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B&H 2009 Point-and-Shoot Buyer's Guide

By Allan Weitz

There's an old saying that goes 'the best camera in the world is the one you have with you when you need it'. At B&H Photo we stock over a hundred point-and-shoot digicams both simple and sophisticated - that slip easily into your pocket, which means it's more likely to be handy when you need it. As for 'simple', they're all easy to use, and if you're more of a hands-on shooter, many have advanced DSLR-like functionality including full manual control. Size and functionality aside, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to also say some of these palm-sized capture devices are among the most innovative cameras out there these days. And many come in a choice of colors no less.

Gimmicky filters and shooting modes aside, the smaller imaging sensors combined with the shorter focal length lenses common to point-and-shoot digicams allow for a unique style of visual imagery not possible with larger-format cameras. Have special needs? There are point-and-shoot cameras you can dive with, ski with, shoot 10-frames-per-second with, HD 1080p video, and with the turn of a dial shoot panoramic images up to 256 wide.

In order to save you much time and effort, we present our 2009 Point-and-Shoot Buyer's Guide, which is designed to narrow the field and enable you to choose the best camera for your needs. Because of the sheer number of cameras we sell at B&H it would be an awesome undertaking to list them all, but by discussing these cameras in terms of special attributes, e.g., touch screens, slim-profile, water-proof, focal-range, etc., this guide at the very least should help steer you to the best camera for your particular needs.

Resolving Power

Resolving power, i.e. the pixel-count, is not as big a deal as it used to be as manufacturers are recognizing the fact fewer but-larger-pixels produce 'better', i.e., fuller-toned and natural looking pictures compared to more-but-tinier pixels. (Resolving power that lacketh flesh on the bone maketh not a hearty broth.)

A good case in point is the Canon PowerShot G11, which contains about a third fewer (but larger) pixels than its predecessor, the 14.7Mp PowerShot G10, without compromising image quality. If anything, the 10.2Mp PowerShot G11 produces images that have proved to be fuller-toned compared to the G10 despite the so-called 'loss of resolving power'. The bottom line is digicams containing anywhere from 8 to 12-megapixels should prove to be more-than-sufficient to satisfy your imaging needs.

LCD Screens

Viewfinders are becoming increasingly rare in point-and-shoot digicams leaving the camera's LCD as our sole method of viewing and composing pictures and video. The good news is the quality of LCD screens has vastly improved over the past few years, and most point-and-shoot digicams feature LCDs that on average measure about 3" diagonally, with smaller screens measuring in on average at a still-decent 2.5", and larger screen measuring in at a grander 3.5" across.

The resolving powers of LCD screens have also improved as of late. Not long ago most LCD screens contained about 230,000 pixels, or dots. Many current cameras sport from 460,000 to upwards of 920,000 dots of resolving power, which is easier on the eyes and far superior when it comes to fine-focusing, especially in manual focus mode.

Touchscreen LCDs are becoming increasingly popular in point-and-shoot cameras, and by incorporating the camera controls camera manufacturers have been able to further decrease camera sizes while maintaining larger LCD sizes. Nikon's CoolPix S70 sports a 3.5" Touch Panel OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) that features tap-activated iPod-like controls. Pictures can be scrolled by sweeping your finger across the screen, or zoomed in and out of by pinching or expanding your fingertips across the LCD.

Nikon’s CoolPix S70 Sony Cyber-shot DCS T90

Other cameras featuring touchscreen displays include the Sony Cyber-shot DCS T90, which features a 12.1Mp sensor, a 4x Carl Zeiss zoom lens, up to ISO 3200 imaging, and HDTV compatibility. The T90 is available in black, blue, silver, and pink.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 features a 3" touchscreen LCD with AF/AE tracking controls, as well as a 12-1Mp sensor, burst-rates of up to 10fps, and a 5x (25-125mm equivalent) Leica-designed zoom lens. The DMC-FX580 is available in a choice of black or silver.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 PowerShot SD980 IS

Canon offers touchscreen functionality in the PowerShot SD980 IS (silver, blue, purple, and gold). Along with its 3" touchscreen display, the SD980 features a 12.1Mp sensor, a 5x zoom, and optical image stabilization.

Samsung outdoes the competition by offering not one, but two LCD screens on its Samsung DualView TL225), which in addition to a rear-mounted 3.5" touchscreen, also features a 1.5" front LCD, to take the guesswork out of self-portraiture. The TL225, which is available in purple and orange, has a 12.2Mp imaging sensor, can be tweaked up to ISO 3200. It also shoots HD video and has a 4.6x Schneider-Kreuznach zoom lens. Into 'thin'? The Samsung DualView TL225 measures in at a svelte 0.7" thick. (See below for other slim-profile digicams)

Samsung DualView TL220 Vivitar’s Vivicam 8025

For those seeking an economical (under $70) touchscreen enhanced P&S digicam, have a look-see at Vivitar's Vivicam 8025, which along with an 8.1Mp sensor, features a fixed 7.45mm lens (38mm equivalent w/ 8x digital zoom), and video recording (640x480 @ 30fps). The Vivicam 8025 recharges via your computer's USB port.

