I am almost completely ignorant on this subject, so I need some advice. I've finally decided to enter the digital age and replace the old 35mm I've had for the last 15 years. I'm not ready to jump straight to a digital SLR. I don't think that I'm an accomplished enough photographer for that to be worthwhile yet, and I just can't justify spending the kind of money I have seen them going for. What I am looking for is a good camera with as much zoom as possible without needing additional lenses. It doesn't need to be "pocket sized," but I will be packing it when I go hunting, so I'd like it to be reasonably light and not too bulky. I don't care about movies, just pictures.
I do most of my hunting up above the tree line. Last year I sat and watched a sow black bear with one black and one cinnamon cub on the opposite hillside about 1/2 mile away for 1/2 hour or so and was really wishing I could get a few pictures. I have no idea if that is even realistic with something less than an SLR, but I know its not with the camera I have now. I did a little looking around on eBay just to see what is out there on the internet, and it seemed like the Kodak C875 might have all the features I am looking for, but, as I said, I don't know enough about this to be sure. Any suggestions of models that might suit my needs would be appreciated. Pricing info would also be good.
I haven't seen a Kodak camera I could recommend in several years. If you go to websites like http://www.dpreview.com, and take a look at their camera reviews, you don't see a lot of "Highly Recommended" ratings for Kodak. It's not that they are bad cameras. It's just that they are not really competitive with some of the other choices. That, and their image quality is generally less than the others in their price range.
But what you are looking for is a superzoom point & shoot camera, and there are several good options. You want a camera with a lens of 10x or more in optical zoom. Forget about digital zoom -- it's a waste of advertising dollars. The other thing you need is real image stabilization to be able to hand hold a lens this long. Again, forget about digital image stabilization -- another waste of ad space. It's all smoke and mirrors. After those primary features you should look for fast focusing, a good LCD size, battery types, and other features you might like. Don't be concerned with how many megapixels it has. Anything over 5 in a small camera is a wasted effort for prints less than 11x14"
Canon's S3 IS is a well known and highly recommended camera of this type. It uses AA batteries, and some think that is terrible, but I think it's great as long as the rechargable types last a long time in it -- and they do. It focuses reasonably fast, and has a tilt & swivel LCD -- nice!
Panasonic's FZ8, or the larger and better featured FZ50, are quite good, and have perhaps the best image stabilization and fastest, most reliable focus of the bunch. Image quality is also top notch as long as you keep the sensitivity down to 100 ISO. 400 ISO is usable, but looks noisy. This is a problem with all small digital cameras though, just a little more so with Panasonic cameras. Panasonic uses rechargable lithium ion batteries, and cheap replacements are available on eBay. The FZ8 is probably the lightest of all these cameras.
Sony also has a good camera in this catagory, but you you have to buy Sony's Memory Sticks for it, and I just think that is such a waste, as they cost more than SD cards that fit in the Panasonic and Canon. Their proprietary lithium ion batteries are far more expensive too. Plus their warranty service is notoriously wretched. Too bad they make such nice gear.
Digital cameras have earned a bad reputation for infuriating shutter lag. In truth, most newer digitals (at least the good ones) have almost no real shutter lag at all. But they do have focus lag and LCD/EVF lag, and those feels like shutter lag because it keeps you from getting the picture when you want it. All these superzoom cameras have electronic viewfinders (EVF) in addition to the LCD's on the back. But both the LCD and EVF have about a 1/2 second delay in what they display. So if trying to capture action with them, you have to either anticipate the viewing delay, or keep your other eye open to watch for the peak of action. You also will want to prefocus and hold the shutter button half way down to elliminate any focus lag. These are problems with all small digital cameras, but once you practice the work arounds, they can be great tools & toys.
I checked out dpreview.com, and saw that Canon is bringing out the S5 now. I would think that would mean prices on the S3 would come down, and I might be able to get a better deal on one. Right now, the lowest price they are showing from on online retailer is about $295. Is that likely to come down, and what is the S5 likely to sell for?
As I said originally, I'm pretty ignorant about this stuff. I'm just assuming that camera prices work like computer prices and that when the next generation comes out the old ones come down in price. I'm also assuming that as a beginner I probably wouldn't be able to tell much of a difference between the S3 and the S5, so it wouldn't be worth it for me to pay more for the S5. Any thoughts?
There are a few nice feature improvements on the S5 IS, like the larger LCD on the back. But otherwise I suspect it's image quality, and usability to remain about the same.
And yes, I would expect the S3 IS prices will drop in the next several months as old stock gets used up. I know the S1 IS and S2 IS did when they were replaced. Historically, Canon has introduced new replacement models at the same price point or less than the previous model was introduced at. However, the S3 IS's price has been dropping for most of the last year, so who knows how low it can/will go.
The same can be said of the S5 IS though. It's price will surely erode over the next year. At some point you just have to jump in with your money or let it all go by. Either way, they are nice cameras.
Thanks for your advice. I've been doing quite a bit of research on the internet the last few days and talked to a guy I know who teaches photography in high school. I've more or less made up my mind to go with the Canon S3 IS. The S5 sounds very nice, but I think that for the money I'm better off with the older one for right now. I'm going to keep my eye on prices and drop a few hints before Fathers' Day.