Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera for Action Photos Under $200
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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December 13, 2008
Overview

Until recently, options for budget compact cameras that could perform adequately enough for fast action photography were few and far between. In recent years a flurry of cameras such as Canon’s SX110 IS have cropped up - compact (1.9” thick), long-range (10x zoom range reaching to 360mm), and fairly cheap (just less than $200). With decent motion-freezing high-ISO quality, there simply isn’t a better fast action performer available.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS

The Canon SX110 is one of the few cameras on the market which pack all the features needed for fast action photography - with a 10x (36-360mm) zoom range, the SX110 has plenty of reach for great close-up shots of sports or other fast action from afar.

The SX110 also features an image-stabilized lens to help combat camera shake, especially at the long end of the zoom range. High ISO quality on the SX110 is decent, so it should have no problems freezing action in daylight situations, although images will get very grainy indoors or at night.

Shutter lag is typical for an ultrazoom camera, while autofocus is a bit on the slow side - shooting action in good lighting should be fine, but faster events (race cars or football, for example) and darker lighting (indoors or at night) will be very difficult. The SX110 can shoot at 1.2 frames per second for an unlimited number of shots - about average, but not particularly fast enough to cover important moments with a burst series.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4

The SX110 and TZ4 both feature long zoom ranges to get close-up shots for fast action. Feature-wise the TZ4 has major advantages, with a more compact size, much faster burst rate, and slightly faster autofocus and shutter lag. However, the SX110 has a slightly longer telephoto range and a better high-ISO quality, allowing it to deliver much better images, especially in less-than-ideal lighting situations.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8

Despite costing almost half as much, the LZ8 packs a plethora of features the SX110 lacks, including a small 1.3” body and fast 2.5fps continuous shooting. Without a long ultrazoom lens, however, the LZ8 just can’t come close to the SX110 in producing quality close-up shots if subjects are far away.

Pros
  • +
    Long 360mm telephoto
Cons
  • -
    Slow 1.2 fps continuous shooting
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is the Best Compact Digital Camera for Action Photos Under $200
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 9.0MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.6 sec
  • Burst Speed: 1.2 fps
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Website Reviews (4 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
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Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8
Customer Rating
Price $549.99 $169.00
Size (W x H x D) 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 in. 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in. 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
Weight (without batteries) 8.6 oz 7.3 oz 5.0 oz
Max Shooting Speed (burst) 1.2 frames/sec 3 frames/sec 2.5 frames/sec
Max Consecutive Burst Frames Unlimited 7 frames 7 frames
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
36 mm 28 mm 32 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
360 mm 280 mm 160 mm
Optical Zoom 10.0x 10.0x 5.0x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.8 f/3.3 f/3.3
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/4.3 f/4.9 f/5.9
Battery Life 450 shots 300 shots 470 shots
Important Fast Action Features
Shutter lag Average Good Average
Autofocus rating Good Good Average
High ISO quality Good Average Poor
Fast Action rating Good Good Poor
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4

One of the pioneers of the compact ultrazoom category of cameras, the Panasonic TZ4 offers a large 10x (28-280mm) image-stabilized zoom lens packed into a very compact 1.4” thick size. While not quite as far-reaching as the SX110, the TZ4’s 280mm telephoto is just about long enough to get great close-up shots of players or other fast action subjects from far away.

High-ISO quality is one of the TZ4’s weak points, however - images in daylight should turn out fine, but you’ll have to put up with somewhat blotchy/noisy images in low-light situations if you want to freeze the fast motion.

Autofocus and shutter lag on the TZ4 are a little above average - it should be fine for keeping track of fast subjects in daylight situations, but focusing on subjects in low-light situations will be somewhat difficult. The TZ4 can take a burst of images at 3fps for 7 shots - extremely fast for a non-SLR camera and helpful for taking a series of shots at important moments, and choosing the best picture afterwards.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8

With a much longer zoom range, slightly faster burst rate, and slightly better high-ISO performance, the TZ4 is a more capable camera in just about every way. If you’re serious about fast action, the TZ4 is definitely worth the extra cost and slightly bigger size.

Pros
  • +
    Long 280mm telephoto
  • +
    Fast 3 fps burst shooting
Cons
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO performance
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $200
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Resolution: 8.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.7 sec
  • Burst Speed: 3.6 fps
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3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8

Despite being one of the cheapest budget cameras around, the LZ8 is one of the most feature-packed cameras available, especially at its price and size. While its 32-160mm (5x) image-stabilized lens doesn’t really reach far enough for good close-up shots, it will be decent for events where you can get closer to the subjects (indoor sports like basketball or volleyball, or when subjects come closer to the sidelines).

The LZ8 isn’t a very good performer at high-ISO - daylight photos should turn out fine, but the LZ8 will produce noisy images in indoor or nighttime fast action situations.

Autofocus and shutter lag are about average on the LZ8 - slower subjects and daylight situations should be fine, but don’t expect to track autofocus on race cars or Olympic sprinters or snap photos with precise timing with this camera. The LZ8 does take photos at a quick 2.5fps for 7 shots - fast enough to take series of shots and choose the best photo or timing later, significantly improving your keeper rate.

Pros
  • +
    Fast 2.5 fps burst shooting
Cons
  • -
    Short 160mm telephoto
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO performance
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $200
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8
  • Best Price: $169
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Resolution: 8.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.4 - 1.2s
  • Burst Speed: 2.2 fps
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com

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