Casio Exilim EX-H10 Point-and-Shoot Camera

Though the category of digital cameras is still brand-new, the good-looking Casio Exilim EX-H10 ($300 as of 9/18/09) claims a subset of that subcategory all by itself. This compact, 10X-optical-zoom model emphasizes fun, beginner-friendly features rather than advanced controls.

The 12-megapixel EX-H10 has a big, 3-inch LCD and a slick silver and black frame that's slightly less than an inch deep. What's amazing about the camera's depth is that it somehow houses the lengthy 10X-optical-zoom lens, which reaches from an ultrawide 24mm to 240mm telephoto. Bolstering the lens is the camera's sensor-shifting image stabilization, which worked well--but not perfectly--when I took shots at full telephoto.

That zoom lens is astonishingly fast, too. If you need to, you can zip from full wide-angle to full telephoto in about a second, though the EX-H10's autofocus does take an additional second or so to adjust to the extreme zooming.

The rocket-powered lens also sounds like a rocket launch, however. The lens motors in the EX-H10 are louder than those of any camera I can remember--in noise level, it's the opposite of the whisper-silent .

Without a doubt, the stars of the show in this camera are its entertaining imaging features. A dedicated Best Shot button on the back of the camera (unfortunately labeled 'BS') gives you access to 37 scene modes. One helpful touch--and an indicator of how the EX-H10 is designed for novices--is the set of sample shots that act as menu icons. Rather than showing a list of written descriptions for the modes, the camera displays a sample shot taken in each mode to identify it. Selecting a mode and using the zoom toggle allows you to read more about the mode's specifics.

The Best Shot modes include all of the old standbys (such as Portrait, Scenery, Self Portrait, and Night Scene), as well as a Best Shot Auto mode that selects the appropriate scene for you.