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One woman, eight cameras

Testing the new crop of digital-picture takers
By MELISSA OSTROW  |  May 1, 2006

Like a writer who keeps a notebook in her back pocket in case inspiration strikes, I carry a camera with me for times when the setting, lighting, or situation catches my eye. I’m also a camera geek: I read all the magazines for the newest cameras, technology, and tricks, and I look for anything to make my photography better and more artistic. Needless to say, getting the opportunity to experiment with eight new digital cameras is a dream come true.

For one week, I photographed my life with my eight new shutters of joy. I photographed concerts and crowds. I took candids in and around my apartment with my cat and my boyfriend as models. And when we broke from the inside lighting studio (my apartment) for a scenic trip through our neighborhood, Brighton became my canvas, its back trails and neighborhood streets my landscape.

At the end of the week, I had experimented with inside light, sunlight, cloudy days, night photography, and videotaping. There were some surprises and some disappointments. Here’s what you should know:

Olympus E-500Olympus E-500, 8MP ($799.99 with the 14-45mm lens; $899.99 with the additional 40-150mm lens)
When I think Single Lens Reflex (SLR), I usually think Canon or Nikon, but this Olympus number takes really sharp, high-quality photos in all types of lighting. The downside is the menu: even though it’s easy to use, the controls can be viewed only through the back LCD, forcing you to remove your eye from the viewfinder to adjust the settings.
Fuji S9000, 9MP, 10.7x Optical Zoom ($699.99 before the $100 rebate, good until June 30, 2006)
Unlike most SLRs, the Fuji takes regular AA batteries, which it ate through at a rapid pace. But it makes up for the battery problem by providing two slots for two different kinds of memory cards. Other perks include a pop-out adjustable LCD screen — which reduces glare and helps you take pictures from odd angles. You can also zoom in and out and keep a clear image while videotaping.
Kodak Z650Kodak Z650, 6.1MP, 10x Optical Zoom ($349.95)
This lightweight “SLR-like” camera is not much bigger than some regular point-and-shoots, but it has a 10x zoom (compared with the average 3x zoom), giving a much greater wide angle to telephoto. The controls are easy to work: just use the small joystick to move around the menu, and push it in when you want to change a setting. Still pics came out clear and sharp, but video did not do a very good job adjusting its focus as I moved the camera around.
Olympus Stylus 810Olympus Stylus 810, 8MP, 3x Optical Zoom ($429.99)
Given this camera’s shake warning and on-screen histogram while you shoot, it seems almost impossible to ruin a photo. The camera is compact and takes crystal-clear photos and videos. Video stayed clear and focused as I panned the camera, and the audio also came out loud and clear, despite a slight buzzing sound.
Canon SD600 ElphCanon SD600 Elph, 6MP, 3x Optical Zoom ($300–$350)
This is the perfect take-anywhere camera, but be forewarned: although it took nice daytime photos, I found the flash photos to be a bit grainy. The one thing I have to mention — because it’s just too funny not to — is that Canon has gone to the trouble of giving the photographer a choice of camera sounds. So, besides the normal bells and whistles, your camera can ring like a telephone, chirp like a bird, or bark like a dog.
Sanyo E6Sanyo E6, 6MP, 3x Optical Zoom ($250–$315)
When you first turn on this camera, it gives you an audio step-by-step play of what you’re doing, as you do it. It immediately annoyed me, so Sanyo E6 and I got off on the wrong foot. I turned off that function and went about my business, then warmed up to the clean videos with high-quality sound. (Plus, its ability to take stills from the videos seemed very CSI.) On the negative side, the ultra-sensitive shutter (one of the big selling points of the camera) didn’t make focusing easier than any other point-and-shoot. In fact, I think it hindered the focusing process.
HP R725HP R725, 6.2MP, 3x Optical Zoom ($249.99)
It’s cute and compact and takes quality photos, day or night. But with this camera there’s a lack of control that makes for a frustrating experience for the trained photographer. You can either choose one of the scenes provided or pick “auto scene.” I could fudge with the ISO, white balance, and saturation a little, but the setting always won out. While the kid in front of me at the Mustard Plug/Big D and the Kids Table show at Avalon took what looked like good pictures, I got blurry masses moving around the stage.
Polaroid i832Polaroid i832, 3x Optical Zoom ($219–$250)
My favorite thing about this camera is that it comes with a little leather case. This may not seem like much, but I had the hardest time finding one for my personal point-and-shoot. Otherwise, the photo quality is decent, but due to the lack of shake warning, I found several of the photos blurry and out of focus for one reason or another.


Melissa Ostrow test drove all eight cameras in daylight and with flash. Here's a side-by-side comparison.

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  Topics: Gadgets , Science and Technology , Technology , Consumer Electronics ,  More more >
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