What camera do I want?

The best camera is the one you have with you. If you don’t want a DSLR, I recommend the Canon S120. Full manual, so compact. But I think it doesn’t have much zoom. The G series might be better, but they’re a bit bulky.


Excellent. Very sensible.

I have loved and owned cameras for years but as a rank amateur. I have come to realise that the extraordinary shots we see on photo sites are pure chance or more usually, the result of hundreds of photos being taken. And only one is extraordinary.

IMHO a keen photographer needs two cameras (plus many lenses). One DSLR for the serious stuff, and a compact point and shoot. Personally a shirt-pocket point and shoot is far more useful than anything else.

If you can easily carry a camera with you at all times then you have it for those extraordinary moments. That is why we now see shots from cell phones of events which would ordinarily have passed by.

Seems nice. Apparently both it and the g16 have a x5 zoom, so no difference here. As for being bulky, I don’t think the g16 is…but I’m truly amazed at how small the s120 is. I had no clue that compacts were now so…compact…

It is amazingly small. It’s smaller than my Casio Exilim, but has better low light performance. It’s more expensive and has less battery life, though. I think the S120 and Sony RX100 are among the best in low light performance.

Oh I forgot to say: no point getting an interchangeable lens camera if you’re not going to buy more lenses. A compact camera like the S120 is your macro, wide angle and zoom all for the price of a single SLR lens.

General photography stuff…

Check out lynda.com for excellent courses on many aspects of photography.

I signed up two days ago for their 7 day free trial ($25/mo after) and have been working through a 5h course on macro photography. It’s nothing like trying to learn from poorly done YouTube videos; the photography courses are made by professionals and have hours and hours of material.

About sensor size…
Get the largest sensor you can find, within reason. Full frame sensors have their place, and I definitely wouldn’t mind having one, but an APS-C sensor (about the size of a postage stamp) is probably all you really need for now.

With a smaller sensor (micro 4/3 and smaller) you can’t produce as narrow depth of field.

I want a camera that can produce beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds, referred to as Bokeh. Check out the picture of the young girl at the top of that Wiki page for an example of Bokeh that cannot be attained with a small sensor.

A good fast lens (low F number) on an APS-C sensor can do portrait shots like that one, and it is one of the joys of photography for me. I love showing people photographs of them and seeing how amazed they are at the beauty, when the only difference from a point-and-shoot snapshot is the heavily blurred background (and hopefully a tiny imperceptible bit of skill that may be growing as I take more photos!)

Smaller sensors do have their advantages: lenses can be much smaller and lighter, and tiny sensors have amazingly deep depth of field, so you have much greater ability of having everything in focus (think landscape photography or macro photography).

I own a Fujifilm X100 as well as its big brother, the X Pro 1, with a couple of good lenses.

I would recommend the x100 for anyone who really loves old-school black-on-nickel cameras with the manual controls. It is a perfect camera for someone who wants to manually dial in the aperture and then manually dial in shutter speed. I love the optical viewfinder, with option of flipping a switch and having that viewfinder filled by an electronic image.
The optical viewfinder keeps the small camera up at my eye and helps my composition, especially since I can see stuff around the frame and quickly moving objects. It is very close to the experience you get with a rangefinder camera, though it is not technically a rangefinder.


I always have to take extra care explaining how to use when I hand it to a stranger to ask them to take a shot. It is not a camera for photographing sports and not a camera for very quick snapshots. You need to think a little, and at least verify that you didn’t bump any of the knobs out of position.

It’s worth it to me. The image quality (even on a 2 year old camera) is very good.

I love the XPro1 so much that I would highly recommend its younger, lighter, and spiffier brother, the XE1, a camera that can be had with top-notch kit lens for $1200. It bears the exact same sensor as the XPro1, but is smaller and lighter. No optical viewfinder though.

If you decide on serious photography, there are two considerations:

A large CCD which captures as much light as possible

And a high quality lens.

With that, a good photograph is created by the person behind the camera. All else is froth.

Unfortunately, it seems that the best you can find with compacts is 1/1.7 . If I understand correctly it means that the depth of field would be about 4-5 times larger than with a full size sensor, all other things being equals. Am I right about this?

I used to like playing with depth of field, but since I’m now decided on a compact anyway, I guess it’s too bad.

When I think of it, can’t you get mostly the same result by a creative use of sensitivity, aperture and exposure (presumably with a lower definition for the main subject), though?

Also : I note that the aperture limits for the s120 is 1.8/5.6. I may be completely mistaken, by it seems to me that there were much smaller apertures than 5.6 on reflex film cameras and that I did use them.

So, isn’t 5.6 a bit insufficient (Even though I can’t remember what it would be insufficient for)?

The problem with compact cameras is that most don’t have manual control which are what really separates “taking pictures” from “photography”. There are some, and they are good, but they’ll cost you money. You’ll also give up an optical view finder which may mean nothing to you know but I find it difficult to do real good work without one.

Having said that, there are some great smaller cameras out there. You also said you want a fairly large zoom and that’s going work against you in terms of image quality and low light performance. In order to get a big zoom lens in a small package you have to have a small sensor, which means more noise and poor low light performance. Big zoom lenses are also slow, which means you’ll need more light to take shots. Zoom can be (not always) a crutch when taking shots - it’s better to use your eye to find the right shot and zoom with your feet. But that takes time and practice.

1.8/5.6 means those are the fastest apertures the lens can use at minimum and maximum zoom. So when you are fully zoomed the fastest you can use is f/5.6. At full wide angle you can go down to f/1.8. It varies over the range of the zoom lens.

