I wasn't surprised to see a $30 camera on a store shelf.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Can a dirt-cheap camera be any good?

October 23, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

How low can you go when shopping for a digital camera?

I found the answer when I motored off to see my youngest grandchild and realized I'd forgotten to take any of my cameras. This is a no-no in grandparent land, so I had to face a decision: Drive back to get one of my fancy-dan cameras (and be an hour late arriving to see little Max, barely 2 years old) or stop at a store along the way and buy a new camera.

I decided to buy another camera, one I'd probably use just for taking baby pictures. Anything that could focus on a face would do.

I ended up with a Vivitar 7022. The credentials sound great. It's a 7-megapixel camera that stores photos on an SD card. It's got an anti-shake feature, tracks faces, has a decent flash function, has a variable timer for the shutter and will take macro shots of flowers at the push of a switch. It takes videos, too, at standard TV quality.

What's more, it uses standard AA cells instead of an expensive rechargeable battery and has a decent-quality LCD screen on the back.

The cost? Just over $30.

That's not a misprint. Digital cameras that rival recent $2,000 semi-pro models are coming in at only a few hundred bucks these days, and ones that do as well as the $500 cameras of just a few years ago now cost about $100. I wasn't surprised to see a $30 camera on a store shelf.

. (Here's an online store, B&H Photo, that has the camera for $30. Here's the URL, using a simplified Web address: http://tinyurl.com/43fwgra.)

What don't you get in a $30 camera? The Vivitar 7022 has no way to focus and no way to do a normal zoom. It's got a fixed-focus lens and a pixel-expanding digital zoom.

Fixed-focus lenses aren't bad if you're taking photos in which your subjects are all at least 10 feet away, so I won't count this as a major fault. The lack of a genuine zoom goes along with the lack of real focus; a normal zoom just can't work without focusing, so I'm giving the camera a pass in this area.

But I can't ignore the dismal quality of indoor photos taken without flash. That's my preferred method of taking indoor shots, since it boosts realism. But I can't recommend the 7022 if that's your preference, too. Indoor natural light shots looked like someone had smeared crayons on the images.

Pictures taken indoors (italic) with (end italic) flash were OK in a sort of semi-forgiving way. No one seeing these photos will think you're Ansel Adams, but you won't get any snide comments, either.

Outdoor photos were acceptable. I took some at sunset and had fair results, and photos taken in afternoon light were OK.

Videos told the same story -- splotchy indoors but OK outdoors. In fact, I was more impressed with the camera's outdoor video quality than its still-picture results.

As an emergency camera, the Vivitar 7022 turned out to be a face-saver in more ways than one. But would I choose it for my only camera? No way. I'll just keep it in the glove compartment for those senior moments when I've forgotten to take a decent camera.