Our somewhat arbitrary criterion for an ultrathin compact -- a body with a thickness of less than one inch -- is just the starting point with these models, which often seem as much about fashion as photography. This year many of these skinny cameras offer capabilities beyond snapshots and video clips, including wireless transmission, slideshows, video editing, and album creation -- in short, extended photo sharing. (Note: The Image Stabilization item in the Key Specs list only applies to optical and mechanical systems, not digital image stabilization.)
The emphatic message behind the G1 is that your photographs can be managed wirelessly, just like your communications. The sliding-clamshell G1 features Wi-Fi connectivity not just through hubs and public hotspots but directly to other devices that are compliant with the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standard. DLNA isn't all that common yet, but many electronics makers have signed on to the standard.
But Wi-Fi is just one aspect of the G1's performance as an all-in-one photo-sharing device. The camera has 2GB of internal storage (that's gigabytes, not megabytes), so your picture taking will no longer be stymied for lack of a memory card. (Should you need more space, there's a slot for MemoryStick Duo/PRO Duo cards.) That also means the G1 can function easily as a digital photo album, a task at which it excels because of its big, super-sharp 3.5-inch LCD monitor. The monitor contains nearly a million pixels -- many times more than a typical point-and-shoot screen.
The screen also serves as a control interface; you just move the cursor to select the pertinent icon. Sorting through large numbers of pictures is made easier with a search tool that lets you find images by an affixed label (there are 50 presets), or even by color, face, or similarity to another photo. Once you've decided on just the right mix you can arrange them into a slideshow, adding transition effects and favorite music and displaying it on a TV screen via an AV-out cable.
You have to take the pictures first, of course, and that should be easy. The 38-114mm (equivalent) f/3.5-4.3 Zeiss zoom lens has optical image stabilization for sharper shots at slower shutter speeds; the nine-point autofocus lets you catch off-center subjects; and a surprisingly fast 3.3fps burst rate is good for seven shots at best quality or 100 at VGA resolution. You can even shoot MPEG-4 video.
The SD800 IS impresses us not so much with its gee-whiz quotient as with its well-thought-out combination of features. First off, the optics: A zoom starting at 28mm, in this case a 28-105mm f/2.8-5.8, has always struck us as more useful, providing a true wide-angle view for big scenes and small quarters. And the SD800's zoom is equipped with Canon's standard-setting image stabilization.
Next, there's a big 2.5-inch LCD for you to shoot with -- or you can compose through the optical viewfinder, the forgotten virtues of which include steadier shooting and, when you turn off the LCD display, longer battery life. Besides standard movie mode, the SD800 IS can shoot 320x240 flicks at a fast framing rate of 60fps, for smoother action. Color fixes include lightening or darkening skin tone, accentuating single colors, and even swapping colors. Among various scene modes are settings for aquarium shooting and panorama stitching, and you can print ID-sized photos with little fuss on a Canon CP or SELPHY printer.
Despite its slim proportions, this camera packs not a 3X zoom, nor a 5X zoom, but a 7X zoom -- the equivalent of 38-266mm in 35mm terms, and with a decent maximum aperture of f/3.4-5.3. Casio does this trick by way of a periscopic lens design, with the zoom fitted horizontally inside the camera body and a mirror that bounces the subject image sideways into it. The image relayed by that long lens is steadied with a shifting CCD.
If you're not impressed yet, the V7 records video with stereo sound, still a rarity even among high-end digicams. And in keeping with Casio custom there are lots of specialized scene modes, some of them useful. Business Card and White Board modes not only adjust settings for their respective subjects but also square up skewed perspective. And ID Photo converts a head-and-shoulders portrait into five different sized images in one frame.
If you didn't know how small this camera is, its capabilities might lead you to think it was one of those room-filling media centers. It lets you edit a slide or video show in-camera, adding a sound track of up to 10 music files. A three-inch monitor with a 170-degree viewing angle makes watching the show more comfortable.
To give you good pictures to work with, the S50c's 38-114mm lens has Vibration Reduction, which steadies shots when if your shaky hands can't, and an AF system that automatically recognizes and focuses on faces. After the shot, you can crop in-camera, zap red-eye, and open up shadow detail with the new model's D-Lighting feature. If you feel like sharing, you can e-mail images from Wi-Fi hotspots. Wi-Fi can save your day of shooting if you're low on memory, as you can send up to two gigabytes of images to a secure Nikon server.
Quite a few long-zooming point-and-shoots could be used to photograph a football game, but the 770 SW is the only compact we know that will let you shoot while you're actually playing football. Or water polo, for that matter. This camera is crushproof (it will withstand a load of up to 220 pounds), drop-proof (up to five feet), waterproof (dunkable down to 33 feet), and frost-free (it works at 18 degrees F.)
The Stylus 770 SW has a 38-114mm (equivalent) zoom and four underwater scene modes for correct color and contrast in the deep. Other scene modes include Behind Glass, for shooting things in display cases or behind windows, and a panorama mode that automatically stitches pictures together if you're using an Olympus-brand xD-Picture Card. If you take the camera scuba diving, you can make underwater movies -- with sound. Take it mountain climbing and the built-in manometer will record your altitude in the picture file.
The Optio name is synonymous with skinny cameras, and the T30 continues that tradition -- in a big way. Despite the camera's soap-bar size and 3/4-inch thickness, its LCD monitor is a big three inches, viewable at a 170-degree angle. The monitor also serves as a touch screen for both capture and post-production controls.
The T30's zoom is a 37.5-112.5mm (equivalent) f/2.5-5.2, and can find and focus automatically on faces. Histograms and shadow/highlight warnings help in making sure your exposure is on the money. Among many scene modes are flower, landscape, night scene, pet, food, and text. After the shot, you can add digital filters such as soft focus, slimming, illustration, various colors, and fisheye effect -- useful for portraits of people you'd prefer not to flatter. The touch screen even has a function with which you can draw on the actual image, and save the altered file.
Viewing the huge three-inch LCD on HP's affordable top model is like holding a backlit snapshot in your hand. Rather than stabilize its 3X zoom optically, the R967 uses digital anti-shake to counteract subject or hand movement -- but the real gee-whiz starts after you take the picture. Then, the camera functions as a sort of miniature editing station, allowing you to adjust shadow and highlight levels, remove redeye, stitch up to five shots, add a border, and slim people down -- in image files, anyway.