Interchangeable-lens cameras offer the most options for creative control, but don’t count out the capabilities of the advanced fixed-lens cameras. They can provide a great option for photographers who need a small, high-quality backup camera, for photographers who need to travel light but don’t want to sacrifice quality and for photographers who just want to keep their gear simple, compact and lightweight.
Full-featured compacts often have the controls of a digital SLR, including choice of exposure modes, both auto and manual, auto and manual focus, full control of ISO and complete choice of white balance. Startup speeds and shutter lag have been improved dramatically in new models. Compared to entry-level D-SLRs, about the only thing they don’t have from a functional point of view is interchangeable lenses. For many photographers, the convenience and portability of an all-in-one design may outweigh the considerations of speed and lens options for everyday photography.
Casio Exilim EX-FH20
Basics: The 9.1-megapixel Exilim EX-FH20 features a 20x 26-520mm (35mm-camera equivalent) ƒ/2.8-4.5 optical zoom lens, with built-in optical image stabilization. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a 3.0-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The FH20 can shoot JPEG images or DNG-format RAW + JPEG images (but not RAW images only) at ISOs from 100-1600. Dimensions are 4.8×3.2×3.3 inches, weight is 17 ounces, and the camera runs on four AA batteries. Images are stored on SD or SDHC cards, and the camera has 31.9 MB of built-in memory. List Price: $449.
Special Features: The FH20 can shoot up to 40 7.1-megapixel still images at up to 40 fps and lower-res video at up to 1000 fps. (Yes, this 9.1-megapixel camera shoots 7.1 megapixels in high-speed still mode.) It also lets you shoot 720 HD video at 30 fps and high-speed video at 210, 420 and even 1000 fps at reduced resolution (for “slow-motion” movies that let you see things the human eye can’t see).
The Hook: Shooting at 40 fps makes it easy to nail those “decisive moments,” as does the camera’s ability to prerecord up to 40 images so you’ll get the moment even if you’re late on the shutter button. The high-speed video (at 210, 420 and 1000 fps) slows down motion so you can see things the human eye misses in normal-speed “real life.”
Verdict: This is a great camera for anyone who likes to study motion and see what the unaided human eye cannot: slow-motion video or motion-breakdown still-image studies of golf swings and such.
Canon PowerShot G11
Basics: The 10-megapixel PowerShot G11 has a 28-140mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8-4.5 optical zoom lens with built-in optical image stabilization. It provides both an eye-level optical viewfinder and a 2.8-inch, 461,000-dot vari-angle LCD monitor. The G11 can shoot images in RAW format, JPEG format or RAW + JPEG at ISOs from 100-3200. It also can shoot 640×480 and 320×240 SD video at 30 fps. Dimensions are 4.4×3.0x1.9 inches, weight is 12.5 ounces, and the G11 comes with a rechargeable NB-7L lithium-ion battery. Images are stored on SD or SDHC memory cards. List Price: $499.
Special Features: The G11’s High Sensitivity System utilizes its CCD sensor and powerful DIGIC 4 processor to produce outstanding image quality up to ISO 3200. A new Low Light Mode automatically adjusts ISO from 320 to 12,800 to provide really dim-light shooting capability. The vari-angle LCD monitor and control layout with knobs like a traditional camera make the G-series PowerShots popular with pro photographers.
The Hook: Canon’s G-series cameras have always appealed to serious photographers for their image quality, versatility and ruggedness in a discreetly compact package. The G11 returns the tilt/swivel LCD monitor to the series (making odd-angle shooting much easier) and improves the already-fine image quality.
Verdict: While compact digital cameras with their relatively tiny image sensors aren’t known for their high-ISO and low-light capabilities, the new G11 soon will be. It’s a fine choice when you want to shoot in tough lighting conditions and travel light.
Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR
Basics: The 12-megapixel FinePix S200EXR boasts a 30.5-436mm (equivale
nt) ƒ/2.8-5.3 optical zoom lens, with built-in optical stabilization. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The S200EXR can shoot JPEG and EXR-RAW format at ISOs from 100-3200 (up to 12,800 at reduced resolution). Dimensions are 5.3×3.7×5.7 inches, weight is 29.4 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable NP-140 lithium-ion battery. Images are stored on SD or SDHC cards, and the camera has 47 MB of internal memory. List Price: $599.
Special Features: Fujifilm’s new 1/16-inch Super CCD EXR sensor can change its electronic behavior, effectively providing three sensors in one. HR (High Resolution) mode uses all 12 million pixels to capture great detail. DR (Wide Dynamic Range) mode captures and combines two 6-megapixel exposures to capture greater dynamic range. SN (High Sensitivity Low Noise) mode bins two adjacent pixels together to increase sensitivity and minimize noise. You can select any of these modes or let the camera use the best one in EXR Auto mode.
