Smarter and Sharper: New Digital Cameras for Fall

By Eric Grevstad | Posted August 15, 2005

Whether you're snapping photos for your next eBay auction, shooting a five-bedroom, three-bath split level for a real estate Web site or documenting a client's collection of antique coins, you want the photos to look as professional as possible. That can be tough to do if you're hands are anything less than steady.

Happily, many of the new cameras coming this fall offer technology that can make handheld shots look more like steady tripod images, as well as other image-enhancement features — and, of course, the usual rising resolution and falling prices. As always, all references to zoom are reserved for the real (optical) thing instead of icky, pixelated digital zoom.

Casio says the newest version of its mini-cams' Exilim engine incorporates an Anti-Shake DSP (digital signal processor), which reduces blurring caused by shaking hands or moving subjects, as well as Auto, Macro and Quick Shutter functions that ensure photos are properly focused.

It's available in the Exilim EX-S500 ($400), a 5-megapixel (2,560 by 1,920) model with 3X zoom that measures 2.3 by 3.5 by an anorexic 0.6 inches. Available in orange, gray and white, the EX-S500 can not only shoot VGA-resolution MPEG-4 movies — starting filming, if you're late to the scene, five seconds before you actually press the recording button — but take a still snapshot while filming. Other features include a 2.2-inch LCD, 33 different "best shot" settings or scene modes and continuous shooting at approximately one-second intervals until you've filled the memory card.

You'll be able to get more Anti-Shake assistance from the 6-megapixel EX-Z110 ($279) and 7-megapixel EX-Z120 ($329), which offer 28 and 32 "best shot" modes respectively. They're 3X zoom cameras with 2.0-inch LCDs; each measures 2.4 by 3.5 by 1.1 inches and has a High Sensitivity mode for capturing pictures in dim lighting without the flash.

Steady As a Rock
Konica Minolta Photo Imaging USA boasts that last fall's Maxxum 7D was the first digital SLR with built-in anti-shake technology, which uses a CCD -shift mechanism to compensate for camera shake. Now that camera has a slightly smaller and lighter sibling, the 6-megapixel (3,008 by 2,000 resolution) Maxxum 5D.

Pros can enjoy its manual controls and compatibility with all Maxxum autofocus lenses, including the company's new Digital Technology lenses. Casual shutterbugs can choose from portrait, landscape, sports, evening sunset and night modes with automatic exposure control and auto focus — the 2.5-inch LCD automatically switches from horizontal to vertical for upright portrait shots — or get a bit more creative with a Digital Effect control that lets you select and save parameters for 10 scene types. The 5D can also capture up to 30 frames at roughly three frames per second.

Konica Minolta's ultra-slim Dimage X line is getting its first anti-shake model, too. The 8-megapixel (3,264 by 2,448) Dimage X1's 0.8-inch width accommodates a "folded" 3X zoom lens (37mm to 111mm equivalent) that doesn't protrude while zooming; both the zoom and Anti-Shake work during VGA resolution video recording as well as still shooting. Portrait, landscape, sunset, night portrait, night view and super macro (2 inches) modes compliment a 2.5-inch LCD with an extra-brightness setting for outdoors. The Dimage X1 — whose price, like the Maxxum 5D's, is unannounced for now — comes with a multifunction recharging cradle for easy connection to PC or TV.

Finally, next month Panasonic will ship two compact 3X-zoom cameras with what it calls MEGA Optical Image Stabilization technology, using a gyrosensor, microcomputer and linear motor to shift the lens as necessary to offset jittery hands.

The 5-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX8 ($350) and 6-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX9 ($400) share a 2.5-inch LCD and the ability to capture 3 frames per second until their memory cards fill. They also share an unmatched array of scene-mode names — not only day and night versions of Portrait and Scenery but Self-Portrait, Sports, Party, Fireworks, Snow, Baby and Soft Skin.

Another camera-shake-canceling model from Panasonic is the 8-megapixel (3,840 by 2,160) Lumix DMC-LX1 — not cheap at $700, but the first digital camera we've seen that takes 16:9 widescreen photos, suitable for HDTVs or wide notebook screens, as well as the more familiar 4:3- and 3:2-aspect-ratio shots. The 4X-zoom camera can also record 30-fps videos in what the company calls widescreen VGA (848 by 480 pixels).

If you prefer an SLR- instead of camera shaped like a bar of soap, Panasonic's MEGA-equipped Lumix DMC-FZ30 ($700) combines 8-megapixel resolution with an impressive 12X (35mm to 420mm equivalent) optical zoom — or even more zoom if you need only the center of the CCD sensor, yielding 15.3X at 5 megapixels and 19.1X at 3 megapixels. Equipped with a manual zoom ring, as well as manual focus ring, the FZ30 offers a pivoting 2.0-inch LCD, 14 scene modes for auto focus fans and a lithium-ion battery that promises up to 280 shots on a charge.

