I need a P&S camera for my family. They would probably use it for family functions,trips etc. I want a camera with flash for taking good night photos with a decent quality. They are not technically inclined and I dont want much manual features apart from the normal modes (potrait,sports,landscapes). Decent picture quality for normal conditions is the criteria I am looking for. If the camera looks little big, it is an added advantage.

I have looked at few models like Fujifilm Fine Pix F800 EXR, the Panasonic Lumix DMC series and a Nikon P510. But I am confused with all the options and the different reviews on different sites. My thinking is that for a point and shoot camera, it is better to consider brands other than Nikon and Canon since they may provide better value for money.

Can someone recommend some good resources for analysis and what kinds of cameras I should consider - a bridge camera, a basic point and shoot, or some other type?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to check this other question too - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1373/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 0:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is impossible to answer. Without requirements, no one can choose for you. The same would be true if you asked what car to buy. You may want to read a general camera buying guide and come back when you have more specific questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 1:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of all the questions we see like this, this one at least asks for starting points on making the decision rather than requesting specific shop-for-me advice. Presuming the answers stay in the spirit of that, I'd like to keep it open as a target for all the future P&S shopping questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 3:58

9 Answers 9


General Specifications

Generally speaking when shopping for a point and shoot you want to look for the following:

  • Largest possible aperture over the zoom range
  • Zoom range to fit your needs(be wary of huge superzooms and their compromises)
  • Size that fits your needs(smaller is convenient to carry but consider usability as well)
  • Largest possible sensor
  • Batteries that fit your style of shooting(Li-Ion for most, AA for some)
  • Scene modes to help novice users
  • Big high resolution screens
  • Buttons that you are comfortable using(size and quality)
  • Menu system that is intuitive and user friendly
  • Resolution (higher can be better,measured in megapixels)
  • Video capabilities
  • GPS and or Wi-Fi
  • Image Stabilization
  • Larger ISO ranges
  • Manual shooting modes such as Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual Mode
  • Largest possible shutter speed range including bulb.

Use Cases

Beginner If you are really starting out fresh and want to keep it as simple as possible, make sure that the camera has scene modes that are easily accessible. A mode for "sports" for example is a great way to take images at a kids football game. Another thing to look for is a larger screen, but not so large that the camera is missing most of it's buttons. Some cameras now are featuring huge screens across the back of the camera but leave out essentially all buttons. Physical buttons can be very nice to have and screens(especially touch screens on current cameras) can be tricky for beginners.

Family/Portraits One of the most common issues that people have with family photography and portrait photography is that they shoot in very low light indoor situations. To combat this I would recommend looking for a very wide aperture(allows light into the camera). An example of a wide aperture would be f/2-f/3 or a similarly wide aperture(small number). Another thing that can help out a great deal is having a wider angle lens, allowing you to capture the full scene even in a small indoor venue. Something the 24mm wide range is what I would recommend if possible, 28mm is quite standard as well but I wouldn't go beyond 28mm.

Travel Travel photography really can include just about anything, and it means different things for different people especially depending on your destination. Generally speaking for travel photography you would want a wide focal length range. You want to have a nice wide angle lens as well as a telephoto lens. I would look for something from about 28mm-300mm if possible. Many people like to have a smaller camera for travel though, so you will want to weigh your desire for a long telephoto zoom lens with the size that you are comfortable carrying with you all day while you travel.

Ultra Portable When searching for an ultra portable/compact point and shoot camera, keep in mind that you are likely sacrificing biggest in the area of the lens. It used to be the case that you might get no optical zoom at all with a very small camera. Now it is very common to still get a very respectable 3x optical zoom, such as a 28-100mm zoom or similar. Other things to keep in mind are the ergonomics. Many times very small cameras forgo grips or anything to hold the camera easily, so make sure to keep this in mind before purchasing.

