Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1
Who it's for: Anyone looking for automated everything in a well-rounded camera
The optical image stabilization is nice. So is the 8X optical zoom, especially the 26mm on the wide end. The Intelligent Auto mode on this camera is great, too. But the stars of the show are two features that may go unnoticed until you have some hands-on time with the Lumix DMC-ZR1: its ultraquiet zoom lens and its ultrafast autofocus. Both of those goodies are also at your disposal while you’re shooting video with this camera, which makes it a well-rounded pocket model for both photos and video. Keep in mind that this isn’t the camera you need if you want a full range of manual controls: It automates almost all of its in-camera functions.
Who it's for: 1080p filmmakers on a tight budget
The pocketable Kodak Zi8 outdoes the similarly stellar Flip Video MinoHD on at least one front: higher-resolution, best-in-class video in bright light (the MinoHD has the edge in low light, however). In addition to its 1080p-shooting capabilities, the Zi8 sets the bar in features, with a port for an external microphone, the ability to take 5-megapixel still shots, and digital image stabilization (although we didn’t see much evidence of that last feature working too well). If you can get past its slightly laggy interface, you'll like the Zi8--it produces the best overall video quality we’ve seen in a pocket camcorder.
Casio High-Speed Exilim EX-FC100
Who it’s for: Ultrafast-action shooters
With a rapid-fire shutter speed that captures up to 30 full-resolution images per second--as well as lower-resolution video at up to an astonishing 1000 frames per second--the 9-megapixel EX-FC100 is a near-ideal pocketable camera for anyone who spends the majority of their time taking action shots. In addition to that stunning shooting speed, the EX-FC100 has a Slow button that buffers your real-time shots, plays them back to you on screen in slow motion, and lets you capture just the frame you want to keep. That’s much easier than trying to time your shot when capturing a fast-moving subject.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Price: $900 as a kit in two variations (14-45mm/f3.5-5.6 or 20mm/f1.7 lens)
Who it's for: Entry-level DSLR buyers; power point-and-shooters
Need DSLR-style versatility in a more-compact package? The Micro Four-Thirds System Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 shoots 720p HD video, has controls to suit both advanced and novice users, and offers interchangeable lenses to help you get even more visual range with your shots. This $900 camera (we tested the kit with the 14-45mm/f3.5-5.6 lens) shoots RAW format, which gives you greater control over your photos in the post-production process.
Kodak EasyShare Z915
Who it's for: Anyone seeking advanced controls in a bargain-priced camera
Normally, you need to drop quite a bit more than $200 to find a camera with the zoom range and feature set of the Kodak EasyShare Z915. The AA-powered Z915’s 10X optical zoom reaches from 35mm wide angle to 350mm telephoto, and you also get aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, a lightning-fast start-up-to-first-shot time, and 17 scene modes in case you want the camera to do all the work for you. If you're seeking a good, well-priced camera for learning the fundamentals of photography, put the Z915 high on your list.
Flip Video MinoHD (Second Generation)
Who it's for: Style-conscious YouTubers
Flip Video didn’t reinvent the wheel with its latest pocket camcorder, but the second-generation MinoHD boasts a number of refinements that make it the best Flip yet. It still maxes out at 720p video, it still concentrates on no-brainer operation, and it still doesn’t shoot photos. However, the new MinoHD has a metal body that makes it more aesthetically pleasing and a whole lot sturdier than its predecessor. Other enhancements include doubled storage capacity (8GB, 2 hours of 720p video), a snap-proof metal USB connector, and an HDMI-out port. Combine all of that with its best-in-class low-light video (it even outdoes some full-size camcorders in low-light video quality), and you have an excellent little pocket camcorder.
Canon PowerShot G11
Who it's for: DSLR owners in need of a portable backup; power point-and-shooters
It takes a powerful fixed-lens camera to make DSLR owners sit up and take notice, and the PowerShot G11 seems to be up to the task. Following in the footsteps of the much-heralded PowerShot G9 and PowerShot G10, the 5X-optical-zoom PowerShot G11 (28mm to 140mm) offers the same rugged looks, RAW-shooting mode, manual settings, and quick access to ISO controls as its predecessors did. The key differences? It has a flip-out LCD screen to help with low- and high-angle shots, a new sensor optimized for low light, and a lower megapixel count (10 megapixels, versus the G10’s 14.7-megapixel sensor), which may help reduce the amount of visual noise in shots.
