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Generous zoom ranges and enhanced controls make these cameras a good option when portability is essential
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.
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 4.8x3.2x3.3 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.
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, ...
Best of Compact Cameras
Buyer's Guide 2009: Best Of Compact Cameras
Top-of-the-line pocket cameras make pro features more portable
The best photos are those you actually take. Chances are, you don't carry your D-SLR with you every time you leave the house, but you never know when a good photograph will present itself. That's when a compact camera that you can slip into your pocket really pays off.
Nikon Coolpix P6000
Nikon's latest flagship compact camera, the 13.5-megapixel Coolpix P6000 has a 4x optical zoom with a 28-112mm range. The lens uses Nikon's Vibration Reduction, allowing you to shoot handheld up to three shutter speeds slower than normal. A distortion control in the camera corrects for barrel distortion often seen at the wide end of zoom lenses.
Along with the 2.7-inch LCD, the P6000 has an optical viewfinder and three aspect modes—3:2, 16:9 and 1:1—the last with optional black borders. The P6000 also includes a built-in GPS to "geotag" your shots and a wide ISO range of 64-6400. Other features include a wireless remote, Face Priority AF, Nikon's D-Lighting system and five movie modes, including a time-lapse feature. The P6000 also brings Nikon's Picture Control System over from its D-SLR line, letting you apply adjustments to RAW images in-camera.
Toolbox: Top Compact Cameras
Toolbox: Top Compact Cameras
For candid and casual photography, today’s fixed-lens cameras offer near-SLR performance and some unique tricks all their own
Full-featured compact cameras offer more benefits besides light weight and sleek lines. While you lose the ability to swap lenses, you gain simplicity in the transaction. Besides, many compacts have terrific zoom lenses that will handle most typical shooting situations with ease. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, for example, comes equipped with a fast ƒ/2 lens—an aperture usually found on the most expensive SLR lenses.
The Canon PowerShot G10 is packed with so many SLR-like features, it has gained a following among professionals as an alternative for from-the-hip shooting. To begin, the camera offers 14.7 megapixels with compact body stylings and a true 28mm-equivalent, 5x wide-angle zoom lens (28-140mm) that’s equipped with optical image stabilization. It features a 3.0-inch LCD and has a hot-shoe that works with all current Canon flash units. Also, it shoots in RAW file format when you choose, and provides a shutter speed range from 1⁄4000 to 15 full seconds. You can change the shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation easily without wading through menus, and the Face Detection feature means that grab shots of people will turn out perfectly. The PowerShot G10 is the latest in the line of Canon G-series cameras that stretches back to the G1 in the year 2000—and each generation seems just that much better. List Price: $499.
The FinePix F100fd is a slim, slick 12-megapixel beauty built around FUJIFILM’s Super CCD HR Sensor. It pushes top-end specifications out to the edges with a 5x zoom that ranges from a useful wide-angle 28mm to 140mm. The Finepix F100fd offers enhanced dynamic range settings of 100% (normal), 200% and 400% (4x wider range). Dynamic range is defined as the steps or levels of light intensities that a sensor can detect and record between total black and total white. Using the F100fd’s Wide Dynamic Range makes more shades of gray visible between pure black and pure white. Other features include high sensitivity (ISO 3200 at full resolution and up to ISO 12800 at 3 megapixels), advanced Face Detection, Auto Red-Eye Removal and IR (infrared) image transfer options. One very convenient feature: a dual memory card slot that accepts the xD-Picture Card and the popular Secure Digital (SD) card format. Estimated Street Price: $350.