Wide-Angle Pocket Rockets
Digicams for Wide-Angle Imaging
In the early days of digital imaging there was no such thing as a wide angle lens on a point-and-shoot digicam. We were stuck with cameras that offered fields-of-view limited to the equivalents of 35 to 38mm lenses on a 35mm camera, mostly due to the technical difficulties involved in maintaining edge sharpness with shorter focal-length optics and digital imaging sensors. As a result we often found ourselves backing into the coat closet in order to get a decent shot ofeverybody on the living room couch, or darn-near falling off the back of the boat trying to snap a shot of the big fish that didn't get away.
Nowadays, thanks to advances in optical design, pixels capped with micro-lenses, and other manifestations of digital Voodoo, wide-angle aficionados (myself included) have a variety of digicams to choose from. So if your mind's eye yearns to shoot through lenses that emulate the field-of-view of optics 28mm and wider, here's a line up – alphabetically by manufacturer - of digicams that should set your spirit free.
Canon's contribution to the mix is the PowerShot SD870 IS , which is the wide angle sibling of Canon's successful SD-series digicams. Built around a Digic III-powered 8Mp (1/2.5") imaging sensor, the PowerShot SD870 IS features an image-stabilized 4.6 to 17.3mm power zoom that emulates the field of view of a 28 to 105mm lens on a 35mm camera. The lens focuses down to 1.2" at the wide end of the focal range, and has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and f/5.5 at the long end.
The PowerShot SD870 IS has smooth, tapered lines and is available in silver or black (actually silver with a black 'raccoon eye' around the lens -see photo). For still imaging there are 6 levels of JPEG compression, 8 levels of video including 0.5 fps time lapse up to 2 hours. ISO sensitivity can be set from 80 to 1600 in 14 shooting modes. Images can be previewed and edited using the SD870's 3" TFT LCD screen. Power is courtesy of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which is included with a charger.
Casio has two offerings in the wide angle arena starting with the ultra-thin (0.8") Exilim EX-Z100, which is available in blue, silver, pink, and brown. Packing a 10.1 Mp (1/2.3") CCD, the Exilim EX-Z100 can shoot jpegs at 7 levels of image compression and video clips at 8 levels including high-quality H.264 and a 640x480 @ 30fps 'YouTube mode. There's also a Movie button conveniently located near the shutter button that allows instant switching from stills to video without having to fumble through the menus.
The lens on the EX-Z100 is a 4.9 to 19.6mm zoom that covers the field of a traditional 28 to 112mm lens. The f-stop range goes from f/2.6 at the wide end, f/5.8 at the long end, and focuses down to 3.9".
One of the cool - and kinda' spooky - features of the EX-Z100 is an auto-tracking AF system that in addition to Face Detection can detect a smile as well as the mid-point of a handshake in order to snag the best moment in time. You can even program the camera to recognize up to 6 specific faces in a group to better ensure you get the 'right folks' smiling at the 'right' time. Like I said… some of these features are kinda' spooky, but some folks eat this stuff up. For editing and playback of all these 'perfect' photos, recorded images can be scrolled through at up to 10 images-per-second on the camera's 2.7" Super Clear' LCD display. Aside from SD compatibility, the Exilim EX-Z100 contains 12.1Mb of built-in memory, and powers off a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that's good for up to 200 snaps.
If all of the features found on the Exilim EX-Z100 warm your cockles but you tend to shoot under lower-than-normal lighting conditions, have a look-see at the Casio Exilim EX-Z200, which features Casio's CCD-Shift Image Stabilization system to better ensure sharp imagery in addition to all of the cool bells & whistles found in the EX-Z100. Fashion hounds should also note the Exilim EX-Z200 is available in black, silver, and red.
From Nikon we have the Nikon CoolPix S600 , a compact pocket-shooter that is clad in a solid and rather sexy slate gray finish. The CoolPix S600 packs a 10Mp (1/2.3") CCD and gathers images through a VR-Stabilized 5.0 to 20mm (28 to 112mm equivalent) zoom lens, and a maximum aperture of f/2.7 at the wide end of the focal range. For macro shooting the CoolPix S600 focuses down to 1.2".
The CoolPix S600 shoots JPEGs at 6 levels of compression and video at 5 levels of compression (including time-lapse) with recording times limited to the capacity of your memory card. In addition to 15 Scene Modes, the S600 has 7 Color Modes that include Normal, Vivid, Portrait, Black-and-White, Sepia, Cool, and Pastel.
In the autofocus department, the CoolPix S600 sports advanced Face-Priority (up to 12 faces in a scene) and what is delightfully described as an 'Active Child mode', which is designed to capture the kiddies regardless of how much sugar and food coloring is rushing through their veins. More pedestrian features include auto red-eye reduction and D-Lighting for insuring maximum detail in the shadows and highlights in your image files.
For low-light shooting, ISO ratings go up to 3200. There's also an 'Auto ISO' setting that automatically sets the ISO from 100 to 800 depending on the ambient light range. Images can be stored on SD/SDHC memory cards or in a pinch, the camera's 45MB of built-in memory.
Hitting the beach this summer? Going kayaking, or maybe scaling the slopes of the Himalayas? Or maybe you simply want a digicam tough enough to take an abnormal amount of abuse.
