Want a full-featured, high-resolution digital camera in a small package? Take a look at either Olympus’s C-50 Zoom or Canon’s PowerShot S45.
The 5-megapixel C-50 is a well-designed camera with a metal body and a 3X zoom lens. It works well in point-and-shoot mode and has a good set of manual controls in case you need them (it lacks manual focus and white-balance controls, however). The C-50 is easy to use, and it even lets you save a group of favorite settings to the mode wheel for easy recall. Photo quality is very good, although images were a little on the noisy side, and edges often displayed purple fringing.
Canon’s PowerShot S45 has 1 million fewer pixels, but it’s no slouch. It has the same CCD and image-processing chip as Canon’s flagship PowerShot G3 (This Month in Digital Cameras, January 2003), but it’s smaller and has only a 3X zoom lens. The S45 has all the features of the C-50, but it has better picture quality, manual focus and white-balance controls, an autofocus (AF) illuminator, and a better movie mode (with sound). All of these things tip the scales in the S45’s favor, but the Olympus camera is a good choice if you want something a little smaller, or if you need the higher resolution.
If you’re looking for a more substantial camera with support for an external flash and conversion lenses, consider Olympus’s C-5050 Zoom. This 5-megapixel camera has a fast, f1.8, 3X optical zoom lens (which allows for great low-light shooting), an increased flash range, and support for three media types: CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and xD Picture Card. Although I saw noticeable purple fringing in many shots and a bit too much noise at the ISO 64 setting, the C-5050’s overall photo quality was very good. The camera is extensively customizable but complex — plan on spending some time getting used to the menus and options.
This month’s odd camera out is a 3.2-megapixel update to the Coolpix 2500: Nikon’s Coolpix 3500, which, unfortunately, inherits the shortcomings of its predecessor — excessive red-eye problems, the absence of an optical viewfinder, and noisy images in low light. Picture quality outdoors is quite good, but the 3500 just doesn’t have a lot going for it that raises it above the competition in the under-$400 market.