Thursday, November 23, 2006

Season's Top Digital Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50

Purveyor of all things slim and sexy, Sony has continued their tradition of quality compact photos with their latest update in the T50. The camera measures just 3.75 x 2.25 x .09 inches, yet still features an impressive 3x optical zoom. According to Sony, the camera's battery will last for 400 shots so it'll last an entire night of holiday parties - and then some.

The ultra-slim and stylish Cyber-shot DSC-T50 is the current top-of-the-line model in Sony's T-series line. It's equipped with a 7-megapixel Sony CCD imager, an internal Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 3x optical zoom lens, a large 3.0-inch Touchpanel TFT LCD display, VX Fine movie mode, and 56MB of internal memory. This camera shines in both performance and looks and is available in three different color schemes; red, black or silver.

The Super Steady Shot technology minimizes blur caused by shaky hands, while the high light sensitivity (ISO 1000) mode reduces blur by shooting at faster shutter speeds. There's even an added defense with Sony's Clear RAW™ noise reduction system, which kicks in to counter picture noise associated with high-sensitivity shooting.

As with other T-series cameras, you simply slide the lens cover down and the camera is ready to capture images in seconds. Sony's ultra-fast Real Imaging Processor circuitry increases the camera's efficiency for quicker start-up, faster shot-to-shot times, higher-quality movie capture, and longer battery life. The supplied InfoLithium battery provides plenty of power for up to 400 shots per full charge.

With the slide show feature, sharing your photos right on the camera's LCD is more enjoyable. You can even connect the camera to your television with supplied cables. If you have a wide-screen home theater then you'll love the 16:9 image mode that creates HDTV proportional pictures that fill the screen perfectly. If prints are what you want, then connect the DSC-T50 to any PictBridge enabled printer, and print directly from the camera, no PC is needed.

Loads of noise in High Sensitivity mode; not many manual options

Fuji FinePix F31fd

FinePix F31fd with the world’s fastest Face Detection technology

Face Detection

Fujifilm’s Face Detection technology was originally developed for the company’s photofinishing division, where it was used for reproducing the fine detail in people’s faces in print. In developing the technology for use in FinePix cameras, Fujifilm’s research & development team’s challenge was to make it fast, otherwise the feature would never be anything more than a novelty. In achieving a response time of 0.05 seconds, Fujifilm’s Face Detection becomes a genuinely useful tool for capturing photos of friends and family that are perfectly focused and exposed to prioritise the people in the frame.

Face Detection works by triangulating eyes and mouth, using an algorithm to optimise focus and exposure for up to ten faces in a single frame. A green square surrounds the face of the primary subject on the camera’s LCD screen, whilst white squares identify up to nine other subjects. Movement tracking keeps the camera ‘locked on’ to its subjects until they move out of the picture. The technology works irrespective of the subject’s position in the frame, and is not confused by spectacles.

In Playback mode, Face Detection will automatically zoom in to subjects’ faces and trim the shot for optimum portraits.

A low light landmark

The launch of the FinePix F30 set standards for low light photography, with sensitivity at full resolution of ISO 3200. With the launch of the FinePix F31fd, Fujifilm’s compact digital cameras remain leaders in their class for low-light performance. These qualities, combined with the camera’s Anti-blur mode, mean that subject and camera movement do not result in blurred images.

Fujifilm has identified low light photography as one of the true benchmarks of a digital camera's performance, as most images are taken when the light is limited and flash often leaves subjects looking bleached white, whilst rendering the background invisible. The product of over 60 years’ accumulated sensor technology, Fujifilm’s Real Photo Processor II enables the ISO 3200 sensitivity of the original FinePix F30, and now the FinePix F31fd. This makes flash-free photography possible with natural illumination, balanced foreground and background exposure and no subject blurring, in even the dimmest conditions. Fujifilm’s Real Photo Technology means images taken at the highest sensitivity of ISO 3200 suffer from less noise than some others at 1600. Furthermore, because the camera requires no decrease in resolution at its highest ISO setting, images can be printed at previously unachievable sizes with no loss of quality.

For those occasions when flash is required, Fujifilm’s Intelligent Flash system sets flash power output to achieve natural foreground illumination with balanced background exposure. Avoiding both the messy background blur of ‘slow-sync’ flash, and the stark contrast of conventional flash, Intelligent Flash results in visibly more pleasing, natural looking photos. For times when a decision about lighting could mean a missed photo opportunity, the FinePix F31fd’s Natural Light & Flash mode takes two photos in quick succession, one with flash and one without, then displays them side-by-side for instant comparison.

2.5 inch LCD screen

The FinePix F31fd features a large 2.5 inch, 230,000 pixel LCD screen, which is coated with Fujifilm’s proprietary CV film. This minimises glare and reflections so that images can be viewed from any angle and even in sunny conditions, when glare would usually be a problem. In addition, the screen’s brightness adjusts automatically, depending on the amount of light available, to further enhance ease of viewing.

Special scene modes

The camera’s 15 scene positions include beach, snow and fireworks for optimum photography, no matter what the event. Its underwater scene mode acts in the same way as a red filter and, when teamed with the WP-FXF30 underwater housing, ensures underwater images from diving and snorkelling are as colourful and vibrant as the human eye sees them.

