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Compact Camera It Is, But Which One?

So the consensus seems to be that I should spend my money on a compact camera. Which is a consensus I am quite happy to go along with. The problem is that, as is often the case, answering one question has led to another. Namely, which compact camera should I buy?

I’ve done a little research into cameras in my price range ($150-$300) and this is a brief summary of what I’ve found:

Camera Optical Zoom Shutter Speed Aperture Price (est.)
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC E90 3x 1 – 1/1600 sec 2.8(W) 5.2 (T) $220
Casio Exilim EXZ100 4x 2.6 (W) 5.8 (T) $280
Samsung i8 3x 1~1/2000 sec 3.5 (W) 4.5 (T) $200
Panasonic DMC-TZ4S 10x 8 – 1/2,000 sec 3.3 (W) 4.9 (T) $280
Canon Powershot A590 IS 4x 15-1/2000 sec 2.6 (W) 5.5 (T) $180
Nikon Coolpix S550 5x $230

I didn’t include megapixels because all of them have at least 7MP, the blank spaces in the table are bits of information the manufacturer’s website didn’t provide (or at least not where I could find it).

Out of this lot the Panasonic appeals to me because of it’s large optical zoom but it’s at the top end of my price range and the Canon, which sits at the bottom of the price scale, looks like great value especially considering this isn’t going to be my primary camera. I’m not quite ready to part with my cash yet so leave a comment and tell me which compact (in the $150-$300 price range) you think I should go for and why. Although I’ve just read a review of the Sigma DP1 so maybe I need to keep saving and aim for that!

Ray Davis

  • Saka

    I would definitely recommend the Canon Powershot. One of my main reasons for choosing a Powershot was because it takes AA batteries. I figured that if my rechargeable batteries ran out then I could always resort to buying extra batteries no matter where I was in the world.

    My other big reason for going with the Powershot was because of developments with CHDK. Look for the info site online and see what features it can add (the most notable features being RAW support, faster shutter speed, longer shutter times, among others). The A590 isn’t supported yet but at the rate that the various CHDK developers have been working, it shouldn’t be long. Knowing what you can do with CHDK you might want to consider the other Canon compacts as well.

  • Clayton Jenkins

    The reviews on the Sigma DP1 have lead me away from it. I was thinking it might make a nice P&S but then I read about the shutter lag. Grrrr. Why do P&S cameras have to take so long before they agree to capture the image?


  • frank

    I shoot and love my Nikon D80. However when it comes to P&S I think you would be hard pressed to do better than Canon for the money. I truly believe they are the BEST compacts available for under $500 (I have an a640 which is a great camera). Given that…the DP1 is an amazing camera if you’ve got that kind of cash for a compact. I also think in the more money than they should be category, the Ricoh GR’s and GX100 are very tempting(though a little less so when compared with the DP1).

  • cliff

    have you checked out the Canon S5 IS? I have the S2 which I love still (been using it for two or three years now). the S5 is the “even better” version of the S2 and it is right at the top of your price range. good luck!

  • I’d place shutter speed above just about any other feature. Most cameras take decent images, but given that the point of this one is to grab those impromptu moments, speed is everything.

  • I can’t find a Sony DSC-E90. Is that right?

    I’ve got a Panasonic TZ3 and it’s nice but a little bulky for pocketing. I adore the 28mm wide. Looks like the Casio has that too.

    The Canon appeals for Shutter and Aperture priority modes which are pretty rare on P&Ss. The AA batteries are nice too.

    dpreview.com says the Nikon S550 has 4-1/1500 sec shutter and 2.7-5.8 aperture.

    I’d probably go plug all the dimensions in sizeasy.com if it was me to factor in the pocketability. Ah heck, here you go. (Casio, Samsung, Nikon all pretty tiny compared to the relatively bricklike Panasonic and Canon)

  • One that’s not on your list is the Canon SD750. My wife and I needed a small point and shoot that she could carry in her purse and tried 4 cameras from Costco (those were the ones we picked based on reviews) and didn’t like any of them. The last one we tried in the price range was the SD750 and we absolutely love it. I’ve found I use it more than my D50 sometimes just because it’s easy, compact and takes some darn good looking pictures.

  • I’d still recommend the Canon Powershot SD870 (Ixus 860IS). Depending on where you buy, it could fall within your price range.
    Another reason for buying a Canon compact is the CHDK unofficial ‘firmware’ update (quotes because it’s not real firmware and the update is non-destructive), which gives you lots of extra options, especially RAW shooting. So you might want to look at http://chdk.wikia.com to check out the features and the compatible cameras.
    But also without CHDK, the SD870 is a great camera.

  • deltatango

    Listing the zoom of the lens as “times X” is worthless for deciding which one to buy. What’s really interesting is the (normalized to 35mm) focal length at the wide end. You don’t need that 500mm zoom anyway, nor can one really use it. What you need is wide angle. As wide as it can be – which isn’t much for most compact cameras anyway. Those 35mm of most compacts is already too less. So go for the one with the widest angle.
    That’s my two cents so far.

  • Wow, great timing on the topic… I’ve been scoping for a good point and shoot for a year now. I have an old 4MP one that I got great use out of (a canon s410) but I’d like a new one, in the hope that they might be a little faster in the shutter lag department. The one thing that has stopped me is the obsession with packing way too many megapixels. I mean Canon came out with a 10MP dslr and 10MP tiny compact in the same year.

    Anyway, thanks for the timely article, I’m watching responses fervently and am off to check on this CHDK stuff. Sounds promising.