Want to know what the best point and shoot camera is for your budget? Here I rank the top value-for-money point & shoot cameras available in 2011, give an overview of some of their useful features, and make recommendations as to how each camera might help better capture photos at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
Creating this post was no easy task. In fact, out of all of the posts I’ve written, I’ve put the most work–by far–into this post. Over the course of the past month, I’ve read extensively about point and shoot cameras and I’ve tested point and shoot cameras at Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and Sam’s Club. During this testing, I’ve learned a few things that probably will never have any value to anyone reading this, but I’ll share my “lessons” anyway, just in case, ya know, they might help even a couple of you out.
First, stores do not take kindly to you bringing in a camera to photograph other cameras. Out of all of the stores listed, I was only able to take photos at Sam’s Club, and even that was incredibly awkward. Second, stores do not take kindly to you bringing in your own memory card to use in the cameras you’re testing to obtain comparison test shots for later use. Explaining that you do camera reviews on your “blog” doesn’t make it seem any less sketchy to the store. Third, at least half of all cameras on display at stores are dead. I wonder how stores would have taken to me bringing my own battery charger or battery. Hmmm… Finally, Best Buy sales people are pushy. Maybe it’s just the Best Buy stores near us, but I shouldn’t have to listen to their (uninformed) spiels about what camera would be best for me after I’ve already told them I don’t need any help. Alright, now that I’ve imparted this useless wisdom upon you all, let’s get to the useful stuff.
The cameras below are ranked in order of how I favor them. I arrived at these rankings not only by comparing the substantive quality of each camera, but also the price of each camera. I also discounted for heavily marketed features that I felt were gimmicky or generally useless for most people. To that end, these rankings are more “value for money” rankings than they are a list of the outright best point and shoot cameras presently available. If cost is no issue and you just want the best point and shoot, stop reading and just buy the Canon G12. It also should be noted that this article does not review mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (or “EVIL” cameras), so if you’re considering one of the higher end cameras on this list (such as the Canon G-series), but don’t want to move up in size to a DSLR, you really might want to check out cameras like the Olympus PEN E-PL2. That said, let’s delve into the point and shoot camera reviews, starting with our top choice!
#1 – Canon PowerShot S95 – I’m going to go ahead and nickname this camera the “giant-killer.” Okay, so it’s quite expensive in its own right, but it’s not nearly as expensive as the Canon G-series, and it’s significantly smaller (thus the “giant killer” name) and has most of the features of the G-series, plus very comparable image quality. Its biggest strengths for Disney, in my opinion, are its minimum aperture of f/2.0, its ability to shoot RAW, and its high ISO performance, which is quite impressive for a point and shoot. It lacks a lot of the external buttons, but it has full manual modes, and can produce some great photos when in the right hands. Obviously it’s no miracle worker, and it definitely doesn’t compare to even an entry level DSLR, but if you’re looking to take a pocket-sized camera to the parks that will give you great creative latitude, I will say with fairly strong certainty that this should be your choice. The only weakness of this camera that I could find is the 3.8x optical zoom, which is not much. While I use zoom lenses a decent amount at Disney, I don’t find zoom all that necessary at Disney parks (with the exception of Kilimanjaro Safaris and a couple stage shows). To put it fairly bluntly, I was quite surprised to find a point and shoot camera this size could do so much. The technology really has evolved in the last couple of years. This camera has me seriously considering selling my Olympus Stylus Tough 6020 and instead just using the S95 plus a DicaPac Waterproof Digital Camera Case for underwater photography.
If you’re concerned with price or it’s not necessary that your camera be pocket-sized, keep reading the other reviews. Otherwise, this should be the camera you buy. As I’ve been researching these cameras, I’ve noticed the prices fluctuate at Abes of Maine and Amazon(links to the camera page on each site). Make sure to check both stores before purchasing, and don’t forget to use the coupon ABESAVES for $10 off the camera at Abes of Maine. Every little bit helps, right?
#2 – Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V – If price does matter, this is the camera for you. It’s currently only $189 at Amazon, which is a downright steal. (It wasn’t even close to this price at the two stores I visited that carried it.) Based on my own criteria, there is a strong case for this camera being #1, as it has most of the features of the S95 and performs nearly as well, but its minimum aperture is only f/3.5, which makes quite a difference compared to the S95′s f/2.0 aperture in low-light situations. (Even if you don’t know what that means and don’t plan on using any manual modes, that will impact your use of the camera if you shoot in low-light.) The camera does have some features/advantages that I think are intriguing for use at Disney, such as GPS, top-notch HD video, and its 10x zoom.
