The death of 35mm - are we there yet?
- 10 December, 2000 16:58
Several memory formats are used at the moment for digital still cameras, Compact Flash and SmartMedia being two of more popular choices. However, of the cameras reviewed, only a handful share the same type of removable memory. The following rundown may help you decide which camera is right for you, as well give a general price for a 16MB card.
MEMORY TYPE: CompactFlash (CF)
Used in Kodak DC4800, Kodak DC5000, Canon Ixus, Canon S20, Canon D30, Canon G1The CompactFlash cards are about one-third the size of a PCMCIA card and less than half the thickness, yet they offer similar ATA functionality and compatibility. It's this small size that has made CompactFlash arguably the most popular type of Flash memory for digital cameras.
A 16MB CompactFlash card costs around $105.
MEMORY TYPE: IBM Microdrive
Can be used in Canon S20, Canon D30 and any camera supporting CompactFlash Type IIOne of the most impressive digital camera storage solutions at the moment is the IBM Microdrive. Currently available at 340MB, these extremely small hard disks can fit in a CompactFlash Type II memory slot. They allow digital cameras with CompactFlash Type II support to break through the frustrating memory barrier many users face when dealing with high-res uncompressed images.
IBM has also announced a 1GB drive, which will be a godsend for users of pro cameras such as the Canon D30, Canon D2000 and Nikon D1.
340MB Microdrive costs around $550
1GB Microdrive costs around $950
MEMORY TYPE: Memory Stick
Used in Sony DSC-S70
Designed for use with both PCs and a wide variety of digital AV (audio/video) products, the Memory Stick can be used to store, transfer and play back AV content such as images, sounds and music as well as information including data, text and graphics.
Sony's Memory Stick digital storage medium is no larger than a stick of gum - about one-eighth the size of a regular floppy disk - and is currently available in 4MB, 8MB, 16MB, 32MB and 64MB, with a 128MB due out soon.
The Sticks can also employ an authentication technology. Protected content is recorded and transferred in an encrypted format to prevent unauthorised copying of playback. At the moment, only Sony has provided any products that support Memory Stick, although several companies have expressed interest in the technology.
A 16MB stick costs around $80
MEMORY TYPE: Smart Media Cards
Used in Olympus C3030 Zoom, JVC GC-X1EA
Smart Media Cards are around the same thickness as a credit card and about one-third the size. Smart Media contains a single Flash chip embedded in a thin plastic card. A floppy adapter can be used to input images from the card straight into the PC's floppy drive.
A 16MB card costs around $190
MEMORY TYPE: Multimedia Cards (MMC, SMMC, SD)Used in Panasonic ipalm PV-DC3000Multimedia Card (MMC) memory cards are the smallest removable storage options at the moment, using technology similar to that used in Smart Media cards and coming in about half the size. MMC is at present available in a few flavours, the differences being mainly the level of content security and write protection.
Secure Digital memory cards provide a more secure way for you to distribute your files than Smart Media, CompactFlash or normal MMC, and are available in 16MB, 32MB and 64MB capacities. Secure MMC is a format similar to SD.
MMCs are increasing being used in DV camcorders to provide a digital still storage solution.
A 16MB card costs around $200
Other Storage Solutions
Other storage solutions include Iomega's Clik! or HipZip ($40 per disc) providing 40MB on a small disc about the same size as a 50cent coin.
Page BreakThe term ISO (film speed control) applies equally to cameras using a CCD (charge coupled device) or conventional film.
In an SLR camera using 35mm film, ISO 400 film is more light sensitive, allowing you to take a shot (without the flash) in lower light conditions, with a shutter speed fast enough to avoid blurring. However, the trade-off is an image which is more grainy (not blurry) than on a film rated at 100.
It's the same with digital cameras.
When you change the light sensitivity (i.e., the ISO) of a digital camera's CCD you are able to get a higher shutter speed (or higher aperture and greater depth of field). The same trade-off applies to digital cameras, with higher speed leading to a grainier shot. This doesn't mean that the resolution is lower, only that the image information is not as sharp.
