Digital cameras group test review

digital still camera
Photo of Digital cameras group test
£308

This 2.1Mpixel camera looks very much like a typical compact 35mm. A 3x optical zoom lens telescopes out of the front face when you press an indented power button on the back and the image is zoomed to a full 7.5x with a see-saw digital zoom button at top right. You can use either the optical viewfinder or the LCD panel to line up your subject.

A rotary wheel at the bottom of the back panel selects record or playback modes and auto or manual exposure. A further set of four buttons under the LCD works with a simple set of menus to control most other functions of the camera. The PowerShot A20 takes four AA batteries, which may be alkaline or rechargeable, though no charger is supplied.

The menu system on the PowerShot A20 is easy to navigate, moving left and right over clearly labelled options. Although you can leave most settings on auto, you can also set white balance and exposure manually and compensate for incandescent and fluorescent lighting.

Getting pictures out of the PowerShot A20 means either connecting the supplied lead to your PC’s USB port or removing the 8MB CompactFlash card and using a third-party card reader. Either way, the PowerShot utilities are simple but effective in transferring images to your PC.

Using automatic settings on the camera, results were encouraging. Colour balance was generally good, with a slight yellowing in the greens but with good saturation. The auto-focus coped well with difficult subjects (those with multiple focal distances) and the depth of field was fair in good lighting.

Kodak supplied both its DX4900 camera and the optional EasyShare USB dock into which it plugs. The camera alone is a similar price to the others in this group.

The DX4900 has a chunky and rather utilitarian design, full of bumps and lumps. On its back panel is a four-way thumb control and two other buttons with which you can navigate the menu system, which appears on the 38mm colour LCD display. Unusually, the top surface of the camera also contains a mono LCD, for status information like the number of shots remaining.

A 2x optical zoom lens powers out of the front at switch on and, with a further 3x digital zoom, provides a good degree of magnification. The built-in software makes effective use of this, enabling you to magnify a shot within the camera and pan around it on the LCD.

The 4-Mpixel CCD array produces large files and a 16MB CompactFlash card is provided to hold them. A single use, Lithium battery provides power if you buy the camera on its own, but a rechargeable NiMH pack is included in the version with the bundled dock. The battery recharges all the time the camera is docked.

Our test macro image came out very well on this camera, with the huge magnification available from its maximum 2,448 x 1,632 resolution. The landscape picture was also well reproduced and again can be zoomed to show the fine detail.

The DX4900 is an effective digital camera with great flexibility of control, including manual focus and exposure adjustment if needed. It’s a shame Kodak’s industrial designers still feel it has to look like a £40 ‘Brownie’, though.

Below are sample images taken with the cameras set in ‘macro’ mode.

sample image     Agfa    

sample image     Canon    

sample image     Fujifilm    

sample image     Kodak    

sample image     Olympus

Like the Kodak EasyShare DX4900, Samsung’s Digimax 350SE is a chunky design, but with a lot more style. A blue or silver band and handgrip mark out its body and its controls are commendably easy-to-use. On top there’s a six-position dial to select photo, video or playback modes, with the shutter release set in its centre.

On the back there’s a toggle switch controlling zoom level, with a 3x optical zoom and 2x digital, a five-way thumb-pad to navigate the on-screen menus and two other buttons for selection of extra features. Finally, there is an easy to spot, red, lozenge-shaped power button.

Samsung’s new camera has a 3.2-Mpixel CCD array, which gives it a maximum resolution of 2,048 x 1,536, for highly detailed images. Our test shots were well reproduced, though the colours were a little bland in comparison with real life. The macro mode produced a very detailed close-up of our test subject.

In its basic form, the Digimax 350SE doesn’t come with rechargeable batteries of any kind. A set of AA alkaline cells is all that’s supplied, though NiMH batteries and charger are available as optional extras. A 16MB CompactFlash card is provided, which can hold up to nine images at the camera’s highest resolution.

The camera makes electronic sounds when you press the power or shutter-release buttons. This is comforting for beginners but may scare off some subjects, like small birds. Other than this, and its relative heaviness, Samsung’s latest venture into the digital camera world is a success. The Digimax 350SE is easy and comfortable to use and produces fair images straight out of the box.

