PowerShot G6, PowerShot S70, Exilim EX-P600, FinePix E550, FinePix S7000, EasyShare DX7630, Dimage G600, Camedia C-60, Cyber-shot DSC-P150

Introduction

Between the burgeoning field of sub-5-megapixel pocket cameras and the ranks of 8-megapixel-plus prosumer models is a growing group of 6- and 7-megapixel cameras that don’t seem to know what they want to be. Some pose as compact point-&-shoots, and some act as faux digital SLRs.

We tested six 6-megapixel cameras: the Casio Exilim EX-P600, the Fujifilm FinePix E550 and FinePix S7000, the Kodak EasyShare DX7630, the Konica Minolta Dimage G600, and the Olympus Camedia C-60. We also looked at three 7-megapixel cameras: two from Canon, the PowerShot G6 and PowerShot S70, and one from Sony, the Cyber-shot DSC-P150. And we found a few surprises.

A few of these models are pricey compacts with little more to offer than a million or two extra pixels that most users won’t appreciate, but a couple of them offer excellent value and picture quality. The Canons and the Sony are the standouts of the bunch.

Some big shots
Some of these cameras – the Sony, for instance – are so small that they can sit comfortably on your palm. But despite their small size, the 7-megapixel models take pictures as large as 3,072-x-2,304 pixels. Fujifilm claims that the 6.3-megapixel FinePix E550 and FinePix S7000 can record 12.3 million pixels, yielding a 4,048-x-3,040-pixel image, but we found that these images looked no better than enlargements achieved by upsampling in Photoshop.

A panel of Macworld experts judged a test photo (on screen and printed out) from each camera, rating the image’s colour and clarity (see the benchmark chart).

The Canon G6 and the Casio captured the most-accurate colour. The Fujifilm E550’s images had a slight greenish tint, and the Fujifilm S7000 captured reds that looked almost orange. The Kodak’s images had a similar problem and appeared undersaturated.

The Canon G6 also captured the sharpest pictures, with very little noise. The Fujifilm cameras’ images had noticeable noise and chromatic aberration (a purple glow that can appear around high-contrast edges in a picture). Images from the Canon S70, the Kodak, and the Konica also showed a small amount of purple fringing. The Casio’s pictures seemed slightly soft throughout.

When we used automatic white-balance settings and our tungsten lights, the Casio, the Canon S70, and the Konica produced images with an orange cast (the Casio was the worst offender).

These cameras feature wide-ranging video quality. The Casio, Kodak, Konica and Olympus models capture video at 320-x-240 pixels. The Canons can capture video at 640-x-480 pixels, but only at a disappointing 10fps (frames per second), and clips are limited to 30 seconds.

The Fujifilms and the Sony capture video continuously at 640-x-480 and 30fps (duration is limited only by memory capacity). The quality of the video captured by the Fujifilm cameras was fair, but the audio had some distracting static. The Sony’s video was a bit grainy and dark, but the audio was stronger. The Sony requires a Memory Stick Pro (not included) to capture video at 30fps (it captures at16 fps with the provided standard Memory Stick).

Your best shot
Of these cameras, the Fujifilm S7000 has the longest optical zoom, at 6x – equivalent to a 35mm-210mm lens on a 35mm camera. The Canon S70 has the widest lens; a 3.6x zoom with a 28mm-100mm focal range. The Canon G6, Casio, and Fujifilm E550 offer 4x optical zooms; the remaining cameras have 3x. The Fujifilm S7000 can focus to 0.4 inches in its Super Macro mode. The Olympus can focus to 1.6 inches. The Casio has the longest focal range in macro mode: 3.94 inches. For added flexibility, optional lens converters are available for all but the Canon S70, the Konica, and the Olympus. The Fujifilm S7000 has a focus/zoom ring on its lens, which provides more control than the buttons or levers that control zooming on the other models.

With a maximum aperture of f2.0, the Canon G6 has the fastest lens (the maximum for the others is f2.8), which is important for shallow depth of field. The Fujifilm S7000 has shutter speeds of up to 1/10,000 of a second – ideal for freezing action – but most people probably won’t need more than the 1/1,000 or 1/2,000 of a second offered by the others.

Most of the cameras are light sensitive to 400 ISO. The Fujifilms are the most sensitive, with ISO equivalents of 80 to 640 (the E550) and 160 to 800 (the S7000) in automatic mode (in manual mode, the E550 can go as low as 80, while the S7000’s lowest ISO is 200). If you take many low-light pictures, that’ll sound reassuring, but a higher ISO means more noise, and an ISO of 200 in manual mode is high. Also, an ISO of 800 is available only at up to 3 megapixels. The Canons, the Casio, and the Konica can go as low as 50 ISO in manual mode.

