Early digital cameras looked
anything like cameras. Can anyone forget Apple's QuickTake, a.k.a.
the AMC Pacer of digicams? With increasing competition from cell phone
cameras, savvy manufacturers have started to figure out that style sells
and are assembling a runway of digicams that are not just as pretty
as a picture, but make pretty good pictures, too.
4x Optical Zoom
|This fashion image
was made of model Liz Tillman using the Olympus Stylus 400 Digital. It would
not ordinarily be my first choice for this kind of shot, but the camera's
metering and TruePic technology handled the backlighting well. While I was
stuck at a slow shutter speed, which resulted in some camera shake, I kinda
liked the softness it added to the photograph. I could have used the Stylus'
built-in flash and did for one shot, but the photo looked "too filled,"
a shadow behind Liz's head and wasn't all that sharp (due to camera
movement again) to boot. Oh yeah did I mention it had redeye, too? Image
made in Normal Program mode at f/5.2 with 1/6 sec (OK, so I needed a tripod)
and ISO 125.
If anybody knows about fashion, it's Olympus (www.olympusamerica.com),
the creators of the O-Product, Pen F, deliciously sleek OM-1 (we'll
forgive them for the Ecru) and sponsor of New York's Fashion Weeks.
The Stylus 400 Digital is a stylish imaging tool in the mode of the classic
clamshell Stylus and XA, but decked out in shiny metal weatherproof finish.
For $399, the 4.0-megapixel camera offers a 35-105mm (equivalent) optical,
4x digital zoom, and delivers great looking images instead of just posing
for them. A Virtual Mode Dial provides easy access to several shooting
modes including Landscape, Portrait, and QuickTime movie. Olympus TruePic
technology helps produce smooth, true color image files, and 8x10 ink
jet prints from the camera are impressive.
The Stylus 400 Digital is bundled with a tiny, easy to lose 16MB xD Picture
Card (but wish it wasn't because I think SD/MMC will be one of the
two "last men standing" when the silly memory card wars are
over. Hey, maybe I'm wrong). If you don't have an xD card
reader, which I don't, you'll have to connect the camera to
the computer, which I usually hate to do, to transfer images. Fortunately,
Olympus offers something called "Auto-Connect USB" for fast
image transfers from camera to desktop. The camera uses rechargeable lithium
ion batteries and includes a compact charger to keep the camera up and
The Stylus 400 Digital is a dream to use because it looks like and acts
like a film point-and-shoot. Hand it to someone and they'll know
how to use it...for the most part, with no training or User's
Guide required. To use the Stylus 400 Digital is to love it.
3x Optical Zoom
|The Nikon SQ proved
to be an ideal traveling companion when car shopping; I dropped it in my
jacket pocket. I really needed the SQ when test driving this 1948MG TC with
24,000 original miles. Image made with Nikon SQ, at f/4.8 with 1/140 sec
and ISO 70. Even though the image was captured at 1600x1200 resolution (2016x1512
is available) I was able to make an 11x14" print with just a bit of
tweaking in Photoshop CS. Impressive performance from a small camera. Equally
impressive is the way Nikon's matrix metering handled the dappled
lighting on the church parking lot where we pulled over to change drivers.
The 3.1-megapixel Coolpix SQ is Nikon's (www.nikonusa.com)
first attempt at creating a "boutique" camera and is wrapped
around a sleek Porsche-like design. Featuring a 3x optical Zoom-Nikkor
lens (37-111mm equivalent) and a 4x (mostly useless) digital zoom, the
Coolpix SQ produces impressive images even at less than its maximum resolution.
What's really cool about the SQ is it marks the return of the swiveling
lens from Nikon's late, lamented Coolpix 990/995. This twisty lens
contributes to the camera's compactness and makes free-angle picture
taking, including self-portraits, a blast.
