The miniature digital camera is usually promoted as the camera of choice for the amateur point-and-shoot crowd, but it has much to offer the dedicated landscape photographer as well. A miniature digital makes a wonderful tool for scouting locations and for breaking the ice with strangers in travel photography. Unlike a 35mm or digital SLR, and the medium-and large-format film cameras often used in landscape work, a miniature digital camera slips as easily into your pocket as into your gadget bag.
Scout locations with a mini-digital camera instead of your usual bulky camera gear. If you're used to shooting film for scouting photos, your note-taking will be simpler, too. Each digital image file already contains information about the time and date your photo was taken, along with the lens' 35mm-equivalent focal length and other data. Many of the miniature digital cameras featured here record voice memos as well. Even better, you can see yesterday's scouting shots without going into the city to process your film.
If you shoot travel photos, you already understand how important it is to put people at ease in front of your lens. An informal snapshot shown on the LCD monitor of a small digital camera can break the ice. Once people see how good they'll look, they'll be happy to appear in your images. They may even make suggestions for poses or compositions that might not have occurred to you. A promise of a picture sent afterward encourages this cooperation—if your subject has e-mail, sharing a photo from your miniature digital camera is simplicity itself.
Even the pros love to take a quick photo of their traveling buddies when they come along on a trip. Quite often though, the only camera available is the medium-format or 4x5 camera they've brought for serious work. While these cameras offer awesome image quality, they take time to set up, and their film is needed for the landscape work. In contrast, a mini-digital camera is ready immediately and allows you to take as many pictures as you like without concern about burning up precious film.
Ultimately, the best reason to get a mini-digital is that it's everything a "serious" camera isn't. A mini-camera is small, light and fun. Because it's so easy to carry, you'll take it everywhere, capturing shots you'd likely have missed if it meant carrying an SLR.
The 5-megapixel Kyocera Finecam S5R can capture full-resolution images at an amazing three frames per second until your memory card is full. The camera has six Scene modes, and weighs about six ounces. Dimensions: 3.6x2.2x1.3 inches. Estimated Price: $399.
Fujifilm's FinePix F410 features Fuji's 3-megapixel SuperCCD HR sensor that records six million pixels in the final image. The 5.8-ounce camera offers manual exposure in addition to its automatic setting. Dimensions: 3.3x2.7x1.1 inches. Estimated Price: $410.
Featuring program-, shutter- and aperture-priority automatic exposure, the 5-megapixel Toshiba PDR-5300 also has full manual exposure control. Weighing in at 6.3 ounces, the camera offers center-weighted and spot metering. Dimensions: 3.7x2.3x1.3 inches. Estimated Price: $349.
With a good range of exposure control modes, Samsung's Digimax V4 boasts a 3x Schneider zoom lens with macro-focusing capability. The camera weighs 5.8 ounces. Dimensions: 4.2x2.1x1.5 inches. Estimated Price: $359.
The rugged Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60 shoots 2-megapixel images as much as five feet underwater with its 33mm (35mm-equivalent) lens. It offers six Scene modes and weighs 6.7 ounces with batteries, memory and wrist strap. Dimensions: 2.4x4.4x1.8 inches. Estimated Price: $249.
The Olympus Stylus 400 Digital's all-weather metal design lends itself to going wherever you care to go. With 4 megapixels and multiple Scene modes, it will do a great job once you get there. The camera weighs 5.8 ounces. Dimensions: 3.8x2.2x1.3 inches. Estimated Price: $449.
Weighing 3.5 ounces, the feather-light Pentax Optio S4 nonetheless packs a 35-105mm (35mm-equivalent) zoom lens with both seven-point and spot autofocus into its tiny frame. The 4.2-megapixel camera features eight Scene modes, as well as multi-segment, center-weighted and spot metering. Dimensions: 3.3x2.0x0.8 inches. Estimated Price: $400.
Nikon's Coolpix SQ features Nikon's swiveling-lens design in a compact, 6.3-ounce package. The 3-megapixel camera has 15 Scene modes for control over your images. Dimensions: 3.2x3.2x1.0 inches. Estimated Price: $449.
At less than three-quarters of an inch thick, Canon's PowerShot SD10 is also among the lightest cameras here. Its 39mm (35mm-equivalent) lens provides a useful single focal length for the camera's 4-megapixel imager. It weighs 3.5 ounces. Dimensions: 3.6x1.9x0.7 inches. Estimated Price: $349.
Looking like a fat credit card with a zoom lens, the 4-megapixel Casio EX-Z4U features no less than 21 Scene modes for maximum versatility. The 4.6-ounce camera has a two-inch LCD monitor. Dimensions: 3.4x2.2x0.9 inches. Estimated Price: $399.
The 3-megapixel, credit-card-sized Minolta DiMAGE Xt boasts a fast start-up time and a periscoping-lens design that keeps the 3x zoom from protruding outside the camera body. The camera weighs 4.2 ounces. Dimensions: 3.4x2.6x0.8 inches. Estimated Price: $299.