7-Megapixel Compacts Shoot-out
We took eleven top high-res compacts and put Īem to the test


Just two or three years ago this comparison feature would have been impossible because there werenāt any affordable 7 megapixel cameras (and only a couple of unaffordable ones). Today, almost every major maker of digital cameras has one or more offerings in this category, and they usually donāt even represent the high end of their lines. 7 megapixel has become sort of a new standard. It used to be 3.2 megapixel, then 5 megapixel. Will it ever end? We donāt know, but the good news is that you now have your choice of very high resolution cameras.

Why would you want a 7 megapixel camera when a lowly 3.2 megapixel is enough to print out perfectly good 8x10 enlargements? How often do you run monster-sized prints? How many inkjet printers can even do that? The answer is ćnot often and not many.ä But that would be like saying why bother buying a new computer with the latest processor when all you want to do is wordprocessing and email. Time and technology move on. Everything gets better and better, and you can get it for less to boot. Yes, the 7 megapixel cameras in this roundup each cost roughly half as much as what their much less powerful predecessors of circa 2003 went for. Compare that with prices for new cars where you get a bit more performance and luxury for a lot more money! Bottomline is that the current sweet-spot÷the performance and technology level where you get an awful lot for your money÷is in the 7-megapixel range. So why not go for it?

There are other reasons why youād want one of these beauties. They generally have more features and better technology than the lesser models in a manufacturerās lineup. That can make all the difference. A large, bright LCD can make a digital camera a pleasure to use whereas a small, murky one can make it nearly useless. Same goes for speed. If you have to wait forever for a camera to boot up, switch from record to view mode, or get ready for the next picture, the hundred dollars saved by buying a lesser camera may quickly look like a bad idea.

As for the 7 megapixel resolution, I canāt say enough for having that many pixels available, all the time, for every shot. It means that you never have to worry about cropping a shot÷there are always plenty enough pixels left even after you trim off unnecessary background. It also means you can digitally zoom in and enlarge an important detail without ending up with a pixilated print. And in some cameras it even means you can use the much maligned digital zoom to get results comparable to those from optical zooms.

Now what can you expect from a 7 megapixel camera and which one should you get? Here it gets tricky because 7 megapixel cameras come in many shapes and sizes. Some are large and bulky and full of features, others are small and light and designed to neatly fit into your pocket. Some cater to buyers who seek special features like, for example, a powerful optical zoom or extensive manual control. About the only thing all the cameras in this roundup have in common is that they all have a maximum resolution of jut over 7 megapixel (with the exception of the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 which has 8). The purpose of this feature is to show you whatās out there, describe all the products, give you all the specs, tell you how they perform, and then rate them in all the areas that matter in real life..

The rating part is actually not as easy as it sounds and weāve given it much thought. Comparing a large, heavy camera with tons of features with one that is designed to pack as much power as possible into the smallest possible body is truly comparing apples with oranges (or melons with strawberries as far as size goes). So what we did is rate the cameras for three different types of users with different kinds of priorities. We then designed a weighted rating system specific to those different users. For example, an advanced user probably cares about having a camera capable of saving images in various formats and at various levels of compression, so in the ćadvanced userä rating scale, the number of different formats carries a high value. On the other hand, in the ćfor snapshotsä category, qualities such as small size and weight rate are important, and so it is those specs that contribute to the cameraās rating. Finally, we weighted the ratings and presented them on a 1-10 scale. Here are the types of users and uses we identified and rated for:

Advanced user: This is a person who is familiar with cameras and takes photography seriously. S/he knows all about shutter speeds, aperture settings, lighting, white balance, metering systems, auto focus technologies and all the numerous other factors that can separate great pictures from mere snapshots. Such a user will value manual control, image quality, features, image formats and so on. Size, ease of use, gimmicks, coolness factor and even price probably matter less.

Beginner: This ratings profile is for those who donāt know much about photography and simply want a good camera that lets them take great pictures without a whole lot of learning and studying. That doesnāt mean that ćbeginnersä donāt care about their pictures, so this profile assumes not a total beginner, but someone who is interested enough to spend good money on a 7 megapixel camera rather than got for a $99 point & shooter from a drugstore. So priorities here are ease of use, popular features (such as movies, voice, easy to get batteries and storage cards, and so on.

For snapshots: Many people want two cameras, one for ćseriousä photography and one to carry around just in case they want to take a few quick snapshots. There are also occasions where itās simply not feasible to carry a large, bulky camera, so these ćsecondä cameras do need to be as powerful abd feature-laden. The emphasis clearly lies on small size and weight, good speed and battery life, quality and convenience.

Casio Exilim EP-Z750
The Casio Exilim EX-Z750 is the smallest, thinnest (by a good margin), and lightest camera in this roundup. At first sight it hardly seems possible that such a little thing should be a full 7 megapixel camera, and yet it is. It would also seem impossible for it to have very many features, and yet it has enough to keep you entertained and exploring for weeks. And you might expect a tiny little LCD and not much battery life, and youād again be wrong on both counts. No other camera here has a larger screen than the Casioās gorgeous 2.5-inch LCD, and Casio somehow managed to stow away a large enough battery to officially last for 325 pictures. Add to that stunningly good looks, a clean overall design, masterful use of various different metallic surface treatment and that ćmilled from a solid block of metalä feel, and you have a product that will definitely attract attention. Whip it out and everyone wants to take a look at the little marvel. But can the tiny Casio deliver on all that promise?