The digital camera revolution continues, with specifications and results getting closer to those of conventional cameras. Prices are still high, though, with a good quality compact digital camera costing between three and four hundred pounds. Most cameras now offer CCD arrays – equivalent to a conventional camera’s film size – of between one and three mega-pixels. This provides resolutions of up to 1,800 by 1,200 pixels, making pictures suitable for printing at 7 by 5 inches and even bigger. Not quite up to the standard for 35mm film, but getting closer by the month.

Of course, as you increase the size of a digital picture, it takes more room to store it. Cameras that use memory cards for storage – the majority – are reduced to holding fewer and fewer images on a card. You can sometimes take fewer than 20 high-resolution images on the card supplied with a camera.

The main advantage of a digital camera is being able to see what you’ve taken immediately. Viewing on the built-in displays of these cameras or connecting to a PC to transfer and print images is a lot more convenient than taking a roll of film to the developer, even if it has a one hour turnaround. Here we’ve tested five new digital cameras, from the main players in the market, all offering to produce truly instant photography. Note that all prices shown are approximate current street prices. Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

The digital camera market continues to grow apace, with more and more people being converted to the convenience and flexibility of electronic images. Although the initial cost of a digital camera still acts as a barrier to their mass adoption, digital photography is no longer just the realm of the early adopter and the computer nerd.

Just to run through them one more time, the main advantages of digital over conventional silver halide photography are as follows:

  • You can see what you’ve taken instantly on the camera’s monitor display and retake if you’re not happy with what you’ve captured. If you delete an image, the memory it occupied is immediately available for reuse.
  • You keep and print just the images you want, rather than developing 24 or 36 prints to find that perhaps a third of them are not up to your standard.
  • You can print, e-mail and incorporate the images you’ve taken into a wide variety of different types of document.
  • You don’t have to wait, even an hour, before seeing your images. You can display them on a monitor or TV screen and print them out, at a variety of sizes, on your own printer.

Here we look at five models from leading manufacturers with a list price of around £400. By checking sites on the Internet, most are available for around a hundred pounds less than that, so these are the ‘street’ prices we’ve quoted. Our test images were taken in quick succession, so the lighting conditions were similar for all.

Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

Although the price of digital cameras doesn’t seem to alter much, with the base level still sitting at around the £200 mark, you do get more for your money each year. For between £300 and £400 you can buy a digital camera with a 2-Mpixel, 3-Mpixel or even 4-Mpixel CCD array, a good level of zoom, enough memory (though never generous amounts) and rechargeable batteries to keep running costs down.

£200 also remains the price difference between digital and conventional cameras of roughly similar specification. If you’re in the market for a digital camera at around £300, you should expect a similar sort of feature-set to a £100, 35mm Compact. Assuming your digital camera uses rechargeable cells, running costs come down to film and development versus printer ink and photo paper.

Of the cameras reviewed here, two stand out from the rest. If you want a camera just for its image quality, then the Canon Digital Ixus V2 takes excellent images, using its new intelligent auto-focus system. It’s a delight to use, as everything does just what you’d expect, and its miniature dimensions mean you really can slip it into a pocket and carry it with you.

The newcomer to digital cameras, Samsung, has used its skill in designing high-performance electronics to produce a fine digital camera which is particularly easy-to-use and can take short video sequences, too. Although it’s a little bulky and comes with no form of rechargeable batteries, its 3.2-Mpixel CCD means it’s ideal as a camera for larger prints.

This is the bulkiest of the cameras in this group, partly due to the inclusion of one of Iomega’s Clik! drives in its body. These 40MB mini disks, using Zip technology, give the camera a capacity of 120 shots, even at its maximum resolution of 1152 by 864 pixels. Actually, that’s not quite the maximum, as the supplied PhotoWise software can interpolate up to 1440 by 1080, using a proprietary file format.

Controls are very straightforward, with separate power switches for camera and 46mm LCD display, and a finger wheel which does almost everything else. You click the wheel to activate the on-screen menus and rotate it to select options.

In use, the ePhoto felt big and clumsy. Since all settings involve the LCD panel, the ePhoto is sometimes awkward to use in bright sunlight, and the clear plastic cover to the display is easily scratched. There’s no lens cover supplied, though the lens is deeply set into the camera body.