Wildlife With wildlife it is safe to say that you can never get close enough or have enough zoom. Look for very large optical zoom ranges, with image stabilization if possible. You also will want to consider what the aperture is at all of the zoom range, not just the wide angle of the range. For example, the Canon Powershot SD50 has a massive 24-1200mm (50X) focal length lens. At the wide end this lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.4, but at the telephoto end the maximum aperture is f/6.5. This is actually an astonishing lens, but just keep in mind that the maximum aperture can be variable and the telephoto end maximum aperture can be very important for wildlife photography.

Beach You want to look for the depth measurement(how far can you swim down), usually in the 30ft range or so. Also the height at which are drop rated, usually around 5ft. For the most part waterproof cameras are somewhat limiting. The optical zoom can be limited to about 5x on these units. They typically have fair image quality but not quite as good as cameras that don't work underwater. One other thing to consider is the ergonomics. The buttons should be big and easy to use, as using them underwater can be a great deal more challenging.

Image Quality Image quality should be important for every use case, but if it is the most important item on your list, what you should look for changes just a bit. Push towards the largest sensor size possible. A 1/2.3" size is common, a 1/1.7" size is a bit less common, but preferred for image quality if all other things are equal. High ISO performance is a metric that can be more complicated to understand, as you likely will have to look at online reviews comparing the performance the camera against others at similar ISO values.

Sports/Action If you want to focus on sports photography, many of the same tips that are outlined above for wildlife apply(big zoom range and large aperture). The differentiating point is that you will certainly want something that can shoot many frames per second(FPS). Something above about 4fps is great for sports photography, allowing you to capture multiple shots before a baseball batter can even swing through a pitch for example.

Of course endless special use cases exist. Do you need any of the following? Viewfinder, special zoom requirement, brand preference, external flash requirement, etc.

This specific case asked in the original question:

The specific models you point out you can take any of my above tips and easily compare on many websites. For example the Fuji FinePix F800 EXR that you mentioned has an aperture range of f/3.5 - f/5.3 and the Nikon CoolPix P5100 has an aperture range of f/3.0 - f/5.9. So the Nikon wins in the maximum aperture category since it has the wider f/3.0 capability(technically it varies over the range so this is debatable, but the maximum is better irrespective of focal length).


I say this as a bit of a Nikon SLR fan-boy...

I think the best P&S cameras are the Canon PowerShot S series. They have about the same sensor and lens as the big and bulky G series but in a nice compact package. To keep budget, I would pick a generation old PowerShot S over most current P&S cameras. I don't know of other brands that make comparable cameras, so feel free to search and compare...

Looking at the latest PowerShot S110, here are what I consider most important specs:

  • Up to F/2 lens
  • 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor
  • Good zoom range that gets wide: 24-120mm (35mm film equivalent)
  • 3 inch screen
  • 1-1/2000 sec. shutter

I again say this as someone who owns a big SLR - size is important. To quote Chase Jarvis: "The best camera is the one that's with you." So pick out something you don't mind schlepping around.

There are 3 different variables the camera can manipulate to get a good exposure: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Different digital cameras have varying abilities with regards to aperture and ISO.

The lens (aperture): F/2 represents how big the aperture or hole in the lens gets. The lower the F/ number the bigger the hole, and the more light the lens lets pass through at any moment in time. The more light the lens lets in, the less amount of time you need to get your shot, meaning you can use faster shutter speeds to get the same result. It can make the difference between getting a nice shot or having too much hand shake or motion blur with a moving subject. Aperture also plays a big role in determining depth of field - how much stuff is in focus.

The sensor (ISO): The size (as well as type and quality) of the sensor effects the quality of the pictures as well as how noisy the pictures are. With all else being equal the larger the sensor the better the camera will perform as the ISO goes up. Higher ISO allows you to increase the shutter speed (to eliminate hand shake or motion blur), or increase the depth of field.

