Discussion about
Dignan17

July 30th 2014 6:30 pm

The best digital camera in auto mode?

My wife and I are very excited to be having a baby, and I'm starting to think it would be nice to have something a step up from our Canon Powershot S100. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a fantastic camera, but it's still just a point and shoot.

So we're looking at digital cameras, but we have a requirement. See, we're having a kid, I run my own business, and she's starting a new job. We are not blessed with an abundance of time, and frankly we're not even that interested in becoming photography experts. Because of that we're hoping to find the camera that takes the best photos on auto mode. I want to leave that dial parked and just take some photos.

Other than that, our only other hope is to keep it a little bit on the inexpensive end. Anything over $1K is out, and below $700 would be highly preferred. It doesn't have to be the latest and greatest, so I'd take the RX100 M2 over the M3, for example.

What should I be looking at? Should I stick with what I have?

(BTW, my buddy is an awesome photographer - often for NPR Music - so I'm sure he'll help us document our little one now and then. Check out his site here: www.adamkissick.com )

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40 replies
Guillaume123

I have an Olympus SP-510UZ that I have had for a number of years. I am very happy with it.
I almost always use it on auto.
It is £40 on Amazon, but it was more expensive than that when I bought it.
Guillaume
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meticulous

I'm a dad who loves to take pictures of his little ones, and knows a decent amount about cameras. Brief conclusions:

- Many pictures will be indoors in dim light of moving kids

- Thus there are only two realistic options: (1) use the flash or (2) get a camera with a giant sensor

- I got a NEX 5N which was somehow the worst of both worlds. It's a great camera, but the APS-C sensor is too small to use in dim light with moving kids *without* the flash, and the flash is actually too powerful, and tends to blow out (unless I fiddle) indoor pictures if used

- So I'd recommend either a full-frame camera so you don't need to use the flash, sticking with your current point-and-shoot, or getting a point-and-shoot that handles indoor flash photography very well

- Personally, I've concluded that a point-and-shoot with flash is the best option, the key being that such a camera is on me at all times. What do I use now? Samsung Galaxy Zoom2 for $480. LOVE IT!!!

- If I were to do it again, I would swap the NEX 5N for something with full manual controls, because like another post said, you might start to really enjoy capturing just the right shot eventually. I would use the Galaxy Zoom2 for every day shooting, and maybe a full frame DSLR for weddings, etc
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Fr33d0m

There are lots of ways to deal with low-light situations and none of them require a larger sensor. If you can adjust the ISO setting, replace the lens with a faster one or simply adjust your aperture, you can shoot great low-light images. That said, a digital camera is more susceptible to noise in low light situations. Better cameras compensate better for this issue, and it might be true that a larger sensor would have less noise, but finding a sub $700 full-frame camera will be a challenge.

No matter what, movement in low light generally results in blurring if you don't use a flash.
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knightracer

I bought an RX100 III to replace my Powershot S95. I'm very happy with it so far. The picture quality is a definite improvement.
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Dignan17

You'd say that when comparing auto modes?
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knightracer

There are two auto modes on the RX100. The pictures are better, but I don't know if most would agree the difference is worth buying a new $800 camera. The short zoom on the RX100 is probably the biggest negative to the camera.
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Whtrbt7

From the information you have listed, it seems like you want a digital camera that can have great results in auto mode that is still potentially small like a point and shoot. As a parent, you'll want to have something that is fairly weatherproof/ saliva proof as well as shock proof. I would suggest an Olympus TG3 or a Panasonic TS5 since they are both built really tough and the auto modes on them are easy as well as beautiful. As a photographer, I tend to use these cameras for something that is pocketable and small while still packing some features my iPhone doesn't have. My son liked the TS5 when he was under 1 because he used it as a teething instrument. Now while I did have really heavy and expensive gear for some of my professional shoots, you can still get great photos out of a point and shoot. Instead of investing in a larger camera, I might suggest a point and shoot oriented workshop that can teach you some things about how to take better photos even with something simple like an iPhone. I would stick with a budget in the sub $500 range. While the RX100 series is a great camera, it still has more buttons and options and your results still might be quite the same as your S100.
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Dignan17

Thanks for the feedback! That's a good idea to take some classes to teach me how far I can take my S100. It would be good to know just how well it can do.
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Whtrbt7

Your s100 is an extremely capable camera as I am sure you are a pretty capable shooter. Sometimes, a little illumination in how to maximize what you have already is all that is needed. 12MP is enough to capture a lot of detail and most of the time, even 8MP on a phone is enough to get some really great shots. If you take a look at how some other brands process JPGs in camera as well as what photos look like out of the supplied lens. Canon sometimes has noisier low light performance while Olympus or Panasonic tend to have less noise in low light but have higher saturation. Sony on the other hand tends to have really sharp photos due to the lenses they use but will suffer in low light performance and have more vivid color. The problem I find with a lot of cameras that also shoot raw is that they expect users to use a program to edit and hence the JPGs come out kind of half baked. Depending on the look you like, you'll end up picking a point and shoot for that look. I would also highly suggest trying the cameras in person as well as take a photo to compare out of camera JPGs. You will probably get your answer pretty quickly when you actually touch the camera.
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marcustyphoon

The RX100 series is a great choice if you're looking for something to fit in your pocket. If you dom't mind something bigger and want higher image quality, the Fujifilm X-A1 is a great value (similar to the Sony a6000). www.amazon.com­/Fujifilm­-X­-A1­-16­-50mm­-Lens­-Black­/dp....

