Lauren Goode

Two Slim Digital Cameras Worth Considering – Even With Your Smartphone

Let’s face it: Smartphones, with their ever-improving cameras and ability to instantly share photos, are munching away at the digital camera market.

But some consumers still appreciate the features that a more powerful camera can provide, especially when it comes to shooting photos at weddings, on vacation or in situations that require a little more zoom.

That’s where cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot TX66 and Canon PowerShot Elph 520 come in. This Sony costs $350, while the Canon camera costs $300, with some retailers offering it for $259.

The Sony is impossibly tiny and takes vivid 18-megapixel photos, but some photos I took didn’t capture depth well, nor did they look much better than pictures taken with a cheaper point-and-shoot. The 10-megapixel images captured with the Canon were softer-looking, and the camera itself offers more manual control, as well as better optical zoom, which more serious photographers might appreciate. But the consumer looking for a simpler camera might not need all of these bells and whistles offered with the Canon.

Also, neither camera is Wi-Fi-enabled, and since they use microSD cards for storage, they won’t work with something like a Wi-Fi-equipped Eye-Fi card, which wirelessly transmits images from the camera to a nearby computer. Users will be forced to transfer and share all photos the old-fashioned way: By plugging into a computer.

First, the Sony: It’s 3.8 inches by 2.3 inches — about the size of a credit card — and just 0.5 inch thick. It weighs 3.9 ounces. The camera went on sale in March of this year and is available in four colors: White, purple, pink and silver.

Like Sony’s earlier TX55, the Cyber-shot TX66 has a 3.3-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) touchscreen that I really liked. The display was bright, the screen was responsive to the touch and it was easy to navigate through all of the menu options of the camera from the screen. Shooting HD video required just one quick tap on a red “movie” button. (It’s worth noting that audio capture on the video, however, was poor.)

The front of the camera is made up of two panels, one that slides up to reveal the lens. The lens doesn’t project or extend from the camera when you shoot photos; instead, this camera has something called a “folded optic” design, so the lens extends within the body of the camera. My only gripe about the design is that the power button and elongated shoot button are too small, dictated by the slimness of the camera body.

I had both cameras with me during a recent trip to Los Angeles, so I took lots of photos of friends, scenery and the colorful characters at the annual E3 videogame conference.

Photos taken with the Sony in standard mode were vivid and bright. For example, I took pictures with both cameras of a flower bush in a front yard while walking down the street in Venice, Calif. The photo taken with the Sony popped with color; the photo taken with the Canon PowerShot Elph 520 was more muted.

The Sony has plenty of in-camera options for punching up your photos without feeling overwhelming, such as color-enhancing effects, background de-focusing options and the ability to change the tone of your photo. It even offers 3-D shooting, by capturing two images at once and splicing them together for the “stereo” effect needed for 3-D, though those images can only be viewed on a true 3-D screen.

The camera has a 10x digital zoom, but it still wasn’t powerful enough to take great photos of the people onstage at a press event when I was seated in an area’s mezzanine level. The Canon, by comparison, has a 12x zoom, and took better photos from far away.

In my experience, the Sony’s battery life was better than the Canon’s. The initial charge took around two hours, but the battery was still going after a few days of intermittent use, while the Canon’s battery life was nearly drained under the same circumstances. Sony says the expected battery life for shooting still images is up to 250 images per charge.

The Canon PowerShot Elph 520, meanwhile, gets just 190 shots per charge. Plus, unlike the Sony’s internal battery, its battery is a rounded stick that has to be removed from the camera and placed on a separate charger. I didn’t lose it while I was testing it, but I could see that easily happening.

The Canon, which hit the market in early May, has a boxier, more substantial body than the Sony. It measures 3.34 inches by 2.12 inches by 0.76 inch, and weighs 5.5 ounces.

I felt better about throwing the Canon into a bag with a bunch of other gear, but it’s just thick enough that it wouldn’t fit into my pocket the way the Sony did. The Canon is available in blue, black, red and silver.

The Canon PowerShot Elph 520 has a nice, three-inch diagonal LCD screen, but it’s not a touchscreen like the Sony’s. There are a few buttons on top of the camera, including a big, round button for taking photos, and seven tiny buttons on the back of the camera for turning flash on and off, navigating through menu options and recording video.

For someone who isn’t familiar with high-end DSLRs, especially a Canon DSLR, the menu options might seem confusing. It has more than two dozen scene settings and photo effects. It also offers some manual controls that more experienced photo-takers might appreciate, such as the ability to adjust the exposure and the ISO, or sensitivity of the camera in low-light situations.

Some consumers might initially like the softness of some of the Canon photos, especially in its auto mode, as I did. Others might find the photos to look too noisy. You can adjust the sharpness of the photos, but they still won’t look super crisp.

If you’re looking for a “real” camera to supplement your smartphone, both of these cameras will do the trick and save you space. But consumers who want a super-small — and simple — camera will likely prefer the Sony Cyber-shot TX66, while those used to a slightly more advanced camera may want to consider Canon’s Power Shot Elph 520.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik