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Best under $200 cameras - featuring the Canon SX130IS

Note that as time goes on, equipment becomes discontinued by the manufacturer. Therefore consider this review representative of the types of equipment you wish to take on your cruise or travel vacation.

In the under $200 market, there are literally hundreds of cameras. So how do you chose which one is the best. Pretty difficult. So I will elaborate on what I chose in this price range, and why. Obvously, the SX130IS is not the only choice one has, but in the under $200 market, the camera has features normally only found on more expensive gear:

  • Manual exposure controls.
  • Manual focus capability.
  • Image stabilization.
  • Psuedo-macro capability.
  • Custom white balance.
  • Decent optics quality - at least for a 12x lens.
  • Good video performance.

While it doesn't have all of the bells-and-whistles other cameras have such as panorama capability, it does have a few goodies, such as fisheye effect. And some of the functions of the camera, such as custom white balance, manual focus, and manual exposure control are features only found on much more expensive cameras. Less fluffy stuff, more functional features; I like that.

Canon SX130IS Overview

Canon SX130IS

Exposure modes: PTAM
Sensor: 12.1 MegaPixel 1/2.3"
Lens: 28-336mm (35mm) f/3.4-5.6
Movie Mode: Yes
ISO range: 80~1600
File Format: JPG, MOV
Construction: Compact Camera
Street Price with lens: $190

Alternatives (but more than $200)

Overview: The photographs below show the sharpness at various zoom lengths. Aperture priority was used so that the aperture could be set at f/5.6 for each photo. A tripod was also used along with a shutter timer to ensure the most possible stable platform. Even though this is a 12x zoom, the optical sharpness is surprisingly quite good, and it is close to my $450 Nikon P7000.

Like any other lens, stopping down to f/8~11 will improve sharpness.

The focal lengths are 35mm equivalents, which is determined by multiplying the actual focal length of the lens by 5.6x (the crop factor of the sensor).

Full photo. Cropped area shown in the yellow box.

Zoom = 336mm.

Zoom = 200mm.

Zoom = 100mm.

Zoom = 28mm.

Zoom = digital 600mm.

The optical quality is good, and this camera does not suffer from the typical blurry areas along the zoom length that most high-power zooms have. While I normally never recommend zooms more powerful than 5x or so, this may be an exception.

Even with moderate digital zoom, this camera surprised me. But, like most compacts, the digital zoom in this camera is best left turned off.

The camera is powered by AA batteries, and while that in itself is not necessarily a problem, the fact that it only uses 2 batteries means you will be changing batteries frequently. But a good set of Ni-MH rechargeables, and that is not a huge problem.

Close up (psuedo-macro) capability.

While the camera is advertised to have macro capability, and specifies a 0.4" close focus capability, I could never get the camera to focus closer than about 1ft. Still, this is not a bad range for close ups, although not really true macro.

With manual exposure capability, this camera is capable of nice motion blur
- a feature not usually found in an inexpensive camera

My feeble attempts to measure shutter delay on this camera resulted in a delay of about 0.2sec, which is pretty good for a compact camera.

Alternatives: For the under $200 price point, it is hard to come up with any alternatives. The two alternatives I listed above are around $250, which is the closest I can come for a camera that has the same feature set. The SX150IS is more or less the replacement for this camera. But the additional $60 does not get you much, and I would rather have this camera and save $60.

Summary: For a second camera, or an inexpensive camera that you may want to take in an area where it could get lost, damaged, or stolen, this is hard to beat. While you cannot expect it to perform as well as more expensive cameras, it is a solid capable camera for it's price point. Perhaps the worst characteristics of this camera is it's larger than normal compact camera size and short battery life. But both are managealbe, especially in light of it's overall performance.