capsule review

Two-Megapixel Digital Cameras: More Choices

Elph

Three megapixel cameras have been the talk of the digital camera world since their introduction at the PMA 2000 trade show in Las Vegas this past February, at the expense of last year's heroes, the two megapixel cameras. But, there are still a number of two megapixel cameras to go around. This month there are five additional cameras to add to the list.

Here we look at the Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph, priced at $699, the Casio QV-2000UX, priced at $499, the FujiFilm Finepix 4700 Zoom, priced at $799, The Ricoh RDC-5300, priced at $699 and the Toshiba PDR-M4, priced at $399. To see how these five cameras compare to previous two megapixel cameras, we included the Nikon Coolpix 950, introduced over a year ago and still in Nikon's current product line, priced at $899.

Nikon's Coolpix 950 truly set the standard for two megapixel cameras last year. Ergonomically, the camera just feels good and all the controls are accessible by one hand. The Coolpix also has standout picture quality for a 2 megapixel camera. So, if the Nikon Coolpix 950 was then and these five cameras are now, how do they compare with the 950?

Generally, the new batch is smaller and lighter. The Canon PowerShot S100, built on Canon's ultra-successful APS-film format camera the Elph, is so small it not only fits in the palm of your band, but also in your shirt pocket. You can easily palm this camera and inobtrusively capture a candid shot of your dog playing with the kids or your daughter kicking the ball into the back of the net on the soccer pitch.

The Toshiba PDR-M4 is one and a half times larger than the S100 yet still compact enough not to be a burden. All the controls are easily accessible, albeit somewhat "plastic" in touch. The Casio QV-2000UX takes up the space of roughly three of the S100s, and feels and handles like a brick. Annoyingly, the built-in flash pops up right where you want to put your left hand to steady the camera. The only way to get the flash to lock back down, and out of the way, is by shutting the camera off. The Ricoh RDC-5300's on/off switch is on the back of the camera, almost at center bottom. This switch not only turns the camera on, it physically moves a solid protection screen away from the LCD monitor. This dual purpose of the switch is potentially troublesome: if the protection screen malfunctions, the entire camera is in disrepair.

The Fuji 4700 Zoom, while larger than the S100, fits in one hand with all controls in fingertips' reach. Unfortunately, however, it is almost impossible to hold onto the camera with your right hand and not get your thumb all over the LCD screen. Of equal annoyance, the status display has some fairly ambiguous icons and is surrounded by a circular bezel that does an over-effective job of cutting off ambient light from the display, to the point that the backlight must be used to see the display.

CompactFlash enables the Casio and the Canon cameras to store a considerably larger amount of memory than the Fuji, Ricoh and the Toshiba which all use SmartMedia cards. With CompactFlash II cards now able to store up to 300 MB, and the Casio's ability to use IBM Microdrives, the Casio is your best bet for trips. The Ricoh is the only camera of the five that has on-board storage capacity in addition to card slot. With 8 MB of on-board storage, you can expect to store seven images at the best JPEG compression. However, you will have to tell the camera where you want to store the images you capture; it will not cascade over from internal to external, or vice versa.

Of the five cameras we tested against the Coolpix 950, only the Toshiba PDR-M4 lacks an optical zoom. The PDR-M4's only zoom function is digital and requires the user to turn on the LCD and press the "up" arrow on the function button on the back to display "zoom" in the LCD. All the other cameras have optical zoom capabilities, ranging between a 2X to 3X. Overall, the Toshiba has the most limited feature set and its less than optimum image quality necessitiates image editing work.

Our base camera, the 950 Coolpix, is strong in image quality. While the Canon images exhibit noticeable levels of noise, this is reparable with the help of an image editing application. The Toshiba and Casio cameras also show reparable levels of noise, with somewhat weaker color fidelity than the Canon. Images from the Ricoh and Fuji cameras require the user to spend more time cleaning up noise and trying to bring flat color back to a useful level.

Out on the road, it's often a race to see if your camera will run out of storage space or battery juice. The Nikon we tested ships with four AA alkaline batteries, as does the Casio and the Ricoh; although regular batteries are simple to replace, they are more expensive in the long run. The Toshiba uses a PDR-BT1 Lithium Ion battery, which, when we tested it, recharged fully in five to six hours inside the camera with the supplied AC adapter. The Canon PowerShot S100 uses a proprietary Canon battery that ships, along with its recharger, with the camera. This battery is recharged outside of the camera and requires from ninety minutes to two hours to fully charge. The Fuji 4700 ships with two AA NiMH batteries and a charger. Our tests showed that even after eight hours, the battery had not fully charged: we could not take more than twenty to thirty pictures before the low battery icon started to flash. Buying two to three sets of NiMH batteries is advisable with this and the other cameras, as is buying a good recharger if one is not supplied. One tip to consider: if your plans call for travel in Europe or Asia be sure that your recharger is both dual voltage and 50Hz/60Hz capable.

Summary : The Nikon 950 Coolpix still stands as the reigning 2 megapixel camera.
Company Product Mouse Rating List Price Contact Pros Cons
Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph 4.0 mice $699
Real Price
800/OK-CANON, www.usa.canon.com Compact; pleasing image quality Expensive
Casio QV-2000UX 3.5 mice $499
Real Price
800/962-2746, www.casio.com Low price; high storage capability Large size
Toshiba PDR-MR 3.5 mice $399
Real Price
800/288-1354, www.toshiba.com Low price Lacks optical zoom
Fujifilm 4700 Zoom 3.0 mice $799
Real Price
800/800-3854, www.fujifilm.com Compact Expensive; unimpressive image quality
Ricoh RDC-5300 3.0 mice $699 Real Price 888/742-6410, www.ricoh-usa.com On-board storage capacity High level of noise
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