Magazine Article


The CES: A Different Kind of Camera Show

The electronic lifestyle as depicted in a skit at Panasonic's sprawling exhibit

By Don Sutherland

Panasonic's 2-MP, 12x zoom Lumix made its U.S. debut at the CES

cameras have a legitimate place at the Consumer Electronics Show, being both electronic and targeting the consumer. But the emphasis is different at a CES than it would be at a traditional "photo" show like next month's PMA. At photo shows, cameras are assessed for their picture-taking potentials. But at a CES, their starring traits are how chic, how sleek, how hip and cool they can be. How well they function as fashion accessories, how they append to the "electronic lifestyle"these are the crucial issues at a show where high-tech and glamour are one and the same.

The high-end digital SLRs that we've defined as central to the industry this year were not to be found at the Las Vegas Convention Center during January 8-12. Instead, Casio introduced their highest-resolution Exilim Zoom EX-Z3 (3.2 megapixels) with a fashion show; Cheryl Tiegs hosting at Studio 54 in the MGM Grand. Runway models did quick changes backstage, but each time returned to flash an Exilim at the audience. Are there technical advances in the camera? Dig into their specs and you'll discover there are. But if they were mentioned at the debut, they were drowned-out by the singing, and the pop of balloons tumbling from aloft.

Attendees at the 2003 CES Attendees interacting with the many features of CEA's TechHomethe ultimate connected home CEA's ThunderDorm, a traveling exhibit showcasing the latest in consumer technologies to college students nationwide

Like ladies' watches, cameras vied for the title of tiniest. The new Pentax OptioS was presented as small enough to fit in an Altoids tinraising another fashion imperative, fresh breath for snapshooters. SiPix introduced the StyleCam Blink II, which can be worn as a necklace. Sure it stores 300 photos, can shoot AVI movies, sells for under $40, but isn't the point that you're wearing it? Ladies' hats, after all, were once adorned with fruitbut were not loudly touted for their vitamin content.

The less-is-more principle extended to other new cameras, even when their picture-taking features were more pronounced. Panasonic, for example, boasted of compact dimensions in their latest Lumix, the DMC-FZ1, the one we previewed in our photokina report with the 12x Leica zoom. Panasonic, at the time, disavowed plans for American shipmentsbut it still showed up in Vegas, hotspot of the nation, for $449.95, delivering in February.

Also from Panasonic was the $399.95 DMC-F1, described as "super-compact" with full metal body, an f/2.8 3x Leica zoom, and 3.2 megapixel imager. Olympus put in its bid for compact styling with the Digital Stylus line, the first digicams in the snazzy tradition of Stylus point and shoot 35s. The first members of the new family are the 3.2 megapixel Stylus 300 Digital and the 4.0 megapixel Stylus 400 Digital, with street prices estimated at $399 and $499 respectively.

Minolta applied the pancake and rouge more sparingly than most, but again pointed-out the compactness of the F300. They talked tech, but in ways non-techies appreciate. Your kids move around a lot and are hard to keep in focus? Oh, we can fix that, we've got Subject Tracking AF, and that's all you need to know, ma'am.

Sony showed some camcorders that write to DVD, not tape. That fits in with the newest electronic lifestyle, as America dumps its VCRs for replacement by DVD players. It's a direct entree of home movies into the home theater, with a higher grade of video than before.

For those wishing to burn photos and videos to DVD, Roxio arrived with Creator 6not unlike their previous versions, but with DVD specialties added.

From the standpoint of "convergence," the CES was actually a more comprehensive show than most photo shows are. At least there were computers at this one. And multimedia systems, and high-res flat screens from the likes of ViewSonic. If computers are "digital darkrooms," don't they belong at photo shows? Were photo shows complete, if they left out the enlargers and tanks and drying drums?

At the CES, Maxtor showed-up with a 250 GB FireWire/USB external drive, a $399.95 item whose closest analogy in traditional photography is the photo album. It is, after all, where you keep the pictures. Sony's new Giga Vault takes the approach of the portable album, the pocketbook size, where 40 GB of material is packed around in a 10-ounce package. For $299.99, you could practically wear it on the same necklace as your SiPix.ptn