For even more detailed information: http://photo.net/learn/basic-photo-tips/aperture-shutterspeed-iso/ and http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/camera-exposure.htm and http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/shutteraperture.htm

Edit: mattdm does a fantastic job of explaining the 3 variables of exposure in his answer describing The Exposure Triangle!

Please let me know if anyone would like me to further elaborate on anything, happy shooting :)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that Canon makes good P&S cameras, but I don't think "just buy Canon" is helpful general beginner advice (at least, no more than "just buy anything") would be. Other brands make good cameras too. Can you explain a little bit why each of the features you suggest might be important, and how a beginner might weight them when making a purchasing decision? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - I'm specifically not saying "just buy Canon". I am saying here are some important specs, and currently I know of no other brand that has a specific series of cameras that have comparable features to the Canon PowerShot S series. Give me a moment and I'll try to help explain why those specs/features are important. \$\endgroup\$
    – daalbert
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 16:55

How to choose a compact under $400 today?

The answer: Don't. Either use your own smartphone, or buy an iPod Touch.

The camera will hardly ever be taken anywhere. Pictures from it will sit unwatched.

The current iPod touch has a 5mp camera (possibly an update soon will offer even more). It has a ton of photography apps that will make it a tool useful to whoever wants to take a picture, whatever level of expertise they may have. It has external lenses you can mount on it. There are a million underwater cases for it. The kids can buy a microscope imaging attachment for it. It takes great video and then can edit the video right where you are. You can share the images from it instantly if you are anywhere there is WiFi.

At this point if you are buying a camera for anyone who does not yearn for a DSLR with multiple lenses, you are far better served giving them a photograph taking tool they will enjoy and actually use - since that was the goal, to get more pictures FROM the family.

If the goal is to simply get more pictures OF the family and you don't mind being the only one to use it, then get a camera that makes more sense for you to use.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with you on a personal level, using a smartphone or iPod does not fit every situation or person. I have already argued extensively that I do believe a smartphone of today does replace a point and shoot here - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/16449/… but I do not believe your answer really fits this question. If someone already has their mind set on buying a point and shoot, and the budget is under $400, this answer does not help at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ But he said he was buying it for the family, not himself. As such I felt like I had to give him the answer that was best for the family, not himself... or otherwise he will be the only one using the camera. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 22, 2013 at 3:43

Generally, all the modern cameras from the real camera manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung, Fuji and a few others) are good.

Everything is a tradeoff, when a camera designer optimizes for one thing something else suffers:

  • If they add a GPS they hurt battery life

  • Very large zoom range always hurt image quality somewhat

  • Good low light performance requires a big expensive sensor and lens and make the camera more expensive

  • etc, etc, etc

So, you should choose one factor (or maybe 2) that are most important to you (dpollitt listed an impressive amount of possible factors) and choose the best camera according to this factor that fits in your budget.

And if you can't decide just toss a coin, it's much better to get the 2nd best camera now and start taking pictures than it is to spend the time to do a comprehensive research of all available models.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Usually you can turn off the GPS and not hurt battery life. But it can affect size, weight, price, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 17:42

I’m going to start off by assuming you’ve got something capable of taking (digital) photos, whether that be a phone, a “hand me down” camera from a friend/family member or anything else. If you don’t, I’d recommend buying something cheap and starting there rather than spending a larger amount of money – this will let you know what sort of photography interests you, so you’ll have a much better idea what you want in your next camera.

Given that, I think the most important question you need to answer is: what do you want a camera to do that your current camera can’t? The two most common answers to this question are:

  • More zoom. This is generally fairly easy to shop for, as manufacturers will put “10x zoom” (or whatever) front and centre on the adverts for their cameras. While “n times” isn’t a completely accurate specification of the zoom capabilities of a camera (see this question, and in particular the first answer, for a detailed explanation), it’s generally a pretty useful starting point. The question of “how much zoom do I need” is a trickier one, but the answer is probably more determined by “how big a camera am I prepared to carry around” than anything else – more zoom almost certainly means a bigger camera, although manufacturers are getting better and better at squeezing more zoom into smaller bodies.

