Good budget zoom camera

Dear IFC,
This topic didn’t seem to be a duplicate, the others were just close to airport spotting and were closed. BTW if I made any mistakes making this topic, please tell me.

I’m interested in getting a good zoom camera for high altitude spotting. I would like to be able to spot from my backyard. I would like to know if you have or know of any good zoom spotting cameras under $180 (approximately).
Thank you.

Is this topic in the right section?


The correct section would be Real World Aviation // Spotting.

Now about the lens - how much zoom are you looking for? This image shows a good comparison between different mms:


oh, thanks…

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Probably 200-300mm (enough to see winglets on planes)

Another thing: are you looking to buy a…

point-and-shoot camera, like this:
(smaller/more portable, easy to use, more robust, and cheaper, but limited functionality)

or a DSLR, which would look like this:
(larger, more advanced, more delicate, and more expensive, but heavily customizable/upgradable in the future)

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Sorry, just added extremely-brief descriptions below each option

probably a point and shoot.
Thanks again.

Lol, TMI for someone starting out with cameras :)
But yes, that’s definitely another way to look at the differences.

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it’s ok, you’re both trying to help… (and succeeding)

Lol I’ll opt out and withdraw, my apologies. .

No, no, you’re good! Sorry if I came across as rude at all, I didn’t mean to, you gave some great info. 👍

About the point-and-shoot, I don’t have too much experience with them, mostly DSLRs.
But I’d recommend buying one that has at least “20x optical zoom”, or even “30x optical zoom”. Make sure it says optical, not anything like “10x optical 20x digital” (which would up to 30x).
The reason is: you know how the more you crop an image, the grainier/lower quality it gets? That’s basically what digital zoom will do; it crops the image digitally, making the quality not-so-great.
(You could also look for ones that have “full HD” video if you care about 1920x1080 / 1080p quality.)

So just find ones that have been reviewed well (with many reviews). If you’re Googling for reviews, some notable sources I can name off the top of my head are ConsumerReports, B&H Photo, and others.

And that’s all I have to say for right now. It’s my bedtime now, but maybe tomorrow, I could try to recommend a specific camera model to you if you’d like.

Happy holidays! (It’s December now, so I get to say that. :)

[edit: By the way, I use Canon, but many other companies also probably make cameras suitable for your purpose.]


Thank you so much, very helpful info!

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Any of the Canon(POWERSHOT, not coolpix, that’s Nikon)lineup I’ve found to be good zoom + point n shoot cameras.

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good to know!

If you’re looking for either spotting vids or stills, I’d go with the Canon sx540HS, great camera and has never let me down. (vid creds to the OP, not mine)

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very nice indeed!

Actually, before I go, I have one more thing:
Also, just note that getting a close zoom on planes that are at cruise (or even around 10,000 ft) will be a challenge, even with expensive cameras and lenses, so just don’t expect to see through the cockpit windows of a 737 that’s 28,000 above you. :)

Here’s the thing: if you’re going for under $180 you’re going to need a point and shoot. These often have as much as 60x optical zoom (1200mm equivalent) and can be used for your purpose. However, they are generally not sharp at their highest zooms (nor are they very sharp in general). I would definitely recommend a Nikon Coolpix, Canon Powershot, or an Panasonic Lumix Superzoom (like my old FZ70). These won’t come out with the best quality but they will be able to zoom enough .

If you have just a bit more budget, you could look into a old, cheap, used DSLR like a T5 or T2i and buy a seperate 500mm preset lens from opteka or something. Obviously this would be more expensive (I’d have to check DSLR prices, the opteka is like $100 USD), but it will yield you sharper images, and if you can really spend (or get something for the holidays), you can snag a T6 which is also usable for regular spotting.

Now, generally, the definition of budget camera is different from your normal definition of budget. It’s extremely difficult to get a full package for $180 or under (I would go as far as to say impossible), especially if you need that long of a focal length. A budget camera would be more like a T6 with a 55-250 which would run you about $700

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yeah, i just want to be able to see them well enough with trails, and be able to spot without having to go to the airport (which is far away) every time…

Wow, so helpful, thank you so much!

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