Kodak EasyShare LS743

While most midrange cameras force you to make tradeoffs between style and performance, the Kodak EasyShare LS743 has almost everything: It’s a slim, elegant camera that shoots fast, takes good pictures, and is remarkably easy to use.

The long and narrow lines of the LS743 echo those of a disposable film camera. But the technology underneath is far beyond that of a mere drugstore camera, with a 4 megapixel image sensor, 2.8x optical zoom, and 16MB of internal memory for capturing snapshots when your SD card fills up (or goes missing).

Instead of the usual mode dial with icons on it, the LS743 uses a jog dial located just forward of the shutter button. As you roll this wheel back and forth, icons on the back of the camera light up to let you know what you’ve selected (though the default sound effects that accompany this make the LS743 sound a bit like a miniature slot machine). Press the jog dial down to make your choice, and then push the shutter button to take a shot. When shooting indoor, outdoor, and low-light scenes, the Kodak yields quality images that have good detail, balanced exposure, and excellent focus. In our tests, its overall image-quality score was brought down by the camera’s substandard color fidelity, but most amateur photographers are unlikely to notice this shortcoming in everyday use.

If you want to delve further into the camera’s settings, it’s easy to do so through the menus, which you navigate using a five-way controller in the upper-right corner of the camera’s body. These menus let you adjust exposure compensation, white balance, ISO film speed equivalent, image quality, and more. You can adjust these settings even when shooting in auto mode, which is unusual and convenient.

Our one difficulty with the LS743’s interface is that the Delete, Menu, and Review buttons on the left side of the LCD are too similar in appearance and labeling, so it’s easy to confuse them.

The LS743’s removable battery recharges in a slim charger that plugs directly into the wall, so there’s no electrical cord to worry about. For easy image transfer and recharging, you can also drop the LS743 into an optional Kodak EasyShare dock, a $70 accessory.

Overall, the Kodak LS743 strikes an excellent balance between usability, speed, image quality, and good design, making it our top choice for a midrange pocket camera. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Speedy snapshots that don’t skimp on image quality
Worst Feature: Easy-to-confuse control buttons

SPECS:
Kodak EasyShare LS743
$349
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Size: 4.3 x 2 x 1.3 inches
Specs: 4 megapixels; 2.8x optical zoom; 1.7-inch LCD; 640 x 480-pixel, 13 fps QuickTime video with audio; integrated flash; SD slot; 16MB of internal memory; USB 2.0; video-out port; lithium-ion battery
www.kodak.com

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MOBILE CHOICE

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Kodak EasyShare LS743

Olympus Camedia C-60 Zoom

Do megapixels have weight? You might not think so, but the Olympus Camedia C-60 Zoom, which at 6.1 megapixels has the second-highest resolution of the midrange cameras in our roundup, is also the heaviest in its category. But if a couple of extra ounces are what it takes to produce gigantic images like this, we’re willing to make the sacrifice.

The C-60 offers a respectable 3x optical zoom, subsecond shutter lag, and the ability to record QuickTime movies. The C-60 produces quality outdoor shots with good color, although its indoor and low-light photos are slightly below average.

As with other Olympus cameras, its control menus are displayed on-screen with large and easy-to-read text and icons, although the menu layout can be confusing at first. A dial on the top of the camera lets you select between shooting modes. One complaint: The zoom control is directly to the right of the shutter button, so you can’t zoom and shoot simultaneously.

The front of the C-60 has a sliding lens cover that doubles as an on-off switch. It offers better protection than the plastic covers on most cameras, but turning the camera off requires a slightly inconvenient two-step motion: Slide the cover partway, wait for the lens to retract, then close it.

Despite some minor shortcomings, the C-60 is a solid camera. If you want to maximize your megapixels, the C-60 is the way to go. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Massive megapixels
Worst Feature: Less than stellar indoor photography

SPECS:
Olympus Camedia C-60 Zoom
$449
Weight: 8.2 ounces
Size: 4 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches
Specs: 6.1 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 1.7 inch LCD; 320 x 240-pixel, 15 fps QuickTime video; integrated flash; xD slot (32MB card included); USB 2.0; AV-out port; lithium-ion battery
www.olympusamerica.com

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Olympus Camedia C-60 Zoom

HP PhotoSmart R707

The HP Photosmart R707 has a stylish silver and dark-gray case that looks vaguely BMW, but it’s got a downright Midwestern personality that’s eager to help out a neighbor and do right by its friends.

