Advice on a Digital Still Camera?

So with the end-of-year holiday season coming up, I’ve decided it’s time for me to upgrade my ancient 1 megapixel digital camera that’s as big as a brick.

To this end, I examined my camera priorities, and decided that I wanted as compact a camera as possible, with an LCD, at least 2 megapixel resolution, and expandable memory. A good (at least 3x) optical resolution is a plus, but not if it makes the camera too bulky. Also, my budget is around $300.

Basically, I’m looking for a good digital camera for taking 4x6" or maybe 5x7" quality digitial photos that I can slip into a shirt or pants pocket easily - something good for impromptu snapshots at get-togethers.

So, with that criteria in place, my short list of choices (in general preference order) are as follows:

1) Casio Exilim EX-S2, retails for $299 but I can get it for $229+Tax
- the latest, smallest 2 megapixel camera on the market, with an LCD the size of full size digital cameras (1.6" LCD). Small and cool, it looks like something James Bond might carry.
here’s a review: http://www.stevesdigicams.com/2002_reviews/exs2.html

2) Canon Powershot S200 Digital ELPH, $299
- also a very small 2 megapixel camera that’s been on the market for awhile now. Not as compact as the Casio, but I’ve heard good things about it and Canon has a decent reputation.
review: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2002_reviews/s200.html

3) Kodak DX4330 Zoom, $299 but I can get it for around $250
- more the “standard size” digital camera, not huge, but not compact, but it’s 3.1 megapixel with a 3x optical, 3.3x digital zoom.
review: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2002_reviews/dx4330.html

So, I’m posting this because I want to know if any of you have any of the above three cameras and can shed some insight on them. If not, just whether there’s something I might be missing when considering my camera purchase.

I have the Canon Powershot S30 and it’s great. Make sure you get a CompactFlash II-compliant one, so you get an IBM microdrive to shove in there.

The PowerShot S30’s pretty big, though.

I’d stay away from Kodak. I used to be a huge fan – I owned a DC210, DC260, and DC4800 – but after the DC4800, their quality just went way downhill. They decided to hit the consumer market, and there’s way less emphasis on image quality, etc.

One of the other Handheld Computing editors has an Exelim, and he really likes it. Apparently much, much better than the original model.

I just got the new Canon S230 (the improved version of the S200), and I really love it. Canon IMHO has the best image quality of the consumer cameras. If you can front the extra $$$, I’d get the S230 instead of the s200. It’s 3 megapixels, and it has a much better focusing mechanism. Plus its movie mode doesn’t have the limitations of earlier Elph models – it can shoot 3 minute clips at 320x240 NTSC res with sound. That was the main reason I “sidegraded” from the S330 – figured it’d be great for grabbing movies of the baby when I didn’t have the camcorder along. VERY pleased with the camera.

Before that I had the S330. A bit larger, and only 2.1 megapixels, but it had a 3X zoom. That one’s about to go on eBay since I got the S230.

If I can sidetrack the group for a second…

Can anyone recommend the opposite side of the scale? Something 3.3+ megapixals that can use a detachable optical zoom lens maybe? Something for the serious amateur landscape and portrait photographer… yet is digital as well?

But how does the size of the Canon S230 compare to the Exilim? Especially considering I can probably get the Exilim for $100 less than the S230 (assuming the S230 is ~$350).

I have a PowerShot S30 as well, and I wholeheartedly disagree with Denny’s comment about it being pretty big. I can easily put it in my pants pocket.

It’s not as tiny as an ELPH, but those are just TOO small for me. I’d love the conveinance of something like that, but it’s damn hard to keep it still while you press the shutter on a camera that small. That’s not a problem if you’re only going to take bright outdoor pictures and stuff, but for indoor or lower-light situations I want something big enough to hold steady but small enough to put in my pocket. The S30 (and S40) fit that bill perfectly.

Picture quality is generally really good, has a good range of controls from fully automatic to manual everything except focus, a decent flash, and some nice tricks like a good panorama shot mode and reasonable movie capturing with sound.

Bub - I hope you have some serious cash, because if you want a digital SLR that can take standard lenses, you’re going to have to fork over some dough. They’re out there, and even the bad ones are pretty damn good, but I honestly don’t even keep my eye on that stuff because of the cost.

By the way, if you’re about to get a digital camera, check out www.dpreview.com. The reviews there are pretty objective and rediculously thorough - too much so if it weren’t more of a research tool for a rare purchase.

Yeah, the s30 is only huge compared to an Elph. :-) But it is huge compared to an Elph… I can carry the S200 in my pocket without thinking twice. The S30’s like carrying a 1995 cell phone.

