I'm an artist, but I'm new to photo. I've found that the most important things for me are:

  1. Capturing a moment without any thought
  2. Getting accurate color

Capturing the moment usually requires a fast shutter and good Auto. At the moment I use a Canon S3IS, and it seems to suffer from bad automatic judgement and super-high noise in broad daylight on a “sport” mode (which I use all the time for the fast shutter).

QUESTION: Which cameras have the best

  1. Fast shutter + low noise
  2. Good and quick automatic ISO/aperture/gain judgement
  3. Color accuracy
  4. Budget of $700. Don't care about size, low-light performance, features, etc.
  5. Anything that's an improvement in these areas over the S3IS.


Nikon D40

Nikon D50

Lumix DMC-L10

  • 1
    In #1, do you mean "low noise" in that it's quiet, or low noise in terms of image quality? The rest of your list implies that its sonic quality you mean here.
    – mattdm
    Dec 10, 2010 at 4:22
  • The Nikon D40 and D50 share the exact image same sensor. Dec 10, 2010 at 17:50
  • I mean low-noise image.
    – themirror
    Dec 19, 2010 at 19:06

7 Answers 7


If you go the dSLR route, then the color front is less an issue if you shoot raw and adjust the white balance to suit after the fact. Raw gives you the sensor data with some embedded "hints" based on the camera setting, but you can adjust to suit based on how you saw or visualized the scene. As an artist, I think shooting Raw is the only way to go if you want total control over the outcome.

By the way, you mentioned that you don't care about low light performance, but you also mentioned low noise. Those are conflicting. Getting high speed shutter in darker conditions with low noise requires strong low light performance. Nikon, has been historically strong in this arena, but they get a super serious run for their money by the Pentax K-x in the price range you're talking about (they're taking the same in the higher end too, but the Nikon D7000, Canon 60D, or Pentax K-5 is out of the price range you listed). Net effect, if faster shutter is coupled with low noise, then low light performance matters and, at this point in time, the latest from Nikon or Pentax in the dSLR world take the crown.

So... breaking it down, I think you're really looking at a Nikon D3100 or a Pentax K-x. I'd advise, however, that you handle any of the options in the store and take some pictures. Comfort matters and, given that a lot of cameras are generally close in performance, that may well be what decides it for you.

  • I'm with you on this answer, with the caveat that in most parts of the country/world the advice to handle-in-store first is an unfortunate strike against Pentax, which has had trouble in the retail channel. It may be hard to find one to hold, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't get real consideration. The ergonomics of Pentax/Nikon are pretty close anyway — Canon has a much bigger difference in control layout. So if you like the way the D3100 feels, you'll probaby be happy with the K-x as well.
    – mattdm
    Dec 10, 2010 at 4:35
  • +1 with a caveat: As a D3100 owner, the lack of an auto focus motor in motor eliminates a lot of the reasonably priced older Nikon lenses - its a hidden cost of that camera (and a few other low end Nikons).
    – rfusca
    Dec 10, 2010 at 4:40
  • 1
    I don't want to start a brand war, but I disagree with the statement that Nikon are the "speed demons" of the DSLR world - since the release of the 1D in 2001 Canon have been consistently faster until the D3 at the end of 2007. Even then the D3 only shoots at 11fps vs. 10fps and has to reduce the image down to 5megapixels to do so, whilst the Canon 1DmkIV can shoot 16mp images at 10fps.
    – Matt Grum
    Dec 10, 2010 at 8:41
  • 2
    Also since the 90s Canon has been utterly dominant in the professional sports market due to superior AF and supertelephoto lenses, Nikon are making comeback thanks to the excellent D3s and Canon's 1D mkIII fiasco, but if you look at any major sporting event you'll see a sea of white Canon supertelephotos.
    – Matt Grum
    Dec 10, 2010 at 8:43
  • 1
    I think handling in the store is overrated. Things that seem horrible on first impression may be livable after all, while great features and design which benefit day-to-day use might not jump out. One can't really get a feel for a camera without shooting with it for a week or so.
    – mattdm
    Dec 10, 2010 at 12:59

Your requirements point in the direction of a DSLR. Any DSLR will do, really.

The key is that the higher ISO performance is not just needed for low-light but also to achieve a high shutter-speed to freeze action.

They also have the shortest shutter-lag which means the time it takes for the camera to take the photo after you've pressed the shutter.

Color accuracy can be excellent on a DSLR and they all offer tweaking to set the color mode, saturation and contrast. Some of them have even more controls. You'll be able to get realistic colors like that or if you want absolutely perfect colors you can shoot RAW and create a camera profile using a color-chart.

Several models fall into your budget range, the Pentax K-x for example is one of the fastest in its category and regarded as having one of the best image quality. The important thing to consider is to budget for lenses too. A poor lens can ruin the quality of the DSLR at force it to user slower shutter-speed or higher-ISO to compensate for a narrow aperture.

All the cameras you list are no longer in production, so I assume you are looking at used models, which is a reasonable thing to do. The Canon Rebel XSi is a very good performer too. Canon even has a cheap 50mm F1.8 lens ($100) which lets you shoot at faster speeds due to its wide aperture.


What do you mean by "speed"? The rate at which you can take a photo, or time from pressing the shutter to taking a photo?

