Today’s digital cameras
and accuracy at
bargain prices. From fullfeatured
SLRs to 10-
marvels that hide in
the palm of your hand,
has made giant strides
in 2006 and the time
has never been better
to pick one up.
More of the best
When the world’s largest photographic tradeshow,
Photokina 2006, ended in Cologne, Germany, on
Oct. 1, camera makers had stunned the world with
announcements of their hottest new products for the
professional photographer as well as for the amateur
and casual enthusiast. Now these digital cameras are
hitting the streets—along with all those other cameras
from earlier this year—and choosing a camera
that’s best for you may be even more confusing …
without some help. Here’s the help: a look at the
best nonprofessional cameras available today and
what makes them stand out.
Covering all the new cameras could take up a
whole magazine, so what follows is a sampling of
the best. The models are grouped as: Amateur SLR
(single lens reflex), Extreme Zooms, Compacts
and Ultra-Compacts. Selection criteria were quality
of image, professional control, maximum optical
zoom, image resolution, and body size and
Smarter than ever
Intelligent systems are popping up everywhere.
Fujifilm may have outdone the competition here
with its intelligent i-Flash, smart image stabilization
that automatically adjusts ISO and shutter speed for
the least grain in low-light shooting, and a face recognition
system that tracks and optimizes subjects’
faces automatically. Canon uses scene-recognition
intelligence to compare current scenes to an internal
database for faster focus speed and accuracy. And
while Canon’s Face Detection AF/AE system is not
quite as robust as Fujifilm’s newest offering, it does
manage to find faces and keep them in focus no
matter where they are on the frame.
The Amateur SLR camera is distinguished from
other nonprofessional cameras by its interchangeable
lenses and enough shooting control to please
the most serious amateur photographer. Costing
thousands less than top-of-the-line professional
SLRs (usually less than $1000), the newest 10-
megapixel Amateur SLRs offer many of the same
features as their big brothers. Available in bodyonly
or body-plus-lens kits with a wide selection
of matched lenses and external flash options, these
cameras produce stunning photos in JPEG and
Raw format. While Nikon’s name recognition still
carries a lot of weight, it is Canon’s attention to
details, crisp imaging and superior customer support
that have captured the hearts of many
But the field is growing. In fact, almost all the
major manufacturers have announced their own
under-$1000 10-megapixel SLRs in recent weeks.
In addition to Canon, Sony, Pentax and Nikon
covered here, the compact Olympus E-400 and
Samsung GX-10 SLRs will be introduced in time
for the holidays.
Here’s a tip: If you decide to purchase one of these
new SLRs, include a good matched external auto
flash to bring out the best in your camera.
1. Canon Digital Rebel XTi
Smart pricing and rapid product introductions
have kept the Digital Rebel at the top of this list.
The newest Rebel XTi came out in September with
impressive numbers and lots of improvements over
the previous model, most noticeably a larger 2.5-in.
LCD and smart dust removal system that vibrates
its low-pass filter. If this fails, an in-camera application
can remove persistent dust via software. A sensor
under the viewfinder automatically disables the
LCD when your eye is detected. As with all Digital
Rebels, there is no image stabilization system unless
you purchase an expensive image-stabilization lens.
Introduced in July, the A100 was the first Amateur
SLR with image stabilization. The A100 touts an
anti-dust sensor vibration system and takes Minolta
A-type bayonet mount lenses (Maxxum or Dynax)
in addition to 19 new Sony Alpha lenses.
Announced before Photokina for November release,
the K10D takes image stabilization to the next
level with permanent magnets that shift the CCD
to compensate for camera movement or vibrate to
remove dust. Exceptional sealing of body components
gives the K10D dust and splash resistance.
With a number of unique features like in-camera
processing of Raw to JPEG and a genuinely userfriendly
set of controls, the K10D stands out while
its unique image stabilization allows for backward
compatibility to standard Pentax lenses.
4. Nikon D80
Priced higher than other Amateur SLRs, Nikon’s
September release of the 10.2-megapixel D80 is sure
to please diehard Nikon fans. Even though the D80
has neither image stabilization nor an anti-dust system,
it does have a large collection of proven digital lenses
and smart flashes to enhance any system. And with its
solid feel and professional controls, the D80 will be on
many a wish list. The D80’s image processor fixes earlier
issues with soft images but still does not do as good
a job as the Canon Rebel XTi with low-light noise.
A few cameras offer extremely long optical zooming
in addition to the standard set of features. These
cameras are ideal for sporting events and nature
photography, but require a tripod for best results
when shooting telephoto.
5. Canon PowerShot S3 IS
With a 6-megapixel CCD, the PowerShot 3S IS
boasts a huge 12X optical zoom (36–480mm equivalent)
driven by the same quiet UltraSonic motor found
in the professional Canon EF lenses. Optical image
stabilization combined with superior lens optics yields
sharp, accurate images even at full telephoto range.