It sure tries. Where most cameras have half a dozen or so scene modes, the Z750 has 30. Each of them has an information screen with a sample picture and a description of the mode. Scene mode #10, for example, is named ćNatural Green.ä It shows a forest and describes, ćHard sharpness and high saturation enhance green hues.ä If 30 is not enough, you can also register you own, including your own shot. This wealth of scene modes, however, doesnāt mean the Casio is only a point & shoot. It actually has a full manual mode or you can set it to Aperture or Shutter priority. There is also voice recording and an audio snap mode.

With so many functions, is the Z750 difficult to operate, with half the functions deeply buried under menu layers? Not at all. Casioās clever and intuitive menu system is nicely complemented with more manual controls than youād expect on a camera this small, and especially one where most of the real estate is taken up by the large display. There is a little bit of a learning curve with all the little buttons, but they are logically arranged and you quickly get the hang of it. You also need to learn how to hold the little thing. There are no power bulges here, and no matter how you hold it your thumb probably ends up sitting on top of a button or control wheel, but thatās no big deal either. Some functions have been farmed out to the cradle that comes with the camera. It acts as a charger and also as the USB conduit to a computer. The Casio is not a speed demon, but it starts up reasonably quickly and you rarely wait for the shutter. The flash, on the other hand, takes a bit long to recharge. The tiny flash is also the only part of this camera whose performance is in relation to its size. It is barely adequate.

Image quality is amazingly good. We detected very little purple fringing, macro shots came out well, and most pictures you take with the Z750 come out much better than youād expect from something this small. They also tend to be quite vibrant, sometimes perhaps a bit too much so.

With all this praise, is the Exilim EX-Z750 perfect? Not entirely. There are some areas where Casio cut a corner or two. For example, while the LCD is very large and nicely viewable outdoors, its 115k pixel resolution is pretty marginal and the display doesnāt have very wide viewing angles. The optical viewfinder is tiny and has, of course, no diopter adjustment. And we already mentioned the flash. Overall, the Exilim EX-Z750 is a winner.

š Almost impossibly thin and light
š Tons of features
š Very good image quality

Not so cool:
š Large LCD display is too low-res
š Weak flash even for a camera this small
š Only average speed

Rating for:
advanced users-8.8

Canon PowerShot S70
Canon perhaps more that any other company took full advantage of the wholesale move from film to digital cameras by consistently offering a large selection of state-of-the-art products. You canāt go wrong by picking a Canon, and that certainly applies to the 7.1 megapixel PowerShot S70÷with some exceptions.

At first sight you might not be overly impressed with the S70. In this field it is middle-of-the-road in terms of size and weight÷not big and bulky but definitely too large and heavy to slip into a pocket. Despite its classy looking dark gray finish the S70 is more workmanlike than beautiful. It looks and feels like a tool for a job÷purposeful and very well made. Quality will never be an issue with this camera.

The cameraās feature set seems remarkably in tune with its appearance: it is more utilitarian and functional than flashy and spectacular. The 28-100 mm zoom, for example, is a bit wider than usual, and the 3.6X magnification offers more flexibility than the common 3X opticals. Canon also gave the S70 a very powerful Li-Ion battery rated at a full 550 images (which heats up the metal body quite a bit). The popular Compact Flash card format appeals to people who have plenty of them lying around. And the camera feels so solid and trust-inspiring that you never feel like you need to baby it. So there is much to like.

On the other hand, the S70 also has its share of fairly ordinary features that may limit its appeal to some potential customers. In a camera this size, a tiny 1.8-inch LCD is simply not enough, even if it is nicely readable outdoors. Those who like to shoot movie clips will be disappointed at the very brief 30 second maximum length in the 640 x 480 format, and even more so at the very slow 10 frames per second speed in VGA resolution. The S70 also isnāt terribly fast on start-up or cycle time between pictures. And the extensive menus are in very small print and a bit confusing. When the camera tries to be fancy, as in the manual focus that magnifies a small part of the picture so you can focus, it doesnāt do too well (you canāt see if something is in focus on a small part of a small screen). Flashiness is just not its game.

If youāre starting to think we didnāt like the S70 very much youād be wrong. True, this is not a thrilling, exciting camera, but not everyone needs or wants flashy whistles and bells. The S70 is a tool for the job and that job is taking pictures, and the compact Canon does this very well. Thanks to its large battery and no-nonsense approach you can shoot away day-in, day-out, anywhere. And like any good tool, the S70 helps you do your job. If you shoot raw, you can get a JPEG preview images saved at the same time. There is full manual control, of course, and the shutter and aperture priority settings have a ćSafety Shiftä feature so the camera can override inappropriate settings. There is noise reduction for long exposure pics, auto exposure bracketing, a playback histogram that shows overexposure. The S70 is a good companion.

The software in the S70 box consists of ArcSoftās very good PhotoStudio and VideoImpression. There are different versions for PC and Macintosh, and both work very well.

After all is said and done, the PowerShot S70 is a camera that provides you with all the tools to shoot good pictures, but it also expects you to know what youāre doing, else you might be a bit disappointed in the picture quality and the significant purple fringing that we didnāt expect in a camera of this caliber. The excellent wide-angle lens will be appreciated by many, but advanced users÷who this camera is really made for÷may be disappointed by some unexpected weaknesses in macro mode, focusing speed, and even the feature set. Overall, the S70 is not among our favorite Canons.

