What is the best digital PHS camera?

After a couple of months of testing, the results are in.

I've attempted to wrestle with this issue on this blog before, but with unsatisfying results. PHS (Push Here Stupid) cameras can be tricky, for a number of reasons. A few years ago, my sister gave Julia a Sony, that new fancy digital camera with all sorts of bells and whistled. It took amazingly good photographs. But cameras in the same line that I've looked at later don't take photographs that are nearly as good. Why? In my opinion, because they are made by Sony. It seems to me that Sony is great at coming out with wonderful product that they then replace with their own lower quality knockoffs. I'd bet a lot of companies do that, but I've been particularly burned with what I think is this particular strategy with Sony before. I simply avoid their products these days.

That may have been the case with the camera, which I shall not mention, that we got for Amanda several months ago; lost of people recommended it, but it was crap. It took lousy pictures. I suspect the specific submodel was a knockoff of itself.

But there is one PHS camera that seems to consistently be of higher quality, and that takes good pictures: The Panasonic Lumix line of cameras, which are all made with a Leica lens. If you look at them, though, do make sure that the one you are looking at is really made with the Leica lens, just incase they pull a Sony.

There are a lot of models. The ZS20 has high light sensitivity and a 20x optical zoom. The DMC-GF3KK is very small. Some models are image stabilized. The DMC models tend to be higher end and are very well regarded.

Months ago, Ana told me to just get the DMC-LX5. I don't know why, but I didn't listen. I regretted it.

There are a gazillian kinds out there, and unfortunately most camera shops I've been in lately have only two or three models.

Until other manufacturers commit to using ONLY excellent optics in ALL of their cameras, just stay away from them.

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Canon is, I think, doing the same with their PowerShots--that is, making knock-offs of their better models. Was looking to upgrade cameras, but they're lighter, feel flimsier with all the plastic, the view finder is smaller and less easy to peer through (I use that instead of the LCD screen to preserve batteries while on long trips).

I would like to upgrade but every time I handle one in the store I think, "If they're making the outside, which I can see, cheaper, what have they done to the optics and all the other things I can't see?".

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 27 Nov 2012 #permalink

I've had good luck with Canon and currently have an S95. I am not a fancy pants photographer type but my side business requires I take lots of pictures, usually of myself, so one feature that Canon offers that isn't standard on most cameras (point and shoot or otherwise) is the option for a timer that takes 10 shots in a row which makes it easier to get a shot where I'm not making some strange expression. It turns out to be a nice feature for group shots too. It's great when we are trying to get the dogs in the shot.

Consumer reports currently has it as the 3rd best rated and the area where it does least well is in "ease of use" which is fine with me. If I'm going to sacrifice anywhere, that's where I'd choose.

Yeah, that Canon looks pretty good. But, I was advised by a LOT of people to get a Cannon, because they had great experiences with it, etc. and we ended up getting the latest in the Canon PowerShot ELPH line, and it was a train wreck. I could draw better pictures. I think Daniel is probably right. The S95 is not a low end camera, I think it is close to 400 bucks retail, and is probably very much worth it. I tend to doubt it will be the one you see at Target or Best Buy, though.

Here's my earlier review: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/11/27/which-digital-camera/

And do note that I commented at the time: "I think I’ve decided that the Canon is perfect for Amanda while the Lumix is perfect for me. I wasn’t getting myself one, but just so you know."

By the way, I made myself very happy by getting (as a present I asked for) nice Nikon 50 mm lens for my Nikon DSLR. I think my old Zoom, which had seen a LOT off field work and stuff, has stopped working properly and was never better than "pretty good" to begin with.

The lens is everything.

