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What is the best camera for point-and-shoot outdoor use?

best point and shoot camera
480 320 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

 You want quality photos, but also a durable, waterproof camera that can take a beating.

What is a good point-and-shoot camera for taking everywhere? 

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by Leon Pantenburg

I was on assignment in a very rural part of Oregon and covering a funeral for five people, whose remains had been abandoned. A photographer was supposed to meet me on the site to take the photo that would be the next day’s page one. As the service started, it became clear he was lost.

This front page photo was shot with a camera I borrowed from the lady at the left.

This front page Bend Bulletin photo was shot with a camera I borrowed from the lady on the right. (Pantenburg photo)

Normally, I carry a point-and-shoot with me everywhere. But that morning, my daughter has snagged mine to take on a school field trip. I edged over to a lady in the crowd, flashed my press pass and borrowed her camera. My story and photo got page one.

Much of my journalism career has been spent behind a still and/or video camera. I feel naked without a camera, writing implement and notebook on me. A few years ago, I made the transition from fulltime working journalist to community college newspaper advisor. I still need a camera for website photos, and illustrations for training powerpoints and slide shows.

But do you need an every day carry camera? Maybe.

During a disaster or emergency you might need to take photos of pets and family members in the event you get separated. You might need to record property damage for insurance claims. You could take photos of injuries, and email them to get medical advice.You might need to document something for later.

FujiFilm finepics camera

My choice for the all-around point-and-shoot: The FujiFilm XP

In the non-emergency arena, the ever present camera assures you’ll be able to take a photos of that unique flower, a video of that incredible spring and stream in the mountains and photos of the kids that will someday be priceless. You get all these options if you always carry a camera.

There are any number of professional quality camera systems that will do the job for a photographer. But what we’re talking about here is an everyday carry camera. That means it must be light, compact and have decent photo and video quality. We’re looking for a simple point-and-shoot that will fit in your pocket.

While there are many good camera applications on smart phones, I am always leery of these put-all-your-eggs-in-the-same-basket gadgets. When the battery goes out, you don’t have a camera. My experience is that the smart phone batteries don’t last long enough to be dependable.

Here’s what you need in a point-and-shoot:

Reliability: The camera will be used under extreme conditions. It must shoot when you need it to, and without reliability, you don’t need any of the other attributes.

Ease of use: An emergency is not the time to be learning how to operate the bells and whistles. Get a camera with simple, basic controls that  don’t required a photojournalism degree to use. You may need someone else to operate the camera.

Durability: This camera will be expected to function in dust, dirt, rain and nasty weather and floodwaters. Get a brand with an established  reputation, and talk to pros about what they use.

Cultus Lake summer 2012 068

My daughter shot this photo underwater at an Oregon lake with the FujiFilm XP.

Waterproof: It goes without saying that a waterproof camera will keep on going when the rain and sleet shut down a conventional machine.

Shockproof:  It shouldn’t break the camera to drop it from about waist level. Make sure the camera has this feature as a minimum.

Reasonable price:  The camera is going to get beat around and abused, and you don’t want to feel pangs of regret when it eventually meets its demise. Worse, if you get an expensive point-and-shoot you may be tempted to leave it behind.

Freeze-proof: In some part of the country, this is not an issue. But in the  Oregon cascades where I hang out in the wintertime, a camera that isn’t freezeproof isn’t going to cut it. The cold will still affect batteries, but my point and shoot needs to function regardless of the frigid temperatures.

Here’s what I don’t want in a point-and-shoot:

A telescoping lens: I tried a Nikon 3000 Cool Pix, and it worked fine for a few weeks. Then the pictures all started getting softer, and eventually it became unusable. IMO, a telescoping lens is too fragile for everyday carry. It also sucks battery power operating that telescope.

No manual override: At some point, you will have to override the camera’s setting, because the light is going weird on you. You must have the photographic skills to recognize a bad exposure and the equipment to compensate for it.

Limited ISO setting: You need at least a 1600 ISO rating, and preferably higher. In low light situations, you will often have to rely on the ISO setting to get a balanced setting.

Over the past couple years, I narrowed my choices down to three: The Nikon 3000 Cool Pix, the Canon Powershot E and the FujiFilm XP. I tried each one and ended up with the FujiFilm about 18 months ago.  The XP was  recommended by my buddy Phil Brummett. Phil is a flyfishing guide and his customers want quality photos of themselves and their fish. Phil’s camera has to be waterproof, shockproof and able to handle all crappy weather associated with the Central Oregon winter steelhead runs.

I was thoroughly impressed with Phil’s skill in his photos and videos, and reasoned the XP would work well for me too. And it has. Because of its durability and compactness, the FujiFilm goes everywhere, and our outdoor experiences are recorded forever.

The video below was shot last summer with the XP, and the camera was handheld in the pitch darkness. I was amazed it turned out at all!


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