I’ve Evolved…to a Point-and-Shoot!

For years, I have been asked: “What camera should I buy?” Invariably, I first determine whether they want just a simple point-and-shoot or the more complex digital single lens reflex (DSLR). Ninety percent of the time, they just want to take photos of their kids. Or of the sites while on vacation. They never want to deal with all the bells and whistles on those fancy-schmancy cameras with its multiple buttons, gizmos, and (shriek!) lenses.  Thus, with a silent groan, I would advise them about point-and-shoot cameras.

I usually suggested the Casio Exilim, which is what I’ve bought my wife. I used to think Casio only made calculator watches in the 1980s.  However, I’ve been somewhat impressed with their point-and-shoot cameras. Most of the Exilim models are small, easy to use, and have a bunch of useful features. Most importantly, unlike most point-and-shoots, they have very little shutter lag between shots. You don’t have to wait for Godot until the next shot is available. They are sold everywhere.  Costco appears to have the best deals.

But I never committed the sin by purchasing a point-and-shoot for myself. I take my photography too seriously and would not lower myself to using such Neanderthal tools. Even the Casio Exilim did not have the complete feature set that I sought. Where is the delicate controlled balance between shutter speed and aperture

 (Jason Schlosberg)

Jocelyn Rose at 6 weeks, photographed with Nikon Coolpix P7000

size to ensure the best tonality, exposure, and bokeh? Where is selective focus, burst mode, and RAW? I couldn’t see myself saying out loud, “Me push this button. Oooohhh, pictuurrre.”

While the camera manufacturers had started a few years ago bridging the amateur-professional gap by developing more powerful point-and-shoot cameras, I merely watched from the sidelines in oblique interest. However, as a new dad, I am now committed to traveling even lighter and photographing more dexterously (i.e., one-handed).

So I began my search. I wanted to find the most robust point-and-shoot on the market. But I also wanted something small enough to fit in my pocket and more affordable than a DSLR.  Since the camera’s major subject would be my newborn daughter, I wanted it to also include video capabilities.

The Panasonic LX5, Canon G12, and Nikon Coolpix P7000 moved quickly to the top of my list. They each met my minimum requirements and had received numerous positive reviews.  Although they are just point-and-shoots, I was happy to find that these cameras allowed for manual, aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes.  It appeared that these point-and-shoot modes are starting to include many of the same capabilities of DSLRs, albeit a much less power and without the ability swap interchangeable lenses.  Considering my purposes, however, such things are not necessary.

The LX5 was noticeably smaller and lighter, but it’s zoom was inferior to its competitors. I realized that zoom also matters, since I would no longer be swapping lenses. So, I decided to look more closely at the Canon and Nikon options by doing what all other tech junkies do when shopping: create a comparison chart.

Factor Nikon Coolpix
Canon G12
Price $399 $495
Width 1.8″ 1.9″
Weight 310 g 401 g
Shutter Lag 210 ms 380 ms
Zoom 7.1x 5x
Image Quality
(DXO Mark Rating)
39.0 47.0
JPEG & RAW Yes Yes
ISO 6,400 3,200
Burst Mode 1.3 fps 2 fps
Macro 2 cm 1 cm
Exposure Length 60s 15s
Noise 147 ISO 161 ISO
Flip-Out Screen No Yes

To make the decision easier, I also listed the factors in the order of my relative interest. It quickly became apparent that the Nikon Coolpix P7000 would be my point-and-shoot camera of choice. With my brand-loyalty and bias towards Canon, I was still torn, but the facts are the facts.  I couldn’t even convince myself to buy the G12 due to the faster burst rate, which would be helpful to photograph a running child, since the speed difference was marginal.

So, I held my breath and pressed “Add to Cart,” finding the camera at my doorstop a few days later.

After taking the camera out of the box, I immediately felt that the camera, although light, was strong. Camera operation, though its buttons and on-screen menus, are all easily accessible and intuitive. While the 10.1 megapixels may be overkill for this type of camera, I am happy that I can take RAW photos when I need to so I can perform more magic in post-processing with Lightroom. The camera also works well in low-light situations. While Nikon advertises that the camera can perform in macro mode as close as .8″ from the subject, I have been unable to come even close to that. The 720p HD video works with a turn of a knob and the press of a button and generates very clear, smooth, and crisp footage. Unlike some DSLRs with video capability (e.g., my Canon 5D Mark II), it has the added benefit of allowing me to autofocus and zoom while recording.

Beforehand, I would use my Canon 5D Mark II, propped with an external flash and a Lightsphere, to get gorgeous photos of my newborn daughter.  However, to capture that fleeting smile, or squishy wake-up face, I would have to dig into my bag, put the flash and light diffuser on, and then find out that it was too late too shoot.  I could have left the camera out and put together, but that would make living room clutter and create marital disharmony.

Now, the Nikon Coolpix P7000 can sit easily and neatly  on the coffee table and the diaper bag.  Its presence is also much less offensive to my wife, who has even found herself leaving her Casio Exilim behind and playing with my new toy.   While I still intend to use my Canon 5D Mark II DSLR as my primary workhorse, the Nikon Coolpix P7000 would be used for more on-the-fly photography when my hands are otherwise full with baby bottles, diaper bags, and pacifiers.  So far, it has been invaluable.

3 Responses to “I’ve Evolved…to a Point-and-Shoot!”

  1. Andy says:

    Jayson: Interesting review. I went through the same analysis in late 2010 and also settled on a P7000 as the first point-and-shoot with an optical viewfinder that might come close to approaching the performance of my Nikon D90 w/18-200 zoom. However, I have been very disappointed with its obstinate refusal to either release the shutter or “zoom” under conditions where there should be no reason to override my decision to take the shot. Have you experienced anything similar? I’m about ready to give up on it and only use the D90 until something better comes along. Andy

  2. Andy, I could be wrong, but believe this may be a universal issue for point-and-shoot cameras, since they usually do not allow manual focus operation. I agree that the forced autofocus does become frustrating and I have experienced it with the Nikon Coolpix P7000 as well. While I appreciate the camera manufacturers’ attempts to help amateurs who are not comfortable with manual operation provided to DSLR users, I would think that some leeway should be provided for these “hybrid” models.

  3. Andy says:

    Interesting theory on autofocus. I’ve actually been thinking I might have a defective camera, or perhaps should search for another firmware upgrade. Thanks for the insight.

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