CES Photography Sampler
by Don Sutherland
Stroll over to the Minolta exhibit, for example, and get to know what small is. The Dimage X camera, making its debut at the show, is so compact that you could almost lose it amid your pocket change. When pocketability is an issue, digicams have several advantages. For one, they need devote no space to film, nor the mechanism to wind it shot after shot. For another, most CCD imaging sensors are smaller than film negatives, so high-performance lenses can be miniaturized accordingly. Yes, friends, that's a 3x zoom built into the Dimage X — and yet the whole camera is barely the size of a 50mm (non-zoom) lens for a film camera.
Less than an inch thick, barely over 3 inches on its longest side, the Dimage X has a zoom range equivalent to 37-111mm on a 35mm camera. "Smaller than a floppy disk, lighter than a cheeseburger," is Minolta's description of the camera, to which we'd add, no-cholesterol too. The nutritive value of this tinycam is substantial nonetheless, with a full 2-Megapixels of CCD resolution. How far have we come? The very first digital camera, in 1991, was considered a professional model because it had a 1-Megapixel CCD, and also because only a pro could afford it — at about $30k. And unlike any still cameras of 1991, the Dimage X also records audio and mini-movies. Is this progress, or what?
Another form of progress is exhibited at the Minolta booth, in the form of the Dimage 7. This was the first 5-Megapixel camera to reach the consumer market, prototypes having been shown to us exactly a year ago. With its 7x zoom (28-200mm "equivalent"), it reached the market last summer, leading a new vanguard of high-performance cameras. It may be tough to demonstrate under the bright lights of Vegas, but the Dimage 7 also was the first to feature a light-amplifying electronic viewfinder system. In our tests, we've found it possible to see objects in this viewfinder that were too dimly lighted for the naked eye to make-out.
The latest 5-Megapixel camera at the show is the E-20n, from Olympus. Built like a tank, this is its maker's "professional" model, with a snappy 4x zoom. One of the things we like best about it is the hinged LCD. It permits angling the camera in unusual ways, for creative compositions or to overcome technical difficulties. Film cameras don't do that — but check it out at the Olympus booth, and see why we say "digicams can."
Meanwhile, if you like both chickens and eggs, take a look at the Sony exhibit. Sony was a developer of the floppy disk as we know it, and they've built a line of FD Mavicas around it. Their MVC-FD100 provides a 1.2-MP CCD for $399, along with a 3x optical zoom and dual media capability. Sony suggests using a Memory Stick in this camera during longish shooting sessions, handing-out individual pictures on floppies. Why hand-out prints, when you can hand-out adaptable, transmissable electronic files?
Meanwhile, the Sony MVC-FD200 provides a 2-MP CCD for $499, and is the smallest yet in the FD Mavica line, according to Senior Marketing Manager Jim Malcom.
A new line of Panasonic digicams is making its debut at the show. In all, there should be four Lumix models shipping by Spring, all sporting lenses by Leitz. The entry-level DMC-LC20 provides a 2.1-MP CCD, 32-70mm ("equivalent") zoom, and features a "megaburst" setting at 5 frames per second. Price is expected to be $349.95. On the high end of the new line, the DMC-LC40 provides a 4-Megapixel CCD, a 33-100mm ("equivalent") zoom lens and 8-frame burst mode, at an expected $699.95.
Let's pause for a moment and scratch our heads. Did we say the first digicam sold for nearly $30k with a 1-MP CCD? And Panasonic is talking 4-MP for under $700? Can you see the growth pattern in this picture?
But escalating performance at diminishing prices is just part of the story in camera success. Photo pros like the gang at PTN aren't supposed to admit it, but styling is important, too. Always has been, back to the beautifully finished wood camera bodies of the Daugerrian age (a.k.a. the 1840s). Have we mentioned that all the cameras described so far are outright sexy?
Panasonic makes a point of the issue with its new DMC-F7, all spiffied-up for a day (or night) on the town. Its Leitz zoom covers a 35-70mm ("equivalent") range and, like the others in the Lumix line, writes its files to the tiny SD card. Price is expected under $500.
The year 2002 can safely be predicted to be a watershed year for the entry-level consumercam as a result of new photofinishing services (see "They Press The Buttons, You Make The Bucks," this issue). Thus the entry- and mid-level digicam models from Fujifilm gain an added significance. The FinePix A101 and FinePix A201 pocket-size cameras, priced at $179 and $249, respectively, are intended for the first-time digital photographer. The FinePix 2600 has a 3X optical zoom lens and the FinePix 2800 offers a 6x optical zoom, MSRPs being $299 and $499 respectively.
... And there's video ...
Video was, of course, the first form of electronic photography to gain a toehold in the consumer market. With the advent of digital video, higher quality is pulled out of NTSC-level specs than ever before — a lot of the mini-DV camcorders actually surpass the performance of "broadcast quality" television. Panasonic was finalizing their camcorder plans as we went to press, but you'll be looking 'em up anyway, for a glimpse at the Lumix line.
Meanwhile, Sharp has described its new Digital Viewcam models VL-NZ50 and VL-NZ100, weighing about a pound each. Both feature a 3-inch color LCD and 10x optical zoom. The VL-NZ100 also provides a card slot (8 MB card included) for stills. The pair is expected to ship this month, at $599.95 and $699.95 respectively. Remember the bad old days when a consumer camcorder produced a wishy-washy image, had to perch on your shoulder, and sold for two grand?