What's New - September 2004
Full review posted for Canon PowerShot S70!
Following the tradition of earlier high-end S-series PowerShots, the S70 is perhaps best described as a "G6 in sheep's clothing." Compared to the G6, about all that's missing are a flash hot shoe, the tilt/swivel LCD, and the G6's internal neutral density filter. Everything else about the camera fits the needs, desires, and interests of "enthusiast" shooters, while at the same time remaining approachable for rank beginners, thanks to a full auto mode and a small assortment of scene modes. In terms of image quality, the S70 is also a near match for the G6. Its color is slightly more saturated, calculated to better appeal to typical consumer tastes, but it gives up a little sharpness in the corners of the frame at the (very) wide angle end of its zoom range, and also has slightly less well-behaved image noise. These are relatively minor quibbles though, as the S70 is an unusually strong performer in virtually every respect. - Another easy choice for a "Dave's Pick" from Canon. Check it out!
Review posted for Canon Powershot G6!
Canon's "G" series of digicams have always been favorites with our readers, and with good reason: They offer a nearly ideal blend of features and capabilities, along with excellent image quality and great battery life. With the G6, Canon has once again upped the ante, managing to actually reduce image noise, even as they boosted resolution from 5 to 7 megapixels. Reviewing it, I found myself with only minor quibbles to complain about -- This is a powerful photographic tool, and a pretty affordable one, relative to its exceptional capabilities. If you're in the market for a rangefinder-style prosumer digicam, the Canon PowerShot G6 should be at or near the top of your list of likely candidates. Oh - and if you hadn't guessed by now, the G6 was also a shoo-in for a "Dave's Pick" as one of the better models on the market. Check it out!
Review posted for Konica Minolta G600!
The DiMAGE G600 is another strong entry from Konica Minolta in the compact digicam market, this time with a six megapixel CCD and a true 3x optical zoom lens. Built on the same chassis and apparently with much of the same electronics as the previous G500 model, the G600 has nevertheless significantly improved performance over the earlier model in several key areas, including autofocus speed, cycle time, and download speed to a host computer. Accepting both Memory Sticks (the earlier, non-"Pro" version only) and SD memory cards, the G600 could be a good choice for people with multiple electronic gadgets that they'd like to share memory cards between. The G600's simple user interface should appeal to a wide audience, from novice to experienced pro, particularly since it offers full manual exposure control as an option for advanced users. All controls are smooth, with fast zoom and easy menu navigation. The LCD is unusually bright, with excellent contrast and daylight viewability. All in all, a nice little digicam. Now that Konica Minolta has addressed the sluggish shutter response of the previous model, I consider the G600 good enough to be made a "Dave's Pick". Check it out!
Review posted for Canon Powershot A85!
Despite our readers high-end tendencies, Canon's A-series cameras are consistently in the top 10 in terms of reader popularity. - And for good reason, they offer a rich set of features and excellent image quality, at attractive prices. This year, the PowerShot A85 is taking over from last year's A80 model at the four-megapixel level. Relative to last year's model, the A85 offers a better, nine-point autofocus system, a bigger monitor, a slightly more accurate optical viewfinder, and faster overall performance. The A85's image sharpness is just a tad off that of the best 4-megapixel cameras on the market, but is more than good enough to make sharp-looking 8x10 prints. Its color is very appealing, even though its handling of blues appears to be tweaked a little from what would be absolutely accurate - The nature of the blue tweak appears to be such that the A85 will render better-looking sky colors, something most users would probably prefer to an absolutely faithful portrayal. Overall, Canon has taken an almost perfect combination of features, image quality and price, included a number of key features from its S-series digicams delivered the combination at a very attractive price, making a premier camera for the mid-level consumer market that's also a bargain. If you're looking for a great "all around" digicam, the A85 certainly deserves your serious consideration. - It's an easy "Dave's Pick," as one of the better models on the market. Check it out!
Review posted for Kodak EasyShare DX7440!
