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The View from MotoMountain at CES 2005



A ski slope was part of the spectacle known as CES 2005.

Digital Cameras Cut Through the Blizzard of Gizmos in Las Vegas

For a show that counts as one of its highlights a behemoth known as MotoMountain—a man-made ski slope complete with real fake snow (the fluffy wet kind that actually floats through the air) and actual professional snowboarders hot-dogging it over steep jumps all in the name of promoting consumers electronics (in this case a Motorola headset you can hook into your ski hat or jacket or some such thing)—you'd think a device as small and precious as a digital camera would get lost in the shuffle. This was Las Vegas, after all, the land where the $1,000 poker table, $100 stretch Hummer limo ride and $2 steak are a way of life.

A digital camera? Good lord! There was so much else going on in Vegas at the beginning of January, who had time to worry about digital cameras? First off, there was the entire CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2005 itself, a crowded, noisy, rollicking affair that was packed to the gills with reportedly more than 140,000 attendees (a new record) from 115 countries, on hand to celebrate the latest high-tech gadgets and gizmos over the course of four (Jan. 6-9) battery-draining days.

Next off, there was the weather—unusually nasty, cold and rainy, with the occasional snow squall (the kids on MotoMountain didn't seem to mind) that made getting around Vegas even worse than usual. Never mind the monorail—which was up and running and garnering generally positive reviews—the real pros were all down in the cab line waiting upwards of an hour and a half for an overstuffed taxi to hustle them off through the slush to dinner.

Then there were all the other usual Vegas distractions—gambling, dining, lavish shows and a concurrent even more flashy convention—the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, the porno industry's annual trade show.

Yes, lots to look at, lots to see in Las Vegas in early January.

So what about those cute little digital cameras—the ones that always debut this time of year just months prior to the PMA photo convention where the serious heavy-weight photo gear is unleashed? Well, at CES 2005, they really weren't that hard to find, especially if you followed your ears. The best thing to do was to listen for the strains of classic rock, most of which was coming from Olympus' booth towards the back of Central Hall where the likes of Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and the boys from Cheap Trick were rocking the crowd in support of m:robe 500 (yes, we don't understand the name either), Olympus' new music player/digital camera.

But there was a lot of rocking going on at the other manufacturers' booths as well with major players like Fuji, Canon, Nikon, Kodak and Casio giving us sneak peeks of some of the goodies they'd be unveiling at PMA.

To give you a sampling of what will be filtering into your stores in the coming weeks, we've split CES digital cameras releases into three categories: low end cameras ($150 or less), "Sweet Spot" cameras ($350 or less), and Slim & Sexy (less than $600).

On the Low End

Concord Camera has practically cornered the market on creating decent, affordably priced digital cameras for your customers that are a snap to use. Two recent models that caught our eye are the Concord 3043 and Concord 3346z. The 3043 is a stylish, metal-bodied camera that comes in a variety of colors (red, blue, and silver), offers 3 megapixels of resolution and is so slim (20mm thick) it can fit in your back pocket. The low price ($99.99) comes at a price though. The camera only has digital zoom (4x) and VGA movie mode clocks in at a slow 15 frames per second. On the bright side, it does feature a 1.8" color LCD and 16MB of internal memory.

The Concord 3346z, priced a little higher at $119.99, also has a 3MP CMOS sensor but comes with 3x optical zoom, seven pre-set scene modes, an AF assist lamp for focusing in low-light as well as continuous shooting and AVI video mode. The camera comes in champagne and silver colors.

Olympus isn't usually a brand associated with the budget-conscious but, at just $149.99, their new D-425 squeezes in just under the bar for your customers looking to purchase in this category. The 4MP camera, like others in this niche, has no optical zoom, just a 4x digital zoom, but it has one thing the Concord and Vivitar models don't—Olympus' reputation. With that reputation come such features as Olympus' TruePic TURBO Image Processor, 10 shooting modes including QuickTime Movie Mode, a built-in help guide and a 1.5-inch LCD screen.

HP also comes in under the wire at $149 with the new 4MP, 6x digital zoom HP Photosmart M22 digital camera. While it's a pretty bare bones affair (at that price, what did you expect?), the M22 does offer HP's extremely helpful Real Life technologies including the excellent adaptive lighting technology, in-camera red-eye removal, in-camera panorama preview and HP image advice.

Most of the major camera players, including Canon and Fujifilm, were on hand at CES 2005.

Hitting the "Sweet Spot"

Fujifilm's new A-series models, the 4MP A345 and the 5.2MP A350, at $199 and $249 respectively, offer your customers solid feature sets and good quality imaging. Both have 1.7-inch LCD screens on the back, video modes with sound (there was no sound on the previous versions), continuous shooting modes and, perhaps mostly importantly, 3x optical zooms.

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