THE GIZMOS: The newest digital point-and-shoot cameras for less than $400.
February's a big month for camera makers, as they prepare to unfold their latest wares at the Photo Marketing Association convention in Orlando, Fla.
This year, we'll see an almost complete focus on digital products at the show, running Feb. 26 to March 1. Kodak is exiting the film camera business, Nikon's got just a couple of film models left, while Konica Minolta is now saying bye-bye to all camera marketing, period.
We'll also see a new emphasis on other features besides pixel resolution and display-screen size - digital camera makers' equivalents of the horsepower race. Even some under $200 models are hitting the 6 megapixel count, and consumers are realizing there are diminished returns in anything higher, as you can't see improvements in normal-sized prints, and those larger image files clog memory cards way faster.
Most new models now have 2.5- or 3-inch displays. On a small point-and-shoot model, the latter takes up so much real estate there's no room for an optical viewfinder and hardly any space for control buttons!
DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: Newly arriving in stores is a 5-megapixel digital still camera that Kodak is touting as a "world's first."
The Easyshare V570 uniquely features dual lenses inside a sleek (less than 1 inch thick) package. Turn it on and the first view on the 2.5-inch LCD display is from the ultrawide-angle 23 mm lens. It's great for grabbing a big group shot or a beautiful vista.
And by deploying the camera's "stitch" feature, you can neatly overlap three separate shots to capture a panoramic image.
Tap the zoom button and the camera smoothly transitions to its second lens, which has a optical zoom range of 39-117 mm (despite staying flush inside the camera).
Go for a super close-up with that wide-angle lens and you'll get a warped, fish-eye (or fun-house mirror) sort of view. If that's not what you want, Kodak includes a distortion correction option.
OUTSMARTING YOU: Sanyo builds a big share of the point-and-shoot digital cameras sold by other famous brands. But the company has held back one of the coolest of problem-solving features for its own, newly available Xacti E6 model ($399.99), a 6-megapixel delight.
Many film shooters transitioning to digital cameras have a dickens of a time mastering the two-stage shutter. They can't get into the habit of first half-pressing the shutter, so the digi camera can focus and measure the light, before fully pressing the button to take the shot.
Do it the wrong way - just plunge down hard on the button - and the focusing lag will often cause you to miss the "moment" or take a blurry shot. But not so with the Sanyo and its unique, "touch sensor" shutter button.
Just moving your finger thisclose to the trigger automatically locks the exposure and focus. Then gently press the shutter button to capture the image.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Also out-thinking the user is Casio's latest, 6-megapixel Exilim EX-S600 ($399.99). Switch it from digital stills to its movie-making function, and you can activate something called "past movie mode."