Panasonic unveils palm-size digital cameras

Japanese consumer electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial, better known by its Panasonic brand name, has unveiled two new digital cameras at the Internationale Funk Ausstellung (IFA) exhibition in Berlin.

Leading the new products at IFA is the SV-AV100, which is a palm-size camcorder that records MPEG2 or MPEG4 video directly onto a Secure Digital (SD) memory card. The unit is much smaller than a conventional camcorder because there is no cassette mechanism or disc-loading mechanism needed and use of an SD card also means video can be easily and quickly transferred to a personal computer.

The downside is the relatively high cost of SD memory cards and their limited storage capacity. In maximum resolution MPEG2 mode, data will be recorded onto the memory card at a constant rate of 6M bps (bits per second) which means a 512MB memory card will be able to hold a little more than 10 minutes of video.

A Panasonic 512MB SD card, one of which is bundled with the camera, currently costs about $US250, according to PCWorld.com's Product Finder.

That makes it a fairly expensive way to record video when compared to a Panasonic 120-minute MiniDV tape, which retails for around $US16. Of course the memory card brings advantages, like fast transfer to a PC, and it can be quickly erased and reused although the price means it isn't quite yet a viable mass-market replacement for digital video tape.

If you want to shoot more video you have the option of recording in MPEG2 at half the bit rate, which Panasonic calls "normal" mode, or switching to MPEG4, which is lower quality and lower bit rate. MPEG4 recording options with the camera range from "super fine" rate of 1M bps at 320 pixel by 240 pixel resolution to "economy" rate of 100K bps at 176-pixel by 144-pixel resolution. That translates into between almost 70 minutes and 700 minutes of recording time with a 512MB SD card.

The camera features a 800,000 pixel CCD (charge coupled device) sensor and there is also a 10X optical zoom lens and a 2.5-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor. Still images are recorded in JPEG format.

The SV-AV100 measures 33.2mm x 89.8mm x 64.9mm and weighs 156gm. Panasonic plans to put the device on sale in Europe from October this year for $US1425. That's also more expensive than some camcorders although none comes close to the Panasonic camera in terms of size.

At the same time the company also took the wraps off a thin SD card-based digital still camera.

The SV-AS10 is 9.9mm thick across most of its body and 13.5 millimetres thick in the area around the lens, 51.5mm wide and 103.7mm high. It weighs 57gm. These dimensions make it lighter and slightly thinner than Casio Computer's Exilim digital still camera, currently one of the thinnest display-equipped cameras on the market, across the entire body except for the lens area.

The camera has a 2-megapixel CCD sensor and a lens mechanism that can rotate through 180 degrees to make taking pictures of yourself easier. Maximum resolution of 1600 pixels x 1,200 pixels is possible and most of the camera's other features are what you would expect these days, such as flash, red-eye reduction, a macro and the ability to take three photos in quick succession.

It also includes a 1.5-inch monitor and a digital music player with support for MP3, AAC and Windows Media Audio files is also built into the camera. It can also be used as a voice recorder.

Like the SV-AV100, the camera will go on sale in Europe from October. It will cost $US360.

Availability of the products outside of Europe hasn't yet been announced by Panasonic although more details are expected soon. The company has scheduled a news conference in Tokyo next week to detail new SD-card based cameras.

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