Two-Megapixel Cameras

After last year's debut of the three-megapixel camera and this year's introduction of the four-megapixel camera, it may seem surprising that the two-megapixel camera is the most available and accessible digital camera on the market. Why is this so? Because the two-megapixel camera is competitively priced, delivers quality output, and has an array of features. We took a look at 11 of the latest two-megapixel cameras to determine how they stack up against each other, and we found that all are not created equal. The Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Elph clearly stands above the competition, in value, quality, and style.

Different Shapes and Sizes

You'll never get the perfect shot if you leave your camera at home because it's too bulky and hard to handle. Generally, the cameras in this roundup are compact and easy to carry. One exception is the Kodak DC5000, which is designed for outdoor use. It's easily twice the size of any of the other cameras in this roundup. All of its controls and hatches are equipped with latches or switches that can be manipulated with gloved hands. Most of the camera body is encased in a thick rubber-like material making the DC5000 weatherproof -- specifically designed for use onboard ships or around heavy machinery, dust, or grit. Kodak has been marketing this camera to the military, and the Navy has bought several hundred.

The Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom is not as bulky as the DC5000 but is large relative to other digital cameras. Still, the C-2100 fits well in your hand. The Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom is about half the size of the C-2100. The Olympus Camedia D-510 Zoom is lightweight and similar in size to a point-and-shoot camera.

The Coolpix 775 is easily the smallest digital camera Nikon has introduced of late: it's cute and stylish.

All three of Canon's recent two-megapixel cameras are small in size. The Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Elph and the PowerShot S300 Digital Elph cameras are tiny -- roughly the size of a credit card -- and about as thick as two decks of cards. The PowerShot A20 is about twice the size of these cameras, and physically resembles a point-and-shoot camera. Canon sells a weatherproof case for both the A20 and the S300 that allows you to take either camera as far as 100 feet underwater. Plus, the A20 is compatible with Canon's wide-angle and wide-conversion lenses.

Compared with the other cameras in this roundup, the Kodak DX3500 looks somewhat like a toy, but its competitive price more than makes up for this. The Toshiba PDR-M61 is medium-sized, but its body has a flimsy feel to it. The Samsung Digimax 210SE is of average size, but the red power button on the back of this camera required multiple attempts to turn the camera on, even with fresh batteries.

A Matter of Features

Although it's obvious in a glance how these cameras vary cosmetically, many differences are found under the surface. We saw a variety of features including the ability to record audio and video.

The C-2100 is one of the most feature-rich two-megapixel digital cameras, with 10x optical zoom, the ability to record QuickTime movies with sound, and an image-stabilization system. The C-700 also can record up to 62 seconds of QuickTime movies with sound and has a 10x optical zoom. The D-510 records up to 62 seconds of full motion video with sound. The digital zoom feature that Olympus offers with these three cameras is seamless, meaning that the camera will automatically switch to digital zoom when the limit of its optical range is reached. The automatic nature of the seamless digital zoom can work against users who don't want to use the feature.

The Canon PowerShot S110 and S300 Digital Elph cameras both have more features than their predecessor, the S100, including the ability to record video with audio. Video can be played back through each camera's LCD screen. And unlike the S100, the S110, S300, and PowerShot A20 are compatible with Canon's portable digital photo printer, the CP-10.

The DX3500 is one of Kodak's newest digital cameras, and at $299, its price is appealing. It has a 3x digital zoom but no optical zoom lens.

Shoot and See

One of the most attractive features of a digital camera is the ability to preview captured images on an LCD screen. The LCD screen sometimes doubles as a viewfinder. Unfortunately, the Olympus C-2100 has an LCD viewfinder only, which is not as responsive as an optical viewfinder and does not work as well in low light. In comparison, the Canon S110 has both an optical viewfinder (which works just like a point-and-shoot camera viewfinder) and an LCD viewfinder. While LCD viewfinders work well to preview captured images and determine whether they are worth saving, they can be problematic in bright or low light situations when images are hard to see.

Of all the cameras in this roundup, the Coolpix 775 has the smallest LCD screen. The icons in the DC5000's 1.8-inch LCD display are somewhat confusing, but the user manual helps to clear up some of the confusion.

A file folder interface on the display LCD is used to navigate through the menu system on the Digimax 210SE. Navigating through these folders and menus proved cumbersome: the navigation buttons were too small, making them difficult to select. Plus, to select flash mode, you must navigate through a second set of buttons on the top of the camera, which is time-consuming.

Unfortunately, the PDR-M61 does not ship with a hard copy version of its user's manual; all hardware and software manuals are available only as PDF files on the supplied CD-ROM.

Seeing Is Believing

To judge the image quality of camera output, we printed several images onto premium quality photo paper through an Epson Stylus Photo 780. Our jury results showed that the Kodak DX3500, the Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Elph, and the Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom rated the highest for image quality, color fidelity, contrast, sharpness, and least noise.

Make a Connection

These cameras all connect to the Mac via USB. However, some have a more direct connection than others do. For example, the Canon cameras require software to be installed for image uploading, but the Olympus cameras connect without software. Even if a camera doesn't have a direct physical connection to the Mac, it's easy and inexpensive to purchase a media card reader that accepts the camera's media and connects directly to the CPU, appearing on the desktop like a hard drive. Media card readers are available in every format.

With USB AutoConnect technology, the C-700 has one advantage over the C-2100: the user plugs the camera directly into the Mac and the camera is recognized like an external drive, without requiring any software. Like the C-700, the D-510 Zoom features USB AutoConnect technology. In comparison, the Canon cameras are bundled with Canon's software, ImageBrowser, to upload images and perform basic image editing.

Depending on whether you want to send your images via e-mail or print them out on 8-by-10-inch photo paper, you must choose the appropriate file type when capturing digital images. All three Olympus cameras can capture images in one of three JPEG compression levels as well as in TIFF format. The A20 saves files in one of several JPEG compression levels. The Kodak, Canon, Toshiba, and Samsung cameras save images in JPEG format only.

Editor's Choice

The Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Elph is the most appealing camera in this roundup because it delivers sharp images, good contrast, and strong color fidelity in addition to being compact and reasonably priced. Plus, it fits into your shirt pocket.

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