How to Choose a Compact Camera

by | Jan 15, 2011 | Recommendations, Tips & Tricks | 10 comments

George poked his head into the office. “I’m heading off to Australia tomorrow for the annual ATI Conference” he said. “Would you be the one to ask for a camera to bring along with me?”

Yes, I was the guy to talk to. But what camera would I give him? The old Nikon D70s work well for departmental use, but for someone who doesn’t need the SLR functionalities, is trying to pack light, and would most likely run into difficult lighting situations . . . it just didn’t seem like the best route to take.

But there was another option. Buried for several months, this new idea suddenly sprang to life. GA had always considered purchasing a small, compact camera for occasions such as this, but there had never been a valid reason. This was certainly the excuse we needed!

sx130is_586x186After procuring permission, doing some meticulous research, and deliberating as a department, we came to a conclusion, drove off to the store, and brought back the new member of our department: the Canon PowerShot SX130 IS.

So why did we choose this camera?

  1. Of the thousands of compact cameras to choose from, it wasn’t hard to narrow it down to a few hundred when we chose to go with Canon. Choosing a brand is the first step, and choosing Canon was easy. You can’t go wrong with Canon.
  2. Now we had to decide how much we were willing to pay for it. (I didn’t know you could pay $500 for a compact, say, like the G12!) We decided our budget was $300 or less.
  3. Once this was determined, we had to decide what major components and features we wanted. These were on my list:
    • Solid, durable, not-necessarily-small body
    • 12x or more optical zoom
    • 10 or more Mega Pixels
    • ISO 1600 or more
    • 28mm equivalent focal length or less
    • HD Video
    • Image Stablization
    • Manual controls
    • RAW shooting mode
  4. Then comes the best part: research! I looked over and compared many cameras before finalizing on the best possible option: the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS. It met and even surpassed every criteria (except for the RAW shooting mode which I found compacts don’t usually have these days anyway), and it was even less than $300!
  5. But lastly, you have to make a final decision. From another research source, the PowerShot SX130 IS was suggested. It was cheaper, still met the criteria well enough, and appeared easier to use. I was the one who had to make the decision. Would I go with the more expensive one that I knew was the best? Or would I go with the cheaper one, and hope it would meet our needs? Two major factors played out in the final decision: one, compact cameras depreciate very quickly; and two, money doesn’t grow on trees.

So, as far as I know, George is enjoying the pleasure of packing light and knowing that he doesn’t have to worry about technical difficulties when he whips out his new camera in the land down under.




  1. Robert

    Good research, James! It was so helpful to see the process you went through to settle on this camera!

  2. Benjamin Cahill

    Good research. I have the SX110 IS, and love it, except for the fact that I have broken the AF (sort of works) and given it sensor dust (on a compact?). It has taken some beatings, and has (almost) never let me down (I don’t have an SLR as of now).

    I can spot by several statements that you have not before researched compacts. 🙂

    “I didn’t know you could pay $500 for a compact, say, like the G12!”

    The Gx family is not a consumer line, and is not targeted to consumers.

    “except for the RAW shooting mode which I found compacts don’t have these days anyway”

    The Gx family has RAW out of the box, and you can add it (and many other features) to (practically) any other Powershot using CHDK (

    One more thing–why did you state “10 or more Mega Pixels” as a requirement? I do not see any practical reason for needing more than 4-6 megapixels unless you plan on extensive cropping (which doesn’t really apply with a 10x+ zoom) and/or making wall frescoes.

    All in all, a great post.

    God bless, and have a marvelous week! 🙂

  3. James

    I can’t thank you enough for your excellent comments, Benjamin! You are right about me not knowing much about compacts. 🙂 I didn’t know you could hack compacts so easily either. But could you expound a little more on the Gx family? To whom it is targeted if it is not to consumers? As for megapixels, there is truth in the the fallacy of “the more megapixels the better,” but I tend to say it levels out closer to 10 than it does to 5.

    • Benjamin Cahill

      The Canon Powershot line is the only compact line I know of that is so easily ‘upgradeable’.

      As for the Gx family, features such as physical dials for ISO and exposure comp, raw capture, and a hotshoe designate this as a prosumer compact.

      I disagree on the megapixels argument, but each to his own. 🙂

  4. Matthew

    Thanks for telling us about CHDK! That would have been great if my Powershot hadn’t just died!

  5. Natalie Wickham

    Thank you so much for this helpful post, James! I came across it a while ago when I clicked over here following your comment on my Pajama School blog. Little did I know then that this was exactly the info I would need this week. My camera finally bit the dust and I need a new one ASAP. Normally it takes me forever to research these things, but I decided to just go with your research and get this camera!
    Many blessings!

  6. James Staddon

    That’s great! I’m glad the info was helpful.

    I’m curious, did you go with the less expensive Canon SX130 or the more elaborate SX210?

  7. Natalie Wickham

    I went with the SX130. It just arrived a couple days ago and I’m loving it so far!

  8. Hannah Morrison

    Hi! Just read this post, as I am currently looking into getting an SLR camera, and came to check your blog. While this post is not on SLR cameras, it still interested me. I just bought a new compact camera this year, and chose the Canon Powershot S95. I have found it to work quite well! In your post you wrote about compact cameras not being able to shoot in RAW. the S95 does shoot in RAW, though. Just thought that might interest you…

  9. James Staddon

    Technology is always advancing! Thanks, Hannah; I went ahead and changed the wording in the post to make my comments on RAW not absolute.



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