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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013
Point-and-shoot cameras that focus on quality
By RICK MARTIN
Casio's current flagship Exilim point-and-shoot camera, the EX-ZR1000, is an intriguing offering that targets users who want to be able to capture life's special moments quickly and in high quality. It's very speedy to start up, and shooting at 16 megapixels the image quality is great, performing well in low-light at a maximum 25,600 ISO. The camera features a 24 mm 12.5x optical zoom, but it also has wide-angle shooting modes which put it at a 14 mm or 18 mm equivalent. And it's fast, capable of shooting at 1/2,000th of a second, and there's a 30 frame-per-second burst mode too (6 fps on autofocus), which is especially handy for moving subjects.
One of the camera's primary features is the 3-inch TFT color LCD panel on the back, which can flip up 180 degrees so it can be used as a viewfinder while taking self-portraits. I mean, I'll be the first to admit smartphone pictures in the bathroom mirror are fun and all, but as technology moves on, so should we. And with the wide-angle modes, taking photos of yourself with a friend or two is really easy when the LCD screen is flipped toward you. When folded out, you can also put up the camera's kickstand (yes, it really has a kickstand!) and then use the clever hand-wave activated timer feature to have the camera shoot only when you and your friends give the hand-wave signal.
Another key feature of the EX-ZR1000 is the ring around the lens on its front, to which you can assign a number of camera functions, including zoom, shutter speed, manual focus, or even white balance.
The camera has a handy HDR (high dynamic range) mode which combines continuous shots of different exposures, which, when I had a chance to test it out, was one of my favorite features. Even when taking pictures inside, you can shoot someone standing in front of a window and not get them blacked out in silhouette. In some ways, I found the EX-ZR1000 can, at times, be a better camera for taking family photos on the fly than my DSLR. There are also a number of art features you can experiment with, if you enjoy playing around with photo filters.
Currently, the camera is available in three colors — black, white and red — and is priced at around ¥32,000. Overall, it's a solid point-and-shoot from the folks at Casio, who are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Exilim line with a special edition of the EX-ZR1000, which includes a specially designed leather case and neck strap. That version went on sale in December, priced at about ¥39,000.
Similarly, Olympus's recent addition to its micro-four-thirds lineup has a number of great features that will attract both novice photographers and more serious shutterbugs in the market for a capable portable. The E-PL5 is an interchangeable-lens camera, and comes with a 14-42 mm retractable zoom lens, as well as what Olympus calls a body cap lens, a 9 mm thick f8.0 lens that you can use when you don't want the bulk of the 14-42 mm. It has a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor, and with a maximum ISO of 25,600, the E-PL5 shoots very well in low light.
Available in either silver, black or white, the body is sleek and well crafted, and Olympus has made an extra effort to make things comfortable with a detachable external grip on the side, which can be removed via a screw located on the side. The camera also comes with a handy flash attachment.
One of the camera's main features is the retractable 3-inch LCD screen on its back, which unlike Casio's offering above, is actually a touchscreen, with anti-fingerprint coating. Use the touchscreen to both focus and activate the shutter, and you'll find that the focus speed is quite fast. The flip capabilities of the screen make it easy to take shots that are either low to the ground (someone has to take all those cat shots on the Internet, right?), or overhead shots if you're in the crowd at a concert for example.
You can also flip the screen nearly 180 degrees for use during auto-timed self-portraits, although you won't be able to do this when the included flash accessory is attached.
For photographers who might be graduating to this camera from Instagram on their smartphone, you'll find plenty of fun filters and effects on the E-PL5, including watercolor, pop art, soft focus, grainy and sepia to name just a few.
In fact, smartphone users will be pleased to hear that Olympus has made it easy for you to share images to your mobile device (smartphone or tablet) via Toshiba's FlashAir memory card and Olympus's own image-sharing mobile app. This means you'll be able to browse thumbnails of all your shots right from your phone, and if you want to move the full image to your phone memory, you just select it and save.
The E-PL5 was released this fall alongside the very similar E-PM2, which is Olympus's newest Mini offering. They're almost the same, except that the E-PL5 has a tilt screen on the back and a mode dial on top, whereas the the E-PM2 uses menus. It's currently priced at about ¥53,000, or if you want the two-lens kit — which includes a 40-150 mm f4.0-5.6 lens — you can get it for about ¥71,000.