Don't overbuy when selecting a digital camera is good advice, and here is a good little camera that can do very well so long as you don't need superfine resolution. By that I mean that if you are happy to view your pictures on the computer screen and print them to about 8 x 10 inches - that's quite big enough for me - then this will do very well.
Yet, if you read camera magazines or look for a camera on the Internet you will probably end up with a much more expensive camera. Why? Well, you see these days cameras are defined by the number of pixels in the image sensor, which is usually a CCD (charge-couple device). And if you read the reviews the chances are you will be recommended to buy a camera with 5 or 6 megapixels. There is nothing wrong with having that many pixels to capture the image, but you just don't need it unless you want to print out pictures bigger than 8 x 10 inches.
A compact camera with good all-round performance
The Panasonic Lumx DMC-LC50 is a good example of a compact camera with adequate all-round performance for most people. It has the added advantage that it is compact and light, so you usually find you have it with you. It is also easy to store it out of sight in your car.
But what makes it stand out? Well, to start with, Panasonic is one of the top makers of consumer electronic products - like Sony, which also makes great digital cameras - and makes its own semiconductors. Therefore, it knows how to package electronics circuits and chips inside a small camera.
Leica Elmarit lens
On the other hand, Panasonic is not a top maker of lenses, so chose Leica, probably the best-known name in the camera business, to supply its lenses, despite the fact that there are many good Japanese lens makers. Leica has more credibility than most companies and in any case most of the best lens makers in Japan also happen to make digital cameras which would compete with Panasonic!
So, here we have a neat little camera with a Leica DC-Vario-Elmarit lens with a focal length of f2.8 to f4.9, and a 3x aspherical zoom lens. Panasonic then added its own 3x digital zoom, to give a total zoom of 9 x. In practice, it is best to use the 3x zoom of the lens itself as this gives higher resolution.
The image sensor has 3.2 megapixels, which does not sound much. Nevertheless, my tests showed that it produces excellent pictures of all sorts of things, including close-ups of flowers. In macro mode, the DMC-LC50 focuses right down to 3.9 inches (100 mm) which is very close indeed.
Of course, there is a built-in flash, which is not very powerful, but does work as long as you are not trying to capture a big scene in the dark. Of course, as this is a digital camera, you can enhance the image if it is a bit too dark.
Bracketing and plenty of shutter speeds
You can also take movie clips of 5 frames in fine resolution, and 8 frames in medium resolution - this is more for fun than anything. Other features include the ability to change the nominal film speed and to bracket your shots. With bracketing, the camera automatically takes three images, one at the normal aperture, and one each side - this is something that the pros do all the time.
For fast-moving objects like cars, you can use a fast shutter speed - the camera has a range from 1/2000th to 8 seconds.
Panasonic uses the SD memory cards in its cameras, which is another plus point as these are smaller than most other memory cards. As they are widely used, SD cards are not expensive.
Any problems with the camera? Yes, although there is a good LCD viewer, it has low contrast so is pretty useless in bright light - this is a common problem with digital cameras. Of course, there is a normal viewfinder as well, but that will not help if you want to review your images and delete the ones that are not good.
Nevertheless, a good little camera, all in a package 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches (89 x 65 x 38 mm) for about $200. Other good cameras for this price? Try the Canon Powershot A610, Nikon Coolpix P2 or the Olympus C-315. They are all good.
About the Author
John Hartley, who runs the digital camera site, http://www.digicamsecrets.com, has followed developments in digital cameras since he attended the first demonstration of the Sony Mavica in Tokyo. He was one of the first to forecast that digital cameras would replace film cameras completely, and his site has the latest information.