Picture quality was good on landscapes, even at high resolution, though getting in close for a macro shot appeared to confuse both auto-focus and auto-exposure systems. We consistently saw a purple shift and bland greens in close-ups.

The Agfa ePhoto CL30 isn’t going to slip discreetly into a jacket pocket. However, it’s easy to use and the extra capacity of the Clik! drive means it’ll keep snapping when other cameras have to return to base to off-load the contents of their cards.

Ricoh’s Caplio RR10 has an unusual vertical/horizontal design. About the size and shape of a hand-held dictation machine, you slide it down on one of its ends into a supplied dock, which you keep connected permanently to your PC. The dock, known as the Ricoh Base, acts as a recharger for the built-in Lithium-ion battery, a link for downloading pictures and the same for uploading music files.

Music files? Yes, this is another multi-function camera, designed for people who want to listen to music on the move. However, a late-night bus or train is probably not the ideal place to brandish a £300 piece of technology and anyway, the 8MB Secure Digital memory card will only hold a couple of music tracks.

Used as a camera, the Caplio RR10 is well-designed, although a little limited in function. A large thumbwheel on its back panel selects function – including music playback, audio recording and a short sequence of video – and most other controls are operated from 4 buttons above and below the LCD display and a thumb-pad for controlling the zoom level.

There are a few shortcomings to the Caplio RR10′s feature list. There’s no optical viewfinder for a start; you have to use the LCD display for every shot, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. There’s no tripod mount and no macro facility, either, though in its normal mode the camera focuses down to a very useful 40mm.

Image quality was fair, though the lack of a macro mode was obvious on the close-up flower picture. The landscape shot was better, with reasonably natural colours and decent clouds. Overall, the Caplio RR10 is a better attempt at a camera with multimedia pretensions than the FujiFilm FinePix 30i.

This is a very compact little camera with a solid-feeling Duralumin body. It’s small enough to slip into a pocket, but still has the highest resolution of any of the cameras in the group. It uses a slim SmartMedia memory card for image storage and is supplied with an 8MB card. You transfer images through an ordinary PC serial link or you can buy card adapters for USB or even floppy drive use.

The control system uses the colour LCD panel, which is again tricky to see in sunlight. The brightness control for the panel made little difference to this. You navigate with six push-buttons and a circular, four-way controller, quite similar to the thumb controls on game-pads. This makes most adjustments pretty straightforward.

Switch the camera on and after a short diagnostic test the lens cover flicks open and you’re ready to shoot. The camera uses auto-focus and auto-exposure and both systems work well. For most subjects a simple point and shoot is all that’s needed. Even using the macro facility is straightforward and is conveniently located on a dedicated button.

Image quality is good, though high resolution images take a second or so to process. It’s a shame there isn’t an intermediate resolution, something between 1,800 by 1,200 and 640 by 480, as you can only fit 17 high resolution images on the supplied 8MB SmartMedia card. Macro mode created well-focused images down to well below six inches from the subject.

This is an excellent digital camera, taking full advantage of the technology’s benefits. Fujifilm should consider supplying a higher capacity memory card, though, or support a third image resolution.

