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Choosing a birthday camera

Choosing a birthday camera

It was a pretty simple assignment: Buy a new camera as a birthday gift for my wife.  There are so many choices that it’s a very confusing road, and distractions are plentiful with a variety of different features and megapixels.

I did have a few requirements to help narrow the choice:

Physical size: This was one of the most important requirements. The camera needed to be a compact point-and-shoot that would be small and light enough to be carried in a purse or pocket.

LCD screen: The larger the screen the better. Most of the cameras featured nice-looking displays.

Quality: A high-quality chip was a must. Most of the photos would be snaps of people at a variety of events, but you never know when you’ll be need a high-quality image. It’s always better to have a choice; the ability to shoot RAW images and an auto-bracketing mode would really be nice. This would be a camera used on vacations. OK, I don’t get to many exotic locations, but maybe I might want to try an HDR image. These restrictions would really limit the choice of cameras.

It needed to be a camera that would take nice photographs on the automatic setting, but most important, it needed to fit into the “I’m a professional photographer category.”  So it needed to be a camera that had the features I wanted: a fast lens, lots of control, auto exposure bracketing for HDR photos and the capability to shoot in the RAW mode.

I quickly narrowed my choices to three cameras: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5K, the Canon PowerShot S95 and the Nikon Coolpix P300.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5K: This camera is the most expensive of the bunch, with a $499.99 price tag. The 10.1-megapixel camera features an impressive a F2.0 Leica DC Summicron lens. A Lecia lens on your point-and-shoot just seems like the way to go. You can even add the DMW-LWA52 wide-angle adapter to turn your lens from a 24-millimeter to an 18-millimeter. How nice does that sound — using an 18-millimeter lens on your point-and-shoot?

The optical zoom is 3.8, which translates to a 35-millimeter equivalent of 24-90 millimeters. Other technical stats include: RAW mode and use of optical zoom during video recording.  The main disadvantages to this camera is the price and its slightly larger size compared with my next two options.

Canon PowerShot S95:- Next on my list is the Canon S95 with its small sleek style and 3.8x zoom f/2 lens with a 35-millimeter equivalent of 28-105 millimeters. It also features a Smile and Wink self-timer activation. I hate it when I zoom in on features like this, but it must be my techie side coming out. How often are you going to need a feature like this?

I have a Canon G-10 that is many years old but fits into a larger compact-camera mode. This camera is too large to conveniently to slide into your pocket or purse.

The newer model I was looking at features Canon S95 3.8x f/2 lens with a 35-millimeter equivalent of 28-105 millimeters.

Because I already have the Canon G10, this camera would be the simplest for me to operate. It features many similar controls.

This camera has a very small form and is easy to carry.  And it’s simple to use (most compact cameras today are pretty easy to operate): Press the on button, set to auto and snap a photo. Retail price of the camera is $399.

Nikon Coolpix P300 – This camera features the fastest lens with a maximum aperture of f1.8 and  1920x1080p full HD video recording, the best of my three picks. It also comes with the lowest price tag of the group, at $329. The main disadvantage of this camera is the lack of RAW shooting mode.

The Coolpix also has the longest range zoom at 4.2X, which translates into a 35 millimeter equivalent of 24-100 millimeters.

It really was a tough choice because they are all excellent cameras. The features were very similar, and the biggest difference was probably in the price tags.

Drum roll please: The winner was the Canon S95. I really wanted a camera with the ability to shoot in the RAW mode, even though I primarily shoot in JPEG mode most of the time, and my wife would too with the auto mode. Also, the smaller size and price over the Panasonic Lumix LX5 was a factor.

When I look back, the lower-priced Nikon also would have been a fine choice, especially with the higher-quality video. Of course, I haven’t used the RAW mode or video recording with the camera yet. The camera is mostly used for snapshots and not much serious photography. Maybe I gave this too much thought.

Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman

2 Comments

  1. May 12, 2011, 11:34 am

    How Funny. You start out saying it's for your wife, but you never mention what SHE wanted in a camera, what HER interests in photography might be. Then you got honest and wrote about what YOU wanted and how YOU would use it. So whose camera is this? Bec i bet you wife would have been satisfied with a $150 camera that was easy to use, took pretty pics and not going to be a big deal if it was dropped, submerged, lost or stolen. Overthought it, indeed.

    By: djf
  2. May 12, 2011, 10:22 pm

    Despite the faster lens on the Nikon the Panasonic and Canon have a larger sensor, which could turn out to be more useful. I would have also taken a look at the Olympus XZ-1 with its better jpeg output vs the Canon & Panasonic.

    By: coldmack@gmail.com

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