  • Better low-light capabilities. Any modern dedicated camera will have better low-light capabilities than a camera phone, but if you’re looking for a significant improvement you’ll want to be looking at the “advanced compact” with a larger sensor. For historical reasons (see this question for some background), the sensor sizes for compact cameras are generally specified as 1/(some number of inches) where the smaller the number of the bottom of the fraction, the larger the sensor – a typical compact camera will be 1/2.3”, whereas an advanced compact will be 1/1.7”, which works out to be around 50% bigger. All other things being equal, a bigger sensor means it captures more light and therefore better low light performance.

One thing that people often ask for but which isn’t really a differentiating factor between cameras is a good “auto mode” – any modern camera will do pretty well in auto mode.

As for brands, no manufacturer has really shown themselves to consistently to make better value cameras than any other – prices are much more determined by the deal you can get on the day you go shopping rather than the nominal street price, so it’s very much a case of seeing what you can get.


If you want a point-and-shoot camera, then you will probably stay away from the bigger (and costly) SLR types..

There are so many cameras out there that give you and advice is quite not feasible.. But I can point you to a site I often look at, which I hope you'll find useful too: try the dpreview site which has a lot of in-depth reviews, with sample photos taken with such cameras, a huge camera database and several ways to narrow down the kind of camera you might be looking for.. try for instance their camera feature search.. You'll get a better idea of what is available and how good are the pictures they can take.

Once you have narrowed-down your choice to a shorter list, you can also compare them side-by-side..

Don't let them fool you with only the number of pixels, optics is what will give you good or bad results.. And of course newer cameras tend to perform better than older ones, as to their electronics and sensor technology... Try to look at users' reviews, too...

Just my 2c :)


I think keeping things simple will help narrow the choices, and focus your search to a handful of cameras that should be examined directly.

Afterall, purchasing a camera that you will actually USE is the whole objective, and whether you use a camera or not is very dependent on how it feels in your hand, what the controls are like and how the software/menu suit you. You can only discover these by handing the camera, either in the shop or via a rental or trial period.

So my recommendations are:

1) Camera Size: choose the appropriate size camera. Determine whether you are after pocketability, or you need a larger body to accomidate large hands and fingers. Go try out a few models at your local store, and make note of the sizes, so that you can compare to other models.

2) Sensor Size: Choose the largest sensor size you can afford, either financially or physically (camera size). Point and shoot cameras generally use smaller sensor sizes. The larger they are, typically the better quality the images and range of shots available. However, note that most point and shoot sensor sizes are 'inverse' such as 1/2.3" or 1/1.7". In this case, the LARGER sensor has a smaller #: 1/1.7" is larger than 1/2.3" (if you are lucky, the camera will list image size in mm). Some higher end cameras and mirrorless cameras feature micro four thirds and APS-C sensors that are dramatically bigger, and better than typcial P&S sensors.

A good illustration of the sensor sizes is this article.

3) Optic quality: Choose a camera with better optics. This one is difficult, but in general, higher end point and shoots will feature optics as a benefit, or use a brand to signify better optics. Look for labeling such as Zeiss, or Leica as indicators of better optics. While not always an indicator of better optics, generally speaking, cameras featuring these brands have higher quality optics than other models without such branding in the same line.

Starting with these three items should help you narrow your choices and focus your research.


Recently i'm looking for two new cameras (for me and for my wife). Wife got one - myself not yet ;)

I was reading thru many tens (maybe hundreds) of reviews and must say: every camera todday make good pictures. Of course, here is many professionals who sure saw some differences, artifacts, purple contours and so - but - honestly must say- i'm probably blind.

Checked many many full-size pictures and the differences is minimal (from my, amateur point of view). So when you asking for a "decent picture" camera, ask first yourself - for what you will use the pictures. For billboard size printing, or viewing them on HD-TV and print them to 9x13cm?

