Look! There's a video camcorder inside your digital camera.
Under $500? Minolta Dimage Z1 ($420 street)
Pay more than $400 for a 3.2MP camera? Only if it boasts a 10X, f/2.8-3.5 zoom lens that gives you a 38-380mm (equivalent) field of view-and you see what you get through the Z1's unique viewfinder. This camera's most impressive features are its rapid AF system, progressive-capture burst mode, manual focus and exposure controls, advanced metering choices, and TTL flash control (for built-in and external units). On the video side, the Z1 captures up to full-frame VGA resolution at 30 fps, with other choices for QVGA and 160x120-pixel res at 15 or 30 fps. There's also a color night-movie mode for shooting in very low light. Clip length depends on the capacity of the supported SD card and video settings, and movies are stored in QuickTime (.mov) format using Photo-JPEG compression at about a 28:1 ratio. The camera also records sound-unfortunately, the noise of the AF motor makes it fairly useless (advice: turn AF off).
If price is no problem? Fuji FinePix S20 Pro ($899 street)
Following in the footsteps of the Fujifilm FinePix S7000 (reviewed February 2004), the S20 Pro takes a step back in still resolution and a step forward in its video capabilities. On the still side, the camera's Super CCD SR sensor features 3.1 million S-pixels and 3.1 million R-pixels, for a total 6.2MP rating. This sensor improves dynamic range over the S7000 and many other cameras in its class, but offers overall resolution closer to a 5MP camera-not the 8MP res of the S7000 in 12MP mode. The S20 Pro also features a 6X, f/2.8 optical zoom lens, a sharp electronic viewfinder, dual-media slots for xD-Picture and CF cards, shutter speeds from 30 to 1/10,000 sec, and a wide assortment of exposure and metering controls. Up to 10 hi-res images can be captured at up to 4.5 fps in burst mode. Video can be captured at full VGA resolution at 30 fps with mono sound or at lower quality levels. Clip length depends on the memory card capacity, and video is saved in .avi format using M-JPEG compression at about 25:1 ratio. This camera captures the best video quality we've seen short of a DV camcorder.