(!ftstart)(!ftline1start)(!ftcell1start)Model(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Canon PowerShot A20(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Fujifilm FinePix 6800 Zoom(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Hewlett Packard Photosmart 618(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Olympus Camedia C-200 Zoom(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Olympus Camedia C-700 Ultra Zoom(!ftcellend)(!ftline1end)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Telephone number(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)0121 680 8062(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)020 7586 1477(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)0990 474747(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)0800 072 0070(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)0800 072 0070(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Price (typical street) inc. VAT(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)£300(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£637(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£358(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£308(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£551(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Resolution(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Up to 1600 x 1200(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Up to 2832 x 2128(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Up to 1600 x 1200(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Up to 1600 x 1200(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Up to 1600 x 1200(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)CCD capacity(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)2.11Mpix(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)3.30Mpix(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.11Mpix(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.11Mpix(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.11Mpix(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Zoom(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Optical 3.0x, Digital 2.5x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical 3.0x, Digital 4.4x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical 3.0x, Digital 2.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical 3.0x, Digital 3.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical 10.0x, Digital 2.7x(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Focus system(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Auto(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto and manual(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto and manual(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Min macro distance(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)160mm (6.3inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)200mm (8.0inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)100mm (4.0inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)200mm (8.0inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)100mm (4.0inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Storage media; type supplied & capacity(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)SmartMedia, 1 x 8MB(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)CompactFlash, 1 x 8MB(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)CompactFlash, 1 x 16MB(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)SmartMedia, 1 x 16MB(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)SmartMedia, 1 x 8MB(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Number of pictures on supplied media (normal quality)(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)87 low res, 7 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)163 low res, 6 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)165 low res, 2 high res (TIFF)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)82 low res, 5 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)82 low res, 1 high res (TIFF)(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Image transfer(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)USB link provided, 3rd-party CompactFlash reader(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Cradle/USB link, provided, 3rd-party SmartMedia reader(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB link provided, infra-red link, 3rd-party CF reader(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB link provided, 3rd-party SmartMedia reader(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB link provided, 3rd-party SmartMedia reader(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Viewfinder(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)LCD and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Displays(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)38mm colour LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)51mm colour and mono status LCDs(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)51mm colour and mono status LCDs(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)46mm colour LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)38mm LCD and 14mm viewfinder LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Lens focal length(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)35 – 105mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)36 – 108mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)34 – 108mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)35 – 105mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)36 – 1000mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Lens aperture(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)f/2.8 – f/4.8(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f/2.8 – f7.0(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f/2.4 – f/4.0(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f/2.8 – f/4.4(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f/2.8 – f/3.5(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Shutter sensitivity(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 150 equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 400 equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 200 equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 400 equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 800 equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Power supply(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)4 x AA Alkaline cells or optional 3rd -party NiMH(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Lithium Ion bettery pack with charger provided(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)4 x AA Alkaline cells or optional AC adapter(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)4 x AA Alkaline cells or optional 3rd -party NiMH(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2 x Li Ion CD-V3 battery packs or 4 x AA NiMH batteries(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Bundled software(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)TWAIN driver, PowerShot utilities(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)PhotoDeluxe HE, Video Impression, FinePix viewer(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)PhotoImpression 2000, PhotoMontage 2000, Photosmart utilities(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Camedia Master 2.5(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Camedia Master 2.5, Camedia Suite, PhotoGenetics(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Dimensions (mm)(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)110 x 38 x 71(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)80 x 36 x 98(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)128 x 57 x 72(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)118 x 66 x 50(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)108 x 78 x 76(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Weight (g)(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)250 exc. batteries and card(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)300 inc. battery pack(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)300 exc. batteries and card(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)240 exc. batteries and card(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)311 exc. batteries and card(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftend)

Canon’s Ixus V2 is a true pocket digital camera. Its sleek, credit card-sized, all-metal case is under 30mm thick, making it very easy to take with you. The 2-Mpixel camera is a model of simple design, with power and shutter release buttons on its top surface, together with a centre-sprung, two-way jog-switch to control zoom level. The Canon lens offers 2x optical zoom and there’s a further 2.5x digital zoom, giving a total of 5x.

On the back there’s a 38mm colour LCD display, which also shows icons for the various camera settings. You navigate the menus with a circle of four buttons and make selections with four further buttons under the display.

One of the key features of the Ixus V2 is AiAF, or intelligent auto-focus. With most digital cameras, in fact almost all cameras offering auto-focus, you have to trick the technology if you want to focus on an object which is not in the centre of the field. The new Canon system uses three points to assess which part of the frame to focus on and normally takes the object closest to the lens. The system works well, but can be turned off if you want to achieve special effects.

Images are captured onto an 8MB CompactFlash card, which slides into the side of the camera. A rechargeable NiMH battery pack slides into the bottom and can be recharged in the supplied charger in a couple of hours.

Picture quality from our test images was very good with a bright, well-focused macro shot and high fidelity colours in the landscape image. A great little camera if you don’t require ultra-high resolution.

