35mm And APS Compact Cameras

Although digital cameras attracted the lion's share of attention at this year's PMA show, the compact lens/shutter cameras still outsell such models by a vast margin. Most manufacturers continue to offer both formats: 35mm and Advanced Photo System (APS or 24mm). The 35mm format has the advantage of a larger film size and lower film and processing cost, so many cameras of this type were introduced. However, APS offers its own set of benefits, such as Print Quality Information Ex-change (PQ ix), pre-selectable image formats and convenient Mid Roll Change (MRC) capability with some cameras.

Although there were dozens of new compact cameras introduced at the PMA show, we decided to cover only those that might be of primary interest to Shutterbug readers.

Status Of The APS Format
Frankly, I did not find many new APS cameras and a photo trade newspaper indicated that the future of the format may be bleak. However, Eastman Kodak remains committed to APS and their representative advised me that Advantix camera sales are still increasing.

The most popular of their current models is the Advantix Preview, discussed in my photokina report (December 2000). This camera has received a great deal of publicity because of the 1.8" preview screen LCD display on its back. After taking a picture, you can preview what the print will look like--in digital form--including the probable exposure. If you don't like what you see, simply re-shoot the picture. You can also press a button to tell the camera (and the photofinisher) that you want no prints of certain pictures or that you want more than one print of favorites on the roll.

At a list price of $299 the Advantix Preview does sell for up to $100 more than comparable Advantix cameras without the digital image display. Even so, most everyone loves the image preview capability and Kodak is convinced that the concept will prove to be incredibly successful. In fact, they are already planning a second-generation model of a smaller size and a third-generation model that will also capture digital images.

The latter is at least a year from introduction, but Kodak is not making a big secret of it. In fact, Stephen Malloy Desormeaux, Kodak's Product Manager of APS cameras, provided some specifics. That Advantix camera will have an image sensor and internal memory for a full roll of images, in addition to the usual APS film camera features. Image file size will be small, probably 640x320 pixels, but more than adequate for sending via e-mail or uploading to a web site. The rest of the Advantix line will continue, and Kodak has no plans to add the Preview or digital capabilities to a 35mm camera.

New APS Cameras
To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the death of the APS format have been exaggerated. In fact, the stars of the PMA show were two APS cameras. These are Canon's new ELPH Shades Glacier and Sunshine "concept" cameras. These are already successful in Europe under other names. They finally reached the US, targeting a younger crowd who does not necessarily want a camera that looks traditional.

The Sunshine (called Arancia or orange in Europe) is the more radical departure from the norm, with its "silver guitar on an orange" styling. The Glacier offers a more typical rectangular shape but with a bold aqua green slash across its silver face. It's designed to resemble a block of ice--what could be more cool?

These are fairly basic cameras under the striking design, with a 23mm f/4.8 lens (equivalent to 29mm in the 35mm format), active autofocus with two focusing steps, built-in multimode flash plus some APS format advantages. These include date/time imprinting on the front or back of the print, title imprinting (with a choice of five options), and PQI or Print Quality Improvement data recording. Prices are moderate (under $200 list). These APS models should sell like hotcakes.

The ELPH series--also APS--remains among the most popular of all Canon point-and-shoot cameras. Canon has expanded the line with a new model, the ELPH LT270 with 24-65mm aspherical zoom (equivalent to 30-81.3mm) with close focusing down to a mere 18". Aside from the usual capabilities and multimode flash, this model's viewfinder provides 20 percent more magnification than existing ELPHs, plus a wider angle of view for greater visibility. The list price is only $230, because it features a polycarbonate body, not stainless steel like the earlier ELPH 370Z.

Olympus also introduced three new APS cameras, including one of the smallest of the autofocus models. In fact, the izoom 3000 is smaller than a business card (though thicker of course) but includes a 26-73mm zoom (26-73mm equivalent), multimode flash, metal front plate, close focusing to 24", zoom finder and more. Frankly, the sleek and slim i100AF (autofocus) and i10 (fixed focus) models look a lot more classy and include similar features, but a 24mm lens instead of a zoom. At list prices of $90 and $72, respectively, these two may become highly popular with teens and children who don't necessarily want a zoom lens.

