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Best 5 (or better mega pixel) camera under $300.00

Posted on 2006-06-12
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Last Modified: 2008-01-09
I am looking for recommendations for the best (probably slightly subjective but I will look up the reviews) digital camera with the following specifications:

I am looking for two camera recommendations (one might fit for both but I doubt it):

Camera one (priced at $200.00 or less):

- Ability to use as a basic video camera (meaning unlimited mpeg4 640x480 with sound recording - limited only by memory)
- SD memory card
- 5 mega pixel or better
- nice to have: use "AA" batteries

Camera two (priced at $300 or less):
All the above features plus must have:

- Exceptional macro feature (close up photography)
- long exposure capability (meaning more than the typical 2 - 8 seconds) I would like something up to 16 seconds or more (like my wonderful Olympus C4040Z)
- very small footprint (like the Casio Exslim's)
- nice to have: use 'AA' batteries but I guess you can't have that AND "very small footprint"

Both cameras must have good ratings.

Thank you,
Shawn
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Question by:sconnell
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jimmymcp02 earned 80 total points
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by:sconnell
ID: 16890576
Thanks jimmymcp02 but this is something I have already done. I am not so lazy that I could not do my own search. I found dozens of cameras but not one fits for the second camera.

For instance, you provided a link to the Panasonic Lumix. It records video in the inefficient QT format (10 mins recording on a 1GB SD card - that is SO 90's). Why a company would chose QT is beyond me! MPEG4 recording should allow nearly 1 hour of 640x480 30fps video! There are a number of other flaws but that was the main one.

Besides the cameras in the second link you provided are all (but one) beyond my $300.00 limit.



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by:bpmurray
bpmurray earned 80 total points
ID: 16892777
I just bought a Panasonic TZ1. It is an absolutely amazing camera. It has a fabulous macro mode and has a 10x optical zoom that sticks out only about 1cm. he lens is beyond criticism - it is simply the best lens in *ANY* compact camera - it's made by Leica, so I suppose it's not surprising that it's so good.

I had an older Canon Powershot, which was fine. However I wanted something that had a vey short startup time, and could get me into the picture, i.e. had a good zoom. This camera delivers all this and then some. I've printed A4 pictures, and they're fabulous.

Of course, it's not perfect. I have two criticisms: the lens has a separate cap, presumably because of the way the zoom is set up; the battery isn't  a standard size like AA. However, it took about an hour to get used to the lens cap, and the battery life is actually pretty good. However, I plan on buying another, since I can easily see a situation where I run out of power.

FYI, I did a lot of research before I bought this, and I haven't regretted it for even a single second. IMHO it's simply the best compact camera available. That lens is just sooooo good!!!

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by:sconnell
ID: 16893429
bbmurray: thanks for your comments on the TZ1. You had me all excited about this camera. But it is still slightly out of my price range AND why oh why would Panasonic sell a beautiful camera like this and do something stupid like use QT for video. QT is the dumbest popular video format around.

I am also confused by the so-called excellent quality photos.... see: http://www.photographyblog.com/reviews_panasonic_lumix_dmc_tz1_4.php
This reviewer goes on to talk about the great quality of the photos but his samples are terrible. I cannot think of the technical term but is a lot of pixelation-splochiness-softness in these photos. Definitely no where near as sharp as my Olympus C4040z. I just wish my Olympus was as small. :-(

Sorry, I don't mean to criticize your choice. It really does seem like a great camera despite my criticisms.


