Shooting Stars (Digital Camera Test)

Published Date
01 - Sep - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Sep - 2006
Shooting Stars (Digital Camera Test)
Capturing poignant memories, depicting significant events, and preserving them for future generations has been one of mankind's obsessions right from the time of the caveman. Etchings found in rock caverns are a mute testament to this.  Nostalgia aside, we have things easy, don't we? Yes we do, courtesy the Digital Camera. There are a lot of options available, however, and the cavemen probably had it easier-they didn't have to do the choosing! But then, you've got us on your side!

We tested 24 digital cameras spanning all three price categories as mentioned in our  How We Tested box: an entry-level category that consisted of an upper budget of Rs 8,500, a mid-range category with prices ranging from Rs 8,500 to Rs 14,999 and last, the Rs 15,000 and above category.

There are no strict parameters by which to judge the performance of a digital camera, excepting what you see. Megapixels and other factors being no bar, the ultimate test for any camera is the quality of the output. As a value-add to this test, we've decided to include the test shots of all the cameras on our DVD that will come with the next issue. Look out for it!

For any given budget, there will always be a particular set of features that you, as an informed user, will be looking at. Some of you might have a slightly flexible budget (we're talking upwardly-flexible here). We've provided you with a look at all the camera features together-subdivided under the price headings of course.

Entry-Level Cameras
People buying within this category are mostly value-conscious users, and those making a first foray into the realm of digital photography. The term Casual Clicker comes to mind.

We received nine cameras in this category, spanning five vendors-Sony, Techcom, Nikon, Olympus, and Premier.
We'll give the award for the "best-looking sub-8,500 camera" to the Premier DC6370 and DC5370 duo, since their look garnered the most votes in our test labs. A hairsbreadth behind in second place is the Techcom DSC 512-X Plus. The Nikon L4 looked rather plain and even the Sony S-40 was quite a disappointment as far as looks go-rather bland.

With looks out of the way, it was time we looked at durability. Both the above- mentioned Premier models also had good build quality. Techcom gets to pole position for the DSC 524-X Plus: great build quality, feels solid in the hand. The Premier DC6370 and DC5370 finished a close second.

We weren't too surprised at none of the bigger guns like Sony, Nikon or Olympus getting kudos for build quality, simply because they are pricier; to get to their better-built models, you need to shell out more!

Let's get to the two stragglers as far as quality-of-build goes: the Premier DS5082 was abysmally lacking, especially when compared to its cheaper cousin, the DS 3088S, which at Rs 3,850 broke all price barriers as far as we know. The DS 3088S even has metal adorning some parts of its body, while the DS 5082 feels "plasticy". Both these models from Premier feature sliders that conceal the lens which is a sore point, because, the less the number of moving parts in a camera the lesser are its  chances of being damaged due to regular usage. However, since both these models are  cheaper than the other cameras in this category, we shall refrain from being too condescending.

The cameras in this segment costing less shouldn't necessarily equate to a nose-dive on the features count. And in fact, we were pleasantly surprised at the number of features thrown aboard by cameras available in the market today. Last time we conducted such a test, the "budget" price bracket was kept at Rs 10,000. Even that has fallen!

It's hard to ignore the on-paper specs of the DC6370. Premier has done their homework well, and once again the issue of price rears its head-you get a lot of features here for Rs 7,500. A 2.4 inch, 1,15,000 pixel screen ensures you see all the action without squinting, while the 6-megapixel CCD ensures you'll also be able to capture that on-screen action for fun viewing later! The Nikon L4 sported a crisp two inch TFT (thin film transistor) display, that was the clearest among all except the Sony S40, which was half an inch smaller. The Nikon L4 is also very newbie friendly-no ISO settings, just an 'Auto' mode. The Techcom 524-X has a decent menu layout-it's very simple and intuitive.

The Techcom cameras were the only models here to feature inbuilt games. This sounds weird: games on a digital camera? Well, the feature is there, and you decide whether it's a value-add or not! Incidentally, the Techcom and Premier models don't come with manual viewfinders, so you'll be using the LCD view-finder all the time. You should know that using the LCD adversely affects battery life, as compared to the plain old viewfinder. 

The Premier DS-3088S warrants mention as well, though for the wrong reasons. It's really feature-shy: no optical zoom, no autofocus, and a depressing LCD. Following its cheaper brother faithfully is the DS-5082: a slightly better LCD, but missing many essential features.

