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This is the last chapter in the "best of 2008" trilogy, unofficially titled, The Pocket Camera Strikes Again. Jokes aside, manufacturers have become quite serious in making their cameras increasingly more specialized and unique. A few years ago, when walking up to a wall of point and shoot cameras on display, you might have had a hard time discerning the subtle differences in the sea of silver plastic bodies. Nowadays, not only are color choices available, there are also plenty of specialty tools such as RAW file formats, wide-aperture and wide-angle optics, built-in GPS receivers, high definition videos, and HD video. So let's take a look at some of the brightest cadets of the class of 2008.
The 10 megapixel E1 is a camera designed to be fun and friendly, and puts an emphasis on usability over complexity. This is the camera you will want to stuff in your pocket, purse, or messenger bag, to have on hand for the fun and unexpected moments of your life. A choice of stylish colors makes this youthful camera a great gift item.
At the other end of the point & shoot spectrum, the arrival of the G10 reminds users why the G-series PowerShots have been so popular with pro's and advanced amateurs alike. This camera "feels" like an SLR with traditional dials, advanced metering, RAW file format, hotshoe and full manual control. An oversized, 14 megapixel, 1/1.7" sensor is larger than most point & shoot sensors and bridges the quality gap between pocket camera and DSLR.
The must have über-geek tool this year is definitely the Casio EX-F1, a camera we profiled earlier. It is capable of capturing 60 fps stills and 300 - 1200 fps video producing some really cool visuals. The follow-up camera, Casio's EX-FH20, has a number of the same features of its big brother the EX-F1 in a more economical package. With 9 megapixels, 20x zoom, 40 fps stills and 210 to 1000 fps video clips, the EX-FH20 is an option for those who do not need the "oomph" of the EX-F1.
Fujifilm is a manufacturer that is paying a lot of attention to advanced amateurs who do not wish to fiddle with the lens-swapping aspect of SLRs ownership, prefer super-zoom cameras with advanced controls like the FinePix S100fs. This camera has the look, feel, and features of a digital SLR with a 28-400mm equivalent lens. What's unique are a tilting 2.5" LCD, RAW file recording, film simulation effect and 7 fps still capture rate.
The S8100fd is in the same genre, but packaged in a simpler container. The 27-486mm lens aboard the camera is well-sealed and prevents particulate intrusion. A max ISO of 6400 and image stabilization assures that your shots never come out blurry because of not enough light or shaky hands.
As a side note: throughout their product line, Fujifilm is bridging formats by incorporating dual media slots (xD and SD) on their latest generation of cameras.
The Kodak EasyShare Z1015 IS Zoom, like the rest of the Z-series cameras is the latest combination of Kodak's digital technology and Schneider-Kreuznach's lensmaking skills. This too is a superzoom boasting a 15x range (28-420mm equivalent) that is paired with a 10 megapixel sensor. A really neat feature is HD video capture that can record up to 80 minutes of video with stereo sound.
Leica has generated some excitement with two camera releases this year, specifically the C-Lux 3 and the D-Lux 4. The latest generation in the C-Lux family is a 10 megapixel camera with a wider-than-most 25-125mm equivalent lens. The C-Lux 3 also boasts a max ISO of 3200, HD video recording and image stabilization.
Leica C-Lux 3
The D-Lux 4 has been turning heads with an unheard of 24-60mm equivalent lens with a max aperture of f/2.0-2.8! With full manual controls, a hotshoe, and a variety of classic accessories ranging from an optical viewfinder to a leather ever-ready case, this camera is poised to be the pocket photojournalist's dream.
If you have become accustomed (or perhaps addicted) to the touch screen on your new mobile phone, the new Coolpix S60 will let you carry over that tactile control to the world of photography. The 3.5" screen is touch-sensitive, so there are few buttons on the camera itself. The S60's touch interface lets you select focus, flip through photos, add notes and more.
Breaking new ground, the P6000 is the latest camera to sit atop the peak of the CoolPix line. It retains the pro-level features like manual controls, a hotshoe, RAW format, and durable chassis, but adds a built-in GPS receiver. For reference, the active GPS chipset provides latitude and longitude data anywhere you are in the world and embeds (geotags) it into your picture. So you never again have to scratch your head and wonder where a photo was taken.