Prestige Value
Frankly, I still prefer 35mm format, and my own definition of "cool" is more likely to be met by the Contax T3 with its gorgeous titanium body. At $695 list, it's the most expensive lens/shutter camera introduced for some time. Replacing the T2, it's smaller and lighter while the new double shutter mechanism should eliminate vignetting at high shutter speeds. Its premium-grade 35mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar will accept 30.5mm filters, but be sure to use some + exposure compensation for correct exposure with darker filters. With the optional SA-2 flash adapter, the camera can be used with a TLA 200 flash unit for extra power output; one or both flash heads can be set to fire.

Exposure compensation is available as are other controls: seven custom functions and an aperture dial to select f/stops from f/2.8 to f/16 in Aperture Priority AE and manual focus. No distance scale is provided to aid manual focus, so allow the AF system to set focus first and then check the distance information in the LCD panel and change focus if desired. The wide, three point AF system is passive, thus great for low-light photography. Other amenities include multimode flash, rubber eyecup, and shutter speed data in the viewfinder. Speeds from 16 sec to 1/2000 sec are available in Program mode, but in the camera's LT mode, incredibly long (metered) speeds of up to 3 minutes can be selected.

Two new Rollei cameras also feature an all-metal body, but will be far less pricey. The Prego 115 with 38-115mm Vario-Apogon HFT zoom and the Prego 30 with Apogon 30mm lens are handsome silver models with real-image finders. They offer active autofocus and a solid list of features including multimode flash. Made in Germany, these are but two of the many Rollei 35mm compact cameras--including the more affordable Giro line with Rolleinar single focal length or Rolleigon zoom lenses.

Superior Viewfinders
In the mid-price range, Olympus introduced the Accura View Zoom in two versions: 90QD and 120QD. Their primary claim to fame is an extra large "smart viewfinder" with superimposed data indicators: illuminated symbols on the screen show the autofocus detection area, the close-focusing (parallax) correction mark, plus a flash on and shutter release indicator. Both models are well-specified but larger/chunkier than the clamshell-design Stylus cameras. The 120QD sports a 38-120mm zoom while the 90QD has a 38-90mm zoom. Both include a diopter correction eyepiece.

Longer Is Better
During my discussion with Fuji, they indicated that compact cameras with long zoom lenses--reaching to at least 145mm--are currently the best sellers. Indeed, their lenses do extend to an impressive length, as with the new Fujifilm Discovery S1450 Zoom Date. This is a well-specified camera with the usual modes and oversized LCD panel with large icons, but it also has the Fujifilm Sure Loading System. This combines easy loading and automatic pre-winding of film. Thanks to the latter, exposed images are protected if the camera is accidentally opened.

The designers at Samsung apparently agree, and their new Maxima Elite 170QD reaches from 38mm to a full 170mm. If that's too long, their Elite 140QD with 38-140mm zoom may seem less daunting. Both include the usual set of capabilities plus extremely close focusing: about 3' at long focal lengths, useful for very tight close-up shots. The 170QD uses passive autofocus while the 140QD incorporates the more common active AF system.

Olympus has sold over 18 million Stylus 35mm compact cameras since 1991, making this the best selling 35mm series in history. These sleek cameras continue to evolve, with the new all-weather Epic Zoom 170QD and Deluxe the latest incarnation. For the first time in a Stylus camera, the lens includes an element of Extra Low Disper-sion glass to correct chromatic aberration at the longer lengths of its 38-170mm f/4.8-13 zoom lens. It also incorporates a glass aspherical element plus a hybrid aspherical element for higher image quality at short focal lengths.

More importantly perhaps, the Epic Zoom 170 models employ a dual autofocus system, with both active and passive AF systems, plus two focus assist lights and multi-point AF sensor. This combination should prove to be able to focus on most any type of subject, regardless of distance. Aside from the many camera capabilities, there's a unique feature with the Deluxe model only. The Visual Confir-mation Finder momentarily darkens to alert the user that a picture has been taken. Mid roll panorama format switch (Deluxe only) plus a diopter correction eyepiece are extra amenities.

