These days, there’s little point in spending more than $450 on a compact digital camera. You can buy a decent 6.1-megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom for just $380, and the shutter lag associated with older cameras is all but gone. All the cameras here let you shoot great macro photos and take TV-quality movies with audio, as well as prevent blurred pictures thanks to the super-high ISO settings now on offer. Plus, all five here have large LCDs (the Ixus 65 has a huge, 3in display), which make it easier than ever to frame shots and check focus.
Fujifilm FinePix F20
|Clockwise from top left: Canon Digital Ixus 65, Pentax Optio W20, Fuji Film Finepix F20, Olympus µ Digital 740 All-weather, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70.|
Apart from being a little bulkier than the others — measuring 94 x 27 x 57mm and weighing 172g – the Fujifilm FinePix F20 appears to offer a similar specification at a much lower price. The 3x zoom lens is made by Fuji, the body is all metal alloy and there’s a large, 2.5in LCD on the rear. Buttons are sensibly laid out and menus easy to use. In Manual mode, you can select multi, spot or average metering, as well as centre, multi or continuous focusing.
A dedicated button for anti-shake is welcome, and it means you can fire off shots very quickly and still get sharp results, even in low light. However, while images are sharp even in the corners, artefacts are noticeable (giving an oil-painting effect) when viewing images at 100%. Also, the F20 was one of the worst here for purple fringing.
At least there’s no breakout box for power and USB connectors like the FinePix F11, but Fuji still hasn’t moved to a standard mini-USB port. A slider on top of the F20 switches between still and movie mode — the latter led to good-quality, smooth clips with reasonable audio. Overall, the F20 is fine if your budget is tight, but the Canon is noticeably better quality for $29 more.Canon Digital Ixus 65
It’s no secret that we love the Canon Ixus 65 — it won an Excellence award when reviewed in June 2006 and has fended off every challenge since. With a body just 21mm thick, the Ixus 65 manages to cram a massive 3in LCD on the rear (at the expense of an optical viewfinder), making it easier than ever to frame shots and check focus. The glossy black plastic surround is a little odd given the otherwise silver metal body, but we love the touch-sensitive navigation pad. Touch it lightly and an overlay appears on the screen to show the current function.
Otherwise, the 65 is a carbon copy of the 60 with a 3x optical zoom and 6-megapixel sensor. Weight has remained similar at 162g — marginally heavier than its competitors. All the usual Canon features are present: MyColours, Stitch Assist and AiAF, which shows which point(s) in the image are being used to focus on. It’s only a shame that some of the colour functions are buried away in the menu system now. But we still love the auto-rotate function, which keeps images the right way up when you turn the camera to portrait in your hands.
As we expected, even in this company, image quality is still the benchmark at this price — pictures are sharp (ISO up to 800 can be selected), well exposed and with accurate, perfectly saturated colours. Noise is kept to an absolute minimum, and purple fringing is rarely seen. Movies remain superb at 640 x 480 (they’re smooth thanks to the 30fps frame rate, but you can choose 60fps if you drop the resolution to 320 x 240). Macro shots, while not as close as the Pentax, are still stunning. Unless you need to shoot underwater, the Ixus 65 is the best compact for $400.