Sound Advice Week 20: Digital Camera Recommendations

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 20, 2007

Q: I have never owned a digital camera before and I wanted to get some advice from America’s foremost expert to guide me in my initial choice. I read on your blog where a higher number of pixels doesn’t always translate into better pictures. I now understand why that’s the case.
That being said, here are the features that are important to me: 1) LCD screen of at least 2.5″; 2) image stabilization, preferably optical; 3) optical viewfinder; and 4) manual controls. Of course, picture quality is very important to me as well. While I don’t have an unlimited budget, a cheaper price would not necessarily be the determining factor in my decision.
Can you pass on several choices based on your experience?
-Bill Raw, Red Wing, MN

A: Wow, you seem determined to get your name in the paper! Your flattery and sense of timing has achieved your goal and is going to get your question in the column. I haven’t written about compact cameras in a while and there have been some changes on the market, so I will take this opportunity to warn readers about some deceptive marketing going on, as well as recommend two great cameras.

First of all, some of your features tend to exclude each other. For example, unless you are looking at a digital SLR, more and more cameras these days do not have an optical viewfinder, especially if they have a large LCD screen. The large screen tends to crowd out the viewfinder window, and not many people use it to begin with.

Your remarks about image stabilization are apt. Some companies are using buzzwords such as “digital image stabilization” or “electronic image stabilization”, which don’t stabilize at all. All they do is raise the sensitivity (which creates noise, grain, and destroys detail in the image) so that a faster shutter speed is used, which counteracts the effects of hand shake somewhat. True image stabilization uses motion sensors then either moves lens elements (optical) or moves the sensor (sensor-shift) to compensate. Some digital photography websites have given the manufacturers a verbal lashing for this shifty (pun intended) bit of marketing doublespeak. If it is “digital stabilization”, then it really isn’t stabilization.

There is a Canon model I can easily recommed to you, or anyone else in the market for a full-featured camera. The 7.1 megapixel PowerShot A710IS has a 6x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, manual controls, an optical viewfinder, and a 2.5″ LCD screen. Image quality is outstanding. I’ve handled it in stores and at trade shows and it responds quickly, as well.I have seen it selling on the web for under $300, which is an incredible value for a camera of its features and capability. In fact, looking at your questions, this camera is pretty much made for you.

My second recommendation is to consider a digital SLR. An SLR will provide the best image quality as well as future flexibility, an optical viewfinder that is big and bright, the ability to photograph inside or in available light without flash, and very fast focus and shooting performance. My favorite moderately priced camera continues to be Pentax’s gem, the K100D. I use a K100D almost every day and it continues to impress with its beautiful images, effective sensor-based stabilizer, and solid build quality. The K100D with Pentax 18-55mm lens can be purchased online for $534.00 after a $50 rebate.

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