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My (rural living) mother-in-law has recently been told by her local camera shop that they will soon stop offering processing and prints from film based cameras.

I'm wondering if it is practical to get her a simple to use point-and-shoot, even though she doesn't own a computer?

Bear in mind that she is not a photographer, just someone who takes pictures of family and friends on occassion.

She could easily take the camera (or memory card) in to Walmart (or equivalent) and get prints of the shots she wants, and they can probably even burn a DVD or CD with the images on them (so she still has "the negatives" if she wants more prints later).

Even that has to be better than shooting a whole roll of film and processing/printing the whole thing hoping that you got a good shot?

I'd be looking for a point-and-shoot that takes great shots in fully automatic mode. I doubt she would ever try anything more complicated than turning off auto-flash.

The Canon SD1300IS is available locally for under $100, and has stabilzation and a 4X optical zoom. I've always liked the Canon P+S cameras, but would welcome any suggestions you might have (both for camera brand/model, and for your opinions on whether owning a digital camera is a good idea for someone without a computer).

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You've hit a very interesting use case that I think most camera manufacturers don't consider (or just don't care about). I'd be very curious to see the answers to this question, especially how to handle digital storage if she has no computer to look at 'negatives'. –  mmr Dec 14 '10 at 2:02
    
Tell her to get a B/W film camera, a bundle of Ilford HP5 and FP4, and then develop her own. Retro FTW. –  Tom O'Connor Dec 14 '10 at 12:49
    
With the price of memory cards today, she can even keep her copies in them and buy more memory as needed. –  Carles Dec 15 '10 at 6:58

7 Answers 7

up vote 13 down vote accepted

First off, I'll answer your last question: certainly. As you pointed out, prints can be made at places like Walmart (or even the place she is developing film now) using the card, so there's no barrier there to her getting the images out. The bigger difficulty may be her lack of experience with digital gear in general, a lot of people I know in this situation just keep shooting until their card is full and then become a bit lost about what to do about it. So, there's a learning curve there, easy enough to overcome if you're aware and can teach her and get her to take it in, back up to CD, and clear.

As for cameras, there are a ton of them that will do the job and do it well. I don't think you can really make a mistake there with anything new. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, and more produce very good point and shoot cameras and they're all basically similar in capability and performance. If you're comfortable with a brand, to teach with it, go for that. Otherwise, find a good price to performance option according to need and go with that.

DP Review has a pretty good mechanism for finding cameras by feature. If you use that as a guide, based on what you know of her shooting habits, it may help you make a final selection.

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If you want to search by feature rather than specification (which is more suited for less advanced needs) you can use Neocamera's feature search: neocamera.com/search_camera.php?by=feature (BTW, There is also a full specification search as well: neocamera.com/search_camera.php ) –  Itai Dec 15 '10 at 1:18
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+1 for choosing a brand that you're familiar with and can help with; that matters a lot in this case. –  Reid Dec 15 '10 at 2:25
    
The one concern with using CDs for keeping the "negatives" is that you end up with a lot of partially filled CDs that way. One of our local camera stores sells usb keys for that purpose now, so when you drop off your memory card, you also leave the usb key and they transfer the images to it, and sell you a new one when it's full. The price vs memory cards is a push on the long haul, but the usb stick is usable more places. (like libraries) –  cabbey Dec 17 '10 at 22:29

Definitely Canon cameras have some of the easiest interfaces out there, but unless she needs it to be tiny I would go with a compact rather than an ultra-compact as others have suggested.

Try a Canon A3000 for example. Its about $100 USD, stabilized and a 4X zoom too but the bigger body makes it easier to hold and operate. It is a P&S model, so no manual controls on this one either.

In terms of the workflow, she can go print her pictures from the camera but she may eventually lose the originals if you don't off-load and back them up for her when you visit. You could get her a digital photo-frame with built-in hard-drive and teach her which button to press to have the images copied to it.

Since memory is so cheap the other option is not to teach her how to erase and let her buy a new 'digital film' each time. Any digital photo frame can be used to see the pictures from there.