The Hook: Some cameras are better at fine detail, others in dim light, still others in high-contrast situations. With its EXR sensor, the S200EXR can handle all of these situations.
Verdict: This is a great camera for those who shoot in a wide variety of challenging lighting situations.
Leica V-Lux 1
Basics: The 10.1-megapixel V-Lux 1 features a 12x 35-420mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8-3.7 optical zoom lens with built-in Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilization. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a swiveling 2.0-inch, 207,000-dot LCD monitor. The V-Lux 1 can record images in RAW and JPEG formats at ISOs from 100-3200. Dimensions are 5.5×3.3×5.6 inches, weight is 23.6 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Images are saved to SD/SDHC cards. List Price: $1,999.
Special Features: The V-Lux 1’s best features are its Leica lens, quick operation and autofocusing for a compact.
The Hook: The Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens features Leica’s legendary quality, with three aspherical elements and one ED element to minimize distortion and color fringing. The fast maximum aperture provides optimal performance in dim light, with Mega O.I.S. stabilization.
Verdict: Designed for the connoisseur and priced accordingly, the V-Lux 1 should please its target audience.
Nikon Coolpix P6000
Basics: The 13.5-megapixel Coolpix P6000 features a 28-112mm ƒ/2.7-5.9 optical zoom lens with built-in optical VR image stabilization. It provides both an optical viewfinder and a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The P6000 can shoot JPEG and (with Windows Vista) .NRW (not NEF) RAW images at ISOs from 64-6400. Dimensions are 4.2×2.6×1.7 inches, weight is 8.5 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery. Images are recorded on SD/SDHC cards, and there’s 48 MB of internal memory. List Price: $499.
Special Features: The P6000 has a built-in GPS and can “geo-tag” images as you shoot, recording the latitude and longitude at which each image was made.
The Hook: With the 13.5-megapixel Coolpix P6000, you gain precise control over all aspects of your picture-taking. All the exposure modes you’d expect to find on a D-SLR are found here, nicely configured to a traditional camera dial. EXPEED processing enhances performance and image quality.
Verdict: The P6000 is Nikon’s flagship compact digital camera.
Basics: The 12-megapixel SP-590UZ boasts a monster 26x 26-676mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8-5.0 optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization, yet weighs under a pound. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The SP-590UZ shoots JPEG still images at ISOs from 64-6400, plus 640×480 video. Dimensions are 4.3×3.5×3.6 inches, weight is 15.3 ounces, and the camera runs on four AA batteries. Images are stored on xD-Picture cards (or microSD cards, with adapter). List Price: $449.
Special Features: The SP-590UZ can shoot up to 25 3-megapixel images at 10 fps, up to 25 5-megapixel images at 6 fps and up to 5 12-megapixel images at 1 fps. Along with the tremendous focal-length range, it can focus down to 0.39 inches in Super Macro mode.
The Hook: A 26x zoom lens provides the focal-length flexibility to handle just about anything, photographically. That the wide end is truly wide is especially nice for epic landscape vistas and shooting in tight quarters, while the 676mm (equivalent) long end is longer than many wildlife and action shooters use. And, of course, you get everything in between. Now, that’s flexibility.
Verdict: Featuring the widest focal-length range of any compact digital camera as of its introduction, the SP-590UZ is a great choice when you want focal-
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35K
Basics: The 12.1-megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ35K has a 27-486mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8-4.4 optical zoom lens with Power O.I.S. image stabilization. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The FZ35K can shoot JPEG and RAW images at ISOs from 80-6400. Dimensions are 4.6×3.0x3.5 inches, weight is 12.9 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Images are saved on SD/SDHC cards, and there’s 40 MB of internal memory. List Price: $399.
Special Features: The FZ35K can shoot 1280×720/30p AVCHD Lite video, with Dolby Digital Stereo Creator sound via built-in microphone. You also can shoot video at 848×480, 640×480 and 320×240 resolutions.
The Hook: HD video lets you record moving pictures that look great on an HDTV. Being able to shoot still images in RAW format provides better image quality and gives you far more control if you like to improve your images in the computer.
Verdict: Combining an 18x wide-to-supertelephoto optical zoom, 12.1-megapixel still images and HD video in a compact package, the FZ35K lets you handle just about any shooting need, still or movie.
Basics: The 12-megapixel X70 features a 24x 26-624mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8-5.0 optical zoom lens with sensor-shift Shake Reduction. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The X70 can shoot JPEG still images and HD video, with ISOs from 50-6400. Dimensions are 4.4×3.2×3.9 inches, weight is 14.5 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable D-L192 lithium-ion battery. Images are stored on SD/SDHC cards, and there’s 33.6 MB of internal memory. List Price: $399.
