Q. I need a new camera for traveling, and my primary interest is good picture quality. I would also like something that does not focus as slowly as my old point-and-shoot. My budget is $250, maybe $300 max.
I don’t want a big SLR or interchangeable lenses, but I am open to carrying something a bit bigger than a pocket camera if it means better pictures. Do you have any recommendations?
A. There are some very good values on the market right now. One camera in particular stands out in the $250-and-under price range, and I think it will be the best choice for you.
The camera is the 12.-1 megapixel Pentax MX-1, an enthusiast compact camera. An enthusiast compact is a step above a point-and-shoot and a stepping stone to an interchangeable lens camera. Many enthusiasts use cameras like the MX-1 when they do not want to take an interchangeable lens camera system with them, hence the name “enthusiast compact.” These cameras are much more capable than a point-and-shoot in both operation, image quality, features and overall performance.
I recommended the MX-1 as a good value when it was selling for $439, and the price has recently dropped all the way to $249 online.
The MX-1 is not a tiny camera and is a bit too big for a pants pocket, but it would fit fine in a jacket pocket, belt pouch or a purse. The top and bottom plates are made of brass and finished in either black or silver, like a classic SLR. It feels very solid in your hand, almost like a brick. The buttons and dials have a nice feel to them and the size of the camera means they are not so tightly grouped together they are hard to push. There is an articulating LCD screen with a high resolution of 920k pixels.
Though the MX-1 can work as a point-and-shoot by using the automatic modes, when you hold it in your hand, it is apparent it is much more than a basic camera. The menus and controls are very easy to understand and use, much like a Pentax digital SLR. Focusing is fast and accurate, and the 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8-2.5 zoom lens is fast and sharp.
I was particularly impressed with the flash pictures from this camera, which were very evenly lit with good color and very accurate exposure.
In short, this is a whole lot of camera for the money, and I don’t think it can be beat for under $250 new.
The Pentax MX-1 has a removable lens cap, rather than the integrated cap found in most compact cameras. Many people do not like the lens cap dangling from the camera when taking pictures and it can also be knocked off the camera when it is being transported, exposing the lens to possible dust, smudges and scratches.
If you buy the MX-1, you may want to order the Rainbow Imaging auto closing lens cap as well. It’s less than $13 on Amazon.com and it works extremely well. Just attach it to the camera and it will open when you turn the camera on and close when you turn it off.
Read past columns and product reviews by Don Lindich at www.soundadviceblog.com.