New Digital Cameras -- Higher Tech at Lower Prices

By Eric Grevstad | Posted September 14, 2004
It's no surprise that digital cameras just keep getting sharper, smaller, more feature-filled and more affordable, but we're mildly surprised to see so many cool new cameras slated for release this autumn: We wouldn't have thought the third quarter would be such a hotbed of new photography products. Whatever the reason, SMBs can take advantage of a slew of new digital cameras.

It seems only yesterday we were marveling at five-megapixel resolution cameras compact enough to slip into a shirt-pocket, but in September Canon USA will ship the seven-megapixel (3,072 by 2,304 image resolution) PowerShot S70, a sliding-cover camera with 3.6X zoom lens. (Editor's note: Since we ignore pixelated digital zoom, all references to 3X, 4X, or whatever in this article are to true optical zoom).

Canon says the $600 PowerShot's separate controls for zooming and menu selection are easier to handle than the old S-Series multi-controller; its lithium-ion battery packs 26 percent more power; and its UA Lens (Ultra High Refractive Index Aspherical) technology fits outstanding sharpness and clarity into a thinner, more compact camera body (4.5 by 2.2 by 1.5 inches). The S70 offers 13 shooting modes, macro close-ups as intimate as 1.6 inches, and continuous shooting at two frames per second. It comes with a 32MB CompactFlash card.

For more budget-conscious buyers, Canon's PowerShot A400 is a 3.2-megapixel compact with 2.2X zoom and portrait, night, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater and indoor scene modes. The first of its line to use SD flash media, the $180 model A400 will be available in silver, sky blue, lime green or sunset gold. Stepping up to the $300 PowerShot A85 (four megapixels) or $400 PowerShot A95 (five megapixels) gets you 3.2X zoom, more shooting modes, CompactFlash storage and compatibility with optional wide-angle, telephoto and close-up lenses and waterproof housings.

Finally, Canon offers SLR-type shooters the seven-megapixel PowerShot G6 ($700), which combines 4X zoom (35mm to 140mm equivalent) and a 2.0-inch, 270-degree-swivel LCD monitor in a package 10 percent smaller than its predecessor (4.1 by 2.9 by 2.9 inches). We did a double-take at the press release's boast, "The advanced features and reduced body size of the camera not only suit the needs of advanced amateur photographers, but also of photographers in vertical industries such as law enforcement and dentistry." Open wide!

Smaller Than Small
If the seven-megapixel Canon compact isn't sharp enough for you, the new top of Fuji Photo Film USA's FinePix E family uses the company's 6.3-megapixel Super CCD HR sensor to capture titanic 12-megapixel (4,048 by 3,040) images. The $500 FinePix E550 measures 4.1 by 2.5 by 1.4 inches and features 4X zoom and automatic, manual, portrait, landscape, night and sports shooting modes.

While they lack Super CCD technology, the four-megapixel FinePix E500 ($300) and five-megapixel FinePix E510 ($350) offer 3.2X zoom and two-inch LCD monitors. Like the E550, they come with 16MB xD-Picture Card storage. Among SLR-type cameras, Fuji's FinePix S3100 ($350) combines four-megapixel (2,272 by 1,704) resolution with 6X zoom and a 1.5-inch LCD monitor; it'll be joined in October by a FinePix S5100 model with 10X zoom and the ability to capture RAW image files ($500).

But even coat-pocket digicams are bulky compared to the credit-card-sized slimlines in Casio's Exilim series. In October, that line gets a new flagship with the $450 Exilim Zoom EX-Z55, a five-megapixel (2,560 by 1,920) mini with 3X zoom that measures just 3.4 by 2.3 by 0.9 inches. The EX-Z55 has a 2.5-inch LCD monitor that incorporates an optical viewfinder; for $50 less, the EX-Z50 substitutes a simpler 2.0-inch LCD. Each offers 9.3MB of internal memory plus an SD/MMC card slot -- and a Business Shot function that can turn a trapezoid into a rectangle, straightening out a picture of a white board or document that was taken at an angle.

Casio's big news, however, is an even smaller Exilim -- October's $400 Exilim Card EX-S100, which the company calls the tiniest digital camera with optical zoom (2.8X), made possible by the world's first transparent ceramic lens. The latter uses a material called Lumicera developed by Murata Manufacturing Co. The EX-S100 is a 3.2-megapixel (2,048 by 1,536) camera with 2.0-inch LCD monitor; it's all of 3.5 inches long, 2.25 inches wide, and two-thirds of an inch thick.

We're prejudiced against companies that announce forthcoming products without giving their prices, so we'll step quickly through the third-quarter camera debuts expected from Pentax and Konica Minolta. The latter's Dimage X50 is a five-megapixel (2,560 by 1,920), sliding-lens-cover compact with 2.8X zoom and a two-inch LCD; it features 0.5-second startup time plus what Konica Minolta alls Automatic Digital Subject Program Selection that picks the optimum shooting mode for the subject at hand.

Think that's smart? The three-megapixel, 8X-zoom Dimage Z10 has Predictive Focus Control claimed to anticipate where a moving subject is heading and adjust for shutter delay accordingly, along with 0.3-second Rapid Autofocus and the promise of 500 shots from four AA alkaline batteries.

