Genius - G-Shot DV 610 review

So, you want a digital camera and an MP3 player, but you'd rather not carry two bits of kit around with you. There are several options that offer 'all in one' solutions to this dilemma. One route is to carry a phone with a camera and music player, while another is to look at devices like the G-Shot DV 610 which offer these things and a range of other extras on top.

The G-Shot DV 610, in fact, claims to offer six features; digital stills and video camera (that's two), MP3 player, Web-cam, digital voice recorder and the ability to be used as a mass storage device. All in a package measuring 100 x 70 x 30mm.

Aside from the device itself, you get a range of extras; a belt-clip-style carrying case, a lanyard for wearing the thing around your neck, a tripod for when using the G-Shot DV 610 as a Web-cam, a stereo headset, a USB cable for PC connections and AV cables for sending movies to a TV.

You also get two printed manuals and a CD with device drivers and various bits of image manipulation software for PCs (Mac users just get the drivers). The box contents are topped off by a mains power cable for charging the Lithium-Ion battery that powers the G-Shot DV 610.

There is 16MB of built-in memory but only 4MB of this is available for storage. There's also an SD card slot that supports cards up to 512MB in size. If you have a card in the slot, everything you save is automatically sent there, which is handy as it saves you having to make settings changes.

Moving between the various features is achieved using a combination of buttons and a navigation wheel on two edges of the G-Shot DV 610, with the flip-out, 2-inch LCD screen that you use for framing video and stills being used to show options. The screen swivels nicely to give a wide range of viewing angles and ways of holding the hardware.

Using the device for mass storage worked well enough, as did the Web-cam feature, though the driver provided is only for PCs and you'll need your own video-calling software. The voice recording also worked without a hitch.

Where digital video and stills were concerned, taking shots and videos was easy enough and there are switches and buttons on the camera for macro, landscape and portrait stills and for using the up-to-8x digital zoom.

There's a flash and self-timer, a small range of white balance settings, some effects (normal, black and white, sepia), and a few other settings to fiddle with. There's also a funny 'two in one' shooting mode that lets you take two snaps for opposite halves of a single image. It's rather fun.

Images can be shot at resolutions of 2976 x 2232, 2048 x 1536 and 1024 x 768 pixels, the higher resolution achieved by software interpolation. Video is captured at 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 pixels, both at 30 frames per second. Image quality was surprisingly good, certainly fine for sharing images by e-mail or using on a Web site.

Finally, we copied some MP3s from a hard drive onto an SD card and played them back. Quality through the supplied headphones was reasonable but not wonderful, while the volume level was quite good. The headphone connector is 2.5mm which means that to use a higher quality set you'll need a converter.

Olympus - mju DIGITAL 600 review

Digital cameras are so widespread these days that it can be tough to differentiate between those on offer. This is very apparent if you have between £200 and £300 to spend, as the market is awash with options.

Olympus has just added to your worries in this respect with its mju / µ (pronounced 'mew') DIGITAL 600, which, as you might gather from the latter part of the name, offers you a healthy six megapixels of image snapping capability.

For those of you fed up with silver digital cameras, you may be pleased to know that the mju DIGITAL 600 comes in (navy) blue and (ruby) red as well as (Arctic) silver. However, you are probably going to want to chose your camera on the basis of more than just its colour...

The first thing of note about the mju DIGITAL 600 in terms of operation is its massive LCD screen. The specifications rate it at measuring 6.4cm across the diagonal, though in fact the viewing area is closer to 6cm. This is still a whole lot more than we are used to in a digital camera, and it makes framing shots a dream.

There are two elements of bad news though: the LCD takes up almost all of the space on the back of the camera, leaving no room for an optical viewfinder, and the control buttons have a relatively small area in which to live, so they do feel a little squished. If you have large fingers you may find them a little difficult to manage.

Many of the extras are fairly standard. There is a 3x optical zoom, with 5x digital to supplement it if you don't mind sacrificing image quality. There are macro and super macro shooting modes, the latter allowing you to shoot at as little as 7cm from your subject. And you can control things like white balance and ISO settings with just a couple of button presses.

For those who prefer presets, there are 23 scene shooting modes. Choosing these is really simple. There's a button dedicated to choosing the mode; press this then scroll. A short description of each mode helps you make a selection.

The offerings include sport, behind glass, documents, beach and snow, and reducing blur. Some of the modes are oddly named - e.g. the still life mode is called 'cuisine', while others are designed for very specific purposes, e.g. auction mode, which, says the description, 'captures three pictures sequentially at different exposures in the appropriate size for e-auction.' Ebayers go wild.

Along with all this is BrightCapture technology, designed to improve the quality of images shot in low light conditions. It also fiddles with the brightness of the LCD so you can frame your shots easily. There is more than one shooting mode that uses this; available light portrait, indoors and night scene. The latter, as an example of how these modes work, slows the shutter speed down to allow more light into the lens. If you shoot indoors with the flash and get the dreaded red-eye, try the red-eye fixing option which helps remove 'demon-eyes'.

The mju DIGITAL 600 has 8MB of internal memory and supports xD picture cards. You'll need to invest quickly as you don't get any supplied with the camera and you can only store two images at the highest quality on that 8MB.

Fujifilm - FinePix Z1 review

We've seen a few digital cameras that are smaller and lighter than the Fujifilm FinePix Z1, but they have tended to be credit card-sized things that are gimmicks. By contrast the FinePix Z1 is a real 5.1-megapixel camera that weighs a mere 146g ready to shoot and measures 90 x 55 x 19mm both open and closed.

Although the Fujifilm has 3x optical zoom, a lens doesn't come rushing out when you turn it on, which presumably means that it must operate inside the body with a mirror to reflect light through 90 degrees.

This clever packaging results in a camera that is all aluminium on the front (once the sliding lens cover is closed) while the back is dominated by the two and half inch LCD screen, which is large by any standards but on this camera looks positively huge.

The control buttons are small aluminium items that look good, work well and are completely appropriate on this camera; however the tiny size has led to some design decisions that we're not too happy about.

As a minor gripe there's no tripod mount on the base of the Z1, but we were more distressed by Fujifilm's decision to use a dock to charge the battery and to transfer photos. As a result the camera casing is very neat as it isn't covered with ports and little rubber plugs to keep the weather out, but it means you are obliged to carry the dock and cables with you when you go on holiday or if you are taking so many photos that you will fill the xD memory card.

As Fujifilm only supplies a 16MB card we can take it as read that you'll be buying a larger card sooner rather than later. You would have expected the 2,592 x 1,944 maximum resolution to result in JPEG file sizes of anything up to 6MB, however all of our test photos were in the range of 1.2 - 1.3MB.

This suggests that there is some extreme compression taking place inside the FinePix Z1 and it brings us to the Achilles heel of this camera, which is that it doesn't take particularly good photos.

Outdoors shots are pleasant enough, but there's little of the detail that you'd expect from a 5-megapixel camera and the 3x optical zoom doesn't draw the subject in sufficiently to make up for that lack. Colour reproduction is pleasant and inoffensive, but unimpressive, with none of that "Wow" factor that you get from really good photos.

Indoors it was much the same story and our test portraits lacked sharpness even when they were taken from two metres away. Macro shots of some coins on a plate were absolutely breathtaking, so the camera certainly has its capabilities, but they won't be of much use to the mainstream user.

A firmware upgrade addressing the image compression issue might help, and it's always possible that we had a duff review camera, as some of Fujifilm's sample images on its Web site look fairly good (and larger than 1.3MB). But despite checking and re-checking the image settings, we were unable to produce high quality photos from our review unit. We suggest you try this one in a shop before you buy.

Ricoh - Caplio GR Digital review

If you take your digital photography seriously, but don't want to have to carry around a bulky SLR, your main choice is a high quality, 35mm compact equivalent. This semi-pro market is where Ricoh is aiming its Caplio GR Digital. It's a slim and fairly lightweight compact, which looks conventional enough but packs a number of convincing extras.

The most obvious of these is the large LCD display. We haven't seen many compact cameras with 63mm LCDs. The size makes it much easier to frame subjects, but also provides enough room for function icons around its edge and an optional histogram display showing colour balance.

The disadvantage of the big screen is that there's apparently no room for an optical viewfinder in the case, so you have to use the LCD. In fact, a viewfinder is an optional extra, and slides into the flash hotshoe on top of the GR Digital. There's no focus-lock indicator, though, so with it fitted, you have to rely on a beep to tell you you're focused.

The standard F2.4 lens system has six elements in five groups and produces exceptionally sharp images for a camera of its size. With 8-megapixel files, even compressed JPEGs are going to be big, but that's the price you pay for this level of detail. An uncompressed RAW frame is close to 25MB.