The new Yashica Zoomate 150EF also features a long focal length in its 38-150mm zoom lens. Although it has built-in flash, it also accepts external flash. The optional Super Flash delivers extra power and better redeye control due to the greater distance from the lens. With its many features, including the Super Flash, this camera is a bargain with a list price of only $270. Vivitar's new PZ3155 stretches an extra 5mm, with its 38-155mm zoom; this camera includes the usual complement of features including active AF, plus panorama frame mode.

True Water Resistance
Unlike the "weatherproof" cameras, Pentax has offered watertight WR models for some time, with JIS Class 5 water resistance. Extremely well sealed, these cameras--like the new IQ Zoom 95WR--will withstand tropical showers and even a dunking, although they do float. The 95WR will be appreciated by many outdoor enthusiasts and families shooting around a swimming pool or beach.

Better yet, the 95WR is a high tech camera with many great capabilities including passive autofocus with five focus detection sensors, full information LCD panel, a panorama mode, zooming finder, multimode zoom flash and more. Its 38-95mm zoom is well sealed, too, of course. It's a bit bulky compared to sleek cameras like the new Pentax IQ Zoom 135M with 38-135mm zoom and similar capabilities, but the extra size is a small tradeoff for peace of mind. It's likely to be the camera of choice for marine sports and ecoutourism.

Slimmer Is Better
Minolta already offers compact 35mm cameras with long focal lengths, but this year they are emphasizing size instead. Their new Freedom Zoom 115, with stainless steel front shell, features a slim profile, making it particularly pocketable. Its 37.5-115mm zoom is particularly compact, too, thanks to the use of a double-sided aspherical element. This significantly reduces the number of elements required. New features include a minimum focusing distance of 1.8', Auto Depth mode for increased depth of field, a multi-point AF sensor and silent film rewind.

Unusual Cameras
Argraph distributes numerous cameras (made by Goko in Japan) but their most impressive model is the new MacromaX MAC-10 Z3000. It's the closest focusing model on the market. In its Ultra Macro mode, the MAC-10 will focus in a range from 4-8", while in Super Macro the minimum focus distance is 8-20". To provide adequate depth of field, it has a minimum aperture of f/44. A separate viewing frame is used for extreme close-up photography.

Otherwise, this is a typical automatic, autofocus camera with a 38-115mm zoom lens and flash with seven modes. At the high magnification "macro" settings--especially at f/44--the shutter speeds will be very long, even with ISO 800 film. The use of (built-in) flash may help to prevent image blur from camera shake but use a tripod whenever possible if planning to shoot extreme close-ups.

Remember the Argus C-3--"the brick"--that was introduced in 1938? Now a collectible item, it was the first compact camera and incredibly rugged. Well, Argus is still around, marketing many cameras, but their three new retro models--R10, R20, and R40D--are the most interesting. The bodies are metal coated, then hand brushed and polished giving them an antique look. A metal "face" is also standard. Full specifications were not yet available, but these are autofocus models with full automation, extra large viewfinder, and flash.

The Future Of Compact Cameras
I mentioned Kodak's plan for an APS camera that will also record digital images. Vivitar already has a model of this type, but it's a 35mm camera with a 33mm f/4 lens plus a 4.4mm lens for the CMOS digital sensor. In addition to making photographs, the new DIGI 35mm captures each image digitally in its internal memory. These can be transferred to a PC through a USB cable. At a list price of $120 you would not expect high-resolution images; in fact, the 320x240 pixel file is just adequate for e-mail and web use.

No doubt this is just a starting point and we can expect more sophisticated 35mm/digital cameras from several manufacturers. I suspect that Kodak will eventually follow suit, too, making both 35mm and APS hybrid models. And how long will it be before this concept makes its way into SLR cameras? Most manufacturers are silent about their R&D plans, but you don't need a crystal ball to see it all coming. Developments such as this will certainly keep cameras interesting and give us the best of both worlds.