Stepping up to the four-megapixel (2,272 by 1,704) Dimage Z3 sharpens handheld telephoto and dim-light shots with the CCD-shift Anti-Shake System formerly found only in Konica Minolta's high-end Dimage A series -- and by telephoto, we mean 12X zoom (35mm to 420mm equivalent), with Rapid Autofocus times of 0.2 second in telephoto and 0.15 second in wide-angle modes. The Z3's LCD monitor also refreshes 50 instead of the usual 30 times per second for more accurate views of fast motion.

What would you name the five-megapixel successor to Pentax's four-megapixel Optio S40? Yes, it's the Optio S50, a 3.5 by 2.3 by 1.0-inch compact shipping in September with 3X zoom, a 1.8-inch LCD, and a help function menu designed to guide newbies through its features. The even smaller three-megapixel Optio S, famously advertised as fitting inside an Altoids tin, will also welcome a five-megapixel sibling, the Optio S5i, with 3X zoom and a new sport mode that sets the camera for shutter-speed priority.

Pentax is also joining the seven-megapixel compact club with the Optio 750Z, which combines 3,056 by 2,296 resolution with 5X zoom in a 3.9 by 2.4 by 1.7-inch, nine-ounce package. If you're used to composing and printing shots from a 35mm camera, the 750Z offers a switchable 3:2 mode (for, say, 4 x 6-inch prints) instead of the usual digital 4:3 aspect ratio.

Finally, the five-megapixel Optio X harks back to some classic Nikon Coolpix models for the way it opens with a twist, positioning the lens on one side and 2.0-inch LCD monitor on the other for creative angling of over-the-head or from-the-hip shots. The 0.7-inch-thick camera offers 16 shooting modes, with a new ASIC that improves image quality and processing speed.

Let Me Gaze into Your Beautiful ... Red Eyes?
HP has introduced a little sister to the Photosmart R707 camera that introduced the company's in-camera red-eye removal and Adaptive Lighting technology that brings detail out of shadow. The $299 Photosmart R607 is a four-megapixel compact (3.4 by 2.2 by 1.1 inches) with a sculpted grip, Pentax 3X zoom lens, 32MB of internal memory plus SD/MMC card slot, and 1.5-inch, outdoor-viewable LCD.

For bargain hunters, HP's $199 Photosmart M407 (four megapixels) and $169 Photosmart M307 (three megapixels) are 4.3 by 2.1 by 2.2-inch cameras with 3X zoom, 1.8-inch monitors, and 16MB of memory plus SD/MMC slot. Designed to be easy to operate one-handed, with menus that are easy to understand for beginners, they include HP's Instant Share feature that lets users select "destinations" -- from e-mail addresses and online photo albums to printers -- on the back of the camera for one-button transfer when plugged into an optional desktop dock.

Kodak's famously friendly EasyShare line gets a new flagship in the $500 model DX7590, a five-megapixel (2,576 by 1,932) compact with impressive 10X zoom (38mm to 380mm equivalent) Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens; dual-sensor, low-light auto focusing; and a choice of fully manual controls as well as 16 programmed scene modes. In addition to a 2.2-inch monitor, the EasyShare DX7590 boasts a super-sharp, 311,000-pixel electronic viewfinder; it has 32MB of onboard memory and also takes SD/MMC cards.

Sony calls its Cyber-shot DSC-L1 "a hip little package a fraction the size of a candy bar" (3.8 by 1.8 by 1 inches), and says black, dark blue and dark red sequels will follow October's silver model in January. Whichever color you pick, you'll get a four-megapixel compact with a 1.5-inch transflective LCD that Sony boasts is easy to see even in bright sunlight, a 3X Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, and Real Imaging Processor circuitry for quick startup and shot-to-shot times. Seven preset modes help capture twilight, snow, beach and other scenes, while an InfoLithium battery promises approximately 240 shots plus a to-the-minute onscreen countdown of remaining life. It'll cost about $300.

For about $500, the Cyber-shot DSC-T3 will cram five-megapixel resolution and 3X zoom into a body less than three-quarters of an inch thin; its 2.5-inch transflective LCD takes a full two-thirds of the back. Sony says the DSC-T3 springs to life in under a second when switched on and can capture up to four full-resolution images at three frames per second, then switch to an MPEG VX Fine mode for VGA-resolution, 30-fps movies. It comes with a Cyber-shot Station USB cradle for charging the battery while transferring images to PC or watching slide shows on a TV.

Enthusiasts will want to check out the rangefinder-style Cyber-shot DSC-V3 (about $700), a seven-megapixel (3,072 by 2,304) model that can record images in RAW format; capture up to eight full-resolution images in under four seconds; and has dual media slots for CompactFlash I and Memory Stick storage, as well as a 2.5-inch LCD viewfinder. If you're sneaking around at night, a cool NightFraming system combines NightShot infrared technology (for shooting in up to total darkness at distances up to 15 feet) and Hologram AF Illumination that projects a laser pattern on the subject to create contrast for precise focus in low or zero light.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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