š Quality design and execution
š Some advanced features
š Good software suite

Not so cool:
š Small LCD, limited movie mode
š Busy controls and menus
š Excessive purple fringing

Rating for:
advanced users-7.0

Canon PowerShot G6
The Canon PowerShot is a large, heavy prosumer class camera with a storied history and superb reputation. Weighing almost a pound and sporting a SLR-size power bulge, the G6 will never be mistaken for anything that even remotely fits into a pocket. This is a serious camera for people who are serious about photography. Everything about the G6 is designed to be of maximum possible usefulness for the job at hand. The large matte silver body feels a bit plasticky, but it is certainly designed to comfortably fit into even the largest hand. The Li-Ion battery is massive, almost camcorder style. In addition to the LCD, there is a large SLR-style information display on top of the camera. Those used to be common in digital cameras but have almost disappeared, much to the chagrin of serious photographers who want to see settings at all times. The 4X optical zoom covers the 35-140 millimeter equivalent. The lens is very high quality and very fast (f/2.0), the fastest, in fact, in this entire lineup. The anti-reflective LCD measures 2 inches diagonally÷large enough for a digital camera but weād like it even larger in a camera this size. The LCD is of the flip/rotate variety, which adds a lot of flexibility to picture taking. The anti-reflective coating makes the otherwise marginal LCD fairly viewable outdoors, but in case you need to use the optical viewfinder, it is one of the most pleasant to use thanks to good diopter adjustment and a round lens sitting in front of it that makes it bright and easy to find. Though the camera has a powerful internal flash, it also has a standard shoe (and a metal tripod thread).

In the buzzword department, Canonās DIGIC image processor crunches through pictures faster, improves autofocus, and reduces noise. Something called iSAPS uses a large internal image database to recognize scenery and apply the best possible exposure and white balance. A 9-point autofocus allows you to keep off-center subjects perfectly sharp. There is also a way to manually move a small rectangle around the display. That is what the camera will focus on. And, as youād expect from a camera of this caliber, there is ample opportunity to exert manual control for those who like to do it the old fashioned way.

All of this requires a good number of dials, levers, wheels and buttons, as well as extensive menus. No matter what surface of the G6 you peruse, itāll be littered with controls. Despite cryptic icons, most are fairly self-explanatory, but it definitely pays to spend some quality time with the user manuals. I use the plural because Canon provides several, the 207-page User Guide, the 102-page Software Starter Guide, and the 35-page Direct Print User Guide. And thatās in addition to a very extensive Quick Start Guide. So prepare to hit the books! We like the software: ArcSoft PhotoStudio and VideoImpressions plus a Solution Disk with ImageBrowser, PhotoStitch, PhotoRecord, etc.

Comparing the G6 with the more compact PowerShot S70, both share inherent goodness and Canon technology. Both are workmanlike rather than flashy. The G6 is much larger and has many more controls to get the most out of the camera. Unfortunately, the two share a weak movie with a 30 second limitation and a slow 10 fps speed in its highest (640 x 480) resolution. This may not matter to the G6ās target audience, but it is a weakness nevertheless.

What you get with the Canon PowerShot G6 is a large, conventional camera that provides all the tools to take the best pictures possible. However, this camera does best with knowledgeable use of its manual controls. In automatic mode, macro shots can be sub-optimal and other shots grainy. So hit those manuals.

š Excellent image quality when used right
š Extensive manual controls
š LCD status display in addition to swivel LCD

Not so cool:
š Large, aging overall design
š Weak movie mode
š Fairly steep learning curve

Rating for:
advanced users-8.6

Minolta DiMAGE A200
The Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 represents the high-end in this group. It stands out both in size and weight as well as in features, power, performance, and image quality. It is also the only camera in the lineup that exceeds the 7 megapixel range. With the A200 you get a full 8.0 megapixel from a 2/3-inch interlaced primary color CCD. We included the A200 because Konica Minolta doesnāt have a 7 megapixel camera but its 5 megapixel Z5 is so good that we really wanted to have a camera from this highly regarded maker, and also because despite its power and features, the A20 is surprisingly affordable and fits into this price category.

What you get with the A200 is any budget-minded photography enthusiastās dream. 8-megapixel. A massive 7X optical zoom. A LCD that folds out and twists so that you can easily hold the camera overhead, shoot from the hip, or take the ever-popular self-portraits. The A200 is also full of features and technology. One example is Konica Minoltaās Anti-Shake system that detects movement and shifts the CCD accordingly. The result is sharper zoom and low-light pictures. That comes in handy when you tackle difficult shooting conditions without tripod (needless to say, the A200 has a metal tripod mount). Advanced photographers will appreciate that. They will also appreciate the fact that the 7X zoom lens is manually operated, just like in a SLR camera. And itās even clearly marked in 35 millimeter equivalent terms, from 28 to 200. Like other Konica Minolta offerings, the A200 is a ćSingle Lens Viewä camera, meaning that it addition to the LCD it has an electronic instead of an optical viewfinder. Advantages are that you see what the camera sees, plus you have access to all the same menu functions onscreen, and there is even an excellent diopter adjustment. Disadvantages are that even at a rather good 235k resolution, the picture looks a bit course. The LCD also has good resolution, though it is too small for our taste÷only 1.8 inches diagonal. However, it uses transflective screen technology so it remains perfectly visible outdoors. Konica Minolta also spoils A200 users with plenty of other features. Itās the only camera in this lineup that can take full SVGA 800x600 movies. That slows the frame rate to 15 fps as opposed to the 30 fps you get with the lower res modes, but it is still a big plus. There is an innovative ćFlex Digital Multiplierä that lets you enlarge any part of a screen image to see if youāre really in focus. For those who like the RAW format but not the extra processing required for every shot, you can save in RAW and JPEG at the same time. And if the powerful (manual) pop-up flash isnāt strong enough, there is a flash shoe that can accommodate Maxxum/Program flashes and also an adapter for standard external flashes. The A200 has complete manual control, but you can also pick from a number of scenes, color modes, digital effects and bracketing. You even get a remote control usable for both shooting and playback. On the software side you get the DiMAGE Image Viewer for Mac and PC, and also Ulead VideoStudio 8 SE (PC only).

