The new 8-megapixel cameras offer tremendous versatility and impressive image quality together in one handy, lightweight package. With their wide range of built-in focal lengths and system capabilities, they're a real alternative to lugging a heavy and expensive SLR or D-SLR system.
Each of the cameras featured here boasts a resolution of 2448 x 3264 pixels. That's enough to make razor-sharp 8x10s and, with proper photographic technique, beautiful 16x20-inch prints or even larger.
Designed For Advanced Photographers Although they include auto-everything modes, these cameras are built for serious shooters. They have full manual operation, as well as aperture- and shutter-priority auto-exposure. Metering choices typically include multi-pattern/evaluative, center-weighted and spot. The cameras' autofocus systems provide selectable focus zones similar to those found on SLRs and D-SLRs.
Lenses In spite of their compact proportions, every camera in the group has a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 28-200mm, either with its built-in lens alone or with no more than one compact auxiliary lens. Each of the cameras has notable macro capability to boot.
Since the zooms are permanently mounted to the cameras, lens quality is all-important. All of the zooms are premium optics with aspherical elements, low-dispersion glass and high-tech coatings. The lenses have as much to do with the outstanding quality of the finished images as the high-resolution sensor does. The lenses in these models are sharp and fast, and give bulkier SLR lenses with comparable focal ranges a run for their money.
RAW Files Like the D-SLRs, the 8-megapixel compacts offer RAW file capability. RAW files are unique in that they're essentially a digital negative. Little or no in-camera processing is applied as is done to JPEGs and TIFFs, so you're getting the "raw" data from the image sensor.
The advantage to RAW is that you have more control over the final image and can make your own decisions about exposure adjustment, saturation, sharpness and other details rather than letting the camera do the first round of processing for you automatically. RAW files are increasingly popular with photographers because of this additional control, although the trade-off is that you'll spend a lot more time at the computer before you have a usable image.