Thursday, December 6, 2007

Shopping Spree at B&H Photo (and an impromptu digital camera buyer's guide)

With the holiday season almost upon us, we are introducing a new segment for those busy shoppers out there called "Shopping Spree". In this segment we will be going through the cameras at a particular retailer and posting the ones that might be of interest because of their prices or features. And if you find these helpful, please feel free to "tip us" by making your purchases through our blog. For those who are not interested in shopping, be sure to check today's edition of the Photography Soup, and catch up with any previous posts you may have missed by browsing through our week by week summaries.

Today's shopping spree will take place at B&H Photo. Please note that prices and availability are as of the time of writing of this post, and will likely change at some point :) Please note that we are going through the list alphabetically, the cameras are not listed in order of preference :) If we were, the "Hello Kitty SuperMegaIS" would have been listed first ;-)

And a disclaimer before we get started: Everything in this post that is not a fact, it is my opinion ;-)

Digital Cameras
An entry-level camera that also allows its user some room for growth is the Canon A560 at $128. I personally recommend getting this, instead of any of the A4xx-series. And if you don't mind spending an extra $27, consider the A570 IS because it adds image stabilization to its 4x optical zoom lens. Completing a very competitive trio of A-series cameras is the Canon A720 IS at $196, with a 6x optical zoom IS lens.

While there's a number of Canon Elph digital cameras (SD, Ixus, Ixy), the one that has intrigued DSLR users appears to be the SD870 IS, along with its predecessor, the SD800 IS. Both start at 28mm wide (35mm equivalent of course), and that is something we all have to thank Panasonic for forcing the issue with their FX-series 28mm wide cameras. The prices are $305 and $295 respectively. As it is very typical with Canon cameras, the previous model is kept around, and it creates a dynamic duo of a current model and a previous model. Although in this case the price difference is quite small.

Sadly there's only one Canon non-DSLR that offers RAW, and that camera is not a big favorite amogn some of the fans of the original G-series. And they do have some valid points, the new G7 and G9 are GINOs, they are not old-school G-series. GINO being G-series In Name Only :) However, when you evaluate the Canon G9 on its own, you may find that it is a very capable camera for what it is, not for what it is not or what it could have or should have or ought to have been. Currently the Canon G9 goes for $450.

At the risk of turning this into the Canon Show, we have one last Canon, the long-zoom Canon S5 IS at $345. The prices for the long and extra long zoom segment have collapsed, this camera made its debut at $500 not so long ago. Part of it of course is zoom ratio pressure as the S5 IS it "just" 12x while the newer ones from The Others (a "Lost" reference?) are at 18x and 15x. Oh, why don't we just glue on a telescope and get over it with it :) ("it" being the new zoom ratio wars).

And now we jump to the Casio aisle. While the EX-V7 and V8 sounds very cool on paper, I encourage everyone interested in them to first read the reviews and look/compare the sample pictures. A 7x folded optics lens is the definition of a compromise :) The 10mp 1/1.8" Casio cameras, more specifically the EX-Z1080 and the EX-Z1050 are quite tempting at $210 each. Available in multiple colors for those who want to match them with their laptop, cell office, or outfit, they seem to be a nice bang for the buck. For example, take a look at the Z1050 review at dcresource.

There's more from Casio to look into, for example the new EX-Z1200SR which is the 1G stabilization from Casio, but it costs $115 and has more ants on the sensor (oops, megapixels). There's also some beautiful-gadget looking EX-S series and 1/2.5"-based EX-Z series. The EX-Z77 at around $162 is another possibility for a bang for the buck camera.

Now we jump to the Fuji aisle where we find a camera that may be the breakaway hit of this holiday shopping season, partly thanks to Fuji adding a dual SD/xD drive in all their new digital cameras. The camera in question is the Fuji Z10fd, which sells for around $150 and is available in many fashionably trendy colors. This camera was designed with the fashionably conscious in mind, so it may make a great gift at this price. If you are in-love with the xD card or SuperCCD, the older Fuji Z5fd chocolate brown looks so edible :) Of course we know that we shouldn't be eating our cameras!

