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This Month in Digital Cameras

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At a Glance
  • Canon PowerShot G5

  • Generic Company Place Holder Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1 Bridge Camera

  • Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom

  • Minolta Dimage Xt

In years past, digital-camera manufacturers seemed to take a summer vacation. But this year, that wasn't the case; they came out with more and more models every few weeks (or so it seemed). Here's a look at the wide range of cameras that debuted this summer.

Ultrazoom cameras are becoming increasingly popular, and that's a good thing -- they're a lot of fun to use. Two of the best are from Panasonic and Olympus. The 2-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1 has an incredible f2.8, stabilized 12x zoom lens. The optical image stabilization on this lens helps reduce "camera shake," which can make images blurry. The stabilizer doesn't work miracles, but it helps quite a bit. The Lumix DMC-FZ1 is a ton of fun to use, but it may be too simple for photography enthusiasts: it has no manual control for shutter speed, aperture, or focus. If you want those, you can pay a little more for either the recently released Panasonic DMC-FZ2 or the $499, 3.2-megapixel Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom. It has a less impressive lens (10x, no stabilization) but offers full manual controls and higher resolution. Image quality is very good on both cameras, though you should expect some purple fringing along the edges of your photos. Olympus also makes a 4-megapixel camera, the C-750 Ultra Zoom, which has a hot-shoe.

If an ultracompact camera is what you're after, the 3.2-megapixel Minolta Dimage Xt could be the camera for you. Like the DMC-FZ1, the Dimage Xt is purely point-and-shoot. It uses the same internal lens system as previous Dimage X cameras, so it has a very thin profile. Picture quality is decent, but it's not as good as that of a larger camera with a more traditional lens system. Images tend to be soft in the corners, and vignetting, or dark corners, may also occur. Users also need to make sure that they keep their fingers away from the lens, to avoid inadvertent inclusion. The Xt is very responsive; at about a second and a half, its startup is one of the fastest out there. It also supports an optional underwater case, the $249 Minolta Marine Case.

In the high-end market, two of this year's most eagerly anticipated cameras are the Canon PowerShot G5 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1. Both the G5 and the DSC-V1 have 5-megapixel resolutions, 4x zoom lenses, and full manual controls. But both were a bit of a letdown, for different reasons. While the G5 has the same set of manual controls, fast zoom lens, reliable performance, and multitude of accessories as its predecessor, the PowerShot G3 (   ; January 2003), I was a little disappointed with the amount of purple fringing in many of my test photos. It was definitely worse than in the G3's photos, which is a shame, considering this camera's price. Aside from that, though, the photo quality is excellent. I like the ability to save your favorite settings to a spot on the mode wheel, and the ability to use the LCD to manually select the area in the frame to focus on. Another nice feature is Canon's included Remote Capture software, which lets you control the camera via a USB connection. The PowerShot G5's movie mode would've been well received a year ago, but the resolution and recording time are not as good as those of other cameras' movie modes.

The Cyber-shot DSC-V1 also didn't live up to its hype. Its photos have more noise and duller colors than photos taken with the PowerShot G5. Its purple fringing isn't as bad as the G5's, however. The DSC-V1's battery life was also disappointing, especially compared to that of other full-featured cameras in this class (it's about one-fourth the life of the G5's battery). The good news is that the DSC-V1 has a nicely designed body (except for poor flash placement), full manual controls, a hot-shoe, and a top-notch laser focusing system. With its VGA resolution, the camera's movie mode is excellent, though the slow, 16-fps frame rate leads to choppy videos. If Sony improved the photo quality and battery life a bit, the DSC-V1 would be at the top of its class. You can find the DSC-V1's features in a more capable (albeit larger) camera -- the DSC-F717.

At a Glance
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