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A Voyeur's DreamCam

minoltaThe Minolta Dimage EX1500 Zoom costs more than the others and will take you longer to learn to use, but it has one feature no other digital camera in the world (that I know of) offers. The entire lens assembly can be detached from the camera body and placed in any imaginable position you desire. A 5-foot-long optional cable allows you to hold the LCD Monitor in a comfortable position while poking the lens around a corner, over a fence or even into a hole in the ground. I found it great for cat photography; the small hand-held lens part becomes very non-threatening and allows for some unusual angles. It does have a few quirks: the lens cuts slightly into the optical viewfinder's field of view at its widest setting, you have to open the battery compartment to insert or remove the memory card, and its LCD monitor is jerky when you move the camera to frame your scenes- all annoying but non- fatal. With a 3X optical zoom, f-3.5 lens, 1/4000 sec shutter speed, 5 flash modes, a burst rate of up to 7.5 frames per second at high resolution, and its detachable lens feature, this is a one-of-a-kind digicam. About $550 street.

The Scrunch Eliminator

canonThe Canon PowerShot A50 Zoom has a unique optical 2.5X zoom which, at its widest setting, is the equivalent of a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. Although most people crave more telephoto power, it's the wide end of the zoom that produces the most visually interesting shots- with great depth of field and dramatic spatial relationships between objects in the foreground and background. You can also get more of the crowd into the picture at close quarters without having them scrunch together. In its miniature brushed duraluminium case, it looks like it was designed not only to see, but to be seen. It has an f-2.6 lens, shutter speeds from 2 sec to 1/750 sec, 4 flash modes, and is able to capture uncompressed images if you need the highest quality. It has an interesting feature that forces the camera to shoot at the slowest speed commensurate with good exposure which, among other things, will let you pan with a moving subject or object to keep them sharp while blurring the background. If you choose this digicam, plan on spending another $80 or so for a kit which contains a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery and a charger/AC power combination. because it comes only with a disposable battery. About $325 street.

Hi Res and Smokin' Fast

toshibaThe Toshiba PDR-M4 is the only 2.1 MegaPixel digicam in this group. Alas, it doesn't have an optical zoom lens but it does have 2X digital one (which, unfortunately, lowers resolution when used). Nevertheless it's a speed demon: Two seconds from power-on to ready, less than a second between shots, a burst-rate -at its highest resolution- of 4 shots in 2 seconds, and some super-slow shutter speeds (up to 8 seconds) to allow great, special-effects night photography. It's a mini camera (the most compact of the group) and if you have big hands you'll have to adjust somewhat, but that's a small price to pay for the quality of images you'll get. The camera includes a Lithium-Ion battery which can be charged in-camera or with an optional external charger. (Put a spare battery on your shopping list, though, to have as a back-up.) With an aperture of f-3.2 or f-8, a normal shutter speed range of between 1/4 sec and 1/1000 sec, 4" macro capabilities, 5 flash modes, NTSC video out and an 8MB SmartMedia memory card included, this is quite a package for the price. It comes with both serial and USB. If you need super-high resolution and speed, and can forego the zoom lens, this little jewel could be a good choice. About $400 street.


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