If it's the latter then a DSLR may not be the best option. Instead a bridge camera like the Casio Exilim EX-FH25:


May be better. The reason for this is that the camera records images constantly at a high rate and then deletes them after a certain time. When you press the shutter button, the camera stops deleting images and records them to the card. This means it's possible to get the image from a fraction of a second before you press the shutter!

The downside of this camera is the image quality is pretty mediocre in general, especially when compared to a DSLR, however if capturing the moment means more than image quality then this model may be worth a look.


The specific answer to this question is pretty highly time-dependent, especially in consideration of the several models you've put forth.

So, I'm going to decline to comment on those, exactly, but will give some generalities.

  • With your budget of $700, you can get either a new entry-level dSLR, or a slightly older mid-range one. This is probably what you want for "fast shutter", particularly because I think you mean "fast shutter response", at which dSLRs traditionally stomp on P&S cameras. However, most high-end P&S cameras are very responsive too, these days.

  • Most modern cameras have pretty good auto modes. If there's a very specific concern you have that's probably best broken into a separate question.

  • Color accuracy can mean a lot of things. Do you mean good automatic white balance, or are you looking for more technical accuracy than that? For white balance, some cameras are better than others, but if it's your primary concern, you'll want to shoot in RAW anyway, which will reduce that to being a software problem.


You probably do care about low-light performance, as that translates to less noticeable image noise at higher ISO settings.

As others have said, pretty much any camera should perform well enough for the scenarios you mention, as long as you use a suitable mode for the scene. Those with sensors larger than yours inherently perform better with less light available, so you may be right to look at DSLRs in general. As ever, it is often best to visit your local store, and find one that you can hold and use comfortably.

To answer the question you've not asked; you may find your current camera performs better in some of the other modes -- sport modes will sacrifice image quality over shutter speed (and sometimes portrait mode will give faster speeds, albeit with a narrower depth of field). Sports modes often use a narrower aperture (requiring either longer shutter times, or higher ISO settings to compensate) to give a deeper depth of field, the logic being that the action will be moving so faster, that the auto focus may have to act predictively and needs a wider margin of error.

It's always worth having a read of the manual that came with your camera to get some tips on what sort of settings to use. You may find you get some better results using Tv mode (with a shutter speed around 1/200 - to 1/500 if you've zoomed all the way in) or Av mode (with a setting at the f/2.7 end of the scale -- only go away if you find the depth of field is not deep enough.)


I take it that by "without thought" you are more-or-less saying the same thing that Henri Cartier-Beresson called "capturing the decisive moment". The trick will be to stop relying on the camera to do your work -- a DSLR or a high-end viewfinder camera with full manual control will do the job. You can use the "Sunny 16" rule to pre-set your exposure values or meter from a grey card every once in a while during the day and be pretty sure of being within a stop (usually less) of proper exposure almost all of the time (recording images in RAW will allow you to correct at least that much in post-processing), and you can do a pretty darned good job of pre-focusing as well if you know a little bit about depth of field. (There are good plugins, like Topaz Lab's InFocus, that will let you sharpen things up considerably, and you can always use the sharpening features in your image editing software if plugins aren't your cup of tea.) The point of the matter is that by learning a few simple things you can pretty much take the camera's response time out of the equation altogether. It isn't hard to learn, and it won't take more than a couple of days of experimenting to get pretty good at it.


This is really sort of an interesting question. There are certainly some reasonable "wants" in here -- fast reaction, low noise, and so on. Any of the cameras you indicated (as well as the ones pointed out by others) are going to be an improvement over your S3IS, but I think it's also important to understand that you, as an artist, are part of the process here.

Let me explain. As a photographer, you're really painting with light on the sensor of the camera, and the camera gives you features that help with that. Any camera is going to have a sensor of some sort. It's going to use aperture and shutter speed to control how much light gets to the sensor, and it's going to use ISO to make the sensor effectively more or less sensitive to the light that's hitting it.

More expensive cameras have a larger envelope of capabilities (larger / better sensors, higher ISO support with less noise, etc.), and they're generally going to have features that make "automatic" stuff easier or better. A higher-end camera, for instance, might sample more points for autofocus or exposure calculations, which will help it perform these functions better and faster. In that respect, a Canon 5D set on 'auto', will take better pictures than your S3IS on 'auto', all things being equal, because it's got a vastly larger performance envelope and the smarts to know how to use it.

But I'd argue that to look only at the capabilities of the camera is to leave out an awful lot of the "art" of photography. "Capturing a moment without any thought" is an admirable goal, but you probably need to reflect a little on what it is about the moment that you're trying to capture, exactly. I mean, are you capturing this for you, or for someone else? What is it about the moment that you find worthy of picking up your camera in the first place? What, exactly, are you trying to get someone to see in your photo?

In addition to composition, I think you may find that there's a lot of artistic potential in post-processing, too -- especially if you start shooting RAW (which any of these DSLR's can do). You'll end up with a lot of control over white balance and color, as well as noise levels, contrast, sharpness, and so on. Chances are, you'll see better results with a cheaper camera and good post-processing than a (slightly) more expensive camera with no post-processing.

Maybe I'm reading way too much into your question in terms of the non-camera stuff, but as an artist, I think you should be able to appreciate the idea that a great artist is going to be more likely to produce great art with marginal equipment than the other way around.

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