Photography by Jim Doty

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I received an email asking for advice on buying a point and shoot film camera. They want an all around point and shoot film camera that would also make things look closer, like mountains and soccer players. There are a lot of fine cameras out there. I happen to have my favorites, partly due to personal preference, and partly due to the specific features of a particular camera model. The ones I recommend below have a nice package of features.  My response follows:

I am going to write about lenses first, and then cameras that have these lenses.


Lens focal lengths are rated in millimeters. A 50 mm lens is a "standard" or "normal" lens. It has a fairly "normal" field of view.  Looking through a normal lens is approximately how things look with the naked eye.  Before zoom lenses became so popular, most folks bought a 45 mm or 50 mm or 58 mm lens to go with their 35 mm SLR camera.

24 mm and 28 mm lenses are wide angle, so named because they take in a much wider angle of view than a normal lens. A 24 mm lens takes in about twice as wide a field of view as a 50 mm lens. If you stand in the same place and go from 50 mm to 24 mm, you see twice as much width wise, but everything looks twice as small or twice as far away.  A 28 mm lens has a field of view about 2/3 wider than a normal lens.  Wide angle lenses are great for taking in wide angle landscapes, or for getting everyone in the picture at a birthday party.

A 35 mm lens is about half way between a wide angle and a normal lens. It's a little too wide to be considered normal, but not wide enough (at least in my opinion) to be truly a wide angle. A 38 mm lens is about the same.

Going the other direction, a 100 mm "telephoto" lens has a field of view only half as wide as a 50 mm lens, but everything looks twice as close or twice as big. Lenses in the 80-100mm range have long been considered ideal for individual portraits.

If you are in Alaska and can see two equal size mountains, side by side, at 50 mm, from the same place at 100 mm you will only see one of the mountains, but it will look twice as big.

Unfortunately, a hockey player that looks really small at 50 mm, will look twice as big at 100 mm but still pretty small on film. For sports, you really need to get up around 200 mm to make a difference.

The best way for you to get an idea what I am talking about is to get together with a friend that has a 35 mm SLR camera and a 28-105 mm zoom lens.  Your next best bet is to go to a camera store and have them show you the same thing. Look through the camera and zoom from 28 mm to 50 mm to 105 mm and get a feel for what the different focal lengths look like.

Now lets apply this to point and shoot cameras.


Some P&S cameras have a single focal length lens, usually single focal length around 35 mm.  One excellent example is the OLYMPUS STYLUS EPIC with a 35 mm f/2.8 lens.  For an economical P&S, this is a fast lens (lets in lots of light). Cost is less than $100.  If you don't need more than one focal length, this is a great little camera. What is nice about single focal length lenses, and this one in particular, is that they let in enough light that with fast film (800 speed), you can take hand held pictures inside at night without flash. They are also small, light weight, and very inexpensive. They take very high quality pictures (assuming good photographic technique). The disadvantage of single focal length lenses is obvious, you only have one focal length.


P&S cameras with zoom lenses are usually bigger, heavier, and cost more, but they give you a whole range of focal lengths in one lens.  The smaller cameras in this group come with 35-70 mm or 35-80 mm zoom lenses.  These are fine for snapshots, but not wide enough to be really wide, and not long enough to make me happy at the long end.  For someone who wants to take happy snaps of friends they are great. If you want the grand landscape, they can't get as much in.  Nor do they make anything look very much bigger.

There are P&S cameras with 35-90 and 38-105 zoom lenses.  In my opinion, they are long enough at the long end to get some interesting photos, but not wide enough at the wide end.


My personal favorites are the very small number of P&S cameras with 28-90 mm lenses.  They are long enough to give you almost twice the size of a 50 mm image, but wide enough to give you some really nice wide angle photos.  They are also much better at getting everyone in at birthday parties.

If I were buying one today my first choice would be the
PENTAX IQ ZOOM 928 M which sells for about $190. It comes with a 28-90 mm f/4.8-10.9 zoom lens.  The camera comes with a lot of nice features in terms of exposure, focus, and flash.

Like all other P&S zoom lens cameras, the lens does not let in enough light to take hand held people photos inside at night without flash, even when using high speed film.  However, the camera does have some slow shutter speeds so you can set it on a flat surface or a tripod and take long pictures in low light of nonmoving subjects.

PENTAX IQ ZOOM 928 M is kind of clunky looking but it is a first class camera.  My second choice for a camera of this type would be the CANON SURE SHOT Z90W and the OLYMPUS STYLUS ZOOM 80 WIDE DATE.  The Canon has a 28-90 lens like the Pentax and sells for about $190.  The OLYMPUS has a 28-80 mm zoom lens, a little shorter than the other two, and sells for about $230.

