Friday, August 27, 2010
Best Cameras Under $300
You don’t need to take out a second mortgage for a DSLR to take great photos. Here are our favorite cameras that will do it for under $300.
While it would it would great spending $500 or more for a digital camera, getting the most bank for buck makes at lot of sense today—or anytime. What follows are 10 digicams that go for less than $300 online or in stores–and take great photographs. You won’t find any barebones sub-$100 cameras here simply because, for the most part, they’re not worth it even at the low price. Spend a bit more for a solid camera and you’ll have photographic payoff that’ll last for years.
This model proves you don’t have to bust your budget for a solid digicam. Available for less than $199, the 10-megapixel SX120 IS has a powerful 10x zoom meaning you can take nice people shots and great close-ups–the range is 36mm to a whopping 360mm. Running on easy-to-find AA batteries, the SX120 IS is as simple to operate as you’d like but also offers advanced options such as aperture- and shutter–priority modes as well as manual, features not typically found on such affordable cameras. Optical image stabilization helps you capture tack-sharp images and the 3-inch LCD makes framing shots a breeze. The only real drawback is the lack of HD video but you can still take 640×480 VGA clips.
Casio is known for its ultra-thin point-and-shoots but they’ve broken new ground with their latest line-up of high-speed cameras. In the case of the EX-FH100 (around $289) that means you can shoot action subjects such as kids playing soccer at 40 frames per second—light speeds faster than typical compacts. The camera uses a new 10-megapixel CMOS sensor to make this magic happen. It also has a 24-240mm 10x optical zoom, a 3-inch LCD screen and takes good quality DVD-level videos.
One of DigitalTrends.com’s favorite new camera features is Sony’s Sweep Panorama. To grab beautiful vistas you simply press the shutter while “sweeping” across the scene. There’s no need for extensive post-processing on your computer—the panorama is stitched together in your camera. The feature first appeared in expensive models (naturally) but now it’s available in the very affordable ($179) 14-megapixel W350. Along with Sweep Panorama, the digicam has a 4x zoom (26-105mm), high-quality optical image stabilization, a 9-point auto focus system and a 2.7-inch LCD screen.
Nikon Coolpix S8000≈$299
DigitalTrends.com reviewed this camera and liked it a lot. We found that for around $299, the S8000 is a very good, lightweight 14MP camera that takes high-quality stills. It’s extremely simple to use and has a versatile 10x focal length of 30-300mm, making it a good choice for vacationers or anyone who wants a solid digicam at hand. Unfortunately its HD video quality is very low-definition but if you’re looking for a quality camera—i.e. a device for capturing photographs–keep the S8000 in mind.
Check out our full Nikon Coolpix S8000 Review.
The soon-to-be-introduced Z800EXR is the replacement for the Z700EXR. While it has similar features, it’s actually $50 less than last year’s model ($229 MSRP). We’re big fans of trends like this. What we like about the Z800EXR is its extremely compact size (.8-inches thin) that easily fits in your jeans or handbag. Slide down the front panel and the 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD comes to life. The 12-megapixel camera has a solid 5x optical zoom and takes 720p HD videos. It’s available in red, gold, black and pink so it really stands out.
The 14.1-megapixel SD3500 IS (around $289) has a huge 3.5-inch wide LCD touchscreen that’s among the best we’ve used (Sony is on a par). You can customize your photo settings by simply dragging icons to preferred on-screen locations, then use “taps” to switch between images during playback. A 24mm ultra-wide angle lens with 5x optical zoom gets more in each shot such as big family gatherings or dramatic landscapes while optical image stabilization helps eliminate the shakes from your photos. Along with 14.1-megapixel stills the camera also takes HD quality videos. It’s available in three color variations– black, silver and pink—to fit your style.
Although we’re big boosters of DSLRs, changing lenses can be a burden and a hassle. That’s why mega zoom cameras—with extreme focal lengths—are very popular. One of the most potent is the 14-megapixel $289 SP-800 with a built-in 30x zoom, the widest range available (28-840mm!). You can easily capture nice landscapes then zoom into a tree branch on a faraway mountaintop. Two types of image stabilization help eliminate blur, an important feature given the extreme telephoto range.
For around $229, the 12.1-megapixel ZS5 is a solid, take anywhere camera. Not only does it have a very wide-angle lens (25mm) for dramatic land- and cityscapes, it reaches 300mm, thanks to the 12x zoom. The package is nice and compact, making it a real plus for vacationers or anyone who want good photos. The ZS5 has Panasonic’s well-respected optical image stabilization system, a 2.7-inch LCD and takes 720p high-definition videos.
