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.