If you aren’t sold on one of the first two cameras, I’m going to assume it’s because you don’t mind having a slightly larger camera, or because even at $189, the Sony DSC-HX5V is still too expensive. If neither of these assumptions are true, perhaps you should take read some external reviews of the S95 and its competitors and the DSC-HX5V and its competitors. These are the two cameras I recommend most highly of the ones I tested–by a long shot.
#3 – Panasonic DMC-FH25K – I feel like this is a camera that really flies under the radar. I haven’t read many glowing reviews, but in my testing, it really performed quite well and had a good “feel.” What it lacks in full manual settings (it does allow for some manual settings) it makes up for with its 28(!) scene modes and great image quality. It has some features I feel like were added for the sake of marketing, but none of these should have added any extra expense to the camera, so you’re not paying for what you don’t need. In my testing, the scene modes performed quite well if you chose the correct one (which should be relatively easy to do given their logical names), making this a great camera for anyone who is looking for great pictures made easy, and doesn’t plan on using full manual mode.
#4 – Olympus Stylus 5010 – At less than $100, this camera is an excellent option if you’re not interested in investing in the Sony DSC-HX5V or the Canon S95. It offers a tad more zoom than the S95 and is slightly smaller, but besides price, that’s where the advantages end. The images it produces don’t look as crisp or vivid, it can’t shoot RAW, it’s not good for low-light, and it just doesn’t offer the same breadth of features or settings as the two aforementioned models. It does allow for manual settings, which is nice, but I still feel as if this is the type of camera you give to a kid who is learning photography or someone just looking to snap random shots here or there. Then again, I value photos highly, and I am someone who looks at the astronomical expense of a Disney vacation and I wonder how on earth people could settle for anything but great photos to capture memories of their (expensive) vacations.
#5 – Canon PowerShot SX130IS – This camera isn’t as impressive as the Sony DSC-HX5V and it costs more. That said, on the gimmicky effects front, it is well-rounded. It has modes such as “fisheye” and “miniature” that are actually quite fun to play with, but really aren’t that useful for normal everyday use. That said, these modes are quite well-suited to use at Disney, and they can make a normal photo a lot more fun. The biggest “real” advantage of this camera is its 12x optical zoom. It also is great for macro photography (all you ‘food porn’ lovers!) and is capable of incredibly fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. However, it’s larger than the Canon S95 and Sony DSC-HX5V, and it’s low light performance is not as good as either of those two cameras. If zoom and those fun creative modes are really important to you, consider the SX130 IS, but otherwise, get the S95 or the DSC-HX5V.
#6 – Canon G12 – This is for those people who like the Canon S95, but want something with just a little more polish, features, and external buttons (which may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re using manual settings in the parks, these buttons are a HUGE time saver). This is probably the camera I have the most first-hand experience with due to borrowing it from a friend. It’s the closest to a DSLR I’ve ever seen in a point and shoot, but I can’t help but wonder if those considering this camera would be better suited by one of the aforementioned mirrorless cameras. They’re roughly the same size, they perform better, and fill the same “bridge” niche between point and shoots and DSLRs.
#7 – Kodak EasyShare Sport C123 Waterproof Digital Camera – This one is getting tacked on due to its incredibly low price and versatility. As I said in our underwater camera reviews, we didn’t spend much time playing with this camera. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed by it, either. That said, you can’t argue with a sub-$75 camera that is waterproof. If you want a cheap underwater camera and don’t expect to own it for the long haul, definitely consider this.
There are probably 15 other cameras we tested, but I’d rather be concise and offer my opinions as to what is best given certain constraints, rather than just throw up a bunch of reviews and have some of the better cameras get lost amongst the noise. I’m sure a lot of you will be dissuaded by the price of the Canon S95 (and perhaps its limited zoom), but it’s definitely the best option on this list for Disney vacations. As I said above, I look at it this way: a Disney vacation costs a lot of money. The memories of those trips are priceless. Given these two things, why skimp on a camera to capture photos of the priceless memories of your expensive vacation? Ultimately, I’d recommend everyone own at least an entry level DSLR, but I realize that’s an unreasonable recommendation because of its size and “intimidation factor.” That said, the Canon S95 is a great alternative to a DSLR, and it’s a point and shoot that you can expect to own for years to come. By contrast, the cheaper cameras on this list are more like “disposable” point and shoot cameras, that I suspect many people would outgrow in a year or so, and would move on to another camera. What I’m suggesting is that rather than going cheap, if at all possible, go with the Canon S95, which is a much higher quality camera with a higher “experience ceiling,” rather than a $100 camera now that you’ll outgrow in a year, and another $200 camera a year from now. That said, if you absolutely cannot justify the cost of the S95, consider the other options here, which offer a good number of features and are typically pretty high-quality for the price. (Except the Kodak, which is just listed because it’s waterproof and cheap!)
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