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I need a camera that deals with low light situations, various people using the camera and some who move it. I need a camera that has the ability to forgive many nonprofessional photographing tendencies. What should I look for? My budget is limited ($500).

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Hi Melany. This site aims to build up a long-term library of useful questions and answers. The answers to this one change every month or so as new models come out, and there's never even one good answer as people's needs change so much. So, it's really not a good fit for the site. See this blog post for more blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping –  mattdm Oct 29 '12 at 15:29
    
What Matt said BUT here is a good place to browse the bset of the latest. They only review the better capability cameras in most cases. Look at their ultrazoom tests too. DPReview camera reviews Look for their "Gold" rated cameras. The Sony NEX5N may sut and be affordable - Gold awarded. Maybe Canon G12. –  Russell McMahon Oct 29 '12 at 16:22
    
A very similar question with $200 lower budget: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/22952/… –  Imre Oct 29 '12 at 19:00
1  
Also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1373/… –  mattdm Oct 29 '12 at 19:15
    
With Imre's edit ("how do I choose?"/"what do I look for?" rather than "what should I choose?"), at least I feel the question is on topic and general enough to work. –  Michael Kjörling Oct 30 '12 at 10:41

2 Answers 2

OK... so as others have said, it really is a topic that changes, but I'll try to write up an answer that is general enough to last a few years - or at least months.

The problem:

A compact camera "system" that is accessible to non-professionals and professionals alike to photograph under a variety of conditions, including amongst them bad light.

Step 1:

  • Get an overview over the cameras available on the market.

1) Entry level compact.

2) Mid level compact.

3) High end compact.

4) Micro 4/3

Excluded as not compact:

5) SLR camera systems

Step 2:

  • Do some initial evaluation. The entry level compact cameras are cheap and aimed at people taking holiday snapshots - as a result these cameras will in most cases be fully automatic with no manual control, a small sensor and bad low light abilities. The mid level compact segment will feature most commonly a higher resolution than entry level cameras, however it will still be prone to the same flaws as an entry level system, only automatic controls as well as bad low light performance.

This leaves two remaining classes of cameras to consider:

3) The high end compact camera.

4) The micro four thirds system.

  • A high end compact camera is potentially the best bet. High end compact cameras tend to feature fully automatic modes as well as fully or partially manual modes allowing skilled as well as non-skilled photographers alike to use the camera. Targeting the upper segment of the camera market, these cameras focus on image quality and as a result, some also excel at low light photography relative to their diminutive size. having said this though, high end compact cameras can be expensive and can, with respect to price, come very close to an a entry level SLR system.

  • Micro four thirds will appear to be an appealing choice, given that these cameras offer the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, the ease of automatic modes yet also the ability of manual modes. However, given that these are positioned to compete with SLRs, some models feature high resolution sensors that fear badly in low light. In addition, the lenses can add additional weight to the camera as well as bulk, making it less portable than originally anticipated. Keeping the sensor clean while changing lenses may also pose a challenge to especially uninterested users of the camera. For good light conditions, micro four thirds cameras can offer a very good image quality in a reasonably small system.

Finally:

As other posters have pointed out, exact model names change frequently, hence it is important that the aspiring buyer investigated the current offerings in the listed segment. This can be done using many review sites, of which one is found at: http://www.dpreview.com/

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More specifics would help understand your requirements better, but I'll take a stab anyway. Low light conditions would require a camera with a large sensor, which takes you into DSLR/MILC territory.

Based on the specified price and ability to shoot in low light conditions, I would recommend the following models:

Nikon D5100

  • +Excellent image quality and low light performance
  • +Good ergonomics
  • +Good set of manual controls (compared to an
  • +Articulating LCD for shooting at odd angles
  • +Wide availability of lenses and accessories gives a lot of room to grow
  • -Heavier than a compact camera or MILC (can be a plus point depending on your inclination)

Sony NEX-5N

  • +Excellent image quality and low light performance
  • +Compact size
  • -Very limited lens availability

However, please remember that ILCs like DSLRs and MILCs require more proficiency to get good results than compact cameras. So, there may be a problem with the forgiving "non-professional photographing tendencies" part.

I would suggest you go to a store and get a feel of both these cameras before making any decision.

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