Digital cameras with telephoto lenses are getting more popular — and less expensive. Last month, I looked at three pricier, 5-megapixel cameras with long zooms — Sony’s 5x Cyber-shot DSC-F717, Minolta’s 7x Dimage 7Hi, and Nikon’s 8x Coolpix 5700. This month, I review three hot new models with long zoom lenses, all priced below $600: Fuji’s FinePix 3800, Hewlett-Packard’s Photosmart 850, and Olympus’s C-730 Ultra Zoom.
Be sure to consider the potential trade-offs of a camera with a long zoom lens — an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that is often not as clear as an optical viewfinder and poorer image quality than that of a camera with a short zoom lens (a purple fringe around some edges is the most common complaint).
The FinePix 3800 has a 6x zoom and takes good-quality pictures, but it has trouble with low-light situations due to its lack of an autofocus (AF) illuminator and its EVF, which is unusable in the dark. The Photosmart 850 is the best value in the group, with an 8x zoom and an AF illuminator. Unlike the FinePix, the Photosmart 850 amplifies an image in the EVF when light levels are low. Image quality was very good, although I noticed jagged edges around many subjects. Olympus’s C-730 Ultra Zoom has a long, 10x zoom lens and a great feel. Its image quality is good, but its images are noisier than they should be for a $599 camera.
If portability is more important to you than zoom length, the Canon PowerShot S230 Digital Elph is worth considering. This small, metal camera is very responsive and takes high-quality pictures. It also offers an AF illuminator, a rarity on ultrasmall cameras. It has a problem with red-eye in flash photos, and its 2x zoom is limiting, but overall, the S230 is a great small camera. The Casio Exilim EX-S2 is remarkably thin and light, but because its feature set is also relatively thin, it will appeal only to those who need a tiny point-and-shoot camera.