Digital Camera Resources

What Digital Camera Should I Buy?
2003 DIMA Digital Camera Shoot-Out is a Winner
Digital cameras worth looking at in your price range
by Chris Maher
Check out our mini review of PMA 200

The PMA show is where you can see all the latest and greatest digital cameras, but if you want to go beyond how a camera looks and see how well it makes pictures, the best exhibit to visit is the annual DIMA Digital Camera Shoot-Out. Twenty-four camera manufactures took part this year, entering a total of 71 digital cameras in 11 different categories. Each camera was used to shoot a model under identical studio lighting conditions. The results were then printed, and the attending public voted on the results, without knowing which camera took which shot until after the announcement of the winners.

Now we donít always agree that the popular winner is the best camera, although this year our opinions a bit more in line with the general public than last year, especially at the lower end of the price groupings.

Starting with the Prosumer/Professional categories, the $2500 to $4999 category was very interesting. The $2500 6.2 megapixel Fuji FinePix S2 Pro took top honors, gaining both the popular vote and our own vote. The only other camera in that category was the $4999 Kodak 14 megapixel DCS-14n camera. A very close examination of the two prints reveled that the Kodak camera actually did capture more fine detail than the FinePix, even the super fine woven threads of the models shirt were clearly visible in the Kodak shot. But the Fuji cameraís image appeared sharper and had better overall tonality. This was especially noticeable on the models skin.

The next two categories ran unopposed entries. The Monolta DiMage 7Hi was the only camera in the $1200 to $2499 category, and the Sony DSC-F717 was the only camera in the $900 to $1199 category. Now, both these cameras are excellent pieces of equipment, but where were Nikon and Canon with their cameras? Were they afraid that their cameras would not compare well? I know from experience that they make great cameras, so why would they choose to not go head to head with their competition?

In the $700 to $899 category the Olympus c-5050 took the award. This is a fine camera, and the picture it produced was very crisp. A bit too much, actually. In general, the 5050ís sharpening algorithm is a bit aggressive for me, so our pick was actually the Kyocera Finecam S5, which produced an equally excellent image, but without the extra edginess that the sharpening gave the 5050.

Finally, in the $500 to $699 category, the public picked the Kyrocera Finecam S3L, while we chose the Pentax Optio 550. Both produced very nice images, but the Pentax had slightly better highlight detail.

The Point and Shoot categories had a great deal of competition. Starting with the $400 To $499 group, the Olympus C-4000 was picked by the public as the winner. We gave our vote to the HP Photosmart 850 which we felt had slightly better shadow detail.

Next was the $300 to $399 category, and here the winner, and our pick as well was the HP Photosmart 812. Its tonality was remarkably smooth, and although its 4.3 megapixel sensor was not the largest in this price group, its images were the best. Please note, if you were an early buyer of this camera (it was introduced at the CES show in November of 2002) be sure your camera has the latest firmware, as early versions had some issues with image quality.

In the $100 to $199 group, HP won again with its Photosmart 620. This 2.1 megapixel camera impressed us with its smooth, full tonality and its open shadow detail. The images were excellent for a $199 digital camera.

Finally, in the below $100 camera category, the Vivicam 3315 stood out. This camera is only 1.3 megapixel, but it produced a 4x6 print that was quite acceptable. The shadow detail was not great, but the colors and sharpness was outstanding for the price. Perhaps most surprising in a $99 camera were features such as the 1.5Ē LCD, and the ability to take SD memory cards in addition to itís built in 8mb of memory.

In summery, digital cameras keep getting better, smaller and less expensive. The quality of even the low-end cameras was remarkable, and very good things are happening at the top of the professional and prosumer camera lines. Remember, itís not all about megapixel count, true image quality is the combination of many factors. Direct comparisons such as the DIMA shoot out show that the state of the art is advancing rapidly, and we all stand to benefit from that.

Interesting to note....
Our favorite camera manufacturer, Nikon, chose not to compete in the digital camera shoot off again this year. The CoolPix 4500 and 5700 (and CoolPix 5000) are their flagship cameras and well worth looking at.

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