Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Digital Camera
One for Every Pocket
Team CHIP | 26 September 2011
One for Every Pocket
Small, light and extremely affordable: these cameras are highly capable and surprisingly cheap.
By Anand Tuliani and Francis D'Sa
Every year it’s suspense as to what will the next generation of hardware, laptop, phones and digital cameras have in store. The current generation models are so feature rich that it becomes difficult to predict what’s going to come up. But when the latest models are out, they never fail to win our hearts. The latest digital cameras don’t look very different from their predecessors, but they offer improved performance and a bunch of new and exciting features. What we’ve been lately seeing is the shrink in form factor due to increasing use of lithium ion batteries. Some models are bulky because they still use AA batteries, while some are slim and light enough to be carried in pocket. Despite their compact form, they manage to pack large screens for comfortable viewing and a host of interesting features. Lately even entry-level models feature wide angle lenses that allow you to shoot wide landscapes with great ease. Digital cameras are also moving on to be able to shoot HD videos from standard 640x480 videos. We’re not talking about expensive high-end cameras, but you can get all the features we’ve talked about yet, for as less as Rs 5,500. Cameras have also become more intelligent than before – with improved image processing engines, they can automatically discern settings to capture optimal colors, details and exposure levels. So you don’t necessarily need to know how white balance, aperture, shutter speed and ISO influence image quality. Simply set your camera to Auto mode or select one of the scene modes and you can rest assured you’ll get a great shot. If you want to control the parameters manually, you can resort to the program mode which allows using custom values.
In this roundup we tested 11 digital cameras priced under Rs 7,500. In addition to comparing feature sets, we tested each and every model and found out which model performs the best and the one that offers best value for money.
What I would ideally want is a Canon PowerShot A800 in the shell of the Kodak EasyShare Mini—an ace performer in a pocketable form factor. Kodak got almost everything right with the EasyShare Mini. It’s tiny and still very easy to use. However, photos weren’t clearly exposed and the reproduction of detail was not satisfactory. Even the videos shot with it came out grainy and jittery. On the other hand, the PowerShot A800 amazed us with its brilliant performance. It doesn’t have as many features as some of the other models but the shots it delivered were outstanding, with excellent reproduction of color and detail. It would have been perfect if it had been as compact as the EasyShare Mini or Olympus VG-140. Also, Canon could have thrown in 720p video recording and fun effects such as Miniature, Fisheye, Soft Focus, and so on.
Though the look and compact size of the Olympus cameras did attract me, I would still opt for the Canon PowerShot A1200 for myself. It has a mode dial situated right on the top panel which makes it easy and quick to switch between scenes and different modes, avoiding wasting time searching for the exact feature while a shooting opportunity passes by. Sadly, the camera is a bit on the bulkier side, thanks to the AA batteries that need to be fed into its belly. But on second thoughts, it is easier to buy AA batteries all over the world and I wouldn’t worry about carrying a charger everywhere I take the camera. The use of AA batteries has its benefits as well as disadvantages—AA batteries can be replaced and one can instantly return to shooting pictures without the need to wait for a recharge. But with regular AA batteries, the number of shots you'll get with each set of batteries will vary, making it potentially expensive and wasteful in the long run.
The PowerShot A800 shouldn’t be judged by its plain looks and measly feature set. Its top notch performance and low cost put it at the top position. This 10-megapixel camera uses a pair of AA batteries which makes it bulkier than the compact models that use li-ion batteries. It comes in four color choices, silver, black, red and blue grey. The feature set is also not too great. While most other models offer at least a 28 mm wide angle lens, the A800 has a 37 mm lens with 3.3x optical zoom, so you will face situations where you will have to move quite far away from a subject to make sure it fits in your frame.
The design of the control panel and user interface layout is typical of Canon cameras. The A800 offers four shooting modes (Auto, Program, Scene and Movie) which can be selected with a button. The Auto mode automatically detects the type of scene depending on lighting conditions and the type of subject, and adjusts the exposure parameters accordingly. The Program mode is slightly more advanced, with options to set the ISO speed, white balance, light metering and image resolution manually. The Scene mode offers 11 presets, of which the most handy are Blur Reduction, Low Light, Portrait, Fireworks and Low Shutter. Movie recording is supported at 640x480 with 4x digital zoom, which is again a shortcoming considering most cameras offer 720p recording. But considering its price, this camera is great for those who want a basic point-and-shoot.
On the quality front, this camera defeated all others by a large margin. The reproduction of color and detail was excellent in both indoor and outdoor shots. Even noise was very well controlled in low light at high ISO speeds. Macro images can be shot at a very small distance of 1 cm, and the level of detail captured is outstanding. Video quality isn’t great, but is acceptable enough. The camera comes with a 4 GB SD card and is absolute value for money.
Verdict: A super affordable camera that delivers awesome results.
For: Affordable, excellent performance, very easy to use.
AGAINST: Slightly bulky, low resolution LCD, not very feature rich.