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The last time I put pen to DooYoo was a sorrowful affair, updating an op on my old digital camera after it got itself pinched. I'd had it for years, and presumed was quite basic, but only realised when I came to replacing it that they don't make them like that any more, sob... This op however is about my new camera, which is everything the old one was (though sadly for twice the price). Anyway, a few weeks after my bereavement, I was after a replacement. A nice lady at Direct Line had decided on the spot to give me a new for old with vouchers I could use in the Jessops opposite my office, and I was very chuffed with this arrangement until I actually turned up in the shop, to fiddle with Jessops' recommended replacement. This would be a Fujifilm Finepix A201 and, as the shop assistant himself told me, not a patch on my old Finepix 1500. Gone was the tough metal body and speedy f2.7 lens, and in its place was a slightly higher megapix rating in a very flimsy plastic shell. I freely admit not to be the world's best photographer (I'm currently terrified that I've been asked to do my Father in law's upcoming wedding shots!), so have no need for a professional camera with 3, 4, or even 6 megapixels, and only use low res pics for websites. Most of the time I didn't even use the 1.3 megapixels of the old camera, needing only 640x480 shots. What was more important to me was a robust pocket snapper that took sharp photos without a flash in low light conditions. With the advent of optical zooms in digital cameras, and the megapixel arms race, lenses have gotten slower. Manufacturers seem to have cut back on the quality of components, leaving plastic boxes that take lovely huge pictures of sunny days on Clapham Common, but embarrassing grey blurs under office lighting, or indeed most conditions you actually want to use them. I asked the assistant what would be the cheapest metal bodied camera with a f
ast lens, and he picked down a Casio QV-R3 from the shelf, with a £300 price tag. I had to feign interest (in the way you do when you're faced with something you certainly can't afford, but don't want to appear a total cheapskate) then scuttled off, mumbling something about going away to "think about it". Well... to cut what is already a long story a bit shorter, I was surprised to see the very same camera in the window the next week as ex-display, with £50 knocked off, so stomached the £80 that I had to pay over the insurance and snapped it up. And I'm very glad I did, it's a thoroughly excellent device. It does the job, taking good pictures, even in dim artificially lit rooms, and even at full optical zoom. What's more, it does so quickly, with less than a second between frames, and with a fast autofocus. What's most wowed me about it though is just the feeling of solid quality it gives off. It's tiny (9x6x3cm), but a noticeable and well balanced weight (enough feeling of solidity in your hands to cut camera shake). When you turn it on, the lens whirrs out quite quietly and smoothly, accompanied by a needless but cute startup animation. All the buttons and features are made of the same brushed stainless steel (which I've only managed to scratch a little so far), and the lens cover and nice sharp LCD screen seem solid. Even the LCD screen menus and icons are prettily designed. It luckily doesn't quite shout "flash git!" like some cameras, but definitely has a nice look to it as an object. Casio make great claims for its advanced features on the box, especially the "coupling shot" mode. This is frankly bizarre, and lets two of you feature in a joint picture without 3rd party help, by taking half a photo at a time, and overlaying a guide to help the second snapper line up the halves. Even odder is a mode for people who don't trust their friends to line
up sh ots of them - take the pic and then have your photo overlaid as a guide. I've thought about this, but can't imagine anyone ever using it. It's not alone though, a whole menu of 30-odd modes lets you optimise pictures of buildings, flowing water, children's parties, you name it. It all basically revolves around clever tweaks of the manual settings for different situations, but by the time you've worked out which to use when, and what it does, you might well have learned to run the whole thing on manual instead. Luckily all this oddness is grouped together behind the 'best shot' button, so you only need to ignore one button to ignore the lot of it. (Rather shamefully I also ignore manual mode, which is extremely detailed for those who actually know what they're doing). It takes small, short & silent AVI videos by coupling tiny shots, but I've yet to find this useful. Similarly it's got lots of clever print conventions like EXIF for when you take it along to Boots for printing 6x4's, and a clever slider to let the viewfinder adjust to your eyesight when you're not wearing specs, all stuff I won't use myself but others will find useful I'm sure. There are a few minor niggles - the buttons are small and fiddly, some common functions take more button presses than they should need to if the menus were simpler, the firm plastic cable connection cover looks like it will break off at some point. The main bother with it though is the power switch. It's a simple push button, exposed on the top, and liable to be turned on and off repeatedly in bags or pockets. With such a good design otherwise it seems strange that Casio were so dim with this. The software supplied is also rather lame. The loader is confusing, making strange html page albums rather than just opening a file list, and making you go hunt for the photos in date named folders. It's also closely integrated wi
th the ret ouching software, which isn't much cop. I've turned both off, and just get the pics out with Windows Explorer, which treats the camera as another drive, or browse the contents in Paint Shop Pro. Some details: Pentax lens - 3x optical zoom (7.6mm-22.8mm), + 3x digital zoom 14cm macro mode 3.2 mega pixels (2048x1536 pics), with 3 smaller settings USB1 image transfer Internal memory 11MB, expandable with SD card or Multimedia card The chap in the shop said it had the same innards as the Pentax Optio 300, and both do indeed look alike, with the same lens, and all the buttons in the same places on slightly cosmetically different cases, so I guess it's a toss-up which to choose - they're both a good option to save at least £50 over the Canon IXUS v3 on a similar spec. Overall I like it very much, and am sure you will too! If I were cleverer, I'd get nice pics out of the comprehensive manual settings, and if I were more of a beginner, I'd likely find the hand-holding modes good too. There's a lot more than I need here, but it does what I need extremely well. I'd never have spent so much on a camera if I'd not had the insurance payment, and probably would have opted for the old Fuji again if I could have found it 2nd-hand, but I'm glad that I did impoverish myself in the end, as I've gained a truly useful piece of kit, and a very nicely designed plaything. Update 2/4/3 --------------- Aha! There's a very fun little feature I've found. It actually makes websites for you. choose one of many templates, and the camera automatically makes an html page with thumbnails for all the pics, linked to larger versions - v good at taking donkey work out of web galleries, even if you do end up changing the files a lot to make them match your site, the thumbnailing is a good option to have. Please promise not to tell anyone how I ma
nage to get the upcoming wedding shots on the web so fast!