Expert Recommendation

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Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Action Photos Under $800
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
August 19, 2008 Updated: August 20, 2008
Overview

With a huge zoom reach, rapid-fire continuous shooting, lightning-fast focus speed, and the best high-ISO ability around, the Canon Rebel XSi is a phenomenal camera that packs just about every tool you need to produce great fast action photos in even the most difficult conditions.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi (Body Only)

Though it’s part of Canon’s “entry-level” Rebel series of cameras, don’t be fooled - the Rebel XSi is a full-featured SLR that features best-in-class image quality and all the tools you need to take great fast action photos in even the most demanding situations.

High ISO quality on the Rebel XSi is the best in its class, producing extremely clean photos while freezing the motion of fast action subjects in even the darkest situations. While the Rebel XSi comes with an 18-55 kit lens, fast-action photography requires a long telephoto lens, so a better choice would be the Canon 75-300, which provides a 120-480mm zoom range (this is equivalent to about a “14x zoom” on most consumer cameras), that allows you to zoom in for great close-up shots. The lens aperture is f4-5.6, which is about average for a budget telephoto lens.

The Rebel XSi features a comprehensive 9-point autofocus system, which should adequately cover and track most subjects as they move around the frame. Unlike most budget lenses, Canon’s 75-300 uses an ultrasonic motor (USM) for autofocus rather than the conventional micro-motor or screw-driven motor found on other cameras and lenses - this allows the 75-300 to focus far faster when tracking moving subjecs.

The Rebel XSi can take photos continuously at 3.5 frames per second, for up to 53 photos. This will let you capture long bursts of action, allowing you to choose the precise moment or best shot afterwards. With a near-instant shutter lag, the Rebel XSi shouldn’t have any problems reacting quickly or precisely timing shots.

Comparison with Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)

While the K200D has an even better autofocus system than the Rebel XSi, the Canon camera beats out the K200D in all the other performance categories - focus will be faster with the ultrasonic motor lens, the faster and longer continuous shooting will get you more keepers, and the great high-ISO performance means images will already be noise-free straight out of the camera.

Comparison with Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)

Though they’re both billed as entry-level cameras, the D40 and Rebel XSi are quite different beasts - the D40 provides decent high-ISO quality for freezing action, but beyond this only offers basic functionality, while the Rebel XSi offers even better high-ISO, a longer lens, faster shooting, and a much more capable autofocus system.

Pros
  • +
    Superb high-ISO
  • +
    Comprehensive 9-point autofocus system
  • +
    Fast 3.5 fps continuous shooting
  • +
    Fast USM autofocusing
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi (Body Only) is the Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Action Photos Under $800
Where to buy
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $485
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
    $138.00 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Resolution: 12.2MP
  • Burst Speed: 3.5 fps
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
Best badge
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi (Body Only)
2
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)
3
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)
Customer Rating
Price $485.00
Size (W x H x D) 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.9 in. 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in.
Weight (without batteries) 16.8 oz 22.2 oz 16.6 oz
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 3.5 frames/sec 2.8 frames/sec 2.5 frames/sec
Max Consecutive Burst Frames 53 4 Unlimited
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
29 mm 27 mm 27 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
480 m 450 mm 300 mm
Optical Zoom 15.9x 16.7x 11.1x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes No
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/4 f/4 f/4
?
Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.6 f/5.6 f/5.6
Battery Life 500 shots 550 shots 470 shots
Important fast action features
Shutter lag Superb Superb Superb
High ISO quality Superb Good Good
Autofocus rating Superb Good Poor
Fast action rating Superb Good Average
2
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)

The K200D is a versatile and feature-rich camera produced by Pentax. Though some of its features, like weather-seals for rain/dust, aren’t strictly useful for fast action, the K200D offers good image quality and most of the tools needed to produce good action photos.

High-ISO on the K200D is good - although images tend to be grainier than other cameras, they retain detail remarkably well. With noise reduction software, the K200D images can look as detailed and clean as any other model on the market. With an additional Tamron 70-300 lens providing a 105-480mm zoom range, the camera has more than enough reach to shoot the far away subjects like a race car on a distant track or players on the other side of a field. The lens aperture is f4-5.6, about average for a budget telephoto. The K200D also offers a sensor-shift image stabilization system which helps to combat camera shake blur, especially at the long end, but this usually won’t be useful at the faster speeds used in action photography.

With a very comprehensive 11-point autofocus system that features 9 extra-sensitive “cross-type” points, the K200D is more than capable of tracking any moving subjects. Its Tamron 70-300 lens uses a slower micro-motor autofocus, though, so it may have trouble keeping up with extremely fast subjects.

