In my last blog entry, I named the Canon SD1100 IS as the reference digicam. That's because it has all the basics: low price, small size, famous brand name, image stabilization, reasonable zoom range, and rechargeable battery. That's nice, but my core point about digicams is that they stem from inevitable technological tradeoffs. Now that we have our reference we can take a look a some other good cameras that make these tradeoffs differently, a design necessity that will make these cameras more appealing to some photographers.
The first camera I want to highlight is less expensive than the SD1100 IS. The Panasonic Lumix LZ8 sells for about $130, and in these troubled economic times that savings of $30-$50 over the Canon will be welcomed.
So, what do you give up with the Panasonic? Well, not much really.
The LZ8 is a little bigger than the SD1100 IS. It is 3.8" wide, while the Canon is 3.5" wide. The Panasonic is 2.4" tall versus 2.3" for the Canon. The biggest difference is that the LZ8 is 1.3" thick while the SD1100 IS is a svelt 0.9" front to back.
For that, you pick up some useful zoom range, the LZ8 extend from 32mm at the wide end to 160mm at the telephoto end. That's better than the Canon in a meaningful way in both areas.
Of course, Panasonic isn't as famous as Canon or Nikon when it comes to cameras, but they aren't exactly unknown. Over the past few years, Panasonic has really gone after the digicam market with a broad a range of cameras as any manufacturer. And, anyway, if you are brand concious take pride in the Leica-branded lens that Panasonic uses.
One area where Panasonic has specialized is image stabilization. While Canon is the inventor of this technology, Panasonic decided long ago that it should be a standard feature, not something reserved for the most expensive models. So, the LZ8 has image stabilization, a rarity at this price point (and a necessity in my view). Canon and many other camera makers still haven't received the memo on this one.
The other sacrifice you make with the LZ8 is that it uses AA batteries. Eventually buying batteries will chew up some of the price savings vis a vis the Canon or another camera with rechargeables. You can buy AA NiMH rechargeables, with a charger for about $17, which is a reasonable alternative (and your $17 will get you 4 batteries, which means you'll have a back up set since the LZ8 only uses 2 AAs). I find that Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeables don't last as long as the Lithium Ion rechargeables in higher-end cameras, but your mileage may vary.
A final note. You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the sensor resolution of either the SD1100 IS or the LZ8 (which for the record is 8 megapixels in both cases). That's because at this stage for average users I don't think higher resolution is a benefit. In fact, some would argue that lower resolution is better. I'll talk more about that when we get to different cameras.
Here is part 1: