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Digital Cameras 2

Choosing a Digital Camera - Part 2
Jim Doty, Jr.

Update!  This page was updated November 11, 2004.  I also did a major re-write of Part 1, read it too.

The features you want in a camera are important factors in choosing a camera. You can learn more by reading my Choosing a Digital Camera article. This article will also explain terms like resolution, lens aperture, and lens focal length. For more information on focal length, read the section on LENSES near the top of the  point and shoot film camera article.

I can not tell you which digital camera to choose, because only you know what and how you shoot, and what your specific needs and preferences are. I can tell you where to get the best information and a few of the camera models that impress me.

Reviews and Ratings

The best camera reviews are at DP Review and Megapixel.net.  I would not buy any digital camera without reading a review at one or both of these sites. My personal preference would be to get a camera that has at least a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED or a  RECOMMENDED rating at DP Review, or that has a numerical rating in at least the mid 8's or low 9's at Megapixel.net (on a scale of 10). It is important to read the whole review to see if the camera you have in mind has the features you need.

Here are some cameras that impress me, from small to large and in order of price (except for the digital Elph line where you pay extra for the small size).

Canon Powershot S330,  SD110, S410

In the very small category, these 2, 3, and 4 megapixel Elph (Ixus) cameras are very good. DP Review gives the S330 a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating and Megapixel.net gives it ratings of 8.4 and 9.2 for functionality and photographic qualities. Megapixel.net gives the SD110 ratings of 8.4 and 8.6. Ratings are not yet out for the S410 but most users really like this camera. These cameras gives you excellent features and imaging quality in a very small package. You pay extra for the miniaturization.

Canon Powershot A70, A80, A85, A95

All of the cameras in this series from the 3 megapixel A70 on up to the 5 megapixel A95 are fine cameras.  I have several friends who own various models in this series (purchased at my recommendation) and they all love them.  They are bigger than the Elph series above, but smaller and less expensive than the S and G series below. They all produce very high quality still photos and they all have a respectable movie mode. For the average snapshooter, the A95 (and other models before it) may have the best collection of features and quality at in inexpensive price. DPReview gives the A95 and A70 models  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ratings. Megapixel.net gives the 4 megapixel A80 model 9.0 and 9.0 ratings. The whole series is first class.

Canon Powershot S60 and S70

If you want a 5 or 7 megapixel camera, but don't need the fast lens aperture of a Canon G3 or G5, then you can get the smaller Canon Powershot S60 (5 megapixels) or the S70 (7 megapixels). Both have 28-100mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent). The wider 28mm focal length will be much appreciated by those who value wide angle shooting. DP Review gives both cameras a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating. Megapixel.net gives the S60  ratings of 8.4 and 9.4 These are an excellent cameras with lots of features in a smallish size.

Canon Powershot G3  (Update: See the G6 below)

One of the very best 4 megapixel cameras is the Canon Powershot G3. DP Review gives it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating and calls it "the best overall package for the aspiring shutterbug, seasoned prosumer digital camera owner and even as a backup for a D-SLR owner." Megapixel.net gives it ratings of 9.4 and 9.4 . The lens focal length has a 4x optical zoom range, which is a step up from many 3x zoom lens point and shoot digital cameras. The lens also has a fast maximum aperture which is very important to those of us who need to shoot inside without flash. If you don't need a camera with a longer zoom range, this is about as good as it gets. This camera has wide angle and telephoto adapters available. Some reviews say it is better than the G5. Read G3 vs G5. When I am traveling light, I carry a Canon G3 with me. A used G3 with a warranty from a reliable dealer would serve you well.

Canon Powershot G6

The G6 is the latest in the Powershot line. Megapixel.net gives it ratings of 9.6 an 9.4 which is quite high. There is not yet a review at DP Review.

