SLR-like digital camera

We had a baby recently, and I wanted to get a better camera than my simple point-and-shoot Casio.  When I started researching, I thought I might like a digital SLR, but I quickly realized that I’d have to fork over at least $400, if not much more, and SLR cameras seemed to be a bit of a money pit after the initial purchase because of all the add-on lenses and other paraphernalia you start to feel obligated to buy.  My max budget was $300.

So I discovered what they call “SLR-like” cameras… they look kind of like DSLRs (larger form factor with large diameter lens) but they’re definitely not: no mirrors or moving parts to allow you to see through the viewfinder exactly what the sensor will see; while you can sometimes add special lenses, SLR-like cameras typically are used with the lens that is built into the camera body; and the sensors are smaller than real DSLRs, meaning that they aren’t as sensitive in low-light conditions.  On the other hand, because of the mechanism inside SLR cameras, they don’t have any video camcorder modes.

dpreview.com is a famous site for camera reviews–you can get lost in there for hours.  At the suggestion of a friend of mine who’s a pretty serious amateur photographer, I quickly narrowed in on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 (he loves the Leica lens)… but at around $350, it was slightly more than I was hoping for.  After some more research, I found that the previous model, the DMC-FZ8 had just about all the features of the FZ18 I cared about, but for around $100 less.  I made the purchase through Amazon for $244.09 (the price appears to be higher now; in fact, the price for the FZ18 is lower than the FZ8!).

On the whole, I’m very happy with the purchase.  The picture quality is far better than a point-and-shoot, and if you master some of the fancy features, you can squeeze even more quality out of it; on the other hand, the quality is really not great under low-light conditions, which is often the situation with baby photos inside your house.  The body of the camera is smaller than it appears in the photos–it’s actually quite light and portable.  I’m also very happy I got a camera with a video recording feature–we’ve been using that a ton with the baby.  But the thing that blows me away the most is the battery life–we use it for about 3 weeks in between charges… it’s kind of incredible.