Buyer's Guide 2008: Advanced Compact Cameras
Travel light with high-megapixel, long-range zoom cameras
One lens, big zoom—that's the number-one benefit of advanced compact cameras compared to D-SLRs. You don't have to own multiple lenses to go from macro to wide-angle, then zoom out to well over 300mm—which also means you don't have to carry multiple lenses around when you travel. Additionally, advanced stabilization systems help minimize camera shake at any focal length, making the use of a tripod optional. Some even have LCDs that tilt and swivel like the Canon PowerShot S5 IS and Leica V-Lux 1.
While cameras in this class will all have comparable metering and focusing systems, along with a similar selection of shooting modes, there are some notable differences between them.
If you like shooting wide-angle or think you'll want the option, make sure the lens goes to 27mm or 28mm at the shortest focal length, or at least has an optional wide converter available that you can screw on the front of the lens.
Wildlife and sports enthusiasts will probably want to go long and get as much telephoto as possible. The Olympus SP-560 Ultra Zoom has an 18x optical zoom range of 27-486mm, while the Panasonic DMC-FZ18K has an 18x optical zoom range of 28-504mm.
The Canon PowerShot G9 has a 6x optical zoom range of 35-210mm, which, at first glance, seems small compared to 18x. However, the trade-off gives you an incredibly compact body, and it's still a great range, which you can extend with the optional teleconverter and wide converter. This slows you down a bit in the field when you have to attach them, but you'll get bigger files for the effort-both the Olympus and the Panasonic have 8 megapixels, while the Canon has a whopping 12 megapixels.
FRAMES PER SECOND
In continuous shooting mode, you'll see a big difference in performance between cameras. You may not automatically think about this when you buy a camera. Then one day, when you want to do some sequential shooting, you'll find out you're limited to 1.5 frames per second.
As it stands today, most advanced compacts max out between 1.5 and 3 frames per second. The one exception is the Olympus SP-560 UZ, which is, by far, the fastest at 15 frames per second, and with the Pre-Capture technology, as soon as the focus is locked, 5 frames are archived in the camera's buffer memory prior to shutter release. So even if you have a slow trigger finger, you'll still get your shots.