By Burt Helm
The Good Sturdy, compact design, huge LCD viewfinder
The Bad Grainy video quality in movie mode
The Bottom Line Great for the casual user who wants a compact, easy-to-use camera
Looking for a slick way to snap photos on the go? For some tastes-- including mine -- standard-size cameras are just too bulky to cart around all day. Photos from cell-phone cameras lack quality, and getting them onto a computer or printing them takes too much effort.
So here's my challenge: to find a digital camera that takes supersharp photos, has good battery life, a strong zoom, and a decent array of features, but is small enough to slip into a pocket for a night on the town. So, in the coming weeks, I'll review a series of ultracompact 5-megapixel digital cameras from the likes of Konica Minolta, Canon (CAJ), Casio, Nikon, Pentax, and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) in hopes of finding one that fills the bill.
SCREEN GEM. First up: the Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60, which was released at the end of May, 2005, and retails for about $350. All in all, it's a hardy little point-and-shoot that takes sharp pictures and is very easy to use.
The most striking thing about the X60 is its LCD viewfinder: It's huge. The screen is about 2.5 inches across and takes up almost the entire back of the little camera, which measures 3.3 x 0.9 x 2.2 inches. The LCD's display is clear and extremely responsive, making it great for reviewing pictures or setting up a shot quickly.
The rest of the camera has a simple and solid-feeling design. A sliding door protects the lens when the camera is off, and powers the device when you open it. Under the door lies a lens with a 3x optical zoom that adjusts inside the camera, meaning the lens is always flush with the rest of the device.
RAPID-FIRE OPTION. The controls are laid out fairly well: The zoom fits naturally where your thumb sits, but adjusting more advanced settings (like the exposure or flash) requires cramping your thumb down into the corner, which feels a tad awkward on such a small camera.
The X60 doesn't have a huge number of advanced features, but it holds its own against other point-and-shoot models. Among the nice features are ones that let you to take a rapid-fire series of pictures, a timer for self-portraits, and settings for black and white, sepia, and color. For an additional $275, you can buy an outer casing that allows you to take the camera underwater.
But the X60's real strength lies in how it executes basic functions. It boots up in under a second and snaps a photo within about two seconds after it's turned on. The machine is also fairly idiotproof, taking decent pictures even in unfriendly lighting conditions or when you don't give much time to set up a shot and focus (though I did get a few blurry pictures this way). And the large screen also makes it very easy to see what you're shooting.
ONE DRAWBACK. The camera has three basic modes of operation: a standard still-photo mode, a "digital program" mode with preset options, and a third mode that allows you to record short video clips.
I couldn't find much difference among the various presets in the digital-program mode, which included "portrait," "sunset," and "action shot." But in all cases, the camera took sharply focused pictures with satisfactory color contrast.
The video feature isn't great. I found it difficult to zoom in and out smoothly while keeping a steady shot, and the video quality is much grainier than the still photos are. It's understandable that Konica Minolta would want to keep the video feature at a lower resolution, because video is notorious for eating up all the memory on a card. But that left the video feature too rough to be useful.
Video aside, however, the X60 does a very competent job. It's a great choice for any user looking for a pocket-size camera for everyday snapshots.
Helm is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in New York