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December 2007

Top 4 Digital Camcorders

Four packable, trailworthy camcorders that could launch your YouTube career

Olympus Stylus 770SW

[most rugged]

Overall 3.6

Memory internal and XD

Zoom 3x optical, 5x digital

Battery life 1,186 photos

Pixels 7.1MP

Price/weight $380; 5.7 oz.

This slick shooter thrives in conditions that would quickly ruin its hardiest competitors. Rubber gaskets and elastic O-rings safeguard it from torrential rain and snow storms—no protective case required. “I can finally photograph my favorite slot canyon pools,” crowed one tester who dunked the 770SW down to 15 feet. (Olympus guarantees it to 33 feet.) During three months of abuse, the 770SW also survived a five-foot fall, a night in the freezer, and the weight of a 190-pound tester standing on it.

The 3x optical zoom punches out tack-sharp images, and it’s backed up by a fast focus, image stabilization, and 20-plus preset modes that let you quickly nail the best exposure on snow, at night, and around the campfire. You can also stitch together 10 frames to create a superwide mountain panorama. (A tip from our testers: Shoot guidebook pages in the document mode and save a pound by not carrying the whole book. In the field, zoom in to read fine print; the 2.5-inch monitor actually shows a lot.)

The biggest dent in this digicam’s armor: Our crew complained about poor button placement and menus. They also said the owner’s manual is essential to learn the laundry list of awkward abbreviations and icons. “I often felt lost inside the menu screen, not knowing how I got there or how I could get back to the same place twice,” said a frustrated tester. (888) 553-4448;

Fuji FinePix F40fd

[highest quality pictures]

Overall 3.4

Memory internal, SD, and XD

Zoom 3x optical, 6.9x digital

Battery life 1,234 photos

Pixels 8.3MP

Price/weight $250; 6.5 oz.

Not so long ago, photographers needed highly sensitive film to capture motion shots in poor light—imagine wanting a crisp outline of a hiker striding through a dark pine forest. Fuji has accomplished the digital equivalent by developing a more responsive light sensor. The result? You can now snag blur-free images in tough conditions without a tripod.

The quality is superb, too. Testers reported that the F40 collected colors in their truest form. “Blue skies remained blue, instead of being whitewashed,” said one. “Turn on the on-board warming filter,” said another, “and purples remain authentic, while earth-tones pop rather than getting muddy.” The LCD is 2.5 inches wide.

The camera’s full auto mode handles most exposure needs, and experts can program the dial to shortcut to two of the 13 picture modes. Cool feature: One setting collects the same photo with and without a flash, so you can take your pick later.

Some testers found the zoom toggle clunky, while others said its location on the shutter button eliminated the need to use two fingers. Play with it in the store and decide yourself. Caution: As with the Pentax, we worry that the pop-out lens could collect fine sand and get locked up.(800) 800-3854;

*Number of photos taken back-to-back on a fully charged battery.

CRITERIA: For testing, we selected cameras with the following specs: 8 ounces or less, 7MP or greater, 3x optical zoom or greater, less than $400, digital video capable.

Testers: Alan Bauer, Kristin Hostetter, Kim Phillips, Kris Wagner

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