If you like a camera with all the trimmings, the DC240i won’t disappoint you. Kodak has gone out of its way to pack in almost everything that’s needed, with a set of NiMH rechargeable batteries, complete with charger (but no power supply for the camera) and two sets of Alkaline cells. From this you might wonder if the DC240i is particularly greedy with batteries, but it’s no worse than others in the group.

Then there are connecting leads. The camera can connect to either serial or USB ports on your PC and leads are provided for both sockets. There’s even a comfortably sized carrying pouch for camera and kit.

The feature-set of the camera is no less impressive. It includes a 3x optical zoom as well as 2x digital and both viewfinder and LCD monitor show the level of zoom. The menu system is easy to use, with bold icons and lettering which is easy to read, even in sunlight. Navigation buttons are sensibly positioned around the monitor screen.

Images, recorded onto the supplied 8MB CompactFlash card, are well reproduced, though the camera had slight trouble over-exposing the flower in the macro test shot. Kodak provides basic effects and borders that can be added within the camera, as well as the best bundled software in the group – Adobe’s PhotoDeluxe and PageMill.

Although the DC240i is priced at £449, if you can do without the snappy iMac-y colour scheme, you can pick up the internally identical DC240 Zoom for around £50 less.

This high-end Olympus digital camera uses a different design to the C-200. Styled much like a conventional SLR (and it is an SLR camera), it uses the image captured on the 2.1Mpixel CCD directly in an LCD viewfinder. This makes it easy to superimpose icons for the camera’s settings in your field of view, but it produces a very dotty image to work with. It’s the least pleasant of the five cameras in this respect.

Other controls include a cross of buttons to manipulate the menu system on the LCD monitor screen, and separate buttons for power, macro, flash and ‘drive’. The latter enables sequential shooting, like having a motor drive on a conventional camera.

As the name might suggest, one of the most attractive features of this camera is its zoom function. As well as a 2.7x digital zoom, it has a 10x optical zoom lens, giving an impressive 27x zoom overall. You really can pick out a lot of detail when you enlarge a subject this far, even when you’re nowhere near it.

The camera takes well-balanced, finely-detailed pictures in both its automatic mode – which many people will use all the time – and manual mode, where you can adjust focus and exposure by hand.

Its 16MB SmartMedia card can be clicked out to read in a card reader, or you can connect the camera to your PC through a USB connection. The control software is the same Camedia Master supplied with the C-200, but you also get CamediaSuite and PhotoGenetics software for image manipulation. This is a competent camera, but the LCD viewfinder is, in our opinion, a design flaw.

Now this is a real camera. No translucent fruity colours or odd twisting bits to frighten you, but a simple boxy metal case which looks like a traditional 35mm compact. A convenient automated lens cap swings aside each time you switch on and the powered lens buzzes out telescopically.

A simple LCD display on the top surface of the camera provides status information and for many uses you won’t need to refer to the LCD monitor. Not that it’s awkward to work through the on-screen menu system on the PowerShot. A set of four buttons controls all functions, though they might be better positioned around the LCD panel itself.

Images are recorded on an 8MB CompactFlash card, though a 16MB card was supplied with the review camera. You can connect the camera through a serial link, and fit an adapter module into its battery compartment to power the camera from the mains when off-loading images. The battery is a proprietary NiMH pack, so can’t be substituted with alkaline cells in an emergency.

An interesting extra in the PowerShot is Stitch Assist, designed for creating panoramic and poster shots. Selecting this mode makes the camera display the previous picture together with a reduced version of the view through the lens, so you can line them up on the LCD monitor.

Image quality was very good, with accurate colour rendering and a sharp image. Even on full telephoto, objects were depicted with fine detail. Overall, the PowerShot A50 is an excellent, compact digital camera.

Alone among the cameras reviewed here, the Fujifilm has an all-metal case, and one designed by FA Porsche, no less. Adhering to Fujifilm’s favoured vertical design, the camera takes a bit of getting used to, but is certainly compact. On the front is a metal lens cover, which flicks out of the way at switch-on to reveal a 3x optical zoom lens, to which Fujifilm has added a 4.4x digital zoom, giving 13.2x in total.

A flash head pops up from the top of the camera at the press of a button on the back and the rest of the controls are dotted around the back panel. The power buttons sits at the centre of a rotary record/playback switch, while a knurled wheel at the top selects record mode. The camera can record short sections of video, complete with sound, as well as stills.