As well as a fully-automatic mode, where you just point and shoot, you can select manual, program, program shift AE and Aperture Priority modes. These cater for people who want more control over exposure and focus. The camera can focus from 30cm down to 1.5cm in macro mode and it uses a nine-point auto-focus to try to ensure sharp shots.

The viewfinder isn't the only optional extra; you can fit a hood and adapter to the front of the camera and a 0.75x wide-angle converter. Removing the ring cover and fitting these accessories can be fiddly and you have to have somewhere to store the little powder-bag they come in.

A Lithium-Ion battery pack, good for around 250 shots, is provided in the box with a charger, but the internal memory, a mere 26MB, isn't enough for an 8-megapixel camera. It gives you just 14 shots at the camera's default resolution of 3,264 x 2,448 pixels and only one if you shoot in RAW format. Would it really have bust the budget to have built in 64MB?

Sony - DSC-S90 review

It's tricky to decide whether the Sony DSC-S90 is a budget digital camera or a mid-range model. The specification is relatively lowly with a 4.1-megapixel sensor that results in photos with a maximum resolution of 2,304 x 1,768 pixels. It also has a 3x optical zoom and 6x digital zoom.

There's nothing too exciting there, although the 2.5-inch LCD display is nice and big, and it's worth mentioning that you can get the DSC-S80 for £20 less which gets you exactly the same camera with a smaller 2-inch screen.

Sony has installed 32MB of internal memory so it's not strictly necessary to plug a Memory Stick into the media slot, but realistically most of us want the ability to shoot more than 16 pictures in one session so you'd best budget for some more storage.

The DSC-S90 is powered by a pair of AA Ni-MH batteries, for which Sony supplies a charger, which adds a fair amount of weight and also a certain amount of bulk. The camera isn't exactly heavy at 262g ready to shoot but many compact digital cameras are in the 150-200g range, and in many respects the Sony resembles a compact film camera rather than a slinky digital camera. If we had to pick one word to describe its look and feel it would be 'chubby' or, perhaps, 'comfortable'.

We found it quite easy to come to terms with the DSC-S90 as the controls are logical and well located and the on-screen display shows you which of the dozen settings you have chosen on the rotary selector, but it wasn't all plain sailing.

The flash has a fixed strength, which is quite usual, but the flash is too bright so you often have to decide to take a picture that is too dark if you don't want the subject of your portrait to end up squinting. Staying with the flash, we expected to find that the red-eye option would be controlled by the flash button but instead you have to dive in to the set-up menu to turn it on and off which seems unnecessarily complicated.

Our final annoyance is the proprietary USB port that Sony has chosen to use. It's not a big deal but for goodness' sake don't lose or damage the Sony cable or you'll be in deep trouble.

Considering our complaints about the flash it didn't come as a big surprise to find that portraits taken indoors were closer to happy snaps than fine photography and in this respect the DSC-S90 is a budget camera. Close-up shots taken with Macro were lovely and clear, but the best pictures were taken outdoors, and we were happy both with the sharpness of the pictures and also with the colour reproduction, which gave a very authentic feel to the photos.

HP - Photosmart 422 review

There are two main ways to print digital photos directly from a camera: pull out its memory card and plug it into a printer or connect the two together with a PictBridge cable. Both of these techniques can be fiddly, particularly for somebody new to digital photography. For this type of photographer the Photosmart 422 could be ideal.

HP's new camera and printer bundle incorporates a printer dock, an idea pioneered by Kodak, where you simply plug the camera into the top of the printer to print your photos. A connector on the printer couples with a socket on the underside of the camera and the two devices then act as one. In the case of the Photosmart 422, the printer uses the LCD display on the back of the camera to display your shots, so you can select what to print.

The short, fat M415 camera has a good specification, with a 5-megapixel sensor, 3x optical and 6x digital zoom, 16MB of internal memory and an SD/MM card slot for adding more. As supplied, it can take eight shots at its default resolution, so you'll probably need to invest in a memory card early on. The 38mm LCD display on its back is a little small to see any detail, but is usable.

The printer takes 15 x 10cm (6 x 4-inch) photo paper, up to 20 sheets at a time, and produces good quality prints from its single tri-colour cartridge. Ironically, prints are better using a PC connection than directly from the camera, where we saw some banding and noise. The camera includes innovations like red-eye removal and adaptive lighting technology, which improves detail in darker or shadowed areas of a photo.

Running costs come out at around 22p per colour print. If you prefer black and white photos, you can fit a tri-grey cartridge instead. For some reason best known to HP, it quotes its tri-grey cartridge as producing less than half the prints of its high capacity colour cartridge, even though the tri-grey cartridge has greater capacity. It therefore costs around 30p for a black and white print.

Printing is quite quick, coming in between one and three quarter minutes (from a PC) and two minutes (from the camera). You simply plug the camera, backwards, into the dock on top of the printer and use its display to show your images, as you navigate through them using the ring of control buttons on the printer body.

Kodak - EasyShare P880 review

The price of digital SLR cameras (dSLRs) continues to fall, but Kodak reckons there's still a niche for a semi-pro compact. The EasyShare P880 can be used as a point-and-shoot camera or switched to semi-auto or manual modes.

A Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon zoom lens offers a 24mm wide-angle, quite a bit wider than you normally see in this class of camera. The 5.8x optical zoom and manual focus adjustments are controlled using rings around the lens column, which are easier to use than a wide-angle / telephoto toggle.

There are lots of different exposure modes in the EasyShare P880, so you can choose everything from full auto, through aperture and shutter priorities, to full manual control, with AE bracketing thrown in, too.

For the first time, Kodak has decided to include RAW support within the camera, so if you want to develop your post-processing skills you can do so here. You'll need an SD or MMC card memory to supplement the 32MB of internal storage, as RAW images from its 8-megapixel sensor take nearly 14MB each.

In use the EasyShare P880 produced generally well-balanced images, though there was some fringing. Shot-to-shot times are below average, too, particularly if you shoot in RAW or TIFF. True, this is an 8-megapixel sensor, but convenience of use is still important.

Ergonomically, the EasyShare P880 isn't great. The right-hand grip is too close to the lens barrel for most people's fingers and there's no convenient space to rest your right-hand thumb. There's a total of 15 buttons dotted around the back and top panels, as well as a mode selector dial, a four-way jog-dial and a three-way power switch; photo, off, replay.

While most of these single-function buttons, like the one to switch between the electronic viewfinder and the large, 65mm LCD display, are welcome, they do make the learning curve steeper. Balanced against this, the wide range of controls gives you plenty of scope for setting the EasyShare P880 up exactly as you want it. It has a Program button, too, to which you can assign a set of user parameters.

The EasyShare part of the camera's name shows it's compatible with Kodak's printer port plus series 3, a thermal dye printer which can produce 15 x 10cm (6 x 4-inch) prints directly from the camera. The adapter plate is supplied with the camera and, when clipped onto the top of the printer, enables you to plug the EasyShare P880 in directly and use its monitor screen to select and perform simple edits on your images, before printing them.

Acer - CU-6530 camera review

Acer is probably not the first company you'd think of when choosing a new digital camera, but it has a range of a dozen models and recently introduced the CU-6530, an ultra-compact camera coming in at well under £200. It's a 6-megapixel device with 3x optical and 4.4x digital zoom and a 63mm LCD screen.

The full metal case of this little camera gives it a good, solid feel, but it's still light and compact enough to fit easily into a pocket, even in its supplied suede-like belt-pouch. Its small size can make it a little awkward to grip and some of the buttons on the back surface are not that easy to use. The three selectors for menu, image delete and icon display are better operated with a thumbnail than a whole digit.

The large display screen gives a good bright picture, even outside, and has enough room for the icons ranged around its edges not to obscure the subject of a shot. You can see at a glance the settings of everyday parameters like exposure, image quality, flash mode and battery level.

The configuration menu system works well, offering useful settings such as 18 scene modes. These range from portrait and natural green to more exotic scenes like candlelight, fireworks, splash water and pets.

Picture quality, in a variety of conditions, proved to be well up to that from cameras at and beyond its price. Although there was some colour swing from purple to blue, by and large the images were well captured, with good levels of detail even in low-light environments.

Image noise is not a major problem with this camera and flash performance, while not up to that of bigger (and more expensive) models, is not at all bad for an ultra-compact. The infra-red auto-focus beam appears more red than infra, so you can see it reflect off walls, but does produce well-focussed images.

The CU-6530 connects to a PC through a supplied dock, which recharges the Lithium-ion battery as well as providing a USB connection to a computer or a PictBridge connection to a printer. The power supply for this dock is rather clumsy, requiring a two to three pin adapter, again included in the box.

Acer supplies a 64MB card with the CU-6530, enough for around 20 shots at normal resolution, though it's not a particularly quick card. This can be important if you're taking several shots in quick succession.