Hot off the heels of a highly recommended dpreview review, the Fuji F50fd sells for $230, and it includes free Fujifilm SC-FXA03 Fitted Case.

A bit closer to the roots of the now legendary (and perpetually out of stock) Fuji F31fd is the Fuji F40fd at $200. This camera is closer to the F20 feature-wise than the F31fd, but it features an 8mp sensor instead of the 12mp sensor in the F50fd, a choice that has upset a number of loyal 6mp SuperCCD "magic sensor" fans.

Fuji seems to be determined to make a comeback, because their prices are very competitive. Consider the lowest-priced new camera that starts at 28mm wide, the Fuji F480 that costs just $130. It certainly provides a very interesting alternative if you were considering cameras at that price range. As always of course, be sure to check reviews and compare and contrast. What's acceptable for one person, may be unacceptable for another.

The Fuji S700 was a camera that a few months ago was one I considered a value model for those who want a big zoom but want to spend as little as possible. However, with the near collapse of the long zoom prices, the S700 is now at $190. I would recommend getting one that has some form of image stabilization instead. The "fun zoom" cameras are quickly dropping under $250, and the extra $30-$50 for the addition of the IS feature are well worth it in my opinion.

Say goodbye to the HP digital cameras as we know them by adding one to your collection ;-) Of all the available models, we semi-randomly pick the HP M547 at $100 even.

At $211, the Kodak Z712 IS is an interesting alternative to look at if you are interested in a long zoom on a budget. It costs slightly less than the trio of "fun zooms", and about $20 more than the IS-less Fuji S700 (aka S5700). As always, compare and contrast features, samples, and reviews. Also the newer version, the Kodak Z812 IS at $239 might be of interest.

The two "older" Kodak V-series camera at 8mp and 10mp are potentially bang for the buck models. We are talking about the V803 (golden dream) (who comes up with these names?) for $150, and V1003 (cosmic blue) for $165. Also available in a wide variety of other fashionably trendy colors.

For this segment, we would like to request everyone except for our Platinum Members to page down. If you are not a platinum member, please page down! Okay, now that they have all paged down, we have two models that are ideally suited for our platinum members, the Leica M8 silver chrome and the Leica M8 black, at $5500 each. (In case it sounded a bit strange, this paragraph is an homage to the Colbert Report).

And now we visit the Nikon Coolpix aisle, where the Nikon P5100 shines above all the other shiny Coolpixies. A camera that a number of people wanted to see "grow up" a bit and add RAW, is still an interesting alternative at $320 and free shipping at the moment.

Nikon also attempted an "affordable" 28mm wide P&S camera, partially inspired by the P5x00 series. We are talking of course about the Nikon P50, at the tempting price of $180 and free shipping.

Nikon has a number of sub-compact/ultra-compact cameras that try to compete with the Canon Elphs and the Sony T-series. Here is one of them at $150, the Coolpix S200.

Olympus has a wide assortment of Stylus models that would take a week to sort through. Here are a couple that may stand-out: The new Stylus 830 with sensor-shift stabilization at $250 and available in many colors, the
Stylus 790SW at $250 (please note that this model is not as "shockproof/waterproof" as the previous model (770SW)).

Next we jump to the "appliance maker" section, where we find Panasonic's cameras. The Lumix LX2 at $370 continues to be an intriguing option, despite the well documented issues. Just like a win cures all problems in sports, a low(er) price removes purchase objections among camera buyers :)

The Panasonic LZ7 is a bang for the buck type of camera for $169 and of course as always be sure to check reviews and sample pictures. I don't want to sound like a broken record by repeating this over and over :)

Panasonic has a number of FX-series models featuring 28mm wide lenses and MegaOIS. There are so many of them we got dizzy trying to pick some, so it is your homework assignment to pick one ;-) (not that anyone is reading this)

