T+L Camera Guide

T+L Camera Guide

How do you choose the digital camera that's right for you?T+L's deputy photo editor Whitney Lawson, put nearly 30 models to the test. Below, her picks of the ideal cameras, from the fuss-free ultracompact to the professional-level DSLR. Happy shooting!

Stylish

Casio Exilim EX-S770

Specs

7.2 mp; 3x optical zoom; 2.8" LCD screen; 4.48 oz. exilim.casio.com; $300

pros

Beautifully designed point-and-shoot that also has manual settings; the easiest of the group to use with one hand; special eBay mode for taking auction-site photos

cons

Short battery life (about 200 still images); no optical viewfinder, so you have to use the LCD screen to frame the photo (which can be hard in bright sunshine); tiny buttons

Summary

So small and handy, you'll reach for this camera again and again; works well indoors and out; easy to use right out of the box

Ultracompact

Sony Cybershot DSC-N2

Specs

10.1 mp; 3x optical, 2x digital zoom; 3" LCD screen; 5.5 oz. sony.com; $350

pros

Big three-inch screen makes it easy to look at photos with a group of people; excellent Carl Zeiss lens ensures sharp pictures in bright light—for example, on a day at the beach

cons

Screen takes up most of the back, so Sony put most of the buttons on it (beware of messy fingerprints); no optical viewfinder; a little slow indoors and in low light

Summary

This point-and-shoot is compact and convenient. With 25 megabytes of internal memory, you don't need a memory card to get started


Rugged

Olympus Stylus 770 SW

Specs

7.1 mp; 3x optical, 5x digital zoom; 2.5" LCD screen; 5.5 oz. olympus.com; $380

pros

Incredibly rugged: water-, freeze-, crush-, and shockproof; has a built-in nanometer for recording diving depths; lens remains flush with the body when turned on, making it very streamlined

cons

Smaller screen than other ultracompacts; no optical viewfinder—a problem on bright, sunny days

Summary

When they say water- and shockproof, they mean it! This is the total road warrior's camera—perfect for that trip to Mount Kilimanjaro or for tackling the rapids on the Nantahala River

Wide-Angle

Kodak Easyshare V705

Specs

7.1 mp; 5x optical, 4x digital zoom; 2.5" LCD screen; 4.4 oz. kodak.com; $350

pros

Having two lenses means this camera can go from zoomed-in detail shots to unbelievably wide ones; sharp colors; nifty panorama capability enables you to merge three shots; great for groups, parties, and landscapes; inexpensive

cons

No optical viewfinder; some distortion on the edges of images when lens is used at its widest

Summary

Easyshare lives up to its name, with by far the best "getting started" instructions of all the cameras tested; great for vistas and panoramas, such as sunset in the Grand Canyon


All-Around

Panasonic Lumix LX2

Specs

10.2 mp; 4x optical zoom with 33 mm focal length; 2.8" LCD screen; 6.56 oz. panasonic.com; $500

pros

This 10-megapixel camera has more power than most point-and-shoots. Lots of manual functions allow photo buffs to override automatic settings

cons

No optical viewfinder; delayed action, especially in low light; costs a little more than many point-and-shoots

Summary

A logical step up from an ultracompact, this camera is packed with professional-level features but still fits into a pocket

Entry-Level DSLR

Nikon D40

Specs

6.1 mp; 3x optical zoom; 2.5" LCD screen; 16 oz. nikon.com; $600

pros

An affordable introduction to digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras; switching from auto to manual is very easy; logical interface; vivid colors; bright screen for viewing photos

cons

Though compact for a DSLR, this camera will not fit into any pocket; only 6.1 megapixels means poorer image quality than others in its category

Summary

Ideal for someone who wants to graduate from point-and-shoot to DSLR; shares lenses with the Nikon D200 if you want to upgrade eventually


Pro-Level DSLR

Canon EOS 1D Mark II N

Specs

8.2 mp; 10–600 mm lens length; 2.5" LCD screen; 43.2 oz. canon.com; $4,000

pros

Every click and button on this behemoth is thoughtfully placed for those who make their living taking pictures and can't afford to miss a shot. Convenient vertical grip with an extra shutter button

cons

Weighing almost three pounds and priced at $4,000, this model is not for the weekend photographer; lenses ($200–$4,000) and camera body ($4,000) come separately

Summary

A pleasure to test, this camera is worth the splurge for those who want some serious power and speed—easily the fastest one we tested

Updated Classic

Leica M8

Specs

10.3 mp; 35 mm lens length; 2.5" LCD screen; 19.2 oz. leica.com; $4,800

pros

This understated, quiet camera will appeal to those who learned 35 mm photography and are slow to get on the digital bandwagon

cons

The price. Turns out you pay a lot for the vintage feel and fewer features; must know basics of photography to use; no auto focus; non-zooming lens; rangefinder takes some getting used to

Summary

It's back to the future with this retro-inspired digital camera. The M8 lives up to Leica's excellent reputation among photographers—and its cult following. Try it out at a camera shop before buying

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