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by:JohnBPrice
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My favorite site is http://www.dpreview.com.  Go to the buying guide and feature search.  You get to pick and chose from a gazillion possible features (including street price, not MSRP which means little) and it will show which camera's meet your criteria, and they have pretty extensive professional reviews on many products, not the crappy Pros/Cons you find on CNet or other sites.  For <$300, long exposure, ultra compact format, 5M+, with video capability, there are over 10 results, at 6M+ there are 9.  It doesn't allow you to search Macro that I could find.
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by:sconnell
ID: 16893664
I've been looking at cameras all morning I it has left me wondering who are these idiots that make such dumb decisions as:
- selling a camera with a 640x480 movie mode but no sound;
- deciding on QT as the movie mode knowing full well that MPEG4 is more efficient, sometimes cheaper but certainly not more expensive, more compatible (e.g. direct burn to CD/DVD to play on any of the many MPEG4 compatible DVD players);
- I am not sure that I can complain about xD memory.... but certainly SD is more popular;
- Disabling zoom while in video mode (the TZ1 seems to be one of the very few that allows that);
- Few allow exposure setting beyond 2 or 4 seconds (okay most consumers probably don't care);
- Few allow completely manual modes (shutter/aperture) yes, most consumers probably don't care about this either;
  BTW bpmurray, this is another problem with the TZ1

Gosh is there a compact and under $300 camera out there for me or must I stick with my trusty four year old Olympus C4040Z? THE ONLY reason why I started this was because I cannot stick my Olympus in my pocket. I want all of the above (sans portability) I will now use my new Canon EOS! Basically, I want an Olympus C4040 in a pocket version but with movie mode and SD memory. :-)  
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by:JohnBPrice
ID: 16893781
>>who are these idiots that make such dumb decisions as:

Yep.  I dislike the slow shutter response of my C5050, but otherwise it does what you'd expect in a camera.  I suspect a lot of the stupid decisions are marketing ploys, eg. If you force people into QT, you get them to USE QT, then you can claim more market share, more popularity, etc.  I hate Apple.
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by:bpmurray
ID: 16893968
Hi S,

As I understand it, Apple's MOV format *is* MPEG4. In fact, the MPEG4 standard was originally based off an older version of QuickTime. The difference is that QT has the H264 codec support built in, so your objection to that may be misplaced. Actually, I'm unconvinced that using a still camera for movies is such a good idea, but I suppose that's really a personal preference.

I looked at those pics & you're right: most of them are very ordinary indeed. The truth is that while the thing only has 5MP, the lens provides an incredible image, and that really is the key. Having a lens of that quality on what probably would otherwise be just another compact camera makes all the difference.

Again you're right about the manual modes: while the TZ1 allows a lot of control, you don't have absolute manual-only mode. I guess you could use the EOS if you really feel the need to take that route :-)
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by:sconnell
ID: 16894418
I think I found my two choices (because I am getting tired of looking):

Sub $200.00 camera - Samsung S500
Sub $300.00 camera - Canon PowerShot SD450

Unless someone has a better suggestion(s). I am listening.
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by:sconnell
ID: 16894995
>Apple's MOV format *is* MPEG4

Well you caught me on that one! :-]

I suppose I should have been a little more precise. Still, it is a "lot of trouble" to convert QT to a native windows format. You know what I really meant was why don't they use DivX format? But the only ones that are doing that are the manufacturers that are selling 100% solid state video cameras.  

Video and still camera technology are merging and soon there will no longer be a distinction between the two, at least as far as consumer models are concerned.

Thanks for the correction. DOH (on my part!) :-)

New sub $300.00 camera: Samsung Digamax L60 but oh crap, no manual focus! One feature I really need and didn't realise until now that it isn't common on compact cameras!  Okay that also excludes the Canon SD450!  This is madness!

Interest website I found: http://www.letsgodigital.org/en/camera/specification/compare
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by:_TAD_
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As an owner of several digital cameras (my wife is a shutter bug - 40,000 digital photos and counting).  I can say with absolute certainty that the *best/most used* feature is the zoom.

Our old 2 MP Olympus camera gets used more for "important" photos because of the superb lighting and zoom capabilities.  The newer 5 MP Kodak is more of a point and shoot everyday camera (it's much smaller too).

Here are a couple of pictures from the old 2 MP camera that simply would not have been possible without the 8x/10x optical zoom (with a 3x digital zoom)

All of these pictures are un-doctored.  These were the results right out of the camera.