Special Features: The X70 can shoot seven full-sized still images at 4 fps, 7 medium images at 6.3 fps or up to 21 5-megapixel images at 11 fps. In macro mode, you can focus to within 1 cm (0.4 inches) of a subject. Besides 720 HD video at 15 fps, the X70 can shoot 848×480, 640×480 and 320×240 video at 30 fps.
The Hook: A number of digital cameras offer face-detection AF, where the camera recognizes and optimizes exposure for human faces in a scene. The X70 can do this for up to 32 faces in approximately 0.33 seconds, great for group shots. The camera also can be set to fire when a subject smiles and even to warn the photographer when a subject blinks.
Verdict: This is a do-it-all camera, with focal lengths from true wide-angle to supertelephoto, HD and SD movie modes, and extreme close-up capability.
Basics: The 12-megapixel Samsung HZ15W features a 10x 24-240mm (equivalent) ƒ/3.3-5.8 optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. It has a 3.0-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The HZ15W records images in JPEG format at ISOs from 80-1600 (and 3200 at reduced resolution). Dimensions are 4.1×2.4×1.4 inches, weight is 8 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable SLB-10A lithium-ion battery. Images are stored on SD/SDHC cards, and there’s 21 MB of internal memory. List Price: $299.
Special Features: Besides that amazing, truly wide 24mm focal length, the HZ15W provides 720 HD video shooting at 30 and 15 fps.
The hook: Due to the tiny size of their sensors, you don’t see really wide lenses on compact digital cameras. So it’s remarkable to find a true 24mm (equivalent) focal length on the HZ15W, especially in a 10x zoom lens. It might not seem like 24mm is that different than 28mm, but try it and you’ll discover a markedly different wide-angle view. The 3.0-inch LCD makes it easy to compose your wide shot.
Verdict: An excellent choice for wide-angle fans, with HD video as a bonus.
Basics: The DP2 is built around the same three-layer Foveon image sensor used in Sigma’s flagship D-SLR and features a fast, wide 24.2mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8 lens that was designed for that sensor. The 2.5-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor serves as the viewfinder. The DP2 can shoot 12-bit RAW or JPEG images at ISOs from 50-1600. Dimensions are 4.5×2.3×2.2 inches, weight is 9.2 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable BP-31 lithium-ion battery. Images are stored on SD/SDHC cards. List P
Special Features: Unlike conventional image sensors used in other digital cameras, the Foveon sensor used in the DP2 (and Sigma’s DP1 and SD-series D-SLRs) records all three primary colors at every pixel site. It does this by stacking three layers of pixels. The top layer records blue wavelengths, the middle layer green ones (which penetrate silicon deeper than short blue ones), and the bottom layer records red wavelengths. There are three 2652×1768-pixel layers, for a total of 14.1 million pixels.
The Hook: Because the Foveon sensor records all three primary colors at every pixel site, there’s no interpolation (guessing) required to fill in missing color data as with conventional sensors. And there’s no need for an image-blurring anti-aliasing filter. Thus, the Foveon sensor can deliver sharper images with more accurate colors. The APS-C-format Foveon sensor is also much larger than typical compact digital camera sensors with much larger pixels, which improves dynamic range and low-light capability.
Verdict: This isn’t a “bells and whistles” snapshooter’s camera, but rather a pocketable device providing complete control for the knowledgeable user, plus excellent image quality.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Basics: The 9.1-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 features a 20x 28-560mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8-5.2 optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. It provides both an eye-level electronic viewfinder and a tilting 3.0-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor. The DSC-HX1 can shoot JPEG images at ISOs from 125-3200. Dimensions are 4.5×3.3×3.6 inches, weight is 17.8 ounces, and the camera comes with a rechargeable InfoLITHIUM battery. Images are stored on Sony Memory Stick PRO and DUO PRO media, and there’s 11 MB of built-in memory. List Price: $499.
Special Features: The HX1 can shoot 10 full-resolution, 9.1-megapixel images in one second. Sweep panorama mode lets you shoot a continuous series while panning the camera, and the camera will combine the images into a wide panoramic shot. The HX1 can shoot 1080/30p HD video with stereo sound via a built-in mic, plus 720 HD at 30 fps and 640×480 SD video. Twilight mode combines six images to cancel out noise for better image quality at any ISO setting.
The Hook: Most compact digital cameras can shoot low-res movies, but only a handful can shoot HD video. Even fewer can shoot 1080p full HD video. The HX1 not only does that, it does it with high-quality stereo sound, no accessories needed. Sweep panorama does automatically in-camera what used to take long hours at the computer.
Verdict: The HX1 is a versatile compact camera offering some unique and useful features.