The S30 has another real advantage over the Elphs: More manual settings. If you’re into photography and used to being able to play with aperture priority, etc., you’ll like that.

balut,

I haven’t seen an Exilim in person, so I couldn’t tell you. I can say, though, that the S200 fits loosely in the front pocket of a pair of jeans, and isn’t even noticeable. (The S30 fits, but gives you a “is that a camera in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me” effect.)

I’d suggest going up to dpreview.com and looking at the message boards. A few quick searches will find you plenty of user opinions on both cameras.

Also, look at the specs carefully. The Exelim has no internal buffer, so it takes 0.9 seconds between pics. That would drive me nuts – it did on my first-generation Kodak. The Canon lets you shoot a number of pics (can’t remember the number, but it’s enough that I’ve never had to wait on the camera to write to the card.) And the Exelim has no optical zoom – just a useless digital zoom. Seems to me the Canon’s well worth the extra $$$, looking at the feature sets.

Bub,

Are you willing to spend $1,300? If not, ask the question again next year.

I am going to get myself a Powershot G3 next year - 4 megapixels of picture snapping goodness. :wink:

Detachable SLR-style lenses are the domain of the pro digital cameras, and the cheapest of those is in the neighborhood of $2000. That said, take a look at Sony’s DSC F-717. It has an immense (for a prosumer digital camera) optical zoom lens built in, and it takes some damn fine pictures, at least based on what I’ve seen. Phil Askey has a review up:

Me, I’m planning to pick up an S230, like Denny. For my needs, it’s a great combo of features and image quality, and it’s truly pocket-sized.

I have a JVC GC-QX5HD 3.3 Megapixel and I’m pretty happy with it. It cost $700 a couple years ago. I’m finding though, that the Digital Zoom just sucks. It blurs every shot to an unacceptable degree. Which is very limiting for the landscape and “ruined barn” shots I take as a hobby.

I figure this extremely powerful camera is about 50% as good as I want it to be.

So, yeah, I’d be willing to pay $1400-2000 for a camera that’s twice+ as good as this one. I’m using it enough and I’m starting to actually believe I have the eye. The only problem, of course, is convincing my wife that this would be a “smart purchase” right now. Sigh. I’m just becoming aware that when I take an awesome shot, I’m limited by the tech I’m using.

EDIT: I see the model Ben just recommended is only $999. Denny, can you give me a model number for your $1300 range and Ben, how about one of those pro $2000 models, for comparison’s sake.

Digital zoom just doubles pixels; it’s a complete waste of time.

Sigh, yeah, I didn’t know that going in. That’s why I’m asking about optical zoom digital cameras now.

I had the powershot s100 and it was a great camera. Fairly decent battery time, incredibly compact. But I think I’m going to score that casio at some point, that thing looks even nicer.

S.

Finally, an area I have some knowledge in. My wife currently has the Canon D60 SLR (6+ megapixels) and a full range of Canon fixed and zoom lenses. The D60 is a great camera for almost all kinds of pro/semi-pro photography. Her only complaint is that the D60 only goes up to 1000 speed whereas the D30 went to 1600 speed. She takes alot of low light photos (concerts, shows, etc) but still does well with the 1600 speed option. She previously owned a Canon D30 SLR (3+ megapixels) and was very happy with it once Canon fixed some of the autofocus problems. My advice would be to get the D60 instead of the D30 as you have less chance of getting a camera with autofocus problems. Nikon has a similar camera out called the D100 (6+ megapixals). Most reviews indicate that it is a very good digital SLR as well.

You just need to decide what company you want to go with as Nikon and Canon SLR accessories (lenses, flashes, etc) are incompatible. Once you go digital SLR, I don’t think you’ll want to go back.

Let me know if you want to ask her some detailed questions, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind answering them.

-DavidCPA

Yes David, this is what I want! But at that price! Well, I’m either going to have to club my wife on the head… or yours, and take her camera. Is your wife …um… a strong woman there, David?

But yes, this is exactly what I had in mind. The trouble is, I’m nowhere near the expert to know what kinds of lenses I want. But this gives me the high range, lets see how low I can go and still be happy.

Thanks for the post. I actually got a shot of adrenaline looking at these beauties (I guess that means I’m officially becoming a camera nut…).

Here’s a non-detailed question. What does SLR stand for?

This seems to be the QT3 equivalent of “does your wife like…photographs? Wink wink nudge nudge knowhatimean.”