In addition to the customary colour LCD monitor, there’s a circular LCD status display, whose backlight turns red for record and green for playback. It also displays panic-reducing little ‘Hello’ and ‘See you!’ messages when you turn the camera on and off. Control is via on-screen menus, with the status panel offering help.

Images were generally sharp and well-coloured, though the auto-focus didn’t work well with objects at different distances within its range. Transferring images to your PC from the camera’s 16MB SmartMedia card is easy, thanks to the supplied camera cradle. All in all, this is a quality digital camera, with its large, 3.3Mpixel CCD producing finely detailed images.

Even with the batteries in place, the FinePix 30i feels rather lightweight and plastic. Designed very much for the youth market, Fujifilm highlights the fact that it can also be used as an MP3 music player. The company even supplies a wired remote control so you can select tracks while the camera is in your pocket. With only a 16MB SmartMedia card for storing audio or images, though, you’d be lucky to fit more than four music tracks on it, depending on the sampling rate.

As a camera, the FinePix 30i is quite fiddly to use. The buttons are small and the two shaped menu selectors, positioned around the jog-switch which controls the digital zoom, are particularly awkward. The three other buttons set into the back of the camera are hard to operate with a thumb, as they’re too close together.

The FinePix 30i comes into its own as a fun camera, with extra features such as sound captioning of stills, short video sequences and sound-activated shooting. The idea of this last feature is to set the camera up, perhaps at the start of the party, so it shoots whenever there’s a burst of laughter or shouting. If the party’s any good, though, wouldn’t it be going off most of the time?

Our test images came out over-bright, with the macro, flower picture looking particularly washed out. You can adjust for this using manual exposure compensation, but the automatic setting should have made a better attempt.

The FinePix 30i is a peculiar mixture. While its sound-based features could make it a handy toy in a busy social life, the price is not really right for a gadget. As a camera, its lack of optical zoom and fiddly controls make it look rather expensive.

HP has developed two cameras in collaboration with Pentax – Pentax produced the optics and HP provided the digital camera intelligence and PC connection. The PhotoSmart 618 is the cheaper of the two and looks much like a conventional compact. On the top is a rotary switch for record and playback selection and a status LCD showing details of the main settings. Three buttons control macro, flash and timer settings.

On the back panel there’s a slide switch for power and a rocker for zoom level, which offers a maximum of 7x magnification on the 2.1Mpixel CCD. Soft buttons, linked to legends which appear at the bottom of the colour LCD, are used in conjunction with a four-way, top-hat control to navigate the casually-styled menu system.

As well as the normal USB connection and a removable 16MB CompactFlash card, there’s a third way to transfer data from the PhotoSmart 618. An infra-red link to a notebook or direct to the corresponding PhotoSmart inkjet printer enables you to select and print any images you want directly – you can select single or multiple images per page, too, without the need for a controlling PC.

A key problem of this PhotoSmart 618 sample was its colour balance. While pictures of landscapes in sunlight came out well, if a little dark, test shots in cloudy conditions showed a pronounced blue shift. This might be useful under interior lights, but produced unnatural colours under subdued daylight. No amount of fiddling with colour balance and EV compensation corrected this.

Assuming this colour shift problem is isolated to our review sample – and we advise you to test this yourself before buying – the ease of use of the PhotoSmart 618 makes it a desirable first digital camera.

Against all the usual IT norms, digital cameras (which we last reviewed in a group test here) aren’t dropping in price. They still start at around £200 and you’re still looking at twice that for one roughly equivalent in features to a compact 35mm film camera. For high resolution images, manual as well as automatic control and SLR functions, you will need to spend £600-£700.

Instead of price drops, what is happening in the market is an increase in the quality of image at each price point. The standard CCD array (the sensor inside a digital camera which captures the image) on a £400 digital camera is now 2.1Mpixels (mega-pixels), where it used to be half that. More expensive cameras often use 3.3Mpixel arrays for resolutions of up to 1600 by 1200 pixels.