Mid-Range Cameras

Any camera falling in this category has a tough task ahead of it when it comes to proving its mettle. It has to be feature-rich enough to justify the higher price, and should also perform accordingly. Those buying within this segment also tend to be more discerning than the folk in the first segment, and they also value each and every goodie (read neat feature) they are getting-even if they aren't as informed as those falling in the third category.

This was the most sparsely-populated price segment, with just six cameras. The Sony W50 is priced at exactly Rs 15,000, and we could've easily placed it in this segment, but we're strict about rules, and 14,999 isn't equal to 15,000. Moreover, this is a higher-end camera, despite the price.

All the big brands made it into this category-Canon, Sony, Olympus, Nikon and Samsung had one model each here. The sole small-town boy was the Premier DC-8365.

The best looker in this category just has to be the Sony DSC-L1. That dark maroon body contrasts well with the steel grey highlights. The camera is so perfectly finished, we spent some time just passing the model around to just ogle at it. The sheer quality and the actual fit and finish of the entire body including the all the moveable parts is excellent. Not as excellent as another beauty though-the Nikon S5. Sporting a beautifully finished gun-grey body, this, too, is a very slim camera, slimmer than the L1, but with a slightly higher profile.
As far as build quality goes, the S5 inches ahead, though the "gorgeous" award is still very much in Sony DSC-L1 territory! The Nikon S5 also had that definitively solid feel in the hand; the same can be said for Sony DSC L-1, but it wasn't so noticeable with the other models.

The Canon PowerShot A530 looks unassuming; nothing too special, but decent and solid. Olympus' SP310 was a more attractive dark grey, while the A530 sported the silver. Build quality-wise, the Canon and Olympus were similar.

There were no real losers here as far as build quality and looks go (all the models were above what is considered acceptable), but someone has to bring up the rear-and those positions go to the Samsung Digimax S-500 and the Premier DC-8365.

The crispest screen belonged to the Samsung S500, followed by the 2.5-inch TFT on the Olympus SP-310. The Canon A530, too, had a good screen, but it's a little small at 1.8 inches. The Premier DC-8365, too, was measly on screen area: just two inches. If you like to zoom into the action, the Canon A530 sports the largest optical zoom (4x) in this group. The others all manage with 3x.

A noteworthy feature on the Olympus SP-310 was its support for the RAW format in addition to the usual JPEG, which all 23 cameras supported. RAW is an uncompressed format unlike JPEG, and this feature is usually present only on professional-grade cameras.

High-End Cameras

Populated by eight models, this is the segment where we focus more on performance and less on value. In the major league, two players were really well represented-Kodak and Canon had three models each. Sony had one-the W-50-as did Samsung with its S-800. Premier made yet another appearance with their top-end DS-8650.

We liked the menu layout of the Canon A700 in particular. This intuitive layout is shared by the other Canon models as well, but the large 2.5 inch screen makes all the difference. Sony's W-50 has an excellent screen as well, 2.5 inches of pure viewing bliss! We also liked the W-50's layout, which happens to be common to all the cameras we received from them. The W50 has excellent ergonomics as well, button feedback especially the half click at which your camera's lens starts auto-focusing is tactile to say the least. The navigation buttons on the A700 (Canon) and the S800 (Samsung) were also rather nicely laid out and comfortable to use. On the DS-8650, Premier follows the same, rather simple menu of the lower-end models. The DS-8650 deserves special mention for its LCD, the largest among the crop we received at 2.8 inches, (the Kodak V610 was the only other model with a screen so large). We found the Kodak screens in general to be good, -nothing really fancy, though they get the job done.

No competition for the best looker this side of town: the Sony W-50 stomps all over the others in this regard! It's sleek, and the satiny black finish oozes quality (it's also available in silver). We even found the sticker on the Sony to suit its overall looks (some other models had rather garish stickers). For such a small footprint, the Sony W50 feels solid to hold. Another solid little thing is the Canon Digital Ixus 60, which is even smaller than the Sony while maintaining a large feature set. These two (the W-50 and the Ixus 60) were the smallest cameras in this category.

