Expert Recommendation

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Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Travel, Child, Action, and Low Light Photos Under $400
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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February 13, 2008
Overview

While not quite perfect in all areas, the Sony H9 is a solid and extremely versatile camera. With a large 31-465mm (15x) zoom range, the H9 effectively covers most of the scenes encountered on travel (though not quite as well as some 28mm wide angle cameras). In addition it has above average high ISO performance to freeze the motion of moving subjects like children, pets, and fast action, and combined with its lens-based image stabilization system, is one of the better low-light cameras on the market. Its long telephoto reach, quick shutter lag, and continuous shooting rate also contribute to make it the best fast action camera in this price range.

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My Best In Class Pick
Sony Cybershot DSC-H9

The Canon S5, Sony H9, and Panasonic TZ3 are all extremely versatile and capable cameras - all of them possess versatile zoom ranges that can cope with many situations while on travel, cover the midrange for portrait photos, include features to deal with low-light situations, and have the long telephoto range, high ISO performance, and continuous shooting ability to get good fast action photos, at least in daylight.

Performance begins to break down at the extremes of low-light and fast action, however. The Panasonic TZ3 has subpar high ISO performance, producing much noisier photos of fast action, low light, and even when shooting children and pets in motion. It also falls short of the 400mm and beyond zoom ranges offered by the Sony H9 and Canon S5. Its one redeeming feature, however, is its 28mm wide angle lens, which makes it the most versatile camera for travel use.

Between the Sony H9 and Canon S5, in most areas the H9 is the better overall camera - it has a more versatile zoom range for travel, more automated noise processing that gives better out-of-box photos for low light and freezing fast action or children/pet motion, and a faster continuous shooting and more responsive shutter lag for capturing bursts of fast action photos.

The TZ3 has its advantages if you really, really value maximum versatility for travel, and plan to shoot mostly in bright daylight. For just about anything else, the Sony H9 is a solid overall camera that can handle all situations competently.

Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 is the Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Travel, Child, Action, and Low Light Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-H9
  • Best Price: $1299
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 15.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 8.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.5 - 1.0s
  • Burst Speed: 2.0 fps
  • Max ISO: 3200
  • Size: 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in.
  • Battery Life: 280 shots
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (5 reviews)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Sony Cybershot DSC-H9
2
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
Customer Rating
Price $1299.00 $649.00
Size (W x H x D) 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in. 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in. 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
Weight (without batteries) 14.4 oz 15.7 oz 8.2 oz
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 2fps, unlimited 1.5fps, unlimited 2.9 fps for first five, 2.1fps unlimited
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
31 - 465 mm (15x) 36 - 432 mm (12x) 28 - 280 mm (10x)
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Storage Media Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable AA-size (x4) Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable
Battery Life 280 shots 450 shots 270 shots
Max Usable ISO (subjective) ISO400 ISO400 ISO200
Autofocus Rating Average Average Average
Shutter Lag Rating Superb Good Poor
Low light Rating Good Average Poor
People/Pet Portrait Rating Good Good Average
Fast Action Rating Good Average Poor
Travel Rating Good Average Superb
2
Canon PowerShot S5 IS

The Canon S5 IS is an ultrazoom camera from Canon’s S-series. With a large 36-432mm (12x) zoom lens, the S5 is a versatile camera that covers the ideal 50-200mm zoom range for portraits of pets and people, and is also long enough to zoom in for close-ups of sports and fast action, although it doesn’t really have the wide-angle that’s useful for travel photography.

The S5 uses a similar imaging sensor to the Sony H9, so high ISO results are average. Canon does very little noise reduction on the S5 - as a result the images are more detailed but require extra post-processing work to get them to look as “clean” as pictures from the Sony H9 right out of the box. The S5’s high ISO is good enough to take pictures of pets and children in low light, although you still might need to revert to flash if it gets very dark. For fast action, the S5 is capable of producing slightly noisy photos in daylight situations, but is simply too noisy to be usable in low light.

The S5 does have an image stabilization system, which will help to take low light photos of non-moving subjects, like buildings or landscapes, for example. The S5 has a pop-up flash that will produce slightly better results than ordinary cameras with embedded flash, but won’t really produce quality results. For more advanced users, the S5 does have a hot shoe mount that will allow you to use external flashes, like Canon’s 220EX or Sigma EF-530 DG ST.

The S5 can take photos continuously at 1.5 frames per second for an unlimited number of pictures - slightly above average and just about fast enough to make some difference - at 1.5fps you can shoot a burst of photos and choose the best shot or moment of peak action afterwards. Using the same ‘contrast detection’ autofocus as all other cameras, the S5 really isn’t able to track fast action motion in low light situations, and is just about adequate even in daylight. The Canon S5’s shutter lag is fairly fast, so shutter lag is a minimal problem.

The S5 gets 450 photos on a charge, above average and good enough to last two or more days on travel.

Canon PowerShot S5 IS is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Travel, Child, Action, and Low Light Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 8.0MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.5 sec
  • Burst Speed: 1.5 fps
  • Max ISO: 1600
  • Size: 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in.
  • Battery Life: 450 shots
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (5 reviews)
  • Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

The Panasonic TZ3 is a unique compact ultrazoom - not only is it far smaller than any other ultrazoom on the market at just 1.4” thick, it’s also the only one to pack a 28mm wide-angle lens. With a 28-280mm (10x) zoom range, the TZ3 is an extremely versatile camera that can cover just about anything encountered on travel, has the midrange for portraits of pets and people, and has just enough reach to be useful for fast action sports photography as well.

Panasonic makes its own image sensors, and like most other Panasonic cameras, the high ISO performance of the TZ3 is subpar. While somewhat usable in medium-light situations, images of fast action or even fast-moving children and pets will be noisy, and images are practically unusable for fast action scenes in low-light.

The TZ3 does have an image stabilization system, however, giving it an advantage in low-light situations of non-moving subjects, like buildings or landscapes. The TZ3 has an embedded on-camera flash, so flash results will generally be poor.

The TZ3 can shoot continuously at 2.9 frames per second for the first five photos, matching the speed of even consumer-level SLRs. The TZ3 also has a “no limit” mode that can continously shoot at 2.1 frames per second for an unlimited number of photos. These two modes make the TZ3 one of the fastest cameras on the market and will allow you to shoot quick bursts of photos and pick out the best shots or moments of peak action afterward, greatly increasing the number of ‘keepers’ you end up with. Using the slower ‘contrast detection’ autofocus, the TZ3 can keep up with subjects in daylight situations, but won’t be of much use in low-light situations. The TZ3 does have a moderately slow shutter lag, however, making precise timing of shots for fast action and pet/children portraits a bit difficult.

The TZ3 lasts for 270 shots on one battery, good enough for about a day of travel.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Travel, Child, Action, and Low Light Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 7.2MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.4 - 0.8s
  • Burst Speed: 3.0 fps
  • Max ISO: 3200
  • Size: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
  • Battery Life: 270 shots
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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