Adding to the pool of superzooms, the 10.1 megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ28 features an 18x (27-486mm equivalent) zoom lens with an impressive close-up range that lets users get up to less than 1/2" (1cm) away from their subjects. Advanced users will appreciate the RAW format and manual controls.
Without rehashing the specs of its separated-at-birth camera cousin, the Leica D-Lux 4 listed above, it might be best to mention why the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is worth examining. In a word: personality. The Panasonic body design differs from the Leica version by some useful mechanical and aesthetic choices; primarily the decision to incorporate a snazzy rubberized grip on the front of the body that the Leica version requires as a separate accessory.
Clearly, avid outdoors-people and perennial klutzes have become quite fond of the waterproof pocket camera design. The Optio W60 is Pentax's most recent waterproof unit that combines 10 megapixels, a 5x zoom (28-140mm equivalent), HD video and seals that allow the camera to operate completely submerged in water and in cold weather. This is something to ponder when packing for your next Everest expedition...
Minox- Leica M3
A pair of classy and cool retro digital cameras are the Rollei Mini Digi AF and the Minox DCC Leica M3 Plus. They are based upon two pinnacle cameras of photography's past; the Rollei is a miniature version of the medium format Rolleiflex TLR, and the Minox replicates the Leica M3 in a micro-sized version. The 5 megapixel Rollei has a crank advance and LCD screen in the chimney viewfinder. The Minox M3 is also 5 megapixels and has 32MB built-in memory, video recording, and a 1.5" display.
Olympus also produces "goof-proof" rugged cameras. The latest pair are the Stylus 1030SW and 1050SW. These shock, water, and weather-resistant units are 10.1 megapixels slim cameras primarily differing in the 1030SW's 3.6x zoom (28-102mm equivalent) and the 1050SW's 3x [dal2] (38-114mm equivalent). The 1050SW also has a tap control feature, which gives users control of some functions by simply tapping the camera. For its part, the 1030SW has a manometer that measures air or water pressure and provides altitude information to image data.
Samsung NV24HD Samsung TL34HD
In Samsung's stable of cameras is the NV24HD, a 10 megapixel camera with a very-wide 24-86.5mm (equivalent) lens. It utilizes a 2.5" organic LED touch screen that is not only brighter and less power-hungry than traditional LCD displays, but also has a wide angle of view - up to 180 degrees.
On the flipside, the pixel-a-plenty 14.7 MP TL34HD is more prosumer oriented and also uses a 3" LCD smart touch screen to control the 3.6x (28-102mm equivalent) lens and camera functions. Furthermore, the camera can record HD video and can handle itself when low-light shooting with a max ISO of 3200 and dual image stabilization - all through a sharp Schneider zoom lens.
Sigma's future classic DP-1 has a new sibling arriving soon - the DP-2, It does not replace the DP-1, but rather complements it. Both are nearly APS-C sized, Foveon sensor-based cameras. They look and feel alike with 14 megapixels of high resolution goodness packed behind a sharp prime (fixed focal length) lens. The DP-1, uses a wide 28mm f/4 (equivalent) lens while the newer DP-2 has a 41mm f/2.8 lens (35mm equivalent). The DP-series cameras can be accessorized with a range of enhancements like an optical viewfinder, a dedicated flash and a close-up lens.
Last but certainly not the least is the Cybershot DSC-H50 from Sony which is a 9.1 megapixel powerhouse with 15x zoom (31-465mm equivalent) that is reasonably fast with a max aperture of f/2.7-4.5. Onboard, goodies like a tilting 3" display, scene recognition, color palette selection, video capture and nightshot infra-red sensitivity, are complex features made easy by this camera. The Carl Zeiss lens on its face doesn't hurt much either.
This year brought us touch-screen controls, GPS incorporation, HD video and more weatherproofing refinements. How the cameras of 2009 will top that I am eager to see. But lava-proof, bionic interfaced, 200 megapixel, micro-sized cameras can't be too far off. I can't wait for the future when I get to download pictures directly into my brain.