Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital Camera for Interior Photos Under $300
Expert (1 Recommendation)
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October 31, 2009 Updated: November 6, 2009
Overview

With intuitive Auto-settings and a 12x optical zoom that is commendable in its class, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 pushes the boundaries of focal-length (285mm-300mm, 35mm film equivalent) and employs an impressive in-camera flash compensation (resulting in more accurate color while using camera-mounted flash). These qualities combine to create an affordable indoor-use camera, able to also step outside and perform well.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

There are, generally speaking, three important aspects to shooting interiors in this price range. They are Image Stabilization, in lieu of a tripod; a camera’s ability to perform well at a wide-angle; and its ability to provide results accurately while using an on-camera flash.

The ZS3 is a 10.1mp, 12x zoom compact, which continues the tradition of Panasonic’s extremely popular TZ5. While maintaining most of the TZ5’s treasured aspects, the ZS3 has become something of a flagship for the compact, ultra-zoom area of Panasonic’s studies. One of the more interesting advances is called “Intelligent Auto,” or iA, and allows for a wonderful alternative to the relative confusion of full manual control. It chooses from six shooting presets and integrates smarter ISO selection (allowing for more effective low-light or high-speed shooting), IS (Image Stabilization), and the rare-in-class “Quick AF,” allowing for continuous auto-focus. This pairs with the Program Auto Mode, in which the user can set preferences that they use often, and save them for later use. The PAM allows for a staggering twenty-seven situational presets, two of which can be saved via “My Scene,” and accessed easily and quickly from the mode dial. These features form something of a simulation of full control, allowing the novice to customize their images, and easily access those settings again.

Image Stabilization

The ZS3 utilizes a “lens-shift” system, in which one of the elements in the lens shifts according to camera movement, allowing for correction in all directions. The Panasonic classifies its IS into three presets: off, continuous, and shoot-only.

Wide-Angle

The wide-angle capability of this camera is what makes it stand out in its class. It is rare to see such a range (from wide-angle to telephoto zoom) in a camera that could fit into a jacket pocket. Because of this, the photographer can capture a broader scope of the interior. The ZS3’s Leica lens has a range of 25mm-300mm, allowing for wide-angle viewing that is better than that of a fixed-lens 35mm film camera, as well as providing impressive telephoto capabilities. The long-time partnership between Lumix and Leica has brought yet another sharp, remarkable lens.

Flash Capabilities

The ZS3 has a flash range of approximately 15 feet, while in wide-angle, and is well designed to remove the user’s fingers from the path of the flash. It may experience a slight shadow, caused by the lens, at full wide-range, but after one movement away from it, disappears. Panasonic, rather than creating any presets, or exposure compensations for their flash, has simply made a camera that performs extremely accurately under flash lighting. The exposures are normally dead-on, needing little darkening or lightening of the image to compensate.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Image Stabilization

In this area, both cameras perform well in their class. Both utilize the “lens-shift” system. The presets are similar in both cameras, but the Canon adds a fourth pan option, in which only up-and-down movement is stabilized, to allow shooting of a horizontally-moving subject. These presets are mostly based on opinion, and the fact that both cameras provide adequate systems to stabilize makes this a basically level playing field, in that respect.

Wide-Angle

They offer similar specifications here, the Canon boasting a 28-336mm equivalent range, slightly more telephoto-prone. Because the ranges are so similar betwixt the two, the Panasonic is slightly more admirable, simply in the appreciation of the lens-quality.

Flash Capabilities

As is the case in general, both cameras provide great in-class results, with slightly differing methods, when it comes to flash lighting. Both remove camera-parts from the path of the flash effectively, while the Canon has a less impressive 10 foot range. The Canon offers a number of presets, allowing the user to have full control, but also requiring a little more understanding. There is a Manual Flash Mode, in which three stages of output (low, medium, and high) can be chosen from, as well as the option to compensate the exposure according to previous images that used the flash. This is another area that can be left to taste, whether the user feels the need to control the creation of the image with the Canon, or whether they prefer to allow the camera to create an accurate image with the Panasonic. The ZS3’s slightly better range gives it an edge.

Overall

Panasonic offers a more user-friendly, albeit non-traditional approach, allowing customization needing little knowledge of the mechanics.

Canon, the ability to either set it on “Easy,” or delve deeper into the controls normally seen on higher-end digitals, but involving the nuances of photography to a greater extent.

Pros
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    Lots of control, usable without much knowledge of photography.
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    Accurate, colorful images.
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    Sharp and powerful 12x zoom.
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    Excellent design and construction.
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    Highly effective Auto Modes (iA).
Cons
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    Images can become noisy at more than 400 ISO.
  • -
    Slightly slower auto-focus speed (perhaps not as important for interior shots as for sports or outdoors).
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 is the Best Digital Camera for Interior Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 25mm (40% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
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Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
2
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
Customer Rating
Price $313.29
Size (W x H x D) 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 in.
Easy to Use Yes Yes
?
Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
25 mm 28 mm
Image Stabilization Type Optical (lens shift) Optical (lens shift)
?
Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.3 f/3.4
Flash Range (wide-angle) 2.0 - 17.4 ft 1.6 - 9.8 ft
2
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Canon has released a similar camera in the SX200, although leaning in a different direction with it. It is a 12.1mp, and also boasts a 12x zoom. The SX200 is run on a system that is more familiar, and more traditional, than the Panasonic’s iA. There are the presets normal for this class (landscape, portrait, night, et cetera), a mode called “Easy” in which the user chooses only whether the flash is on or off, and three modes having more control. These modes are Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Full Manual. While, for a novice, these three modes may seem intimidating, the priority settings are fully explained in the camera’s manual, and can yield impressive results.

Pros
  • +
    Very good photo quality (in good light).
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    12X optical zoom with a nice 28 - 336 mm range.
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    Sharp 3-inch LCD display with very good outdoor and light light visibility.
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    Full manual controls.
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    i-Contrast feature brightens shadows effectively.
Cons
  • -
    Noise reduction causes detail loss above ISO 200 in low light, ISO 400 in good light.
  • -
    Slow-to-charge flash.
  • -
    No multi-point auto-focus.
  • -
    Slower than average continuous shooting.
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    No memory card or built-in memory included.
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is one of the Best Digital Cameras for Interior Photos Under $300
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
  • Best Price: $313
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
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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