Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Travel, Child, and Action Photos Under $400
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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November 12, 2007 Updated: November 28, 2007
Overview

As an ultrazoom compact, the Sony H3 is a take-anywhere camera that also happens to be one of the most versatile and capable on the market. It’s large 10x zoom range, spanning 38-380mm, makes it quite capable of handling the variety of scenes encountered in travel photography, and also gives it the ability to zoom in for portraits of children and pets, as well as close-up pictures of sports or fast action. The H3 also has above average high ISO and image stabilization, making it one of the better low-light cameras, especially in this size class.

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My Best In Class Pick
Sony Cybershot DSC-H3

Just 6 months ago, there would be very few choices in this category - the Panasonic TZ3 was the only reasonably compact camera that packed the versatility and long zoom that a travel or sports/fast-action camera required. With the popularity of Panasonic’s TZ series, more mainstream companies like Canon and Sony sat up to take notice, and as a result we have an influx of quality cameras to choose from.

Not surprisingly, all three cameras have very similar featuresets and performance, especially in the key areas. The Canon SX100IS is a good overall camera, but the Sony H3 improves on it in just about every aspect, with faster continuous shooting and slightly better high ISO (straight out of the camera). The primary choice comes down to the Panasonic TZ3’s more versatile 28mm wide-angle, making it better suited for travel photography, and the Sony H3’s superior high ISO performance, which makes it a much better fast action camera. Both cameras are just as good for portraits of pets and children in good lighting (outdoors, daytime), although when indoors or at night the TZ3 will struggle without flash.

If travel is your predominant priority, the Panasonic TZ3’s expanded versatility makes it the better choice. Otherwise, the Sony H3 represents the best-in-class camera, being quite capable in both low-light and fast-action situations, while also being a competent, though not quite best-in-class travel camera.

Sony Cybershot DSC-H3 is the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Travel, Child, and Action Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-H3
  • Best Price: $499
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 8.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.3 - 1.4s
  • Burst Speed: 2.0 fps
  • Size: 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 in.
  • Battery Life: 330 shots
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • 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
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Sony Cybershot DSC-H3
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
3
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS
Customer Rating
Price $499.95 $699.95
Size (W x H x D) 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 in 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in. 4.3 x 2.8 x 1.8 in
Weight (without batteries) 9.3 oz 8.2 oz 9.4 oz
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 2fps unlimited 2.9 fps for first five, 2.1 fps unlimited 1.2 fps unlimited
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
38 - 380 mm (10x) 28 - 280 mm (10x) 36 - 360 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 Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable AA-size (x2)
Battery Life 330 shots 270 shots 400 shots
Max Usable ISO (subjective) ISO400 ISO400 ISO400
Travel Rating Good Superb Good
Children/Pet Portrait Rating Superb Good Superb
Fast Action Rating Superb Average Good
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

The Panasonic TZ3 is the newest model in Panasonic’s pioneering TZ-series of cameras, which single-handedly created the ultrazoom compact class of cameras. With a generation of development and maturity, the TZ3 has perhaps the most appealing feature set in this class, with a 28-280mm zoom range and 2.9 fps shooting mode that rivals the versatility and speed of DSLR cameras.

The TZ3 is the only camera in this market segment that packs both a 28mm wide-angle lens and 10x zoom, making it a capable camera for all occasions - it has the 50-200mm midrange for people portraits, a maximum 280mm telephoto end for close-up shots of sports and other fast-action, and the useful 28mm wide-angle for landscapes and interiors while on travel. When it comes to versatility, there is simply no other camera on the market with a more useful zoom range the TZ3.

Panasonic cameras have been known to produce noisy high-ISO output, and the TZ3 is no different - although not quite unusable, the TZ3’s high-ISO images are below average, making pictures of fast-moving children and pets difficult in low-light situations. For fast-action, the TZ3 will produce noisy images even in daylight, and low-light images of sports or fast action are practically impossible. The TZ3 does have image stabilization, which helps to eliminate camera shake for non-moving subjects, useful for travel when photographing still subjects like landscapes, buildings, or interiors.

The TZ3 can take photos continuously at 2.9 frames per second for the five photos, or has a “no limit” mode to continuously take photos at 2.1 frames per second for an unlimited number of pictures. This makes the TZ3 one of the fastest consumer cameras on the market - 2.9fps matches the continuous shooting speed of consumer-level DSLRs, and the unlimited 2.1fps will allow you to take a long series of shots continuously, helping you to capture that decisive moment and greatly increasing the number of “keepers”. Like other consumer cameras, the TZ3’s autofocus can keep up with fast-action subjects in daylight, but is simply not quick enough for fast-action photos in low light.

The TZ3 lasts 270 shots per charge - typical for this class and enough for a day or more of shooting.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is one of the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Travel, Child, and Action Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 7.2MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.4 - 0.8s
  • Burst Speed: 3.0 fps
  • 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
3
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

The Canon SX100IS is the first camera in a new compact ultrazoom line, becoming the first Canon camera to include a large 10x zoom into a compact body. Featuring a 36-360mm zoom range, the SX100 is quite capable of zooming in for close-up shots of sports and other fast action, zooming into the midrange for portraits of people or pets, as well as covering the wide variety of scenes encountered while on travel, making it one of the most versatile compact cameras around. It lacks a 28mm wide-angle lens that is often useful for landscapes, large landmarks, or photos in cramped indoor rooms, however.

If you ever encounter low-light situations or travel, or if you’re trying to take photos of people or pets on travel, the SX100IS is decently equipped with decent high ISO ability and image stabilization. For high ISO-dependent fast action subjects, the SX100IS will produce slightly grainy/noisy images even in daylight situations, and will be nearly unusable indoors or at night.

The SX100IS can take photos continuously at 1.2 frames per second for an unlimited number of photos - about average for this class, but not really fast enough to make a difference (In between that 0.8 second, the peak action will have probably elapsed). As with all other consumer cameras, the SX100IS’s autofocus system isn’t nearly capable of keeping up with fast-moving subjects in low-light, and is barely able to keep up with fast action even in bright outdoor lighting.

The SX100IS lasts about 400 shots per charge, plenty for at least a couple days, if not more, of travel.

Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is one of the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Travel, Child, and Action Photos Under $400
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS
  • Best Price: $699
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 8.0MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.5 sec
  • Burst Speed: 1.1 fps
  • Size: 4.3 x 2.8 x 1.8 in.
  • Battery Life: 400 shots
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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