Just when you thought you'd
seen it all, along come some revolutionary changes and surprising introductions
in point-and-shoot digital cameras--enough so as to make me want
to go out and buy several of the new digicams shown at this year's
PMA. While some may view the prosumer 8-megapixel CCD camera as the
pre-eminent category, I chose to view the digicams on overall merit,
and found several 5- and 6-megapixel cameras to be equally noteworthy,
if not more so, especially in light of compact size.
There were a number of innovations for digicam users at the show. Several
manufacturers are touting full VGA (640x480) capture at 30 fps. Cameras
are becoming ever more printer-friendly, with PictBridge, Exif Print
(Exif 2.2), and DPOF support, with some also supporting Epson's
Print Image Matching (PIM). Others (or these very same digicams) are
making it easier to share pictures via e-mail. And this year we see
the first consumer digicam to incorporate the Foveon X3 chip and another
with a captivating dancing avatar.
I also noted an increasing number of digital bino-cams (binocular and
digicam in one). One noteworthy feature shared by numerous cameras this
year is the incorporation of European-designed optics, albeit assembled
and/or manufactured in Asia, but at least one camera manufacturer was
quick to point out that the same quality-control standards apply. Perhaps
most surprising was the seeming swarm of EVF (Electronic View Finder)
digicams displayed this year. The good news is that the EVF is much
improved, delivering crisper images than ever before.
New Chip Tech
Some of the advancements found in the new crop of cameras are the result
of new chip technology (which remains largely subliminal) courtesy of
Texas Instruments. In a released statement, this company noted: "Texas
Instruments enables a $999 SLR level of performance in point-and-shoot
digital cameras at a $299 price point." Some improvements center
on faster start up and shot-to-shot times and enhanced autofocusing
and scene modes, with an increased ability to correctly render white
balance, contrast, and exposure, adding MPEG-4 VGA video at 30 fps for
the length of the memory card. For my money, the big advance involves
in camera redeye removal. (See www.ti.com/dsc
for more info.)
Rather than rehash what we now take for granted (and to conserve space),
this report will focus on those features that make a particular digicam
stand out or which are exclusive to a particular model--just enough
to give you the flavor of the camera. So, when it comes to the various
modes for white balance, flash, metering, scene/image settings, LCD
monitor, and other functions, we'll reserve comment for those
especially. We can't present every camera shown at PMA this year,
but hopefully this tasting will get you a flavor of what's happening
in the digicam world.
Pro-Level & Prosumer
EVF Digicams, Up To 8Mp
These cameras bridge the gap, providing us with serious picture-taking
tools while letting us have a little fun in the process. Boasting resolutions
from 5-8 megapixels and sporting advanced functionality and truer-to-35mm-film-camera
handling, they offer a full array of features and appear to be designed
to meet any photographic challenge. You might say they are the next best
thing to an interchangeable lens camera. They're not cheap, but
for what they offer they're not outrageously priced either. Two
models especially have the look and feel of a traditional rangefinder
and all feature an EVF, some with a quasi zoom lens reflex look and feel.
Introducing our foray into 8-megapixel CCD cameras is the Canon PowerShot
Pro1 ($999 street). When I first beheld this new, metal-bodied camera,
I knew it could blaze new trails in my digital photography. The Pro1 comes
with a highly corrected 28-200mm (7x) f/2.4-3.5 L-series UltraSonic Motor
(USM) Canon lens--something that would likely cost as much as this
camera alone, if it were even available. A "super macro mode"
permits close focusing to 1.2" (albeit at 5-megapixel resolution).
The Pro1 also features a 3.2x digital zoom.
Especially noteworthy is the 2" tilt/swivel LCD with 235,000-pixel
resolution, added to a 235,000-pixel EVF. Movies are captured in VGA at
15 fps, up to 30 sec, plus audio. Capture is in raw or JPEG. Particularly
appealing to me is the ability to attach external EX-series Canon shoe
mount and macro strobes. The camera uses CompactFlash (or Microdrive),
with USB connectivity.
Konica Minolta DiMAGE
I was equally impressed with the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2 ($1099 street),
and I can't wait to put this camera through its paces. In a race,
the A2 would leave the earlier A1 in the dust, thanks to an 8-megapixel
CCD and CxProcess II image processor to boost performance beyond levels
available to the previous model, including faster autofocusing. Add to
that an incredible 922,000-pixel TFT EVF for manual focus override. Other
features and enhancements include fast f/2.8-3.5 Apochromatic 7x (28-200mm)
optical zoom, Anti-Shake technology (at the CCD), predictive focusing,
near VGA movies with audio, 7 fps UHS (Ultra High Speed) mode, and both
raw and JPEG capture, plus support for USB 2, PictBridge, DPOF, Epson
PIM, and Exif Print on top of a host of features carried over (or improved
upon) from the A1--all combining to bring you a quite formidable
Nikon Coolpix 8700
Grabbing hold of the Nikon Coolpix 8700 ($999 MSRP), I knew I had one
lean, mean picture-taking machine in my hands. An 8-megapixel CCD takes
digital capture to the next level. The 8x (35-280mm) zoom boasts ED glass,
with viewing on a 238,000-pixel EVF or camcorder-style, vari-angle LCD.
