Friday, January 05, 2007

Ultra Compact Digital Cameras for a busy, cheap mom

I've been wanting a little camera to take places with me. My husband has a great camera that takes very nice pictures, but it is larger than I want to deal with. Here is my feature set:
  • Small -When I'm out with my kids with my purse and a diaperbag I don't want to have to haul a third bag for the camera. I want something that will fit in my purse or pocket and not add a lot of weight.
  • Decent movie mode - I want something that takes at least 30 fps at 640 X480 (this is TV resolution so it will look good (instead of blurry and shaky) on the family DVDs I make). Our camcorder uses minDv and it is a pain to capture the video to the computer. Basically it takes as long to capture as it does to play and I have to babysit the capture program to make sure it doesn't suddenly start not capturing. With a digital camera, the movies are copied much faster.
  • Image stabilized - I blur photos in low-light situations because I can't hold the camera still. Also, this is great for movies so they aren't bouncing. Unfortunately, this requirement threw out a majority of small cameras. The choices were Canon and Panasonic. (I think Sony had one too, but cost way too much.)
  • Not way expensive - I know this is relative, but I have kids and I will be sticking this camera in my pocket. I don't want something that costs so much that I'm scared to take it with me or totally depressed if it gets scratched.
  • Fast - I want to have it up and running quickly to catch my kids being cute.

The contenders
  • Panasonic dcs-fx01 - price $200 , ultra compact
  • Canon SD700 - price $300, cute elph
  • Canon a710 - not compact, but good movies and zoom, $320, compact, about the size of a regular point 'n shoot
  • Canon S2 - this thing is the size of my camcorder, but it kicks butt in taking cool pictures and good movies. It also has a 10x zoom. (most regular cameras have a 3x zoom.) Cost $270. A lot of people who have a dSLR get this camera so they have something more portable, but the thing weighs over a pound. It does zoom during movies, unlike most other digital cameras.
I ended up choosing the Panasonic fx01. It had the features I was looking for and the price was what I was willing to pay. I wish the S2 was smaller, because that is a cool camera, but I really didn't want to lug a large camera bag around.

So here are the pros and cons of the FX01:
  • price
  • image stabilized
  • good movies
  • small
  • will do long exposures (up to 1 min) (This is a feature my husband would like)
  • Image quality (some lowlight pictures just look noisy. Check out some of the reviews to see if this bothers you.) To me, it seems this would only become a problem if I wanted to print an 8X10 of a picture, which I don't usually do. I print 4X6s or watch them on TV.
  • Movie sound is mono, it will not sound as good as a camcorder, although I didn't think it sounded bad.
  • Movies are stored in QuickTime (.mov) format. This means that Windows Movie Maker will NOT handle these files. I own Nero 6 which will grudgingly handle .mov , so I'm OK.
  • proprietary battery - (all ultra compacts do) this means if your batteries die while you are out, tough luck. The battery from Panasonic costs around $35, but I can get ones on eBay for $20 if I need to.
So the camera is now on order and should ship today. I'll review it after I get it.

If I didn't care about the image stabilization, I would have probably gotten either a canon SD600 or one of the Casio Exillims. (Exillims are very cute cameras.) If I didn't care about size, S2. If I didn't care about price, SD700.


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