This Month in Digital Cameras
It's nice to see some camera manufacturers trying new things these days. While many camera makers are just putting higher-resolution CCDs into tired camera bodies, Fuji is attacking a more important problem: photo quality. The new SuperCCD SR sensor in the company's FinePix F700 camera specifically tries to improve dynamic range, or the detail in a photo's shadows and highlights. Though this camera does show noticeable improvements in dynamic range, the new sensor does not live up to Fuji's initial hype. But the F700 isn't a bad camera -- it's compact, well designed, and fast, and photo quality is quite good. In addition to producing photos at its native 3.1-megapixel resolution, it can also interpolate to 6 megapixels with decent results. If the price comes down a little, the F700 will be hard to resist.
Another camera using Fuji's SuperCCD technology (minus the dynamic-range improvements) is the FinePix S5000. At first glance, it looks like a miniature digital SLR camera. Once you pick it up, though, the plastic body tells you that it isn't one. The S5000 has a 10x optical zoom lens, an AF illuminator, and many manual controls. Like the F700, this camera can produce 6-megapixel images, but the quality isn't as good as that of the F700. On both the F700 and S5000, Fuji doesn't give you any choices for image quality (compression level) -- you just pick a resolution (image size) and go. On the other hand, both of the Fuji cameras have a Raw file mode, as well as unique continuous-shooting modes. In the end, the FinePix S5000 is just average in a growing field of ultrazoom cameras.
Another average ultrazoom camera is Toshiba's PDR-M700. Its main feature (besides the 10x zoom lens) is a 2.5-inch LCD, but it's too bad that the resolution of the LCD isn't very high. The PDR-M700 has plenty of manual controls, plus impressively speedy continuous-shooting modes. Its photo quality is better than that of the S5000 but not spectacular. Low-light focusing was not good, due in part to the PDR-M700's lack of an AF illuminator.
The best ultrazoom camera of the group is definitely Kodak's EasyShare DX6490. Like the Fuji S5000 and the Toshiba, the DX6490 has a 10x optical zoom and a healthy number of manual controls. The Kodak has a large 2.2-inch LCD, which is high-resolution, unlike the Toshiba camera's. Photo quality is very good, though details such as grass can look muddy at times. A hybrid autofocus system helps the camera focus well in low-light situations. The most interesting part of this Kodak camera is the EasyShare system, a two-part software package ( ; November 2003): one part is preinstalled on the camera; you install the other on your computer. When using the camera, you can mark photos for e-mailing, printing, or saving in photo albums. Then you connect it to your Mac, where the EasyShare software handles the photos you tagged.
Also impressive is Nikon's Coolpix 5400. With a 4x zoom lens (that starts at 28mm), a 5-megapixel CCD, a complete set of manual controls, a hot-shoe, and an incredible 1cm macro mode, this is one of the best high-end cameras out there. It's not perfect, though, as it lacks an AF illuminator and Raw mode, and the LCD is small for an expensive camera. Two other oddities include shutter-lag variations that depend on whether you have the fake shutter sound turned on, and a buffering issue where the camera will lock up as it finishes saving an image to the memory card.
The last camera for this month is Kyocera's Finecam L3v, an average 3.2-megapixel model that's interesting only because of its 2.5-inch LCD. As with the Toshiba camera, the L3v's LCD is large but low-resolution. Photo quality is decent, but images are on the soft side. Also, the camera lacks an AF illuminator, its playback and movie modes are a little outdated, and the included ImageMixer software is not OS X native.
JEFF KELLER is the editor of the Digital Camera Resource Page ( www.dcresource.com ), which includes reviews and ratings of more than 530 digital cameras, and dvspot ( www.dvspot.com ), a consumer-oriented DV-camcorder site.
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