How do digital cameras fare? We find out by taking pictures

Digital cameras, whether professional-grade or point-and-shoot, have surpassed conventional film cameras in functionality. At the high end, digital is catching up with film in quality and price.

Digital cameras, whether professional-grade or point-and-shoot, have surpassed conventional film cameras in functionality. At the high end, digital is catching up with film in quality and price.But professional-grade cameras still have significant drawbacks that have frustrated users from the beginning: short battery life, slow image processing, and confusing software and hardware interfaces.To judge the overall quality of 10 leading digital cameras, the GCN Lab magnified and scrutinized their output on three categories of subjects in Adobe Photoshop 6.0. The lab staff also printed out all the images for close study.As a further measure of quality, I solicited GCN graphic artist Michael J. Bechetti's perspective on which pictures would need the least Photoshop color correction for publication.Finally, I looked at the convenience of each camera'its media choices and battery life, how easily it connected to a PC and how simple it was to operate.The first test pictures were of a colorful red hibiscus flower on a sunny patio. Although this image presented no challenge at all to the professional cameras, which showed identical output, it did stump the point-and-shoot cameras.A second, tougher test was accurately recording skin texture and color under tricky lighting. I tested point-and-shoot cameras by photographing Laura Currey, a GCN marketing specialist, partly in shade with the light at an angle and using fill flash.I tested each professional camera by photographing Currey in complete shade with skylight behind the camera.A third battery of so-called neutral color tests showed each camera's color fidelity in a white, dark or gray portion of each picture.Knowing the percentages of cyan, magenta and yellow in a neutral area of an image helps a graphic artist tune the color using graphics software with the necessary controls.In general, for proper color rendition, an image should contain equal amounts of yellow and magenta, with cyan about 4 percent more. Note that the CYM percentages for the cameras don't add up to 100 percent because each color is measured separately (see charts, pages and ).The lab's subject for the neutral color test was challenging: a bowl of fruit against a white backdrop under hard-to-render fluorescent lighting. For each camera, I took readings of three areas of the fruit image and averaged them.It might seem logical that the higher a camera's resolution'expressed in millions of pixels, or megapixels'the better the image. But that wasn't always the case.Some high-resolution cameras in the review produced lower-quality pictures than others with fewer megapixels.Why? Light sensitivity is a big factor. Digital cameras have a poor track record under low lighting because the light-sensitive surface, either a charge-coupled device or a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor chip'cannot process an image with too little illumination. Recent advances have made CCD and CMOS chips somewhat more light-sensitive, however.Professional-grade cameras are distinguished from the point-and-shoot variety mainly by higher resolution. They start at more than 3 megapixals and can emulate up to 5 megapixels.They also have interchangeable lenses with aperture controls so you can control depth of field. The aperture setting is half of what determines how much light enters the lens. Professional cameras also let you control the shutter speed, the other variable that affects the amount of light admitted into the camera.Professional cameras also feature extensive, if generally confusing, built-in software controls for sorting, sizing and manipulating images.Keep in mind that the large files they produce can swamp a PC used to process them unless there's plenty of RAM'say, in the 256M to 512M range.Priced without a lens at $2,400, the was by far the best buy in the professional category and my Reviewer's Choice for professional cameras. Although I would have liked to test a high-end Kodak or Nikon camera, neither company chose to submit professional cameras for the review. The S1 Pro would have given them a run for their money.The 3.54-megapixel, single-lens-reflex FinePix S1 Pro is compatible with most Nikon F-mount lenses and can accept either CompactFlash or SmartMedia memory add-ons.The interface is logical and simple, and the camera's weight and shape are satisfying. The only negative I observed was that images tended toward yellow in poor lighting.The FinePix scored highest in the neutral color test and the skin tone test. In the latter, it far surpassed the other two professional cameras for rich color and texture.Much of the Fuji's ability to capture high-quality images could be attributed to its 3.54-megapixel CCD, capable of emulating up to 3,024- by 2,016-pixel resolution.It was tough to tell the Fuji S1's pictures from those of the . The E-10 had 4 megapixels and 2,240-by-1,680 resolution. Its depth of field was slightly better, whereas the Fuji produced slightly crisper and more textured fruit images.These merits and a relatively low $1,300 price tag earned the Olympus Camedia E-10 the Bang for the Buck designation in the professional category.Conversely, it was easy to tell the Fuji pictures apart from the Olympus ones in the skin tone test. Although the Olympus came in second, its bright and shadowed contrast levels facial segmentation distorted skin tone and texture. As a result, I found the Fuji's output truer to life.The E-10 is not a single-lens-reflex camera, and it could not accept other lenses. That makes it less versatile than the Fuji, which can do short-distance as well as telephoto work. Furthermore, the Olympus controls