COMDEX: Digital cameras edge toward 35mm

Digital cameras aimed at the mass market will soon have more of the functions that exist in regular 35mm cameras, as the industry moves into what an observer at Comdex called "the dawn of an exciting era".

The advances in digital technology make megapixel cameras a fast-arriving "must-have" commodity in the consumer market, whether consumers know exactly what they're buying or not, panelists said at a digital camera and video session at Comdex.

Consumers want faster, cheaper and better cameras, and don't care much about technology, according to the members of the panel, which included representatives from camera powerhouses Nikon, Olympus and Fuji.

Fortunately, the needs of professional photographers and high-end camera enthusiasts are creating enough swell for companies to push lens and printing technologies. Digital cameras with multiple lenses cost thousands of dollars now, but in coming months, they will drift into the consumer-price range.

Megapixel seepage into the consumer market also will continue, with more pixels for less money, said Manny Almeida, vice president and general manager of the electronic and applied imaging division at Fuji Photo Film USA. Vendors also are worried about the "lag time between pressing the button and taking the picture," Almeida added.

"Taking pictures is spontaneous," he said. "If you're taking pictures at a birthday party, you don't want to wait a half second between when you press the button and when the picture is taken."

Almeida presented a vision for consumer digital camera use, which has users popping removable cards from cameras at kiosks and designating where to have more conventional prints sent.

Olympus has a new name for this bold approach to photography: "filmless". But purists and luddites can take heart. Although there were comparisons to how audio CD technology overtook vinyl, digital photography isn't likely to make film photography extinct any time soon.

Still, the panel had to have the obligatory "Is Film Dead?" discussion. Not everyone in the audience wanted to hear the inevitable digital versus film discussion.

Patrick Kelly, systems engineer, likes digital cameras because they don't use film. He found vendor suggestions that digital is becoming more like 35mm "disturbing".

"I want it be better than the film experience. When can you make that happen? I want it faster, easier to develop, and I don't want to worry about the flash," he told panelists, who could not predict when his needs might be met.

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