It's a given: Unless you return with photographic documentation, you didn't really go on vacation. Still photographers have a tough choice to make: 35mm or APS (Advanced Photo System). The latter hasn't exactly set the photographic world on fire, but it has some selling points. Among them: the ability to change film midroll; sample sheets of the entire roll when you get the film developed; and encoded data that goes with the film to the processor for better results.
One of the best point-and-shoot APS cameras is the Nikon Nuvis 160i ($340; all prices quoted are manufacturer's suggested retail; street prices are usually less). It has a zoom lens equal to a 160mm lens on a 35mm camera, powerful enough to fill the viewfinder with a Yellowstone buffalo even at a safe distance. Other features include accurate auto-focusing and auto-exposure; a powerful built-in flash; and flash override for shooting sunsets or in museums where flashes aren't allowed. For all-weather picture taking, Minolta's new Xtreem GX-4 ($175) has a water-resistant case that can survive a plunge to 16 feet. The Olympus Centurion ($728), meanwhile, has accurate single-lens-reflex viewing and a built-in 25-100mm lens. The Centurion also offers shutter speeds as high as 1/2000th of a second, an ergonomic design, and a built-in flash.
Despite the advances APS offers, 35mm cameras are tried-and-true, offer superb results, and continue to provide features and performance that are surprising for the price. Yashica's T-4 Super Weatherproof ($169), for example, is a compact marvel, with a weather-resistant design and simple, easy-to-use controls. Plus, you'd have to spend hundreds more to beat its sharp 35mm f3.5 lens. For more picture-taking flexibility, Pentax's IQZoom 115M ($385) has a powerful 3:1 zoom lens plus a sophisticated light meter that automatically compensates for tricky lighting. And for the serious vacation picture-taker, Canon's innovative EOS Elan IIE with EF 28-80mm IV USM ($990) puts technology that could only be dreamed of ten years ago in the hands of even the casual photographer. Features include a super-quiet motor drive and an otherworldly auto-focus system that focuses on whatever your eye is aimed at through the viewfinder. For sophisticated picture-taking in a point-and-shoot camera, Nikon's 35Ti ($1,120 for complete outfit) has a marvelous Nikkor lens, an array of manual overrides for its automated features, and a tough titanium body.
If you're after digital pictures, Epson's new PhotoPC 550 ($299) has point-and-shoot simplicity and includes a built-in microphone so you can record your location as you shoot.
When it comes to moving pictures, the good news is that camcorders are becoming both lighter and less expensive. Sharp's compact VL-E65OU ($899) has a three-inch color LCD viewing screen for easy picture composition and a 16-power (32-power with digital enhancement) zoom lens. It automatically stabilizes the image for sharper, easier-to-watch videos. Sony's CCD-TRV62 ($1,299) uses Hi8 videotape for a clearer image, and has a swiveling color LCD viewing screen and a 15-power (30-power digital) zoom. Finally, Canon's new Optura ($2,400) employs digital-imaging technology in a camcorder that handles like a 35mm single-lens-reflex camera. The Optura has a 14-power zoom lens (30-power digital), an image-stabilizing system, flash connection for still photographs, and a digital terminal for connecting to a computer.