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Gear Recommendations

Recommendations for inexpensive "family" digital camera?

+5
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I'm looking for a digital camera, not anything particularly fancy but probably not the cheapest one can get (though maybe some really low-end would be good enough?)

Some context

I am one of the few people left in the world who doesn't yet have a smartphone. (I'm sure I might get one at some point, but it seems largely pointless when I have a computer readily available at home and at the office, and cell phone service coverage at home is… spotty at best.) It may be that modern smartphone cameras would do everything I need, and it could be that "just buy a smartphone" is the result of all this if that's the most economical approach, but I have a hunch that it isn't.

My existing camera broke, and so I'm looking for something to replace it, preferably before my newest baby arrives in January. I primarily am taking pictures of our family, though it's not impossible that I might be taking some nature pictures or other "touristy"-type things if we were able (at some point) to go on another vacation. I'm not looking to be a "photographer" or anything fancy, just wanting something I can use to capture memories easily.

Requirements

  1. Some kind of flash. It's likely that a lot of the time the shots would be indoors. (And here's where I don't know if smartphone/tablet-style cameras have caught up with their little LEDs to the quality of a "real" flash for typical pictures; maybe they have.)
  2. Decent picture quality. I'm assuming everything nowadays has a reasonable number of "mexapixels" that I don't really need to worry about the details here? I doubt it's worth paying significantly more to get more here unless it's obviously worth it in some way.
  3. Ability to take videos. This is the modern "home camcorder" I guess, where it's nice to take a video of kids doing cute things. I'm thinking at least 720p resolution would be fine.
  4. A timer. It's nice to set it down on a table with a delay so I can occasionally be in the shot. Maybe something that has it take a bunch of pictures in a row would be helpful.
  5. Decent battery life. Some of the low-end cameras I was eyeing had reviews along the lines of "you only take a few shots before needing to charge or replace the batteries", and I think we need something a bit more than that. But it's not like we'll be taking thousands of shots over a long time period before being able to charge it again, so it doesn't need to be too crazy.
  6. Durable. It's be nice if I could feel comfortable handing it to the kids without being worried about them breaking it.
  7. Easy to transfer to my pictures folder on my NAS drive. If it was wifi-enabled and just uploaded everything automatically that would be cool, but I'm perfectly happy taking an SD card out and putting it into my computer.
  8. I'm hoping for under US$100, preferably more like $50 if that's possible. This isn't a big "investment". I'm actually wondering if getting something secondhand would be better, but I'm not sure what or how to look for something. But you may be able to upsell me to something more expensive if you can convince me it's worth it in the long run.

Really I'm just not sure where to start, other than browsing through retailers' web sites at everything they have under "digital camera" and reading a ton of reviews. And maybe I've missed something I should actually care about in my list of "requirements" above? What camera should I be getting?

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regarding robustness, an insurance might also an option (1 comment)

1 answer

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I'm going to start this post off with a general response to your list of requirements in order to expand this as a learning opportunity...then we'll get onto gear.