Canon - PowerShot A540 review

The PowerShot A540 is a 6-megapixel camera with a quick Digic II image processor, a new, more sensitive CCD sensor, a large 2.5-inch screen and 4x optical zoom.

It's pretty much the same size as the outgoing PowerShot A520 and takes the same two AA-sized batteries. These don't last a very long time, so you'll certainly want to invest in a few sets of rechargeables. Canon does quote a higher batter life than the older PowerShot A520, but everything is relative.

Perhaps contributing to the poor battery life, the 2.5-inch screen brings the PowerShot 'A' range up to date. The PowerShot A540 actually has a lower resolution screen than the outgoing A520, and the extra size makes it very easy to see the individual pixels on the screen. Having said this, the 2.5-inch screen is more easily viewed at a greater distance than a smaller screen, and in our opinion is worth having.

Buttons on the camera follow the usual layout for Canon PowerShot models, and we found the menus quite easy to navigate. Advanced options are there without being obstructive to the customer who wants to just point and shoot, but there are also plenty of options to please those who want to experiment.

A large dial on the top of the camera switches between recording modes, with fully automatic mode complemented by program, aperture priority, shutter speed priority, full manual mode, and a set of preset modes for portrait, landscape, night, and then a mode called 'SCN', which offers further presets for underwater and so on. For underwater photography, a plastic enclosure is available as an option.

The last mode is for video. This camera, like many these days, can function quite well as a video device. For some, it could replace the home video camera. The resolution can be set to 320 x 240 pixels, 640 x 480 or a compact mode for e-mail, and it can handle 30 frames per second or 60 frames per second for fast action, although the latter can only be used in 320 x 240 pixel mode. Video is saved as an MPG file, and the supplied driver CD includes the codec, which is known as 'Motion JPEG'.

Another function we found to be useful is the continuous shoot mode. If not using the flash, the camera sports a capture rate of about 2.3 frames per second, continuously taking pictures until the card fills up. This is a great way to ensure that a good shot is captured and avoid later disappointment when reviewing the pictures.

A switch on the back of the camera toggles between capture and playback modes. Pictures and video are all listed together, with video footage simply marked with a camera icon. Holding down navigation buttons can increase the speed of playback, and using the zoom button and other buttons modifies the behaviour of the playback in too many different ways to describe here.

Picture quality is good using default modes. However, care is needed with the new 800 ISO mode, as it seems to cause photos of even well-lit subjects to appear very grainy. Using fully automatic mode or a low ISO number, images were clear and focusing was quick and accurate, although focusing takes longer in lower light conditions. There was also little evidence of purple fringing between very bright and very dark areas, which was good to see (or rather, to not see).

There is a built-in flash for low light conditions, which does a reasonable job, although it's neither very powerful nor very quick to recharge. Canon does offer an optional add-on flash unit for this camera, which attaches to the side.

It's easy to fill a memory card, with both continuous shoot mode and video functionality. We found that we needed to empty the 512MB card we were using quite frequently (Canon only supplies a useless 16MB card with the camera). The card is located in the battery compartment, which makes removal a bit of a pain and requires the camera to be powered off. It would be better if the card were located on the side of the camera, as with other PowerShot models.

The supplied software is minimal, but you'll probably need to install it anyway, if only to get the Motion JPEG video codec that the camera uses to encode video files. As you might expect from a printer manufacturer, the software is partly geared towards home printing, although there is also a passable photo organisation package called ZoomBrowser EX.

Canon - Digital IXUS 60 review

Canon's compact digital IXUS range has a reputation for stylishness allied to a host of included features that will appeal both to amateurs - who just want to point and shoot - and to those who would like to have more control over their photo preparation. It comes as little surprise, then, that Canon has now released two more models (this one and the IXUS 65) that continue in the same tradition.

Stylistically there's little to choose between the earlier IXUS 55 and the 60. Once again it comes in a sleek, all-silver casing, is about the size and shape of a cigarette packet and weighs a laughable 145g. The main change is the increase in the pixel rate, from 5.0-megapixels to 6.0MP, whilst retaining the 3x optical zoom lens (f/2.8 - f/4.9). The image processor remains the DIGIC II which enables fast, responsive camera performance, while iSAPS technology analyses each scene and optimises key camera settings, or so it's claimed.

The 2.5-inch LCD monitor gives 100 percent coverage (although a fairly redundant viewfinder is also included) and the brightness level can be adjusted through 15 levels. The AF system is the by-now standard nine-point AiAF with three exposure metering modes (Evaluative, Centre-weighted average, Spot) that add that extra bit of refinement for those who prefer to operate manually. There are now seven ISO settings including the new High ISO Auto as well as ISO 800 which works best with low shutter speeds (they range from 15 to 1/1,500 sec).

Choice is very much at the heart of this little beauty, as the easy-to-access Menu, Display and Function Set control buttons on the back provide multiple options for almost any type of lighting and speed conditions you're likely to come up against (it also provides support in 23 languages!).

For instance, there are 16 shooting modes that range from Night Snapshot, Stitch Assist and Movie to Foliage, Snow, Kids & Pets and Fireworks. You can even film underwater if you buy an additional case, or focus on a specific colour using Color Accent and Color Swap.

The effects menu likewise offers a range between Vivid, Neutral and Sepia or Black & White, Positive Film and Lighter or Darker Skin Tone. In addition to seven white balance settings and an A/V output (for both PAL and NTSC), there's one novelty amongst the image sizes - the introduction of widescreen stills (2,816 x 1,584) which can be played comfortably on your new HD 16 x 9 television!

Using the zoom ring outside the shutter button you can also have up to 10x playback zoom on each photo, to search for any details that don't meet your high standards before you decide to save or print.

The Canon IXUX 60 uses SD memory cards (one quite pointlessly small 16MB card is supplied with the pack) and a USB 2.0 connection lead is provided to copy off your images to a computer. Canon's software naturally manages this transition for you and PictBridge too is supported.

Ricoh - Caplio RR660 review

Not much bigger than a credit card, though obviously a lot thicker, Ricoh's new compact camera offers a lot in its small case. For a start it has a 6-megapixel sensor, so it can take detailed images and zoom in on them digitally by up to four times. Add to this a 3x optical zoom and you have a useful little camera.

It has no viewfinder, but the 60mm LCD monitor is big enough to frame even complex shots clearly and the screen is bright enough to use in summer sunlight. The screen does take up quite a bit of the camera's back panel, though, so controls are rather squeezed in down the right-hand side.

There's a zoom toggle switch taking you from wide-angle to telephoto - using both those terms loosely - with three small buttons below, then a four-way jog dial and finally a little 'OK' button right at the bottom. The buttons are better operated with a thumbnail than the pad of a thumb, unless your hands are very small.

On top of the camera is the shutter release and a circular thumbwheel which selects its six capture modes. The on-off button is sensibly centred in the middle of this wheel, so it's hard to press accidentally. The capture modes are all standard fare and consist of auto, program, portrait, landscape, sport and night. Additionally, though, there are two triple-shot modes, which increase the flexibility of the Caplio RR660's picture taking.

Burst mode takes three shots in quick succession and, although it's not fast enough to capture high-speed sporting action, it could be useful at parties and other live events. Auto bracket mode, as the name suggests, takes the same shot three times, bracketing the exposure within a set range.

Under a flap on the bottom of the camera are sockets for a pair of AA batteries - there's no rechargeable option - and an SD card slot for cards of up to 1GB. The latter is just as well, since 16MB of internal memory is hopeless for a 6-megapixel camera. Set the RR660 to fine quality mode and you get just three shots.

Picture quality is good, with sharp definition and little noise until you get down to very low light conditions. The auto-focus works well and the camera is small enough to slide easily into a pocket in its slip case, so you can carry it with you nearly as easily as a camera-phone. You get much better pictures with the Ricoh, of course.

HP - Photosmart R927 review

If ever there were a case of somebody soldiering on in the face of scant recognition, it's HP and its cameras. While well regarded for printers, scanners, PCs, servers, in fact most areas of IT, its cameras are hardly ever mentioned alongside the Nikons and Canons of this world, or even the Olympuses and Fujifilms. Some of HP's cameras deserve better, certainly alongside the latter two names.

The Photosmart R927 is a compact digital camera with an 8.2-megapixel sensor and a 76mm (3-inch) LCD monitor. These two specs alone should make it worth a look, but it also comes with two Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries and a purpose-made dock/recharger.

There are fewer controls on the Photosmart 927 than on many cameras in the same market, with a set of four along the top edge plus power, shutter release and video start/stop. On the back there's a toggle for wide-angle to zoom and a menu button with a four-way ring around it for navigation.

One of the delights of using the Photosmart R927 is its logical interface. With a series of main categories along the top of the screen, each one breaks down in a vertical menu down the left-hand side. With the large LCD screen there's space for help text, too, so the camera can explain how to do things and what effect each option will have.

