Not a week goes by without somebody telling me they are thinking of buying a new camera. Most folks just want something for around$300. So I did some searching and have found three models I think are shockingly capable point-and-shoot cameras that take both still picture and HD videos, the two main features people look for in today's modern pocket-cams.
What these little marvels do just makes my head spin. Technology that was cutting edge a few years ago is now available to the public for super-inexpensive prices.
I've chosen three camera models from this group, although there are many more equally impressive products on the current market.
Keep in mind that consumer digital cameras are sold at discount prices so the manufacturers can make a quick profit before a new tsunami of upgrades render their products obsolete. The market for consumer-grade cameras is humongous, so moving as many units as they can in the shortest time period possible is how the manufacturers make money.
Extremely competitive business.
Good for us!
Lets look at desirable features first.
RESOLUTION: Picture quality. Fineness of detail. Absence of "noise". Trueness of color.
These are determined by image capture technology and number of pixels per image a particular camera can deliver. CMOS image capture technology is, in my experience, the best. After that, it's the size of your image sensor. The bigger the sensor, the finer quality picture.
Cameras that provide 5-6 megapixel images are fine, but the models I've explored go way beyond this. Stay away from anything less.
OPTICAL ZOOM: This refers to the "reach" that a camera's lens (the glass optics themselves) is capable of. The models I'm showing here have UNBELIEVABLE optical zoom capabilities. "Digital" zoom only enlarges the pixels themselves, but can result in some surprisingly good images if your image capture surface (the sensor) is big, deep and uses CMOS image capture technology.
VIEWING SCREEN (LCD): This is refering to the size of the screen on the back of your camera that allows you to view images. The bigger the better, with quality (brightness and clarity) being just as important.
EASE OF USE: Most folks I talk with just want to point the thing, press the button and get a good photo. I've tried to pick three models that do this, but I'm afraid you're all going to have to read the INSTRUCTION MANUAL to know how to set your particular camera to be fully automatic.
C'mon, y'all! It just takes about 30 minutes and will be well worth the time.
And PLEASE do not be taken in by inexpensive cameras that are stylishly "thin". Shysters abound in this market, offering sleek-looking models that take crappy pictures.
There are a few slim-cams that offer the above features, and offer them for around our target price of 300 clams. But DO NOT fall in love with a cheap slimster model before you look at what features it offers in regards to the above listed criteria.
VIDEO CAPABILITY: All three units I've chosen to review for you, my dear reader, have 1080HD or higher video capability and come with installed microphones to record audio.
Many other units do things like offer video, but no microphone on board to view and hear your clips on camera. Or, they might not allow zooming while shooting video, not possess enough frames-per-second to capture quality moving images, or just shoot video with NO audio.
Avoid, Avoid, Avoid.
Make sure you get 1080 or better HD video with audio and an on-board speaker so you can enjoy your videos without having to download them first.
And, if at all possible, buy a small tripod to eliminate camera shake. It's the only way to control it. You cannot hold your camera perfectly still by hand. Go ahead and try. If you can live with the inevitable camera movement in your videos (even your heartbeat will register as movement of camera in video mode), fine. But if you want rock-solid, planted-in-cement stability of image, buy the tripod. You'll thank me later.
OK, here are three cameras I like best for under 300 smackers:
1) THE CANON POWERSHOT SX260 HS:
This remarkable compact dynamo has everything I consider vital in a much higher-end, pro-line camera. It has a 12.1 megapixel CMOS image senor, an out-of-this-world 20X optical zoom, 24 frames-per-second 1080 HD video with sound, a special 240 frames-per-second video option to shoot super slow-motion vids, a HUGE 3-inch viewing screen, and all this for $250-$280, depending on which site you go to.
Here's how it looks fully zoom-extended:
Here's a shot of the viewing screen:
Now I'm a Nikon guy from way back, but Canon has been the leader in producing the highest-quality digital cameras from the start, and it's all reflected in this model. Canon was so ahead of the game that many years ago, Associated Press (which always shot Nikon) moth-balled their entire Nikon digital camera line-up and switched to Canon!
That was quite a few moons ago and since then Nikon (and most every other major camera manufacturer) has done an admirable job of catching up, so don't stop reading yet.
Here's the next model:
THE NIKON COOLPIX S9300:
Not to be denied anymore, Nikon has a full-feature, compact mini-monster point and shoot of it's own.
Once again, folks, I have to say how AMAZED I am at what's available for weekend-at-the-beach buckos. The features that the three cameras I'm showing you possess PRO-QUALITY potential and would make, for me, an excellent go-to pocket cam to carry on off-duty hours, should I be called upon to quickly cover an erupting news event or, say, come across a picture-worthy scene.
You simply can't go wrong with any of these models.
The Coolpix S9300 is well armed, thin, lightweight and easy to use.
In front is an 18X optical zoom lens (comparable in 35mm terms to a 25mm-450mm telephoto) has a 12.1 CMOS image sensor for superior quality, an ISO range of 160-3200, shoots 7 frames a second, and records 1080HD video with sound.
If that were not enough, it has a massive, bright three-inch viewing screen, and I found a new one on Amazon.com for $183! Most retailers online are getting 270-280 bucks, a steal for the punch.
The only thing it appears to lack is super-slow-mo and 2X of optical zoom, compared to the Canon.
Killer camera for the price though and, for my purposes, this would be the one I'd buy.
Last but not least:
THE PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-ZS20
Panasonic has a long line of Lumix cameras, famous for their superior-to-all Leica optics. This gorgeous lens gives you a massive 20X zoom that sends images to a 14.1 CMOS sensor resulting in incomparable image quality.
All this at 10-frames-per-second still-photo capability, as fast as the most expensive pro models of only a year or two ago. It's video is sparklingly clear, shooting 1920X1080HD. The vids online are breathtaking.
Of course, they are clips of the most beautiful subject matter shot by the best photographers money can buy, but so what? All the companies are doing that, and the Lumix vids are just sharper, brighter and more finely-detailed than the rest of the field, at least to my eye.
Of the three models shown in this post, I drool most at this camera.
Disagree? Well, it's all a matter of taste anyway. And there is no accounting for taste. A person prefers what a person prefers.
This article is an effort to show you three outstanding modern examples of consumer digital cameras. There are many more to consider on the market, but no matter the brand, look for CMOS sensors (the bigger the better) powerful lenses with plentiful optical zoom, a large, bright viewing screen, and 1080-plus HD video capabilities - with sound.
Oh yeah. Ease of use. Because we all just want to whip it out and start firing away before the moment disappears forever.
So much for so little! The real price y'all have to pay is to trudge through your owners manuals, set the camera just like you want it, and start enjoying pro-grade images thanks to trickle-down hi-tech that has overtaken the $300-and-under camera market.