Kodak's EasyShare digital cameras have consistently proven to be among the easiest to use of any I've tested, and the DX7440 is no exception. Its fully automatic exposure control performs surprisingly well under a wide variety of conditions, and the range of manual exposure controls extend the camera's capabilities nicely. A wide range of preset scene modes help with special shooting conditions, while the Custom mode is perfect for saving a set of frequently-used exposure settings. The 4.0-megapixel CCD captures high resolution images, with plenty of detail to make sharp 8x10 prints. The DX7440 is a perfect choice for novices who want to learn a little as they go, and more experienced users will appreciate the more advanced features it has to offer. I'd have been happier with the DX7440 if its exposure system was a little more accurate, as I found that it tended to overexpose images slightly, at least when faced with images with very strong highlights. Balancing this though, it should be noted that the camera did better than average with high-key subjects (subjects that are very bright overall, which most cameras tend to underexpose pretty significantly) and, like most other Kodak cameras I've tested, its white balance system handles a very wide range of lighting conditions automatically, producing images that look like the original scene. Overall, a very near miss for a "Dave's Pick," but still a fine digicam, particularly for families with a range of photographic skills among their members. Check it out!
Accessory Review: Maha C-204W International Fast Charger!
Longtime readers of this site will know that my favorite charger for NiMH AA cells has been the Maha C-204F for some years now. I liked its charging capabilities, and its provision for discharge-conditioning batteries, something that I consider essential in a general-purpose NiMH charger. Maha has just recently updated the C-204 design, calling the new model the C-204W. The new unit has a number of improvements, including an *internal* international power supply, which means that it needs no "wall wart" transformer (better portability), and can be used pretty much anywhere in the world that has AC power. Also, apparently in response to some of my own findings about completeness-of-charge in most NiMH fast-chargers, Maha has modified the charging profile of the C-204W to provide a "topping off" cycle that does an excellent job of packing the last iota of charge into the batteries. - A significant factor when another minute or two of run time could mean the difference between a lifetime memory or no photo at all. Finally, the C-204W has an improved "dead battery" detection algorithm, that promises to rescue many batteries from the recycle bin that other chargers would reject outright. All in all, a very nice little charger, and my new favorite for AA cells. Check it out!
In-Depth Preview posted for Nikon Coolpix 8800!
We've had hands-on with a prototype sample of Nikon's new flagship prosumer model, the Coolpix 8800, and have prepared an in-depth First Look at it. This is an impressive new camera, with a 10x optical zoom lens, an unusually effective *vibration reduction* system for surprisingly steady hand-held shooting, and the usual raft of features that make Nikon's high-end digicams such crowd-pleasers. Because we've only seen a prototype sample of the Coolpix 8800 at this point, we can't really make any comments on its image quality. - And since image quality is really the ultimate issue in a high-end digicam, this means that it's hard for us to draw any sort of a final conclusion about the camera as a whole. That said though, we found the Coolpix 8800 to be a very appealing camera to work with. Apart from a few minor niggles, its controls and ergonomics were really just right, its long-ratio zoom lens was impressive, and its VR (Vibration Reduction) technology seemed unusually effective at reducing the effects of camera shake. >From a functional standpoint, the Coolpix 8800 looks to us like one of the best cameras Nikon's made to date. If its image quality lives up to the rest of its features, it will be a major player at the high end of the digicam marketplace. Stay tuned, we'll have a full update for you as soon as we can get our hands on a production model to test! - And in the meantime, check out our detailed First Look for all the juicy operational details, including preliminary timing measurements! Check it out!
In-Depth Preview posted for Nikon Coolpix 8400!
Announced along with the new top-of-the-line Coolpix 8800, the Coolpix 8400 is very similar in most respects (the same 8-megapixel sensor and virtually identical feature set and menu structure). The 8400 goes the other direction optically though, with the widest-angle zoom lens we've yet seen on an all-in-one digicam. With an equivalent focal length range of 24-85mm, the 8400 will be just the ticket for anyone who *really* needs wide-angle capabilty in a no-holds-barred digicam. (Realtors should flock to this model.) Besides the wider angle lens, the 8400 also appears to beat the 8800 on focusing speed and shutter lag (in at least some operating modes, anyway), thanks to a hybrid Phase-Detect/Contrast-Detect AF system that the 8800 lacks. While we liked the design of the 8800 better overall, the 8400 clearly has unparalleled wide-angle capability for those who need it. NOTE though, that as with the 8800, the 8400 we were given for this review was a late-model prototype, and so we can't draw any conclusions about its image quality at this time. - And since image quality is the name of the game for high-end digicams, there's really no "bottom line" assessment to be made at this juncture. Apart from sample images and the analysis to accompany them though, we've posted a pretty complete review of the 8400's functional aspects, including preliminary timing data. Check it out, and stay tuned for a full update whenever we can get our hands on a production model to test!