A camera with this much power and functionality cannot be small, and the A200 isnāt. It weighs over a pound, and with its big lens and full-size body it wonāt fit into any pocket. This is a camera that you take with you when you want to shoot some serious pictures. Operating the A200 isnāt entirely simple. While Konica Minolta has done an excellent job making things as self-explanatory as possible, and while ergonomics, for the most part, are quite good, prepare to spend some time learning the operation of this camera and everything it has to offer. All in all, features galore in a large, powerful package with uniformly excellent picture quality.

š Tons of features, giant zoom
š Excellent quality, both camera and images
š Powerful professional-style features

Not so cool:
š Big and heavy
š Small LCD
š Mediocre battery life and macro mode

Rating for:
advanced users-10.0

Nikon Coolpix 7900
Once upon a time Nikon was primarily known for its high quality film SLR cameras. When digital came along, Nikon was among the first to jump on the bandwagon with its Coolpix cameras. Initially those were high end models, but then Nikon decided to offer less expensive consumer cameras as well, and these days they cover the entire spectrum though the trend seems to be more upmarket again. Oh, and if youāre a digital camera expert and are puzzled by Nikonās frequent changes in design and direction, youāre not the only one. Here at Digital Camera Magazine we used to loudly lament the passing of a particularly interesting Nikon digicam or style. Weāre used to it now and simply look forward to what interesting things theyāll do next.

As for the 7900, former low end Nikons had low numbers in their names, so I expected the Coolpix 7900 to be a big camera. It even looks big in pictures. That, however, is deceptive. The Coolpix 7900 is the second-smallest and second-lightest camera in this entire lineup. It measures just 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches and weighs 5.3 ounces, which makes it about as pocketable as it gets in the 7 megapixel category. Fans of tiny ultraslim cameras should note, however, that the Coolpix 7900 doesnāt quite fall into that category. For that it is too thick, and when you power it up the zoom lens motors out another three quarters of an inch. What this camera is is really a shrunken version of a more conventional larger camera. It has a ćpower bulgeä on the right size, which makes it easy to hold despite its small size.

What do you get with the Coolpix 7900? That would be a small, handsome 7.1 megapixel camera, beautifully designed and finished in a black and silver aluminum housing.

There is nothing revolutionary, or even out of the ordinary, but thatās not necessarily a bad thing. The 7900 has a 3X optical Zoom Nikkor lens, a large 2-inch LCD that is perfectly visible outdoors, a fairly large battery good for hundreds of pictures, a decent flash, 640 x 480 movies at a full 30 frames per second, and some of those cool features camera manufacturers come up with to get an edge. One such feature is Nikonās ćFace-Priorityä autofocus which will automatically detect the face in a portrait and focus on it. Then thereās ćD-Lightingä that lightens areas that are too dark during playback. Thereās also in-camera redeye fix that can eliminate most instances of that dreaded syndrome before the pictures are even uploaded into your PC. When taking movies, there is a vibration reduction feature. All very useful.

In terms of operation, the 7900 is somewhere in between a simple point & shoot and a more advanced camera. It doesnāt have full manual control or even shutter/aperture priority modes. Instead, there are scene modes for just about any situation, even underwater, and there are plenty of settings to tweak and play with. The menus are clear (you can even set them to display as text or mainly as icons) as are all the controls. The mode dial is a bit busy, but other than that, it shouldnāt take long to be up and running with this camera. On the software side you get Nikon PictureProject, a simple, intuitive application to organize, edit and design on both Windows and the Mac.

The Coolpix 7900ās picture quality is far above what youād expect from such a small camera. In fact, it was among the top three in this lineup of excellent, powerful cameras.

Bottomline for the Nikon Coolpix 7900: a very small and handy little camera that is both powerful and easy to use. Consider it a de-luxe point & shooter and, given its pedigree and features, a bargain at just $399. If you can live with the lack of full manual control, this is a perfect beginnerās camera. It is also a near perfect second camera to take along for snapshots on trips or to events.