Pentax Optio W90$249
It’s great taking your camera anywhere—especially on an outdoors adventure. You can take the $249 12.1-megapixel W90 snorkeling (down to 20 feet), drop it from your hand (from 4 feet), even take it out during a snowstorm. Another cool feature? The camera has special LED lighting so you can take great macro close-ups. The W90 also has a 5x optical zoom, a 2.7-inch screen, takes 720p HD videos and is available in orange, black or green to match your backpack.
Samsung really broke the digicam mold with its DualView line-up. The cameras have the typical large LCD on the back to frame and review your shots. The surprise is a 1.5-inch screen on the front that makes it incredibly simple to take properly-framed self portraits. It can even act as a “watch the birdie” trick for kids since it shows animations to get their attention. Along with this unique feature, the TL225 is a solid 12.2-megapixel camera with a 4.6x zoom (27-124mm) plus is has a beautiful 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD (around $215).
Hailstones collected by Vivian resident Les Scott.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
On July 23, 2010, a severe thunderstorm struck Vivian, S.D. — a quiet rural community of less than 200. While there was nothing unusual about a violent summer storm, the softball (and larger)-sized hail that accompanied it was extraordinary. In fact, it led to the discovery of the largest hailstone ever recorded in the United States.
Word of Mouth Travels Fast
Once the thunderstorm passed, Vivian resident Les Scott ventured outside to see if there was any damage as a result of the storm. He was surprised to see a tremendous number of large hailstones on the ground, including one about the size of a volleyball. Scott gathered up that stone, along with a few smaller ones, and placed them in his freezer.
Meanwhile, other residents of the small community went outside to check the storm’s aftermath and it didn’t take long for word to get around that Scott had discovered a huge hailstone on his property.
Shortly after the storm NOAA’s Aberdeen, S.D., weather forecast office (WFO) learned that extremely large hail had fallen in Vivian and that a suspected tornado had done some damage south of the town of Reliance. After receiving that information, David Hintz, the warning coordination meteorologist at WFO Aberdeen contacted Lyman County Emergency Manager Steve Manger to coordinate a damage survey.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
A Hail of a Stone
The next day, Hintz met up with Manger and they decided to first inspect the hail damage in Vivian before moving onto the tornado damage. Once in Vivian, they heard about the mammoth hailstone in Scott’s possession. After a quick trip to Scott’s home to measure the stone’s circumference and diameter, and send pictures back to the office, it became evident that this was a possible record breaker.
“Mr. Scott told me the area was littered with large hailstones and the largest had a greater diameter when he first found it,” recalls Hintz. “He immediately stored it and several others in his freezer, but a six-hour power outage caused some melting.”
Even after melting, the stone still measured 8.0 inches in diameter and weighed nearly 2 pounds (1 pound, 15 ounces) with a circumference of 18.62 inches.
WFO Aberdeen notified personnel at National Weather Service Central Region headquarters, who, in turn, requested activation of the National Climatic Extremes Committee to examine Scott’s hailstone. Additional personnel from the Aberdeen office traveled to Vivian to measure and weigh the hailstone, and then turned their findings over to the three-person committee.
One for the Record books
Vivian resident displays a section of roof that was damaged by the hailstorm.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
After a thorough review of the evidence, NCEC — the team responsible for validating national weather records — declared Scott’s hailstone to be the largest in diameter and heaviest ever recovered in the United States.
Scott’s hailstone displaces the previous hailstone record for weight, which was previously 1.67 pounds for a stone in Coffeyville, Kan., that fell in 1970. It also surpasses the record for diameter, which was 7 inches for a hailstone found in Aurora, Neb., in 2003. The Aurora hailstone still holds the record for circumference of 18.75 inches.
Hailstones Pack a Perilous (and Costly) Punch
Hail causes nearly one billion dollars (U.S.) in damage to property and crops annually.
Vehicle damaged by hailstones.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
According to NOAA records, hail was the main factor in two weather events since 1980 that caused $1 billion or more in damages to young crops, businesses, homes, cars and trucks. A series of storms over six days in early April 2001 caused $1.9 billion in damages in 13 states, spanning from Texas to Pennsylvania. A three-day event in early April 2003 damaged $1.6 billion in property and agriculture in 10 states stretching from Texas to Tennessee.
Small hail, up to about the size of a pea, can wipe out a field of ripening grain or tear a vegetable garden to shreds. Large hail, the size of a tennis ball or larger, can fall at speeds faster than 100 miles per hour and can batter rooftops, shatter windows and “total” automobiles.
