Fashion Statements; Digicams With Style

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.

4.0 megapixel
4x Optical Zoom
Auto-Connect USB
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.

Sliding Doors
If anybody knows about fashion, it's Olympus (, 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 running.

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.

3.1 megapixel
3x Optical Zoom
Cool-Station Cradle
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.

Geek Chic
The 3.1-megapixel Coolpix SQ is Nikon's ( 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.

4.0 megapixel
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.

Always In Fashion
The Canon ( 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 SD10.

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.

2.0 megapixel
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.

Style 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 MMC cards.

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.

3.3 megapixel
3x Optical Zoom
Close Focus: 4.3" (macro)

While testing 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.

Digital Style
Not only is the Konica Minolta ( 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 flash.

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, Jan/Feb 2004.)

Why Do You Need A Stylish Digicam
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 as well.

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.