The largest zoomer here was the Kodak V610, with an optical zoom of 10x, excellent for it's size. The Canon A700 was the runner up as far as zooming capabilities go with a 6x optical zoom. The other models were pretty much on par with 3x optical zooms. Two Kodak models-the V570 and the V610-sported something unique: they had two lenses! We did a little digging around: it turned out that one of the lenses is a wide-angle, and the other is the zoom lens. Kodak claims this offers the best of both worlds. The trick is that both the lenses don't work simultaneously. With the V570, a 5-megapixel camera, each lens has a CCD sensor that offers 5-megapixel resolution. During normal shooting, the wide- angle lens is used, and while zooming, the camera seamlessly switches to the zoom lens.

Entry-Level Cameras

We'll do this brand by brand; we randomly picked the Premier range first. Quality-wise, the outputs of the DC6370 and DC5370 were nearly identical, with the higher megapixel rating becoming slightly noticeable only when the image is enlarged and viewed at its maximum size. The dearth of pixels will not be noticeable in a 4" x 6" printout, for example. The overall tonal balance was well-maintained by both cameras. This is noticeable as the colours are quite natural, and not artificially bright. The lower-end DS-5082 offers a much softer image, without a lot of detail, and noticeable graininess. The DS-3088-S shows up graininess that is noticeable for the most part, and particularly when the image is viewed at 100 per cent. It loses out on colour reproduction; the image looks rather faded. This is understandable taking into consideration its diminutive megapixel count (3.2 MP).

One look at the Techcom duo will redefine the meaning of the phrase "rich colour". While rich is generally a good thing, the 512-X and 524-X overdo the colours, and the image looks artificially colour-bright. The white balance is spot on, though-as was the case with the Premier 6370 and 5370. Overall, good image detailing, and minimal pixelation.

Among the trio of big brands, the Nikon Coolpix L4 produced the most neutral-looking results (great white balance). In fact, the L-4 produced the most neutral-looking image across the sub-8,500 rupee board. But the Premier 6370 and 5370 produced slightly more realistic-looking colours; kudos all round to Premier! Nonetheless, the detailing on the Coolpix L4 was good.

Sony's DSC S-40 produces slightly over-rich images that look a touch too bright to be termed truly natural. The S-40 also produces a yellowish-looking image with white balance set to Auto. This just proves that different manufacturers use different methods to calculate the amount of white balancing required in a scene. Of course, with a little tinkering around, and setting the white balance to "Incandescent", we were able to get rid of the yellowish tinge. The Olympus FE-115 came somewhat in between the Sony and the Nikon as far as white balancing goes. Shot quality-wise, we noticed that the FE-115 didn't produce highlights (on the glass and metal surfaces) quite as well as the Sony, Premier (DC-5370 / 6370 only), Techcom and Nikon models, and also suffers from the "over-bright colour" syndrome.

Bringing up the rear in this price category, we have the cheapest of the cameras-the Premier DS-3088S. Sure, we agree Premier priced this one judiciously, but it's basically on par with cell phone cameras; some of the newer camera phones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia will put it to shame. There was noticeable pixelation upon scrutiny, and it lacked crispness of colour-overall, rather drab-looking results. The DS-5082 was a bit better, with much accurate colour representation, but it, too, lost out big time on detail. Both these, the cheapest of the cameras on display, offered sub-par results-overall, not worthy of much wordspace.

Mid-Range Cameras

Two cameras fought it out for top position here; these were also incidentally the best-looking cameras. The Sony DSC L-1 and the Nikon S5 prove that beauties can have brains, or in this case, brawn! The L-1, in typical Sony style, produced a sharp image, though there was a slight yellowish tinge; adjusting the white balance quickly remedied this. This camera also produced vivid detailing with good specular effects-for example, the play of light on the glass bottle was caught nicely. We liked the finer detail on the paper clips, which was something the S5 missed out on. So we'll give the L-1 a slight lead here. If you like softer images, the S5 inches ahead.

The Premier DC8365 loses out a bit on clarity at the top end of its zoom, and this is clearly visible while viewing the test shots of each camera. It also loses out on specular detailing and colour reproduction. There were also noticeable grains when a photo is viewed at 100 per cent size.

The Samsung S-500 did reasonably well here, with overall good reproduction and colour rendition. It loses out slightly as far as detail goes; the image lacks that extra dash of crispness.