Who it's for: Self-portrait shooters and socialites
Although it doesn’t have the best image quality--and it takes only MicroSD/MicroSDHC cards--this is the camera for scenesters. The TL225 has two LCD screens: The one on the front is designed for taking self-portraits, performing self-timer shots, and capturing a baby’s attention. Adding to the camera's cool factor is its haptic-feedback, touchscreen interface, which makes operating the camera fun. You can draw an “X” on a photo to delete it, swipe through images to look at them, and even tilt the camera in various directions to toggle through shooting modes.
Nikon Coolpix S1000pj
Who it's for: Anyone who likes slideshows and social gatherings
The Nikon Coolpix S1000pj’s 12-megapixel sensor, 5X-optical-zoom lens (28mm to 240mm), and 2.7-inch-diagonal LCD are nothing new. The miniature projector in the camera, however, is nothing we’ve ever seen before. The projector worked well in a dimly lit room, and images were sharp when we projected them on a blank white surface about a foot away from the camera. If you know someone who likes to show off their photos just as much as they enjoy taking them, this might be the perfect gift--just keep in mind that they may sucker you into watching more slideshows than your patience can take.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1
Who it's for: Night owls and panorama shooters
Equipped with Sony’s low-light-optimized Exmor R CMOS sensor, the good-looking Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 also features a "premium" Sony G Lens previously available only in the company's digital SLR cameras and high-end camcorders. The DSC-WX1 (like the stylish, touchscreen-operated DSC-TX1) also has a "Handheld Twilight" feature that combines six pictures taken in rapid succession to create low-light shots with increased dynamic range. And Sweep Panorama mode lets you press the shutter button once, move the camera side to side, and create an instant panoramic image of everything you’ve pointed at. It’s the easiest panorama mode we’ve ever used, but the image quality does lag a bit behind that of traditionally stitched-together panorama scenes.
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS
Who it's for: Style-conscious serial snapshooters
When we reviewed the PowerShot SD780 IS, we found it hard not to like that model's sharp looks and equally sharp performance. Its sibling, the SD940 IS, packs even more top-notch features in a similarly fashionable frame: In addition to eye-catching style, the SD940 IS offers a wide-angle lens (4X optical zoom, from 28mm to 112mm), good optical image stabilization, 720p HD movie capability with HDMI output, and four color choices (brown, black, blue, and silver).
Similar camera: Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Fujifilm Instax Mini 7
Who it’s for: Anyone who misses Polaroid instant cameras
It may look like an egg, but it acts like a Polaroid instant camera. The Fujifilm Instax Mini 7 definitely has an odd design, but if rapidly developing, credit-card-size color prints are what you’re looking for to scratch your instant-gratification itch, it will do the trick nicely. The camera itself costs around $80, while 20-packs of film go for around $15 a pop.
Pentax Optio P80
Who it's for: Anyone who wants a skinny camera with a hefty feature set
A follow-up to the slim Optio P70 from earlier this year, the budget-friendly P80 doesn’t skimp on slickness or features. This 12-megapixel model is just 0.8 inch thick, despite packing in a 4X-optical-zoom ultrawide-angle lens (27.5mm to 110mm), 720p video-recording capabilities (albeit at just 15 frames per second), a 2.7-inch LCD, and digital image stabilization. Its slender frame and bargain-bin price mean you won’t feel much pressure on your pocket--in more ways than one.
Similar camera: Pentax Optio P70
Olympus Stylus Tough 8000
Who it’s for: Dog-sledders, underwater photographers, and the just plain clumsy
The weather-sealed Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 is so rugged that you can actually operate it by smacking it around: Its Tap Control function, designed to help you operate the camera while wearing gloves or mittens, lets you change in-camera settings just by tapping the sides of the camera. What else would you expect out of a point-and-shoot that’s freezeproof, 6-foot-drop-proof, and waterproof down to 33 feet under the surface?
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