š Small and handy
š Excellent picture quality
š Simple to use, but has many features

Not so cool:
š Very little manual control
š Busy mode dial

Rating for:
advanced users-8.6

Olympus C-7000 Zoom
Olympus, despite its excellent overall record in the digital camera field, has been known to suffer from a hit-or-miss syndrome in the styling and design department. Weāre happy to report that the C-7000 Zoom sits squarely in the ćhitä category as far a looks and implementation go. This is an exceptionally attractive and well designed camera that also feels like itās been crafted from a solid block of some precious high-tech metal (itās actually aluminum). It also has superior ergonomics, with some lines and curves crafted so cleverly that youād swear Olympus has secretly taken a gypsum mold of your hand and designed the thing just for you. Most interestingly, they did all this while maintaining a family resemblance going back to the very first Olympus digital cameras. Itās like looking at a BMW automobile÷the latest model is infinitely more advanced, but it shares styling elements with automotive DNA with its distant predecessors. To me, that is the mark of a confident manufacturer with a superior handle on its products (most of the time, anyway).

In this field of 7 megapixel cameras, the C-7000 is on the compact side of the spectrum and you might even be able to squeeze it into a pocket, though itāll be a tight fit thatās neither to the benefit of you or the camera. Why does Olympus add the ćZoomä descriptive to the C-7000ās name? Because itās a 5X optical going from 39 to 190 mm, and not just the garden variety 3X. Multiply that with a perfectly workable 6X digital zoom, and you can stretch magnification to a gratifying 30X. The news is also good on the LCD front. The C-7000ās has a 2-inch ćsemi-transmissiveä display that excels outdoors. It is not only a good deal more readable outdoors than most, but also has very wide viewing angles.

The tiny pop-up flash is fairly powerful, but requires manual activation. This means you can miss shots when you need the flash, but havenāt popped it up. Not a good solution. There are other little problems. While having the zoom ring around the shutter is a fairly common solution I donāt like it because it means you first zoom, and then put your finger on the shutter. I like to have my finger on the shutter while I zoom. And while the large mode dial is clearly marked and devoid of the clutter of tiny icons so often found on digicams, some of the other buttons do rely on tiny icons and color coding. The otherwise impeccable body is marred by a plastic tripod mount, and Olympus uses the xD-Picture card÷a nice enough format, but one that means buying new cards and new adapters for most. And though I use an Olympus as my daily driver, Iāve never been particularly fond of Olympusā menu systems that rely on a mix of text and icons and also use the ćOKä button sometimes to select a setting, sometimes to escape out of a menu. On the plus side, the menus are large and very legible.

In the buzzword and features department, Olympus is relatively modest. We have the TruePic TURBO image processor for fast operation and good detail. The C-7000 is quick and takes very good pictures, so the TURBO works. Thereās also a red eye removal feature so you donāt have to do that dirty work on the PC, handy direct printing to PictBridge-compatible printers, and 12 shooting modes (including manual control) that are not always obvious to access. The movie mode records at full 30 fps, but you can only do 20 second clips. Despite the fairly user-friendly nature of the C-7000, a quick stroll through the manual is definitely recommended, and that requires perusing a pdf file on the documentation CD. The printed manual only contains the very basics in six languages. Itās a big world out there, but English is a fairly common language, so canāt we just have English manuals? In the software department you get Olympus Master, the successor to Olympus Camedia. Itās an odd mix of very basic file management and rather complex RAW processing. It is not an optimal solution and we wish Olympus would revamp its software offerings.

In the end, the C-7000 is an attractive compact camera with a good deal of power. We were a bit disappointed in the quality of macro shots, but it did everything else well. Like most Olympus cameras it has its little quirks, and like with most Olympus cameras, you need to work its simple and yet at times confusing user interface to get to all the features of this very appealing product.

š Great looks and design quality feel
š Excellent 5X optical zoom
š Superb ergonomics

Not so cool:
š Confusing menus and controls
š Only 20-second movie clips
š marginal software and manuals

Rating for:
advanced users-8.5

Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom
The first thing you think when you see the Olympus Wide Zoom C-7070 is, ćMan, thatās a big camera.ä And it is. Weāre talking almost a pound of big, solid black camera body. Thatās roughly twice the size and weight of the Olympus C-7000 Zoom. Both are 7-megapixel cameras, both have large optical zooms, but the C-7070 definitely looks like it belongs into an entirely different class of cameras, one that offers more. And the C-7070 does offer more.

There is, for example, one of those ever-useful flip-up-and-twist LCDs that lets you take pictures while holding the camera up high, down low, or even sideways. One disadvantage of the flip-up LCDs is that they tend to be a bit smaller. The one in the C-7070 measures just 1.8 inches diagonally. It partially makes up for that with a semi-transmissive design and wide viewing angles that provide good visibility even outdoors. The LCD is supplemented by a good optical real image viewfinder with diopter adjustment. There is also a secondary status LCD sitting on top of the camera. There is a built-in flash and also a flash hot shoe. The tripod mount at the bottom is metal. The Li-Ion battery is massive and the most powerful in the entire lineup. Open the storage card cover on the right side and youāll find two slots, one for xD-Cards and one for the more popular CF Cards. Quite obviously, Olympus has thought about everything, and you get an awful lot for your money when you buy this camera. Especially since, despite its many features, it costs no more than the C-7000 Zoom, and you might even find it for less. This makes the C-7070 Wide Zoom a bargain for anyone in the market for a large, powerful camera. The C-7070 , though, will never slip into a pocket and itāll never go unnoticed. Carry it around and you know you have a camera with you, and everyone around you will notice as well.

