Two-Megapixel Cameras

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Want to impress your friends? The next time you see an ad for a megapixel camera, yawn. That's right, a million pixels just doesn't cut it anymore. These days, you've got to have at least twice that many. A scant five months after reviewing the first two-megapixel camera priced less than $1,000–Nikon's Coolpix 950 (see ""Digital Cameras Develop"," September 1999)–we received eight new models that punch fresh holes in the two million-pixel barrier. Four capture more pixels than the Coolpix 950's 1,600 by 1,200, and two are small enough to fit in a pocket. Better yet, all but one can be yours for less than $1,000. But if you've already purchased the Coolpix, don't fret–we stick by our

4.5 mice
rating for its exemplary image quality. Still, these new cameras prove that megapixel technology is officially two cool.

Olympus Camedia C-2500L

We keep expecting digital cameras to get dull, but they steadfastly refuse. This time, the standout is the Camedia C-2500L, from Olympus. At $1,499, it costs more than twice as much as the least-expensive camera in this roundup, but if you have the budget, the C-2500L earns its fee. First, it boasts a single-lens-reflex (SLR) design, so you can frame your shot using the same lens element through which the camera sees. By comparison, every other two-megapixel camera relies on an independent (and therefore inaccurate) optical viewfinder and/or a power-guzzling LCD preview. With the C-2500L, you can frame your shot quickly and accurately without burning through the batteries.

But that's just the beginning. The C-2500L sports a pop-up flash, so there's no chance of firing the strobe when you don't want it. And there's a hot-shoe for mounting an extension flash. If you have a problem getting the autofocus to lock onto a subject–a particular problem in low light–you can select from 16 manual focus overrides. You can extend the shutter speed to as long as 8 seconds and control whether to fire the flash at the beginning or end of an exposure, a great feature for photographing moving subjects at night. And if you can't figure out the menu, the documentation offers copious illustrations as well as the occasional photography tip. It's the best camera manual we've seen.

Olympus wisely ships the C-2500L with four rechargeable NiMH AA batteries and a charger. It includes more memory than the other cameras–a full 32MB compared with the standard 8MB–and it's the only camera that supports both flash-memory formats, the wafer-thin SmartMedia and the more versatile CompactFlash. (The C-2500L ships with a 32MB SmartMedia card.)

Naturally, this being a digital camera, all is not perfect. Olympus does not include a USB cable, so users of newer Mac systems can't connect the camera directly to their computers. And though the C-2500L captures more pixels than any other camera in its class, it has a habit of blowing out skies on sunny days. Both Nikon's Coolpix 950 and Kodak's DC265 (see ""Digital Cameras Develop"," September 1999) do a better job of metering bright light.

The primary advantage of the C-2500L's competitors is affordability; all vary from $699 to $799. The other advantage is size. The smallest of the bunch, Epson's PhotoPC 800, weighs half as much as the bulky C-2500L and takes up one-third the space. Some guys' wallets are bigger than the PhotoPC 800, yet it includes the amenities we've come to expect, including a built-in flash, LCD preview, USB connectivity, and rechargeable batteries. We also appreciated its locking power knob and lens cover, both of which prevent the camera from turning on when you toss it into a pocket or purse. The downside is the lack of a zoom lens and the camera's reliance on a meager two AA batteries; it sometimes ran out of juice after fewer than a dozen shots.

If you want small, the preferable device is Canon's PowerShot S10. Just two ounces heavier than the PhotoPC 800, it has all that camera's niceties plus a 2 x optical zoom. It also shoots more-vivid pictures than does the PhotoPC 800, although it has a habit of blowing highlights in bright light. And finally, the custom rechargeable battery lasts long enough to shoot 100 or more pictures. Canon even throws in a disposable battery in case you need to shoot while the primary battery is charging.

From the pocket-size models, the cam-eras grow incrementally from the Ricoh RDC-5000 to the Kodak DC280 to the camcorder-shaped Kyocera Samurai 2100DG. Larger still are the Epson PhotoPC 850Z (not to be confused with the diminutive 800) and the Toshiba PDR-M5, both of which sport protuberant lenses. The first three medium-size cameras rank as our least favorites, despite their slightly higher-than-average resolutions.