All offer automatic white balance, several presets, and custom modes, except for the Kodak, the Konica, and the Sony, which lack manual white balance. And all of these cameras have built-in flash and red-eye-reduction modes. The Canon G6 and the Fujifilm S7000 have hotshoes for attaching an external flash.

The Olympus, the Casio, and the Canon G6 include wireless remotes, but the Olympus remote lets you control only the shutter. The Casio and Canon G6 remotes let you release the shutter, control the zoom, and operate menus.
Both the Canons and the Fujifilms offer RAW capability for saving uncompressed images without any processing in the camera. Serious photographers will appreciate this, since adjusting an image in Photoshop gives you more control than in-camera processing.

On the menu
We found that the information displays and menus on most of these cameras were easy to navigate and decipher. The Olympus and Konica menus are the least intuitive. The best is the Casio menu, which offers the unique Ex Finder, an information overlay that looks like a fighter jet’s heads-up display. Crosshairs help you align your shot; you can view numerous settings at a glance and quickly adjust them. Manual Assist menus show you the effect of manual adjustments, making it easier to set aperture and shutter settings. There’s also a live histogram, which displays tonal range and warns you of lost detail in shadows or highlights as you compose your shot.

The Canons, the Fujifilm S7000, the Olympus, and the Sony also offer live histograms, and the Canon G6 displays an overexposure warning for clipped areas, but only in preview mode. The Fujifilm E550 can display a histogram in preview mode. The Kodak and the Konica have no histogram display.

The Kodak has the largest LCD monitor, at 2.2 inches. The Canon G6 and the Casio have 2-inch LCDs; the others’ LCDs are 1.8 inches, except for the Konica’s, which is the smallest at 1.5 inches. Bigger is better, and 1.8 inches is about the minimum for good visibility. The Canon G6 is the only one with an adjustable, flip-out LCD that lets you fine-tune your viewing position (handy for shooting at odd angles, such as over your head). The Fujifilm S7000 has an electronic viewfinder, perfect for sunny days when LCDs can be difficult to see.

All digital cameras capture EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) data such as aperture settings and shutter speed. In this group, all but the Kodak and the Sony can also attach audio notes (such as a subject’s name or a shot’s location) to a picture; maximum lengths range from a few seconds to one minute. The Canons let you add the longest audio notes, and the quality is surprisingly good.

Out of the box
All of these cameras are quick to start up, so you won’t be likely to miss a shot. Most menu operations feel responsive. The Casio and the Olympus felt a bit sluggish while saving images to memory and during playback. The Sony felt the most responsive in typical use.

All the cameras feel solid. The Canon G6 and the Fujifilm S7000 are too bulky to call compact. The Fujifilm S7000, at 499g ounces, is heftier, and it looks and feels more like an SLR than a compact. At 153g, the Sony is the lightest. It’s also the smallest – you can even call it a pocket camera. It’s a bit weighty for a shirt pocket, but it does fit comfortably in a jeans pocket, as does the 195g Konica. The Olympus is a bit bulkier but still compact.

With the exception of the Kodak, the Canon G6, and the Fujifilm S7000, all of these cameras have built-in sliding lens barriers to protect the lenses. The lens cap on the Fujifilm S7000 is to be expected; this camera has a larger lens, in keeping with its faux-SLR form factor. But lens caps on two other models are puzzling. The Kodak lens cap clips on, while the Canon G6 lens cap merely fits snugly. Both fall off easily, putting the lenses at risk of damage.

In the box
All of these cameras include interface cables for transferring files to a Mac, and all but the Konica include AV cables so you can plug your camera into a TV. All but the Fujifilm S7000 include rechargeable batteries and chargers (it takes four AA alkaline batteries or optional rechargeable AA NiMH batteries). The Casio doesn’t come with a printed manual, even though it’s tricked out with a multitude of impressive features (it does come with a 247-page PDF manual, however).

None come with a reasonably sized memory card, considering their resolutions. The Canons, the Olympus, and the Sony come with 32MB cards, while the Fujifilms and the Konica come with 16MB cards. The Casio and the Kodak come with built-in flash memory, but the Casio’s is a paltry 9MB (not enough to take even one TIFF at the highest resolution). The Kodak offers 32MB (both also take SD and MMC memory cards).

You’ll find software in the boxes, although no bundled application is likely to replace iPhoto, and Casio’s works only in OS 9 – Casio recommends iPhoto for all OS X users. The Canon and Olympus apps offer more capabilities than the others. You’ll need the software included with the Canons and the Fujifilms for converting RAW files if you don’t have Photoshop or another RAW-capable application.

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