Digital Shoot Out

Since the digital camera era began, we've noticed, with some irritation, the dawning of another era: The era of "can I borrow your digital camera 'cause I don't have one?"

Well, ladies and germs, the "borrowing" era is officially over. Now, your excuses for not buying your own digital camera won't wash: They're good enough and cheap enough and easy enough for anyone who has an antiquated point-and-shoot film camera to learn how to use.

So, in order to keep people from borrowing, here are a handful of digital cameras we recommend and the pluses and minuses for each. We're also showing you a nifty viewer that allows you to display nearly any format of digital media on the TV … and a camera bag that's a waterproof wonder.

On the cameras, we have five cameras that have advanced features but are fairly simple to use. Frankly, we found it hard to decide which was best. If you want ultra-tiny, the Casio Exilim line wins hands-down. If small, sleek, and sturdy suits you, Canon's PowerShot series is hard to beat. For fabulous zoom lens work, the Olympus is a handful. For a great value, Samsung's re-entered the digital camera market with a new approach.

So please, consider the following … and go buy one of your own!

Casio Exilim EX-Z3

We've always liked these cameras – ever since the first really slim one came out. No matter its megapixel resolution at the time was miniscule. The form factor was a showstopper. Now, this little beauty has grown up a bit. Packing 3.2 megapixels of resolution, the Exilim can now stop the show with more than its look and feel. The EX-Z3 features a 3X optical zoom lens, a 2-inch LCD screen for viewing yoru pictures and lining up the next one, and the ability to record 30 seconds of video with audio. It's a hot camera and is becoming hard to find. We recommend scouting out your own right now… but don't forget the $399 you'll need to bring it home.

Canon PowerShot S50

This 5-megapixel little beauty represents the happiest combination of looks, form factor and performance. Packing a 5-megapixel resolution, this puppy takes beautiful pictures… which you can blow up to 11x17 and still look fantastic. What we like: the sliding lens cover that acts as the power switch for the camera. No longer do you have to uncover the lens and fumble for the power switch.. just open the camera and it's ready to go. Not bad for a $599 camera.

We also like the 32 megabyte compact flash card that comes with it… it takes enough pictures right out of the box to be useful. We also like the ability to shoot up to 3 minutes of video, which you can edit right in the camera! Nice. What we don't really like is the USB interface… a little slow for such high-res pictures.

Canon Elph s400

Another fine, small and powerful camera to consider. The Elph is the latest in the long line of Elphs (Elves?) that keeps the family tradition of small form factor. This Elph offers 4 megapixels, a 3X optical zoom. It is both elegant and powerful. The two-tone metallic shell screams to be seen, so you won't feel like a complete tourist when you whip this baby out while on vacation. In fact, don't be surprised if you have to wrestle it back from fellow tourists if you have them take your picture with it. The cost: $509.

Olympus C740 Ultra Zoom

Olympus has always been a producer of strong cameras… this one, well, leaves us wanting a little more. For $499, this packs only a 3.2 megapixel resolution.. we expected at least four. The 10X optical zoom is nice, and can get you nice and close to what you want to shoot. The auto focus quickly brings the farthest images into clear view. The camera uses the xD Picture card to store your images. It's nice and compact, but the included card will store only about 8 high-res images. Also, you may find it hard to share images with others, given the limited number of viewers available for the xD system.

This camera also features the slower USB connection. Also, we're not a fan of the form factor. While the longer lens is needed to achieve the power zoom feature for which it is named, it makes the camera a bit bulky to carry.

Samsung Digimax V4

A nice entry from Samsung here. With a 4 megapixel resolution, you'll get find 8X10 prints out of this one. What we like best about it is its ability to take just about any kind of power source… from rechargables to alkaline. In all, nine different power sources are welcome here. It's got a nice form factor, but we have to say, it's not the simplest camera to figure out. It took our testers a while to feel comfortable grabbing this one as a point-and-shoot. Once you do figure it out, you'll be able to take video clips with audio, but you'll be able to record more than the usual 30 seconds most cameras allow. Nice touch. $329.

SanDisk Digital Photo Viewer

Want to share all the pictures you've taken, but don't have a printer or a photo developer handy? Consider this gadget. For $79, you'll get the ability to see your photos – saved on just about any digital storage card – directly on the nearest television. The Photo Viewer accepts Compact Flash Type I and II, Memory Stick, Secure Digital, Smart Media and MultiMedia cards. It's a snap to set up, and brings the magic of your newest pics to the biggest audiences in seconds. Not a bad thing, especially on those rainy vacation days when you'd rather re-live the sunny ones you just saved on digital film.

Lowepro Camera Pack DryZone 100

OK, maybe you think $210 is a lot to pay for a camera pack. But can your camera pack protect its contents, even if you dump it into the water – fully loaded? We didn't think so. This one (and it's bigger brother, the DryZone 200) is a waterproof wonder that will keep more than 60 pounds of high-tech equipment not only dry, but afloat, should your vacation take an unexpectedly moist turn. We love it for our growing collection of digital cameras and lenses and plan to use it on our next whitewater rafting trip!

Editors Note: When we finished writing and recording this segment for air, our Coordinating Producer actually asked us if she could borrow a camera for her vacation this weekend. No lie. Sheesh!

By Daniel Dubno and Bob Bicknell

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