And there's certainly something to be said for an inexpensive DSLR like the Nikon D3200/D3300. You get much faster focusing for action shots, which I imagine is useful as a child grows up.
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adaptable1

Back in 1999 I was in the same position you are in... new baby on the way, new job where I was traveling around the world, and no time/patience for fumbling with photography equipment... but the need and desire to take great pictures easily.

Fast forward to 2014, and I've owned/still own many of the Canon SLR models since the D30 with an arsenal of lenses.... plus 10+ point and shoot cameras and over 100,000 exposures taken in my Lightroom library.

Point is, once you start taking great pictures... it is addicting and once you are addicted, you will use your gear to its limits. I used to start cursing what would have been the "perfect" shot because of slow lenses or ISO noise, and then go out and buy a new camera, lens, flash, tripod, etc. At the end of the day, no one camera or piece of gear will be the catch all for every situation.

My now 13 year old son is probably the most well documented kid of his generation. I've taken pictures on 5 continents, in all kinds of situations from runway models to F1 cars...from the vantage point of tops of buildings, mountain, and forest canopies...of famous people and close friends/family alive and long lost. The only advice I feel rings true is "carry a camera and take a lot of pictures....because one day you'll want to look back at those memories."
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curioussesh

Sony a6000. Sold my D3200 for it and no regrets.
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paperacid3

Have you asked your buddy? I'm sure you trust his personal opinion and advice.
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Dignan17

Very good point, and I will ask him. When I posted the original question he was off photographing the Newport Jazz Festival for NPR Music.
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Fr33d0m

I think you need to refine your requirements, perhaps explain why you need to upgrade and what features you expect to get. Having a baby is fine as a general reason and wanting the best pictures you can get for under $700 is also good generally, but without gaining a bit of knowledge, you really are just throwing your money away.

The problem as piatigorsky has pointed out is that you are wanting to upgrade from a very good point-n-shoot without a real firm set of expectations. At the price level you are looking for, darn near every camera can be expected to be similar on auto. And there really is no comprehensive testing done that would bear out any of the suggestions you are given. As a grandfather who loves shooting pictures of his grand-kids, and as somewhat of a hobbyist, I can tell you that skill is your best next upgrade. And you don't have to become much of an expert to get to a level that will have you venturing off of auto some by the time your child is two. Visit wbclark.smugmug.com for examples of what I'm talking about. Auto is fine for catching them as they are running around, but the best shots are seldom found on auto.

Now I know time is not on your side, but I'm telling you that raising a kid takes time, and precious little of it spent increasing your skill will get you further than a new camera. Spend the $700 on something else, or put it in the bank and visit digital­-photography­-school.com (digital­-photography­-school.com­/digital­-photography...) instead. You'll have to find time to spend with that child when it comes along, may as well start finding some spare time now.
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Dignan17

I get what you're saying, but I should have added one line to the original post: "Or tell me if upgrading the camera won't make a difference."

I tend to think that there might be a difference in the results from different cameras even if they're just in auto mode. You seem to be partly arguing that auto mode is worse that using manual features, which is a no-brainer and something I never disputed.

I don't have any other requirements because that's all I'm looking for. Just whatever will take the best pictures without me having to study photography while I'm knee-deep in diapers.
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Fr33d0m

Auto is not really bad, but it is a series of compromises. What I am really arguing is that the requirement of shooting only in auto pretty much tells me that you have the camera you need. They all are pretty similar in auto. If I read between the lines though, and if I take my own experience to heart, I know that's not really what you are looking for. What you are looking for is to get the best pictures of your child as you can. The right solution to that requirement is not necessarily to change the camera. In fact, you are more likely to be unhappy that you spent the money.
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Fr33d0m

My point better made: www.petermarfleetphotography.com­/do­-you­-need­-an­-ex...
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Dignan17

I understand a lot of the basics you're talking about like composition and good lighting, but I don't have a camera that could make much of a difference in manual mode anyway. That's the weird part about your reply, that you say I should work on my skills using manual settings and not bother with a new camera, when I don't have a camera that can do much of what the article you posted said.

That article's idea of an "amateur camera" is a D80. While I understand that this is an amateur camera relative to what professionals use, it's certainly a nicer camera than what I have. While I like my S100 a lot, it has limitations.
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Fr33d0m

I agree that the example used is using more of a "prosumer" camera, but the point is still valid for your camera. What are the limitations you ave run into?
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Fr33d0m

Not really manual mode so much as aperture priority. There is nothing wrong with manual mode, but you really need to learn the difference between adjusting the shutter speed and adjusting the aperture. Doing things like blurring the background (depth-of-field) can make the picture of the baby more about the baby than the background. To learn about depth-of-field you only need aperture priority. Playing with composition dose not involve any camera settings. The Canon Powershot S100 has both a manual mode and Aperture priority as do many of the camera's mentioned here.
If you looked at the smugmug site I mentioned earlier, you'll see several shots that were taken in aperture priority and many that were taken on auto--sometimes you just don't have the time to play with the settings. You should be able to see a huge difference between the two sets of pictures, and I'd bet most of the ones you like the best were where the aperture was set to blur the background.