Adrian Clarke, Fujifilm’s Director of Photo Products, said: “The FinePix F31fd has a commercially successful and award-winning predecessor but still manages to build on this high standard. We introduced Face Detection in July this year with the launch of the FinePix S6500fd. However, the FinePix F31fd marks its first appearance in a pocket-sized digital camera. This is a significant step because it introduces high-level photographic technology to a wider market of digital camera buyers. It is a quick, efficient and user-friendly detection system. Add this to award winning features such as ISO 3200 at full resolution and you have an incredibly powerful camera married with absolute convenience and pocketability.”

FinePix F31fd features at a glance

  • Face Detection Technology built-in to the camera’s processor
  • Real Photo Processor II and new Super CCD HR VI
  • ISO 3200 sensitivity at full resolution
  • 6.3 million pixels
  • 3.0x optical zoom
  • Long-life battery (up to 580 shots)
  • IR Communication (IR simple™)
  • VGA movie capture of 30 frames per second with sound
  • PictBridge™ compatible for direct printing without a PC
  • Quick response times (0.01 second shutter lag and 1.5 second start-up)

* World’s fastest Face Detection technology at the time of research conducted by Fujifilm in July 2006.

Pentax Optio W20
If you're not afraid to take your camera out in the wilderness and get it dirty - you might want to look into the Pentax Optio W20. This waterproof digital camera is bigger than the Fuji and Sony models, but it features a more rugged case and comes with a 2.5 inch LCD screen and a 3x optical zoom lens. Best of all, the camera can be found pretty cheap while maintaining nice picture quality.

These cameras are significantly larger than compact cameras because they include a physically larger lens, which also makes them not as convenient and portable. However, that larger lens will enable you to zoom in much farther, and because the lens is a central part of the camera's appeal it is often a higher quality lens than those found on compact cameras. Ultra-zoom digital cameras are great for parents. They can use the large zoom to get close-ups of their children on the soccer field or at a recital - even without front-row seats.

We recommend:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
The Panasonic FZ50 blows away other cameras in its class with a 12x optical zoom and a 10 megapixel sensor. The FZ50 also has an impressive set of manual controls which will allow you to tweak your photos, improving their quality.

Canon PowerShot G7
The PowerShot G7 has an impressive 6x optical zoom and a 10 megapixel image sensor. The camera also has a very impressive video mode so you can take short movies - great for sharing online. If video is important to you, the G7 is a good choice over the Panasonic.

This type of digital cameras is great for passionate photographers as they allow you to manually control most aspects of the picture and change lenses too. Digital SLR cameras allow you to separate the camera body from the lens. This enables you to use multiple lenses depending on the shooting situation. These cameras are also the highest quality producers, as their professional big brothers are what newspaper and magazine photographers use. One of the most exciting developments in the digital camera industry this year has been the increasing competition in the consumer digital SLR market, resulting in dramatically lower prices and increased features. Four years ago you could not find a digital SLR camera for under $1,000; now there are dozens of models under $1,000 and some approaching $500. These cameras are durable and have so many functions that you won't get bored with it. A digital SLR can last you 3-5 years or more while a compact or ultra-zoom camera might need to be replaced in 1-2 years.

We recommend:

Canon EOS Rebel XTi
The Canon Rebel is the camera that started the low price SLR revolution. This is the third generation of the camera and Canon has updated it with dust control features, a larger LCD and more megapixels. Another advantage of the Rebel XTi is that as the most popular SLR camera manufacturer, there are more lenses compatible with Canon SLR cameras than any other brand.

Pentax K110D
While the Pentax doesn't produce the same quality or resolution as the Canon, it's hard to beat its price tag. The K110D has a very good auto focus system, great for fast-moving sports photography

If you're thinking, "I haven't heard megapixels mentioned once!" just know that I have not forgotten. The reality is that most digital cameras today include enough megapixels for prints up to 5 x 7 inches. If you're printing posters, or cropping your photos, or are obsessed with detail then megapixel counts will come into play and you should pay attention to them. However, you should understand that lens quality, sensor size, image processing chips, and a myriad of other factors impact the image quality - not just the number of megapixels advertised on the camera. If you're interested in taking the most beautiful pictures possible, the best thing to do is look at sample stills from the cameras you're shopping for.

Now before you go rush out to the store, here are a few tips to make sure you don't get poached by an over-zealous salesman. It's always best to handle and feel a camera before you buy it - so go to your local photo store and play with the camera you have your eye on. Keep in mind, though, that the best deals are online. That said, be careful. While you don't really have to worry about your credit card getting stolen, there are many "gray market" digital camera retailers online who use some shady tricks. Make sure to read store ratings which you can find with price comparison services and at the Better Business Bureau.

Any store is going to try to persuade you into buying accessories because the profit is small from digital cameras and their money is really made on memory cards and warranties. I always recommend buying warranties on digital cameras, or anything that is portable. As for a memory card, bigger is better. However, these are usually highly marked up by physical stores and you can find much better deals online. A simple camera bag is a smart decision, but make sure to buy something small or else you'll never actually use it. Most importantly, make sure to have fun with your digital camera.

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