More Pixels Per Penny
Think the above cameras are a little too pricey? Pentax's newest model is a good example of what good values you can find these days: For $200, the Optio60 combines 6-megapixel resolution with 3X zoom and a 2.0-inch LCD in a 2.4 by 3.6 by 1.5-inch, shirt-pocket package. Its easy-to-use mode dial starts with a fully automatic focus and exposure setting, but if you're offended by its name — Simple Mode — you can choose from Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene and Sport setups plus aperture- and shutter-priority, metered manual modes and a 2-inch macro setting. It runs on two AA batteries and combines 12MB of onboard memory with an SD card slot.

Really-low-budget shooters can check out two 5-megapixel models from DXG USA — the DXG-568 and deck-of-cards-sized DXG-552 are just $130 and $140, respectively. The former has a 1.5-inch and the latter a 2.0-inch LCD, but neither offers optical zoom.

HP's summer models for its Photosmart camera line include the M517, with 5-megapixel resolution, 3X zoom, in-camera red-eye removal, HP's Adaptive Lighting to bring details out of shadow and HP Image Advice — tips on how to improve a specific photo the next time you take one like it. The $229 camera has a 2-inch indoor/outdoor-viewable LCD and 32MB of internal memory plus an SD/MMC card slot.

The externally similar, brushed-stainless-steel Photosmart R817 ($349) mixes 5-megapixel resolution with a 5X-zoom Pentax lens, 15 scene plus macro and super macro modes, 30-fps VGA video with sound, and not only in-camera red-eye fix and Adaptive Lighting, but bracketing of the latter — automatically capturing three shots with the exposure feature turned off, set to low and set to high. It not only takes panorama shots, but also lets you align, capture and review panoramic images before downloading to a PC. For $50 more, the Photosmart R818 adds more manual controls, faster continuous shooting and the ability to make prints of video frames and take pictures in a theater with no flash yet optimal exposure of the stage.

Kodak says its new P series brings other EasyShare cameras' simplicity of operation — including use with Kodak's kindergarten-simple image-uploading and -sharing docks — to advanced cameras for avid photographers. Positioned as an affordable alternative to larger, more costly digital SLRs, the EasyShare P880 ($600) is an 8-megapixel (3,264 by 2,448) camera with 5.8X zoom that ranges from a 24mm wide angle setting to 140mm distance work; a 25-point auto focus system compliments the manual focus ring and hot shoe flash connector.

Automatic and scene modes including backlight and anti-shake night portrait join manual, program and aperture- and shutter-priority modes — and, Kodak brags, digital SLRs can't match the P880's 30-fps VGA video with full optical zoom and in-camera clip trimming, splicing and merging. The 5-megapixel EasyShare P580 has a 12X (36mm to 432mm equivalent) zoom lens with optical image stabilization for clear shots at slower shutter speeds and minimizing camera shake when using longer focal lengths without a tripod; it's $500.

Haute Couture
Fashion-conscious? Sony' new Cyber-Shot DSC-T5 ($350) is a super-slim (2.4 by 3.7 by 0.8-inch), 5-megapixel camera available in red, black and "champagne gold" as well as silver, though only the last will ship in September rather than October. It offers a 3X zoom lens; a 2.5-inch transmissive/reflective LCD for fighting outdoor glare; 32MB of internal memory plus a Memory Stick Pro flash slot (which must be used for capturing MPEG VX Fine-quality videos); and 10 preset picture-taking modes ranging from Magnifying Glass (0.4 inch) to Soft Snap, High-Speed Shutter, Twilight Portrait and Candle.

To cap the fall lineup, Fujifilm says it's introducing the first consumer-level digital cameras with 9-megapixel (3,488 by 2,616) resolution. Both the SLR-style FinePix S9000 and more compact FinePix E900 have what Fujifilm calls Real Photo Technology, combining a new image processor with a fifth-generation SuperCCD HR sensor and a Fujinon lens for better low-light shooting, higher shutter speeds and reduced noise at high ISO settings for sharper pictures.

The S9000, priced at $700, features 10.7X (28mm to 300mm equivalent) zoom; both xD-Picture Card and Microdrive slots; a tilting 1.8-inch LCD and full manual controls in addition to helpful settings such as Anti-Blur and Natural Light that, respectively, combat camera shake and offer more natural colors and skin tones in low-light situations. The chunky, compact FinePix E900 ($500) pairs 9-megapixel resolution with 4X optical zoom and Natural Light, Portrait, Sports, Night and fully automatic modes as well as manual, macro and movie settings.

There's also a new SLR-style 5-megapixel model, the FinePix S5200 ($400), with 10X zoom and manual features including continuous shooting, continuous auto focus, and shutter- and aperture-priority auto exposure.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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