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Digital Cameras: Good, Bad, Ugly

buy several, throw the bad ones back

So, the quest for the ultimate digital camera goes on. There are hundreds of choices out there, but you'll find only one that really fits you perfectly. The choice however is highly dependant on what you plan to do with it. Most cameras work well, or at least as advertised. (Well, except three that we'll share below.) But if you have a specific use in mind, you really have to shop sharply. Not all cameras are created equal. As of today, these cameras will bring our total to a dozen purchased and tested.

Olympus Stylus 790SW star star star star star

Olympus BEST AWARD 2007 After destroying four digital cameras, our quest for a "lifestyle" oriented camera took us to this 7.1-megapixel Olympus. Thank you Olympus for finally discovering that today's digital cameras don't sit at home! The 790SW is a home-run for today's abusive use. 7.1MP waterproof design makes it ideal for field use, and the Dual Image Stabilized 3x Optical Zoom takes spectacular detail for photo-quality 15 x 20-inch prints. Lens to picture quality is nearly as good as our Canon studio camera! (Which I dearly love and wouldn't give up for anything!)

While the big disappointment is the lack of a view finder, the 2.5-inch LCD screen does offer brightness settings for use even in bright ambient light. Face Detection technology and image stabilization are proven in stressful, action situations.

It is waterproof (down to 10 feet), freeze-proof, drop-proof and crush-proof -- and you feel immediately confident when you pick it up -- no thin plastic or delecate parts. The lens does not extend and is protected behind both a clear shield and an inner sliding metal cover.

Unfortunately video capture at 640 x 480 is seriously limited -- only 20 seconds on a 1-Gig card, but you can shoot long takes at 320 x 240. The video/audio quality is very good. We used it immediately on both PC or Mac without complaint -- and without any software installation or instruction. (It does NOT come with a memory card and we recommend the fastest quality 2 to 4 GIG card available!)

This is one tough puppy you can confidently take along on any adventure from the kid's backyard birthday party to the reefs or the rain forest, land-rover safari. Just be sure to use the wrist strap!

LINK: Olympus Stylus 790SW

Pentax Optio W30 star star star star star

Pentax BEST AWARD 2007 Here's another one we purchased to evaluate for intentional abuse -- and has so far fulfilled expectations. The shock-proof, waterproof construction goes clubbing, boating, boarding, beaching or 3rd world safari with confidence. This camera is on its way to Africa, in fact, which has been totally unfriendly to any digital device!

The big pay-off are the high-quality extended movie captures QuickTime motion JPEG at 30fps. The video and audio is far superior to even some cameras advertised for this purpose! (see other reviews later) This camera also lets you fill a memory card with video, unlike others with an enforced time cut-off.

Picture quality is very good even in the medium resolution ranges. In RAW mode, under low light situations it performs very well, giving good, clear, well balanced shots. "Anti-Shake" features pay great premiums under demanding conditions.

Although they advertise this unit can be submerged down to ten feet for up to two hours -- we would not recommend it for other than 'light' pool or beach use. Get an underwater camera if you plan to use it for serious diving.

This is an ideal camera to take into 3rd world, rugged, dirty or active sport uses like skateboarding or snowboarding. Shock-proof ratings and smooth, tough skin will protect it where others fail. The lens does NOT extend, and is sealed and covered. Drop it in the sand and just rinse it off. It is immediately usable with PC or Mac without complaint. (Does NOT come with a memory card!)

LINK: Pentax Optio W30 7.1

Get Flip star star star star starFlip

BEST AWARD 2007 We had a great time with the little Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder -- and for a low-cost, MPEG powerhouse, this is the one to get! For action use like surfing or skateboarding, its ease of use and quality capture is unequalled! Mac users can view clips in QuickTime Player (Pro). Or import the clips into iDVD. Edit and burn DVDs with full iDVD functionality.

And, if you take a spill and land on it when you hit the pavement, it's cheap enough to toss in the trash and pick up another one!
When you buy -- buy TWO !
      See Maria's review of the Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder ... (But, avoid the RCA knock-off!)


Cameras NOT to buy:

DXG 5.0MP Ultra-Slim

Stay away from the DXG 5.0MP Ultra-Slim Digital Camcorder, and perhaps some extra scrutiny should be given to any product from DXG. We purchased the unit for evaluation, and found not only poor workmanship and construction, but poor image quality as well. The video smeared badly and was what we considered to be unacceptable video and audio quality. File transfers to computer were problematic and actually did not work at all on the Mac. No memory card was included. This one gets the doggie award! (Click: )

Panasonic SDR-S10

Our quest then took us to the Panasonic SDR-S10 Flash Memory Weatherproof Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom. This was a huge disappointment because the point-of-purchase information was very compelling and we thought this was the one -- unfortunately the merchandising and advertising promises turned out to be misleading and false.

While this unit did come with a 2GB Memory Card, the camera saves the video files in a non-standard file format. (Even though advertised as MPEG files.) No matter what we tried, the files would not transfer to the computer. Oddly enough, there was an ad included in the box for a program which would transfer to the computer if we paid another $99. After a long and miserable call to the service tech for Panasonic, they finally admitted it would not work without the 'interpretation' software. How can Panasonic be that incompetent? They spent about 8 pages in the manual on viewing the video on a VCR, but only a single paragraph about transferring it to a computer. Duh! This one also gets the doggie award! (Click: )

Any camera named "Concord"

The Concord Eyeq 4330z has been in testing for about a year and has proved the quality and workmanship way below acceptable. Early-on, the camera began to show unexpected results after light to medium duty use. Buttons began malfunctioning, and one in four launches unsuccessful. Additionally the cameras operates on two AAA batteries which last only a couple of hours under what we call normal use in shooting and viewing pictures. Movie and audio quality was very low. The camera did not ship with a memory card. Another for the doggie award! (Click: )

Shop carefully, shop locally

Now, this article could go on and on about each of the units. But I'll let you discover products after you've decided how you plan to use it and what features are most important to you. Also be sure and see George Engel's cameras to avoid article.

Shop carefully, and shop often. I cannot stress the importance of hands-on experience. That's why it's not usually a good idea to buy such products via mail order. Find a store that carries the product and go talk to the people, and put your hands on the device. Most times you can tell right away whether this device is the one you're really looking for. Also, don't forget to ask about return and warranty policies. These are so important if the unit does turn out to be a failure.

When you find your ultimate solution, be sure to let us know, so we can share with all the other DTG readers!

Thanks for reading...

Fred Showker, editor DTG Magazine, 60-Second Windows
      Editor / Publisher: DTG Magazine
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