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MattTomCarl Aug 10, 2010 1:50 PM

Best image quality for $400 or less
The title of this post says it all: I want a camera with which I can produce the best possible images (of what I'll tell you in a minute) for $400 or less. It's obviously a tall order, but note that of course I'm not expecting DSLR-like results. I typically take pictures of:
(1) fast and/or erratically moving subjects (read: my two-year-old son)
(2) small subjects and/or subjects whose fine detail I want to capture. In particular, this means things like flowers, plants, and food.

Other things that I would like in a camera:
(a) Ideally, I'd like something that does decently well in low(ish) light conditions.
(b) Good auto mode for snapshots but also manual control over focal length, aperture, etc.
I don't really care about size or weight.

Based on what I could find in this forum and elsewhere, three good options seem to be:
Canon PowerShot S90
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
Samsung TL500/EX1

Based on the desiderata that I list: (i) Can you think of anything else I should consider? (ii) What do you think I should get? Thanks very much for your help. -Matt

mtclimber Aug 10, 2010 2:09 PM

My vote goes for the Samsung TL-500/EX-1 camera. It is a great camera and has more flexibility.

Here is a link to one of my EX-1 photos:

Sarah Joyce

MattTomCarl Aug 11, 2010 5:54 AM

Thanks for the suggestion, mtclimber--that photo does look really good.

I have to admit I find it surprising that Samsung makes a camera of that level of quality, but the proof is in the pudding as they say.

Anyone else?

LTZ470 Aug 11, 2010 7:43 AM


We own several and they are all good in their respective sound like you want to compare IQ yourself and get ideas from others...Comparometer:

Image Quality is quite good on:
S90 and the FZ35 up to ISO800
ZS7 can do ISO400 reasonably well

But from what Dustin and Shoturtle are discussing about the E-PL1 at around $400 USD I would give it a close look as it will surpass any of the above in for yourself though, as seeing is believing...I think you really can't beat that deal for DSLR like Quality and they actually have a 70-300mm(?) zoom lens that will adapt to it also and give you equivalent 600mm zoom factor...

Heck they even have me looking at it

MattTomCarl Aug 11, 2010 10:55 AM

Thanks for the suggestion. I seem to be looking in the wrong place, though--the lowest price I can find on the E-PL1 is $469. I could go a bit over $400, but $70 over is pushing it. Did I miss a better deal somewhere else?

Tullio Aug 11, 2010 12:26 PM

I haven't seen the EPL1 going for less than $510, so be careful. Check the seller's reputation first.

IMO, the perfect camera does not exist, no mater what. Each brand/model has its positives and negatives. Make a priority list. If say size is the most important feature, you automatically eliminate quite a few options. If low light performance is at the top, then the list changes quite a bit. You get my point.

algold Aug 11, 2010 12:31 PM

Sarah, first of all I have to say, that I haven't used Samsung, most likely this is a very good camera, but the image in your link doesn't really show this.
The EXIF data in you shot show 1/45", f/2.8, ISO160 taken late in the morning (if the clock is correct) and lit with what looks like a north facing window on a bright day. And we are looking at a low res image, which hides lots of image imperfections. IMHO just about any modern camera can take a decent pic in these conditions. To really show what a camera can do, it would be better to provide an image of a moving subject at ISO400, better yet above that, and to include a 100% crop.
Best regards,

mtclimber Aug 11, 2010 2:02 PM


I certainly agree with you. However, I was not attempting to compete in any competition. Instead I grabbed a photo from my files, which was adequate for the purposes of our discussion.

Unfortunately with a severely disabled husband, I simply do not get out as much as I used to for the purposes of shooting test photos.

Sarah Joyce

MattTomCarl Aug 12, 2010 10:59 AM

Tullio, your advice is well-taken. I tried to list some such priorities in my original post. It's most important for me to be able to take clear pictures of moving subjects (which are relatively close) and clear pictures displaying fine detail of small objects (e.g. flowers). All things being equal, I prefer not to use a flash. Probably no one camera is best for each of these tasks, but I would like to get the camera that, subject to my budget constraints, performs those tasks *on balance* better than any other. I hope that's informative enough to be helpful.

Tullio Aug 12, 2010 6:34 PM

For moving objects, any DSLR will most likely outperform P&S as they offer a faster AF system. However, the gap has been drastically reduced in the recent past and the DSLR advantage is becoming less and less evident in this area. As for shooting small objects, most P&S offer excellent macro capabilities and produce fine images with plenty of details. The problem with many P&S is with their inability to reproduce the detail when shooting landscape. I recently purchased a Panasonic ZS6 (12x zoom). It takes great macro shots but you can't crop any landscape shot too much because the image then looks like a Monet painting.

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