Question

dslr quality in a compact model?

<span id="INSERTION_MARKER">I have lugged around an slr/dslr for almost twenty years now, and while I love the quality of the images, I don't use all the features. <span id="INSERTION_MARKER">

We are leaving for our big vacation in three days and my Nikon D70 has failed again (in the middle of Disneyland, no less). I need to replace it quickly, but I'm wondering if there are compact cameras that have images comparable to dslrs. I use the various auto modes (for closeups, fireworks, sports, etc...) but hardly use manual functions, so that isn't a priority for me. I need a good zoom option and wide angle would be nice.

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Answer
D3100?

Hmmmm... I just saw the D3100, which appears to be much lighter than the standard dslr. I'm wondering if that or a similar model might be a better option for me.

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DSLR, M4/3, ILC

All of the entry level DSLR cameras are going to be smaller than your D70. The good thing about the D3100 is that all of the lenses you have for the D70 will fit. The bad thing is if any of those lenses do not have a focus motor built-in (such as a 50mm prime), it will not auto-focus on the D3100.

Smaller yet are the "new" Micro 4/3 cameras. The new Panasonic G3 is getting exceptional reviews, but if you need a camera right now it's not an option because it hasn't been released yet (it was supposed to be available this month).

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCG3/DMCG3A.HTM

Another option is the Sony NEX, which uses a DSLR sized sensor in a very compact body.

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/NEX3/NEX3A.HTM

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Answer
Compact Cameras

The thing you will miss the most is good low light performance.
Rule of thumb is never go above ISO 400 and even that will have noticeable noise.

Most entry level cameras with wide angle lens will produce photos that are sharp in the middle but soft on the left and right sides.

Don't go crazy with the zoom because anything over 10X will require a tripod to get good results.

It is harder to hold a small camera steady because of the small size and light weight.

Very few compact cameras have true manual controls.
You will miss them.

..

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Answer
D5100

I appreciate the feedback. I normally take ages to make these decisions, but given our tight timeframe I am feeling some pressure to think fast - not an easy feat for me!

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