As to lighting, I mentioned on one comment that I liked the camera because it gave you the option for an external flash, which is a good thing for pictures of kids in the evening, but the built in flash might be adequate for you. I wouldn't worry about learning much about lighting at the beginning because the basics--no outside pictures around noon, use plenty of light, ... will go a long way. An external flash usually gives you the option of bouncing light off of a ceiling or nearby wall and getting a better--less glaring--picture. But for a newborn you may well wish to avoid the flash for the first few months. Learning about those aperture numbers and what they mean can help you pick a better camera/lens for low light shooting as well.
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paperacid3

Well pointed out!...it also isn't the violin....it's the violinist.
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Fr33d0m

Well to a point at least (don't want to tick off the Stradivarius lovers). You should get something for what you spend and in cameras you should expect better glass, better sensors, more and better features/software. But if you don't shoot anything but auto, much of it is of little use. For the most part better cameras only shoot better pictures if you know how to use them. And if you know a bit about composition and how to use the aperture to control depth-of-field--just those two topics--you can shoot excellent pictures with any camera that gives you enough aperture control.
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adaptable1

You can pick up a Canon EOS M (seen for as low as $250 with the 22mm pancake lens), the 18-55 zoom, and the EOS EF adapter (to use any Canon lens), and stay within your budget. It's the same sensor that is in many of Canon's SLR cameras, yet it's auto mode works like a cellphone camera....point and touch!! Takes great 1080p video as well with silent/hybrid autofocus. The latest firmware addresses all of the early bad review issues. Works great with an Eye-fi...and even has a menu for it specifically. I've taken pictures that equal my 7D, and it takes better video.
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Fr33d0m

I Iike the EOS M because you can attach an external flash and believe me, one of the greatest weaknesses of the point-n-shoots is their internal flashes.
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mahotega

Wow! You helped me so much.
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frankspin

Definitely consider the RX100 line, I am beyond happy with my RX100 (OG model). I will say that you should 100% considering something with built-in WiFi as it makes the process much easier for transferring while away from the computer.
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piatigorsky

Speaking of wifi, for goodness sake don't get the GF6 for the wifi! The wifi on this one is terrible!
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Dignan17

Thanks for the recommendation!

If I can get something cheaper than a WiFi model that's ok. Eye-Fi has worked pretty well for me.
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Fr33d0m

Since you have Eye-Fi, that should be one of your requirements: Supports Eye-Fi.
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Dignan17

Not really. An Eye-Fi works in any camera that uses SD cards. The ones that have specific support for Eye-Fi merely have enough smarts to know when it's transferring photos, and waits to turn the camera back off until those photos have transferred. That's not a huge deal that it's a requirement.
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frankspin

Also should be noted the RX100 offers a good balance of auto and manual controls, so it's why I like recommending them to people. Even better, probably some awesome deals right now for I and II.
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Dignan17

Any links to share? :)
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Mitchellmckenna

I googled around for a bit but honestly Engadget's $378 was the best price I could find: www.engadget.com­/products­/sony­/cyber­-shot­/dsc­-rx10...
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frankspin

My shopping of late has not been in the camera market, but I know when the II came out the I dropped around $100 in price.
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Dignan17

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll have to look at those.
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piatigorsky

I don't quite get it. Basically what you're saying is that you want to upgrade from a point-and-shoot to another point-and-shoot (since you'll be leaving it on auto anyway). How is that a step up in any way?
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Dignan17

Yes, that's what I'm saying. So you don't think a Canon 5D would take better photos on auto than a Nikon Coolpix?
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piatigorsky

Yes it would, if judging by the sensor size alone. The question is, would you be able to subjectively notice the difference (as you say, and as I know from my own personal experience having previously owned one, the S100 is already pretty good)?

I think if you are intending to upgrade, you'll need to consider that most of the price you will be paying is going to go to more flexible and powerful software control on part of the camera itself, and in the case of cameras with interchangeable lenses, flexibility in hardware as well. However, if you are going to leave it on auto, I think this would be a waste of this capability and flexibility (and therefore money). As it stands, the S100 occupies a position where using auto gives quite impressive results without breaking the bank, while also leaving open the option for full manual control — in fact, I upgraded to a Panasonic GF6 not because that I thought the S100 was bad (it wasn't), but because I was shooting in manual mode most of the time anyway, and I wanted more powerful controls on that front.

As for compacts like the Sony RX100 series, again I think the question is would you notice the difference in image quality, and if so, would it justify your cost? If, for the sake of argument, we take the RX100 MII, do you want to spend approx. $500 for 8 more megapixels, a larger sensor, a slightly larger aperture, but a drop in zoom?
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