That personality shows through as soon as you venture into the camera’s menus, which include full-text descriptions of each option instead of the cryptic icons and abbreviations common to most cameras. What’s more, there’s a Help menu — familiar to computer users but unheard of in the camera world. This extensive menu includes advice on taking better photographs and pointers on using the camera’s features and buttons. When reviewing shots you’ve already taken, the R707 offers a red-eye removal feature, although it doesn’t work reliably.

When taking shots, the R707 has subsecond shutter lag and a very speedy one-second recovery time between shots. Image quality overall is good, although indoor flash shots were a little dim.

The camera fits nicely in your right hand, with a small depression for your thumb to rest just below the zoom controls. The R707 has a separate button for video capture, and instead of a mode dial the camera has a single button — pressing it repeatedly cycles through the available modes.

With a healthy 5.1 megapixels and 3x optical zoom (plus 8x digital zoom), the HP R707 is a versatile, easy-to-use camera that’s especially good for beginners. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Incredibly helpful and complete menus
Worst Feature: Flash photos can appear dim

SPECS:
HP Photosmart R707
$349
Weight: 7.4 ounces
Size: 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.3 inches
Specs: 5.1 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 1.5-inch LCD; 320 x 240-pixel, 30 fps MPEG video; integrated flash; SD slot; 32MB of internal memory; USB 2.0; lithium-ion battery
www.hp.com

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HP PhotoSmart R707

FujiFilm Finepix A330

When you’re lolling about under a palapa in Cabo, margarita in hand, the last thing you need is to be fiddling around with an expensive, complicated camera whose dozens of buttons will only confuse your tequila-addled brain. What you want is the FujiFilm Finepix A330, a 3.2-megapixel camera whose simplicity of operation makes it an ideal choice for vacationers and others with more to worry about than exposure settings.

The A330, like the Olympus D-580, has a sliding lens cover that protects the camera’s optics; it doubles as a power switch. The top of the camera has nothing but the shutter button, and the back has a zoom control, a macro button, flash button, and three simple control buttons. You operate the zoom by toggling it up and down (instead of left to right), which is a little unusual, not to mention hard to do with one hand.

If you want more control over photo settings, you’ll need to go through the on-screen menus, which can be cumbersome. But in most cases, the A330 will produce fine photos in its automatic mode. Low-light shots are a special forte, with good focus, color, and illumination where other cameras produce only murky shots.

After the sun goes down, when the party gets really interesting, you’ll be glad to have the A330’s ability to shoot 340 x 240-pixel AVI movies at 10 fps. And although it can’t record sound, you can always overdub a funny soundtrack later. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Extreme simplicity
Worst Feature: Unappealing plastic body

SPECS:
FujiFilm Finepix A330
$200
Weight: 6.8 ounces
Size: 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches
Specs: 3.2 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 1.5-inch LCD; 340 x 240-pixel, 10 fps AVI video; integrated flash; xD slot (16MB card included); USB 1.1; video-out port; two AA batteries required
www.fujifilm.com

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FujiFilm Finepix A330

Canon EOS Digital Rebel

If you learned to shoot with a 35mm single-lens reflex camera, Canon’s EOS Digital Rebel will make you feel all fuzzy and nostalgic — while producing crisp, clear digital images. In fact, the Digital Rebel is a true SLR, so the image you see through the viewfinder is exactly what’s going to land on the image sensor. This offers a crisper, more detailed image than you’ll ever get from an LCD, but on the other hand it provides no visual feedback when you change settings that are dependent on the camera’s electronics, such as white balance or exposure.

The SLR construction also means the Digital Rebel gives a satisfying, tactile click when you press the shutter button — no fake shutter sound effects here. It’s fast, too, with subsecond shutter lag and recovery times, and a very capable burst mode.

The menus and controls are straightforward. You make most of the adjustments to photo settings using a control wheel just behind the shutter button.