There's a set of slightly gimmicky in-camera effects, such as watercolour, retro and kaleidoscope. If you have a good, full-body portrait, you can even apply the slimming filter, which squeezes the centre of the image and expands the edges. The effects on this reviewer were stunning, if a little disconcerting.

Of more general use are in-camera red-eye removal and adaptive lighting. HP pioneered adaptive lighting, which brings up the detail in shadows when there's a high contrast between light and dark areas, and it makes a worthwhile difference to many shots. It's a bit like an automated gamma adjustment, applied dynamically over an image.

In use the camera takes sharp, well-adjusted photos in automatic mode, but you can select manual and aperture or shutter priorities, too. There are 13 other pre-set modes, ranging from snow to night portrait to beach, and you can take panoramas left to right or right to left and have the camera stitch them together. It's disappointing only to have a 3x optical zoom, but HP has tried to compensate with the 8x digital zoom afforded by its large sensor.

Acer - CE-6430 review

If you're on a comparatively limited budget but would like to be able to take detailed photos with comparatively minimal effort, then the Acer CE-6430 is worth considering.

In keeping with the current vogue, it's sleek and compact and designed in stylish silver with a front panel grip to help you keep a steady hand with those action shots. It's lightweight at just 130g and easily slips into a purse or pocket; a fetching soft camera case is provided.

The biggest plus point is the 6.36-megapixel CCD sensor which ensures you get the sharpness and quality you're after. The image can be amplified using the 3x optical or 4x digital zoom, and viewed on the 2.36-inch TFT colour LCD screen. For extreme close-ups there's a 5cm macro mode, while video can be captured at 30fps (but at a rather disappointing 320 x 240 resolution).

No memory cards are provided but SD cards up to 1GB can be installed. You're definitely going to need them because the paltry 8MB built-in memory will allow you just four high resolution photos (2,816 x 2,112 pixels) before you run out of space. Using the standard mode dial on the top of the camera you can either opt for automatic settings or specialise for Portrait, Landscape, Sports or Night shots.

In capture mode you can take single shots or bursts of three (the Auto Bracket version of this automatically changes the exposure within a set range between shots). Self-timer, exposure and white balance can also be manually modified, as can the flash, the focus, the image quality and the ISO sensitivity, which ranges from 64 to 200. The on-screen menus and icons are familiar and easy to manoeuvre through, and all in all there's much to recommend here.

However there are a few niggles, as one might expect for a 'budget' camera. The first is a common problem with video playback - you can see the video but not hear the audio unless it's plugged into a PC or TV monitor. Not much use if you've just captured a memorable parade or rollercoaster ride and can't check the sound on location.

Second, the accompanying software includes an old issue of Acrobat (6.0), a USB driver for Windows 98 and Windows 98SE and a Manual, but not the NTI Photo Suite advertised in the Manual - shorely shome mishtake? The added insult is that NTI Photo Suite is not Mac compatible so you'd have to use something like iPhoto instead if you're an Apple user.

Canon - PowerShot A630 review

Canon's PowerShot range of compact digital cameras has been popular for many years and, as prices continue to drop, more and more features are built into each new model. The A630 has much the same size and shape as earlier PowerShot models, with a characteristic bulge on the right-hand side to grip, a viewfinder set in the middle and controls ranged on the top and down the back panel.

With this model, though, Canon has borrowed a trick from its more expensive SLR range by having a tilt and swivel LCD monitor screen fitted to the camera. This means you can use the screen instead of a viewfinder to frame a photo, but also that you can hold the camera above or below eye level, perhaps to shoot over a crowd, for example, still using the screen to line up your subject.

The A630 has a 4x zoom lens, but also a 4x digital zoom, giving 16x altogether. It can do this because it has a large, 8-megapixel CCD sensor, offering high resolution for a camera in this price bracket. You will need to add the cost of a higher capacity multimedia or SD card to the price of the camera, though, as the 16MB MM card supplied is only enough for seven shots at the camera's default resolution.

In our tests, pictures were well balanced for colour and the nine-point autofocus worked well in producing sharp shots, even in comparatively low lighting. The camera's ability to simulate a fast, ISO 800 film also helps with evening and interior photos. The range of the macro facility, which extends down to 1cm, also makes the camera very versatile.

The main controls come down to a set of five buttons and a four-way ring on the back panel, together with a small slide switch to move between record and playback modes and a thumbwheel on top to select between some of the A630's 21 different shooting modes. Aperture and shutter priorities, as well as a full manual mode, are supported.

The back panel buttons are a little cramped and some of the functions are oddly assigned. It seems peculiar, for example, to assign a single function button to turn the LCD on and off and yet use the up and down functions on the control ring to change flash mode and engage the macro system. There is one button devoted to printing via PictBridge, which also seems a waste.

Ricoh - Caplio R5 review

Although not a very common name in the digital camera market, Ricoh does have a history of making cameras and currently has quite a wide range of consumer products in this category.

The Caplio R5 is its latest offering, with a step up in features over its predecessor, the R4. It's a 7.24-megapixel device with a massive 7.1x optical zoom (28 to 200mm equivalent on a 35mm camera). Considering the fairly small dimensions of the camera, such a large optical zoom is impressive, and Ricoh advertises it as the highest available in its class.

Powering up quickly, the camera feels quite responsive in operation although, as with other cameras, some lighting conditions and image optimisation operations can increase processing times and shutter 'lag', reducing the responsive feel slightly. Controls on the camera are well laid out and it's easy to get accustomed to using it.

The zoom sounds a little clunky in operation and it can be difficult to keep the camera steady at maximum zoom due to its small size, but Ricoh has developed an anti-vibration feature that moves the CCD in an opposite direction to counteract the movement. This is a feature that gave us mixed results and had a side effect of increased 'shutter lag' (delay in taking the photo), but at least it can be turned off.

A nice feature of the lens is its ability to zoom out to quite a wide angle, which is good for group shots and for photographing subjects close-up. For really close-up shots, the macro mode offers an impressive 1cm distance capability.

For reviewing and composing photos, the 2.5-inch screen offers a high definition of 230,000 pixels, which provides crisp images. While 2.5-inch screens are becoming the norm in this category, many are lower resolution than that provided in the Ricoh Caplio R5.

For quick navigation between photos, the screen doesn't display the maximum quality at first, but shows the best quality only after a short delay. However, a better method of navigating quickly is to utilise the zoom when playing back pictures, which changes the review mode. There is no optical viewfinder, so the screen is the only means of framing photos.

No doubt due to a design decision to keep the size of the camera to a minimum, the Caplio R5 uses a small rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which is claimed to be enough for up to 380 shots on a single charge.

Of course, using the flash and spending some time reviewing pictures on the screen reduces this capability, so if the intention is to use the camera on long holidays, we'd recommend either packing the charger or purchasing a second battery.

The Caplio features some internal memory, but this isn't much use for anything other than trying the camera out, due to the large file size of the resulting photos. For any normal use, a Secure Digital (SD) card is required.

The new CCD features a high sensitivity of 1600 ISO, and this should translate to better images when not using the flash, but we found little practical difference compared to a current Canon digital camera with 800 ISO sensitivity.

Generally, images taken with the Ricoh Caplio demonstrated accurate colour reproduction and detail, but we noticed some fringing on borders between whites and adjacent darker colours. We also noticed slightly clunky performance as we zoomed in on subjects. This is not surprising considering the 26mm thickness of the camera, but buyers should be aware that a high numerical specification doesn't necessarily translate to excellent quality images.

As with many cameras now, the R5 doubles up as a video camcorder, and this is a practical solution for occasional amateur movies. Video resolutions are up to a reasonable 640 x 480 pixels at up to 30 frames per second.

Canon - EOS 400D review

An evolution of Canon's 300D and 350D digital SLRs, the EOS 400D is a digital SLR camera aimed at what you might call 'pro-sumers'. Professionals might occasionally be found with these and your average photography enthusiast might aspire to own one.

Two generations on from Canon's initial breakthrough into the world of consumer digital SLR cameras, the EOS 400D is outwardly what you might expect: bigger, better, faster.

With no fewer than 10.1 megapixels at its disposal (that equates to an image size of 3,888 x 2,592 pixels), the amount of detail is staggering. Files are nearly 30MB when uncompressed, which is easily sufficient for A4 or even A3 sized photographic prints. This resolution is up from 8.0 megapixels in the older 350D.

The only other change in the CCD sensor itself is that it now sports automatic self-cleaning. This is useful in a digital SLR, where lenses can be removed and expose the sensor to dust and other unwelcome matter, where they have a far greater effect than any dirt on the lens. This self-cleaning function is unobtrusive, fast and quiet, and it's impossible to know that it's even happening except for a status message on the LCD.

