SAN FRANCISCO (07/27/2000) - If you bought one of the first digital cameras -- the ones that created 640-by-480-pixel images -- you probably wished you could make high-quality 8-by-10-inch prints on your ink-jet printer. The latest crop of cameras, offering 3-megapixel resolution, lets you do just that. We looked at four recently released 3-megapixel cameras -- the Canon Inc. PowerShot S20, the Epson America Inc. PhotoPC 3000Z, the Nikon Corp. Coolpix 990, and the Olympus America Inc. C-3030 Zoom -- and found all of them to be capable of giving you that dream print. They all create 9MB files with 2,048-by-1,536-pixel resolution and cost around US$800 to $1,000; the differences lie primarily in the types of removable media they use and in the number of images they store.
A Little Noise
Images from our test cameras exhibited a range of noise, with the Coolpix showing the least amount of noise and the PhotoPC the most. The Coolpix also produced the best images when it came to sharpness, while images from the PowerShot required more sharpening than the others. And the Coolpix produced the best color fidelity of the four cameras. The PowerShot and the C-3030 couldn't match the Coolpix for accurate color, but both were noticeably better than the PhotoPC.
All the cameras capture images as JPEGs and offer at least three levels of JPEG compression, and all but the PowerShot can also capture images as 9MB TIFF files (though each camera comes with only a 16MB storage card).
The C-3030 is the only camera we tested that still stores images on SmartMedia cards, which max out at 64MB; the others use CompactFlash cards, which hold as much as 192MB. The PowerShot uses the newer CompactFlash Type II cards, which hold 300MB worth of images, in addition to standard CompactFlash cards.
When it comes to light metering, the Coolpix really stands out. Incorporating the well-known matrix metering system from Nikon's 35mm film cameras, the Coolpix lets you select from four metering options, including two varieties of spot metering. While the other cameras don't offer as many metering options, the C-3030 and the PowerShot measure light better than the PhotoPC.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Although the latest 3-megapixel cameras have decidedly fewer points of difference and variations in quality than earlier generations, we judged the Nikon Coolpix 990's color fidelity and feature set the best of the four cameras we tested. The Canon PowerShot S20 is the most compact, and its use of the CompactFlash Type II cards is a plus. If the S20's color and sharpness were improved, this camera would equal the Coolpix 990. The Epson PhotoPC 3000Z and the Olympus C-3030 Zoom look bulkier than the other two cameras, but both produce acceptable images.