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Traveler's Tech

We test the best portable gadgets for the streetwise
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

It's gotten to the point where I carry two bags when I travel: one for slacks, shirts and shoes, and another for power adapters and battery chargers. Can you blame me? After all, seeing the sights isn't half as much fun if you can't capture them in digital images to show off back home. Even the best trip has long in-transit stretches that would be insufferable without a laptop, a game machine and some MP3s to while away the time. And without a cell phone and trusty GPS unit in hand, I could easily eat up half the trip searching aimlessly for my hotel.

Here, then, are my favorite new digital traveling companions. If lugging all this useful tech threatens to overfill your luggage, remember, you can always buy socks and underwear when you get there.

Olympus Stylus 500
Most digital cameras get kind of cranky if you play rough with them, especially if there's water involved. Olympus, however, wants you to carry your camera whether you're singing in the rain, lounging by the pool or snowboarding down the slopes. That's why it's built the Stylus 500 with weatherproof seals and a watertight lens cover to guard against spills and splashes. That doesn't mean you can start snorkeling with the camera in tow, or drop it in the pool unscathed, for that matter. For that, you need the optional PT-026 underwater housing ($249), which will protect the Stylus 500 to a depth of 131 feet. Use the special built-in underwater exposure settings, and your heirs will inherit a perfectly exposed snapshot of that approaching great white shark.

Back on dry land, the Stylus 500 is a fine all-purpose digital model, with a 3x zoom lens and a handsome 2.5-inch display that doesn't wash out in bright sunlight, a common LCD shortcoming. The menu system is simple yet powerful, with on-screen prompts that let you leave the manual in the drawer where it belongs. A convenient file organizer lets you assign different photos to separate folders while shooting, useful for displaying or printing only selected shots later on.

$400; 5-megapixel resolution, 3.9'' x 2.2'' x 1.2'', 5.8 oz.; or 888-553-4448

Fujifilm FinePix Z1
Shooting with the Fujifilm FinePix Z1 may be slower than you'd expect, but it's not the camera's fault. It's just that every time you point the Z1 at someone, your subject will want to get his mitts on this technological fetish object, with its sleek sculptured body, sliding front lens cover and beautiful LCD display.

The Z1 is just 0.7 inches thick and weighs a scant 4.6 ounces, but the designers have managed to squeeze in a 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-109mm lens in 35mm photography) along with a generous 2.5-inch screen that fills nearly the entire back of the camera. The Z1 is available in matte black or silver, but the black finish is definitely the way to go.

That the Z1 boasts such great design doesn't mean it skimps on performance. The camera boasts 5.1-megapixel resolution (more than enough for handsome display-size prints), a zippy 0.6 seconds from power-on to picture-taking, and minimal shutter lag.

Fujifilm engineers have sweetened the deal with an innovative system that they call, for no apparent reason, Real Photo Technology. Basically, they've boosted the sensitivity of the image sensor and added advanced signal processing to let you shoot in low light without the ugly graininess you'd expect. With take-it-anywhere dimensions, sexy styling, sizable screen and unobtrusive flash-free photography, the Z1 makes an excellent traveling companion.

$450; 5.1-megapixel resolution, 3.5" x 2.2" x 0.7", 4.6 oz.; or 1-800-800-3854

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