The Ricoh suffers from a clunky design and a grainy LCD preview. The Kodak camera's preview was possibly worse–in the model we tested, the LCD image was partially hidden behind the edge of the plastic housing. The camera is also slow to turn on and off. But the worst of the lot is the Kyocera camera. The LCD preview does a poor job of tracking movement; the picture quality is flat and drab; and if you're not careful, you can change a critical preference setting when taking advantage of the 4 x zoom function. The one upside is that it ships with an ingenious USB adapter for downloading images from the CompactFlash card. But if you own an older Mac, beware–the USB connection is your only method for transferring images.

The remaining cameras, Epson's PhotoPC 850Z and Toshiba's PDR-M5, are both respectable entries. The PDR-M5 feels great in your hands, and despite taking up more space than any camera but the Olympus C-2500L, it weighs just an ounce more than the Canon PowerShot S10. Typical of Toshiba hardware, the controls are easy to use, the battery charges inside the camera, and the LCD tracks smoothly.

But Epson provides more camera for your money. Although it's heavier, the PhotoPC 850Z includes a hot-shoe for an extension flash, a locking power knob, and a solar-assisted LCD screen that's easier to view under intense light. The Toshiba camera takes good-looking pictures, but photos taken by the PhotoPC 850Z are crisper and brighter, with less need for color correction and editing.

Given the rapid advancement in digital-camera capabilities, people often want to know when it will be "safe" to buy one. Will today's two-megapixel camera be obsolete six months from now? We don't have a crystal ball, but it's likely the technology will continue rolling forward for several years to come. That said, none of this new batch quite matches Nikon's Coolpix 950, which–almost a year after its introduction–provides higher picture quality, more flexibility, and better value than any camera in its class. Clearly, the Olympus Camedia C-2500L's high resolution and single-lens-reflex design make it a strong contender, but its high price is likely to give pause to all but the most well-funded ad agency. If portability is worth a slight trade-off in picture quality, Canon's PowerShot S10 is a well-crafted, palm-size device you can toss into a bag on a moment's notice. But the Coolpix 950 is still the champ.

January 2000 page: 34

Two-Megapixel Cameras
Company Canon Epson Epson Kodak Kyocera Olympus Ricoh Toshiba
Product PowerShot S10 PhotoPC 800 PhotoPC 850Z DC280 Samurai 2100DG Camedia C-2500L RDC-5000 PDR-M5
Mouse rating 3.5 mice 2.5 mice 3.5 mice 2.0 mice 1.5 mice 4.0 mice 2.5 mice 3.0 mice
Company's estimated price $699 $699 $799 $799 $799 $1,499 $699 $799
Contact 757/413-2848
CCD resolution (in millions of pixels) 2.11 2.14 2.11 2.30 2.14 2.50 2.36 2.14
Maximum image size (in pixels) A 1,600 x 1,200 1,600 x 1,200 1,600 x 1,200 1,760 x 1,168 1,632 x 1,232 1,712 x 1,368 1,792 x 1,200 1,600 x 1,200
Default memory 8MB 8MB 8MB 20MB 8MB 32MB 16MB B 8MB
Removable-media format CompactFlash CompactFlash CompactFlash CompactFlash CompactFlash CompactFlash,
SmartMedia SmartMedia
Storage capacity (in images) at maximum image size C 4-24 10-25 10-24 32-86 6-20 4-55 9-38 8-33
Optical-zoom function yes (2x) no yes (3x) yes (2x) yes (4x) yes (3x) yes (2.3x) yes (3x)
Focal length (35mm-equivalent) 35mm-70mm 38mm 35mm-105mm 30mm-60mm 35mm-140mm 36mm-110mm 38mm-86mm 40mm-120mm
Built-in flash/external strobe hot sync yes/no yes/no yes/yes yes/no yes/no yes/yes yes/no yes/no
LCD preview/playback yes/yes yes/yes yes/yes yes/yes yes/yes no/yes yes/yes yes/yes
Solar-assisted LCD no no yes no no no no no
Optical viewfinder yes yes yes yes yes yes (SLR) yes yes
Rechargeable batteries with charger yes D yes E yes E yes E yes F yes E no yes F
Macintosh connectivity serial, USB serial, USB serial, USB serial, USB USB serial serial, USB serial, USB
Lens cover yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Includes camera case no yes no no no no yes no
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