The Coolpix SQ comes with the Cool-Station MV-10, a.k.a. cradle that recharges
the camera and lets you move images from the bundled 128MB CompactFlash
Type 1 card to a computer (via the included USB cable) with a press of
the cradle's transfer button. I never liked or used cradles much,
but this one looks as good as the camera and I hooked it up to my Apple
Power Macintosh G4 and rely on it every day. The rechargeable battery
provides up to 65 minutes of power depending on your chimping habits with
the 1.5" LCD screen. There is no optical viewfinder, so you need
to use the SQ in the arms-out LCD shooting style, but anybody who's
ever used a digital camera won't notice and those who haven't
will think it's fun.
An all-purpose Auto mode and 15 Scene modes make getting great shots easy,
even for the fashion challenged. Nikon says you can make ink jet prints
as large as B4 (250mmx353mm) size and when I made a 13x19" poster
from one of the images made at the next highest resolution, the guy I
gave it to changed his mind about getting a digital SLR and bought a Coolpix
SQ instead. The $449 SQ looks bigger "in person" and its 6.3-ounce
weight seems a bit hefty, but it's easily pocketable--if you
have sturdy pockets. That's a small price to pay for what I think
is the ultimate in geek chic.
Fixed (39mm equiv) Lens
Direct Print Capability
Whenever I was
using the SD10, people came up to me and asked questions, proving photography
is the universal language. I made three images of Mary at the mall next
to this "hand" graphic using the Canon SD10 Digital Elph:
One at ISO 100, this one at ISO 200, and a slightly noisier one at ISO
400. Overall I like the image quality of the ISO 100 better, but the additional
sensitivity at ISO 200 produced more ambient fill. Exposure was at f/2.8
with 1/60 sec using the SD-10's dust speck-sized flash.
The Canon (www.powershot.com)
SD10 Digital Elph combines elegance, color choice (white, bronze, silver,
and my favorite, black) along with a Patricia Field design that packs
4 megapixels into the smallest available digicam package. (So far, anyway.)
At 3.9 oz and less than 3/4 of an inch thick, the SD10 Digital Elph provides
ample reason why there is simply no reason not to have a camera with you
at all times. Canon makes it easy by providing a color-coordinated case
that clips onto your belt or drops in your purse.
The PowerShot SD10 Digital Elph camera features a four-element 6.4mm (39mm
equivalent) f/2.8 lens and a (what me worry?) 5.7x digital--only
zoom. The camera has five-point through the lens autofocus and has an
easy to see 1.5" color LCD monitor. Mechanical and electronic shutter
speeds range from 15 to 1/1500 of a second and there are six color balance
modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, and Fluorescent; although,
noise levels at low-light levels seem high for a 4-Mp camera. The $349
PowerShot SD10 cameras support Exif Print, a standard for transferring
camera settings and data to the printer, is compatible with PictBridge,
and features Direct Print capability with Canon's Card and Bubble
Jet Direct Photo Printers. Canon should be given an award for the most
slam-dunk cool and compact battery charger that's bundled with the
What's not to like? Some might decry the lack of a "real"
zoom, but to me it's a few less controls to clutter up the design
and makes it easier to use for beginners. I handed it to "a guy"
at the mall who took a great picture of Mary and me standing in front
of a holiday tree. There is no optical viewfinder, but I don't care.
The LCD is bright and a green rectangle appears showing the focusing point.
In addition, the SD10 has the best on (and off) screen menus of any digital
point-and-shoot camera I've ever used. The only negative about the
camera is the noticeable and annoying digital noise at ISO 400 when photographing
at low-light levels. I believe the cause might be by an imaging chip that
must be smaller than the 32MB SD card bundled with the camera. Even so,
I found that before I went out the door, I reached for the SD10 Digital
Elph and clipped it to my belt.
Fixed (48mm equiv) Lens
1.5" LCD Screen
Want to make
the time spent waiting in line for lunch go fast? While waiting for a
table at Red Robin, I grabbed the Concord Eye-Q 2040 and started taking
pictures of Mary next to an antique gas pump when I saw this Statue of
Liberty replica decorated for the holiday. The Eye-Q 2040 did a surprisingly
good job under these low-light conditions with less noise than was produced
by more expensive, higher resolution digicams tested.
