SAN FRANCISCO -- Gateway Inc. has expanded its reach into the electronic home with some solidly built digital cameras that offer budding photographers another option beyond the tried-and-true Canons, Sonys and Nikons.
Gateway's premium model is the DC-T50 ($399), a 5.25-megapixel workhorse with enough manual override options to keep control freaks happy and a sophisticated auto mode for the rest of us.
Beyond the sharp resolution, there's a 1 1/2-inch full-color image display on the back of the camera, a SD (Secure Digital) memory card slot and a 3X optical zoom.
The DC-T50 is a comfortably sized, brushed silver unit. Too often, whiz-bang developers cram the electronics into digital cameras that end up being so small they're lost in the hand or their buttons are too tiny. Nothing personal, Sony.
Gateway avoids this nicely. Now let's talk image quality.
I took some daylight shots in downtown San Francisco at the highest resolution, using the auto exposure presets on the Gateway. A dial on top of the unit allowed me to quickly toggle from manual to auto modes, with various grades of user control in between.
I liked the quiet, clean action of the camera. Pressing the shutter button halfway quickly composes the shot as the camera makes some quick distance and lighting readings before clicking off a picture.
Most cameras have this, like my own Canon S400 4-megapixel camera, but the half- and full-pressed button action is much smoother with the Gateway.
I was also impressed with Gateway's intuitive menu screen, also better than Canon's.
There's a "set" button in the middle between four directional buttons that easily let me choose shutter speeds and aperture levels while in manual mode.
I took my shots back to the desktop and launched Adobe Photoshop for a close-up look. I eschewed the provided camera-to-PC USB connection wire and simply popped the memory card into a memory card reader. Fewer wires are always a good thing.
Photos of the San Francisco skyline taken with the Gateway camera looked extremely crisp, though the colors struck me as less vivid than the same shots taken earlier that day with my trusty Canon.
I'm told by professional photo editors that my eye was drawn to the vivid colors of the Canon shots simply because they were brighter.
To their trained eyes, the colors in the Gateway images were more realistic, with a wider spectrum of hues.
The Gateway camera fared better with photos I took along the waterfront of a large, bright red bow-and-arrow sculpture. The colors and sharpness were extremely true-to-life, and the DC-T50 caught the shadowy nuances of the sculpture in the foreground and the wispy clouds in the distance.
The manual setting options on the DC-T50 allowed me to try different shutter speeds and aperture settings, but I found I always could have obtained the same or better results in the auto mode.
They build digital cameras pretty darn smart these days and if you really want to get into fully controlling your images, you're better off sticking to SLR 35mm film cameras -- or ponying up a lot more cash for a "prosumer"-level digital Canon EOS or Nikon unit.
It's not the sexiest, sleekest digital camera going, but Gateway has performed well with the DC-T50.
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