The C-7070 is called ćWide Zoomä because its 4X optical covers the 27-110 millimeter range. The Konica Minolta A200 also goes down to 28 mm (and has a 7X optical that goes all the way up to 200 mm), but the big Konica canāt match the C-7070ās on the other end of the spectrum÷macro mode÷where you can get as close as an inch. This Super Macro definitely adds utility to the big Olympus.

The camera also has some tricks, like a ćpredictiveä autofocus that keeps objects moving towards you in focus, and a target function that lets you focus on any part of the picture. The movie mode allows 30 frame per second 640 x 480 pixel recording with sound until the card is full. Print manuals (full manual is on CD) and software are marginal, but anyone interested in such a full-function camera will likely use advanced imaging software anyway.

As far as operation goes, the C-7070 is ergonomically designed and perfectly fits into the palm of your hand. Controls are where you expect them. I donāt like the way Olympus combines zoom control and shutter, but itās actually one of the best implementations of that design solution. The rest of the controls and menus are all Olympus-style, which means buttons spread out all over the place and marked with a combination of words, letters, icons and colors. That tradition of mixing metaphors and styles carries over to the menu system which youāll either love or hate. Those familiar with Olympus digicams will feel right at home. Anyone else will have to get used to it, and also every one of the many controls. Once you do, there is little the C-7070 canāt do. It offers superb manual control over all aspects of the camera, but you can also use it as a point & shooter. The C-7070 produced good to very good image quality, but suffered from purple fringing.

š Great wide-angle zoom, great super macro
š Lots of features and full manual control
š Excellent ergonomics

Not so cool:
š Smallish LCD
š Large and heavy
š Marginal audio capabilities

Rating for:
advanced users-8.9

Samsung Digimax V700
To many it may come as a surprise to find a Samsung in this lineup of powerful 7 megapixel cameras. Thatās because despite of an impressive lineup of digital cameras and and even more impressive product catalog of cellphones with built-in digital cameras, Samsung is not exactly a household name as a camera company. The Korean giant is on a steep upward trend, and so weāll probably see more and more of it. After all, Hyundai didnāt make much of an impression with its first cars, and look where they are now with their excellent, yet affordable automobiles.

As for now, the Samsung Digimax V700 doesnāt quite look like it belongs in this lineup. Itās a smallish device with a silvery metal body and a rounded soap-bar design thatās pleasant enough but also looks non-descript and unexceptional. If you tell people you picked it up for $39.95 at a local drugstore, no one would disbelieve you. Quite obviously, Samsung still has a thing or two to learn about bringing design into sync with perceived quality and status of a camera.

Take a closer look, though, and you see that those first impressions are wrong. Thereās much more to the V700 than meets the eye. The lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach multi-coated affair, which means the technology used to develop it comes from the Jos. Schneider Optische Werke GmbH in Germany, superb optical specialists with a history going back to before the First World War. And all the features youād expect in this class are there, and then some.

In terms of basics, thereās the excellent lens, with its 3X optical zoom complemented by a 10X digital magnification that, thanks to anti-shake technology, actually produces perfectly usable 30X pictures. The display is large (2 inches) and bright, and it remains somewhat readable outdoors. There is a 640 x 480 MPEG-4 movie mode that records, with sound, at a full 30 frames per second pace until the SD card is full. Should you so desire, you can record voice memos up to a full hour. None of the others can do that.

While the V700 certainly looks like a simple point & shoot, it can do much more than that. There is full manual control as well as shutter and aperture priority. There are all the usual adjustments, and the important ones÷such as exposure compensation÷can be manipulated either through menu or external controls. Very clever but also a bit confusing at times. For example, an Olympus-style lever ring around the shutter is actually used to control aperture and shutter speed settings, and not the zoom. The menu interface is very well designed and never gets confusing. Most of the major digital camera manufacturers could learn a thing from Samsung. The V700ās simple operation is complemented by an excellent 135 page manual. With a camera as straight-forward as this one, you almost donāt need it. With the exception of excessive purple fringing, picture quality was very good, much better than expected.

All of this makes the Samsung Digimax V700 a pleasant camera to take along just about anywhere. Itās small and light and you can stick it in any pocket. Itās well made and looks like it can take a beating. If you want to keep it all new and shiny, put it in its attractive protective mesh case. The software is entertaining (it even has OCR), but Windows only.

When you turn on the camera via a recessed button, it springs to life instantly, but taking this snappy startup as a promise of overall speed leads to disappointment. There is significant shutter lag here, the kind you donāt except today. Itās not a deal breaker, but it is one of the less pleasant aspects of the V700.

In summary, the Samsung Digimax V700 is a camera thatās much more powerful and competent than it looks. It also works well in almost all other respects and you can probably get it for almost a hundred dollars less than most of the others. The only problem is that it looks like it should be two hundred dollars less. Weāre sure Samsung is working on that.

š Easy to use, with great controls and menus
š Very good image quality
š Low price

Not so cool:
š Bargain basement looks
š Significant shutter lag
š From Samsung weād expect a better LCD

Rating for:
advanced users-7.7

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3
There was a time when the thought of a Sony digital camera brought up visions of the Mavica, the big square boxes that used floppy disks for storage. Then came a time when Sony introduced ever smaller little techno-marvels that fit into a shirt pocket. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 is reminiscent more of the former than the latter. This is a large, conventional looking camera with a fairly subdued black metal body. The big Sony was one of the first 7 megapixel ćprosumerä cameras and has been around for over a year. In this fast moving field, is it still up to date and a viable option? This camera cost $700 when it first came out, and street prices are still all over the place, but if youāre intrigued with the V3, you can find a good price thatās in line with the rest of the cameras here.