The asking price of a digital camera equates to most of the total cost of owning one. If you expect to pay around £400, the only additional cost you’ll have to consider is for photo paper and printer ink to reproduce your images. This isn’t the case with a conventional camera, where in addition to its £150 asking price you’ll have to pay around £15 per 100 prints. In the life of a typical camera, you could actually save money with the digital solution.

As well as cost savings, there’s the extra convenience of printing images as and when you want them. Simple enlargements, individual prints and all the options opened by the use of image editing software increase the value of the digital solution.

Here are five new digital cameras you should seriously consider. Three of them cost under £350, while the other two (the Fujifilm and the Olympus C-700) are quite a bit more expensive.

Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

Below are sample images taken with the cameras set in ‘macro’ mode (with the exception of the Ricoh, which doesn’t have a macro mode).

sample image Canon

sample image Fujifilm

sample image Kodak

sample image Ricoh

sample image Samsung

To make a choice between cameras of any type, you need to look at how easy they are to use, the features they offer and, of course, the quality of the images they produce. This is even more true of digital cameras and here there are winners in each of the two main price categories.

As far as ease of use is concerned, it’s a toss up between the Canon PowerShot A-20 and HP’s PhotoSmart 618. Canon uses a more conventional design, but HP offers the advantage of easy infra-red connection to its dedicated photo printer. Although there were problems with the colour balance of some shots, previous experience with the camera suggests this is not a general problem. At under £350, therefore, look at the PhotoSmart 618 first.

In the higher price bracket, the Fujifilm is easier to use, has the larger CCD array and takes better pictures straight out of the box. Only look at the Olympus C-700 if you need comprehensive manual controls for professional picture-taking.Olympus’s Camedia C-200 Zoom follows the lines of previous Olympus digital cameras. It’s a bit wider and lower than most, but is still comfortable to hold. The controls are easy to use, as there are surprisingly few of them. Four buttons arranged in a circle navigate the menu system and just two others, for menu selection and to turn the LCD display on, are set into the back panel. On top is the ‘shutter release’ and a toggle switch which triggers the modest 3x digital zoom, complementing the built-in 3x optical zoom.

You turn the camera on by sliding the lens cover across the camera’s body and in doing this you release a pop-up flash head. You can line up pictures using the colour LCD display on the back panel or the optical viewfinder, which has focusing linked directly to the main lens – though not SLR.

Image transfer involves a USB connection or a separate SmartMedia card reader. Olympus and Fujifilm are the two main users of this thinner memory card format and an 8MB card is supplied with the C-200. This can take only five of the highest resolution images the 2.1Mpixel CCD can capture.

Pictures taken with the Olympus Camedia C-200 Zoom were well-defined, but lacked the vibrant colour of the Canon and the Fujifilm cameras. They needed some correction to boost the mid-range hues, too, in the Camedia Master software supplied with the camera.

This is a capable digital camera, though elements of its design, like its three-position lens cover, are strangely idiosyncratic.The cameras in this group split well between street price points of £300 (Agfa and Olympus) and £400 (Canon, Fujifilm and Kodak), though the list prices of these last three are considerably higher. Of the two cheaper models, the Olympus Camedia C-860L is a clear favourite, as it produces better images and is easier to use.

The screen of the Agfa ePhoto CL30 Clik! is hard to use in sunlight and its plastic cover scratches easily, making the screen harder still to use. In its favour, the clik! drive gives the ePhoto a phenomenal capacity of up to 120 high-res images per £8 disk.

At the higher price point, the Kodak DC240i comes with a lot of extras and is perfectly adequate to use, but some will be put off by its X-ray styling. It really comes down to the Canon or Fujifilm devices, both of which offer a lot to the digital photographer.

Canon has built an excellent camera with powered zoom for extra versatility. It’s easy to use and produces high quality images. The Fujifilm MX-2700 has a much bigger CCD array, though, giving extra potential for large prints, and feels exceptionally sturdy and well made. It’s easy to use and in the end, gets our vote.Looking very much like a conventional 35mm camera, Olympus’s Camedia C-860L majors on ease of use, but is technically good, too. A sliding lens cover acts as the power switch and incorporates the flash tube. The LCD screen also displays the camera setup, but a separate panel on the Camedia’s top surface shows most of the key status settings. Several key features, like selecting macro mode, are controlled from separate buttons here, too.