Cheaper digital cameras have a fixed ISO (usually around 100) and compensate for lower light conditions by:using the flashopening the apertureshooting at a lower shutter speed.
The quality or grain may be rated at ISO 100, but this is no guarantee that the shot won't be blurry or too dark, or just plain bad.
Page BreakJVC is not known locally for its digital still cameras, although such anonymity may change following the release of this 3.3 megapixel powerhouse providing solid perfor-mance, Web quality video capture and a unique 6 mega-pixel mode for high quality portrait shots.
The body is of conventional design, having the 2in LCD and optical viewfinder situated to the left and the zoom and mode controls placed comfortably under the right thumb. A dial mechanism allows the user to select the mode of operation - setup, playback, automatic, manual and video - with a roll of the thumb. The 2.3x optical zoom provides fast, sharp images with a quick zoom engine.
The camera is supplied with an 8MB card, not big enough for even one image at the highest setting available for the GC-X1EA. Resolution choices include 2032x1536, 1024x768 or 640x480-pixel images.
The selection buttons for flash, macro and timing modes are above the LCD screen, together with a four-way rocker switch and a display button.
JVC's pixel shift technology is the most unusual feature of the GC-X1EA, with precision optics and electronics providing a 6 megapixel image through double-exposure. The image is taken in two shots, shifting up 1 pixel during the second exposure, made possible by the micron-precise movement of an internal optical refraction plate. Due to the delayed nature of the second exposure, only stationary objects are suitable and you need a tripod.
However, users may quickly tire of the preparation for shooting such images and refer back to the normal 3.3 megapixel mode.
The Video Player application that plays back captured video clips is simple yet effective and is the only software included in the package. The USB Windows/Mac driver mounts the camera onto the desktop for image preview and use.
Aperture and Shutter priority modes (as well as full Manual), spot metering and variable ISO sensitivity settings are sure to appeal to the serious digital image worker.
If you do a lot of landscapes or real estate photography, the JVC GC-X1EA may provide some powerful features not available on any other digital still offering.
Price: $2099 (inc GST)
Phone: (02) 9370 8888
Pros: 6 megapixel mode
Cons: Clunky user controls, 8MB memory not enough
Page BreakLooking nothing like a conventional SLR, the ipalm packs a surprising punch in a camera that wouldn't look out of place at a rave.
The PV-DC3000 is made to take 3.3 megapixel photos without thinking, prompting the user to point and shoot. Small and lightweight, it has a 2x optical zoom/3x digital zoom, with all menu controls falling comfortably under the thumb.
The standout feature of the ipalm, apart from the retro design, is its choice of storage. The ipalm is one of the first digital still cameras to make use of the new Multimedia Card, which is about 32x14mm and has the thickness of a 5cent coin. The Secure Disc (SD) slot gives you the option of recording images on either an SD memory card (optional) or Multimedia Card (included). SD cards can be programmed with security measures to protect the content.
The features on the ipalm reflect the intended user, a gadget junky who wants quality images, sends lots of images to friends and wants to be shielded from manual controls.
If you want to send images over the Web, press the MAIL button and the shutter button to attach images to an e-mail message automatically. General image transfer is also a simple affair: connect the ipalm to your PC with the included USB cable, and press the PAGE or ALL button on your camera. Images will automatically be transferred.
Image choices are super fine, fine, and TIFF, and the 1.5in colour LCD screen gives you a fair indication of what your image will look like. You can also use it as a monitor to play back video clips recorded with the motion image recording feature, recording up to 12 seconds of still frames at approximately 0.1 second intervals in the QuickTime format.
The audible shutter-type sound when a shot is taken and the red-eye reduction implementation are surprisingly effective. Other features include a Time Lapse Recording feature, which enables you to set the camera to capture an image from once every minute to once every 24 hours.
There is no doubt that the ipalm may not appeal to some of the more serious users in the market.
