so, what's the best point & shoot camera I should buy?

by PETER HOBBS

December 14, 2009

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As a photographer, I am asked this question all the time, "What is the best Point & Shoot camera I should buy?" The Point & Shoot camera has to be one of life's most important gadgets. Slipping into our pocket or handbag, we carry the ability to capture stunning images of life's most important memories, business records and artistic expressions. There are so many functions packed into today's Point & Shoot that the list of features becomes overwhelming. We will quickly identify the 'must-haves', cut through the frills and determine which the best camera is for you. For clarity, I am purposefully avoiding too many technical terms.

 

 

The Must-Haves

best point and shoot camera

Here it is ... The 'non-negotiable' list of features that we simply must have in our Point & Shoot camera:

 

 

 

The Frills

best point and shoot camera

There certainly are other important features in a Point & Shoot (not mentioned above). These include red-eye reduction, a retractable lens, a self timer and tripod attachment. These features are now standard amongst the range of the better Point & Shoot cameras.

 

Any remaining features are simply not important. They won't assist us in getting a better image or improve the usability of the camera. I have discovered that unnecessary, additional 'frills' actually slow down and confuse my students. The whole idea behind Point & Shoot photography becomes lost.

 

 

The Lineup

best point and shoot camera

There are a myriad of Point & Shoot cameras out there and a vast array of manufacturers. Over the years, I have enjoyed analyzing and comparing my students work in both Photoshop and in print. The quality of the captured image naturally forms a huge part of the class. In addition, we love to compare camera features and usability. There is one make of Point & Shoot that simply stands above the rest, a line of cameras that we particularly enjoy, the Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH cameras.

 

Specifically, within this range, there are 5 cameras that qualify. Here they are:

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS

 

Now, to determine which of these is best for you ...

 

 

The Reviews

best point & shoot camera

Let's look at the current ratings from 2 review groups:

 

Amazon (where the world shops):

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:  4.5 stars from 244 reviews
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:  4.5 stars from 219 reviews
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:  4.0 stars from 16 reviews
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:  4.5 stars from 52 reviews
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:  4.0 stars from 48 reviews

 

B&H (where many pro photographers shop):

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:   4.5 stars from 19 reviews
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:   4.5 stars from 38 reviews
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:   4.5 stars from 8 reviews
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:   5.0 stars from 13 reviews
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:   4.5 stars from 21 reviews

 

All 5 rate well; let's move onto the next hot topic...

 

 

The Cost

best point and shoot camera

Here are the current prices from Amazon (approximately 20% below MSRP):

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:   $150
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:   $200
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:   $260
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:   $260
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:   $306

 

Great prices, considering our tall order. However, we have an interesting price range, from $150 doubling up to just over $300. Let's find out why ...

 

 

Pixels

best point & shoot camera

The sensor panel inside the camera digitally records our images. The panel is constructed of a rectangular grid of many millions of pixels. The more pixels, the finer our image and the greater our ability to achieve larger prints.

 

Here are the amount of pixels that each camera contains. Also, listed are the maximum print sizes that we can achieve without noticeable 'breaking up' of the quality of the print.

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:  10.3 megapixels    8x10" max print size
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:  12.4 megapixels   11x14" max print size
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:  12.4 megapixels   11x14" max print size
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:  12.4 megapixels   11x14" max print size
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:  12.4 megapixels   11x14" max print size

 

All 5 cameras have more than my recommended 8 megapixel limit. Cameras 2 to 4 have a exceptionally high quantity of pixels.

 

 

Zooming In

best point & shoot camera

Zooming in with our built in camera lens gives us the ability to get closer to our subject from afar. For example, getting in close on a family member playing a sport. The degree to which we can zoom in is given as a number (called the 'equivalent focal length' and is shown in millimeters). The higher the number, the more we can zoom in.

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:   105mm
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:   100mm
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:   112mm
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:   112mm
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:   185mm

 

Camera 5 has by far the greatest ability to zoom in. Camera 2 has the least.

 

 

Zooming Out

best point & shoot camera

Zooming out with our lens gives us the ability to capture a wider angle such as a large group of people and can also be a wonderfully creative feature. The degree to which we can zoom out is measured in the same way. The smaller the number, the wider we go.

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:   35mm
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:  33mm
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:  28mm
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:  28mm
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:  37mm

 

Cameras 3 and 4 have the best wide angle ability. Cameras 5 the least.

 

 

Viewfinder Display

best point and shoot camera

Well sized displays are important, giving us the ability to accurately assess our images 'on the fly'. Don't go less than 2.5" and bigger is always better.

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:  2.5"
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:  2.5"
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:  2.7"
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:  2.8"
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:  3.0"

 

Cameras 3, 4 and 5 are nicely above the 2.5 limit. Camera 5 has an incredible 3".

 

 

Release Dates

best point and shoot camera

It is always best to buy the latest in technology. I recommend not buying Point & Shoot cameras older than 18 months after their release date. Here are the release dates for our cameras:

 

  1. Canon PowerShot SD1200IS:  Apr 01, 2009
  2. Canon PowerShot SD780IS:  Apr 01, 2009
  3. Canon PowerShot SD940IS:  Sep 15, 2009
  4. Canon PowerShot SD960IS:  Mar 15, 2009
  5. Canon PowerShot SD970IS:  Apr 01, 2009

 

Camera 3, followed by Camera 4, have the most recent release dates. All however, are less than a year old.

 

 

Time to Decide

best point and shoot camera

Having reviewed the important facts and features, we are now ready to decide which camera is right for you. First and foremost, envisage what type of photography is most important to you. Then, prioritize those features most needed to fulfill your creativity, keeping an eye on your budget, of course.

 

Here are some examples:

 

 

Here's how I decided; I love to zoom in close from afar. However, more important to me is the wide angle capability of a Point & Shoot. So, Cameras 3 and 4 are in the running. They are exactly the same in price. Of the two, Camera 4 has a larger viewfinder (but only by 0.1"). Camera 3 however, was released 6 months after Camera 4. That seals it ... Camera 3 it is for me.

 

 

I hope this article helps you - 'happy shooting'.

 

 

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