OK, so it’s one or the other but not both. Indeed, looking around, I see for instance the Nikon Coolpix A : there’s an APS sensor, and even an optical view finder as an option but no zoom. Besides, it costs about € 780, which makes it as costly as a cheap reflex.

The Canon S120 proposed by AaronX has a 1/1.7 sensor. Is that really insufficient?

All cameras can take great photos in the hands of a skilled photographer. :slight_smile:

Actually, that’s pretty true. A photographer works with the strengths and weaknesses of the tools they have. The S120 is a pretty good camera, the sensor is quite a bit bigger than the basic cameras sold just for taking snapshots. If it had an optical viewfinder I’d buy it today but I need to take action photos on snow in bright sunshine, something you really want an optical view finder for.

I think the S120 is a very good camera. It will take quality photos in most situations, it has a better than average sensor, better than average lens, and it’s all in a well built, small package. And it has nearly all of the manual controls you would want.

But it’s not an dSLR. If you want to learn how to take photos I think an SLR with easy to use manual control, a simple but fast lens, and an optical viewfinder to frame your shots would be the best learning tool. This only works if you are willing to carry a DSLR with you, and I’m not willing to do that either. So something like the S120 is a fantastic compromise for something you’d carry with you everyday.

Also look at cameras like Fuji X20, the Pentax MX-1, the Panasonic LX7, and the Sony RX100. I am a Canon user, but these are all pretty good enthusiast cameras with reasonable zoom and a fairly large sensor.

Here is a diagram of the sensor sizes.

Notice how 1/1.7" is so tiny that even the 4/3 sensor is about 9 times as large and APS-C is even larger than that.

Some directions to go in from here:

  1. Embrace 1/1.7" and go for a top-drawer P&S. The Canon G series will not let you down. You will get zoom and lots of control.
  2. Go for a larger sensor in a compact fixed-lens camera. You lose zoom, but gain better low light performance and some degree of portrait “bokeh”. Here’s an article that talks about some of the frontrunners in this area.
  3. Go for Micro 4/3 and have a blast with interchangeable lenses and total control, but without the bulk of a normal SLR. A good m43 kit with multiple lenses can fit in a small lunchbox.
  4. Go for a true DSLR

With choice 4, look carefully at the system: Nikon or Canon will do you just fine and will provide plenty of growth.

With choice 3, you can use any m43 lens on any m43 camera, so you would have plenty of options. Micro 4/3s is a bit of a tradeoff, so go to dpreview and look at sample images to see if the camera and lens you are interested can do what you want.

And that’s good advice for the other options. Check out pictures on dpreview and see what you like. As long as you are happy with the images the camera can produce and you are happy with the controls, life is good!

Yes, I had already found such a diagram, but it doesn’t really tell me how much of a difference it will make for me. I mean, for all I know it could matter only for high-end users.

I’ve already excluded 3 and 4. As for 2, I don’t know. As I wrote I’d really like both the zoom and the low light performance :frowning:
Another reason not to buy a DSLR at the moment is that I still have a film reflex if I really feel the need. And by the way, at the risk of hijacking my own thread : it’s a Minolta Dynax 5. How do I find lenses for it if someday I want some? I understand that Sony bought Minolta. Does Sony sell lenses compatibles with former Minolta film cameras?


The real thing you will notice with 1/1.7" is a much larger depth of field. You won’t be able to blur the background much.

This added depth of field is a bonus in situations where you want everything sharp: landscape and from-the-hip street photography.

The sensors are all amazing these days, so as far as sensitivity goes it’s no big deal.
I have an older Ricoh GR Digital III with that 1/1.7" sensor and I have never had any complaints, other than the total absence of bokeh.

Another really cool thing about these small sensor cameras is that they do phenomenal macro photography, often better than a DSLR.

I looked up those, and the Sony RX100 seems great, small but with a rather large sensor and a small zoom. And reviewers seem rather enthusiastic. However, it costs € 700 or so, and I’m not sure I want to spend on a compact what amounts to the price of a low-end reflex.

Unfortunately you are looking for a niche item in an already small market. My advice would be just buy the S120 and accept the idea that if you really like photography you’re going to buy a DSLR or mirrorless system down the road.

You can buy a used DSLR from two generations ago, one or two basic lenses, and save a boatload of money with no real lower performance for your needs. If miss every shot you see without a camera in your hands. Get over that hump and start taking photos. There are lots of amazing photos taken with cameras much worse than the S120; your goal here is to take photos and learn.

Words of wisdom!

I was out for a run on the canal last Friday evening and found this little fellow on the side of the trail.

All my gear at home did me no good, but my iPhone is always with me.
And if I have my good sunglasses with me, I can take iPhone pictures with a polarizer :cool:

Another thing worth noting is white balance is another property of film that you got locked into (more or less) with each roll of film, but you can change every shot with digicams. Normally “auto” does a pretty good job but sometimes it doesn’t so you can change it manually.

I would not use auto IS0. (I have mine locked at ISO 100 unless there’s absolutely no choice.) DSLRS are much better than compacts at producing good images at higher ISOs, if you’re discerning you’ll start to notice degradation at 400 on a compact and it goes down rapidly, and my digicams would always seem to set it higher than I thought was necessary. If you want to take the kind of pictures that require 800 or more you really do want a DSLR.

I would vote for as simple as possible, inexpensive camera. Shoot a lot with it, and then take stock of the features you would like to have in a better camera. For additional help, in the past I would say do some reading in photo mags or beginners books, but I don’t know what’s available now.