were nowhere near as simple or logically constructed as those of the Fuji. That made it harder to change settings such as aperture size or shutter speed.Like the Fuji, the Olympus could accept either CompactFlash or SmartMedia.The accepted only CompactFlash and required a SCSI connection to a PC. A fast SCSI connection seemed pointless, however, because the in-camera processing rate was so slow.The Dimage itself was enormous at 2 pounds, 13 ounces. It also chewed up batteries faster than any of the other cameras.It went through about eight AA batteries per day taking an average of 15 superfine-resolution pictures and processing them on the camera for about 10 minutes each. That amounted to about eight batteries for 150 minutes of use, which was twice the consumption rate of the Fuji or the Olympus and four times that of the point-and-shoot cameras.The Minolta processed images so slowly, especially in superfine mode, that it took on average eight to 10 minutes to see an image on the camera's LCD.All the other cameras in the review took less than a minute to generate an image on the LCD even at highest resolution.Now let's move to the point-and-shoot contenders.Overall, the $300 created the most textured and color-perfect images in this category. It had the best depth of field in good lighting. The PDR-M61 also came in first in the skin tone test.The 2.3-megapixel PDR-M61 not only deserved the Reviewer's Choice designation for its accurate emulation of skin tones, even in low lighting, but its $300 price also merited a Bang for the Buck honor.It did feel flimsy and lacked crosshairs for accurate viewfinder framing, however. The zoom control was in an awkward spot where it could be hit accidentally, and the viewfinder was a bit obstructed by the lens.The PDR-M61 used SmartMedia memory only. I would have preferred to see it pop up as plug-and-play removable storage under Microsoft Windows 2000. Nevertheless, compared with other cameras in the review, it was easy to use.The $500 was nearly identical in format and color capability, but with a resolution of 3.3 megapixels. Thanks to its extra pixels, the camera did a better job of rendering texture but not as well rendering the red hibiscus.Like its brother, the PDR-M65 required software to load images and accepted only SmartMedia. For the extra $200, I would have liked to see an additional port for CompactFlash, which has advantages over SmartMedia, such as integration with firmware to speed image processing.Another Reviewer's Choice, the $500, 2.2-megapixel , proved that a sub-3-megapixel camera could indeed take great pictures. It came with 8M of internal memory and had an expansion slot for CompactFlash cards. But it wasn't perfect.Glare from the sun reflecting off windows of a building behind our human subject produced a magenta skin tint. No other camera in the review was fooled by the sun's reflection.Photographing the red hibiscus in bright sunlight, the DX3600's lower resolution manifested itself in colors that bled together. Nevertheless, I was impressed by its superb optical sharpness and vibrant color.Kodak's image software could use more sophistication instead of playful icons and childlike text, which made the camera seem toylike. The software was complex and took a long time'about five minutes'to load.All the images automatically went into a folder, leaving the user with little control over the data.On the plus side, the Kodak software did indicate battery life, which is a guessing game with most digital cameras.The second-best scorer on the neutral color test was the , which incidentally scored lowest on the flower test.This $200, easy-to-use, 2.1-megapixel camera accepted only SmartMedia. It was the easiest in the review to connect to a PC. Under Win 2000, it plugged into the Universal Serial Bus port and immediately popped up on-screen as a removable storage device with device drivers.Like the Toshiba PDR-M61, the Fuji FinePix 2300 merited a Bang for the Buck designation. It was somewhat awkward to use, however, because the LCD screen tended to wind up pressed against the user's nose.The $450 made indoor shots too dark and outdoor shots too bright. It felt like a professional camera, but at $450 for only 2.1 megapixels it was priced too high for its output quality. It too uses only SmartMedia cards.It was, however, as easy to connect to a PC as the Fuji FinePix 2300.The $800, 3.3-megapixel did well in the neutral color tests, but the pictures were rather dark. I noticed that the bottom left of its images looked blurred, as if somthing was misaligned.The Epson was the most expensive camera in the point-and-shoot category, and it felt that way. It had the feel and heft of a professional camera. It took consistently good pictures and, like the Kodak and the Minolta, used CompactFlash media only. Unlike the Kodak, the Epson was easy and fast to install with a PC. Win 2000 saw it as a removable drive.The reproduced the fruit bowl setup accurately, if a bit on the dark side. But the skin tone test separated the Minolta from the rest of the point-and-shoot devices. Flesh took on a distinctly orange tint.The Minolta uses CompactFlash media and connected easily to a PC as a removable drive. Like the Toshiba cameras but unlike the other cameras, it had no crosshairs and showed an obstructed view through the viewfinder.
Lab tests 10 cameras for color fidelity, resolution and more





















5254











Fisheye to wide angle













FujiFilm FinePix S1 Pro







Makes sense








Olympus Camedia
E-10















Minolta Dimage RD3000









Texture, perspective



Toshiba PDR-M61







Toshiba PDR-M65





Kodak DX3600













FujiFilm FinePix 2300







Olympus C-2040 Zoom



Epson Photo PC 3100Z



Quick on the draw



Minolta Dimage 2330



NEXT STORY: CALENDAR

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.