Digicams steal spotlight

Feature-packed cameras are the focus at the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) conference in the US this week, but they aren't worth a pixel without top-notch accessories and convenient, suitable storage media.

All the major producers, including Canon, Fujifilm AG, Eastman Kodak, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus Optical, and Sony, are rolling out new cameras and accessories, with emphasis on two of the digital camera market's sweet spots: entry-level units and midprice models.

Sony is showing nine new digital still cameras, including seven Cybershot models with Smart Zoom. Prices range from US$230 for the entry-level DSC-P32 (with 3.2-megapixel resolution) to US$700 for the 5-megapixel DSC-V1, a compact high-performance camera that also takes MPEG VX video.

On the media front, Sony is working on a "two drives in one" version of its popular MicroVault minidrive that will carry an onboard Sony Memory Stick. The MicroVault USB Media, due out in June, adds the versatility of a USB drive to Sony's proprietary flash-memory products. Another version of the MicroVault, which is still under development, will feature biometric security.

Tiny Storage Devices

In the second quarter, Lexar Media plans to ship what it hopes is the answer to professional photographers' dreams: ultrahigh-capacity CompactFlash cards. Lexar is extending its high-performance card line to include 2GB and 4GB units.

The 4GB card works only with cameras that support Type II CompactFlash media. The unit is a bit pricey to use in a point-and-shoot model--at US$1500, it's clearly aimed at professionals. The 2GB Type I CompactFlash card costs US$700.

Along with expanded storage capacity, the new cards will feature minimum sustained read and write speeds of 4.8 megabytes per second.

Lexar is also introducing a rugged version of its popular JumpDrive. The JumpDrive Secure features special security software and password protection, and it's constructed of impact-resistant plastic and molded rubber to protect against bumps, jolts, and drops.

At another stop on the storage media road, SanDisk is unveiling a 1GB CompactFlash card, calling it the fastest card of its type on the market with a sustained write speed of 6 MBps and a sustained read speed of 9 MBps. The card sells for US$329, while a 128MB version will retail for US$59.

The announcements are examples of big activity in small storage: Hitachi recently said its Microdrive would jump to 4GB in capacity but isn't expected to ship until fall. Sony has pushed its Memory Stick and Secure Digital cards to 1GB.

Camera Calvacade

Fujifilm is rolling out two new FinePix models, the 3.1-megapixel F410, priced at US$500, and the US$560 FinePix F700. Fujifilm representatives say the F700 is the first consumer digital camera with 6.2-megapixel resolution. Both cameras feature Fujifilm's proprietary sensor technology, known as Super CCD.

Kodak is introducing two EasyShare digital cameras. The LS633 features the first organic light emitting diode (OLED) display on the market, and Kodak says its EasyShare DX6340 will be the smallest unit available with a 4X optical zoom. The LS633 will sell for US$400 when it is released in April in Europe, Asia, and Australia. The DX6340 will have a suggested retail price of US$329 when it hits store shelves in May.

Nikon is showing three new Coolpix models. The 2-megapixel 2100 (US$250) and the 3.2-megapixel 3100 (US$350) both have 3X optical zoom lenses and can record video in a choice of "movie modes."

The new SQ is Nikon's smallest and fastest digital camera. This model provides 3.2-megapixel resolution and will be priced at less than US$350 when it ships this spring, according to Nikon. The Coolpix 2100, 3100, and SQ include Nikon's latest version of NikonView, a feature that eliminates "red eye" from digital images.

Minolta is showcasing three new versions of its DiMage digital camera. The latest model is the 2-megapixel E223 (US$199), with a 3X optical zoom lens. The company is also showing two recently announced DiMage cameras: the 4-megapixel S414 (US$399) and the 5-megapixel F300 (US$599).

Toshiba is highlighting its PDR-4300, claiming that at US$379 it is the least-expensive 4-megapixel camera on the market. The newest model, which follows the 3.2-megapixel 3300, is scheduled for retail availability by March 18.

Shrinking Cameras

Digital Dream, a player in the European entry-level camera market, is showing a lineup of its small, affordable models that will debut in the United States in the next few months.

The most interesting-looking model is the 0.5-megapixel L'espion XS, which resembles a closed, oversize metal Zippo lighter. The camera features an infrared sensor that can be set to snap a picture based on body heat.

Leica is showing the Minox DD1, the first camera shaped like a woman's oversized compact.

The unit weighs just 3.1 ounces and is only 3 inches in diameter. The 2.1-megapixel model can also shoot a few minutes of video footage. It comes with 32MB of internal flash memory and a five-element glass lens. The list price is US$200, but you can tack on another $100 if you'd like the upscale version, featuring a ring of faux diamonds.

Casio is unveiling its newest credit-card sized camera, the Exilim EX-S3. The US$349 unit, scheduled to ship in April, features 3.2-megapixel performance and a 2-inch LCD screen packed into a 0.5-inch-thick magnesium case.

Clean-Camera Tools

New features and unusual cases for digital cameras won't produce good pictures if your lens has a smudge. International Parkside Products is coming out with a pair of cleaning tools to keep lenses and digital displays spic and span.

VidiMax uses a nonliquid cleaning compound to remove fingerprints, smudges, and oily residue from PC and laptop screens, copiers, and scanners. DigiKlear is a pen-shaped cleaning device with a proprietary cleaning compound for digital camera lenses and LCD, PDA, and cell phone screens. A five-sided cleaning pad on the tip of DigiKlear allows access to hard-to-reach corners of the screens.

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Frank Thorsberg

PC World
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