To learn more about hail, visit NOAA’s Hail Basics website.
Information about the National Climatic Extremes Committee and existing weather records may be found online.
As August nights get cooler, we begin begrudgingly counting down the remaining summer days. Once Labor Day passes, it’s back to school time for millions.
The best part of going back to school is clearly the shopping. Even though a new notebook can go a long way in preparing you for the new year, the iPhone () also has a ton of apps that will help to get you organized and in the right mind-space to focus and learn.
Last year we brought you 10 awesome applications and now we are updating and adding to that list, ensuring you have a smooth transition when returning to those hallowed halls.
From the college-bound to those who are still lucky enough to enjoy recess, here is a list of the best back to school apps.
1. Open Culture
Going back to school can be a shock to the system. You’ve probably spent the last few months relaxing, hanging out with friends, or transitioning from summer job mode. Hours of classes, papers and assignments can be rough, so to get yourself in a more intellectual space, you can check out Open Culture, which gives you free access to a huge selection of educational and intellectual audio and video collections.
Because acing school often has to do with time management, this app can really help you out in the multitasking department. Choose from a decent list of classics available as audio books while you do your laundry or hit the gym. The “Ideas and Culture” option has a lengthy list of podcasts and radio shows that will tune you into some striking commentary and analysis from some of today’s most interesting thinkers. There is also access to free university lectures plus foreign language lessons and scientific tutorials; as if you didn’t have enough to deal with.
2. Mental Case
Those first tests are but a few weeks away, and it’s up to you to make studying for them as easy as possible. For $4.99, Mental Case lets you create oh-so-handy flashcards on your iPhone. If you’re still leaning toward making them out of paper, then the added bonus of being able to record audio and insert images to the cards may sway your thoughts.
In addition to making your own custom flashcards, you also have access to FlashcardExchange where you can choose from over 21 million cards on a huge range of topics.
If you’d rather not spend all your time studying from your phone, you can download the flash cards to your computer.
A professor can often make or break a course. Some love teaching and really bring excitement and innovation to the lecture hall, while others have sleep-inducing voices and read straight out of the textbook. Rate My Professors is a useful app in deciding what courses you want to try to get into and which ones you should probably ditch before the add/drop period is over.
While versions of Rate My everything — from teachers, to doctors to dentists — have existed for years, this app is a great way to let other students know when your prof does something great or should just be avoided. You can tweet or post the messages to Facebook (), but use caution if you plan to publicize a bad review.
4. myHomework and iStudiez Pro
myHomework and iStudiez Pro are two apps we have reviewed before, but we simply can’t leave them off this list. myHomework is a free app that will help you stay afloat amidst the sea of assignments you’ll have to tackle.
Color coding helps you keep track of assignments in different classes, and when they’re due. If you are a great organizer, you can use the app to intricately plan how much of each assignment you want to accomplish and by what date to really keep you on track. The app has been updated since we last reviewed it, and you can now view your homework in a day or calendar view, as well as send homework reminders to friends.
iStudiez Pro is a paid app ($2.99) that will help you keep track of your student life. Here you can track your class schedule, so you aren’t missing lectures and ending up at the wrong end of campus, and you can also color-code each of your classes with their corresponding assignments, and be notified of their due dates on the apps calendar.
French class may be frustrating, but it’s not hopeless. Free translator is a great way to help you learn another language, as you can discover words that are more relevant to your life.
This app supports a ton of languages, so you even if your school doesn’t offer Polish or Korean lessons, you can learn a few things on your own. It also won’t hurt to have it handy when your French teacher calls on you in class.
So this probably isn’t news to anyone entering or already in college; textbooks are expensive. Even courseware, which is often a compilation of photocopied texts, can run you hundreds of dollars. Since you probably just dropped a ton of cash on tuition, why not try and save some money where you can without sacrificing your education?
Chegg is a free app that does just that. It’s a textbook rental company with millions of titles to choose from, which is a real bonus considering you don’t have to brave the school book store and stand in line for hours.
You can search for your book by title, author or ISBN, or simply scan its barcode. The app is hellbent on saving you money, as you can compare Chegg’s rental price to the retail and in-store prices, so you know you are getting the best deal.
Since it’s a book rental app, you’ll have to part with the books eventually, which means you have to remember to return them. With all your work, that might be the last thing on your mind, but thankfully the app will send you gentle reminders so late fees don’t ruin the value of the service.
Blackboard is a platform that many schools use as way to communicate with students, as well as posting their grades and assignments to private student accounts. Many teachers and professors will direct their students to head to Blackboard to view next week’s lecture notes or find the link to a required reading. Having access to the platform on your phone can make keeping up with your assignments so much easier.