Optics

Most pocket-sized digicams contain 3x-5x zoom lenses with equivalent focal length ranges that typically go from a modest 35-105mm to a broader 28-140mm. In most cases they're comparable to the kit lenses that come with entry-level DSLRs. These focal ranges are fine for most folks, but there are those who always want something more in the way of longer, wider, or both.

A good example of squeezing 'more lens' into a pocket-sized package is Canon's PowerShot SX200, which contains a 12x zoom lens with an equivalent focal length range of 28-336mm. Even with Canon's 4-stop image stabilization system you might want to go easy on the Starbucks if you plan on shooting hand-held at the telephoto end of this puppy. The Canon SX200 contains a 12.1Mp sensor, a DIGIC 4 image processor, and is available in a choice of black, blue, and red.

Canon’s PowerShot SX200 PowerShot SD980 IS

Lens speed is another area that might be important to you. Most P&S digicams have lenses that are modestly fast, typically f3.5 at the wide end and downhill from there as you zoom to the long end of the focal range, which can be problematic when shooting under less-than-sunny skies. There are exceptions to this rule, and among them are the Canon PowerShot S90 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, which is available in silver & black.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Both of these little honeys have lenses that open up to a speedy f/2 at the wide end of their respective focal ranges (28mm equivalent for the Canon S90 and an impressively wider (and Leica-designed) 24mm equivalent with the Panasonic LX3).

The Canon PowerShot S90 can be described as a 'sports coupe' version of Canon's very popular G11 (see Uber-Digicams below), as it shares the same imaging sensor and other G11 attributes in a smaller, svelte package. A particularly cool feature found on the S90 is the Custom Control Wheel, which is located around the base of the lens and allows you to make adjustments to focus, exposure, ISO, zoom, and white balance settings quickly and easily.

Leica D-LUX 4

For those into sexy red badges, the Leica D-LUX 4 is a kissing cousin of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, but with upgraded firmware, a more neutral color palette, and a 2-year warranty in place of the standard 1-year warranty that comes with the Panasonic LX3 (and every other camera mentioned in this guide).

FujiFilm FinePix F200EXR

Another camera well suited for low-light shooting is the FujiFilm FinePix F200EXR, which features ISO sensitivity levels up to 12,800, thanks in part to the camera's 12Mp, wide dynamic Super CCD EXR imaging sensor. The F200EXR also features a 28- 140mm equivalent Fujinon lens, a choice of film simulation modes, a 3" LCD, FujiFilm Face Detection 3.0, and a Dual Image Stabilization system. The FujiFilm FinePix F200EXR accepts both xD and SD/SDHC memory cards.

Looking for Something Really Thin?

All point-and-shoot digicams can be described as 'small'. And while most point-and-shoot digicams are quite pocketable, not all can be described as being thin-thin. Using 0.75" as our 'thin' cutoff point, Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-TX1-series cameras, which are available in Blue, Pink, Gray and Silver, are only 0.64" thick (thin?). Along with a true 10 frames-per-second burst mode (at full-resolution) and a very useful 'Twilight Hand-Held' shooting mode for sharp, flash-free low-light shooting. And like the Sony Cyber-shot HX-1 and Cyber-shot WX-1, the Sony DSC-TX1 features a 'Sweep Panorama' mode for capturing panoramic images of up to184.

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-TX1-series cameras Casio Exilim EX-S12

Casio is a company long associated with thin cameras. Among their thinner offerings this season is the Casio Exilim EX-FS10, which features a 9.1Mp sensor, 2.5" LCD, 3x zoom, a hi-burst shooting mode, as well as HD video with a slow-motion function. The EX-FS10 measures in at 0.64" and is available in a choice of blue, grey, and red. Also available from Casio is the Casio Exilim EX-S12, 0.58" thin and featuring a 12.1Mp sensor, 2.7" LCD, ISO ratings up to 3200, HD video, and is available in green, pink, black, and silver.

Nikon’s CoolPix S220

Nikon's CoolPix S220 (0.7") also makes it into the thin digi-club. Available in a descriptive variety of colors (jet black, plum, aqua green, cobalt blue, magenta, and warm silver), the S220 features a 10Mp sensor, 2.5" LCD, a 4-way VR image stabilization system, and up to an ISO 2000 rating for low-light shooting.