However, any user wanting a fine combination of quality and point-and-click simplicity could do.
Panasonic ipalm PC-DC3000
Phone: (02) 9986 7400
Pros: Simple to use, Unique styling, Quality imagesCons: Minimal user controls, Removable memory not well supported yet
Page BreakThe Olympus C3030 Zoom is a 3.34 megapixel digital still camera combining powerful optics with all the user controls you could want.
Aperture and Shutter priority modes (as well as full Manual), spot metering, variable ISO sensitivity settings, and standard PC flash sync socket are sure to appeal.
Five image sizes - from 2048x1536 down to 640x480 - are available, with QuickTime Movie/audio capture at 15fps at 160x120 or 320x240 pixels for easy posting to the Web. Sound can also be recorded.
The camera is comfortable to hold, all of the relevant controls being within easy reach of the thumb and index finger, although two-handed operation can at times be unwieldy. The power button is incorporated into an effective dial mode/power selector that controls all of the camera's exposure settings and effects.
Aperture priority mode gives you depth of focus control, with any aperture from f2.8 to f11, while Shutter priority allows you to choose any shutter speed from 1 to 1/800 sec.
White balance can be automatic or user-selectable, to match the prevailing light source. Getting the appropriate white balance with the Olympus takes some experimenting.
Metering modes include Digital iESP metering (a multi-patterned metering system) and spot metering. Light settings can be manually set with ISO 100, 200 or 400 sensitivity and manual exposure compensation in 1/3 steps.
The viewfinder and 1.8in LCD screen are well placed, ensuring comfortable viewing with the right eye. Menu functions are easily accessed, however, you are sometimes forced to drill down through multiple levels to access critical settings.
Quick USB transfers using the Camedia Master 2.0 suite allow easy viewing of images before acquisition by the PC. Alternatively, you can use the optional Smart Media Card reader, which provides quick file transfer through the floppy drive.
Flash photographers will appreciate the option of using an external flash via a standard sync cord. The Olympus offers a choice of slow-sync settings, one of which lets you create trailing blur effects. A 2fps sequential capability and remote control are also included.
Normal AA batteries can be used for the C3030, although they won't last long if you make constant use of the LCD screen. The Lithium Ion batteries, which come with the camera, work well but are not rechargeable and can be expensive.
A mains power adapter (not included) at around $75 may also prove useful when connecting to the PC.
Olympus Camedia 3030 Zoom
Distributor: R Gunz
Phone: (02) 9935 6600
Pros: Program control, 3x optical zoom
Cons: Menu controls, No adapter or rechargeable batteries
Page BreakOne of the first 3.3 megapixel cameras on the market, and still one of the smallest, the Powershot S20 packs a pixel punch.
The S20 offers an impressive 2048x1536-pixel resolution, which can produce A4-sized photo quality prints. The camera also offers two settings of 1024x768 (Middle mode), and 640x480 (Small mode).
Menu dials, zoom control and viewfinder are all well placed for the right-handed user, with a 1.8in LCD screen providing clear viewing. The lens is a retractable 2x optical zoom with a 4x digital teleconverter. A 16MB CompactFlash storage card and a powerful software suite to help manipulate, collect and store all of your images round out the package.
The main command dial has positions for Connect to PC, Playback, Off, Automatic, Manual Record, Image Mode and a Stitch Assist Mode. Controls to the left of the optical viewfinder include a Flash mode (auto, off, red-eye), Record mode (single, continuous) and a self-timer.
In Manual mode, you can adjust compression, resolution exposure and white balance. A 10-second timer feature, as well as macro and con-tinuous shooting modes together with a 1/30 sec flash, provide an impressive array of SLR-type features. The S20 also has the ability to focus in the dark thanks to the onboard focusing aid located next to the optical viewfinder.
The S20 supports USB and serial port connections, as well as a Video-out port for connection to a TV set, VCR or other video device for playback operations. The Canon S20 uses CompactFlash Type I and II memory cards and also supports IBM's 340MB Microdrive.