Not a "fun zoom" but if you want a 12x superzoom-IS with RAW support, you have to take a very long hard look at the $250 Panasonic FZ8. Quite possibly the last in line of a successful line of mid-range FZ-series superzooms, it has its share of trade-offs, but look at the price! It's $250 :)

In a segment abandoned by SLR-priority manufacturers we find the Panasonic FZ50 at $466. Time causes price drops, and the lower the price, the more tempting this camera will look. Why? Because it's negatives will be more easily forgiven at $400 than at $800 :)

The most practically unique of Pentax's P&S cameras is the waterproof W30, which strangely did not get updated with the other X40 cameras. The price is $235 before a $30 mail-in rebate, but it has an internal lens, so be sure to check the samples and reviews if that's something that might be an issue for your needs.

There are dozens of Samsung cameras, we are running out of juice, so we will only spotlight a couple: The S850 at $150 - an interesting attempt to provide alternative to the Canon A-series, something that no one has been able to do so far. A half a gigabyte database of travel data sits Samsung L74, which starts at 28mm wide (a good idea for a travellin camera). Price? $230. Of the five 1/1.7x"-ish NV-series models, the Samsung NV15 at $215 might be the best trade-off (perhaps).

Sony's market share grabber model is the Cybershot W55, available in four different fashionable colors. With a slimmed down version of their original W-series, Sony has given up on competing with the powerful Powershot A-series and instead trying to wedge this camera between the ultracompacts and the traditional AA-based cameras. It seems that despite the MemoryStick, it has succeeded! Currently at around $170, with price flactuations depending on the body color.

Quite possibly the most bling-bling camera among the ultra-compacts is the Sony T200. It commands a price of $360 but features a 5x folded optics lens with stabilization. Sony has also given up on competing one-on-one with the Canon Elph/Ixus/Ixy series, and instead is using the T-series and the slimmer W-series as a alternatives. There's also about half a dozen other T-series models to consider. Consider it reader homework to figure it out ;-)

The Battle of the Fun Zooms
There are three prominent fun zooms at the moment. The Panasonic TZ3 which broke open the segment and carved it its niche, and its two competitors from the two market leaders, the Canon SX100 IS ($255 for the black finish), and the Sony H3 ($280). Demand appears to be pushing the TZ3 price up, at least at B&H where it is currently at $280. It can be found for $250 or so at other retailers, but it depends on when and where you check. Meanwhile Canon seems to be getting upset that they haven't been able to take over the segment, so they are doing the one thing that can shift things around quickly: dropping the price :)

The Battle of the 18x Super Zooms
Fuji's entry in this arena is the S8000fd, which got back to back reviews from dpreview and Imaging Recourse. Currently priced at $320, a long way down from the starting point of $500. Fuji is the only one from this list that does not support RAW (and it uses a standard sensor, not a SuperCCD sensor).

Olympus has two entries in this segment, the SP-560 UZ and the SP-550 UZ. The SP560 costs $400 at the moment, while the SP550 is at $300 flat. Quite a generation gap in prices, which makes it more interesting, because the Fuji and Panasonic models are priced in-between, closer to $350 than $300 or $400.

Panasonic's entry, the one that forced the price to drop because it came in at $400, is the Panasonic FZ18, sitting squarely at $350, right in-between the two Olympus models.

On the Canon side of the aisle, the 30D, body only, is offered at the price of $900. With the Canon 40D launching and in good supply, the 30D is becoming more affordable. Of course it's up to you to decide whether you want the new features in the 40D, and whether the price difference justifies them.

Competition has pushed down the prices of the general purpose DSLRs to new lows, and you can get the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (400D), body only, for $540. Think about it, a 10mp Canon DSLR for almost $500. Wow! Imagine if someone said that in the forums two years ago what kind of reaction it would elicit.