The K200D can takes photos at a decent 2.8 frames per second, but can only sustain this for 4 frames, good for a little more than a second of action. While this isn’t nearly long enough to cover a long series, the short bursts still help to give you more options to choose from for the best shot or timing. With a short shutter lag time, the K200D shouldn’t have any problems snapping off shots at an instant.

Comparison with Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)

Because of the D40’s severe limitations in key areas like autofocus, the K200D is the better overall camera, offering a longer zoom reach and a much more capable autofocusing system that is essential to capturing good action images. The D40 has a few advantages, however - its continuous shooting can take photos at 2.5 fps indefinitely, compared to the four photos that the K200D can snap in a row. The D40 also has slightly better high-ISO images - although images won’t be as detailed as the K200D, they’ll have less visible noise out-of-the-box.

Pros
  • +
    Good, detailed high-ISO, but slightly grainy
  • +
    Very comprehensive 11-point autofocus system
Cons
  • -
    Slower micro-motor focusing
  • -
    Continuous shooting limited to 4 photos
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens) is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $800
Where to buy
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)
Recommended with
  • Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens for Pentax Digital SLR Cameras
    $269.99 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.1x
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.4 - 0.6s
  • Burst Speed: 2.7 fps
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)

Nikon’s entry-level D40 offers most of the basic functionality of a DSLR, although it lacks some of the more advanced features commonly found in other cameras.

High-ISO quality on the D40 is good - images are clean straight from the camera, atlhough they’re somewhat blotchier and don’t have quite the detail of some other cameras. The 55-200 kit telephoto lens covers a 78-300mm zoom range - enough for most fast action events, but not quite long enough to get the best up-close shots. The lens aperture is f4-5.6, typical for a budget telephoto lens.

The D40 uses a woefully-inadequate 3-point autofocus system, making it extremely hard to track anything but the slowest and most predictably-moving subjects. The 55-200 lens does feature an ultrasonic motor, allowing it to keep up with faster subjects, but this won’t be usable if the camera doesn’t have a focus point to lock onto the subject to begin with.

The D40 can shoot continuously at 2.5 frames per second for an unlimited number of photos - a little slow, but still useful for capturing long bursts of action and choosing the best shot afterward. Shutter lag is quick with the D40.

One additional downside of the D40 is lens compatibility - because it doesn’t have an in-body focus motor, the D40 is incompatible with a number of lenses, including most large aperture prime lenses. For the casual snapshooter who will never buy more lenses, this isn’t a problem. If you’re interested in eventually learning more photography or eventually graduating to better equipment, however, the D40 has limited potential.

Comparison with Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)

While the D40 doesn’t have the same reach or autofocus ability of the A200, the D40 does beat the A200 in high-ISO performance, where it produces much cleaner and more detailed images. If you’re shooting often in low-light situations (indoors or at night), and your subjects aren’t moving too fast or unpredictably (baseball, for instance), the the D40 would be the better choice. However, for faster action events (rodeos or football games for example), especially in daylight situations, the A200’s much better autofocus system is essential to producing in-focus photos, and makes it the better choice.

Pros
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
  • +
    Fast ultrasonic focusing
Cons
  • -
    Only 3-point autofocus system
  • -
    Limited room to grow with lens incompatibility
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses) is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $800
Where to buy
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 11.1x
  • Resolution: 6.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.3 sec
  • Burst Speed: 2.5 fps
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
4
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)

Though it doesn’t offer any unique features or spectacular performance, the Sony A200 is a decent entry-level SLR that can get the job done for fast action photography.

High-ISO performance on the A200 is below average for an SLR - although it can still produce usable images in low-light situations, they’ll tend to have lots of blotchy noise. The Sony 75-300 lens features a 105-450mm zoom range, long enough to cover even the most far away subjects. The f4-5.6 aperture is typical for a budget telephoto lens. The A200 does offer a sensor-shift IS system, although its usefulness is limited since action is often shot at higher shutter speeds anyway.

The A200 uses a 9-point autofocus system, which should cover most subjects adequately as they move around the frame. The Sony 75-300 lens uses a conventional micro-motor for autofocus, so it may have a little trouble keeping up with the fastest subjects.

The A200 can shoot at 3 frames per second for an unlimited number of photos, allowing you to snap off entire series and then choose the best shot later. Shutter lag is minimal on the A200.

Pros
  • +
    Comprehensive 9-point autofocus system
Cons
  • -
    Slower micro-motor focusing
  • -
    Poor high-ISO performance
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses) is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $800
Where to buy
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 16.7x
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.2 sec
  • Burst Speed: 2.8 fps
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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