Olympus C-211 Zoom Digital Printing Camera
"Olymparoid", "Polympus", Or Both?
By Richard Lewin
Editor's note: Even though the C211 hit dealer's shelves last year, we thought the technology behind this combo cam deserved some up close inspection.
- A Mavica SLR body with a choice of three zoom lenses with different ranges,
- A dedicated electronic flash,
- Mavipak (proprietary) magnetic disks as "film",
- A Mavigraph black and white photo printer,
- Any standard TV set to view the images.
Mavica was not only the "shot heard 'round the world" in the photo equipment manufacturing business, but also the beginning of the now familiar digital challenge to traditional film cameras. Selective instant printing of images and reusable "film" were benefits too strong to ignore. Since the Mavigraph Printer required an AC power supply to heat its thermal print head, and TV's needed to be plugged in, it was impossible for the System to be totally portable. The Photographic Industry has always been one to accept a challenge and to be imaginative, so a dream product became an all-in-one camera and printer with image storage and viewing. The Olympus C-211 Zoom Digital Printing Camera, the first in the world, is essentially the realization of this dream.
BREAKING IT DOWN
The C-211, measuring only 7" x 5.25" x 2.5", contains two sections: camera and printer.
The Camera Section: The camera section uses a quite respectable 2.11 Megapixel CCD with a 3X optical (35-105 mm. equivalent) and 2X digital zoom lens with true macro capability. Besides the usual TIFF and JPEG images, 15-second QuickTime video clips can be recorded on SmartMedia Cards. USB out and Video out are provided for image transfer and viewing. So far, all of this is fairly standard in the digital camera business. The real revolution here is in the Printer Section.
The Printer Section: Ease of transferring images from camera to printer is a major factor in the future level of success of digital imaging. Wireless image transfer, pioneered by Sony with its DSC-F1/DPP-M55 infrared system, has now been attempted by some manufacturers with Bluetooth Technology. Kodak has its Personal Picture Maker Printer series with CF and SmartMedia slots and LCD preview screen. Fuji, Canon, Sony and others have printers with digital media slots, with no computer required. Olympus has succeeded with the best idea...no hookup at all; the printer is built into the camera.
Without the cooperation between Olympus and Polaroid, however, this camera could not have been manufactured. Polaroid technology does not require the high power levels required by thermal print heads. There are, however, other benefits to Polaroid's contribution to the C-211. The printer section's low power requirements allow the camera to run on four AA alkaline batteries, whose common availability make the camera itself more attractive to consumers. In addition, the printing "paper" is Polaroid Type 500 or Captiva Film, available in any drug store or K-Mart. As far as image quality is concerned, according to Hideshi "Rick" Hosoi, Olympus's Digital Product Manager, the C-211's digital print quality is far better than the usual Polaroid print, since the image is scanned, not optically projected onto the print material.
The printer section can produce one image per sheet, or up to 9 thumbnail images on one sheet, with or without date information imprinting. Imaginative users can drag TIFFs or JPEGs from other sources onto SmartMedia and use the C-211 as a portable printer.
HARD COPY LOVE AFFAIR
In my 31 years in photo retail, one fact has never changed...the public's most common definition of a "picture" is an image on a sheet of paper that can be held and passed around among friends and family. The capabilities of "digital" are icing on the photographic cake. For the incredibly low price of roughly $499.00, Olympus and Polaroid have put it all together in one compact camera.
Perhaps more importantly, this model has brought the aforementioned thoughts into crystal clear focus and this technological marriage should have only positive ramifications on this industry.