Tough & Weatherproof

If you think all point-and-shoot digicams are 'weenie' cameras, take a look at Olympus' Stylus Tough-8000 and Tough-6000 digicams. The 12Mp Stylus Tough-8000 is shock-proof (6.6-feet onto a hard floor), waterproof (down to 33'), crushproof (up to 220lb of pressure), and freeze-proof (down to 14F). The Tough-8000 is available in (black & silver).

Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 Olympus Stylus Tough-6000

Slightly less bullet-proof but tough none-the-less is the 10Mp Olympus Stylus Tough-6000, which is available in (blue, white, & yellow). The Tough-6000 is shock-proof from falls of up to 5', waterproof down to 10', and freeze-proof down to 14F. Both the Tough-6000 & 8000 feature Tap Control that allows you to change exposure and other settings by simply tapping on the top and sides of the camera. Both cameras also feature a 28-102mm equivalent zoom lens.

Similarly rugged is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1, which is available in silver, green, and orange. Dunk-able down to a smidgen under 10', droppable from heights a smidgen under 5', and freezable down to 14F, the 12.1Mp Lumix TS1 features a Leica-designed Vario-Elmar 28-128mm equivalent zoom lens, and 720p HD video (including a built-in video light).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 Pentax Optio W80

Available in azure blue, gunmetal grey, and red, the Pentax Optio W80 is a spiffily-designed digicam that aside from claiming ISO sensitivity levels up to 6400, is waterproof down to 16', survive drops from up to 3' from the ground, and temperatures ranging from 14F to 104F. The lens on the Optio W80 is a 28-140mm equivalent, and along with high quality still images, the Optio W80 can capture 720p HD video with equal ease.

The Canon PowerShot D10 looks like a 1950's bathysphere, which is appropriate considering it's waterproof down to 33 (10 m)', shockproof from 4' falls, and will operate in a temperature range 14 - 104F. The 12.1Mp D10's 3x zoom has the equivalent range of 38 114mm, and does an excellent job of grabbing snapshots regardless of how nasty it is outside.

Canon PowerShot D10 Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP

Not much larger than a small tin of Altoids the Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP is a sleek little number with a 10Mp sensor, a bright 2.7" LCD, and a 3x (35-105mm equivalent) zoom tucked behind a waterproof glass port. Available in green, pink, and black, the FinePix Z33WP is waterproof down to a we bit under 10' (3 m), has Advanced Face Detection, in-camera editing, and ISO sensitivity up to 1600.

Uber-Digicams

Some of the point-and-shoots we sell go well beyond the call of duty regarding our expectations of what a 'simple' camera should look like and perform like. Ask a pro about his or her favorite pocket camera and you're most likely to get Canon's PowerShot G11 for an answer.

The PowerShot G11 is the latest G-series camera from Canon, and like it's predecessors, it's a true 'photographer's camera', complete with analog control dials, a sharp 28-140mm equivalent zoom, RAW and/or JPEG capture, a 2.8" swivel screen for shooting at awkward camera angles, an E-TTL hot-shoe, and a hefty, solid feel.

Canon’s PowerShot G11 Nikon CoolPix P6000

Similar in concept is the Nikon CoolPix P6000, which features a 13.5Mp sensor, up to ISO 6400, RAW and/or JPEG capture, wired network connectivity, GPS capability, and a 28-112mm equivalent lens wrapped inside a tough exterior package.

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-WX1

One camera that has garnered an awful lot of attention is Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-WX1. For a camera the size of a credit card and only 0.78" (20mm) thick, the WX1 packs the sort of features that make you sit back and say 'whew!

The list starts off with a very capable rear-illuminated Exmor 'R' imaging sensor, which can capture full-size stills at up to 10 frames-per-second as well as MPEG4 video. The lens, a 24-120mm equivalent Sony G-series optic, does a fine job covering the basic pocket-camera needs. But if the angle-of-view of the 24mm end of the zoom lens isn't enough for you, flip the WX1 into Sweep Panorama mode and the camera quickly captures up to 100 individual images as you 'sweep' it across the scene and quickly stitches them together into a single, truly awesome 256 panoramic image.

And if flash-free low-light imaging is your thing, the WX1's Hand-Held Twilight mode quickly captures 6 images, samples them, and combines the sharpest, best details within each image and combines them in-camera as a single sharp, well exposed image.

Nikon CoolPix S1000pj

Lastly, we'd like to present this year's winner of the prestigious Swiss Army Knife School of Thought Award, the Nikon CoolPix S1000pj, a digicam that not only captures high quality stills and video, but with the flip of a switch can project your stills and video moments after capturing them. The S1000pj's built-in projector can project sharp images up to 40" across at from a distance of about 5.5' away. And yes, the pictures are sharp and depending on the ambient light levels, easily viewable (as is true with all projection systems). The CoolPix S1000pj also features a slew of in-camera image editing tools and despite everything this little bugger can do, still slips neatly into your coat pocket.


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