The LCD has been upgraded to a 2.5-inch screen and is a definite improvement in almost all respects on the 350D's 1.8-inch unit. The older model's monochrome LCD has been integrated into the main LCD here, which we think is much easier to read, and the new screen packs in almost twice as many pixels, so is much better for reviewing images after shooting.

Just above the screen at the rear are two sensors. One turns off the LCD as you put your eye to the viewfinder to cut out unwanted light, and the other is a rear-facing infra-red sensor, which is a welcome addition. The older 350D model only had a front-facing sensor, which has not been lost on the 400D. No infra-red remote comes with the camera, but they're not too much money and, combined with a tripod, make for much improved stability for shots with longer exposures.

The model we reviewed came with an 18-55mm lens, which is good for general purpose shots, lightweight, and easy to use, as well as adding very little to the price compared to the 'body only' option.

This isn't a lens with a very wide range, but it's OK for many shots, partly due to the 1.6x 'cropping factor' of the camera, which makes it behave more like an 80mm lens. This cropping factor is a consequence of the CCD sensor being smaller than a 35mm film frame, so the effective focal length of lenses is increased. And with 10 megapixels to play with, you can often afford to crop images to achieve the same effect as zooming in.

We also tested the camera with a 10-20mm wide-angle lens and an 18-200mm lens, just to give us some comparison to the basic lens provided (of course, one of the best things about SLR cameras is that the lenses can be changed). The supplied lens gave a good balance to the camera and wasn't in itself noisy, although the camera shutter could have been a little quieter. Any EF or EF/S lens will fit the camera, enabling the use of Sigma or other brand lenses.

The rate at which pictures can be taken is three frames per second, which hasn't changed from the 350D, although this rate is of course dependent on shutter speed and whether the flash is employed. The number of images that can be taken and buffered before they need to be written to the Compact Flash storage, though, has increased by nearly 100 percent to 27 images. This means that it's easier to capture a moment if the subject is moving around.

The build quality of the EOS 400D feels substantial, and no part feels flimsy despite the case being made of plastic. The ergonomics are good and slightly improved over the EOS 350D, although those with bigger hands or those preferring a weightier feel might like to get a battery grip, which can make the camera easier to hold as well as increasing battery life.

BenQ - DC C1000 review

BenQ has its finger in a lot of pies, and one of them is digital cameras. It has recently stepped up the ladder in the Great Hunt For Megapixels, coming up with the DC C1000 which churns out ten of them.

The DC C1000 is not going to wow you if stylish hardware is your thing. Its black and silver, plastic and metal casing is not particularly pretty and overall the camera is chunky (89 x 60.5 x 32.7mm) and heavy (140g before you insert the two AA cells that power it). However, we do have to say in its favour that it feels solid in the hand and that its controls are nicely located, for right-handed users anyway.

But if you want all those pixels, a range of options that'll let you play about quite a bit and fairly easy to use controls - and if you aren't interested in splashing out a lot of cash - then this camera is going to attract your attention.

Be aware that pixels aren't everything, and it is annoying that the DC C1000 is stuck with just a 3x optical zoom facility. You can add another 4x with digital zoom but digital zoom is always best left alone as image quality degrades when you use it. Fortunately you can disable it completely on this camera.

We found two other annoyances during testing. The burst mode shoots four images in quick succession, but you don't get a shutter sound to tell you when these are being shot. We also found that indoors the camera is a bit of a let-down with its less-than-wonderful flash.

There are, though, quite a few goodies. There are plenty of 'scene modes': fireworks, sports, text, close-up, sunset, backlight, beach and snow, kids, night scene, landscape and portrait. In addition there are four settings which allow you different amounts of control to configure your own preferences, limiting you to fiddling with aperture, shutter, both of these, or all available settings.

You can resize images on the camera, too. Naturally enough you can only go downwards, and this feature might be handy if your memory cards start to get full and you have some shots you'd rather not delete. You can set your own image of choice for the startup screen too, which gives a little added fun.

The DC C1000 comes with some software to get you started on image management and editing, a carrying case, PC connection cable and a cable to connect the camera to a TV for those all-important family viewings of pictures and video shot during the day.

Pentax - Optio T20 review

In 2003 Pentax wowed the compact digicam market with the release of the Optio S. It was small and sleek enough to fit into a pack of cards yet offered a 3x optical zoom thanks to its unique sliding lens design.

Over the next three years the design ethic that underlined that success marches on and we've seen a swathe of compact yet powerful models grace the shelves. The successor to the recent T10, the Optio T20 still offers this 3x optical zoom using the same sliding lens system, but has an upgraded CCD, higher maximum ISO and a few design tweaks.

It does look very similar to the T10, which is attractive enough, but the front seems a little busy: the silver bar, logos and lens cover can make things look a little cluttered. Pentax's use of a touch-screen display with these models means the control interface for the camera is mostly based around the screen, and there are just two separate buttons to switch modes and access the main menu.

A silver case finished with the black panels on the back does make the camera look a little dated in our opinion, but this is a minor and individual style point. The touch-screen is responsive and nice to use, buttons are large enough for greasy fingers to find their way around and a print-resistant coating means that marks don't dirty up the LCD. It'd be a shame if they did, as we liked the colourful, sharp screen and it's large enough to get a decent idea of the quality of your shots on the move.

The combination of the touch-screen and top-mounted swivel-zoom control means that it's pretty awkward to use the Optio T20 with one hand. You'll either end up accidentally pressing the touch-screen and opening the shot menu or run the risk of dropping the thing while you try to adjust the zoom. A back-mounted zoom control would have solved this problem. To be on the safe side, you'll find yourself putting down whatever you're carrying to have both hands free to take a shot.

There are 12 modes to play with, from landscape to activity and portrait shots, and for the most part these are well considered and make it easy to select an appropriate setting for your environment. Of course you can make manual adjustments or simply use an automatic setting, and handily you can add your three most commonly used functions to the main menu for easy access.

The upgraded 7-megapixel CCD brings it in line with today's high-end compacts, but we'd like to have seen a better improvement to the ISO rating. Many other companies are starting to realise that people are more likely, if anything, to use compact cameras in low light conditions, something that's not really reflected here. The Optio T20's performance does suffer a little in dark environments although it is reasonably forgiving in terms of camera shake, provided you make an effort to bolster it (or yourself) against something.

Other modes are impressive, though: macro mode is clean and crisp and the automatic setting does a decent job of adjusting aperture and shutter speed for your environment. An overlaid histogram display gives you the information you need to help fine tune settings to improve your photos, but if you're a beginner or in the market for a camera that offers decent 'point-and-shoot' results you won't be disappointed.

Anyone who's used Pentax's previous model, the Optio T10, will know that taking photos is just part of the functionality on offer. You're also given a range of features to manipulate your photos in playback mode. These include slideshow creation and filters to adjust image settings, combat red-eye and crop and rotate your photos.

There's also a drawing mode that'll allow you to write or draw on your images using the touch-screen as a canvas and the provided stylus as the brush. There's plenty of fun to be had with the Optio T20, then, making it more than just a well-performing digital camera. While many people might prefer to make these sorts of changes on a computer it's nice to have the option to correct or jazz up your photos on the move.

In addition to photography you'll also find a voice recorder (which you can use to add music or speech to specific photographs) and a video recorder, now pretty standard on these compact models.

Casio - Exilim EX-S770 review

Casio is perhaps one of the first names you'd think of when looking for a compact digicam; its Exilim range has in the past achieved rave reviews for an effective combination of quality and usability.

The superbly compact EX-S770 has clear intentions of continuing this trend. It's one of the most stylish and slim models we've seen and, with a 7-megapixel CCD, it offers enough detail for most people. The sleek silver/grey exterior houses a wide range of control buttons, the sheer number of which appears a little daunting at first, but after spending a few minutes with the camera you discover that most are pretty well conceived.

Despite housing a wide range of features for tweaking and adjusting settings to build the right shot, Casio has done a good job of making the most important of these pretty accessible. A range of display modes on the LCD gives you a choice of a clean picture, histogram display or a vertical mini-menu. This offers quick access to flash and shooting modes, ISO sensitivity and auto white balance adjustment.

When you get used to the layout and operation of the controls it only takes a few presses to make adjustments for your environment that other cameras often bury amongst a flurry of sub-menus. It's very usable, then, and it looks great, so how about the photos?

First it's worth mentioning that the LCD display, while very large and very colourful, is more adept at previewing your photos than replacing the viewfinder. A fairly poor refresh rate makes it a little difficult to see how changes to settings like white balance and exposure are actually affecting the shot. This is particularly apparent when using the 3x optical (plus 4x digital) zoom, when the image starts to look a little grainy and you start to see artefacts and ghosting on screen.