For the latter (IMHO) any current camera is good enough.

And because the above, i don't really care about megapixels, because for me haven't big difference between 12mpix and 18mpix picture. Of course, have 18mpix allows me make nice prints from smaller part of the taken picture.

So, try make some own ladder what you need (want) from the camera. My preferences is (and maybe will give some ideas for you too):

  • 24mm at minimal zoom - because want wide view, mostly for close-group photos, and it is nice for the landscape (country) photos
  • optical image stabilization - because it is better than electronic (claiming this based on my research - not personal experience)
  • fast start - want a camera what is fully functional in at least 2 sec. Taking P&S pictures from my cats, dogs and baby - need fast start.
  • built in flash is a must
  • image ratio 16:9 - want camera what will make photos 16:9, because will mainly viewing it on TV and or computer - and, when i need add some photos into video the 16:9 format is the best. Of course, other ratios are common, but explicitly looking for 16:9
  • of course, want HD-video - at least 720p or full HD/30fps. (standard today)
  • for my wife, must be water/dust/anti-drop sealed (she is working at gardening/landscaping business)- not needed feature for me ;)

now the things start to be funny

  • it is good, when you can start video recording immediately without and digging thru menus, or turning knobs or like. So, need dedicated video recording button, independent from picture shooting button
  • it is nice feature, when the camera can take a full-size picture while you recording video, so, recording video and you can press the picture-shooting button a get an full size picture without the video interrupt.
  • ability zooming while recording video
  • i love pocket tripods and big zooms. For me ultra-zoom camera is a must - at least 13x. (320mm)

some more personal preferences:

  • sometimes want play with the depth of view, so at least manual aperture setting is welcomed
  • GPS is nice, but want a camera where is possible turn it of (because draining battery)
  • continuos shooting at least 4-6 pictures at 4-6 fps

would be nice fatures

  • in camera HDR (love my iPhone for this) :)
  • high speed video - for some fun

So, after the above totally non-professional criteria (as you can see, here is nothing about sensor types and so on) I get the these cameras at dpreview.com

  • Nikon Coolpix S6500
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 (Lumix DMC-TZ40)
  • Samsung WB850F
  • Leica V-Lux 40 - high price
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 (Lumix DMC-TZ30) - old model

Here is the comparison table.

Haven't final decision yet (slightly preferring Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30). So, if you get some ideas from this answer - enjoy, but - it is highly subjective - and your mileage may vary.


Nikon COOLPIX P510 is good choice IMO. I would pick this one without having to check the two other models that you mentioned. the lens reach is just impressive, 42X optical zoom could be handy. I like the body design and it should feel better in hand than smaller P&S cameras, but that may also be a disadvantage, because bigger means you may miss a shot because it's not easy to carry everywhere. generally it's a good camera, I just can't recommend it if you like to enhance your photos in computer, lack of uncompressed file format (RAW) just doesn't work for me, if don't you need the RAW format and you're happy with JPEG, then don't hesitate getting it. if you can spend more and if you have time, you can go for it's newer version, Nikon COOLPIX P520, it's currently available for pre-order from B&H for $446.

If I had to choose a P&S for less than $400, I would get the Nikon COOLPIX P7100 ($299), although with only 7.1X optical zoom, its lens is much shorter than COOLPIX P510, but in general, it allows me to be more creative, specially in post-processing with the RAW format. unfortunately its video is limited to 720p (1280 x 720 @ 24fps), but you can also go for its newer version, which offers full HD 1080p video, the Nikon COOLPIX P7700 for $406 from B&H.

Follow bold links to read the reviews.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Will this answer be useful when those models are out of production in a few months? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course this not a general answer for all P&S cameras, like dpollitt's answer. but all of the mentioned models are currently available. anyway, I removed the part about Nikon 1 V1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Omne
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 15:03

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