Full review posted for Nikon Coolpix 4800!
Nikon's Coolpix line of consumer digicams has always been well-received, appreciated for their image quality and ease of use. Lately, they've been finding success in bringing their technology into the consumer market, most notably with the very successful Coolpix 4300 and Coolpix 3200 models in 2003. The Coolpix 4800 continues that trend, bringing forward many of the user-interface innovations of the 3200 model, but upgrading the design with a 4-megapixel CCD very sharp 8.3x optical zoom lens. In my testing, the Coolpix 4800 delivered good color and sharp images, and overall was an enjoyable camera to work with.
Bottom line, the Coolpix 4800 is a nice, compact point & shoot digicam with a nice long zoom lens, a good choice for anyone who wants an easy to use camera that delivers good-looking pictures with pleasing color and plenty of resolution. For those willing to delve just slightly deeper than "just push the button" its extensive scene modes and unique framing-assist options greatly extend its capabilities, making it easy to bring back good-looking shots of what might otherwise be difficult subjects. All in all, a good choice for the point & shoot user looking for an easy to use long-zoom digicam with a surprising range of capabilities. In my testing, the Coolpix 4800's images showed accurate exposure and better than average color, but were a bit more contrasty than I personally prefer. Under average lighting, the high contrast makes the sort of bright, snappy-looking images that appeal to many consumers. Under harsh outdoor lighting though, the high contrast resulted in lost highlight detail and a harsher look to the images, making it worthwhile to acquaint yourself with the contrast-adjustment option on its record menu. Overall though, the Coolpix 4800 looks like an excellent long-zoom digicam, easily winning status as a "Dave's Pick" for its combination of color, sharpness, and capabilities. Check it out!
"First Look" review posted for Sony DSC-M1!
We're clearly seeing at least some signs of "convergence" between still and video photography taking place in the digicam market, with the "movie" capabilities of digicams becoming more capable every year. While they appear to be loathe to use the word "convergence" in their own messaging, Sony has clearly been one of the leaders in this trend, with virtually their entire line of digicams boasting market-leading video capabilities. Now, they're taking things a step further, in the form of the DSC-M1, a 5-megapixel digicam that seeks to merge and integrate the still and video functions even further. (The key feature seems to be a "hybrid" recording mode that will record a full-resolution still image and several seconds of video before and after it with a single press of the shutter button.) News Editor Mike Tomkins took a look at this intriguing device, and recorded his observations in a First Look review of it. (As a First Look, there are no sample photos or video to share at this point in time.) Mike's opinions largely mirrored those of the rest of us who've played with the M1 here at IR - It's an intriguing mix of features and capabilities packaged inside a sleek case, but with some of the most awkward ergonomics and user interface design any of us have yet seen in a digicam. Still, an intriguing device for those who want to mix still photos and moving images to a previously unprecedented extent. Check it out!
"First Look" review posted for Sony DSC-V3!
Sony's new DSC-V3 brings a majority of the unique features of their flagship DSC-F828 model down into a compact, rangefinder-style package. The V3 uses the same unique RGB+E filter technology on its imager for truer rendition of some blues and reds, as well as the F828's unique Night Shot and Night Framing modes. While its zoom lens has "only" a 4x ratio, and its imager is a 7.2 vs 8.0 megapixel CCD, the camera has an impressively fast shutter response, and cycle times are very good for a 7 megapixel camera as well, and battery life is impressive for a compact rangefinder model. Our "First Look" is based on a prototype model at this point, so we can't share sample photos with you yet (but its images looked pretty good in the limited shooting we did with it), but we have a pretty full report available, with a number of observations about how the camera works and feels, a full description of its operation, extensive timing data, and preliminary battery life numbers. All in all, a very impressive camera: If production models of this camera deliver on the promise that we've seen in the prototype sample, the DSC-V3 will be a powerful competitor in the high-end "enthusiast" end of the digicam market. Stay tuned, we'll have a full report as soon as we can get hands on a production model! (But meanwhile, Check it out!)