Having had a couple of Canon cameras crap out on me not too long after warranty, (and by the way never buy an extended warranty from a third party they are a complete fraud. They find some minor scratch and claim your camera was "damaged" and therefore they will not pay.)
I switched to Lumix DMC ZS1. It has a good wide angle lens and a better zoom than the old Canon. I bought two - one for back up and so far they have been great. I am not sure the photos are way better than the Canon but the Leica lens is good and I use the pictures in glossy publications. They have also not gone wrong yet, which is a big plus. They have been so reliable I have no reason yet to go for the more modern versions with 20 times zoom instead of 12, which would useful for wildlife.
I am also very impressed with the go pro Hero - a new toy. The extreme wide angle is only good for a few shots, but the quality is excellent. I got it for underwater, but find I use it for far more than that. Unlike most people I am mainly using it for still shots.

Well, I'm a dedicated DSLR-user, which you've probably figured out from getting deluged with my pix on your Facebook news feed, Greg; but my significant other had her whirl with SLRs back before we met, and decided that that kind of photography isn't her cup of tea.

Partly on my advice, I'm ashamed to say, she bought a Canon Powershot S2, which would allow her to take better than average photographs on her many trips around the world. Sad to say, the Canon died on the first day of her first three-week birding excursion to Alaska, and she swore she'd never own another Canon product. The tour leader, OTOH, was using the Panasonic Lumix equivalent (I disremember the exact model number) , and his camera performed flawlessly. When she got home she consigned the Canon to the trash, bought the Panasonic model that had worked so well for Rick, and never looked back.

She takes wonderful photographs with that camera, which is by now several years old. It's been to the Arctic, the Antarctic, Alaska, Ecuador (twice), Peru, Costa Rica (twice), Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, and Australia (also twice), and never failed her once. It takes excellent bird photographs with its 15X zoom, superb close-ups in its macro mode, and terrific landscapes. The photographs she shows me come straight out of the camera, with no post-processing beyond the occasional crop and resizing.

I'd recommend Panasonic Lumix models to anyone who wants to make excellent photographs of almost any kind of subject without going through the effort (and expense!) of DSLR photography.

By Pete Moulton (not verified) on 29 Nov 2012 #permalink

Greg, yes that is the one. It is fun, and the images are very sharp, but it is a fish-eye lens.

Does it go underwater, and if so, how far (without being destroyed, that is. I'm sure it would "go" to the deepest abyss!)

I work part time in the audio/tv dept of a major store, and we had some training on Panasonic cameras a little while ago (I'm actually a tv specialist, but it was useful anyway).
The Lumix series use Leica lenses but Panasonic is fine with saying that these lens are actually made in a Panasonic factory, but under the supervision of Leica staff. Yes , they are Leica approved, not made by Leica itself.
My wife was really impressed by the Z25 she borrowed from work, and I've been impressed by the DMC-S3 I bought for my daughter - for around £50, it was excellent value. They also so one you can kick across the room (the rep did this and we all winced) - it one of their extra tough models. Panasonic actually haven't made cameras for all that long, so it's good to see them so highly regarded so quickly.
I'm sure that most brands wil do one that's right for a particular customer, it's just finding it - and it's an expensive way of finding out if yours is right or not.

Greg I think the standard housing which it comes with is for 100 feet which is for me is more than enough. However there is a third party housing which I also have - they take the same housing remove the Hero standard clear lens which is is spherical, and glue on a flat lens which people say gives better underwater shots. I have been using that lens snorkeling so far and have only taken one video and few stills, it takes good pictures, but I don't have anything very interesting to show for it yet. It is small enough you can take it along without it being a production. For snorkeling I have it on a short stick for easy pointing - I will be extending that so I can hold it down closer to things. One of the reasons I like it is you can set it to take pictures every 1,5, 10 or 20 seconds.
This way I can hoist the camera to the top of the mast and not have to go up myself for masthead shots.

nice informative post, i was also going through hell lot of questions when i was about to buy a my first digital camera, finally i bought Olympus SZ-14 Digital Camera, it's actually pretty good for starter's come's with 14 megapixel and 20x zoom more than enough for jumping in to photography. i bought it online through harvey norman, i would recommend you as it is has good pixels, better zooming and its lasting as long as you treat it good :) and if you are from pacific i would recommend you to get it from here as i did