Saturday, September 09, 2006

Best Digital Cameras For Women

Best Digital Cameras For Women
We Want Form & Function

by: Naomi Graychase
CE Lifestyles, August 2005

Choosing the right digital camera can feel a lot like choosing the right car--part beauty pageant, part serious quest for the right set of features to fit your budget. Fortunately, when you set out to buy the perfect camera, you don’t have to deal with pushy sales managers or get approved for financing. You do, however, have to wade through a market that’s become flooded with a variety of cameras offering a dizzying array of features and styles. So, what’s a girl to do?

First, you’ll want to decide two important things: How much you can spend, and what you’ll use your camera for. Once you have a general idea of your budget, and a sense of whether you’ll be taking snapshots or looking to adjust your own aperture settings, ask yourself a few lifestyle questions. Do you want to be able to hand your camera to someone on vacation without also handing her the manual? Can your kids, co-workers, or technologically impaired spouse take photos with it? Will your camera feel like a brick or a cell phone in your purse? What if you want to shoot your daughter in action at her soccer game? Are you frequently holding a baby, an umbrella, or other things, which make it important that you be able to navigate menus and shoot photos using only one hand? Are you likely to drop your camera in the pool or shoot lots of photos in the rain? (See the “Underwater Action” sidebar.)

If, like most women, you primarily want to take snapshots, and you want to spend $200 or less, you’ll sacrifice some quality and some features and you may have to make some concessions when it comes to size. Your $150 camera is more likely to remind you of a minivan than a Maserati, but it will still be useful. If you’re willing to spend a little more, Canon, Kodak, Kyocera, and Sony all make excellent cameras that hover in the $250 to $300 range. Among our favorites are the 5MP (megapixel) Canon PowerShot A95 ($299; consumer.usa.canon.com) and the 4MP Kodak EasyShare CX7430 ($279.95; www.kodak.com). (For more on budget cameras, see the “Best Buys” sidebar.)

When it comes to making decisions about resolution, we recommend 3MP or higher. If you want to enlarge your photos--for example, make prints that are 8 inches x 10 inches or larger or blow up details--look for digicams with 4MP resolution or higher. The higher the resolution, the better the quality of your images. (For more on selecting the perfect camera, see the “Fab Four Female-Friendly Features” sidebar.)

If having a slim, highly portable camera is your main objective, we recommend an ultracompact device. Our favorites are the Casio Exilim EX S100 ($299; www.casio.exilim.com) and the Canon PowerShot SD20 ($349). The 3.2MP EX S100 is about the size of a credit card and the thickness of a pack of gum, but still offers a 2-inch LCD. The SD20 is slightly smaller than a pack of cigarettes, comes in flashy colors, such as “garnet,” “Zen gray,” and “midnight blue,” but offers only a 1.5-inch LCD. If you find you rarely have two free hands, you can operate both of these cameras one-handed (although that’ll be more of a challenge for lefties).

Also leading the pack in the ultracompact category are the Panasonic Lumix FX7 ($399; www.panasonic.com/consumer_electronics) and the Canon PowerShot SD300 ($349). The 5MP Lumix FX7 prevents blurry photos by detecting jitter and automatically moving the lens to correct it and it features a 2.5-inch display, the largest LCD in this class. The 4MP PowerShot SD300 features a 2-inch LCD and an impressive 3X optical zoom.

The Miss Congeniality award goes to the 4MP Kodak EasyShare LS743 ($299). This is the camera anyone can use--children, spouses, co-workers, strangers who take your photo on vacation. It’s an excellent starter camera for someone nervous about going digital, and unlike some of the other EasyShare models, it’s also relatively pretty and petite.

If shooting high-quality action images is what you’re after, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 ($399; www.sonystyle.com) is a home run. It has it all: looks, features, and convenient size. It comes in two colors (red and silver), serves up 7.2MP resolution, and 3X optical zoom, and you can capture high-resolution shots at up to at 1.1fps (frames per second), perfect for preserving every motion of that winning goal. It also shoots high-grade MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) movies with audio and provides a 2-inch LCD. But like so many superstars, it’s also a little high-maintenance. This camera takes some getting used to, and it’s tough for beginners to fully take advantage of all its perks.