The Digital Rebel body accommodates any Canon EF lens (there are dozens) as well as standard flashes, and it’s also got a small pop-up flash of its own. The 18mm to 55mm zoom lens included in the kit provides fine image quality, a wide angle of view, and good macro shots. The Canon’s color fidelity is excellent, and it won the highest ratings for outdoor photography in our tests. If you’re looking for a true SLR digital camera, it’s hard to go wrong with the Digital Rebel. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: True SLR performance in a traditionalist package
Worst Feature: LCD operates only for image review, not live preview

SPECS:
Canon EOS Digital Rebel
$1,000
Weight: 1.1 pounds
Size: 5.5 x 4 x 5.4 inches
Specs: 6.3 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 1.8-inch LCD; accommodates Canon EF lenses; pop-up flash; flash hot shoe; CF slot; USB 1.1; video-out port; lithium-ion battery
www.canoneos.com

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Canon EOS Digital Rebel

Sigma SD-10

When nothing matters more than getting the perfect picture, you want the best camera money can buy. A good candidate: the Sigma SD10, a hulking slab of an SLR aimed at wannabe Leibovitzes. This camera makes few concessions to user-friendliness. But in capable hands, it has the potential to produce outstanding images.

The secret to the Sigma SD10’s image quality is its large (20.7 x 13.8 millimeters) Foveon X3 image sensor. Most camera sensors record color in a mosaic pattern of alternating red, green, and blue pixels. The Foveon has three sandwiched layers of sensors, so each pixel in your image has the full red, green, and blue color data. The result is a picture that far outstrips the seemingly low image resolution of 3.4 megapixels, because the sensor is actually recording 10.2 megapixels.

Getting good pictures with the SD10 requires patience and care, and spending time with the manual is virtually mandatory. The 50mm macro lens we tested produces razor-sharp close-ups; other lenses are also available from Sigma. Sigma’s external flash (there’s none built in) is overpoweringly bright, so you need to fiddle with it, too.

Finally, the SD10 does not record JPEG images natively. You must download images in the camera’s X3F format — an agonizingly slow process over USB — and then convert each one to JPEG using the included Sigma software. But if you’re committed to image quality, these are small sacrifices to make. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Terrific color fidelity and image quality
Worst Feature: Records images in X3F format, not JPEG

SPECS:
Sigma SD10
$1,200 (body only); $1,630 as tested
Weight: 2.6 pounds (with lens)
Size: 6 x 4.6 x 5.3 inches (with lens)
Specs: 3.4 megapixels; no zoom (as tested); 1.8-inch LCD; accommodates Sigma lenses; flash hot shoe; CF slot; USB 1.1; FireWire; video-out port; requires two CRV3 disposable batteries
www.sigma-photo.com

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Sigma SD-10

Sony DSC-F828 Cyber-shot

Its odd shape might offend SLR purists, but the Sony DSC-F828 Cyber-shot has it all: speed, smarts, awesome image quality, and an impressive 8 megapixels of resolution, sufficient to make professional-grade 10 x 14-inch prints and stunning on-screen images. The heart of the Cyber-shot is Sony’s four-color CCD, an 11mm chip that has sensors for emerald tones in addition to the standard trio of red, green, and blue. That gives the camera extra responsiveness in the green and blue part of the spectrum, where your eyes are the most sensitive. The result: Photos have tremendous richness and depth of color in addition to high resolution.

As with other cameras in this category, you’ll usually need two hands to operate the DSC-F828. The molded casing fits comfortably enough in your right hand that you can squeeze off some shots single-handed, but your left hand is required to operate the built-in 7x mechanical zoom lens (and to steady this bulky camera). The lens’ 28mm to 200mm focal length can zoom in to capture far-off subjects as well as encompass wide-angle scenes, and it swivels up and down to shoot from unusual angles.

The DSC-F828’s shutter button has a hair-trigger response. That plus the camera’s incredibly fast 0.1-second shutter lag (the fastest camera in our roundup) and speedy two-second recovery time means you’ll have no problem capturing exactly the shots you want.

The mode dial and menu structure on the DSC-F828 are straightforward. In addition, the DSC-F828 sports a plethora of function buttons scattered around the camera’s body and lens barrel. Learning to use all these buttons will take you the better part of your lifetime, but fortunately the DSC-F828’s automatic mode delivers great shots in almost all conditions — and its indoor shots received outstanding ratings from our judges — so you may never need the manual settings.