When you look at the V3, you immediately notice two things. One is a huge 2.5-inch LCD, the kind that weād expect in a camera this size. Itās a fixed design and doesnāt swivel or pop out like the screens of two other large cameras, the Canon G6 or the Olympus C-7070, but its size and clarity are definitely a plus. The other thing is really just a peculiarity: when you look at the V3 from the front it seems like itās missing a lens. Thereās this big hefty metal thread-mount ring for optional wide and tele conversion lenses, but the actual lens is much smaller and hidden behind an automatic lens cover when the camera is off. Itās a good lens, actually÷a 4X optical 34-136 millimeter Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar. Still, somehow that little lens inside that big ring just didnāt look right, and I also constantly bumped into it with my fingers when I held the camera. Small detail, but sometimes it is small details that matter.

Like most Sony products, the V3 is very thoughtfully designed and finished. All the controls and buttons are just perfect, and they are all clearly marked. A printed 150-page manual helps answer any question about operation. In contrast to the often intricate and confusing menu systems of some of the competition, Sonyās is simple to the max. No matter what mode dial function youāre in, hitting the menu button always brings up a menu bar at the bottom of the large screen. Each menu item then has a vertical pop-up from which you can select the desired setting. Everything is clear and simple. All text is plenty large enough to be easily readable. This is the way it should be.

Sony always does things Sony-style, so youād expect the V3 to be somewhat proprietary. Thatās why it was a pleasant surprise to find a Compact Flash slot sitting next to the Memory Stick slot. And you can use any old flash on the advanced accessory shoe located on top of the tiny (and very weak) flip-open flash that opens automatically. I much prefer that over flashes that need to be opened manually.

As far as features go, the V3 is well equipped. It offers complete manual control in addition to preset scenes. It supports RAW mode and MPEG movies, yet you can also use it just to point & shoot. Thanks to its Nightframing/Nightshot feature, you can focus in the dark or even take (eerie greenish) pics without the flash. And a special ćsmart zoomä lets you use digital zoom with almost optical zoom quality. That only works in the lower resolutions because the camera uses the unused pixels to do this trick. In daily operation, the V3 is the opposite of the Samsung V700 that starts up blindingly fast, but then takes forever to go from picture to picture. The Sony takes quite some time to start up, but once itās going, it is blindingly fast.

Image quality was only average in our tests and there was too much purple fringing. Still, overall Sony quality and lots of features continue to make the Cyber-shot V3 a good choice for those in the market for a full-size camera.

š Large, bright 2.5-inch LCD
š Easy to use, with very clear menu system
š Speedy operation

Not so cool:
š Weak internal flash
š Massive lens mount ring gets in the way
š F

Rating for:
advanced users-8.1

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 is a small, compact camera that packs a powerful punch in a boxy, high-tech, metallic body that weighs just south of seven ounces. ćSmallä is relative, though. This is not a tiny sliver of a camera such as the Casio Exilim EX-Z750. This Sony has heft to it, its lens motors out an inch when you turn the camera on with the push of a button, and while it fits into a pocket, youāll definitely feel that itās there. In fact, the W7 gives you the impression that it is bigger than a small camera should be. Its size and weight make the massive 2.5-inch TFT seem not as large as we remember it from earlier super-compact Sonys like the T1. The screen also doesnāt seem to have the crispness and sharpness of some of its predecessors. Maybe thatās because it has slightly fewer pixels than they had, 115k versus 123k, which is also fewer than the Sony P200ās smaller 2-inch display.

The lens is a standard 3X optical 28-114mm affair, but one of Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar quality. Yet, here, too, there is slight disappointment. After the ćfoldedä zoom of the old DSC-T1, you donāt want to go back to a zoom lens that motors out of a small camera body. Itās just not as elegant. And with the W7ās size, couldnāt Sony have made it internal...

Once you get past these reservations, the W7 is a very nice camera. The large screen makes selecting and framing pictures easy. There are other convenience features in this camera. For example, most Sony products use the Memory Stick which comes in several formats and is generally more expensive and harder to find than cards in the more common storage formats. For those times when a Memory Stick card is full and you donāt have another one handy, Sony gave the W7 a full 32MB of internal storage. Thatās still not a lot in a 7 megapixel camera, but it is about three times what most cameras with internal storage have.

Another area where the W7 provides flexibility is in its power pack. While all other cameras in this lineup come with proprietary Li-Ion batteries that are expensive to replace, the W7 comes with a couple of simple rechargeable AA NiMH cells. It can also run on standard alkalines (not very long, though). This means that the chance that youāll find yourself stranded without power are much lower with this camera.

In daily use, the W7 is a pleasant companion. Its combination of fairly small size, very large display, simple controls, very fast startup and quick recycle time strike a balance that comes in handy for snapshots and such, and snapshots is what this camera is primarily about. Primarily, but not exclusively. There is a manual mode that provides separate control over shutter speed and aperture and even gives an approximation of what the picture will look like by making the LCD go brighter and darker. I wouldnāt call it a full manual mode, but it can come in handy.

