A friend asked me to suggest a digital camera for under $400 which would be good for general use including traveling (no, not it’s not Gary this time). And, while I pay attention to the digital camera market in general, I wasn’t certain of a recommendation just off the top of my head.
So, I decided to check a few of the digital camera websites which I regularly read. My first stop was at the Digital Camera Resource and, conveniently, they have a Digital Camera Holiday Buyers Guide (including a section on under-$400 cameras).
To their credit, the DC Resource folks chose a wide variety of cameras to encompass just about any camera need; however, that also meant that many of their picks weren’t suitable for this scenario. For instance, while several of the sub-$400 picks are 4 megapixels & 5 megapixels cameras, some of them were just 3.x megapixels — sure, they had some extended movie modes and such, but I’d rather use a camcorder for taking movies.
Two cameras that stuck out — primarily for having at least 4 megapixels — were the Canon PowerShot A95 and the Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH. But, before comparing the two, I also decided to also check Digital Photography Review for their take.
While they didn’t have a guide with specific picks, they do have a list of their Top 20 cameras (determined by user click-throughs per camera). Looking down the list, I could tell that users of the site had good taste in cameras — three out of the top four cameras were digital SLRs in the range of $1000 (or more). The one camera of the four which wasn't a D-SLR? It was the Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH. And, the Canon PowerShot A95 followed closely behind.
Looking over the two cameras, here’s how they compare:
- Image Size: 5 megapixel (A95) vs 4 megapixel (SD300)
- Zoom: 3x (A95) vs 3x (SD300)
- LCD Screen: 1.8" (A95) vs 2.0" (SD300)
- Included Memory: 32 MB (A95) vs 16 MB (SD300)
- Battery requirements: 4 x AA (A95) vs proprietary lithium-ion (SD300)
- Price: $293 including shipping (A95) vs $356 including shipping (SD300)
So, it looks like the A95 wins on image size, included memory and price. And, I also give it the edge on batteries — while some may not mind a lithium-ion battery, they can be much more expensive than regular AA batteries. And, if needed, it’s easy to pick up another set of AAs while traveling.
Considering that, is there any reason to consider the SD300? Well, the SD300 is part of Canon’s thin & stylish ELPH line (see also the pictures in DC Resource’s review). If they were the same price, it might be a harder choice; but, in my mind, the larger image size along with the lower price would make the A95 the camera I’d go for.
(Though I’d probably go for the A95, I’ll consider both paths for the remainder of this entry.)
Buying the Camera
PriceGrabber is a handy website for comparing product prices across the web and here’re the respective pages for the PowerShot A95 and the SD300 Digital ELPH.
It might be tempting, then, to just buy from the retailer with the cheapest price. However, some online retailers are more reputable than others — and that’s where ResellerRatings comes in handy. Much in the same way that PriceGrabber compares online retailers on price, ResellerRatings compares them based on customer service and reliability. And, starting from the cheapest listed, I looked over the retailers listed for each camera’s entry at PriceGrabber. I found that the retailers with the lowest prices along with above-par service for each camera were BestPriceAudioVideo for the A95 ($293 including shipping) and BuyDig.com for the SD300 ($356 including shipping).
Though each camera comes with a starter memory card of either 32 MB or 16 MB, neither is particularly useful. At around 1.4 MB for a full-resolution fine-quality photo, even the 32 MB card can only hold a little over 20 photos. Fortunately, spare memory cards are fairly reasonably priced.
And, for memory, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Crucial — their prices are good and they include free 2nd-day FedEx as well. Each camera uses a slightly different memory card type; but, a 256 MB card should be adequate in either case. For the A95, you’d need a CompactFlash memory card, of which Crucial has a 256 MB card for $33. And, the SD300 uses SD cards, of which Crucial has a high-speed 256 MB card for $43.
The A95 uses regular AA batteries and a high-speed charger could save some money on buying fresh batteries each time. The Imaging Resource has a very positive review of the Maha/PowerEx C-204W charger — he even calls it “My new favorite AA Charger”.
Among other goodies, this charger has no wall-brick (just a regular two-prong cord) and it has automatic overcharge-protection to provide only a trickle-charge once the batteries are full. And, as Imaging Resource mentions at the bottom of their review Thomas Distributing has some good prices on C-204 charger/battery combos (about $40 for the charger + 4 AAs).
In the case of the SD300, it uses a proprietary battery. And, though you can’t buy spares at your supermarket, there are generic versions of Canon’s battery which are a bit cheaper. Though stores such as BestPriceAudioVideo and BuyDig are good for cameras in general, I often turn to B&H Photo for accessories.
B&H isn't as cheap as the other guys on cameras, but they have a great selection on accessories and they aren’t priced badly. For instance, B&H sells the SD300 for $369 + shipping (compared with $356); but, if you scroll down that page, you’ll see many of the accessories offered. Among them, the official Canon-brand
battery is $50 but a generic version from Power-2000 is $30.
The respective totals would work out something like this:
- A95: $293 (camera) + $33 (memory) + $40 (batteries/charger) = $366
- SD300: $356 (camera) + $43 (memory) + $30 (spare battery) = $429
The A95 has a higher resolution (5 vs 4 megapixels) along with a lower price ($293 vs $356) than the SD300. And, the use of standard AA batteries may also be easier to deal with than a specialty Canon battery. Both of these cameras are competent but I think I would still lean towards the A95.