Shooting modes include full auto, nine programs,
custom and full manual modes in addition to eight
scene modes, giving the PowerShot S3 IS plenty of
flexibility. The S3 IS has no hot shoe for an external
flash and does not capture Raw format. Tele-converter
and wide-converter lens adapters are available.
6. Fujifilm FinePix S9100
The 9-megapixel CCD FinePix S9100 uses intelligence
combined with a 10.7X optical zoom
(28–300mm equiv.) and professional features like
Raw imaging and an external flash hot shoe to make
this a powerhouse. i-Flash analyzes the scene and
adjusts flash intensity for best results. Real Photo
technology automatically adjusts shutter speed and
exposure for sharper images in natural light. The
S9100 accepts both xD-Picture cards and 9MB/s
CompactFlash II memory. Tele- and wide-angle
conversion lenses are available.
7. Kodak EasyShare Z710
The Z710 lens is the main feature of Kodak’s valueoriented
$300 entry into this category. It works in
a big way with its excellent Schneider Kreuznach
Variogon 10X optical zoom lens (35–175mm equiv.).
While the Z710 lacks image stabilization, it does
offer a large selection of 17 scene modes and five
color modes with full manual mode control.
The newest round of compact and ultra-compact
cameras are smaller and loaded with more scene
presets than ever, even as their megapixel sizes grow.
These cameras are not only shooting larger images,
they are getting smarter; Canon and Fujifilm seem
to have the pulse of this growing segment.
8. Canon PowerShot G7
This is possibly the most powerful little camera
available today. The PowerShot G7 nearly has it all
… if only it captured Raw images! Canon gave the
G7 a large 10-megapixel CCD image sensor, a 6X
optical zoom and image stabilization. Its intelligent
facial recognition system recognizes up to nine subjects
and keeps them perfectly focused no matter
where they are on the frame. Its hot shoe accepts
Speedlites, and optional tele-converter and wideangle
conversion lenses are available.
9. Fujifilm FinePix F31fd
The “fd” stands for face detection technology, a
selectable option that identifies the primary subject
with a green box and up to nine other subjects in
white boxes, then locks on and optimizes facial
quality regardless of the subjects’ position in the
frame. The F31fd also uses intelligent scene analysis
for its i-Flash and Real Photo technology to boost
quality of low-light photos even at full resolution.
10. Samsung NV10
Sporting a stylish super-thin black aluminum body,
the NV10 employs an Advanced Shake Reduction
(ASR) image stabilization system and a superb
Schneider Kreuznach lens. Offering a full range of
automatic, program and manual modes, the NV10
packs a lot of punch in its small package. As with
most smaller point-and-shoots, the NV10 does not
do well in low-light shooting.
11. Canon PowerShot SD900 (Digital ELPH)
The SD900 is encased in a tough titanium shell and
includes the same Face Detection AF/AE system as
its big brother, the PowerShot G7 … but the SD900
does not offer the flexibility of custom or manual
modes like the G7. The SD900 is about the size of a
deck of playing cards.
ULTRA-COMPACTS WITH BIG LCD SCREENS
12. Sony Cybershot DSC-T50
This credit card-sized subcompact has a massive
3-in. touchscreen LCD that doubles as the user
interface. Boasting Sony’s famous Super SteadyShot
optical image stabilization, the T50 has nine scene
and four color modes and is available in black, red
and silver. A clever additional zoom handle sticks
out of its side.
13. Fujifilm FinePix V10
The FinePix V10’s large 3-in. LCD screen consumes
the back of this tiny camera, but it’s Fujifilm’s
intelligent Real Photo technology that really distinguishes
this tiny camera from others with its exceptional
low-light capabilities. No optical viewfinder
… but the smart LCD screen auto-adjusts to ambient
ULTRA-COMPACTS WITH A TWIST
14. Kodak EasyShare V570
This unusual-looking tiny camera has a CCD sensor
for each of its two lenses—an ultra-wide angle
23mm fixed lens and a 3X optical zoom. The V570
has a rugged metal case and ships with its own
docking station. In panoramic mode the V570
stitches three consecutive images together in-camera
to produce a panorama encompassing up to 180
degrees. The V570 has a built-in distortion compensation
option for super wide angle shots and a
blur detection warning in playback that alerts you
to problem images so you can delete and reshoot on
the spot—way cool! The V570 has no full manual
mode but with more than 20 scene presets, it will
handle most shooting conditions. Image quality is
not spectacular, but the V570 is a unique camera in
an ultra-compact package.
15. Canon PowerShot SD40 (Digital ELPH)
Fashion meets function in this itsy-bitsy ELPH.
Available in sepia, gray, pink or blue stainless steel,
the PowerShot SD40 is primed for action and
includes its own dock with wireless remote. Loaded
with 17 shooting modes and the intelligent Canon
Face Detection system for best focus and exposure,
the SD40 even permits some manual exposure
options. This one is so tiny, you’ll want to wear it
around your neck.