On A Budget
While making images with the Concord Eye-Q 2040 strangers would inevitably
walk up and tell me how nice looking they thought the camera was, then
they would ask what it cost. They were always astonished when I said $99!
Yup, it's just 2.0 megapixels, but what the heck, it looks nice,
comes with an attractive case, and uses low-hassle AA batteries that should
last for up to 120 image captures, depending on your chimping practice.
The camera produces surprisingly high quality image files that have a
4:3 aspect ratio at a maximum resolution of 1600x1200. With a 48mm (equivalent)
fixed focus lens and a maximum aperture of a f/3.2, the Eye-Q 2040 proved
to be an excellent traveling companion. There's a 4x digital zoom
that'll work for Little League games and is mostly harmless. The
Eye-Q 2040 has an optical viewfinder along with a 1.5" LCD preview
screen and built-in flash. Image storage is with the ubiquitous SD or
Sure you don't get much for $99, such as an ISO that's limited
to 100 but they include a nice case, something missing from the Nikon
and Minolta tested. The Eye-Q 2040 makes an ideal first digital camera
that a young person will have fun using while being able to make 5x7"
prints or attach JPEGs to e-mail for all their friends.
3x Optical Zoom
Close Focus: 4.3" (macro)
the DiMAGE E323, it was my constant companion going to the hardware store
where I used it to photograph plumbing fixtures that were in different
parts of the store so Mary and I could do side by side comparisons. It
also came along when I was able to get a private tour of a fire truck
factory in Loveland, Colorado. The unusual lighting here was easily corrected
in camera by the DiMAGE E323 and no corrections were made to the image
you see here.
Not only is the Konica Minolta (www.minoltausa.com)
E323 attractive, it has fashionable capturing options as well. The DiMAGE
E323 is built around a 3.3-megapixel CCD, but when you want to make big
prints the camera can interpolate the data to create a large 6-megapixel
image. This allows you to make up to 11x17" 150dpi prints or letter-size
300dpi prints. It's equipped with a 36-108mm (equivalent) optical
zoom and has a macro mode that can focus down to 4.3" for close-up
photographs. The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8-4.9, allowing the
camera to be used in less than ideal lighting conditions without the built-in
While the camera has lots of shooting modes that you might recognize,
such as Sports, Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scene, there are two you
won't. Cosmetic mode fixes the focus at 8.2 feet and controls sharpness
and edge emphasis to give skin a smooth appearance. Slim changes the image's
aspect ratio to shave off a few extra pounds you may have picked up recently.
Speaking of which, while the E323 is cute, it is chunky in a sexy Bridget
Jones kind of way.
The $349 DiMAGE E323 uses the wonderfully ubiquitous SD or MMC cards for
storage and is powered by easy to find AA batteries, alkaline or rechargeable
Ni-MH, which is probably why it's just a little thicker than it
otherwise, might be. And while we're on the subject of Konica Minolta
cameras, don't forget the stylish DiMAGE Xt. (See eDigitalPhoto,
Why Do You Need A Stylish
Well, obviously you don't. The digital version of a wooden box-like
Zero 2000 pinhole camera can be used to make photographs, but the size,
shape, and feel of all these cameras make a statement about you as well
as make darn good photographs themselves. If there is commonality among
these diverse cameras it is that they touch a basic need in all of us
to surround ourselves with a bit of beauty. It has been said, "you
are what you drive." Well, maybe we are what we use to make photographs
The Spring Collection
The five cameras selected were chosen for style points first, but they
had to be good cameras as well. I told the companies that I wanted a camera
that Rebecca Romijn-Stamos might pull out of her Prada purse to photograph
John's new Aston Martin. I was sent cameras that cost under $100
and others that cost more. Some well-known companies chose not to participate,
telling me that they don't manufacture "ugly" cameras,
and that they didn't have anything to offer for this story. Ugliness,
like beauty, evidently, is also in the eyes of the beholder.