Q: I need a new camera for traveling, and my primary interest is good picture quality. I would also like something that doesn’t focus as slowly as my old point-and-shoot camera. My budget is $250, maybe $300 max. I don’t want a big SLR camera or interchangeable lenses, but I’m open to carrying something a bit bigger than a pocket camera if it means better pictures.

Do you have any good recommendations?


A: There are some great values on the market now. One camera, in particular, stands out in the $250 and under price range. 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 such as the MX-1 when they don’t 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 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 to $249 online.

The MX-1 is not a tiny camera and is too big for a pants pocket, but it would fit fine in a jacket pocket, belt pouch or purse.

The top and bottom plates are made of brass and finished in black or silver, like a classic SLR. It feels 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 aren’t so tightly grouped together that they are hard to push. There is an articulating LCD screen with a high resolution of 920,000 ­pixels.

Although 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 that it’s much more than a basic camera. The menus and controls are 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 evenly lit with good color and accurate exposure.

In short, this is a whole lot of camera for the money. It can’t be beat for less than $250 new.

The Pentax MX-1 has a removable lens cap, rather than the integrated cap found in most compact cameras. Many people don’t like the lens cap dangling from the camera when taking pictures. It also can be knocked off the camera when it’s being transported, exposing the lens to possible dust, smudges and scratches.

If you buy the MX-1, you might want to order the Rainbow Imaging auto-closing lens cap, too. It’s less than $13 on Amazon, 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.


Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.