For a more user-friendly, but high-end, digicam experience, Nikon offers the Coolpix 7900 ($399; www.nikonusa.com), which was specifically designed with women in mind. New to the market, the Coolpix 7900 caters to the woman who is willing to spend a little more in order capture beautiful photographs with a sharp-looking, ultra-portable digital camera. While it isn’t the prettiest camera in the bunch--we’d give that honor to the PowerShot SD20--at 7.1MP, it’s a cut above many of its competitors. Lightweight and full-featured, the Coolpix provides cutting-edge technology, such as its built-in “D-Lighting” software, a one-button fix for overly dark photos, and software-based automatic red-eye removal. Its 2-inch LCD is the perfect size, and while it offers an exceptional level of control, you won’t have to wade three menus deep--or take a photography class--to access the best ones.

Last, but not least, for the serious photographer who wants to change lenses, zoom up to 12X, and enjoys the feel of a traditionally sized 35mm camera in her hands, we recommend three options: Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ5 ($499.95), Konica Minolta’s DiMage Z5 ($649.99; konicaminolta.us), and DiMage Z20 ($399).

Fab Four Female-Friendly Features

SIZE MATTERS
Unless you’re looking for professional-level control, the perfect camera should be as easy to slip into a purse or pocket as your cell phone. Just like buying shoes that are too small means you’ll never wear them, buying a camera that’s a little cheaper and a lot more bulky means you’ll wind up leaving it home gathering dust when you could be out capturing keepsake moments.

MAKE IT SNAPPY
Who has time to sift through three menus to find the red-eye-reduction or self-timer? The Kodak EasyShare line won the ease-of-use category hands down. First timers or those who don’t want to waste any precious time getting to know their camera will do well with these picks.

EXPRESS YOURSELF
While looks aren’t everything, you should indulge your sense of style. Sleek looks, slim designs, and enticing colors all enhance the joy of going digital. Liz Lange and Nikon even offer a co-branded camera (Coolpix 3200; $399.95; www.coolpix101.com/main.html?section=real_lifeography&topic=capture_glow) designed by Liz herself. (All proceeds benefit a national children’s charity.)

BIG SCREEN
Squinting isn’t a good look in photos, and it isn’t a good look for the one behind the camera either. Some stylishly small cameras entice you with their pixie-sized good looks, but the trade-off is a screen the size of a postage stamp. Buyer beware, especially if you’re far-sighted.

Underwater Action


The submersible Pentax Optio WP ($400; www.pentaximaging.com) features a rust-resistant metal exterior, rubber sealants, and lens protection that lets you shoot in the rain, in the snow--or even in up to five feet of water. With 5MP, a 3X optical zoom lens and a 2-inch low-reflection monitor, you don’t have to sacrifice quality for durability, which makes it perfect for the adventurous, aquatic, or just plain clumsy shutterbug and her family.


Top Five Cameras For Women

These are not your mother’s cameras. They can shoot video, record audio, go underwater, and “de-light” (which we found delightful). We tested 13 cameras from market leaders Canon, Sony, and Kodak, as well as strong contenders Casio, Nikon, Panasonic, and Konica Minolta. It was tough to choose, but these are our five pic picks for women.

Nikon Coolpix 7900
$399; www.nikon.com
High-tech, high-resolution, ultra-portable, and handsome to boot. This 7.1MP camera will please point-and-shooters and more finicky photographers, too.


Casio Exilim EX S100
$299; www.casio.com
So slim it could almost fit in your wallet, and it won’t break the bank to buy one. The 2-inch LCD is the jewel in this pretty camera’s crown.


Canon PowerShot A95
$299; www.canon.com
An affordable, easy-to-use 5MP camera. Its only downside is its super-size.


Kodak EasyShare LS743
$299; www.kodak.com
For nervous beginners, or those with no time to waste learning the ropes, this 5MP beauty is the best camera you can buy for under $300.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7
$399; www.panasonic.com
Easy on the eyes in more ways than one, this gorgeous ultracompact boasts the largest LCD in its class (2.5 inch), 5MP resolution, and a rapid-fire shutter speed.




BEST BUYS

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how much are you willing to pay for the camera that takes it? If finding a high-quality camera for less than $300 is your goal, we recommend these five cameras: Canon PowerShot A95 ($299), Casio Exilim EX S100 ($299.99), Kodak EasyShare LS743 ($299), Kodak EasyShare CX7530 ($299), and Kodak EasyShare CX7430 ($279.95). Of these five, the Casio Exilim is the sleekest and slimmest; the Canon PowerShot A95 is the chunkiest, but the most fully featured; and the PowerShot A95 and Kodak EasyShare CX7530 are the only cameras we tested that offer 5MP with a price tag of $300 or less.



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