Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera for Wildlife Photos Under $300
Expert (53 Recommendations and 31 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
November 20, 2009 Updated: November 23, 2009
Overview

One of the things I learned early on about shooting wildlife is, you may not want to get too close. Or in the case of capturing beautiful wildlife in enclosed spaces, you can’t. That’s why my Best in Class choice for wildlife photos is the Panasonic DMC-ZS1. Outfitted with a 12x optical zoom, the ZS1 will safely get you the shots you want without making you part of the “wild” life.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

The compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 is a pocketable camera you can take into the wild with the promise that you will get great shots without becoming an endangered species yourself.

With the LEICA DC VARIO ELMAR 12x, 25mm ultra-wide-angle lens that Panasonic users have come to depend on for clear, crisp images, a 10.1mp imaging sensor, a 2.7” LCD and the ability to shoot at 2.5 fps, the ZS1 is designed to be your top camera choice for capturing the birds and the bees with simplicity.

And for simplicity of use, the robust IA feature gives you auto focus tracking, intelligent exposure, optical image stabilization and intelligent ISO control. Nice things to rely on when your subject is on the move.

For excellent wildlife videos, the ZS1 records at WVGA (848x480, perfect for 16:9 widescreen TV’s ), VGA(640x480), QVGA(320x240). All at 30 frames per second.

So, when you’re ready to take on the challenges of capturing some of the most difficult subjects, take along the Panasonic DMC-ZS1 and bring home the trophies.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-H20

Because the H20 has less zoom and less wide angle, I prefer the ZS1. The feel of the H20 is nice though, and it has HD video recording. Tough call.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX120 IS

A bit smaller and having 12x zoom, plus being faster in the fps department, the ZS1 is my choice over the SX120 IS.

Pros
  • +
    12x zoom
  • +
    25mm wide angle
  • +
    Comfortable
  • +
    Lightweight
Cons
  • -
    Mode dial easy to bump out of setting
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 is the Best Compact Digital Camera for Wildlife Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Recommended with
  • SanDisk Ultra II SDHC 4GB SD Memory Card (SDSDRH-004G-A11, US Retail Package)
    $7.26 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
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
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
2
Sony Cybershot DSC-H20
3
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
Customer Rating
Price $419.99 $155.00
Size (W x H x D) 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 in. 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 in.
Weight (with batteries) 8.1 oz 10.1 oz 10.1 oz
?
Sensor Size
5.8 x 4.3 mm 5.8 x 4.3 mm 5.8 x 4.3 mm
Video Available Yes Yes Yes
HD Video Available No Yes No
Optical Zoom 12.0x 10.0x 10.0x
?
Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Manual Focus Available No No Yes
Max Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec 1/2000 sec 1/2500 sec
Smile Detection Available No Yes No
Max ISO Setting 6400 3200 1600
Aperture Priority Mode Available No No Yes
Shutter Priority Mode Available No No Yes
?
Face Detection Available
Yes Yes Yes
?
LCD Screen Size
2.7 in. 3.0 in. 3.0 in.
Storage Media SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable AA-size (x2)
2
Sony Cybershot DSC-H20

The Sony Cybershot DSC-H20 follows in the footsteps of it’s ultra-zoom compact camera predecessors with one difference, it’s smarter.

That’s because, with intelligent auto mode, Intelligent scene recognition and the Optical SteadyShotâ„¢ image stabilization feature, the H20 has got your back when difficult or questionable shooting environments pop up, but so does the perfect shot. And you don’t want to worry about fussing with dials when the scene has changed dramatically.

Sporting a 10.1mp sensor, a 10x Carl Zeiss optical zoom lens, a bright 3.0” LCD screen and HD video, the H20 is a solid camera that fits nicely in your hand and responds quickly to your commands.

Another nice feature of the H20 comes into play when you move from outdoor wildlife to indoor wildlife. Sony’s face detection function will capture up to 8 faces, remembering those you’ve programmed in as frequent subjects and makes sure to avoid blinking eyes, taking two shots and saving the one that is the most natural.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX120 IS

I really like the feel of the H20 over the SX120 IS, although I’m a huge fan of Digic 4. The HD video on the H20 is a big plus too.

Pros
  • +
    HD video
  • +
    Manual controls
  • +
    Optional remote control
Cons
  • -
    Removable lens cap may cause problems
  • -
    Flash in a position to be covered by finger(s)
Sony Cybershot DSC-H20 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Wildlife Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-H20
  • Best Price: $419
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • Sony 4 GB Memory Stick PRO Duo Flash Memory Card MSMT4G
    $8.67 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com
3
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS

Canon’s PowerShot SX120 IS is a great camera for searching out, and capturing, the wildlife in your neighborhood or across the world. Light, stylish and compact, and the ability to take control with fully manual options, the SX120 IS was made for adventure.

Looking good at 10mp with an image-stabilized lens, 10x Optical zoom (36 - 360mm equiv), a 3.0” LCD and, of course, the poweful Digic 4 processor, the SX10 IS is a robust camera with the power to capture quick subjects near or far with ease, accuracy and style.

The SX120 IS also uses AA batteries so you can be sure to travel far and wide without worrying about plugging your charger in. Just remember to pack plenty of extras.

If you’ve been a Canon point and shoot user in the past, or just hear good things about their great image quality, then the SX120 IS is the right camera to take on your wildlife photo expeditions.

Pros
  • +
    Digic 4
  • +
    Powerful face detection
  • +
    Manual controls
Cons
  • -
    AA batteries
  • -
    boxy body may be uncomfortable to hold
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Wildlife Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
  • Best Price: $155
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • SanDisk Ultra II SDHC 4GB SD Memory Card (SDSDRH-004G-A11, US Retail Package)
    $7.26 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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