Casio's Ex-S100 Slim Digital Camera
Since Casio introduced the Exilim digital camera line three years ago, I have started each day pocketing my wallet, my keys, and my credit-card sized digital Exilim stainless steel camera. The latest model is slam-dunk wonderful: the Ex-S100 3.2 Megapixel CCD has an astonishing 2-inch LCD screen and a zoom-lens magically crammed into a 3.5 x 2.5-inch body. Previously, adding a zoom lens turned a slender card-sized camera into a clunky mini-brick. Using the world's first transparent ceramic lens, Casio has managed to cram a 2.8X optical zoom into this tiny miracle camera. There's no optical viewfinder here: the bright LCD screen is all you need.
Yet, the bounty continues: extraordinarily hearty metal construction and an elegant design insure the camera is never out of place or out of service. The battery life is terrific and the handy docking-and-recharging cradle is elegant. Best of all, this camera is fast: powering up in just over a second and capturing images in well under one tenth of a second. The direct-on function means just push the shutter button and the picture is captured even when the camera is in sleep-mode. (Great for taking those impossible family photos of your impossible family.)
Some of the best new features I have not really needed, but love anyway: First, there's a macro mode that lets you capture business cards and the camera automatically "keystones" the image to make them aligned. Second, there's even a mode for taking great pictures of PowerPoint demonstrations in an auditorium (again, removing the angle to have clean adjusted shot of the screen!) Do you need more than 3.2 megapixels for a camera you always have with you? I sure don't. This is pint-sized perfection and they do not have to change a thing. Lists at $399, and a bargain, if you can find one!
Canon EOS 20D Digital
You know, I used to like Canon. With the EOS 10D, I had the perfect 6-megapixel camera body that could accept all my EOS lenses. Not for the amateur, this baby was the bad-boy in Canon's digital line: over the top but not as insane as Canon's 11-megapixel 1DS. So what did those blessed finks at Canon do? They improved the 10D: upped the CMOS sensor to 8.2 megapixels with less noise and made the new thing twice as fast. With one battery charge, and a huge compact-flash card (never under 1GB cards for the likes of me) you can take pictures from sunrise to sunset without taking a break.
Are the pictures beautiful? Darn it, yes! They're sharp with more auto-focus options and the breathtaking ability to bang-out 23 consecutive frames at five frames per second. Usually, I extol such achievements, but so enjoyed my beloved 10D, I cannot bear to trade it in. And, with the list price of the new Canon D20 at $1499, I can't afford to either. Seriously, if you are serious about photography and have a passion for great EOS lenses, there is no excuse for not getting this astonishing masterpiece. Just don't gloat: I don't want to hear how happy you are.
The next two cameras are daring and, perhaps, a little crazy: Everio, the new combo camera from JVC, and Samsung's Digimax V50.
JVC's Everio Cube Style GZ-MC200 Camera
If you start to tremble when you hear "MPEG", I understand. These different digital compression schemes are confusing to even the folks who come up with the standards. With JVC's chunky little Everio Cube, JVC has embraced the older DVD-quality MPEG-2 format. Other manufacturers have embraced MPEG-4 because of much smaller file sizes. Sadly, consumer recorders using MPEG -4 standard have, to date, offered a much noisier, lower quality picture.
JVC has embraced the mammoth 4 Gig Microdrive to allow recording videos of high quality. In side-by-side video comparisons, the JVC picture dominated. The very portable Everio has a terrific 10X optical zoom lens with an equally impressive digital zoom and captures images with a 2.1 Megapixels CCD. The camera also boasts many sophisticated digital effects.
Perhaps it is just me, but the "boxiness" of the camera and the unusual swivel struck me as quirky and even a little nuts. While I spent considerable time looking at the fine video and decent stills taken with an Everio, I didn't have enough hands-on time to really adapt to the unusual form-factor. Vastly smaller than almost all other video recorders, JVC scores points here. But in the digital still camera space, it seemed a little less ergonomically satisfying than I'd hoped.
Samsung's V50 Digital
Samsung has ambitiously dived into the digital camera market with a new 5.1 megapixel still camera. Onboard, decent Schneider optics and a 2-inch swivel LCD screen. The camera also records unlimited video clips (in MPEG4). It supports both the SD card and the Memory Stick. However, the coolest thing about this digital still camera is that, with the optional lens adapter, the Samsung V50 can also support a wide angle or telephoto lens in addition to the built-in zoom lens. The shutter lag time was somewhat disappointing and I wasn't impressed with the flash. The camera lists at $379.99 with the optional Tele or Wide Angle lenses at $119 apiece.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0
I have previously extolled the virtues of Adobe's Photoshop Album 2.0 as the greatest photo-organizing and sharing software on Earth. On the other hand, Adobe's high-end Photoshop program remains user-hostile only Jedi warriors can seem to benefit from this powerful software. To my delight, Adobe took the best of both: the simple utility of Album and the power of Photoshop, and created a totally new version: Photoshop Elements 3.0. Now, powerful editing and storage of digital images are available in one easy intuitive software package.
Even though there are a series of "automatic" correction tools, the new Elements provides clear methods to fine tool results if you are not satisfied with the auto solution. The spot healing brush will fix most photo flaws fast. (I think one-day people will be nostalgic about how people looked in the days before all photos became retouched.)
My love for the earlier Photoshop Album software was mostly due to the ease of organizing and sharing digital imagery. All of these features are present and enhanced in Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0. Instantly sort through literally thousands of pictures to just find pictures of certain friends, family members, or special events that interest you. Any user can now create slide shows, photo albums, web photomontages, and other displays. About $90 for Windows and $80 for Mac.
By Daniel Dubno