The Canon A530 loses out on some of the specular effects, which has to do with the fact that Canon models in general seem to produce a much softer set of colours than the other models here. Canons also typically perform less post-processing, meaning the results will always appear naturally soft, losing out on some of that aggressive sharpness. There were slight grains around some of the fruit photos, suggesting the camera has problems producing subtle variations in colour.

The Olympus SP-310 reproduces colours well, with good specular highlights, but misses out while highlighting finer details and textures.

As far as our outdoor test goes, quite a few cameras did reasonably well. Most noteworthy were the Samsung S-500, Sony DSC L-1, and the Nikon S5, though not necessarily in that order. The Nikon did very well in the macro test: the leaves we photographed looked ultra-realistic. The DSC L-1 was also very good, with excellent colouring on the leaves, and the leaf shadows were very well depicted. The Canon  and Premier models trailed slightly in this test.

We would like to insert a little note here-outdoor shooting is typically more camera friendly: natural lighting is the perfect condition for any camera to show its mettle. It is with indoor shooting, that is, with less-than-ideal lighting conditions that the difference in image quality between cameras becomes more apparent.

High-End Cameras

If you're shelling out fifteen grand and more for a digital camera it had better look good, and perform just as good, too!

The Sony W-50 performed commendably as far as highlighting goes: the play of light on the bottle in our test scene was very realistic. As usual, the W-50 produced slightly richer colours, and this was noticeable on the fruit in particular.

Fruit in general tend to be very soft-coloured, and are therefore an excellent subject to judge colour reproduction capabilities. The detailing was excellent. The slight spots on the pear in our fruit basket pix were clearly evident. Equally impressive was the Samsung S-800: very accurate colour reproduction, and overall excellent results.

Trailing a hairsbreadth behind these two was the Kodak V603, with some good results throughout the tests. Its two siblings were lost far behind; surprising, considering it's the cheapest of the Kodaks on display.
The Canon PowerShot A700 also did very well in this test-perfect white balancing, even at automatic settings, and a very clear and crisp image. The "soft" that is signature Canon was also noticeable, but as mentioned, this isn't necessarily good or bad.

The Premier DS-8650 produced good detail-the text on the bottle was very clear-but the colours seemed a touch lacklustre; faded, if you will.

We were pretty surprised by the Canon Ixus 60's rather dismal performance. Although this is a sleek model aimed at making a fashion statement (which it does), but quality of output is a camera's bread and butter, and we do not like compromises there. In our outdoor photo shoot, three cameras stood a shoulder above the others-the Sony W-50, Samsung S-800, and the Canon A-700, in that order. The Sony impressed the most with its outdoor abilities: the detailing on our building and on the shrubs was excellent.

The rest of the models also performed acceptably well here, with the exception of the Digital Ixus 60 and the Kodak V570. There was slight pixelation in both images, and the shadows between the leaves in particular lacked detail and depth.

The Verdict
The Sub-8,500 Category-Budget Performers
The winner of the Digit Best Buy Gold award in the sub-8,500 category is the Nikon Coolpix L4. At a price of Rs 7,500, you get a solid camera that performs well and isn't shy on the feature count. Our Silver award belongs to the Premier DC-5370; this camera battled it out with the L4 and its slightly costlier sibling, the DC-6370,  won; but in the end lost out to the Nikon marginally in terms of sheer performance.

Rs 8,500 to Rs 14,999-Mid-Range Cameras
Our Gold award in this category goes to the best fusion of show and go-the Sony DSC L-1. The Nikon S5 bags the Silver award. There was no real competition from the others for these two. Also, they were neck and neck in all the tests, but the L1 won largely due to its aggressive pricing.

Rs 15,000 And Above-High-Enders
Gold is once again in Sony territory with the W-50, which is Rs 15,000. Bagging the award from among costlier models is no small feat, and the Cybershot W-50 does this with style. Waltzing into second position is another excellent camera-the Samsung S-800; we bestow it with our Digit Best Buy Silver award.

In Sum
Our digital camera test this time round was rather interesting, with a new brand, Premier, being thrown into the mix of Sonys, Canons, and so on. We very nearly lived with these cameras for over a week, clicking away without reservation.

With the convenience offered by these devices and the amount of detail they can produce, even hardcore sceptics were swept away (we do have some old-timers around who still believe film rules). Quite a few from among our band of disbelievers are-even as you read this-planning to take the digital plunge. Those that can't just yet have begun saving up for one of these shiny new shooters!

