Just Shoot Me

From maximum megapixels to pocket-size convenience, Frank Vizard breaks down the best digital cameras for every type of photographer.

Heading into an unexplored jungle might seem easier than choosing a digital camera to record the adventure. Hundreds of models are available, ranging from sophisticated multilens cameras to cell phones that can take quick snapshots. So we funneled the vast number of choices through a small filter and separated them into categories defined by four types of photographers: the Semipro, who goes to great lengths for the perfect picture; the Enthusiast, who demands superior images without the baggage of multiple lenses; the Quick Shooter, who wants an excellent camera that’s easy to use and fits into any pocket; and the Communicator, who wants an all-in-one cell phone capable of taking quality photos and e-mailing them instantly. The profiles may be general, but the camera selections are specific. Now all you have to do is get people to say "cheese."

The Semipro

OUR PICK If you’re looking for lightning-fast power-up and the ability to shoot five frames per second, the Nikon D200 is the digital camera to put in your holster. Like its film-based single-lens-reflex (SLR) predecessors, the D200 is compatible with a full range of Nikon lenses. Even if you like to shoot manually, you can fall back on the autoexposure for difficult lighting situations—the metering system compares the current lighting with an onboard database of 30,000 images to achieve the best result. If you’re not certain you have the shot, the camera’s display allows you to magnify the image 400 percent so you can inspect fine details. The D200 also has a battery-power management system, so expect to take a staggering 1,800 pictures before having to recharge.

Nikon D200
Resolution 10.2 megapixels
Display 2.5-inch LCD
Price $1,700
nikondigital.com

TOP COMPETITORS

Olympus Evolt E-330
Resolution 7.5 megapixels
Display 2.5 inches
Price $1,000
Best Features Dual card slots for extra memory; auto dust-protection system

Sony DSLR-A100
Resolution 10.2 megapixels
Display 2.5 inches
Price $1,000
Best Features Begins focusing when eye hits eyepiece; compatible with Minolta film lenses

The Enthusiast

OUR PICK The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 packs the key features of digital SLRs into an efficient one-piece package, allowing you to tackle just about any photographic challenge without having to carry extra lenses. It features high—10.1-megapixel—resolution and a Leica 12x optical zoom lens. The small size doesn’t mean skimping on useful technology, such as an image stabilizer that compensates for moving subjects to reduce blurriness. The display flips out and rotates 180 degrees, making it easier to shoot pictures from low and high angles or to take a self-portrait. You can also record short video clips in the wide-screen format, used for Hollywood movies.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
Resolution 10.1 megapixels
Display 2-inch LCD
Price $650
panasonic.com

TOP COMPETITORS

Canon Powershot S3 IS
Resolution 6 megapixels
Display 2 inches
Price $400
Best Features Stationary, pan, and instant-stabilization modes; 12x optical zoom

Samsung NV10
Resolution 10.1 megapixels
Display 2.5 inches
Price $400
Best Features Touch pad LCD control; shake compensation; less than one-inch-thick body

The Quick Shooter

OUR PICK Like many cameras in its pocket-size class, the Kodak EasyShare V705 offers a wealth of features in a slim profile that’s less than one inch thick. Unlike all the others, the V705 sports dual lenses: a 39–117mm optical zoom and a 23mm ultrawide-angle—ideal for shooting groups or landscapes. There’s also a panorama mode that lets you seamlessly stitch together three pictures for a 180-degree shot. The 7.1-megapixel V705 captures video using image-stabilization technology, reducing the effects of camera shake. (The 32 MB memory card is upgradable to allow for longer clips.) Despite its diminutive proportions, the camera’s display is a generous 2.5 inches. An optional docking station provides one-touch connectivity to a computer and recharges the lithium-ion batteries.

Kodak EasyShare V705
Resolution 7.1 megapixels
Display 2.5-inch LCD
Price $350
kodak.com

TOP COMPETITORS

Nikon Coolpix S6
Resolution 6 megapixels
Display 3 inches
Price $350
Best Features Efficient camera functions; Wi-Fi; voice memo (attaches audio descriptions to pictures)

Canon Powershot SD700 IS
Resolution 6 megapixels
Display 2.5 inches
Price $400
Best Features Wide-screen pictures; image stabilization

The Communicator

OUR PICK For a portable gadget that does it all, you can’t do much better than the Nokia N93 phone. Granted, with 3.2 megapixels of resolution you won’t be hanging large prints on your wall, but the N93 is perfect for sending pictures via the Internet and viewing them on a computer. Image quality is superior thanks to a Carl Zeiss lens. The 2.4-inch display, with its 160-degree viewing angle, makes composing shots easy. Rotate the screen to a horizontal position and the keypad becomes a pistol grip with thumb-operated camera controls. The N93 also shoots video at a filmlike 30 frames per second (up to one-hour clips). Plus you can browse the Web, listen to digital music files, and tune in to FM radio stations.

Nokia N93
Resolution 3.2 megapixels
Display 2.4-inch LCD
Price $700
nokiausa.com

TOP COMPETITORS

Sony Ericsson K790
Resolution 3.2 megapixels
Display 2 inches
Price $350
Best Features Sliding lens cover that switches between phone and camera; image stabilization; video

Samsung SCH-A990
Resolution 3.2 megapixels
Display 2 inches
Price $350
Best Features Wireless broadband Internet connection; business-card scanner