Which Camera Should I Buy?

With dedicated hot-shoe, optical IS, RAW storage, and a powerful 12X f/2.8-3.7 zoom, the 7.1MP Kodak EasyShare P712 is top choice at $430.



Q: I want to photograph sports and nature (especially landscapes and animals), and I want to spend under $450. Any compacts fit the bill?

A: A lot of great compact digital cameras cost $450 or less these days. But for sports and nature photography, you'll want a model that has a long zoom lens with at least an f/2.8 aperture at the wide end -- a must for existing-light photography and extended flash range. That narrows the pack down, and excludes most pocketable models.

Optical (not electronic) image stabilization is desirable for shooting close-ups of animals from a moving vehicle (as on safari) or in a natural low-light environment where tripods are prohibited. And cameras with 6MP or higher let you crop to your satisfaction later or make sizeable enlargements. RAW format storage may also provide an image quality advantage for maximizing print quality.

For sports, a camera needs a burst rate of at least 2 to 3 frames per second, high ISO sensitivity, a powerful flash, and an accurate viewfinder.

Unfortunately, all current 10-12X superzoom models have electronic viewfinders that freeze a bit in burst mode. Still, EVFs make it easier to monitor exposure controls without taking your eye off the subject.

Canon's PowerShot S3 IS ($355, street) has most of these features, and packs a 12X, f/2.7-3.5 zoom with 36-432mm (equivalent) field of view. It also has optical image stabilization, a 6MP sensor, true VGA-resolution video with sound, 2.3 fps burst mode, and up to 1/3200 sec shutter speed for stopping action. However, it doesn't have a hot-shoe for accessory flash units, doesn't capture RAW images, and doesn't ship with rechargeable batteries.

For $75 more, the 7.1MP Kodak EasyShare P712 includes those features, an image-stabilized 12X, f/2.8-3.7 zoom, a larger 2.5-inch LCD monitor. But the P712 only dials up to ISO 400 at full resolution and drags behind the S3 IS with its 1.6 fps in burst mode.