The Search for Dean's Next Top Digicam

I’ve always wanted a digital camera with at least slightly better quality than my camera phone. The best my family has ever had, I think, was an Olympus C-350, with 3.2 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, and 3.3x digital zoom. It shot OK-quality pictures, but video was audio-less and therefore sucky. It was the only digicam I ever had.

Looking ahead to my trip to Naga City in February of 2009, I know it’s high time for another (hopefully better quality) digital camera. I mean, come on! It’s the Visayas, where scenic spots are just waiting to be visited and memorable moments captured. I’m waiting to propose a purchase to my dad (and hoping that he won’t turn it down).

The question now, of course, is which camera to purchase.

The first debate that popped up in my mind was whether I should get a regular Point and Shoot, or one of them fancier DSLRs.

On one hand, point-and-shoots are much cheaper than DSLRs, although in recent years the price gap has closed. They require less technical know-how to operate, and are in general much less of a pain in the hiney. However, the photos they take are often grainy and noisy, and you can fiddle with your shot less with a P&S than with a DSLR.

On the other hand, DSLRs take wicked photos. You have more control over your picture, and with the proper photography knowledge, your images come out looking more professional. Sadly, DSLRs often burn bigger holes in your pocket and require more TLC than point-and-shoot cameras.

Okay, so I can’t exactly say that I can work an SLR like a pro. I have already tried using a classmate’s film SLR, and basic operation seems fairly simple—you just turn the lens one way or the other to adjust zoom and focus. I’ll have to try to learn the technicals, like ISO and other settings, through online resources, but it’s not like I’ll be taking pictures for a living, so whatever.

If I get a point-and-shoot, things get even easier. I just, uhm, point… and shoot. But then again, issues of image quality and lack of control come to mind… and so does the fact that I’ve been drooling over DSLRs forever.

While I try to figure out which one would give me more bang for my buck (I hope you’ll help me out by sharing your thoughts in the comments), let me show you some of the cameras I’m looking at (both DSLRs and P&Ss).

Canon Rebel XS

Meet the XS, baby brother and cheaper alternative to the EOS Rebel XSi. Sporting 10.1 megapixels, a CMOS sensor, optical stabilization, minimum shutter speed of 30 seconds, and ISO settings from 100 to 1600 as well as auto, CNET says it’s “a good entry-level dSLR, but only its photo quality stands out among the competition”. It costs less than Php30,000 on Amazon (shipping’s free, w00t), but there are only five left in stock.

Pentax K200D

Pentax isn’t exactly the most popular brand when it comes to cameras (it used to be in a much earlier time, I reckon), but when you’re a panhandling, amateur photographer like me, you’ll take anything that’s just a bit more than OK. Enter the K200D. 10.2 megapixels, CCD, same ISO as the Rebel XS sans auto, an entire slew of shooting programs to choose from, and much more. The downside? CNET editors seem disappointed in the K200D’s inaccurate colors and tendency to underexpose images. While it does cost around $29,000—Shake Reduction 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens included, shipping free—the lack of vividness in its photos makes me wonder whether or not it’ll leave out the natural color of the Visayas.

Nikon D40x

I realized I couldn’t do away with a Nikon on this list. CNET touts this as a “very nice first dSLR”, despite further admonishing more experienced photographers to get the D80 instead. Its 10.2 megapixel CCD sensor, ISO 100-1600, ISO auto, and more-than-OK 1/4,000 sec. maximum shutter speed sound mighty delicious, although its lack of automatic sensor cleaning is a bit of a turn-off. With a Zoom-Nikkor lens and $14.95 shipping fee, the D40x costs Php33,000—slightly more expensive than my first two options, but still relatively cheap compared to the more packed models out there.

Sony Cybershot DSC-T700

Now, onto the P&S cameras. The CNET Holiday Gift Guide 2008 is chock-full of ’em, although I’m looking only in the $100-$500 range. First up, the Cybershot DSC-T700, which got a four-star rating from CNET editors. With an ISO of up to 3200, 10.1 megapixel Super HAD CCD optical sensor, shooting programs and special effects aplenty, and the renowned Super Steady Shot, this touch-screen camera sounds like the perfect point and shoot. The only downsides CNET sees in the cam are the touch screen (“not for everyone”, they allege) and “soft images” (whatever that means). Average users seem to be less satisfied with it, giving it three stars out of a possible maximum of five. Sony.com.ph tells me that the DSC-T700’s SRP is Php31,000—just a few thousand pesos below a decent DSLR’s.

Canon PowerShot A590 IS

Canon makes some awesome cameras, and this one is apparently no exception. The A590 gives you an 8-megapixel CCD optical sensor, 4x digital zoom, minimum shutter speed of 15 seconds, and much more. It’s got some neat shooting programs too. Sounds like something that’s right up my alley… if only I could find price listings on the Canon Philippines website.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

I was skimming through the CNET page for this, and my eyes stopped when I read: “Optical zoom: 10 x”… oh, snap. That’s more than that of the DSLRs I listed! While the megazoom might be tempting, I know it’s not everything. (If I really wanted to take a picture of something up close, I’d walk right up to it.) It’s got a 9.1 megapixel, CCD optical sensor, an additional 4 x digital zoom, a plethora of shooting programs, and a minimum of one minute shutter speed, too. Apparently this thing isn’t out yet, as CNET has no price listings. Let’s hope it’s available in stores by year’s end.

I’m also looking at one or two video recorders, but I don’t think the folks will get me one if I asked.

Help me choose!

I know there are more than a few digital photography buffs out there willing to spend some time churning out specs and stats and giving their opinions as to which camera I should get. Help me choose a digital camera by giving your say in the comments below. I’d really appreciate it. I’ll also probably be posting updates, additions, and subtractions to the Hitlist above as time goes on. As that really lanky German model says, one day you’re in, the next day you’re out. Let the search for my next top digicam begin.

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