The resultant photos are good for the most part. If you take the time to fine-tune settings for the lighting and environment you're in, you can improve things quite a bit, but the automatic setting has a decent pop at this for you. Macro shots were particularly impressive; very sharp with vibrant colours and fantastic detail.

Regular landscape and portrait shots require a little more care, as bright colours can appear slightly washed out and for ultra-sharp images you'll ideally need a tripod or have the camera resting on something solid. Night shots were reasonably good: ISO sensitivity reaches 800 which was fine for close-up shots but you'll start to lose detail if you're snapping distant objects in poor lighting.

This is more of a point-and-shoot solution then, like many modern compacts. There are plenty of settings to fine tune if you know your photography and in doing so you can achieve better results.

A few niggling issues, such as the fact that you're only provided with an electronic manual and you can't plug the camera into a PC without the docking stand, could have been avoided, but overall we were impressed by the usability, portability and quality of Casio's latest Exilim.

Fujifilm - FinePix S6500fd Zoom review

By now most people should be at home with the 'New World' of digital cameras, especially the flat-fronted variety that require you to do little more than point and click, with instant playback. However, the move up to full digital SLRs might still appear too daunting and too expensive, with so many manual controls to organise in pursuit of the perfect photo.

In which case the so-called 'bridge' cameras like this one are ideal. They have all the look of a DSLR and many of the manual functions available, but also a comforting amount of the work can be handled automatically. In terms of picture quality you know you're going to be on to a winner as Fujifilm has employed its 6.3-megapixel Super CCD sensor and Real Photo Technology II, as well as a comparatively new feature which should improve your portrait pictures.

Before we look at that, let's review some of the statistics. The maximum resolution is 2,848 x 2,136 and the light sensitivity ranges from ISO100 to 3200 which means you can achieve exceptional results in poor lighting conditions without always having to use flash. Talking of which, the camera uses intelligent flash which can be adjusted to your circumstances and there's a 'Natural and Flash' mode which can take two rapid pictures, one with and one without flash, so you can compare and contrast the results.

You can preview your shot via the 2.5-inch LCD screen or the electronic viewfinder and the zoom lens is a Fujinon 10.7x (28-300mm equivalent) optical which is manually twisted. You also have a 2x digital zoom and a manual focus ring if you want to take more control of your image sharpness, plus macro and super macro options which can take you as close as 1cm to your subject.

Fujifilm is particularly proud that this model includes its new Face Detection technology which will recognize up to 10 faces in a frame and auto-expose and autofocus on them to the best setting in just 0.04 seconds. We tried it out on humans and dogs and, yes, it could tell the difference!

This is going to be a big boon as the vast majority of photo enthusiasts take more portrait pics than any other type, and now you don't have to fiddle about trying to focus in a hurry. Also the specialised Scene Position menu adds a further ten settings to the five on the top-mounted mode dial, including such exotica as Museum, Party, Fireworks and Text. It was noticeable, however, that the autofocus was struggling at the end of the zoom, something we've seen on other Fujifilm cameras with this length of lens.

With a 2GB memory card installed you can capture those fireworks or sporting occasions on video for up to 30 minutes at a resolution of 640 x 480 at 30fps. The only shame is that Fujifilm still insists on using the less popular xD-Picture Card format rather than, say, SD, which is much more widely available.

Having said that, the power comes from four AA alkaline batteries which is preferable to having a bulky battery pack attached, and the FinePix Viewer software provides a reliable means of organising and exporting your photos from the camera to the PC or printer via the USB 2 port, if you don't have the relevant memory card holder.

Canon - HV10 review

Unless you live somewhere near Alpha Centauri, you'll be well aware that all televisions in the UK will soon cease to be analogue and are switching to digital and High Definition. The new technology has naturally revolutionised the camera industry at the same time, ranging from the humble domestic camcorder to professional broadcast equipment. Canon - although by no means the first to explore this area - has unsurprisingly leapt to the challenge and has now launched the HV10, the self-proclaimed 'world's smallest HDV1080i (High Definition Video) camcorder'.

It certainly looks and feels like a conventional MiniDV camcorder, apart from the width, which is slightly bulkier than usual (it measures 56 x 104 x 106mm and weighs 439g). The HV10 uses a 1/2.7-inch, 2.96-megapixel HD CMOS sensor, capturing full resolution 1920 x 1080 video. The panoramic native widescreen 1080i footage is stored on MiniDV tapes. Although its default setting is for 16:9 viewing, you can switch to Standard Definition recording easily should you feel the need to watch on a conventional 4:3 telly.

The built-in lens cover hides a powerful 10x optical zoom with Super Range Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) which detects vibrations across the frequency range, even the low band movements that HD is especially susceptible to. Because focusing mistakes are also exacerbated on HD, Canon has installed its new Instant AF system which helps auto-focusing at accelerated speeds, together with Focus Assist when focusing manually.

The image processor featured here is the DIGIC DV II which Canon first used in its professional HD camcorder, the XL H1, and it enables split path processing so that you can record high quality moving and still pictures at the same time. In fact the HV10 is essentially two cameras in one as it also functions as a 3.1-megapixel digital camera that incorporates PictBridge direct printing and built-in flash. The images are recorded on a miniSD memory card and you can even take 2-megapixel stills while simultaneously recording video footage.

In practice, the quality of the HD images and the automatic AF should guarantee the sales of this camcorder, but the main grumble here is that the surface is bristling with control buttons (including separate Menu, Function, Exposure and Focus options), many of which are set almost flush and therefore difficult to operate. The zoom slide is also tricky to work smoothly and is positioned too close to the snapshot and tape/memory card controls.

Also, for a camera that's so geared to the New Age of HD TV, why is there no HDMI out, as it's the standard connection method now? The other curious omission is the lack of any video editing materials; the accompanying software is only geared to organising and editing still photos (e.g. ZoomBrowser).

Creative - Live! Cam Optia review

Creative has quite a range of Web-cams and this latest model, the Live! Cam Optia, has a little trick up its sleeve that should make even the most Web-cam-o-phobic of us give it a second glance. It is a Plug-n-Play Web-cam, the first from Creative.

This means there is no need to use a CD to install the camera. You just drop the 'other end' of the USB cable that is hardwired into the camera into any available slot on a PC running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and you are good to go.

It certainly works, but if you want to use the whole slew of extras that Creative provides, then you will need to use the installation CD. This adds features like the ability to remotely monitor the camera, use it as a motion detector, capture stills and video, do time-lapse video and manage photos. And you get one overarching control center for this little lot as well as for tweaking the camera's settings and cutting straight into video calling.

The camera itself is a bit chunky, though if you like cool stuff then you'll probably find the clear plastic and white design - with a section that glows blue when you are doing video capture - appealing.

The glass lens gives clear, sharp images and it is well recessed so it should be pretty difficult to scratch. The lens section tilts through 270 vertical degrees so you can show video callers yourself or what you are looking at, and it also has 15 degrees of horizontal tilt which we found helped a bit when finding a good home for it on a cluttered desk.

The alternative to standing the camera on a desk is to use its spring-loaded clip mechanism to mount it on a monitor. This wasn't as successful as we'd have liked: the camera never felt particularly solid when sitting on top of any of the LCDs we tried it with.

We aren't keen on the hardwired nature of the USB cable, either. Like any device with hardwired cables or plugs, you are at the mercy of the cable itself and if that dies before the device it is attached to, you are in trouble for all the wrong reasons.

When you need to carry the camera you can do so in the drawstring bag that comes with it, which is large enough to accommodate both the camera itself and the hands-free stereo headset that Creative bundles, so that you can have video calls with voice without blaring the recipient's words out through your computer's speaker.

Canon - Digital IXUS 900Ti review

Canon's Digital IXUS range has to be one of the most prolific of recent times, as it was only a blink ago that the IXUS 800 and 850 IS were released. Its latest offspring has opted for more of a leap of style over content.

You'll know as soon as you open the box that this is a deliberate fashion statement: a cool, stylish brushed titanium case in the now familiar Perpetual Curve design. As titanium is stronger but significantly lighter than steel, the grip feels reassuringly solid and reliable with easy access to the control buttons.

Whereas the 850 IS majored on its 3.8x wide-angle lens and optical image stabilizer, the 900Ti has thrown its weight behind a whopping 10-megapixel CCD sensor, which enables poster-size prints to be produced at high quality with insignificant loss of detail.

In addition to the 3x optical zoom there's a new Safety Zoom feature which expands to 12x for small images and a Digital Tele-Converter for extra telephoto reach.

As well as a viewfinder (largely redundant in Macro mode), viewing is via the 2.5-inch LCD screen using a 230,000 pixel display that has an anti-reflective coating. Canon includes an Image Inspection Tool which cannily allows a magnified section of your snapped image to appear alongside the full picture so you can check details are correct before you move on.