On the other hand, a brand new 35mm full frame DSLR has never been more affordable, the Canon 5D is stabilizing price-wise at $2200 for the moment. I'm sure you have seen the rumors of a Canon 5D Mark II, but how many pictures can you take with a rumor? :)

And now it's time to visit the Nikon aisle. Just like the Canon 30D maybe the bang for the buck camera for the hardcore photographer, the same can be said for the Nikon D80. Body only this camera is available for $782 at the moment, and slots in nicely between the D40/D40x and the D200/D300. Yes, we can all see there is a big gap between the two duos, and that's why some people speculating that we might see a D90 in 2008.

The bang for the buck Nikon mount DSLR for the $500 buyer is Nikon D40 with the 18-55 DX lens. Those who are interested in using older lenses, be sure to check because the D40/D40x want lenses with a focus motor. Infact this camera is not even $500 anymore, it has dropped to $480.

Of course the most buzzworthy DSLRs of the season are the dynamic duo of the Nikon D3 and
Nikon D300, at $5000 and $1800 and both back-ordered at this very moment. One thing that we did learn from the Nikon D3 excitement is that noise trumps megapixels, which might have been a mild but pleasant surprise to some.

Also trying to generate some buzz but eclipsed by the brightness of the Nikons above is the Olympus E3, at the mid-range-price of $1700. Note that I said "mid-range price", not "mid-range DSLR". So please don't be offended :)

It has been common practice with Olympus to make their two-lens kits the most bang for the bang kits of their DSLR line-ups, so it's no surprise that the E410 with the new two lens kit is $585. This is a really compact DSLR, and the first perhaps (okay, second to the E400) to really showcase the smaller form factor Olympus promised when they launched the Four Thirds system two hundred camera-years ago :)

In the same spirit, but a bit more grown-up and with sensor shift stabilization among other things is the Olympus E510 two-lens kit. Same lenses, but obviously not the same price. This one costs $655 at this very moment. Quite an interesting trade-off if you compare and contrast with the Canon and Nikon "equivalent" offerings.

Similar to the L1 in competitive pricing, the $1300 Panasonic L10 w/ Leica lens is not for everyone. It does not compete directly on price and features with the other mid-range-price and mid-range-features DSLRs, but for those who do want it for what it is and what it offers, it's right there for the taking :)

Quite possibly the biggest bang for the buck DSLR of all time is the Pentax K10D - especially for those who don't mind submitted the $100 Pentax mail-in rebate and getting it at an after-rebate price of *gasp* $600. While it is not have the same features as the Canon 40D or the Nikon D300, can anyone really make a case that those two cameras are two to three times better than the K10D? Even the most hardcore Canon and Nikon fans will have a hard time making a case for that. (And here's a secret: When we reveal our annual awards, the K10D will be one of the recipients).

For those who hate rebates, the Samsung version, the GX10 is available for $650, no rebates.

Another bang for the buck DSLR is the K100D Super with the 18-55 DA lens for $400 after a $100 mail-in Pentax rebate. While this camera "lacks" in megapixelation (6mp), it has sensor-shift stabilization - which may not be as effective as some other competitors, but a two-stop advantage is better than a zero-stop advantage - I think. The price is so good it's currently out of stock.

Sony's entry in the mid-range DSLR segment is squarely at $1500: The Alpha A700 with the 18-70 DT lens. As you can see the Sony-Minolta kit lens is slightly "longer" than the CaNikons.

If you prefer a sub-$1000 Sony DSLR, the Alpha A100 with the 18-70 DT lens is the best value at $650. Price-competitive with the Nikon D40X and Canon Digital Rebel XTi (400D).

Tired of all those colorless Bayer sensored DSLRs? :-) Toss them out the window and get a Sigma SD14 for $1140 :-0)


henryp said...

Thanks for your store tour and review. We're glad you enjoyed your self.
Henry Posner
B&H Photo-Video

1001 noisy cameras said...

Thanks for putting up with my noisy virtual stroll through the store :-)

It was supposed to be a short 2-3 page post, but I couldn't stop once I got started.