Picture Perfect: Digital Cameras

Originally published in Potentials magazine, April 2007

This year, like last year, digital cameras remain one of the most popular incentive categories. They allow recipients to capture precious family and vacation memories, and they can even be used on the job. We've rounded up a handful of the newest digicams available in four popular categories—budget, ultra-compact, midrange and digital SLR (dSLR)—for you to focus on as you create upcoming merchandise programs.

Top of the Line

Like their film-based predecessors, dSLR cameras allow users to swap lenses depending on the shooting situations. They also have bigger image sensors than typical digital cameras, resulting in sharper photos. As their prices have plummeted, dSLRs have become increasingly popular, so if you have employees who are true photo buffs, consider these brand-new offerings.

Nikon D40x
The successor to Nikon's low-cost D40 dSLR, the D40x bumps up the resolution from 6.1 megapixels to 10.2 megapixels, boosts the burst mode's speed from 2.5fps to 3fps and improves ISO sensitivity from 200-1600 to 100-1600. A new retouch function automatically corrects red-eye and lets you trim photos or add creative effects in-camera. While you can buy the D40x's body alone, Nikon has also introduced a new 18-55mm lens to complement the camera.
$729.95 (body)
$799.95 (body plus 18-55mm lens)

Olympus E-volt E-410
Olympus has led the charge to bring technology to dSLRs that lets users frame shots via LCD rather than solely through the viewfinder. Its latest E-volt model uses a 2.5-inch Live View LCD with a 176-degree viewing angle to give the widest view for shooting possible. The 10-megapixel E-volt E-410 also packs a dust-reduction system to shake dust off the image sensor when the camera is powered on. This model weighs in at just 13.4 ounces. Available in May.
$699 (body)
$799 (body plus 14-42mm lens)
$899 (body plus 14-42mm and 40-150 lenses)

Stylish Shooters

Some of the top camera models on the market double as attractive accessories. Ultracompact cameras are perfect for slipping into a purse or pocket and often come in fashionable colors. How small are they? Under five ounces and an inch thick or less.

Fujifilm FinePix Z5fd
The FinePix Z5fd may be one of the less-expensive ultracompacts around, but it's also one of the most fashion-forward, coming in pink, brown and silver color choices. Its 6-megapixel resolution, 3x zoom and 2.5-inch LCD are typical for its class, but the Z5fd also delivers noteworthy features like a dual-shot mode that takes two simultaneous images—one with flash and the other without—and a blog mode where the camera automatically saves a smaller-size image ready for immediate upload to the Internet.

Pentax Optio T30
There are a number of ultra-compact cameras as thin (0.75 inches) and light (4.8 ounces with battery and flash memory installed) as Pentax's Optio T30, but this svelte shooter brings a unique feature to the table. In addition to being a sizeable screen for framing shots, its 3-inch LCD adds touch-screen functionality, which allows recipients to navigate easily through images, draw on photos or use as a memo pad. The T30 also comes with 7.1-megapixel resolution and a 3x zoom lens.
Available through Premco Associates

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1
Sony is the latest camera company to embrace the wireless world with the Cyber-shot DSC-G1, which includes built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi networking capabilities. In addition to being able to wirelessly transfer images from the camera to a PC, DSC-G1 users can send photos to one another's cameras. The 6-megapixel device also features a large 3.5-inch LCD with a resolution four times that of the average digital camera, as well as 2GB of internal storage to store up to 600 shots at the highest resolution. All of this comes in a body that's a mere one inch thick.

Midrange Mavens

Thought to be a dying segment of the digital camera industry with the plunging prices of dSLRs, midrange units that boast more advanced features than point-and-shoot cameras are staging a bit of a comeback this year. With big zoom lenses and plenty of manual controls, these models should satisfy shutterbugs who don't need all the bells and whistles of a dSLR.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
The latest in Sony's Cyber-shot H series, the 8.1-megapixel DSC-H9 is equipped with a huge 15x zoom lens with optical image stabilization, as well as a 3-inch LCD that tilts up to let you view a shot from a low angle. It also comes with an electronic viewfinder for those who like to frame their photos the old-school way. Other unique features include a NightShot infrared system for shooting in unlit conditions and a sports mode that helps you capture fast-moving subjects like young children. Available in mid-May.

Olympus SP-550UZ
The SP-550UZ holds the distinction of having the biggest zoom currently available—18x. To reduce the blurring effects of shaking that is inevitable when holding such a big lens, the SP-550UZ uses both optical and digital image stabilization. The 7.1-megapixel camera can grab up to 15 shots per second, capturing five shots while the shutter button is being pressed. A 2.5-inch LCD and electronic viewfinder give shooters a choice for framing shots.

Low Price, High Quality

Offering a budget camera no longer means rewarding staff with a low-resolution, zoom-lens-lacking, throwaway device. For under $200, low-cost digicams now feature at least five megapixels of resolution, a 3x zoom lens, decently sized LCDs and video-capture capabilities.

Nikon Coolpix L12
Like the PowerShot A550, the Coolpix L12 offers 7.1 megapixels of resolution, enough to make super-sharp prints at large sizes like 11x17 inches. Along with a 3x zoom lens, the camera offers a large 2.5-inch LCD and ISO sensitivity up to 1600 for better low-light shooting. It also has trademark Coolpix technologies like face-priority autofocus and D-lighting to compensate for poor lighting conditions.

Canon PowerShot A550
While the PowerShot A550's LCD is a little on the small side at 2 inches, this inexpensive shooter makes up for it with 7.1-megapixel resolution and a longer-than-usual 4x zoom lens. Like more expensive cameras, the A550 can capture VGA-quality video clips at 30 frames per second (fps), and even retains an optical viewfinder for those who aren't comfortable framing shots with a LCD screen.

On the hunt for more great gear? Click here to read about how sexy watches are making a comeback.

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