Like the 850 IS, the 900Ti's processor is the impressive DIGIC III which is both faster and offers improved image rendering over its predecessor. It's also taken on board the latest Face Detection AF/AE which utilizes the 9-Point AiAF to identify up to nine faces in a portrait and optimise focus and exposure accordingly.

The DIGIC III has improved Noise Reduction too, so you can shoot at ISO 1600 comfortably in low light and the shooting modes have been expanded to 18 to include ISO 3200 (strangely it's separated from the main ISO menu, though), Aquarium and Underwater (for which a special water-resistant case is an optional extra). Should you want to fire off a bit of movie footage, VGA videos can be made at 30fps as well as another innovation for the IXUS collection; pin-sharp XGA quality (1024 x 768) recording with sound at 15fps.

The control layout is instantly recognisable, with the Touch Wheel in the centre doing most of the work when shooting, the Menu button at the bottom concentrating on preparation and the shooting mode operations perched at the top. All the controls are easy to access and, once the photos are taken, they can then be catalogued using the built-in My Category automatic image tagging facility which categorizes them according to face detection and shooting mode used.

Instant printing is available through any PictBridge compatible printer and as well as SD and MMC memory cards, the IXUS now supports the new SDHC format for storage capacities of 2GB and above. Shame you still only get a 32MB card to start with.

Canon - PowerShot A550 review

There's an old Canon PowerShot A20 sitting on the shelf here and it's interesting to compare it with Canon's spanking new PowerShot A550, the subject of this review. The physical design is similar, with viewfinders and LCD displays on the back to line up shots, shot mode wheels to select the type of exposure, toggle switches to control the optical zoom and even bulges to grip both cameras and hide their AA batteries.

Canon's obviously happy with its overall design, but over the years since the A20 came out it has continued to refine it. The A550 is smaller in every dimension, though it's still quite a stout camera. It has a 7.1-megapixel CCD (three and a half times the A20's) plus a 51mm LCD (nearly double the older camera's) and 4x optical zoom where the A20 could only manage 3x.

The comparisons really stop there, however. The A550's shot mode wheel includes specialist modes for night photos, fireworks and family and pets, among others. It can shoot video at up to 30fps until your memory card's full, and it can print your pictures to any PictBridge printer or directly to any of Canon's Selphy models.

In use, you can line up a shot using the viewfinder or the bright LCD monitor, which includes switchable composition grids overlaid on the screen. Common functions can be selected using a four-way function ring and by flicking through several menus on-screen. The controls have been revamped but are still rather cluttered, with some buttons having three different functions, depending on mode.

Leaving everything on automatic produces very respectable shots. The nine-point auto-focus works well, as does the camera's macro mode which will focus down to 50mm. If you need more control you can switch to manual to set your own exposure compensation, white balance and ISO speed. The optical zoom gives a good range and is backed up by a further 4x digital zoom. The camera's ability to shoot at up to 800 ISO means it's good in lower light conditions indoors, as well.

The supplied 16MB memory card is next to useless on a 7.1-megapixel camera. Do the maths; you're lucky to get three shots at the camera's native resolution. You can drop the resolution down, of course, but then why buy a high resolution camera? 128MB SD cards at retail prices are under £4, so it seems misguided of Canon to be so mean in this area.

Genius - G-Shot D1211 review

Genius is a Taiwanese company that's starting to build a reputation for designing small, affordable, multifunction digital cameras (still and video) and its latest 5-megapixel G-Shot continues the tradition.

From the second you take it out of the box you realise just how feather-light it is (a mere 88g without batteries) and it's roughly the size of a credit card (88.5 x 59 x 28.5mm). Powered by two AAA batteries, you power it on by sliding back the stylish black lens cover and you're ready to point and click.

There's a storage capacity of 32MB internal memory and 2GB external (we used a 2GB SD for the review but it also supports MMC) which will allow you to capture a maximum of 3,094 images (at 5MP) or record up to 129 minutes of video. Everything is viewed through the 2.4-inch TFT LCD display on the back and there's a playback facility for both slide shows and video (there's a built-in microphone, but no speaker).

The control system is simplicity itself. Turn on, hit the Menu Mode button, use the two zoom buttons to scroll up and down through your choices and hit the large Set button to confirm. As this is a multifunction machine, you have five options: Digital Still Camera, Digital Video Camera, Web Cam, Game and Mass Storage Device.

The still camera has a fixed F3.0/8.0 lens with a Macro range of 17-19cm and with resolutions from 1,280 x 960 to an interpolated 4,048 x 3,040, plus a 4x digital zoom. High quality images up to the maximum resolution remain sharp even in 12-inch x 18 -inch prints. The video camera aspect produces AVI format movies at either 320 x 240 (30fps max) or 640 x 480 (23 fps max). Both stills and videos can be transferred to PC via the supplied USB 2.0 cable and then edited or catalogued using the included Presto VideoWorks and Presto Mr Photo software.

The same USB 2.0 lead will help turn your G-Shot into a Web Cam at a passable 320 x 240 (15fps max) or 640 x 480 (14fps max). However, if you just want to kill some time you can play one of the four supplied games (Boxboy, Tetris, Memory and Gobang), though beware of the fact that the batteries are quick to deplete.

Essentially this is a fun, quick-snap camera that you can slip in your handbag or pocket and bring out almost on impulse to catch that special moment.

Casio - Exilim EX-Z1050 review

Last year Casio's portable yet powerful Exilim Zoom EX-Z1000 became the world's first 10.1-megapixel compact camera, putting professional quality photography in the hands of the everyday user. The EX-Z1050 takes this a step further by making comparable technology even more affordable, in a smaller form factor shell available in a range of colours.

Utilising a similar design and control layout to much of the current Exilim range, the majority of the device is taken up by the impressive 2.6-inch LCD display on the back, complemented by a small array of buttons that manage to offer total control without overwhelming you with choice. A traditional flick-switch handles the 3x optical (4x digital) zoom and, thanks to the innovative tool layout on screen, the directional pad is more than adept at handling the rest.

As is now the norm for the Exilim range, you're given instant access to all of the most important settings via the control bar on the right side of the display. Simply use the control pad to scroll down through focus, ISO, white balance, quality settings and more to carry out quick adjustments with ease, eliminating the need to browse through menus away from the viewfinder before you snap a photo.

You'll find even more settings through the photo menus for further fine-tuning, and through the playback menu you can build slideshows, print layouts, view a calendar of time-stamped photos and edit your snaps or perform quick corrections on the move. If you'd rather not get involved in the more technical aspects of photo control, a dedicated 'best shot' button takes you to a well structured thumbnail display of common environments, such as sports, parties, pets, underwater and more traditional portrait, landscape and night scenes.

This makes the EX-Z1050 great for beginners by offering a further degree of control, something that's one of the biggest strengths of the Exilim range. The structured menus and intuitive presets combine with some effective anti-shake technology making for an extremely forgiving camera that'll do a great job in a range of environments. We saw consistently sharp and vibrant results in a number of different settings, all of which are well represented on the colourful, sharp and responsive LCD display.

It's impressive enough that Casio has crammed this much performance into such a portable device, but the fact that the price is in line with many of today's mid-range compacts makes it even more of an achievement.

Bearing in mind the target market of such a camera, which we would expect to consist of a mix of talented beginners and enthusiastic amateurs, there's very little to criticise about the EX-Z1050. Minor points such as the lack of direct charging (you need to carry a separate adaptor box to plug the battery into) or a carry case in the box aren't enough to detract from the excellent combination of performance and usability, and this camera should appeal to a wide range of photographers.

Pentax - Optio A30 review

If you're already a fan of Pentax's Optio range, you'll be pleased to learn that its third prodigy has now seen the light of day, and predictably it incorporates a lot of the latest technological improvements to feature in most modern compact digital cameras that want to be taken seriously.

It comes in a stylish, credit card-sized, black, aluminium casing and weighs a mere 4.6oz without battery and memory card installed. Using a maximum 10 effective megapixels with a 1/1.8-inch CCD, a wide light-sensitive area for superior tone reproduction and an SMC Pentax zoom lens with a 3x optical zoom, this is a high quality camera for both beginners and those who want a degree of manual control.

There's a new 2.5-inch LCD screen (with a resolution of 232,000 pixels) that has improved brightness, especially when shooting outdoors in strong sunlight. The 4-way controller is simplicity itself to operate and includes 11 Scene modes ranging from Flower, Kids, Surf & Snow to Food, Pets, Text and Frame Composite. A useful extra enhancement for first-time photographers is an explanatory text pop-up that appears over each Scene mode icon after 3 seconds.