The software package includes Adobe PhotoDeluxe ZoomBrowser EX, Powershot Browser, Time Tunnel, SlideShowMaker, PhotoStitch, Photo-Record, and PhotoAlbum for both Mac OS and Windows.
Canon Powershot S20
Phone: (02) 9805 2000
Pros: Compact, Stylish body, Price performance, Microdrive supportCons: Switching from record to review is tedious, Doesn't mount camera as removable drive
Page BreakThe DSC-S70 has a 3.3 mega-pixel CCD, producing images that can be printed at up to 8x10in with ease. Quality optics set the latest Sony apart from recent releases: a 3x Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens nicely complements the 2in LCD screen to provide sharp, accurate image information.
The S70 has an optical viewfinder with dioptric adjustment and a crosshair indicating the auto focus zone. The camera can also record small, short videos (up to 15 seconds), which is great for Web graphics and animations.
The automatic exposure produces well-exposed images in all but the most demanding conditions. Shutter and aperture priority modes can be controlled via the menu, allowing you to fine-tune your exposure settings. You can also adjust the exposure compensation values from -2 to +2EV in 1/3EV increments.
The image-capturing mode allows you to shoot images in various sizes such as 2048x1536, 2048x1360 (3:2 ratio), 1600x1200, 1280x960 and 640x480. The files can be saved either as uncompressed TIFF or as JPEG files.
Auto Macro gets you as close as 4cm from your subject. The voice mode is another handy option, letting you record an audio file together with a still image.
E-mail mode automatically records a small JPEG file (320x240) in addition to any image size you're shooting.
A four-way rocker toggle button allows you to access quickly any of the manual overrides. In the Playback mode you can monitor up to six pictures or zoom into a portion of a single image, magnifying it up to 5x. You can also record the whole or a portion of an image as a compact 640x480 e-mail file simply by pressing the shutter.
The S70 utilises an NP-FM50 battery pack that indicates how many minutes of power are left for shooting. The battery is recharged inside the camera via a cable from a standard Sony AC power adapter and the charging info is displayed on the LCD monitor as well as in a small display window.
The S70 has a USB interface for fast downloading of images from the camera to the computer. The camera uses the very compact Sony Stick memory media which is available in sizes up to 128MB. It comes standard with an 8MB memory card, which is a little low for a 3.1 megapixel camera.
If quality optics, Web movie capabilities and strong battery life are high on your priority list, you should seriously consider the DSC-S70.
Phone: (02) 9878 9712
Pros: Great price for a 3.1 megapixel digital camera, High-quality lens, Great image qualityCons: No support for the serial port, Movie Record mode is limited to 15 seconds, 8MB memory is small for a 3.1 megapixel digital camera
Page BreakThe G1, Canon's latest and most advanced effort, is definitely not as pocket-sized as recent Powershot models, but provides some strong prosumer features wrapped up in a point-and-shoot package. Fast, sharp focusing via Through the lens (TTL), continuous or single shot autofocus and a strong range of user controls continue the Canon tradition of offering extensive control or full auto at the flick of a switch.
The 1.8in LCD screen can be moved at an angle or switched around so the subject can view the shot. This feature is surprisingly useful, particularly when used to shield the screen from direct sunlight.
A 3.4 megapixel CCD provides even sharper and more vivid images than the same manufacturer's S-20, with impressive picture quality at the low resolution (640x480) up to the maximum (2048x1536) resolution. A middle setting is also available, although experience has shown that most users either want the image at the highest setting possible, or at 640x480 for the Web.
Shooting modes include Program AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE and full manual. If you want total control over the shot, you can also select Auto Exposure Bracketing, ISO-equivalent speed controls and a custom white balance. ISO automatically sets the best speed for the prevailing conditions (between 50 - 100 ISO) with manual control selections available up to 400 ISO. A long lasting Lithium-Ion battery pack lets you take lots of images.