A dedicated TTL hot shoe makes the 8700 compatible with optional Nikon
strobes. Other features include super telephoto macro, which takes you
to within 1.2" of your subject, framing guides to help the compositionally
challenged, noise reduction, and a 2.5 fps burst mode at full resolution
(up to five frames). The camera also offers raw capture and a time-lapse
movie mode (on top of regular movies at 30 fps with audio), and is PictBridge
compatible. Twelve scene modes will certainly enhance the picture-taking
Olympus C-8080 Wide
One thing you can say about Olympus C-series cameras: You didn't
see it coming. These digicams are all over the map when it comes to size
and features, but they continue to be serious contenders for your digital
dollars. The C-8080 Wide Zoom ($999 street) doesn't leave much room
to take this series further, boasting an 8-megapixel CCD and proprietary
TruePic Turbo image processor to improve image quality and deliver faster
overall processing speeds for rapid startup, capture, and playback. I've
seen the original TruePic do its thing, and it was impressive, which leads
one to expect even better things from the Turbo design.
The lens incorporates ED elements and is relatively fast at f/2.4-3.5
for a 5x zoom (28-140mm)--the most modest range for a camera in this
genre, with 3x digital. The camera does appear to get carried away with
an overwhelming number of user custom settings. Still, this is a serious
camera, with multi-position LCD, which is helpful on numerous occasions
when the EVF proves less than practical. What really impresses me about
these newer Olympus cams is that they seat two different memory cards
in the chamber at once, letting you switch between CompactFlash/Microdrive
Fuji FinePix S20
Fujifilm has long been a favorite of mine in the point-and-shoot digital
genre, so it's no surprise to see a competitive entry from this
company. The FinePix S20 ($999 MSRP) employs Fuji's latest Super
CCD SR technology to capture 6-megapixel images (arguably interpolated).
The camera features an f/2.8-3.1 6x (35-210mm) optical zoom with 2.2x
digital, PC sync, with viewing on 235,000-pixel EVF (or LCD). It offers
both FireWire and USB 2 connectivity, with burst rates at up to 4.5 fps.
Data capture is in raw or JPEG (plus movies) on xD card and Microdrive.
The camera is powered by four AA cells.
Leica and Panasonic each formally presented their breakthrough 5-megapixel
digital "rangefinder" cameras, the result of a cooperative
effort between both companies, incorporating world-renowned Leica optics
and Panasonic electronics. Decidedly the highest priced cameras in this
group, they are designed for photojournalists and news photographers who
might otherwise be using a Leica M-series camera and 35mm film. The Leica
Digilux 2 ($2100 MSRP) is easily distinguishable due to its styling and
the distinctive Leica logo. More than that, it is a classic camera on
the face of it, with traditional controls for shutter speed, lens aperture,
zooming, and manual focus, while also providing autofocusing. This camera
touts a 235,000-pixel EVF that is used for rangefinder-style focusing,
while the LCD on the back is a generous 2.5". Most important is
the fast 3.2x (28-90mm) f/2-2.4 Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens (with digital
zoom), with a full complement of automatic and manual exposure modes.
The built-in flash is unusual in that it can be tilted upward for bounce
lighting. A pocket-size dedicated shoe-mount strobe is optional. Capture
via Leica firmware is on Secure Digital/ MultiMediaCard in raw or JPEG,
with USB 2, Exif Print, Epson PIM, and DPOF support; operates on rechargeable
Panasonic's sister camera, the DMC-LC1 Lumix ($1599 MSRP), is much
the same, differing cosmetically and in the firmware. Panasonic revealed
that a proprietary processor gives the camera "outstanding responsiveness."
There will also be a free plug-in available from Adobe to handle the raw
files on both cameras.
10x & 12x EVF Digizooms
The last time I bought a 10x EVF digizoom with image stabilization, it
cost me around $700--and that camera was bulky, topping out at 2
megapixels. Today's digizoom cams are sleeker and much more capable--and
modestly priced. Granted, none of the models shown sports even a 5-megapixel
sensor, but don't let that throw you: a full-frame image at 3 megapixels
is better than a cropped-down 5-megapixel picture. Image stabilization
with long optics may often mean the difference between sharp and blurry,
but not every manufacturer got this message. Still, I've managed
some nice shots on 10x zooms without this feature--but could they
have been nicer still with image stabilization?