EDIT: As suggested in the comments, have a photo store copy the card contents to an optical disk is an excellent way to keep the originals. Just ask for a full-size transfer and not a Photo-CD which is much lower resolution.

EDIT: write-once cards exist already but are expensive and designed for a different type of application.

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That is exactly how my own mother-in-law uses her digital point-and-shoot. –  Danny T. Dec 14 '10 at 16:34
    
Write-once cards are very expensive, used for forensics and so on. Not appropriate here. Cheap 1GB SD cards might be more appropriate. She can keep a dozen or more and you can back them up when you visit. –  Max Sang Dec 14 '10 at 17:37
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My sister-in-law doesn't use a computer - instead, each time she takes the camera in to get the pictures printed, she has them transferred to a CD at the same time. Not sure if she then erases the prints, or if they do that for her, but I'm sure most places would handle that. –  chris Dec 15 '10 at 13:05
    
Thanks! I've updated the answer to make it more accurate given those comments. –  Itai Dec 15 '10 at 16:41

It might be worth finding out what kind of camera she already uses, and what she likes and dislikes about the interface. I'd also second the idea of something not too tiny. I don't know how her eyesight and hand dexterity are but they're often things that start to deteriorate in the over-60's age group which can make using an otherwise decent camera a fiddly, infuriating nightmare - and it'll get left in the drawer in short order.

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Something that hasn't come up yet, but probably should have: look for a model with an optical viewfinder or equivalent. Holding one of those newfangled digital P&S dealies with the fancy LCD at arms length might work well for you young 'uns, but we old fogies tend not to be so very steady -- having the face as an extra point of contact with the camera adds an awful lot of stability. The view through an optical viewfinder also tends not to require reading glasses (or, worse, that awkward search for the right angle through the transition area of bifocals). Even an electronic viewfinder you look at through a peephole usually has about a metre of virtual distance between eye and screen.

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I'd go with the SD 1300, just check if you mother-in-law feels comfortable with its size. She may prefer having something with bigger buttons instead.

If that turns out to be the case, try to find something like the Canon SD880, a great camera with reasonably sized buttons.

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Ergonomics... An important feature, perhaps especially so in a case like this! Kudos for pointin that out. –  lindes Dec 14 '10 at 2:37

It's very hard to buy a bad point-and-shoot at the moment.
Certainly if her budget is a hundred dollars, all the major manufacturers have very good offerings.

One thing to bear in mind: Go for a small number of megapixels to reduce the storage requirement. If she is only going to have 5x7s or even 10x8s printed, then she won't need very high resolution. I would have thought that 5MP would be enough.

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I've had P&S from Canon and Kodak in the same price range of each other ($150ish) within the last year and there's a HUGE difference between the two, camera and picture quality. Perhaps you're not considering Kodak a major manufacturer, but every P&S at a given price level is not equivalent really. The Kodak Z915 was nothing compared to the Canon SX120IS for a 10-20 difference. –  rfusca Dec 14 '10 at 16:36
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@rfusca, interesting. Not sure if I was consciously including Kodak or not. Many buyers agonise over which camera to buy, but what they're really worried about is getting a duff one. I'm trying to encourage readers that they really don't have anything to worry about if they stick to well-known manufacturers. Certainly, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, ... are solid bets. –  AJ Finch Dec 14 '10 at 17:05
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100% agree with rfusca. I have the privilege of evaluating digital cameras and it is true that in the point-and-shoot segment differences are extremely pronounced. Even by the same manufacturer, models with similar number and perform quite differently. It does not stop at quality either, speed and interface are very different too. –  Itai Dec 14 '10 at 22:20

Does she use a cell phone? If so, I'd suggest something like an iPhone or nice Android. The reason is that, at least for snap shots, these phones come with pretty amazing cameras now. As a bonus, they end up having giant viewfinders which may be nice for someone with potentially aging eyesight. Then, with a data plan, one can fairly easily upload these to any number of 'cloud' services such as Flickr or Facebook, which would give her access to instant backup, sharing, and easier printing through supported services.

It's no DSLR, but my iPhone has pretty much completely replaced my Canon Powershot these days.

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