8. Quick Graph
For many of us, math is just not our thing. Those who get it and love it will probably adore Quick Graph, a graphic calculator with 2D and 3D capabilities. It’s also capable of displaying explicit and implicit equations as well as inequalities in both 2D and 3D, in all standard coordinate systems: Cartesian, polar, spherical and cylindrical. You can also share your results via e-mail or you can save them to your photo library.
Even if you are a math-wiz, it’s hard to keep track of all those formulas. Formulus Free is an app that can help when your memory fails you. There is no more searching through pages of notes to find the right formula for your equation. The free app has all your algebra, geometry and differential equation needs in one easy-to-find place.
10. Free Books
So Free Books isn’t actually free, but you get a lot for its $1.99 price tag. Once you’ve paid for the app, you have easy access to 23,469 classics at the swipe of a finger.
While you won’t find modern titles, the classics — the ones you are likely studying in class — are all there. You can search for titles by name, or browse through them by genre or collection. Think of the money you’ll save not having to buy each book for your Lit class.
For those worried that they couldn’t read an entire book on their iPhone screen, fear not, as you can actually e-mail yourself a copy of the entire book so you can read it on your computer or download it to an e-reader.
Who wants to coach this soccer team?
Apple and Google haven’t been BFFs lately, but the search giant still seems to care about iPhone users. Kind of, sort of. Google this week released an update for its Google Mobile app for iPhone, which introduces push notifications for Google’s calendar and a barely functional push feature for Google mail.
For iPhone users subscribed to Google calendars, the Google Mobile app can now push out an event alert in a box that appears on the home screen, just like you’d receive an SMS message. That’s useful.
But for Google mail, the new push feature is somewhat less useful. The updated app doesn’t push out a box to let you know of a new e-mail. Instead, it just updates the icon of the Google Mobile app, adding a little red bubble that shows the number of e-mails in your inbox. This “notification” doesn’t cause the iPhone to vibrate or make a sound. The result is that the Gmail notifier is essentially useless, since you can already configure Gmail to “push” into Apple’s built-in Mail app with sounds and vibrations — the whole shebang — to actually notify you.
Frankly, we’re disappointed that the push feature for Google mail isn’t more functional. Adding the ability to push e-mails in the form of an alert box, just like Google did with calendar, would’ve been far more interesting.
If that’s what you’re looking to get from Google mail, you can download the third-party iPhone app GPush, which we covered last year.
Grilling your own steaks but need to serve up rare, medium rare, medium, and
burnt well done cuts all at the same time? Let the Steak Station ($23) help you out. It features four color-coded probes that attach to a main digital display that ensures you'll get your meat cooked to perfection, or as close as you can get without some serious dry aging.
Foursquare players too busy painting the town red to go to the trouble of whipping out their iPhone and checking in can sit back and let Checkmate do the work for them.
At $1.99, Checkmate offers a convenient alternative for those looking for a passive aggressive way to play the geosocial game. The brand new app harnesses background-running location on the iPhone () to check in Foursquare () players automatically at specified venues.
After you download and fire up the app, you can select different venues to add to your “Auto Checkin Venues” list. You can toggle automatic checkins on or off for the whole list, as well as specify whether to automatically post a shout or share the checkin on Facebook () and Twitter (). Once you’re within 50 meters of a designated venue, Checkmate will take over and check you in on Foursquare.
The application works on iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 and eventually will add support for other checkin services.
Future Checkin [iTunes link] is similar in nature; it too supports automatic checkins for specified venues via background location on the iPhone. Future Checkin differs by letting you adjust the GPS settings for more accurate or more battery-friendly automatic checkins. Both applications warn that by running location in the background, you risk draining your phone’s battery.
Do automatic background checkins appeal to you? Leave us a comment and tell us why or why not.
Huffington Post | Travis Walter Donovan
2010 has been dominated by extreme natural phenomena, becoming known as the year of 'global weirding.' Heat waves are just one of the many dramatic forces in weather that have been wreaking havoc across the world, scorching populations from South America to the Middle East.
According to Dr. Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, 15 countries have set new records for high temperatures so far this year, and two have matched their prior record.
On his Wunder Blog, Masters writes that even the amount of countries experiencing record temperatures sets a new record, as never has such a large area of the Earth's surface -- 19 percent -- experienced all-time record high temperatures in a single year.
Here are 9 nations that have reached unprecedented sizzling hot temperatures. Check out the full list: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/24/record-heat-9-nations-tha_n_691367.html
Click here to see full article and gallery: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/