PowerShot S1 IS
Canon is working on the strength of its optical image stabilization technology
in the new 10x zoom PowerShot S1 IS ("IS" = Image
Stabilized). The 3-megapixel S1 IS ($499 street) operates on AA cells,
recording onto CompactFlash, adding VGA movies (with audio) at 30 fps
to its list of features. As with Canon's other recently introduced
cameras, this too employs a DIGIC processor for enhanced results. The
S1 adds 3.2x digital zoom to the quiet f/2.8-3.1 USM 38-380mm lens, effectively
giving you the equivalent of a 1216mm optic. With close focusing down
to 3.1", the S1 offers focus bracketing and manual focus override.
This camera also boasts a vari-angle LCD display as well as EVF, with
support for PictBridge, Exif Print, and DPOF.
Since it was introduced at CES earlier this year, I'll only briefly
mention the 4-megapixel Panasonic DMC-FZ10 ($599 MSRP), with its fast
f/2.8 12x (35-420mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmarit optical zoom and image stabilization.
It uses Secure Digital cards for storage.
Now we turn to cameras that require you to rely on a steady hand or a
tripod, since they lack any built-in means against camera shake, beginning
with Kyocera, a company that debuted a surprisingly compact 10x zoomcam,
the Finecam M410R ($499 street). This 4-megapixel camera employs a relatively
fast (f/2.8-3.1) 37-370mm lens, with a 300,000-pixel EVF and 1.5"
LCD monitor that can be used in bright daylight, plus 6x digital (linked
to resolution). It utilizes Kyocera's RTUNE image processing for
fast, continuous shooting at 3.3 fps and a shutter lag time of 0.07 seconds,
and offers Secure Digital card, PictBridge, and USB 2 support, adding
movie mode with sound, in VGA at 30 fps.
Olympus Ultra Zooms
Olympus continues to redefine its 10x zoomcams with the new 4-megapixel
C-770 and C-765 Ultra Zoom models having been enhanced with Olympus'
TruePic Turbo processing. Both give you 4x digital zooming as well, while
incorporating aspherical lenses and ED glass for better optical performance.
The C-770 adds MPEG-4 with audio capture, and otherwise the two cameras
are largely the same, with a $100 price difference (C-770/C-765: $599/$499
street). Each operates on a li ion rechargeable pack and is supplied with
remote control and 16MB xD card.
Konica Minolta Z2
Not long ago, Konica Minolta introduced the DiMAGE Z1. But they didn't
wait long before introducing this camera's new sibling, the Z2 ($449
street). I found I could do quite a bit with the Z1, but I had hoped for
a 10x camera with this company's Anti-Shake technology the second
time around. Maybe next time. Still, a fast Apochromatic lens, movies
at full VGA (30 fps), predictive focusing, CxProcess II, and manual focus
override should not disappoint anyone with far-reaching photographic goals.
Compact 5Mp & 6Mp
Believe it or not, even pro photographers don't like to schlep around
those full-bodied, largely cumbersome cameras when scouting locations
or looking for backgrounds, scenics, and atmospheric shots to use when
compositing images. They often opt for a compact camera, provided it gives
them the needed image quality and range.
"Best Of Show"
I begin with the one camera I felt truly stands out from the crowd this
year, my Best of Show pick in a digital camera: Hewlett-Packard's
Photosmart R707, an intriguing 5-megapixel camera, with a most inviting
street price of $349. This compact marvel begins with 3x optical, 4x digital,
and goes on to offer proprietary redeye removal in camera, along with
Adaptive Lighting Technology to more effectively deal with scene contrast.
Offering numerous modes, including manual, it comes with 32MB internal
memory while accepting Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard cards, and supports
USB 2, PictBridge, Exif Print, and direct printing to HP ink jets. This
camera also analyzes what went wrong with your pictures, providing helpful
hints on screen. A stitch-assist feature helps you with panoramas, up
to five frames in any orientation, generating a fast preview and automatically
assembling the panorama upon download. It also includes MPEG at 30 fps
in QVGA, and records audio. Startup time: a little over 2 seconds; shot-to-shot:
less than 1 second; burst rate: 4 fps with focus/exposure locked. The
optional docking station ($79) includes a second rechargeable battery.
