American Photo Editor’s Choice 2009: Compacts
These new models blur the boundaries of digital technology.
Samsung brings a rare view to the superzoom compact-and we mean that literally. The starting focal length on this 10X, 12-megapixel model is equivalent, in the 35mm format, to 24mm. That’s wider than the 28mm on other wide-angle models, and better for both big views and cramped interiors. And it seems to suit the HZ15W’s HD video, which is, after all, a wide-screen format. You can output video directly to an HDTV by plugging in an HDMI cable. Another rare feature for a compact: manual control of both f-stop and shutter speed. About $330.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3
This 10.1-megapixel model is, for now, the ultimate Wi-Fi compact. In addition to providing AT&T hotspot access and home hub connectivity, it has an onboard Web browser that lets you visit YouTube, Photobucket, and Dailymotion, among other sites. You can also use it to upload photos and videos, then e-mail referrals to friends and family. Whether shot with the DSC-G3, browsed, or downloaded, pictures are a pleasure to behold on the exquisitely sharp 3.5-inch touchscreen. And speaking of shooting, the new Cyber-shot has a 35-140mm (equivalent) zoom, lens-based stabilization, and four gigs of built-in storage. About $500.
Nikon Coolpix P90
Nikon came late to EFV superzooms, but the 12.1-megapixel P90 is hardly a me-too model. Its 24X zoom is one of the longest in still photography, ranging from a commendably wide 26mm (35mm equivalent) to a supertele 624mm. Burst rates scorch along at 15fps if you’ll accept a three-megapixel image -fully adequate, let’s not forget, for a photo-quality 8×10 print. Worried about jiggling the camera at such long focal lengths? The P90’s Motion Detection mode automatically senses your level of shake and optimizes settings to keep pictures sharp. About $400.
Panasonic Lumix TZ50
Panasonic elevates the concept of the “travel zoom” with this nine-megapixel model, adding built-in wireless LAN capability that lets you connect to the Internet via a T-Mobile hotspot or home wireless hub. Once connected, you can upload photos to Google’s Picasa Web Album, as well as browse and delete photos already there. Basically a Wi-Fi-enhanced Lumix TZ5, it has the same long-range, optically-stabilized wide-angle zoom (28-280mm equivalent), HD video, and more. About $330.
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR
As with previous Fuji chips, high-sensitivity and low-sensitivity pixels are sprinkled evenly across the surface of this 12-megapixel model’s new Super CCD EXR image sensor. That unique design improves dynamic range in Fuji cameras. But the FinePix F200EXR repurposes the technology to capture two different exposures simultaneously-then combines them in-camera into a single, six-megapixel high-dynamic range image. The F200’s zoom is a satisfyingly wide-angle 28-140mm (equivalent), the screen an ample three inches. About $400.
Pentax Ooptio P70
At less than an inch thick, this new Optio shows that thin is still in. We like it for its wide-totele 27.5-110mm (equivalent) zoom, which retracts flat into the camera; its generous 12-megapixel resolution; and its very cool aluminum body (available in white, red, and silver). The P70 has smile capture and blink detection to improve your photographic odds, and while it lacks optical image stabilization it has Pixel Track Shake Reduction, which uses re- sampling to reduce blur. About $200.
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
The SX200 IS is a new take on superzooms for Canon, which until now has put electronic viewfinders (EVFs) into these high-magnification models. With this 12.1-megapixel, 12X camera, you view and compose strictly on the LCD monitor- and the absence of an EVF has allowed Canon to scale it down to fit a medium pocket. Shooting with the SX200’s three- inch screen can make for unsteady handholding, so it’s good there’s optical image stabilization in the lens, especially for the SX200’s blur-prone long focal lengths (which reach the equivalent of 336mm). HD video fans will like the convenience of the mini-HDMI output, for direct screening on an HDTV. About $350.
Olympus Stylus Tough-8000
Tough is an understatement. You can safely drop this 12-megapixel, sensor-stabilized Stylus from over six feet. You can dunk it to 33 feet deep. You can freeze it down to 14 degrees F. And you can squash it with up to 220 pounds of pressure, important when you forget you’ve stashed the camera in your back pocket and sit on it. Zooming is limited because the lens must be totally encased within the camera body, but the 28-102mm (equivalent) range provides the best focal lengths for most photo purposes. About $400.
It’s not much larger than an ultrathin, but the CX1 accommodates a near-superzoom focal-length range of 28-200mm (equivalent). Composition is a special pleasure with the camera’s 920,000-dot LCD-one of the best monitors we’ve seen on a compact. All the better for viewing pictures made in its HDR mode, which merges shadows and highlights from two separate shots made in rapid sequence. Sophisticated multipattern auto white balance can make localized color adjustments in an image. There’s an electronic level, sensor-shift image stabilization, and selectable aspect ratios-including square, for erstwhile TLR users. About $370.
Casio Exilim EX-FC100
Casio stunned us with its high-speed EX-F1 and EX-FH20, which can fire at phenomenally fast capture rates for both stills and video-the latter perfect for super slo-mo. Those Exilim models are the size of D-SLRs though, so forget about pocketing one. Enter the Exilim EX-FC100: At less than an inch thick, it puts high-speed capture and super slo-mo-not to mention HD video and a respectable 37-185mm (equivalent) zoom-into your shirt pocket. Full-res still capture goes up to a remarkable 30fps at six megapixels, while one second’s worth of 1,000fps video stretches (at normal playback speed) to an ultrasmooth 33 seconds. About $350.