How We Tested

We received 25 digital cameras for our shootout. For the sake of simplicity and to enable correct and informed buying decisions within a particular price bracket, we decided to segregate the cameras we received into three price zones.
Price Brackets
First we have the entry-level or budget segment. To qualify here, cameras needed to be priced below Rs 8,500. We set 8,500 as a ceiling because this is typically the maximum amount that a budget-conscious user will spend.

The next category is the pricier and more feature-filled segment. All the cameras that fell within the price bracket of above Rs 8,500 and below Rs 15,000 were included in this category.

Last came the 15,000 and above segment: these cameras, of course, offer better performance then the lower-priced models. Such cameras can also be considered by photography enthusiasts. These are by no means professional cameras-true professional cameras could start from as much as Rs 40,000! We didn't cap the price for cameras in this segment.

The features we looked for included the megapixel rating of the CCD sensor, the degree of optical zoom provided, the number of shooting modes, the presence of a flash, and the number of flash modes present. We also checked for the metering modes available, shutter speeds, white balance settings and autofocus options. Presence of macro shooting mode, its minimum range, the presence of an optical viewfinder, the size and clarity of the LCD viewfinder, and video-out capabilities were also noted. We awarded points to a good bundle, and the presence of a memory card, a battery charger, and a USB docking / recharge station was also rewarded appropriately.

Testing Scenarios

We kept the ISO value at Auto during all the test shots. Similar lighting conditions were used to ensure a level playing field. The white balance was set to Auto. Digital zoom was turned off for cameras that supported the feature. We used the maximum MP rating of the cameras for all the tests. The flash was turned off, since it causes loss of finer detail, assuming decent lighting. A flash also causes reflections and the bloom effect in certain shots. We did a separate flash test to check their effective range. We used a tripod all through to rule out camera shake.

1. The tabletop scene: This consisted of fruit of various kinds, a glass partially filled with a soft drink, and three soft drink cans-one was bright red, one was blue, and the third was orange and green. There were a number of paper clips strewn in a heap, with a few odds and ends thrown in for good measure. All this was placed on a wrinkled satin cloth. This shot allowed us to check for quality of detail, sharpness, colour and contrast, and white balance.

2. The outdoor shoot: We took several shots of our office building and of the greenery around. This type of photography allows for testing of the quality of the metering modes, along with the effectiveness of the white balance at the Auto setting. We also checked for fine details, such as the texture and appearance of the veins on the leaves, and subtle variations in colour.

3. Up close and personal: A simple yet elegant watch was used in a macro shot. The close-up of the dial with all its minute calibrations presents an opportunity to test both the camera's macro range as well as its capabilities in this mode.

4. The video test: We shot videos to check for the quality during video shoot, and for audio clarity. The videos were checked for dropping of frames (jerky playback) and, of course, loss in quality.

Jargon Buster
The key to making a good purchase  for any product is information, holds true for Digital Cameras as well! Too many of us buy a digital camera only to find out a little too late that something better was available. The best buyer is an informed one. If you've taken the plunge and got that shiny new shooter, this little list will demystify all those tech terms flying around, and should enable you to understand the most basic settings on your camera.

Before getting into millions of pixels i.e. megapixels, let's see what a pixel is. The word "pixel" stands for Picture Element. What you see on your digital screens-be it your PC monitor or the LCD viewfinder of your camera or even a cell phone-is basically a bunch of pixels. A general rule of thumb is that the greater the pixel count, the better and sharper the image. A greater pixel count means the image can be viewed at its native resolution, that is, the resolution it was captured at, with less loss in visual detail.
The megapixel (MP) rating of a camera represents the resolution (in millions of pixels) that the camera is capable of producing. A 6-megapixel camera's CCD sensor would be capable of capturing an image containing up to approximately 6 million pixels.

The digital image on your digicam is produced by the camera's sensor. The sensor is basically a unit that measures the brightness of each pixel. The sensor unit consists of millions of tiny pixels arranged in an array-like fashion. Each pixel is tasked with capturing photons, and each pixel can capture a certain number of them. The photons collected by each pixel are converted into an electrical charge via a Photodiode. After this, the electrical charge needs to be amplified, and then converted to a digital value-which is done by the ADC (Analogue to Digital Converter).