The major announcement among compact Nikon digicams is the 5-megapixel
Coolpix 5200 ($499 MSRP), which along with its 4-megapixel sibling, the
4200 ($399), offers built-in redeye removal--a near miss as my Best
of Show. Only catch: the camera must be used in redeye-reduction flash
mode. Still, this should prove useful for the tons of redeye-plagued pictures
that people e-mail or post because they don't know how to fix it
or can't be bothered. The 3x optical zoom features ED glass for
sharper pictures. The camera has 12MB internal memory, with additional
storage on a Secure Digital card.
Also barely edged out as my Best of Show is Casio's EX-P600 ($649).
Otherwise known as the Exilim Pro, this camera now gives Casio a prosumer
digicam to round out this pocket-size product line. The P600 features
a full-information display that needs to be experienced firsthand to be
fully appreciated. Aside from that, it employs a 6-megapixel CCD and Canon
4x optical zoom (33-132mm), plus 4x digital. While lacking raw capture,
it does record TIFF as well as JPEG. The camera also has internal memory
with Secure Digital/ MultiMediaCard card slot, a 2" LCD, uses a
li ion rechargeable battery, and boasts a 0.01-second shutter lag time
and high-speed burst (3 fps), plus multiple bracketing modes.
Kodak 6Mp Entry
There were of course other 6-megapixel digicams. Kodak introduced a number
of new cameras, but only one with a 6-megapixel CCD, the EasyShare DX7630
($499 MSRP). Of note is the use of a relatively fast f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach
Variogon 3x optical zoom lens (39-117mm). Other features that reinforce
Kodak's aggressive marketing stance in digital include 2.2"
indoor/outdoor hybrid LCD, 4x digital zoom, auto picture rotation, 16
scene modes, 2 fps burst mode, AEB, 32MB internal memory with Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard
support, rechargeable li ion battery, USB 2 interface, and Exif Print.
Also noteworthy is the EasyShare LS753, a 5-megapixel design with 2.8x
Schneider lens. A special feature common on these and other new Kodak
digicams: they allow users to immediately select photos for e-mailing,
with up to 32 e-mail addresses stored in memory. Perhaps more important
still: the Kodak Color Science image processing chip, for enhanced capture
Vivitar debuted the compact 6-megapixel Vivicam 4000 ($599 MSRP), which
uses a 3x optical zoom, complemented by 4x digital, a 2.2" color
TFT display. Movie clips at 640x480 round out this camera's features.
It comes with a 32MB Secure Digital card.
5Mp For $379
Returning to the field of 5-megapixel CCD digicams, Concord introduced
their top of the line 5345z, which may or may not herald a shift in marketing
strategy, given it does not carry the Eye-Q brand name. The modestly priced
($379 MSRP) 5345z impressed me with its sleek styling and uncomplicated
handling. It sports a 3x optical zoom, adding 4x digital to the mix, and
it packs a user-friendly array of 19 scene modes to facilitate picture-taking
in practically any situation. There is also a burst mode, and video at
15 fps in QVGA. Recording onto Secure Digital/ MultiMediaCard memory card,
the camera also has internal memory and comes with Ni-MH AA batteries
and charger. The 5345z supports DPOF and Exif Print.
Canon's pocket-size Digital ELPH has matured into a 5-megapixel
edition, with the PowerShot S500 ($499 street), employing the same CCD
as on the G5 and S50. The camera brings a new level of instant connectivity
to this product line, with the Print/Share function and adds VGA movies,
albeit at a mere 10 fps for 30 seconds. Zoom range is 3x optical plus
4.1x digital. Supplied with 32MB CompactFlash card.
Samsung With Schneider
Samsung's 5-megapixel Digimax V50 ($379 MSRP) marks one of the more
interesting cameras shown by this company at PMA. It boasts a Schneider
3x optical zoom, plus 5x digital, a 2" LCD, and intuitive graphical
user interface. Moreover, it captures movies in MPEG-4 format at 640x480/30
fps, adding AEB and numerous scene modes. The V50 offers slots for Secure
Digital/MultiMediaCard and Memory Stick DUO.
Sony's 5Mp Cyber-Shots
Sony introduced two new Cyber-shot cameras employing a 5-megapixel CCD,
with largely identical features but markedly different in design. The
DSC-W1 ($399) is more squarish, whereas the similarly priced DSC-P100
has that trademarked rounded side hugging a way-off-center lens. Both
cameras sport a 3x optical zoom Zeiss Vario Tessar lens, 1.6 fps burst
mode, and MPEG movies at 30 fps in VGA, with USB 2, PictBridge, and Memory
Stick/Pro support. Two key differences: 2.5" LCD and rechargeable
Ni-MH for the W1, in contrast to a 1.8" LCD and InfoLithium battery
for the P100. I couldn't decide which I liked better.
