Digital Cameras at Work

By Eric Grevstad | Posted June 15, 2004
Digital cameras have rapidly become must-have hardware for many small businesses. Realtors, lawyers, insurance agents, appraisers and event planners rely on the quick, professional results a digital camera provides. But other businesses can benefit too — make employee ID cards, document before, during and after stages of renovation or landscape projects or photograph inventory for online sales. The possibilities are endless.

As camera features and resolution steadily climb and prices steadily fall, manufacturers are increasingly targeting second- or third-time buyers instead of digital-camera newbies. Ultra-cheap cameras with poor quality digital zoom instead of high quality optical zoom lenses are disappearing, and that's good news for anyone who's shopping for digital cameras.

That said, most of the new models now reaching retail — like HP's $349 Photosmart R707, which combines 5.1-megapixel resolution with in-camera red-eye removal and "adaptive lighting" to bring details out of shadows — were announced back in February at the Photo Marketing Association trade show in Las Vegas (see the rundown). But there are a handful of brand-new cameras worth checking out alongside their almost-as-new cousins. Here's an update.

What's New at Kodak
It seems as if every six months or so there's another story about venerable Eastman Kodak vowing to scale back its silver-halide business and get serious about this digital photography fad. Snapshot snobs haven't paid much attention to its consumer-oriented EasyShare series of cameras with optional desktop docks that both recharge the camera battery and offer push-button image transfers to the PC, but the line got a boost last year with the arrival of docks that also provide 4- by 6-inch thermal photo printing. And the newest EasyShare Camera Dock (named simply that, without the model numbers of its predecessors) takes a good idea a step further by adopting the PictBridge interface standard to work with other manufacturers' cameras as well as Kodak's, at least for printing.

Besides the $149 dock, Kodak has freshened its camera lineup with two models that combine point-and-shoot simplicity with the company's dedicated "share" or favorite-shots button for reviewing and designating images for printing and e-mailing. The three-megapixel CX7330 ($199) and five-megapixel CX7530 ($299) offer 3X optical zoom and multi-zone auto-focus, with the latter adding nine picture modes such as close-up, night, landscape and black and white.

Stepping up to the four-megapixel (2,304 by 1,728) EasyShare DX7440 gets you a sharp Schneider-Kreuznach 4X optical zoom lens (33mm to 132mm equivalent); Kodak Color Science digital signal processor with white-balance algorithms; low-light autofocus with through-the-lens contrast detection and 0.2-second click-to-capture time and both a fully automatic mode and 16 scene modes plus manual aperture, shutter, exposure, bracketing and ISO options. The $349 camera features a 2.2-inch indoor/outdoor LCD.

If compact size is critical, Kodak's four-megapixel (2,408 by 1,758), $349 EasyShare LS743 and five-megapixel (2,569 by 1,929), $399 EasyShare LS753 share a brushed-aluminum case the size of a cell phone, as well as a Schneider-Kreuznach 2.8X optical zoom lens, a dozen scene modes, VGA-resolution movie capture and playback and a 2:3 ratio mode optimized for making 4 by 6 prints. Four of the five new Kodak cameras are shipping this month, with the CX7530 coming in July.

Crisp and Compact
Canon USA has replaced its PowerShot S50 shirt-pocket camera with a new PowerShot S60 ($499). This five-megapixel (2,592 by 1,944) camera has a slimmer, sliding-lens-cover design made possible by a thinner, "ultra-high-refractive-index aspherical" 3.6X optical lens, which despite its trimmer size spans from a wide-angle 28mm to telephoto 100mm equivalent.

It also has a higher-capacity lithium-ion battery, more ergonomic zoom-lever and control-pad design, and mix of automatic modes with manual focus, exposure, and white balance.

Spinning Lenses and Keychain Camcorders
Nikon's $299 Coolpix 4100 is designed to help even casual photographers get great shots without relying on a computer to fix mistakes — although it also comes with new PictureProject software that combines editing functions such as one-touch red-eye fix with quick access to all images on the PC without having to search through hard disk directories.

The four-megapixel (2,288 by 1,712) compact has 3X optical zoom (35mm to 105mm equivalent); its 15 scene modes include four — portrait, landscape, night portrait, and sports — with Scene Assist framing help, as well as in-camera cropping, Blur Warning that tells the shooter if a shaky hand has affected a shot, and Nikon's Best Shot Selector that automatically saves the sharpest of a series of flashless snaps. QuickTime movie modes reach to VGA resolution at 30 frames per second.

The newest Sony camera pairs 5.1-megapixel (2,592 by 1,944) resolution with a 300-degree rotating lens for low-angle candids or above-the-head crowd shots — or letting your portrait subjects see themselves in the 1.8-inch LCD, so they can adjust their pose while you look through the optical viewfinder. The Cyber-shot DSC-F88's Real Imaging Processor allows near-immediate startup and shot-to-shot times; the camera offers 3X optical zoom (38mm to 114mm equivalent) and a "magnifying glass" mode for 0.4-inch macro close-ups. It'll ship in July for $449.

Accentuate the Video
All of these cameras, like most digicams these days, can also take short video clips. But there's a growing trend toward making home movies a full partner instead of an afterthought to a camera's still-image capability.

Keep an eye out for Pentax USA's soon-to-ship OptioMX ($399), a palm-sized camcorder with swiveling LCD and fold-down handle grip that's both a 3.2-megapixel camera — with impressive 10X optical zoom (38mm to 380mm equivalent) — and MPEG-4 video shooter. The latter's 640 by 480-pixel, 30-fps movies can be as long as two hours, depending on quality mode and the size of your SD memory card.

Value-priced vendor Concord Camera has much the same idea with its DV2020 ($230), a two-megapixel still camera and MPEG-4 digital video camera that promises to capture up to 84 minutes of action on a 128MB SD card, albeit at a modest 17 fps and 160 by 120 resolution. The DV2020 also doubles as an 8-hour digital voice recorder and MP3 player.

Finally, Philips' new Key019 camcorder can only hold 25 minutes of MPEG-4 video or a couple of hundred 2-megapixel stills, and has a fixed-focus instead of zoom lens. But the $250 gadget weighs only four ounces and is no bigger than most USB flash-memory keychain drives (it's one of those and an MP3 player, too); the same USB cable that transfers its images and videos to your PC recharges its battery.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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