Digital camera sensors are of two types. The most common are CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) sensors, used in nearly all cameras, and CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor). CMOS sensors are relatively faster and smaller than their CCD counterparts, and are found only on some select high-end cameras.

Optical and Digital Zoom
It's simple: Optical = good, Digital = not so good! In brief, optical zoom uses the camera optics, that is, the lens, to bring the subject in focus closer. This is the actual way a zoom should work, and even film cameras used this sort of zoom. Digital zoom is "simulated" zoom: the sensor crops the image and then enlarges the cropped portion to the size of the original; this is called interpolation, and results in image quality loss. Digital zooming thus has nothing to do with camera optics.

This refers to the graininess you sometimes see in an image, and can be caused by either a weak pixel fill rate, improper geometry of the individual pixels, or other factors such as colour accuracy, noise, and artifacting of pixels. It's an unwanted element in digital photography.

The ISO Rating
This value represents the sensitivity of the image sensor to the light present in a scene. The higher this figure is (64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and higher), the better equipped the camera will be to take good photos in low-light conditions.

White Balance
White balance is a camera setting that can be tuned to adjust the tone of the colour in the resultant output. Its objective is to make the scene as neutral as possible as far as white goes, so white actually appears white without hues. Generally, without any white balance, white actually appears with hues; these depend upon the lighting conditions under which the white is viewed. For example, a camera will display a white object with different hues under yellow, fluorescent, or natural light. This is a naturally-occurring phenomenon that can spoil photographs with even the best cameras if the white balance is not set correctly. Cameras have settings such as Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and more, for the white balance.

What Sort Of Camera Do I Need?
Unless you know exactly what you plan to do with your digital camera, you can't possibly pick a model. Yet, many first-time buyers don't really have an answer in mind when they set out to buy a digicam. We've listed out four shooting scenarios below, and what sort of equipment you should be looking for in each case.

The Home Shutterbug
If you're buying a camera just for the occasional family portrait, you don't need anything fancy: a simple camera with a five megapixel rating will do. You don't need anything more than 3x optical zoom. You also don't need many shot settings, because you will probably be using Auto most of the time. Batteries aren't that important; just note that even a few shots with the flash drains batteries. We recommend 750 mAh rechargeables, as non-rechargeable batteries are more expensive in the long run. Consider ordinary batteries only if you shoot very infrequently.

The Traveller
If you're always on the move, you need something compact that you can slip into those jeans comfortably. You may also want just the casual shot, and enough detail to capture those unforgettable moments that come by when you're travelling. A five to six megapixel camera with a 3x to 6x optical zoom should be good enough. Slim models happen to be the in thing, so it shouldn't be hard to find one.

Some people want a digital camera mostly for sending photos to family and friends over the Internet. If you're such a person, you need nothing flashy, and in case the photos are going to be viewed on a computer itself (without prints being taken), you need something simple and relatively cheap. A 4-megapixel camera will do just fine, along with 2x or 3x optical zoom, as your need dictates.

The Naturalist
So you like the wide outdoors? Heading out in your car into the blue yonder? Need to capture those stunning sights? Since size won't matter, you can go with a bulkier camera. Outdoor shooting means intermittent zooming and several wide-angle shots.
Wide-angle lenses don't come cheap, but the mid-range digicams of today offer decent wide-angle shooting capabilities. A 5-megapixel and above should be your starting point. Look for 12x optical zoom. Higher-end cameras typically use four batteries. Look for a 1600 mAh and above rating, and go with rechargeable batteries. Some 2300 mAh batteries are also available, and will set you back a pretty penny, but are worth the extra time you'll get with your shooter! You'll also need a large memory card: we suggest a 512 MB or 1 GB card. In case you like to click a lot, make sure to keep a backup card, in case the primary one gets full and you have no computer nearby to do a transfer.

The Enthusiast
This refers to someone who wants quality. He is ready to spend on a good product, and is more demanding as far as what he expects from his camera goes. An enthusiast doesn't have a specific need: he is fascinated by digital photography, and will buy a high-end camera to satisfy his desire to click photos like a professional. He needn't be a professional-simply an avid fan of the art. For the enthusiast, we recommend at least a 6-megapixel camera. Look for features like extra zoom and a wide-angle lens.
Canon PowerShot S3-IS
The biggest and costliest camera in our test, the S3-IS doesn't fit into any of the categories of camera we received. Priced at Rs 32,995, the S3-IS definitely isn't cheap. Canon positions this model as a true intermediate offering, bridging the gap between the compact cameras for casual clickers and the bulkier professional-grade cameras that are beyond most users' financial boundaries!