A pop-up flash provides decent illumination for nearby shots; like other high-end cameras, the DSC-F828 also has a hot shoe for plugging in a separate, more powerful flash. The 1.6-inch TFT display is clear and bright, and there’s a viewfinder if you prefer to squint and shoot. (The camera is not a true SLR, however. The viewfinder is actually just a tiny LCD.) The DSC-F828 includes dual memory slots, one for CompactFlash cards and another for Memory Sticks.

The biggest shortcomings of the DSC-F828 are its unwieldy size, unusual shape, and the sheer number of function buttons it asks you to master. Still, those are small prices to pay for superb image quality and shooting speed. This is one camera that will please aspiring newbies and serious photo hobbyists alike. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Outstanding image quality and speed
Worst Feature: Vast number of function buttons

SPECS:
Sony DSC-F828 Cyber-shot
$1,000
Weight: 2 pounds
Size: 6.8 x 5.3 x 3.3 inches
Specs: 8 megapixels; 7x optical zoom; 1.6-inch LCD; 640 x 480-pixel, 30 fps MPEG video; MPEG audio; pop-up flash; flash hot shoe; Memory Stick and CF slots; USB 2.0; AV port; lithium-ion battery
www.sony.com

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“Mobile Choice”

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Sony DSC-F828 Cyber-shot

Floating gently into space.

Imagine taking a 3-day ride into space, floating up underneath a massive air balloon. Sounds like Jules Verne, but it could be reality in the next few years. Although there’s a lot of excitement over the news that a private vehicle operated by SpaceShipOne entered space today, an intriguing alternate space program is also underway. JP Aerospace is developing gigantic balloons that can float all the way up to the edge of space — 140,000 feet — and, with some additional propulsion, can even get into orbit to dock with huge orbital space stations. The company is currently testing its designs, with help from a DoD investment, and says that it is about 7 years from completion. Sounds incredible, but its test flights have already reached almost 100,000 feet of altitude. As a bonus, the company sends ping pong ball-sized space experiments, developed by schoolkids, on every test flight.

ascender3.jpg

Floating gently into space.

Google is a mystery.

For the past month I’ve been trying to get my daily haiku site, tinywords, a bit higher in the Google results when you search on the word “haiku.” I did this the usual way: By asking people to link to tinywords.com using the word “haiku” in their links. Results were good: Within a few weeks, tinywords rose from #35 to #9 in the Google results.

Then, suddenly, last Friday I noticed that it was back down at #23. By Saturday it was at #29. This morning it’s at #20. Throughout, its PageRank (as indicated by the Google toolbar) has remained unchanged, at 5 out of 10. What’s going on? tinywords is still behind deserving sites such as Kei Grieg Toyomasu’s excellent introduction to haiku and Jane Reichhold’s amazing site, but behind such inanities as the periodic table in haiku form and an automated “haiku” generator in javascript that doesn’t even exist at the linked URL any more. Plus, none of these sites have risen more than a step or two in the rankings–it’s just that tinywords got busted down. Does anyone have a clue what’s up here?

Google is a mystery.

iPod resurrection!

The iPod whose ribbon cable I accidentally punctured last week has been restored to complete health, thanks to a replacement cable from PDASmart.com’s iPod Parts Center. I got the new cable today, spent some time plugging it in (and reseating connectors when it didn’t work immediately), and voila–the iPod works now. Total cost: $10 plus $8 express shipping.

Although the part I needed wasn’t listed on PDASmart’s site, they responded quickly to an email inquiry, and sold me the right part, cheap. I’m impressed!

iPod resurrection!

Mobile PC July issue.

Mobile PC July cover

The July issue of Mobile PC is on newsstands now, and I think it’s our best issue yet. There’s a huge roundup of 33 digital cameras, a terrific guide to taking better digital photos, a primer on keeping your data in sync across multiple devices, and a roundup of portable audio players — and, of course, lots and lots of mobile product reviews and news. Check it out!

Note: If you can’t (or don’t want to) get the print version, you can buy an all-electronic version of the mag through Zinio.

Mobile PC July issue.

Rustlin’ Unix.

“We went out one day and our Unix cows were missing,” [SCO CEO Darl] McBride said … “We looked in the Linux pen, and there’s a bunch of them in there that have our brand on them . . . in this case the copyright. Someone took our cows and we want ’em back — it’s as simple as that.”

Linus Torvalds: cattle rustler! Who knew?

Showdown With The Linux Gang (Washington Post)

Rustlin’ Unix.