Three new models nabbed spots on this month's Top 5 chart--and two of them are less expensive than any previously tested advanced camera. Each of the newcomers brings plenty of features, including a powerful zoom lens.
None of these upstart models could knock the Canon PowerShot G6 off its first-place perch, but the Fujifilm FinePix S5200 came close, earning a rating of Superior for image quality despite having the lowest megapixel rating of any camera on the chart. It just goes to show that you need more than lots of megapixels to make great pictures. The S5200 has fast startup, its shutter lag is minimal, and it focuses quickly. Some unconventional focus modes help you lock on to such difficult subjects as high-contrast or off-center objects. On the downside, the LCD is a bit small at 1.8 inches, and the software is nothing special. Also, though the S5200 is the only camera on this month's chart that can shoot at ISO 1600, noise was quite noticeable in images shot at the higher settings.
The Olympus SP-500 Ultra Zoom has the lowest price here. In fact, its price originally persuaded us to test it as a point-and-shoot model. Its impressive performance in that category, however, encouraged us to test its mettle against advanced cameras--and it delivered similarly good results. The SP-500 matched the image quality of much more expensive models, and it offers features such as a large 2.5-inch LCD and the ability to store four customized scene modes. Both Canon units on the chart let you store two custom modes; the Fujifilm and Panasonic products don't have this option. But the SP-500's shutter speed tops out at 1/1000 second, while most advanced cameras we've tested offer a 1/2000-second shutter, and Canon's Pro1 even hits 1/4000 second.
Panasonic's $700 Lumix DMC-FZ30 is the only newly tested model with image stabilization. This capability can help prevent blurry images when you're using the camera's long, 60-second shutter speed or its powerful 12X zoom lens. The DMC-FZ30 uses a moving element in its lens for stabilization, rather than performing electronic compensation after the image is taken, as some cameras do. But photos taken with the Panasonic at high ISOs had more digital noise than many other models' images did.
Two cameras we tested this month didn't make the chart. The $400 Konica Minolta DiMage Z6 turned in subpar scores for image quality and had limited controls. Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-R1, on the other hand, earned a Superior rating for image quality; but the camera's $1000 price tag, weak zoom, and unpredictable autofocus held it back.
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Top 5 Advanced Cameras From the March 2006 Issue of PC World Magazine
This story, "Cameras Offer More Features for Fewer Bucks" was originally published by PCWorld.