Canon has excelled here as far as design goes. The camera is a sober black-inconspicuous compared to the S2-IS, which is a flashy silver. The S3-IS is very nicely contoured and easy to grip, even more so because of the non-slip soft grip material used on the areas of the body where your hands are most likely to be. The controls are perfectly laid out. Under the hood, the S3-IS features the same Digic II processor that Canon has dropped under the bonnet of all cameras in their PowerShot range.

The S3-IS offers six megapixels, up from the five that its predecessor, the S2-IS, offered. A two inch swivel and twist action LCD ensures you can see what you shoot at from nearly every conceivable angle. 12x optical zoom means you can get up close to the action. The camera also features image stabilisation-good for those with shaky hands.

The S3's performance was excellent during our outdoor shoot: we were amazed at the clarity of the long-range zoom-perfect for the adventurer who doesn't want to burn too large a hole in his pocket! It was a touch disappointing to discover that the intrepid (and expensive) S3 didn't perform as well indoors. Our test scene with the fruit basket was used, and as you will see (test shots of all cameras will be included on next month's DVD), the S3 produced an image with slight amounts of graininess. We did a double take just to be sure. The indoor macro scene was quite similar results-wise. The outdoor macro was a runaway hit-no noticeable faults at all. To be quite frank, the indoor results weren't all that bad; it's just that we expected so much more from a 30,000 camera!

A good buy if you're looking at a lot of outdoor shooting-read natural light. It's a slightly different story once you get indoors. In fact, the outdoors guy is the camera's intended audience- whether the S3 spells value for money depends on how you plan to use it.

Two Kodak models-the V570 and the V610-sported two lenses. One of them is a wide-angle, while the other is a zoom lens

Buying Tips

Now that you've decided on what sort of camera you need, and are raring to part with some of that hard-earned cash, here's a few tips on doing it wisely.
  • Don't fall for the Megapixel Myth. Megapixels ratings are important but are not the whole story. An 8-megapixel camera can produce substandard results as compared to a 5-megapixel camera-it's been tested and proved! The optics of a camera is what is most important. Then come the megapixel rating and the image processor. Generally, manufacturers give higher megapixel ratings to their better models; however, quality will differ across manufacturers with the MP rating kept constant.
  • Brands of some significance. A bigger brand may have spent more on R&D, and chances are the quality of components used will be better. Bigger brands also offer better support as a general rule. Compatibility across memory cards from different manufacturers may also be better.
  • The camera shop guy may be your friend, but he's primarily a businessman who gets a commission when you buy a camera from him. This commission differs from brand to brand, model to model. Don't take his word as the gospel truth when he tells you a particular model is good. Also, don't fall for the-"this-model-is-fast-moving-and-a-lot-of-my-customers-have-bought-it" thing. Check out the camera by taking a few shots. Most authorised dealers will have demo pieces with them. Remember: learn to demand-it's your money after all!
  • Digital zoom specs are highly misleading, and you should learn to shy away from the term. Digital zoom is in fact not even a real zoom at all. Look at the optical zoom figure as a deciding factor as far as zooming goes.
  • ·    Most digital cameras today have a plethora of shooting options and settings. However, the layout of these settings-that is, the menu-varies a lot. Play around with the menu to see how intuitive it is. A clean menu structure with a clear hierarchy of options is what you should be looking for.
  • Batteries are important no matter what kind of user you are. Better brands pay in the long run. The larger the mAh rating, the longer the battery will last. Good rechargeables outlast regular batteries 99 per cent of the time because they're rated for high-drain devices like toys and cameras. Alkaline batteries are deceptive-even high-rated batteries (by mAh rating) drain comparatively fast.
  • In conjunction with point #1, if you plan to print your photos, the megapixel rating takes on more significance. For a 4" x 6" photo, look for a 4 MP camera. For an 8" x 10" photo, something in the range of 5 megapixels should do fine. 10" x 12" photos will demand 6 megapixels or above.


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