If Â£300 buys you a camera with great quality and full manual control, what does doubling your budget achieve? As our five high-end cameras prove, you get higher resolution for bigger prints and better quality lenses with typically longer zoom ranges, along with greater overall features, control and options. These are the cameras for serious photographic enthusiasts.
Fujifilmâ€™s Finepix S602 Pro Zoom is an impressive package with a decent long zoom, loads of memory and several professional features, but itâ€™s let down by a sensor which falls between 4 and 5 megapixels in terms of resolution. Weâ€™d sooner wait for the S7000 (due Winter 2003) which has genuine 6 megapixel resolution.
The Olympus CAMEDIA C-5050 Zoom is a great camera, but one thatâ€™s showing its age with relatively low resolution movies and a 3X optical zoom range. Admittedly, its got the brightest lens around and is now supplied with plenty of memory, but ultimately there are superior models for the same price or less. That said, if you prefer its style and handling to its rivals, it still represents a good choice.
Canonâ€™s PowerShot G5 may be relatively new, but itâ€™s based on a long line of PowerShot G products, and like the Olympus C-5050, is missing some of the gadgetry of its latest rivals.
But Canon has a very important trick up its sleeve; it has probably the best image processor on the market. This in turn allows the G5 to produce some of the best 5 megapixel digital images weâ€™ve seen. It may be pricier than its rivals and missing the latest gadgets, but in terms of ultimate image quality, itâ€™s superb and one for the shortlist.
Our Recommended award goes to Sony for itâ€™s Cyber-shot DSC-V1, which competes with the best in terms of image quality, but does so with a small, light body, and crucially costs around Â£100 less than its closest rivals. Being a Sony thereâ€™s some great gadgets including framing and focussing in complete and utter darkness, along with a good movie mode. The most technical photographers may prefer the extended features of our ultimate winner, but the V1 will satisfy almost everyone else. Itâ€™s simply great value.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1
This leaves Nikonâ€™s Coolpix 5400 as our fifth high-end camera, and the model which earns itself our Editorâ€™s Choice in the high-end category. Like the Canon G5 and Sony V1, the Nikon 5400 delivers superb quality images, but itâ€™s the extras which make it stand out. To name just five, thereâ€™s a flip-out screen, excellent macro facility, time-lapse movies, ten-minute long exposures and even a feature which strobes the flash.
Nikon Coolpix 5400
Probably best of all though is the 5400â€™s lens which has a much wider range than its rivals: where most digital cameras have a 35mm equivalent wide-end of just 35mm, the 5400 boasts 28mm. It doesnâ€™t sound like much, but as any serious photographer will tell you, it makes a world of difference. This combination of quality and features makes the Coolpix 5400 the best overall camera at its price-point.
A Final Word
Itâ€™s important to remember that cameraâ€™s are not like PCs or graphics cards, where a choice can be made mostly on price and performance alone. A camera is a very personal thing, and one which has the best specifications but is too big, heavy or uncomfortable to use, will be a camera thatâ€™s left at home. Use our reviews to create a shortlist, then actually try them for yourself before making the final decision.
Finally, unless youâ€™re returning to your PC and mains power every day, we recommend all digital camera owners budget for a larger memory card and a spare set of rechargeable batteries straightaway â€“ after all you donâ€™t want to run out of power or memory while youâ€™re away.