[a park]
http://image30.webshots.com/30/0/45/3/226404503JzTzLd_fs.jpg

[a bear]
http://image28.webshots.com/29/0/64/47/226406447XMrmOY_fs.jpg

[prarie dogs]
http://image28.webshots.com/28/0/99/93/226409993ArwhjP_fs.jpg

[cat playing with water]
http://image22.webshots.com/22/1/25/36/226412536LvPyLI_fs.jpg

[Smith's Cove - Grand Cayman Isle]
http://image34.webshots.com/34/2/1/27/232120127tcSBkh_fs.jpg

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by:sconnell
ID: 16896876
I sure they are great photos and thanks for sharing.....
but all I get is:
You don't have permission to access /29/0/64/47/226406447XMrmOY_fs.jpg on this server.

:-)

BTW, Yes zoom is a very useful feature but realistically even though 3x is practically useless it is the best I expect to find in a compact camera.

Frankly I would rather have 2x optical zoom on a 6 megapixel than 3 or 4x optical zoom on a 2 megapixel. When I am not so lazy I will work out the math to prove that with equal optics you're better off with the former.
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by:sconnell
ID: 16896897
Okay... I will offer 400 pts for the ultimate compact camera under $300 with all the features I am looking plus manual exposures and focus. Are these items too much to ask for?  I have all this on my Olympus C4040Z except I can't fit it into my pocket. :-(
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by:bpmurray
ID: 16897105
Canon powershot A700.

But I still think the TZ1 is a better camera :-)
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by:sconnell
ID: 16897507
>Canon powershot A700.

Well A700 let me to the A540 (I cannot tell what the difference is between these cameras - unless you know).... but could it be? With respect to your TZ1, this might be the camera that I am looking for!

It has all the video recording limitations I mentioned earlier but I no longer care so much about that.

Now.... how does A540 stack up against the Samsung S500... it the Canon worth an extra $150?
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by:_TAD_
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>>I would rather have 2x optical zoom on a 6 megapixel than 3 or 4x optical zoom on a 2 megapixel

I disagree completely (personal preference perhaps?).

MegaPixels basically determine what size photo you want to print.  

2 MP camera will print a 4"x6" photo without pixelation.  

Where as you need at least a 4 MP camera to print an 8"x10" photo without pixelation

Larger megapixels simply means that you can digitally enhance/crop/enlarge your photo and still be able to print it on a 8"x10" paper without pixelation.  Any cropping and streatching of a 2MP picture will result in pixelation of a 4"x6" printed photo.

That being said, a larger optical zoom means that one does not have to crop and enhance their photos nearly as often as one would if the optical zoom were low.

I suppose if you intend to crop and enhance all of your photos anyway, then a large MP might be needed, but I'd rather shoot the photo I want, rather than enhance a photo to something I want.

...but I digress.  It is after all, a personal opinion.
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by:bpmurray
ID: 16897690
Personal opinion or not, it is actually quite accurate: that's why I continue to wax lyrical about the TZ1. While 5MP is reasonable, it's by no means the largest you can get. However, it has an amazing Leica 10x optical lens that makes the pictures very crisp and detailed. It's the optics that are critical. I expect that the other compact digital camera manufacturers will follow suit and include a high quality lens in the next rev of their products now that they've seen what can be achieved.
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by:PUNKY
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by:sconnell
ID: 16898735
Thanks PUNKY but longest exposure is only 4 sec.  I am actually thinking more seriously about the cheap Samsung S500 again. At Walmart's 149.00 price I don't think it can be beat! And it might actually have everything I am looking for in a compact camera. Correct me if I am wrong folks.

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by:PUNKY
ID: 16898876
Go for it if you like! that is most important part. Samsung is new to this kinda stuffs, others have been in market long while and we know about them more. Sony, Canon, JVC, Panasonic, many vendors else are good devices to buy. Nowaday, it is hard to find one since many to choose from! So, just go for what you found and like. Enjoy ....
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by:sconnell
ID: 16964310
I ended up making a few compromises and purchased a Canon PowerShot SD600 ELPH. It is probably one of the smallest digital cameras around and has 6 MP for $252.00 - brand new on eBay.

IMHO, this camera represented the least number of compromises while gaining some unanticipated benefits such as the 60 frames per second video mode!

I appreciate everyone's help so now I must figure out how to grade this question.
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