Whether you are a pro looking for something small to take with you, or an amateur who just wants a decent camera, there seem to always be three factors that weigh in when choosing a camera–quality, cost, and portability. It’s surprisingly hard to find a product that satisfies all of these requirements, but not impossible. With a few years under my belt selling cameras, and substantial experience traveling and shooting, I’ve picked up a fair amount of helpful tips. Read on.
It’s not all about the megapixels
Probably the biggest mistake that rookie camera buyers make is shopping based on megapixels. More MPs does not always equate with better image quality. Yes, they’re important but there are many other factors that should be considered. You can have a 24 MP camera with images that look like complete garbage. It’s more about the quality of the pixels than the quantity of them. As a general rule of thumb, look for something with 12 MP or higher, but don’t freak out with excitement when you find a 20 MP Nikon for 80 bucks.
Optical vs Digital Zoom
What’s the difference between optical and digital zooms? I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times and the answer is surprisingly easy if you think of it in this oversimplified way – Optical Zoom = Good and Digital Zoom = Bad. Basically, the optical zoom is the actual power of the onboard lens to magnify an object. This doesn’t result in a huge loss of quality by zooming. On the other hand, digital zoom is an electronic magnification or stretching of the image to make it appear closer which often gives the image noise, blur or otherwise unwanted effects.
As far as point and shoot cameras that will fit in your pocket for under $400 go, this one stands out above the rest. Having a big zoom is a nice feature for most travelers and this camera comes with a 30x optical zoom – which is like having the magnification power of a huge safari lens. It will give you great flexibility shooting animals, birds or any smaller details from distance. Obviously, with any point and shoot cameras there are limitations to image quality and manual operation, but Sony does offer a fair amount of manual controls for this model. One of the best in its class at nighttime photos as well. I would buy this before I thought about any of the bigger fixed lens SLR sized point and shoots with slightly bigger zoom lenses based simply on image quality and portability.
Coming in a tad cheaper than Sony, Canon has a comparable offering with the SX700. This is an all-around solid camera. I love how it feels in the hand too. This won’t offer quite as much higher end functionality, but it gets the job done with above average image quality from its 16 MP sensor. If you aren’t good with technology, I’d also say this one is probably the easiest to use with its simple, mostly straightforward interface.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50S
Panasonic has been making underrated point and shoots for years. The ZS50S is phenomenal with image quality that will blow away expectations. It is also one of the few P&S models that has a built in view finder. This one has a 30x zoom, similar to the Sony mentioned above and runs just under $400. Coming in at $150 cheaper, you can get a scaled down ZS45 model with less zoom and subtract the viewfinder.
Nikon makes a boat load of P&S models, but as far as getting the most bang for your buck – the S9600 is my favorite. For about 200 bucks you get 22x optical zoom, 16 MP and a camera that handles various lighting situations extremely well.