Thursday, November 20, 2003

STATE OF THE ART -- More Megapixels for the Money

To find out just how far we've come in 24 months, I challenged Canon, Casio, Fuji, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, Kyocera, Minolta, Olympus, Pentax, Samsung and Sony to name their best 2003 cameras with street prices under $300, and then compared the choices.

Looking over their specs, you'd conclude that their makers all worked off photocopies of the same feature list. Except as noted, every model has 3.2-megapixel resolution (enough for spectacular 8-by-10 prints), a 3X zoom lens and a 1.5-inch color screen on the back, a selection of shooting modes (sports, nighttime and so on), a self-timer, a flash, a TV connection, rudimentary digital movies with sound and even a microphone for adding voice annotations to photos. And they're all silver.

Most models now take AA batteries instead of expensive, proprietary bricks that, when spent, end your shooting for the day. Not that you'd ordinarily use alkaline AA's, which die in a digicam faster than you can say "Neveready." No, you should use AA nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) rechargeables, which last much longer. But you'll rest (or shoot) easy, knowing that in an emergency a set of drugstore alkalines will buy you another 15 minutes.

There's a terrific camera in here somewhere for just about every sort of shutterbug, including the technophobe (the Kodak), the style maven (the Minolta), the outdoorsy types (Pentax), the quality diva (Canon) and the bargain hunter (Casio and Samsung).

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