Plugged In: Digital Cameras Defined
Digital photography is becoming a vast and complex world. With everything from simple point-and-shoot and totally automatic digicams, to serious (and seriously expensive) professional models, itís easy to get confused. How many megapixels is enough? How much control over f/stops and aperture settings do I need? How much storage do I need and in what format? How much should I spend?

First, figure out your needs. Do you want to create art or just shoot snapshots? Or is it somewhere in between? These three cameras fall in the enthusiast-to-professional category. Each offers features that will satisfy not only the point-and-shooter, but those who want more control. We test drove these cameras from Amsterdam to the Pacific Northwest.

FUJIFILM Finepix s5000
We wanted high performance made simple. The FinePix S5000 (pictured above left) was the perfect fit. It feels good in the hand, it offers a ton of features, delivers crisp high-resolution pictures, and it's easy to operate. It uses Fujifilm's proprietary Super CCD HR (High Resolution) sensor, offering 3.1 million effective pixels for vivid images. Its 10x optical zoom and 2.2x digital zoom (at 1280 x 960 pixels), let us pull in distant subjects with ease. We loved its traditional styling, pre-programmed options, and full manual controls for the artful shots we can't resist taking.

The camera offers a range of focus systems including TTL contrast multi-zone auto, center point auto, focus lock, continuous auto focus (C-AF), manual focus, and AF-assist illuminator. Sounds intimidating, but it's all very effective for various shots. Plus, shutter speed, aperture range and white balance can be manipulated with great results.

We discovered by accident the S5000s movie recording with sound (it's amazing what happens when you start pushing buttons). It captures QVGA digital video at 30 frames per second, with sound, allowing you to create short clips (which can easily be burned onto a CD-ROM for storage using the ImageMixer VCD for FinePix software included with the camera.

The FinePix S5000 package includes four AA alkaline batteries, a 16MB xD-Picture Cardô (upgrade immediately to 128 MB), USB cable, AV cable, shoulder strap, FinePix Viewer and ImageMixer VCD for FinePix software.

www,fujifilm.com; $499.99

NIKON coolpix 5400
This compact, lightweight digital camera serves up 5.1 megapixels and a powerful 4x zoom lens. We loved its image quality, it was reasonably easy to use, and it offered great flexibility between point-and-shoot features and total control.

The 5400 readout offers good visibility even during daylight photography thanks to its new Vari-angle LCD monitor. The 5400ís Mode dial allows users to directly select exposure modes and set various shooting parameters, and works in conjunction with the Command dial and the center-click Multi selector. Theoretically it should simplify operation, but we had a little trouble getting used to its functionality. It offers five-area auto-focus for easy photo composition, which we liked.

www.nikonusa.com; $699.99

Olympus c-5000 Zoom
The C-5000 Zoom offers photographers a 5 megapixel camera that updates their earlier 4 megapixel C-4000 Zoom. The C-5000 Zoom is a tight package with excellent image quality, relative ease of use and a good price. It lacks a few of the details that the C-4000 boasted, but in all itís a camera that is able to handle nearly any exposure situation.

The C-5000 is more in the category of an easily stowed point-and-shoot, but with advanced exposure, focus and metering modes for more skilled photographers. It also comes with a wireless remote control (handy for self-portraits). The downside is the proprietary batteries that are required (no dropping in AAs in an emergency). It isnít the most beautiful camera in the world, but it takes great pictures.

www.olympus.com; $339


Technophile Don Campbell lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo by Renata Kosina