Olympus has been stepping up to the plate for the past couple of years with its 'tougher-than-nails' SW-series digicams. Their current wide-angled toughie is the Olympus Stylus 1030SW , which features a 10.1Mp (1/2.35") CCD sensor, a 5.0 to 18.2mm (28 to 102mm equivalent) zoom lens, and all the usual bells & whistles, i.e. 8 levels of JPEG, 3 levels of video, Red-eye Fix, Lighting Fix, and 27 shooting modes including 'Cuisine Mode' (no joke!), and on and on and on…
But what makes the Stylus 1030SW truly cool is it's ability to shoot down to 33' under the waves without a housing, survive a drop of 6.6' onto concrete, withstand a crushing 220 lbs of pressure, and shoot in temperatures down to -14°F. As soon as you pick it up, you realize this little digicam can take a licking from Uncle Paulie along with other forms of abuse that would normally stop cameras costing far more than a few hundred bucks dead in their tracks. And it ain't bad looking in green… don'tcha think?
Panasonic offers the broadest selection of wide-angle digicams starting with the Lumix DMC-TZ4 , which is available in black and silver. Packing an 8.1 megapixel (1/2.5") CCD, the DMC-TZ4 boasts a Leica-designed 4.6 to 46mm optical zoom that takes in the whopping field-of-view of a 28 to 280mm lens. As with all Panasonic Lumix digicams the TZ4 utilizes MEGA Optical Image Stabilization, which incorporates built-in gyro-stabilizers, and Intelligent ISO (up to ISO 6400) to ensure sharp pictures.
Images come up on a 2.5" LCD that adjusts to ambient lighting conditions. The Lumix DMC-TZ4 can display photos of maps, timetables, menus, and other travel related items you have photographed– with image and location ID - in a special folder that can be called up in a jiffy. The same folder can be used for storing most any other image files you need or want to access on a regular basis.
Other features include Face Detection (up to 15 faces in any given scene), 22 scene modes, quick shutter response times, burst-rates up to 10 f/p/s, and 16:9 Wide VGA video at 30 f/p/s or 10 f/p/s with enhanced picture quality. You can also shoot standard VGA and QVGA for email and web applications. The Lumix DMZ-TZ4 contains 27Mb of built-in memory and accepts SD/SDHC and MMC memory cards.
A step up the food chain is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 , which contains all of the features found on the TZ4 albeit with a 9.0 megapixel (1/2.33") sensor, a larger 3" LCD display, and 1280x720 HD resolution at 30 or 15 f/p/s, and the ability to zoom while recording video. The DMC-TZ5 is available in Blue, Silver, and Black.
Need to go wider? The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 has a 5x, 25 to 125mm equivalent Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens that opens up to fast-for-its-class f/2.8 at the wide end of the zoom range. Along with a 10.1 megapixel sensor, Mega O.I.S and Intelligent ISO Control, 9-point AF, and 20 Scene Modes (including a simple Auto mode), the DMC-FX500 combines a 3" Touch Screen LCD display that works in conjunction with a conventional 'joystick' controlled menu system.Aside from 1920x1080 HD imaging, video buffs can take advantage of HD video at 1280x720p at a smooth 30 f/p/s. The DMC-FX500 contains 50MB of built-in memory, accepts SD/SDHC memory cards, and is available in Black and Silver.
Equally wide, though a bit shorter on the tele end is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 , which features a 25 to 100mm equivalent Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom, 10.1 megapixel sensor, and a 2.5" LCD screen.
Samsung's entry to the party also has a rather rugged look and feel about it, though you shouldn't take it diving. The Samsung NV24HD is a smartly-designed, solid-feeling digicam that features a dual image-stabilized 4.3 to 15.5mm Schneider Optics zoom lens that takes in the whopping field-of-view of a 24mm wide angle lens, and zooms out to the equivalent of an 86.5mm lens for snapping portraits and short-tele images.
From a design point-of-view, the NV24HD is quite different from the rest of the crowd from any angle. It's tapered where it should be, rubberized where it should be, and feels secure in your hand the moment you pick it up.
The 'Smart Touch' interface controls are particularly interesting to use. Alongside the 2.5" AMOLED LCD screen there are a row of horizontal and vertical menu buttons that highlight the various camera settings as you scroll your finger across them. Once you try it a few times, it becomes intuitively easy to use.
Among the various camera settings are 5 levels of Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation, 7 levels of JPEG compression, 4 levels of Video, 8 Photo Style modes, 7 Color Modes, along with Face Detection, RedEye Reduction, and other useful image enhancing tools. The Samsung NV24HD uses SD/SDHC memory cards and includes 16MB of built-in memory.
Last but not least in our wide angle hit parade comes from Sigma in the form of the Sigma DP-1 , which is quite different from the other cameras listed above for several reasons. First off, the Sigma DP-1 utilizes a FOVEON X3 Direct Image CMOS Sensor. Secondly, the DP-1 is the only fixed focal length camera in the mix, specifically a 16.4mm lens that when used with the DP-1's 20.7 x 13.8mm imaging sensor, is the equivalent to a 28mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera. What else is there to tell you about this camera? Stay tuned, because next month we're featuring a full-blown road test with this interesting digicam.
For a list of all products highlighted in this article, click here.