I'm looking to buy a new (digital?) camera for regular photo-taking. I'm not an enthusiast and know next to nothing about photography. I would like the camera to be relatively low priced (for example, think under $300 in 2012), good in low-light conditions and able to produce good photos. I'm not experienced with manual modes so I would like it to be able to take good photos on auto.
closed as not constructive by mattdm, Itai, coneslayer, John Cavan♦, rfusca Apr 29 '12 at 16:30
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Look at some GOOD review sites. Use the parameter selectors on such sites to select what you value most.
Also well spoken of although somewhat less formal and more "chatty" is Steve's Digicams but there are many others.
Few major camera review sites are going to be scathing about cameras from major manufacturers - they rely on getting future access to cameras. This is not to say that they are biased - just that to some extent you must "read between the lines". Choose sites which are either recommended by knowledgeable people or ones which have an at least moderately analytical and logical approach. There are surprisingly many camera reviewers who seem to know very little of real worth.
To start, look at this group review, see what you can get for the money, and then perhaps refine your question. his is a June 2010 test and at that date prices were mostly in the $200 - $300 range. There will be newer models now but this gives you a good starting point.
DSLR?: Good low light performance and low cost are not impossible but do not usually go together. Even an old and low spec used DSLR will usually ot perfom a top spec point-and-shoot for low light photos and it may be worth looking at second-hand DSLR if size, weight and age are not unacceptable issues.
Megapixel madness: Generally more megapixels leads to more noise and worse low light performance. Nikon's 36 mp D800 shows that this does not have to be true, but as a general rule, more mp is not a formula for better performance in most areas other than pixel resolution. A 6mp camera can produce very fine photos indeed - something which is beginning to be forgotten in the race for ever more pixels.
High ISO madness: Having higher ISO settings by itself does not lead to better low light photos. What it does is allow a faster shutter speed for a given amount of light. The faster shutter reduced blur due to handshake and due to subject movement. But using a higher ISO setting also leads to more noise. Handshake blur can be greatly reduced by learning how to hold a camera steadily (an art in its own right) and by bracing the camera and/or your hand against a solid object. Subject movement is harder to compensate for. Consistent smooth motion can be dealt with to some extent by "panning" - moving the camera to track the subject, but when different parts of the subject move independently (such as a person dancing) then a faster shutter speed is the only solution.
Flash helps immensely, but it will often not be possible or appropriate. If using flash be aware that if a low shutter speed is used the photo will often include significant amounts of light from both ambient lighting and from the flash. This can lead to a sharp image from the flash AND ALSO a halo image around the sharper image consisting of more blurred and spread lighting due to ambient light. This can be a useful visual effect, but if it is not wanted then use a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture.
If no motion is involved then a tripod or informal camera support vastly improves low light shots.
You can look at the 16.1MP Nikon COOLPIX L810 looks decent and in your price range. It offers 26x optical zoom lens which is 22.5-585mm on equivalent full frame. The lens uses Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology to reduce camera shake that usually happens when you are shooting in low light. The camera is able of shooting 720p HD videos. The ISO range in the camera is from 80-1600. You can increase your ISO in low light situations or you can just leave it on Auto mode and the camera will choose the best setting for you. There are different scene modes you can choose from. These are basically an auto mode that is engineered specifically for certain type of photos. For example, a Portrait mode for portraiture. A landscape mode for landscapes ...etc.
You can control white balance or leave it on the auto mode. You can shoot in Black and White or other filters like Sepia.
The Aperture ranges from f/3.1-f/5.9
Another camera, the 14MP Olympus SP-810UZ is also in your price range. It offers 36x digital zoom which is equivalent to 24-864mm on full frame. It's also shoot 720p HD videos. The Aperture ranges from f/2.9-f/5.7
I read couple of reviews about it, they say that it has an improved ISO sensitivity which leads to noise reduction in the image. Also the reviews report that the lens's image stabilization works fine. The ISO ranges from 64 to 1600 but they recommend to use up to 400. You can control the White Balance or leave it on Auto. The camera has a Panorama function which allows you to shoot panorama scenes. It was reported that the Nikon COOLPIX L810 performs better in low light situations.
Nikon P series is good for you ... P90 or P100 ... good optical zoom ... might help you.
With 12.1 effective megapixels and an incredible 24x optical Zoom-NIKKOR ED glass lens you can print prints as large as 16x20 inches.
The camera's bright, 3.0-inch high-resolution vari-angle LCD and Electronic Viewfinder make it easy to compose and share your pictures.
And Nikon’s new 4 Way VR Image Stabilization makes incredible pictures incredibly easy.
Nikon’s New Smart Portrait System, which automatically detects your subjects face, takes a picture when they smile and warns you if they blinked.
It has many scenery modes so you don`t have to use the manual mode often.
I hope this helps.