Last year we had a separate Editor's Choice category for high-res EVF cameras, because most such models with high-magnification zooms offered a now-modest five or six megapixels of resolution. This year seven megapixels seems to be the minimum resolution for an EVF model, which produces its eyepiece image not with optical zooming or reflex mirrors but instead with a tiny LCD. And you get that higher resolution with cameras that zoom up to 12X, 15X, and even, as with this year's winner, a record-setting 18X.
This model should catch the eye of photographers who've become blasé about the routinely huge zoom ranges of EVF cameras: Its lens is the equivalent, in 35mm, of 28-504mm. And that category-leading 18X range is entirely optical, achieved without add-on converters or resolution-reducing digital zooming. Even with the SP550's fairly fast maximum aperture of f/2.8-4.5, shooting at such high magnifications would be a recipe for blurry handheld photos if the camera didn't have image stabilization -- a task it accomplishes by shifting its CCD image sensor. Longer focal lengths also benefit from higher ISO settings, so it's a good thing the new Olympus goes up to ISO 1600 at its full 7.1-megapixel resolution. It can be set to ISO 3200 and 5000 with resolution reduced to three megapixels. Four aspheric and two extra-low dispersion elements (out of a total of 14) aid sharpness through the lens's optical range.
The SP550 looks like a chunky little D-SLR, but the resemblance is more than skin-deep. It can capture high-speed, SLR-like bursts: Set to three-megapixel resolution it fires off up to 15 shots at seven frames-per-second; downsize to 1.2 megapixels and it doubles that speed to 15fps, capturing up to 20 shots at once. It has sophisticated autofocus, metering, and exposure modes, the latter including special-purpose settings for candlelight, self-portrait, documents, and cuisine. There's even an "auction" mode, for flattering shots of stuff you're selling on eBay.
Several underwater modes provide proper focusing and corrected color balance when the camera is used in the PT-037 Underwater Housing (about $380), which is rated to a depth of 130 feet. The SP550's big 2.5-inch LCD monitor is handy for composition in the deep. Another accessory, the TCON-17 Telephoto Conversion Lens, increases magnification by 1.7X, for 30X zooming. That colossal optical range is the equivalent of a 28-857mm zoom in 35mm. We don't think you'll be needing the SP550's 5.6X digital zoom.
Almost every Superzoom feature worth having has been bundled into this affordable model. Kodak's Z712 IS has the requisite reach, with a 36-432mm (equivalent) optical zoom that's fairly fast at f/2.8-4.8. It has the means to steady the picture at those long focal lengths, with optical image stabilization via shifting lens elements. It has fine ergonomics -- the Kodak-signature, square-SLR shape that lets you get your whole hand on the camera. And it has a substantial, print-worthy resolution of 7.1 megapixels.
The Z712 IS also has a generous 2.5-inch LCD monitor (which can show you a live histogram), fast click-to-capture speed (a quarter of a second), and speed settings up to ISO 1600 (to 3200 at 1.2 megapixels). You can shoot Quicktime (MPEG-4) movies up to the capacity of the SD card; there's 32MB of backup onboard memory. Our favorite of the Z712's many scene modes is panorama-stitch assist. And you can plunk the camera on a Kodak Printer Dock for fast 4x6 prints.
This new Lumix departs from conventional Superzoom EVF design, adopting elegant rangefinder styling instead. Though it sports a 10X Leica zoom -- the equivalent of 28-280mm, with a maximum aperture of f/3.3-4.9 -- it just about fits into a shirt pocket. Its size, design, and performance won office raves. In fact, the camera is so compact and its LCD monitor so big (three inches) that there's no room for an electronic viewfinder. Fortunately, arm's-length composition is steadied by Panasonic's Mega O.I.S., which stabilizes the image by shifting a group of lens elements.
The TZ3's LCD can be switched into high-angle mode for over-the-crowd shots, but the screen doesn't tilt; its viewing angle widens downwards. In keeping with its intended role as a travel companion, the TZ3 can be preset for the time zones of various destinations. To that end, it has a feature called Clipboard capture -- a small internal memory sufficient for snaps of maps or timetables.
Sony's latest Superzoom distills the best of its H-series cameras. It has 8.1-megapixel resolution; a 15X Zeiss zoom that's the equivalent, in 35mm, of 31-465mm (f/2.7-4.5); image stabilization; a tiltable 3-inch LCD monitor; and a Li-ion battery good for 250 shots a charge. The burst mode can eat up as many as 100 frames, at 2.2 fps, at full resolution. You can shoot with Dynamic Range Optimization (borrowed from Sony's Alpha 100), which increases shadow and highlight detail. And that's just the photography part. The H9's post-shooting capabilities include a fast red-eye fix, and the camera has HD-component output, so you can show images on high-definition TVs at maximum screen resolution. You can even add MP3 music of your choice.
The Cyber-shot DSC-H9 lets you shoot in low light with no compromise in quality: Unlike other models, it delivers full resolution at ISO 3200. But if that still doesn't cut it, you can shoot with Sony's reinstated Night Shot mode, which lights the subject with an invisible infrared beam.
Is consumer photography ready for a dedicated infrared point-and-shoot? This factory-modified version of the FinePix S9100 EVF Superzoom camera answers that question. The modification: Fuji simply removes the customary infrared-blocking filter, which gives full license to the image sensor's inherent sensitivity to IR radiation.
The IS-1 kit comes with two screw-in filters. One is an infrared blocking filter, which allows you to take conventional photos by visible light, with auto-focus. (These look just like regular pictures.) Switch to the almost-opaque infrared filter, though, and you're shooting by infrared radiation, in color or B&W. The filter is so dark that manual focusing may be necessary, although our testers found that AF works fine in most cases. Either way, you can view the live image either on the LCD monitor or in the electronic viewfinder.
What happens if you don't use either filter? You'll be shooting both visible and IR wavelengths. (Think pink.) The camera behind all these effects is top-notch, with nine-megapixel capture, a 10.7X zoom that's equivalent to 28-300mm (f/2.8-4.9) in 35mm, slots for both CF and xD-Picture cards, video mode, and more.