As for me, I got my wife the super lowball FujiFilm Finepix A101 1.3 megapixel camera for Christmas last year. She was skeptical at the time, accusing me of having bought her a camera for me. (Which is a good trick when you can pull it off. “Here you go honey, I got you this Radeon 9700 Pro for your birthday!”)

Of course, when the baby came she agreed that I did the right thing. To me, even the low quality pics the 1.3 cameras deliver are pretty good. It’s a far cry from the bad old days about 5-7 years ago when the low end cameras produced something that looked like it was passed throught the “crapalize” filter in PhotoShop.

I love my Sony DSC S85. It’s a 4.1, it has manual everything (shutter, white balance, etc…), accepts a zoom and wide angle lens, and I think it goes for about $500 now (at Best Buy). Btw, you can also put it into full automatic mode and just click away. It also accepts a flash.

It takes great photos too.

And it takes movies (320x240), and with a 128mb memory stick you can get about 25 minutes worth. Unlike some cameras, the only time limit is memory. It’s also small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, so I carry it with me everywhere, excpet in the summer. It connects easily with a usb cable, and it comes with good rechargeable batteries.

The only downside, which doesn’t really bother me, is the memory stick–expensive and not a lot of room compared to a microdrive or other storage types. And it doesn’t like to get rained on, but that’s probably a problem with most cameras.

Awesome camera, I loves it.

But, a camera that I’ve had my eye on and that’s more in your price range is the Sony U20. Incredibly small, but still very powerful and takes decent photos.

Single-Lens Reflex.

Andrew, honestly, at your current level of expertise with this area (I don’t mean that insultingly, but obviously you’re new to “high-end” photography) I wouldn’t suggest blowing the big bucks on a removable lens digital SLR.

Instead, go for my solution. I bought the S230 as a portable, take anywhere camera. For those times I want cool wildlife shots, etc. I also have a much larger, 10x zoom digital camera, the Canon Pro90 IS. The 10X zoom is amazing – and I have a 1.7x tele-extender for it so it now has more reach than the best film camera I ever owned. It was originally a $1,300 camera, but I got it when it was being discontinued for about $600. The camera’s no longer made, but new units still can be found at sites like BuyDig.com.

The Pro90 IS is the big-lens version of Canon’s pro-sumer G1 camera. It can shoot fully automatic, but it also has a full range of manual settings. It can also use an external flash, when you get more advanced in your shooting. It would be a great “transition” camera for learning a bit more about using manual settings, etc., and image quality is superb.

See www.datkin.net/pro90 for a few examples. Keep in mind these have been resized down; the camera shoots at 2.6 megapixels.

I find the Pro90 and S230 combo gives me all the flexibility I’d need myself from a digital SLR combo, at a much lower price, and with more portability. I don’t get 6 megapixel shots, but images from both cameras look fine printed at 13x19 with Qimage, so I don’t need more resolution.

The only other 10x camera I’d recommend is the Olympus 2100, but it’s only 2 megapixels and uses Smartmedia cards, which suck. The Pro90 and Oly2100 have Image Stabilization, which lets you shoot long-zoom shots without blur, and shoot in low light without a flash. The newer 10x cameras from Olympus lack IS, and it can be a bitch to get a sharp zoom shot in anything but bright lighting conditions.

uses Smartmedia cards, which suck

What’s the problem with Smartmedia? What do you recommed instead, CF?

No offense taken Denny.
I’m just trying to avoid making the same mistake twice. I bought this JVC against people’s advice. They told me I didn’t know what I was doing, why get a 3.3 Megapixel with digital zoom when an Elph would suffice? I wanted to experiment with photography and they were giving me good advice, but I rejected it out of fear of getting something too weak for what I wanted. So, instead, I compromised and got this one. The JVC GC-QX5HD Digital Still Camera and it’s a pretty good camera.

But…

Now, I’m finding it isn’t near what I really want. So, I’m hesitant to spend another $1,000 - $1,200 more dollars if there’s a chance I’m going to wish I’d gotten the $1,900 SLR instead? I have the feeling there’s a pro inside me, just looking for the technology to set him free. ;-)

Anyway, see what I mean?

Here’s my link, shots I’ve taken. Click the landscape shot in the upper right to get the distance stuff, all these are severely shrunk down of course. Oh, I can also share some of the shots I’m trying to get. I’m shooting ruined barns here in WI. Most are on private property, hence the need for a zoom.

http://www.andrewsbub.com/family.htm

(sandbox appeared in Milwaukee magazine, and Piano-Girl was, um, optioned but hasn’t run yet… so I guess you could say I am a professional)

Anyway, I really am clueless, I appreciate your advice.