Canon's RAW mode delivers an uncompressed image if you need it, although low-compressed JPEGs seem to produce similar quality at about a third the size. If you are determined to use the RAW mode, you may want to take advantage of the CompactFlash Type II capabilities of the G1 and lay down your hard-earned dollars for a 340MB IBM Microdrive, one of the best digital still storage solutions to come on the market.
The Powershot G1 also has a movie clip mode, which captures sound and video clips at a resolution of 320x240. While ideal for Web delivery, the video is of little use for any other application.
Flash options are the most extensive to be found on a consumer digital still, with support for Canon's Speedlite 220EX, 380EX, 420EX and 550EX flash units. The Canon G1 also includes a remote control, which lets you get in the picture (with the self-timer function) or give a slideshow when the camera is attached (via the included video cable) to a TV monitor.
Getting the images from the camera to the PC is simple. USB connections provide hassle-free file transfer but non-USB systems have to use a serial connection through an available COM port.
Software includes Photo Stitch and Adobe's PhotoDeluxe 4.0 (Windows and Mac) together with TWAIN drivers and Canon's ZoomBrowser. If you are used to mounting your camera on the desktop as a pseudo drive, as with Kodak and Nikon cameras, you may find the Canon solution a little restrictive.
Canon Powershot G1
Price: $2199 (inc GST)
Phone: (02) 9805 2000
Pros: Image quality, Flash options, Movable LCD, Software bundleCons: Can't mount the camera on the desktop
Page BreakKodak started the consumer digital still camera revolution in 1994 and has pushed the technology more than any other camera manufacturer, offering a model for happy snappers all the way to professional studios using Kodak digital backs. Kodak has the largest model range in the industry, and at the consumer level the DC4800 sits comfortably at the top.
With 3.1 million pixels per image, the Kodak DC4800 provides a compelling argument for keeping it simple. An SLR-inspired rotating knob provides controls over aperture (f2.8, f5.6 and f8), picture previews and setup. Video and audio are not supported. The camera body is blocky in appearance but image taking is where the DC4800 excels, providing impressive colour accuracy and saturation.
The fast 3x optical (6x digital) zoom allows you to get the shot with little fuss, while the exposure compensation (plus or minus 2) provides impressive controls for inclement conditions.
The menu controls are accessed through a rocker switch situated next to the fast 1.8in LCD screen. The menu display is typically Kodak, with cartoon icons providing a clear indication of the specified function. The optical viewfinder with dioptric adjustment should be used for most picture-taking situations, although battery drain is less of an issue with the DC4800, as the rechargeable Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) battery provides more life than the average set of AAs.
Five image quality settings include the ability to save uncompressed images at the highest resolution down to 800,000 pixels suitable for Web posting. Shutter controls range from 1/2 a second up to 1/1000, with time exposure also available. Film speed controls (ISO) range from 100 to 400, providing the appropriate film speed for portraits or action shots quickly and easily.
Flash, delayed shooting and macro controls are simple, one-button selections, while the shutter button rests comfortably under the trigger finger. If lighting conditions are not perfect you can use the onboard flash or attach another flash through the external flash connector. One frustrating aspect of the DC4800 is the flash not popping up automatically when needed, even in full auto mode.
Downloading images from the DC4800 is a painless affair. The USB cable and AC power supply, which also acts as the battery recharger, provide everything you need to get your images from the camera onto the PC or Mac. The software bundle is simply effective, with the Kodak camera mounted onto the PC or Mac as another drive on the system. This is in contrast to other acquisition solutions in which a TWAIN interface previews images in a TWAIN-compliant applicant before moving images into a folder on the computer.
In short, the DC4800 offers solid performance and images to rival 35mm film.
Price: $1999 (inc GST)
Phone: 1300 130 674
Pros: Image and build quality, 3x optical zoom, Simply effective menu controlsCons: Manual selection for onboard flash
Page BreakWhy talk aobut film speed in a camera that doesn't use film?
Canon Powershot G1
Canon Powershot S20
Olympus Camedia 3030 Zoom
Panasonic ipalm PV-DC3000