Going online to figure it all out was driving me crazy! ISO's, focal distance, depth of field, f/stop ratios, ring lighting, image processors,megapixel sensors... Uggg.... Let me get back to my bug books!!! The choices are bewildering to say the least. You've made things much simpler for me.
There are a lot of confusing statistics.
The one downside to getting one of the waterproof cameras is that, as far as I know, they don't accept a polarizing filter, and those are pretty nice to have on the stream for scenery shots. Ring lights are pretty high tech specialized macro photography gear, and would be quite a pain to carry around on the stream. You do pay a little bit in terms of these advanced features for the convenience and peace-of-mind of a waterproof camera, but I think it's well worth it.
Anyway, to help clear up some of that other confusion about f/stop etc, I'll give my thoughts on what to look for in a camera review:
- Good image quality, e.g. sharpness and color.
- Good low-light performance (meaning low noise). This is where camera differences often seem to show up the most, and poor ones are either noisy/grainy or blurry or both in lighting conditions where the good ones still take nice pictures.
- Optical image stabilization. Really helps with low-light performance.
- Smart control layout. Easy to turn macro mode on and off without having to fumble through an annoying menu, etc.
- Easy to take with you and quickly access without worrying about damaging it. You can't take a good picture when the opportunity presents itself if you left your camera home or have to fish it out of a zip-loc bag or something.
- Field-of-view. This is about the same for many cameras, but some can shoot at a wider angle that improves some shots.
- Performance of macro mode... I'm not sure what all influences this in a compact digicam anymore, but a good review should assess it.
Again I cannot recommend dpreview.com highly enough for camera reviews; they're great. Photo.net and luminous-landscape.com are also excellent, but don't review all the cameras that come out, so you might not find relevant information there.
to look for:
- Megapixels! All the modern cameras have so many that the difference doesn't really matter. Sometimes the cameras with fewer pixels also have larger pixels, which are less susceptible to noise in low-light situations. The race to obscenely high MP counts is a pointless marketing trick. High MP images also take up all that much more hard drive space. 10-12MP is all you really need; most of the best images on this site were shot at 8MP. There are good cameras with high numbers, but you don't need them unless you're planning on making lots of poster-sized prints of your photos.
- Optical zoom power. Some people will want long zooms on a point & shoot, but often they'll just lead to blurry images from camera shake if you're not using a tripod. And they have to trade off some lens quality to get the long zoom. I'm rarely unhappy walking around with just 3X zoom, there are times when I wish I could go out to maybe 7X, but when you get up to like 15X or 20X that's very rarely useful.
- Digital zoom. Digital zoom is a complete scam, just a silly low-quality on-camera way of accomplishing what you could do by blowing up the image on your computer later anyway.
- Also, don't worry about f/stop, ISO, focal length, and similar metrics for point & shoot cameras. They affect the things that matter, but you can read about the things that matter in reviews more directly without understanding those technical details.
Also, I'm not sure what you meant by "image processors." Each camera has an internal processing chip, but mostly those won't matter to you. If you were talking about image processing software, that can matter a lot
! Learning how to use it well is important, too. You can save a bad image, or make a good image spectacular. Adobe Lightoom 3 is the king of all image processing software in my opinion and I'd highly recommend it, but it's kind of pricey. It's only worth the money if you're committed to spending some time exploring its capabilities and not just using the default settings for everything. That doesn't take a long time, and you pick it up gradually as you play with your pictures, but you do have to sort of enjoy that kind of thing. If you don't like digital tinkering, it'll be a waste of $$$.