) any larger than say 11×14 inches, then you will not notice any appreciable difference beyond 14 megapixels (and truthfully, you might not even notice an appreciable difference beyond 10 or 12 megapixels). What you will notice is a larger file size so images will take up more space on your card and/or hard drive and they will take longer to load. The other consideration is that the physical size of the sensor chip doesn’t change from model to model so in order to make a camera have more megapixels, the physical size of those individual pixels has to be smaller – and smaller pixel sizes means lower performance. Sure the clever engineers can make up for that performance hit in different ways but you don’t need to pay for that level of expertise if you don’t plan to make large prints. If you primarily share your images online then you’ll probably be just as happy with a six megapixel camera as you are a 12 megapixel camera.
When you start looking at point and shoot cameras, one thing you’ll notice is that they all have non-removable lenses. Some of them have built in zooms and others will have fixed lenses. The lens type is going to be one of those factors that you’ll want to take some time to consider. If for example, you want to use your camera for taking photos of your friends and family when you are right there next to them, then you might want to go with a camera that has a fixed lens but if you want to use your camera while you are out exploring or hiking, then you’ll want one with a decent optical zoom range because some of your subjects might be really far away. As you might guess, cameras with big zoom lenses tend to be a bit bulkier and are potentially more fragile.
The first camera I’ll mention is the Olympus Tough TG-4.
There are other manufacturers (including Canon and Nikon) out there that now make waterproof cameras but in my opinion, Olympus seemed to lead the way. It’s worth mentioning that there are less expensive and smaller point and shoot cameras out there. Smaller and cheaper are worthwhile and those cameras may very well suit your needs. So why did I start with this camera then? Of course image quality is a concern and by all accounts, the Olympus TG-4 produces some nice images, it records HD video, and it has the option for RAW capture which is a really nice option (though not necessary for most users). The lens zoom range extends from wide angle to a short telephoto that is ideal for a walk around camera for most uses. What makes it stand out is that it is a camera that you can put in your pocket or purse and you don’t have to worry about being particularly gentle with it. It’s waterproof so you can use it in the pool or at the beach which also means that you don’t have to worry about it getting wet from rain or (yes, kind of gross) sweat when you are out hiking. It also has 5 frames per second burst mode so it can do a decent job with fast-ish moving subjects and it’s shock resistant so when you do drop it, it isn’t likely to be damaged.
Hmm, it seems red is the hot color for cameras this year. Anyway, I chose the Canon SX 410 IS as the next type of camera on the list even though it is actually a bit less expensive than the TG-4 because its target audience is more of an advanced shooter than the TG-4. With the TG-4, you can pretty much set your mode, perhaps zoom in a little, and that’s pretty much it. With cameras like the Canon SX 410 IS, you get some features that are available in mirrorless and dSLR cameras – and it even looks a bit like a dSLR camera. This camera comes in at 20 megapixels so again it has more than enough resolution for most needs. It also has a much longer zoom range on the lens (40X compared to the TG-4’s 5X) so it is a nice camera for sightseeing because it will allow you to not only get in the entire scene, but you can really focus in on the details too. One downside of long zoom lenses is that you need to have a relatively short exposure time (think ~1/1000 sec) in order to hand hold the camera steady enough for a sharp picture. The ISO range on this camera is fairly limited so that will only help to a point but it does have image stabilization built in (that’s the IS in the name) which means that it has gyroscopes built in to allow you to hold the camera steady at much lower shutter speeds. With the lens fully extended and the IS on, you might reasonably be able to hold the camera steady for a 1/100 sec exposure instead of the 1/1000 sec without using IS which is a very important consideration. But of course, your results may vary. The flash is a bit higher than the TG-4 which will help a bit with red-eye though that will still be a concern with this camera.
The last camera I want to mention this week is the Leica Q. While the other two cameras can be purchased for $330 and $250 respectively, the Leica Q has an MSRP of $4250 putting it solidly in the professional photographer’s range. It also has a fixed wide angle lens so if you want to zoom in, you’ll need to use your legs. It is a 24 megapixel camera. So what makes this camera so special? First, it is a Leica, and Leicas are always expensive but they are expensive for a reason. They are built to very high standards and they come with excellent lenses (more about lenses next week). So what else? The sensor size is the same physical size as full frame dSLR cameras and because they’ve kept the megapixel count relatively low for a full frame sensor, the sensors are large and are very sensitive even in low light. To put that in perspective, the Canon SX 410 IS above has an ISO range of 100 – 1600 while the Leica Q has an ISO of 100 – 50,000 so it has MUCH better low light sensitivity. It also allows for shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000 sec which is FAST by any standard. This kind of camera is used by professional photographers doing street photography when they want to have high performance in a camera that has a very small profile so they can make photos without drawing attention to themselves.
So what do you think of the point and shoot cameras? Are these kind of cameras the right kind for you? Check back next week and I’ll wrap up the series by taking a look at mirrorless and dSLR cameras.