There are pretty comprehensive reviews here and at Dpreview. There are also some others as well, some are less formal and more subjective, a little more towards reviewed as might be used (as opposed to more controlled lab like tests). Between the reviews and static articles at different sites, there are often some comments on applicability to certain uses. Maybe something like "This is recommended for... but if you want ...., you might want to look at the XXXXX." Unfortunately, there probably isn't a "one size does all" camera that everyone would agree on and the more reviews you read, the more you'll find somewhat conflicting sorts of information. Try the cameras for size and feel at a store where you can move back and forth.
I rejected cameras from my "short list' because of the way they handled or felt. Look through the finders and track moving people in the store, pan the camera some and see how it deals with panning. Different finders appeal to different people. I hadn't even included the camera I ended up with on my short list but it's feel, handling and viewfinder performance blew away some of the other contenders. But it didn't do some of the other things I wanted and I've recently added a dslr.
Without some solid experience, making a choice may be difficult. I didn't have IS but it wasn't all that big a deal for most of my applications. I certainly wouldn't suggest disregarding it as it does help in a variety of ways as you begin to push the digicam envelope, especially at the low light uses. It's not real helpful for sports as the subjects tend to move fast enough that you need fast shutter speeds anyways. Docile nature shots it may help at the long end, fast subjects, again, it's not going to be apparent when you "need" to freeze subject motion.
If you are doing a lot of family, indoor things, wide may be pretty important to you...
Thanks Craig - appreciate your taking the time to reply. Ventured into a few camera shops, and tried some models. You're right, the more research you do, the more conflicting advice you find! I tried a fujifilm one with a 10x optical zoom but didn't feel that comfortable using it - was slightly bamboozled by all the buttons/options The salesgirl recommended I try a Casio Exilim Z750 - with 7.2 megapixels and 3x zoom. (Though they didn't have in stock.) I need to provide the occasional travel photo for newspaper/magazine (am a journalist) and thought a zoom would be great, but I think as I'm such a complete beginner a camera that gives good res, and maybe less daunting is what I should go for... jini..
I was using "Introduction to digital Photography" by Joseph Ciaglia. It was published in 2002, and I have been using it until now. It was given to me by one of the instructors at the university I work for. They use it for their.
Digital Photography classes. I hope that this helps...
I would suggest a few things on these cameras. First, auto-everything is probably not going to get you photos that you will feel satisfied with. But most cameras in this class have a variety of "semi-auto everything" modes that will pretty much get you there. They will set the white point for, e.g., indoor flash or outdoor snow shots or bright day landscapes, etc. They will set your trade-off of aperture and shutter speed based on the kind of shot (sports action vs still life, etc). If you use those, you can get quite acceptable shots with most of the cameras.
You will see colored fringes around sharp, high-contrast edges in your photos, especially at higher magnifications. So you should look for that in the sample images, and decide which cameras are most acceptable for that. There is a HUGE difference in different lenses in this regard, and cost of camera seems not to be a particularly good predictor of lens quality in this regard. The ultrazooms will often have problems with the edges of the images being darker than the rest of the picture. This is often called "vignetting." Look for signs of that.
Again, there is a great deal of variation with different lenses. Noise is a problem with all of the ultrazooms. The DImage Z5 is especially bad at this, as well as having a more mediocre lens than most in this class. You should be able to get a decent low-noise image in good light even at the 400 "film" speed. For darker images like night shots, you will be aware of the noise at 200 on these cameras, but it should be tolerable.
Basically all of them trade off image-processing smoothing and noise to different extents. Generally, you can select how processed to make the image. In general, less processing is better you can always muck it up later in PhotoShop, but you can't undo it if it's in the image. Some cameras (the H1 comes to mind here) also add a fair amount of "sharpness" by processing. They smooth the noise out of the image, and then do what amounts to an unsharp masking to put back the appearance of detail.
It looks like a wave is being reflected off the sharp edge. But this kind of thing is usually adjustable in cameras. The way it looks out of the box is just what the manufacturer decided would look best to it's target market. You can almost always change the noise and sharpening profile dramatically. If you're willing to play with this stuff, the differences between, e.g., the Sony H1, the Canon S2 IS, and the Panasonic FZ20 are pretty hard to tell.
YMMV. I would suggest that IS is really important for most people with an ultrazoom. If you travel with a tripod and always use it, you don't need it. Otherwise, you need it with any of the high-magnification zooms. All the cameras I am aware of that have it allow you to have the IS off (least battery draw), only on while the picture is being exposed (not a big batery drain and provides excellent stabilization in the image, but it doesn't help you when you're framing the shot), or always on (maximum battery drain and limited improvement in the image, but helps when framing the shot).
Basically, you can get your shot without a tripod if you're careful. There's a lot of difference in the camera feel, so you should go to a camera shop and get your hands on the various cameras that you think you might be interested in. The EVF (electronic viewfinder all the ultrazooms have this instead of an optical viewfinder, unfortunately) will vary with the camera. What works for you is not easy to quantify on this aspect. The controls will also be either better or worse for your useage.
For some people, the video mode of the camera is a big deal. If so, the Canon S2 IS is probably the best bet. Probably, the above characteristics will determine your choice. If not, look for standard batteries instead of a proprietary one and consider the memory card technology. These should be enough to break any tie that still remains in your mind..
I recently bought a Canon S2 IS 12 zoom digital camera and this was my first foray into digital cameras. Considering I knew nothing about digital cameras I found it fairly easy to navigate the menus and I've been very pleased with the results. The movies are excellent, the images are clear, the swivel screen is very useful, the options available are also excellent and the start-up and shutter speed are both quick. Celia..