  1. Some kind of flash. It's likely that a lot of the time the shots would be indoors. (And here's where I don't know if smartphone/tablet-style cameras have caught up with their little LEDs to the quality of a "real" flash for typical pictures; maybe they have.)
    • Indoor shots are among the dimmest areas you can shoot. Light follows something called the "Inverse Square Law" - the amount of light available for your shot diminishes by the square of the distance. So, if your phone LED is properly lighting up your subject 3 feet in front of you, then 6 feet away you will have half as much light hitting the object/background (2x the distance is 1/4 the light) More on that here.
    • So, the reality is that phone LED's will never have the juice to light up a room...in fact, you'd need more than a few strong LED's to light up a room, and this just isn't feasible for candid shooting. This is where strobes/speedlights come in (flashes).
    • But, again, while a speedlight will help your lighting situation, it's added bulk on a camera and the flashing really does take something away from casual moments with the family. This problem is currently being solved via two overlapping methods: better sensor technology and better software.
    • The sensor tech allows for images to be taken with less light and for them to still look decent while the software gets better and better at removing noise. Cameras with large sensors have the edge in sensor tech while phones have the edge in software.
    • You should be looking for a camera that will allow you to capture decent images in low light without flash. If you still think you need a flash, then the camera will need to offer a flash onboard and/or offer a speed light attachment.
  2. Decent picture quality. I'm assuming everything nowadays has a reasonable number of "mexapixels" that I don't really need to worry about the details here? I doubt it's worth paying significantly more to get more here unless it's obviously worth it in some way.
    • The amount of pixels is only important nowadays when you consider cropping and printing. An 8"x10" photo printed at 300pixels per inch gives you 2400x3000 pixels or 7.2megapixels. Not much, right? Except - consider that you have a 14MP camera and you want to crop in on your kids, so you crop out half the photo...boom, now your 14MP image has been reduced to 7MP.
    • See above point on image noise. But, in general, any modern camera will meet your needs regarding image quality.
  3. Ability to take videos. This is the modern "home camcorder" I guess, where it's nice to take a video of kids doing cute things. I'm thinking at least 720p resolution would be fine.
    • Admittedly, video is not my forte. So, have some grainy salt with this...
    • Consider your intended playback for the videos - will it be a computer monitor or a TV or both? You can shoot video 2 different ways: interlaced or progressive. Computer screens naturally display progressive...so if your video is destined for computer viewing, then it'd be wiser to record using that "p" setting over the "i" setting.
    • Also keep in mind resolution. If your home movie is destined for the TV, then you probably need to be shooting in FHD (Full HD) or better. Note that FHD is a "1080p" TV.
    • Do you really still have a 720p TV? What's it like paying for things with a check? Do you have to kick your spouse off the phone so you can hop online to check your AIM? How big is your VHS collection? ... ... I kid, I kid...but really, don't just think about what you'll display the videos on today - but try to future proof a little. We're already seeing 8K TV's and who knows what we'll have in another 10 years?
  4. A timer. It's nice to set it down on a table with a delay so I can occasionally be in the shot. Maybe something that has it take a bunch of pictures in a row would be helpful.
    • Just about every camera will have a timer. The Timer to Burst thing is going to be harder to find. Don't forget about some way to properly frame the shot. Gone are the days of balancing books, a wallet, and a crushed soda can to get proper framing...buy a Gorillapod or similar.
  5. Decent battery life. Some of the low-end cameras I was eyeing had reviews along the lines of "you only take a few shots before needing to charge or replace the batteries", and I think we need something a bit more than that. But it's not like we'll be taking thousands of shots over a long time period before being able to charge it again, so it doesn't need to be too crazy.
    • All batteries die, so carry extras including a way to charge in the field (I love my Mophie battery for USB charing...anything).
    • That being said - it's the use of the camera that determines battery life. Point&Shoot cameras will suffer compared to other types because you are using the screen to frame your shot, usually in bright light so at a very bright setting, and then you are reviewing your shot(s). This is much more taxing than, for example, looking through the viewfinder, taking the shot, and then reviewing for a second or two. So, consider how you use the camera for extending battery life.
  6. Durable. It's be nice if I could feel comfortable handing it to the kids without being worried about them breaking it.
    • There's durable and then there's durable. There's a big difference between something that can take some knocks and something that can be dropped 3+ feet onto concrete and survive to keep on shootin'. Decide just how much durability you need because this requirement will drastically reduce your options.
  7. Easy to transfer to my pictures folder on my NAS drive. If it was wifi-enabled and just uploaded everything automatically that would be cool, but I'm perfectly happy taking an SD card out and putting it into my computer.
    • Great - you're okay with the base transfer method for just about every camera you could buy :-).
  8. I'm hoping for under US$100, preferably more like $50 if that's possible. This isn't a big "investment". I'm actually wondering if getting something secondhand would be better, but I'm not sure what or how to look for something. But you may be able to upsell me to something more expensive if you can convince me it's worth it in the long run.
    • 100 bones is not a lot of money to play with when it comes to photography. You will get more "bang" for your buck shopping secondhand...but you'll expose yourself to more risk as well. If you want to understand more about things to look for when buying, that's what the Q&A section of this site is for.

Indeed - if you'd like to expand on any of the points that you've mentioned, please use the Q&A Section as they're all topics that could use a bunch more explanation.


Getting onto my choices for you:

I started putting this list together and then realized that you need to answer one main question: How durable does the camera need to be? Does it need to be a Fuji XP140 / Nikon Coolpix W300 / Olympus Tough level of durable or ... ? Please comment to me below this post.

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