Going Digital

Photography: There are several cameras and a few other goodies that are excellent picks for those looking to move into the film-free ranks.

May 27, 2004|By Kevin E. Washington | Kevin E. Washington,SUN STAFF

This summer, you may be one of the many folks who will switch to digital cameras to capture your vacation exploits. If you are, you're in luck because there are a number of solid models on the market that can help you make the jump from film to digital.

I took a look at several cameras this spring; I was interested in reporting on a wide range of photographic capabilities. I found several that I think are worth taking along the next time you go somewhere you'd like to remember.

My favorite in the family-priced category this spring is the HP Photosmart 945 ($500), a 5-megapixel camera that has been on the market for some time. It has a 32-megabyte Secure Digital Card and will also accept a slightly slower Multimedia Card for saving your pictures.

I liked the 8X zoom on this camera, and while it is a bit bulkier than boxy shirt-pocket-sized cameras, I thought its images were wonderful - crisp and colorful. That's because it has a larger lens, made by Fuji, than most of the other cameras in its price range.

While this camera has four lithium batteries in the box, these are not rechargeable. You can purchase four NiMH rechargeable batteries along with a charger so that you keep shooting as soon as you throw out those lithium batteries.

Available for serious gadget freaks is the Photosmart 8881, a camera dock for the Photosmart 945 that includes four NiMH batteries that will recharge in the camera once you set it properly on the dock. However, I don't recommend buying the dock for this camera because you can get NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger for about $20. While you get a couple of extras with the dock - the audio-visual cable for the camera that doesn't come with it, for example - you don't get much.

If you're much more interested in a camera that you can easily slip into your shirt pocket, you'll like the HP Photosmart R707 ($350). It is a sharp little camera that creates some brilliant 5.1-megapixel images, full of color and absolutely crisp.

It also helps the hapless photographer who knows little about lighting. The Photosmart R707 has adaptive lighting, which is really cool. If you shoot a picture of people, but you have too much light behind them, their faces may be dark. But if you turn on the adaptive lighting function, it will increase the amount of light on the people's faces - bringing out the details that would be lost in the shadows.

I liked the camera's panorama assist as well. It helps you properly stitch together a series of images into one panoramic picture.

Buying the HP Photosmart R Series Dock ($80) is a good idea with this camera. You get an extra battery and are able to charge it and the camera's included battery in the camera at the same time. You can never have too many batteries when shooting digital images.

I'm a fan of 4- and 5-megapixel cameras because they allow me to get solid 8-by-10-inch prints from shots taken under almost all conditions. But until recently, you really couldn't purchase a decent 4-megapixel camera without spending $350 to $400.

But Concord Camera Corp. has come up with the Eye-Q 4360z, which costs $200.

When you hear that price, you're probably wondering: Is this the best 4-megapixel camera out there? Probably not. But will it take great snapshots and get you easily through the summer? You betcha.

This digital point-and-shoot is all plastic, weighs a little less than 8 ounces and can be slipped into a shirt pocket. As you might guess, the price keeps the manufacturer from offering a lot of buttons for controlling the shots, but if you're not interested in going through a full-fledged photography course or paying the equivalent of a payment on an SUV to get a digital, this one is for you.

The Eye-Q is not a speedy shooter, so you may have to wait for it to get ready for the next shot. Even looking at pictures on playback is slow.

While the camera has 16 megabytes of built-in memory, you'll probably want to buy either an SD or MMC memory card - since the camera doesn't come with an external storage card. I also found that the two nickel hydride rechargeable batteries (included in the box with the recharger) didn't last long when I was shooting lots of pictures. You'll probably want to buy extra batteries.

If you don't mind spending a little more for a camera, Panasonic has a boxy offering in its lineup that makes slightly better images. The Lumix DMC-FX5 ($400) will do a solid job of getting a vacation-mad family through the summer shooting really good looking 4-megapixel images with a 3X zoom lens. It comes in silver, red and blue, and has a sleek feel compared to the Concord.

I wasn't a great fan of either the viewfinder or the 1.5-inch LCD. I rarely use the LCD to frame images because it eats batteries like Rottweilers go through prime rib. But its viewfinder was oddly tiny when I compared it to the other cameras I tested. Using it was not a pleasant experience.

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