Both the Canon and the Olympus have smaller and more stylish bodies than the Pentax.

All of these camera lenses will make a mountain look bigger and closer at 80 and 90 mm, but they won't do much for a soccer player.  To do this you need a longer lens.  For sports you need something closer to 200 mm at the long end.


The PENTAX IQ ZOOM 160 has a 38-160 mm lens. The SAMSUNG EVOCA 170SE has a 38-170 mm lens. Both of these sell in the $280 price range. The lenses are much longer than the above cameras but you lose most of the wide angle effect.

Finally, the
PENTAX IQ ZOOM 200 has a 48-200 mm lens and sells for around $320.  Now you have a long enough lens to make a real difference for sports photography, but only in the day time. Like all other P&S zoom lenses, it is too slow for night photography without flash, and the flash range for many of these cameras is limited to about 10-15 feet (or less) at the long end of the zoom (the lenses let in less light at the longer end than the wide angle lens).

All three of these cameras sacrifice the wide angle end of the lens to give you a longer telephoto end.  The cameras are bigger and heavier and cost more.

I should point out that 200 mm is not considered to be a really long focal length for 35 mm SLR cameras, but it is quite long for 35 mm P&S cameras.

In the P&S arena, there are two choices that make sense to me. If wide angle stuff is important, get a camera like the first three I mention and get a true wide angle to a very useable medium telephoto lens. If making things much bigger and closer is really important, then sacrifice the wide angle end and get one of the last three cameras I mention with a longer telephoto lens.  At the present time, no P&S film camera can do it all.

Of course you could get one of each, but then it might make more sense and might cost less money to get an SLR camera with two lenses.


What do you do if you really want it all, wide angle to long telephoto?

I should at least cover this option for you briefly. If I picked my two favorite Pentax P&S cameras, one from the first group and one from the last group, I would spend over $500.

CANON REBEL 2000 is a very fine SLR camera body and costs (body only) about $260.

The current
Canon 28-80 f/3.5-5.6 USM lens will cost $110.  This lens is as wide as the lenses I recommend on the first three cameras above, and a little shorter on the long end. 

Canon 55-200 f/4.5-5.6 USM lens costs $190.  This lens covers the same range as the Pentax IQ Zoom 200.

You can find all of this equipment at the camera store
links at this site. I have not checked all of these prices recently, but the prices above should be reasonably close.

I obviously like and use 35 mm SLR cameras, but I also know they are not the best choice for what a lot of folks want a camera to do. I also know a few folks who are trying to get a P&S to do a job they aren't designed to do.  They need to get an SLR.

I think your major choice has to do with lens focal lengths. Nothing would be more helpful than to have a friend with a 28-80 mm wide lens show you what it is like to look through it at 28 mm in a typical room full of people.  Then have him show what it look like at about 38 mm (you know what it is like when the photographer can't back up far enough to get everyone in).  The next thing is to look through a camera at a soccer game (or any other sports even with people relatively far away) at 80 or 90 mm, and then at 200 mm.

Before you make your final choice, you might want to go to your local camera store and have them put the
Pentax IQ Zoom 928 M , the Pentax IQ Zoom 200 (or the other cameras I mention above), and the Canon Rebel 2000 with 28-80 lens all on the camera.  Look through all of them and zoom the lenses back and forth.  Try a Canon with a 55-200 mm or 70-210 mm lens.  Zoom from 55 or 70 to 200 or 210 mm. Get a feel for the size and weight of each camera.  Don't make a decision on the spot.  Be cautious about camera store advice. Be wary of "I have a better camera here for less money" suggestions until you can confirm them elsewhere. Remember that their advice may be biased by theri potential commission. Go home and think about your decision. Check the current prices at the places linked from this site. Once you have made your decision and know what the online price is for the model you want (including shipping and insurance), go back to your local store and ask for their best price on the exact same model. Accept no substitutes.

Sometimes local camera stores can compete with online prices, and sometimes they can't.  I don't argue. I don't hassle them. I don't try and make them feel bad. I just ask for their best price.  If they are anywhere near the online price, I buy locally. If not, I buy online (or over the phone).

The cameras on this page are available from (see the link below), from PhotoAlley, as well as some of the other merchants on my LINKS page. A purchase from or PhotoAlley helps support this site. For more information on PhotoAlley, go here.

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Feb 17, 2001
Updated Oct 30, 2001

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