I would like to purchase a camera that takes great pictures of people. We are having a family reunion and I would like to take clear pictures of everything going on: from people eating, to dancing, to the inevitable family portrait. Important:

  • Image sharpness

  • Clear color

  • Fast response when shot is taken

  • Good Low lighting pictures

What should I look for in a non-professional portable camera in order to get the family shots that I want that I will be proud to show my grand kids some day? Minimum specs

P.S.- if you would like to recommend a model that you are happy with I would love some suggestions, even more so If you can link me to examples that have been taken with that camera.

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    Just a warning, what you consider 'non-professional' and what an active hobby photographer considers 'non-professional' are possibly worlds apart. You've tagged point-and-shot - do you just want point and shoot options? – rfusca Mar 14 '12 at 21:32
  • Just since I am pretty in love with it. Olympus XZ-1 is a really cool camera (also other brands do similar things). It is around 400$ so probably you would like something less expensive, but I would expect form it good overall quality and finally is good for everything except professional shots. Only disadvantage it hasn't got a flash. dpreview.com/reviews/OlympusXZ1 – Paolo Mar 14 '12 at 22:48
  • Otherwise if you are looking for something around 250$ it seems rather difficult to find information about shutter speed or quality. Canon poweshot series should have decent quality, plus it offers plenty of fancy features. – Paolo Mar 14 '12 at 22:50
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    My only comment here is that no matter WHAT camera you choose, buy it a few weeks BEFORE the family reunion and practice practice practice. You don't want to be the guy in the back of the room reading the manual and cursing... – Paul Cezanne Mar 15 '12 at 12:23
  • You don't need the right camera. You need the right photographer. – Michael C Jan 16 '14 at 7:17

You pretty much got it. The hardest things to consistently find are fast response times and low light/high iso performance.

One of the things that tends not to be touted too much is sensor size. Second only to the quality of the lens, it's the biggest factor in image quality (and low light/high iso perf). Most point and shoot cameras have finger-nail sized sensors, which isn't much to work with. DSLR's have a size of up to 35mm.

There are a few in-between cameras with moderate size sensors that can deliver higher quality photos in a modest body size. Some of the ones I know of off the top of my head are the Canon G12 and the newer G1X as well as the Canon S100. There are some Panasonic Lumix ones with similar features, but I'm not sure what Nikon has in that market.

Also, if you want to step it up a little more, the micro four-thirds cameras are a nice in-between type of camera. They will probably rule the world one day, but are still just taking off now. The Nikon 1 is similar to a micro four thirds camera, but with a sensor that is a little smaller.

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    I think most point-n-shoots have closer to a pinky-nail sized sensor than a thumbnail size. At least on my hands, that's a huge difference! – Dan Wolfgang Mar 14 '12 at 22:50
  • Good point, I updated my description. – Michael Cook Mar 15 '12 at 3:30

Your questions answers itself. You ask what properties and manage to list them well. Mostly importantly low light and fast shutter-response are key to get photos of people.

A DSLR is best for this and there are plenty of non-professional models which have great fully automatic modes. An example of this is the Pentax K-r. If this is too bulky for you, then your next option is go for a recent SLD. The key is to find the ones which focus fast because not all of them do. All Sony Alpha SLT models, like the A55 or just announced A57 use the same autofocus system as DSLRs.

If those are too big still or too expensive, then you have to expect a compromise against what are looking for. What is left are a handful compact cameras with larger-than-average sensors and bright lenses such as the Fuji X10, Canon S100, Olympus ZX1.


I find your "fast response" criteria to be critical. What I specifically mean is the lag between when you press the shutter and when the photo is taken. Its the difference between catching a smile, and catching the face after the smile is gone.

Many point-n-shoots have unacceptably long lags between shutter button press and taking the photo. Usually this is due to the auto-focus system.

I strongly recommend you actually shoot with the camera before you buy to see if its fast enough for your needs.

On of the advantages of DSLRs is that they have faster button-to-photo times. DSLRs have a number of disadvantages, size, expense, etc. that are really off-topic to this.


The best camera is the one you have with you.

You may be able to do more with a DSLR, but it exacts a price in portability and in attention required. Having a "fancy" camera will mean that you've got to carry it around, including in places that may not be friendly to fragile equipment (the beach, hiking, that rainy football game). And the flexibility it affords, particularly with interchangeable lenses, means more carrying and more time spent changing -- and thus not spent participating in the moment.

In my experience, it's important to find a balance of photographic quality and flexibility versus opportunity

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