Olympus provides no power supply with the Camedia C-860L, though there is one available as an optional extra. This means you’re running on Alkaline batteries all the time, unless you invest in a NiMH or Lithium set and a charger. The camera is supplied with an 8MB SmartMedia card, so in high resolution mode you have room for just 18 shots.

A couple of extra features are noteworthy. The Camedia has a panorama mode, where you can take up to 10 pictures in sequence, using a visual aid on the LCD monitor to line up each shot in the sequence. Olympus’s Camedia Master software can then stitch them all together on your PC. The camera has variable sensitivity, too, from ISO 125 to ISO 500, considerably higher than most digital cameras and intended for low-light and indoor shots.

Picture quality is reasonable, with clarity and focus right down from normal to macro settings. The Camedia C-860L is a good camera, but needs a set of rechargeable batteries and a charger included in the price.(!ftstart)(!ftline1start)(!ftcell1start)Model(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Canon Digital Ixus V2(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Fujifilm FinePix 30i(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Kodak EasyShare DX4900(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Ricoh Caplio RR10(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Samsung Digimax 350SE(!ftcellend)(!ftline1end)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Price (typical street inc. VAT)(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)£304(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£288(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£362 (with Dock)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£288(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)£288(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Max Resolution (!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)1,600 x 1,200(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)1,600 x 1,200(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2,448 x 1,632(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)1,600 x 1,200(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2,048 x 1,536(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)CCD capacity(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)2.0-Mpixel(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.0-Mpixel(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)4.0-Mpixel(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.1-Mpixel(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)3.2-Mpixel(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Optical Zoom(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)2.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)None(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)3.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Digital Zoom(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)2.5x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.5x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)3.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)2.0x(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Focus system(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Intelligent Auto(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto and Manual(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto and Manual(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Auto(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Min macro distance(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)100mm (3.9inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)80mm (3.1inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)71mm (2.8inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)40mm (1.6inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)200mm (7.9inch)(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Storage media(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)8MB CompactFlash(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)16MB SmartMedia(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)16MB CompactFlash(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)8MB Secure Digital(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)16MB CompactFlash(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)No. of pics on supplied media(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)87 low res, 7 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)122 low res, 20 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)46 low res, 12 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)80 low res approx, 7 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)377 low res, 9 high res(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Image transfer(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)USB link(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB link(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB & AV links(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB & AV links(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)USB & AV links(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Viewfinder(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)LCD only(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Optical and LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Displays(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)38mm colour LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)46mm colour LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)38mm colour LCD & mono status LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)38mm colour LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)38mm colour LCD(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Lens focal length(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)35 – 70mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)38mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)35 – 210mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)38 – 76 mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)34 – 102 mm equiv(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Lens aperture(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)f2.8 – f4.0(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f4.8 – f11(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f2.8 – f8.0(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f2.8 – f3.8(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)f2.6 – f4.7(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Shutter sensitivity(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)ISO 50 – 400(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 400(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 200 – 400(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)ISO 100 – 400(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Power supply(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)NiMH battery pack & charger supplied(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Twin NiMH AAs & charger supplied(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)NiMH battery back & charger supplied(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Li Ion battery back & charger supplied(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)4 Alkaline AAs supplied.(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Bundled software(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)ArcSoft CameraSuite, PhotoRecord, PhotoStitch, Zoom BrowserEX(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)FinePix Viewer, VideoImpression, DP Editor, Real Jukebox 2 Plus(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Kodak Picture Software(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Ricoh Gate, MGI Videowave, MGI PhotoSuite, MusicMatch Jbox(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)MGI PhotoSuite, Digimax Viewer(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Extras(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)None(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Remote control for MP3 playback(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Insert for optional camera dock(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Camera dock(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)Semi-hard case(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Dimensions (mm)(!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)87 x 57 x 27(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)85 x 73 x 30(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)116 x 42 x 67(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)117 x 30 x 54(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)114 x 70 x 50(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftlinestart)(!ftcell1start)Weight (g) (!ftcell1end)(!ftcellstart)180(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)150(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)225(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)172(!ftcellend)(!ftcellstart)240(!ftcellend)(!ftlineend)(!ftend)

Company: Olympus

Contact: 0800 072 0070