Digital Cameras: Double Take
Is 2005 the year of the digital camera? Uh, no. That was 2004 . . . or maybe the year before that. It is no surprise that digital has surpassed film. What continues to amaze is its blitzkrieg progress, namely, more megapixels, better features, easier integration with other technologies, and lower prices. Nowadays the choice is not whether to buy, but which one. There are packable and worry-free point-and-shoots, larger and superhigh-quality SLRs, and plenty to choose from in between. In each class we’ve found the best cameras, laid out the specs, and contrasted the features. One of these cameras on the next few pages is the right fit for you. Pocket MagiciansPint-size, affordable, and easy to use
1. Casio Exilim Card EX-S500 (Left)
User Profile: Minimalist
This stainless-steel Casio ($399; http://www.casio.com/) is nearly credit card–size (just 0.6 inches or 1.5 centimeters thick!) and is available in three colors: stainless, copper, and white. Though you’ll pay more and won’t have the same range of control as with Canon’s A95 (at right), the EX-S500 has a retracting 3x zoom, a big color screen, and a five-megapixel sensor somehow squeezed into a tiny, yet uncluttered body. It can also record high-quality video with sound.
Best Feature: The EX-S500’s Anti-Shake signal processor, unusual in such a small camera, reduces low-light blur from slow shutter speeds and camera shake.
2. Canon PowerShot A95 (Right)
User Profile: Tourista
Despite its bargain price and modest size, the five-megapixel A95 ($285; http://www.canon.com/) allows for creative license unheard of with most automatic point-and-shoots. A host of manual settings permits customization, and savvy features like an exposure histogram help amateurs nail tricky shots. All functions are accessed with a thumb-operated controller and easy-to-navigate, on-screen menus. For quick travel snaps, the A95’s nine-point autofocus is precise, fast, and just what you need.
Best Feature: The bright, 1.8-inch (4.5-centimeter) LCD swings out and rotates for shooting and viewing from virtually any angle
1. Olympus Camedia C-7070 Wide Zoom (Left)
User Profile: Photojournalist
This sturdy 7.1-megapixel C-7070 ($450; http://www.olympus.com/) won’t win a beauty contest, but similar Olympus offerings have snagged prizes for photojournalist Alex Majoli, who covers war zones like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq. The C-7070’s sculpted magnesium-alloy body fits your hand like a glove, so it’s great on the fly and for fast-action shots. Also, it sports myriad manual controls, along with a microphone so you can narrate images as you shoot them. As a bonus, its flip-up, swiveling LCD is great for tough angles.
Best Feature: The C-7070’s wide-angle zoom handles tight quarters like markets or sporting events and big, jaw-dropping vistas with equal ease and quality.
2. Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-V3 (Right)
User Profile: Control freak
Though beefy, the snazzy-looking 7.2-megapixel V3 ($600; http://www.sony.com/) is smaller, lighter, and more packable than its counterpart, the Olympus C-7070 (at left). But it offers similarly high-quality images. The V3’s supersharp 4x zoom is less wide and more telephoto than the Oly’s, so it’s better suited to portraits and detail shots. Also, the focus is remarkably fast, even in low light, thanks to its laser-guided Hologram AF Illuminator. Finally, the V3 has a big rubber grip and among the best video capabilities in its class.
Best Feature: Its huge color LCD (fixed, no flip) is easy to see even in direct sunlight.
Breakout TECH: Wi-Fi CamerasKodak EasyShare-One
User Profile: Cyberphile
There’s a whole new reason to search for a wireless hot spot. Yup, even cameras have gone Wi-Fi. Though the flagship, four-megapixel EasyShare-One ($600, not including $100 Wi-Fi card; http://www.kodak.com/) is the only such unit currently on the market, you’ll be almost guaranteed to see more in the next year. The advantage? Built-in Wi-Fi connects without a PC to a Kodak online service via any wireless hot spot or home network, which means you can be sitting at the ferry terminal in Sydney, Australia, say, and fire off real-time shots of the Opera House to your friends. You’re also able to manage online photo albums and order prints to be delivered to your door before you get home from vacation. As well, the internal memory holds up to 1,500 pictures, so you don’t have the additional cost of memory cards.
Best Feature: The huge three-inch rotating touch screen, navigated with a built-in stylus like a PDA, is incredibly flashy and cool.
1. Nikon D50 (Left)
User Profile: Action photographer
Competent and comfortable, the D50 ($700, body; $850 with 18–55mm lens; http://www.nikonusa.com/) refines the proven Nikon DSLR formula and delivers pro-caliber shooting to ordinary folk. Less flashy but more affordable than the Konica Minolta 5D (at right), the Nikon has better-organized menus and superior battery life—up to 2,000 shots per charge. Also, if you’re willing to tote a hefty camera bag along, you have access to nearly 50 different Nikkor autofocus lenses and loads of accessories for any shooting circumstance.
Best Feature: For the money, you can’t find a camera that handles continuous action like the D50, with its superior operating speed, including superfast focus tracking, instant shutter response, and nearly unlimited continuous shooting.
2. Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D (Right)
User Profile: Perfectionist
Konica Minolta’s state-of-the-art Maxxum 5D ($800, body; $900 with 18–70mm lens; http://www.konicaminolta.com/) is the ultimate starter DSLR. It’s got the biggest, clearest optical viewfinder in its class, so beginners can easily frame shots. And its huge 2.5-inch (6.35 centimeter) LCD is as big as they come in a consumer DSLR, which allows for easy viewing (count on making some new friends on the road). The screen doubles as a supersize data panel, teeming with dedicated buttons for instant access to all major settings.
Best Feature: The image-stabilization system tames camera shake in low-light situations and with telephoto and, unlike competing systems, works with any lens.
Breakout Tech: Camera Phones
Samsung Sprint PCS SPH-a800
User profile: Multitasker
These days it seems like every time you turn around somebody is snapping a camera phone. Smile! And as fun (or occasionally annoying) as this trend might be, most of the shots stink. Enter the quirky-looking and pocketable SPH-a800 ($499; http://www.samsung.com/), the first two-megapixel camera phone available in the United States. Complete with a 2x digital zoom lens, the SPH-a800 yields quality photos that will print nicely up to five-by-seven inches. You can also e-mail shots at will or output them directly to a USB-connected printer. Plus, when you’re not taking photos, you can play music, videos, and games, and, of course, talk.
Best Feature: Its voice recognition enables you to address and dictate text messages sans keypad.
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