Sony DSC-F717

If you want a lens with a bigger focal range than 3x or 4x, then the Sony DSC-F717 may be just what you need. It has a 5x optical zoom focal length range. If you need a longer lens to make distant things look closer, this camera should be on your short list. The small penalty comes in the camera size. The lens on this camera is bigger than the body (but the whole package is still smaller than most 35 mm film cameras with a zoom lens attached). It is not a compact but it is still relatively small.  DP Review gives it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, and as of October 2002, said it has "the best resolution of current five megapixel digital cameras." Megapixel.net gives it ratings of 7.8 and 9.2 . This is a very fine camera.

NO 8 MEGAPIXEL DIGICAMS

None of the 8 megapixel digicams are on this list. Why? I don't think they are ready for prime time at the price you pay. All of them have shortcomings. Maybe the next generation will get it right and I will add one or more of them them to this list.

Canon 10D

Canon released the 10D in the spring of 2003.   I love this camera and I have two of them. My reviews are here and here and I have an article about using it to take portraits with only the dome light of a car. It has most of what I wanted except for a full frame sensor.

Canon 20D

Canon has released the 20D to replace the 10D.  It has an 8 megapixel sensor, an increase over the 6 megapixels of the 10D.  Image quality is improved at ISOs over 400. It turns on faster and has a faster autofocus sensor.  If you are doing fast action photography or a lot of low light photography without flash, this camera may be worth the extra $350 in price over the 10D.  If you are doing mostly landscape and nature photography at ISO 100-400, a print from the 10D will look very much like a print from the 20D so this may be the time to save some money and get a 10D before stocks run out. Links are below.

Canon 1D Mark II

This is Canon's latest professional, 8 megapixel speed demon. Image quality is even with or just slightly better than the Canon 20D. It will fire off 8.3 frames per second for 40 frames in jpeg high quality mode.  If you need speed, sealing against the elements, virtually instantaneous response, robust professional build and a 1.3x field of view crop (your lenses seem 30% longer compared to 35mm), this is the camera to get.  If not, you can save about $2700 and get the Canon 20D. DP Review gives it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating (their highest) and calls it (as of Sep 2004) the "ultimate digital SLR."

Information and Places to Buy

Camera store clerks are not always the best source of information, and what they say about cameras can be limited or influenced by price incentives that have nothing to do with the well-being of the customer. There are some well-informed folks out there, but not as many as we need. Discount store clerks are usually worse than clerks in camera stores. Buyer beware.

Your best camera information is still going to come from the two sites I recommended above. They should provide you with most of the information you need to know. Make your decision, check out some prices on the internet, then go to your local store, look at the camera you are interested in, try it out, and then ask the clerk for their best price (discount places usually won't dicker, camera stores often will).  Don't let them switch you to the special of the week until you go home and check out their recommendation at one of my recommended sites.

BUY ONLINE AND SUPPORT THIS SITE

If you go the internet route, go to the bottom of this page and click on one of the links to Amazon.com. If you buy a camera (or anytying else) from Amazon.com after linking there directly from this site, Amazon will help with the costs of maintaining this site. It won't cost you anything but the time to click on a link. Thanks!

Other Online Dealers

Another option is to go to my LINKS page and check out the prices at B&H Photo or one of the other dealers listed there. B&H Photo is one of my favorite mail order and online dealers. They are honest and competitive.

My Camera Choices

This list is dominated by one brand name, but that is because I have experience with this line. I own some of these cameras, and have used others. Other manufacturers make truly fine cameras too. Don't buy a camera simply because it is on the above list. Ask yourself what kind of pictures you take and what kind of features you need. Read the reviews at the sites I recommended. It just may be that one of the cameras above may end up being just what you want.   

Buy a Canon Powershot A85 while they are still available for $249 from Amazon.com (price as of Nov 11, 2004).

Buy the new Canon Powershot A95 for $325 from Amaxzon.com (Price is as of Nov 11, 2004).

Buy a  Canon 10D for $1149 (as of Nov 11, 2004) at Amazon.com while supplies last..

Buy the new Canon 20D (body only) for $1499 (as of Nov 11, 2004) at Amazon.com.  This model replaces the 10D.

Buy the Canon 20D with the EF-S 18-55mm lens for $1529 (as of Nov 12, 2004).

December 23, 2002
Updated Nov 12, 2004

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