Mustek surprised me with the introduction of the MDC 6500Z, a 7-in-1 camera:
digital still, camcorder, PC cam, voice recorder, MP3 player, card reader
via Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard card slot, and mass storage device--all
for $249 MSRP. It employs a 5-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom and has
32MB internal memory. It is designed to output to Mustek PVR recording
devices, as well as TV or DVD recorder.
While technically falling just below 5 megapixels, the Polaroid x530 (distributed
by Uniden America Corp.) deserves particular attention, as it is the first
consumer digicam to employ the Foveon X3 image sensor, which records colors
on three separate chips. While still a prototype, the camera I saw is
anything but compact, and stylish is not a term I would use to describe
it. But the results are impressive. As it stands now, the x530 delivers
4.5 megapixel images (a combination of the three chips) with the aid of
an AF 3x optical zoom (plus 4x digital), and is Secure Digital card compatible.
It features a 2" LCD, VGA video capture with sound, and operates
on a rechargeable li ion battery. And lest we forget, image capture is
in proprietary raw or standard JPEG--a first for the X3 chip ($399
& 4Mp Digicams
Frankly, with many compact and pocket size cameras today employing 5-megapixel
CCD chips, there could be little to excite us in digicams delivering resolutions
below this level. However, that doesn't mean that I don't
like lower-resolution cameras, since I, in fact, continue to use them--they
always come in handy. Such cameras are eminently suitable when sharing
pictures by e-mail or over the Internet is your goal. Canon, Olympus,
Pentax, Rollei, Sony, and Vivitar, along with Aiptek, DXG USA, Microtek,
and Mustek, each showcased new cameras employing either a CCD or CMOS
But of all the sub-5-megapixel cameras introduced, only one just missed
being named my Best of Show. The most striking camera in this group is
the new Samsung Digimax U-CA 3 ($229 MSRP), not simply because it is feature-rich
and constitutes a very capable little digicam, but because of the way
it endears itself to the user. A colorful array of flashing lights (a
la Close Encounters of the Third Kind) heralds startup on this 3-megapixel
point-and-shoot. Then the LCD startup screen treats you to a dancing avatar.
You can replace the face with one of your choosing, and customize or download
Binoculars and scopes with an integrated digital camera are not new, but
their numbers are increasing. We've also found a few cameras specifically
designed for the underwater photographer. (Not included are cameras made
simply to resist the elements.)
While none come with electronic flash, many bino-cams use internal memory.
A few boast extended capabilities, such as movie recording and storage
on memory card. Resolution ranges from sub-megapixel to 2 or even 3 megapixels,
with stills in JPEG. And, obviously, all operate on batteries, with select
bino-cams adding an LCD. Manufacturers include Bushnell, Celestron, Meade,
Rollei, and Vivitar. Prices start at under $100 to easily over $500. The
more capable bino-cams employ a BaK-4 roof-prism design.
Especially noteworthy are the following: Bushnell's Instant Replay
8x32mm binocular ($599 MSRP) is a BaK-4 design, recording 2-megapixel
still or low-res movie clips, using internal memory or CompactFlash, and
boasts a color display. Celestron added the VistaPix 8x32mm, recording
at 3 megapixels, with built-in memory and Secure Digital card slot, with
LCD. Rollei entered the picture with a 2-megapixel 8x32mm BaK-4-type binocular,
the da20 DigitalBino, which also shoots movie clips, with storage internally
or on Secure Digital. The very modestly priced ($95 MSRP) MagnaCam 10x25x1
Compact Binoculars from Vivitar feature a BaK-4 roof-prism design, 1.3-megapixel
resolution, 16MB internal memory, movie clips, 10 second self-timer, AWB,
and LCD status display.
If you want to reach for the
stars, there is Kowa's TD1 Super Telephoto Zoom Digital Camera,
a spotting scope with camera, boasting 450-1350mm zoom, 3-megapixel CCD,
auto and manual focusing, white balance, color LCD, burst mode, exposure
compensation, and JPEG capture on Secure Digital card; remote control
In underwater digicams we have SnapSights' Pixtreme Digital Sports
Cameras and Pioneer Research's SeaLife ReefMaster. The Pixtreme
PX01 is 3 megapixels, with internal memory and Secure Digital/ MultiMediaCard
storage and auto-flash, usable down to 125 ft. The 3.3-megapixel ReefMaster
Digital DC300 ($449 MSRP) and DC310 ($549) are designed for land and sea
and can be used with the built-in flash or optional external strobe, with
internal memory and Secure Digital card support, down to 200 ft. The 310
affords more user control.