The major selling point, though, is the emphasis on Shake Reduction. Calling on the new developments in its digital SLR cameras, Pentax has incorporated a high-accuracy gyro sensor and control algorithm into its compact SR mechanism which uses a shifting CCD system to stabilize images. A new Scene mode has been added - Digital SR - which automatically changes the camera's sensitivity according to the brightness of the subject. Although these images can accommodate a maximum ISO 3200, the detail is restricted to 5 megapixels.

There's even more to cheer about with the new Movie SR feature which creates much less blurry sequences. Video is captured at 30fps at sizes up to 640 x 480 pixels and, because it employs the DivX (MPEG-4 compliant) movie format, you can record for much longer and still end up with decent quality. Sound quality varies and it's worth mentioning that you can use the A30 as a separate voice recorder.

Amateur photographers who don't want everything on an auto setting can take comfort from the Shutter Priority, Manual (where you select both shutter speed and aperture) and Program AE (which keeps the auto exposure but allows you to choose other control options including White Balance) modes. Another welcome addition is the Face Recognition AF & AE which will detect and highlight the human faces in your photos.

The speed of operation has also been quickened and the overall detail and colour tones, brightness and contrast of the final images are well above average. Having an extra Super Macro setting means you can now get as close as 2.3 inches from your target and the rechargeable D-LI8 lithium ion battery allows for approximately 150 photos and 110 minutes of playback time.

Pentax - K100D review

In the days when film was king, Pentax had a mighty reputation for its SLR cameras, including a much admired K-series (K2, KM, KX) which culminated in the legendary K1000 that stayed in production from 1976 to 1997. Now that we're firmly in the digital era, Pentax has abandoned the pretentious '*ist' prefix of its last digital releases and harked back to the golden age once more with the K100D.

There have naturally been some notable alterations from the '*ist' series, both in physical design and camera operation. The body is curvier, including an expanded hand grip area which provides more comfort and solidity. Even though there remains a stainless steel chassis covered by reinforced plastic, the K100D is still relatively lightweight for a DSLR (660g) and comes as a body only or with a DA 18-55 mm lens.

Another change is a move away from the Penta-prism viewfinder typically found in the DS2 to a Penta-mirror system, which further reduces the weight. Menus and captured images are viewed in the 2.5-inch LCD monitor on the back, with a healthy 210,000 pixels. A useful new function is the digital preview which displays a test shot in the monitor that's saved in the buffer rather than the memory card.

A second mini LCD display on the top of the camera provides rapid information on camera settings and exposures, but remains stubbornly and curiously without a backlight. There's been a further change in the flash arrangement: this is now a P-TTL style which means it can pop up either manually or electronically and operates without an additional AF support light. The auto-focus itself now has three versatile modes; the highly accurate 11-point SAFOX VIII AF system, manual selection or centre point only.

There are a couple of other significant enhancements on the controls. The Auto Pict mode cleverly incorporates four scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Macro and Moving Object) and automatically chooses which seems most suitable to the photo you're taking. If it's not sure, then it will default to Normal mode. In addition, the Function button (Fn) offers you a four-way controller to handle White balance, Flash, ISO and Drive modes, as well as DPOF, Slideshow and Digital Filters when set to playback.

Even though this is only a 6.1-megapixel camera, the sharpness, clarity and colour authenticity of the images are outstanding thanks to a new image processing engine, and this is further improved by the arrival of a built-in Shake Reduction mechanism that uses sensitive motion detectors to stabilise the CCD sensor so you can have crisp results even with low shutter speeds.

The only noticeable irritation is the somewhat useless continuous shooting mode which can only manage a maximum of four JPEG frames, but otherwise this is an excellent entry-level DSLR for both relative beginners and more experienced enthusiasts.

Canon - DC230 review

As we all know, technology stands still for no man (or woman) and just as the early analogue camcorders gave way to the digital revolution, now the supremacy of MiniDV has been seriously challenged by the rise of the DVD and hard disk drive formats that are geared towards ease of transfer.

The DC230 camera uses DVD storage and is designed for physical comfort and instant accessibility. It's compact, lightweight and slim and its smooth contours are intended to slide effortlessly into the palm of your hand.

The central controller is an intuitive joystick that is sandwiched between the video/photo switch and the power switch. In addition, just to the left of the viewfinder is a convenient Quick Start button which is an innovation for this season and guarantees you're up and running almost instantly. Part of the same assembly is the Function button which sets up the menus that the joystick will then scroll through.

Canon has taken its DIGIC DV II processor, with advanced noise reduction technology, from its High Definition range and transplanted it into the DC230. The DIGIC DV II uses split path processing that allows you to simultaneously capture video and stills via separate signals, resulting in optimal colour reproduction for both media.

High quality images are captured via the 1-megapixel CCD, recording direct to three-inch DVD (-R/-RW/-R DL) discs with a maximum of 60 minutes video on a single layer disc and up to 108 minutes on a DVD-R Dual Layer. Digital photos can reach a resolution of 1,152 x 864 pixels and are saved to MiniSD memory cards which are unique to Canon camcorders. So make sure you stock up with plenty before you go on holiday.

The DC230 is optimised for true 16:9 recording, so your default setting for movies is cinematic widescreen. Images can be previewed in widescreen too: the camcorder features a 2.7-inch, 16:9, 123,000-pixel LCD and a wide 0.27-inch EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). The only major grumble is about the decision to have the record command (as well as the playback controls) built into the base of the LCD screen. It's fiddly and awkward, takes your mind off the subject and should have been given a more conventional, useful position near the zoom controls.

Talking of the zoom, you're provided with a more powerful 35x optical zoom lens than in the previous series and you can further activate a whopping and highly over-optimistic 1,000x digital zoom. An Electronic Image Stabilizer (EIS) significantly reduces camera shake and Canon's Smooth Zoom feature enhances this process by selecting from one of three pre-set zoom speeds. You're also aided in keeping the picture on an even keel and focused on the specific areas you want by the incorporation of a level marker and a new grid marker.

Fujifilm - Finepix F40fd review

Fujifilm's F-series is arguably the most successful line of compact cameras around, in no small part down to consistent performance and solid build quality across the range. The 8.3-megapixel F40fd is currently available at prices close to budget levels, but this certainly isn't reflected in its design. It sports a stylish black and silver casing and has a rather weighty feel about it, which we tend to like.

On firing the camera up for the first time, though, we were a little let down by the quality of the 2.5-inch LCD. While clear and sharp enough when viewing photos, we've seen better refresh rates in terms of using the screen as a viewfinder: it often takes a second for the focus and colour accuracy to kick in if you swing it around too quickly.

In terms of general operation, you'll find that Fujifilm takes a slightly different approach to environment presets over a lot of the other big name brands. Instead of a shortcut to a typical list or tiled selection, your options are defined by the mode wheel. Here you'll find the standard 'auto' setting, along with the video camera, camera stabilisation and natural light mode to remove unwanted effects of the flash. One particularly nice feature here is the 'Natural & Flash' mode, which takes two shots simultaneously, one with and one without flash, offering you an easy choice of the best picture.

When you use any of these modes you'll find that more advanced settings for fine-tuning or choosing more specific environments aren't available through the main menu. To get to these you'll either have to select manual shooting or one of two scene position presets - SP1 or SP2.

Choosing one of these allows you to pick a specific setting, such as beach, snow, underwater or night mode, and save it to this position for easy access next time you need it. We think this is a great way to narrow down an often daunting list of options to the most useful two and, in combination with the range of fine tuning available in manual mode, gives you an excellent degree of control over your photographs.

One final addition to the F40fd's arsenal is, as more knowledgeable digicam users will already have noted, the Face Detection technology signified by the 'fd' in the name. Easily accessible through a dedicated control, this optimises focus for any faces in shot.

Taking the F40 for a spin we were impressed on most fronts. If you'd rather have more control over the capable automatic mode you'll find noticeable improvement when selecting presets to cater for your environment. Photos were consistently vibrant and sharp, with rich colours and good contrast. Macro mode in particular did an excellent job of picking out the finest details of complex structures without drastic reduction of colour accuracy or depth of field.

Of particular note is the maximum 2,000 ISO, impressive for a camera of this type and offering the ability to produce noticeably better results in dimly lit environments as well as an extended range at night. You'll notice more noise at higher ISO levels, but comparatively the F40 performs well here, and even though a tripod is essential to get the best pictures at these levels, results were pretty good nonetheless.

The F40fd would be well suited to amateur photographers looking for a decent low-priced compact. The controls are well arranged and nice to use, it's easy to take good photos quickly if 'point-n-shoot' is your main concern, and yet it offers enough extra for more experienced photographers to feel at home.

Although some beginners may feel that it's initially not quite as user-friendly as some rivals in this price range, we'd happily bear that slightly steeper learning curve to take advantage of the benefits the latest in Fuji's F-series has to offer.