TechXNY: Tiny cameras debut at show

A pair of Casio Computer Co. Ltd. cameras have joined the ever-growing selection of ever-shrinking digicams, making their debut at PC Expo/TechXNY here this week.

A first look at the 1.2-megapixel models, each about the size and thickness of a business card holder and weighing less than 4 ounces, finds them to be innovatively designed and full-featured. Both the $300 Exilim EX-S1 and the Exilim EX-M1, priced at $350, are scheduled to ship in mid-July.

Power in Small Package

What makes the cameras so thin? Two factors: Casio integrated the lens and CCD (charge-coupled device) into a single component and developed a multichip module that contains the CPU, ASIC, SDRAM, and Flash memory. The circuit board in the two Exilims is 70 percent smaller than the board used in the company's current digital cameras, according to Casio.

Notwithstanding their remarkably thin and light design, the stainless steel Exilims have some very handy features not typically found in cameras of this size, including a SecureDigital/MultiMediaCard memory card slot, a rechargeable lithium ion battery, an optical viewfinder complemented by a 1.6-inch LCD, a built-in flash, and the capability to capture 30-second AVI videos at 320 by 240 resolution.

Both new cameras also come with a cradle and an AC adapter for charging the battery and downloading photos to a computer via USB cable.

Versatile EX-M1

Of the two, the higher-priced EX-M1 is the more full-featured, and it can double as an MP3 player and voice recorder. The camera is bundled with earphones and an audio control strip for listening to music on the road. Buying an optional 64MB SecureDigital memory card (priced at around $60) will enable you to listen to hours of music, though the number of songs you can store depends on the size of the MP3 files involved.

The EX-M1 has a built-in microphone that you can use as a voice recorder or for adding voice annotations to snapshots. The microphone allows you to capture audio with each 30-second video clip--unlike the EX-S1, which captures video but not sound.

The EX-M1 also includes an integrated speaker, which is handy for listening to voice-recorded memos or to the audio when you play back a video file.

Practical Features

Both cameras come with basic photographic functions such as a 1-megapixel CCD image sensor that lets you capture snapshots at 1280-by-960-pixel or 640-by-480-pixel resolution. The cameras can produce an interpolated 1600 by 1200 image, too; interpolation is a method by which the camera uses software to enlarge the image without increasing the number of pixels.

You also get 12MB of internal memory--enough to store 24 shots in 1280 by 960 mode, 75 photos in 640 by 480 mode, or 15 images in 1600 by 1200 mode at the normal compression setting.

Both models have a fixed-focus, F2.5 lens with a 4X digital zoom (37mm, in 35mm film equivalent) in 640 by 480 mode only, as well as two-step exposure compensation.

In a company demo of the cameras, the shutter lag (the time between pressing the shutter and recording the image in memory) and the continuous shutter time (time between taking one shot and the next) were each less than half a second.

Targeting Logitech

Casio's Exilims may face stiff competition with Logitech Inc.'s sleek, lower-priced Pocket Digital camera. At $130, the Pocket Digital is $170 cheaper than the EX-S1 and $220 less than the EX-M1.

Though all three cameras possess a sleek, ultra-slim design, the Logitech has far fewer features than the two Casios--not surprising, given its lower cost. The Pocket Digital lacks an LCD, flash, memory card slot, and video-capture capability.

The Logitech is also inferior in image quality resolution, capturing photos only at 640-by-480-pixel resolution. It does, however, have an interpolated 1280-by-960-resolution setting.

Despite their differences, the Casio and Logitech cameras score high in both portability and coolness. They're not aimed at seasoned shutterbugs, but they will surely appeal to all sorts of users who want significant portability.

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Grace Aquino

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