Review posted for Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z10.
I've been a big fan of Minolta's "Z" line of long-zoom digicams since the original Z1. They've consistently offered excellent image quality and exceptional value in the long-zoom arena. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the Z10 quite lived up to the greatness of other members of the line, as I felt its color was somewhat oversaturated, and I had some exposure problems with it, albeit with a single test subject. Read my review though: If you like high contrast and highly saturated colors (as some people do), you may like the Z10 more than I did, and it's definitely one of the cheapest long-zoom digicams currently on the market. Check it out!
Review posted for Konica Minolta DiMAGE X31!
I've been a fan of Minolta's "X" line of subcompact cameras since the original version was first introduced. The DiMAGE X31, while sacrificing a few features and some low light capability to keep the cost down, offers a capable, subcompact digicam at a street price as low as $150. Though the design that once appeared quite small is now looking a little chunky, the X31's compact size, no-nonsense feature set, and novice-friendly menu interface make the it a great "take anywhere" camera, appealing to non-techies as well as enthusiasts. For the novice user, it's very easy to use and takes nice daylight pictures. For more advanced users, it makes a nice "second camera," something that you'd just toss in your pocket without thinking. I'd be much happier with the X31 if it handled dim lighting better (a serious limitation IMHO), but for daylight shooting, it's hard to beat its combination of ease of use, compact size, good color, and low cost. Read our review for more details!
Review posted for Olympus Stylus Verve!
More than just another cute digital camera, the Olympus Stylus Verve brings inspired design back into the company's small camera line. The new ergonomic shape is not obvious at first, but holding the camera tells another story. The angles that look contrived for style alone suddenly seem so logical, giving the user an unusually firm grip, something rare on a camera so small. Build is tight and controls are refined, and best of all the images from this little camera look very good, better than we usually see from cameras in the "style" category. Of course the Verve has to compete with the other cameras in this category, so it comes in six colors: Red, Blue, Silver, White, Black, and Copper. Its moderate 35-70mm optical zoom is very good for a daily carry camera, and the 4 megapixel imager is just right for good quality and medium file size. The camera fairly snaps to life on command, with its unique lens mechanism clicking hastily out of the way. Not only is the Verve cute, it's also practical, with the Stylus line's most touted feature: weather resistance. It will work as well in the rain as on a sunny day. We tested this feature in a downpour and found the Verve worked as advertised. Menus have a new look that is refreshing and works fast, but the interface is essentially the same as the Stylus 300 and 400. The larger display is welcome, another improvement in the Stylus line. If the images on the production model look as good as the images from our sample unit, this should be a great little camera, perhaps exceeding the performance of its predecessors. In short, the Verve is small, smooth, quick, tight, and looks like it could be a good buy when it comes available in late September. Check out our preview of this nifty "style-cam" that performs.
Review posted for Sony DSC-F88!
Swivel-lens camera designs are nothing new in the market, although they've become more rare lately. With the DSC-F88, Sony has revived the category, thanks to the advanced lens and sensor technology that first appeared in the DSC-T1 subcompact digicam. In the F88, the ultra-compact lens/sensor design left enough room in the swivel head to also include an optical viewfinder, a great boon when you're shooting in bright sunlight, or when you want to conserve battery life. Overall, the DSC-F88 delivers exceptional capability in a very compact package, with good to excellent image quality, a sharp lens, good color accuracy, lower than average image noise, surprisingly long battery life, and an amazing macro capability in "Magnifying Glass" mode. The light weight, smooth profile, and excellent battery life all make the DSC-F88 a superb traveling companion. Its dead-simple full-auto mode and rich set of 10 preprogrammed scene modes make it a good choice for novices, while its optional full-manual mode, saturation and contrast adjustments and 30-second maximum exposure time offer the sort of control craved by enthusiast shooters. All in all, a great camera for all-around use, travel, use by families with both novice and expert shooters, or for duty as a "second" camera for the pro or advanced amateur. Highly recommended, and an easy "Dave's Pick." Check it out!