With other features itās often hit and miss. Thereās a good movie mode, but in order to use the 640 x 480 mode you must use a Memory Stick PRO instead of whatever old Memory Sticks you have lying around. Movies have good sound, but there is no sound annotation for images. The autofocus illuminator light, on the other hand, is very strong and that can help in iffy lighting conditions.

In this field, image quality was only average and pictures often had too much contrast, but the camera impressed with an almost total absence of purple fringing. With Sony offering so many models with similar capabilities, the W7 is for those who value flexibility and choices most.

š Large outdoor-readable LCD
š 32MB of internal memory÷most in group
š Can use standard AA batteries

Not so cool:
š Relatively large and heavy for a compact
š Only average image quality
š Tiny optical viewfinder

Rating for:
advanced users-7.2

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200
The Cyber-shot P200, the third 7 megapixel Sony in this lineup, is barely larger than a flip-phone. It measures approximately 4 x 2 x 1 inches and weighs just five ounces÷making it the second-lightest here, after the Casio Exilim EX-Z750. Yet, despite its small size, this is a powerful 7.2 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3X zoom lens, a bright 2-inch outdoor-viewable LCD screen, and a wealth of all those Sony micro details weāve come to know and love.

In terms of design, the P200 is very different from the boxy DSC-W7 and, of course, the much bigger DSC-V3. It is playfully styled, with one side square and the other swooping around three bright concentric circles in the midst of which sits the P200ās zoom lens. In fact, almost everything on this camera is lusciously rounded and curved÷buttons, lines, inserts, even the tiny little flash window, and a long concave molding around the left side of the camera which is probably there so that you can more easily hold the P200 with the index finger and thumb of your left hand.

Just as was the case with the many different CLIƒ PDAs Sony offered in, and then withdrew from, the US market, it is not entirely clear why Sony needs so many different lines of very similar digital cameras. As is, you could say that the Cyber-shot P200 is for people who like very small cameras and also prefer style and elegance over angular shapes, but is that enough to justify yet another line? Only sales figures can tell, and Sony apparently sells enough P-Series cameras to make it worth their while.

Regardless of model line politics, the P200 is certainly a perfect match for many customersā expectations÷a nice, small high-resolution camera with a quality 3X optical zoom lens and a large-enough 2.0-inch LCD. You also get 30 frames-per-second 640 x 480 movies with sound (though that requires a Memory Stick PRO storage card). As long as Sony made the camera this small and slender, we would have liked an internal, foldable zoom like the T-Series has instead of one that moves out an inch when you power up the camera.

In daily use, the P200 does almost everything well. It is small enough to fit into any pocket. The optical zoom can be multiplied by either a standard 2X digital zoom or Sonyās ćSmart Zoomä that employs unused pixels to enlarge an image taken in one of the cameraās lower resolution modes. A small optical viewfinder helps when the LCD washes out too much outdoors. The controls are easy to figure out although Iād suggest a pass through the 100-page manual. Youāll learn all the tricks the P200 can do, plus gain insight into some of the less obvious stuff.

While many P200 customers may never venture beyond the automatic point & shoot mode, the camera also has a P(rogram) mode where it controls aperture and speed and leaves the rest to you. There is also a M(anual) mode where you control everything. Items such as macro, flash, or resolution are easily changed by pushing one of the four directional controls, which is a good thing as the P200ās onscreen menus are neither always obvious nor always easily visible.

Overall, the P200 is pleasant enough. It doesnāt get in the way, has long battery life, and takes good, but not great, pictures with almost no purple fringing. The display offers plenty of information, including a live histogram. Controls, icons and text are a bit small, and the P200 is only average in autofocus and recycling speed, but itās quick enough. All of this makes the Cyber-shot P200 a good choice for those who want a small and very reasonably priced high-res camera with the Sony name and cachet.

š Small and handy
š Long-lasting battery
š A lot of camera for the money

Not so cool:
š Only average autofocus and recycling speed
š Not many features compared to competition
š Tiny mode wheel and zoom control

Rating for:
advanced users-7.3

7 Megapixel WINNERS

For advanced users:
Konica Minolta A200
Sure, the 8 megapixel camera won in this field of 7 megapixel cameras, but it also would have won with just 7 megapixel. The Konica Minolta A20 simply offers more than anyone else in this class. It has a terrific 7X manually controlled optical zoom that gets you close to the action, itās the only camera with a 800x600 movie mode, one of only two with ISO 800, and it has all the manual controls you want. The macro mode isnāt great and the rotating LCD is too small, but other than that this camera has it all.
For beginners:
Nikon Coolpix 7900
If youāre new to digital cameras but want something that lets you take great pictures without first taking a college course in photography, the Nikon Coolpix 7900 is for you. The little Nikon is much smaller than it looks in the picture and you can take it anywhere. It doesnāt have full manual controls, but there are plenty of scene settings for just about any situation. The 7900 also takes great movies. This is a nice camera to get started with because it is simple to use but also has enough features to let you experiment and learn.
For taking snapshots:
Casio Exilim EX-P750

If you need a second camera to take along on trips or just about anywhere, the Casio EX-P750 is hard to beat. It is the smallest and lightest of all the cameras in this lineup, yet it has the largest screen and its picture quality is right up there with the best. And while you can point & shoot all day with this little marvel, the Casio also has more useful (and entertaining) features than most. The only minor black mark is a wimpy flash that isnāt always up to the task. So what? Get closer.

-c. h. blickenstorfer



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