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Picture That!

Eight boundary-busting digital cameras hit the market with features that include ultra-zooms, low-light sensitivity, better flexibility, new connectivity choices, superior durability and even 3-D images
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 4)

When we see ads for weather-resistant cameras, most of us think about underwater shots, and that’s about it. While today’s rugged camera models are fine for tackling chlorinated conditions, they work in many other situations that would quickly turn your ordinary camera into a digital paperweight. Seaside sand, for example, is more of a threat to a standard camera than a dunk in the drink, but no threat to a weatherproof model.

Want pictures of a family snowball fight, or your mind-boggling ski run? A rugged camera is able to resist both melting snow and freezing temperatures. And let us not forget the fumble-fingered of all ages. If you can hand a camera to your kids and let them enjoy snapping away without having your stomach clench when it happens to fall, that’s a win for everybody.

The Pentax Optio W90 is a fine choice among tough cameras—a bit more compact and lightweight than many competitors, with a unique close-up feature I find genuinely useful. As for iron man credentials, we’re talking waterproof to 20 feet (no scuba diving, but fine for snorkeling), shockproof against a four-foot drop, dustproof and coldproof to 140 F. You get 12.1-megapixel resolution for stills and 720p high-def video, as well as special underwater still and movie modes that adjust for lighting conditions when submerged. The 5x zoom is a decent range for a small (4.2 x 2.3 x 1.0 inch, 5.1 oz) camera, and while manual controls are limited, you do get a selection of Scene Modes that tailor the camera to varied conditions (portraits, high-contrast surf and snow, even shooting text pages).

The extra bit of goodness I alluded to earlier is tied to one of these special modes called Digital Microscope. Lots of cameras have a close-up macro mode but, when they get really close to a subject, you block out the illumination in the camera’s shadow, preventing a decent photo. The W90 has three little LED lights arrayed around the lens that let you take finely detailed close-ups of objects as small as a postage stamp—a fine feature for collectors, eBay sellers, or anyone who’d like to get up close and personal with a ladybug.


Samsung SH100

Sharing your digital pictures usually requires plugging the camera into a computer, transferring files to the hard drive, then uploading to an online photo site or editing them to get the file size down and sending them via e-mail. The Samsung SH100, though, lets you handle the task computer-free thanks to built-in wireless networking. And in a new twist on the Wi-Fi camera concept, those with an Android cell phone will enjoy unprecedented remote control capability with the SH100.

The Wi-Fi system lets the camera connect even to password protected wireless networks, allowing direct e-mail and photo uploading. The camera automatically resizes the images before sending them, so you don’t waste your time (or your battery power) trying to send full-resolution photos. The system currently supports uploading photos to Picasa, Facebook and Samsung’s own photo site, and videos to YouTube. You can save recipient e-mail addresses in the camera memory, so you don’t have to tap out lengthy instructions each time you send grandma another snapshot.

There is an annoying wrinkle in the upload process when it comes to public Wi-Fi networks like those found in hotels and Starbucks. These require you to accept a legal agreement before logging in, which is no big deal for a computer with a browser, but a potential deal-breaker for a camera without one. Samsung’s workaround is support for Boingo, a national subscription network of Wi-Fi providers that runs $8 a month.

The wireless remote control app for Android phones is very clever, and very practical. You can look at the phone screen and see what the camera is seeing, making it possible to line up self-portraits and group shots perfectly. Not happy with the way a shot’s framed? Use the phone to zoom the camera lens.

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