What sub-$300 digic is burly enough to take climbing?
I'm looking to purchase a digital camera for a road trip that my girlfriend and I will be taking this summer. Apart from being able to take nice photos (five megapixels, three-power zoom), I'd like something durable as I an avid hiker and climber. Can you recommend something for no more than $300? William Rancho Cuconga, California
C’mon, challenge me! No more than $300 is easy these days—digital cameras have plunged in price in the past year. Even a few months ago, most people would have laughed at your request for a five-megapixel camera in that price range. But today it’s doable!
For instance, you can get the Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph for $300 at Amazon, although they’re $30 less than anyone else and I bet their supply won’t last long. And the S500 is a great little camera—metal casing, three-power optical zoom lens, excellent user interface. I have its close kin, the S410, and love it. The Canon people are, of course, long-time camera experts, and it shows in the design and function of the S500 (www.usa.canon.com).
Really, you don’t even have to bump into the $300 zone. Kodak’s new EasyShare CX7530 can be had for around $250 (www.kodak.com), and it too has five-megapixel resolution and a 3x optical zoom. It’s a little bulkier than the très petit Canon, but still very compact. And Kodak has done a great job of writing software that makes the camera easy to use—you can print or send photos via e-mail directly from the camera.
Neither the Kodak nor Canon is billed as an “all-weather” camera, although in my experience a little prudence in handling ensures my Canon stays healthy when I’m outdoors. So you could consider the Olympus Stylus 500, which sells for around $300 (www.olympusamerica.com). It’s got a few extra seals to keep out dust and moisture, even in the rain, yet still has that five-megapixel, three-power zoom you desire. Pretty amazing!
All of these cameras would benefit from more memory, as they come with 32-megabyte cards, or in the case of the Kodak, 32 megabytes of internal memory with the card an optional add-on. Five-megapixel files are huge, so they’ll fill those memory allotments in no time. I’d recommend at least 512 megabytes of on-board memory, which will cost you another $60 or so.
So, one good alternative is to settle for a four-megapixel camera and a big card. My S410 sells for $250, leaving you room to buy a 512-megabyte card and hit your dollar limit. And believe me, four-megapixel resolution with a good lens such as the Canon is amazing. Unless you regularly print 20×30 pictures, it’s more than adequate for everyday digital photography. I’m constantly having to shrink images in order to ship them on e-mail anyway. And for outdoor protection, buy Lowepro’s slick little D-Res 8S case for only $10 (www.lowepro.com). Fits the S410 like a glove.