Magazine Article


The CES and the DSLR of Tomorrow

Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
Pentax camera
Olympus camera
Casio cameras
Sakar camera

Fragmented Society?

Yet as much as the CE show has become a full photo show, starring some of photo’s brightest luminaries, many, for their own reasons, don’t formally show up. Some, like Nikon, set up a display at the satellite shows like DigitalFocus, the Pepcom bacchanal staged the night before the CES opens for “media and analysts only.” Pentax was there, too, and also held meetings in a room just off the press room, while Olympus had a suite in the Hilton.

On the show floor proper, Kodak took a large space in South Hall, while Canon built its small city in Central Hall—showing not just its snapshotcams, but their top EOS DSLRs as well. Even Leica was an exhibitor, demonstrating its ultra-high-end Digital-Modul-M.

It’s an uneven blend at the CE show, one that presents photography from A to Z, but without full industry participation. Photo shows have all the lead players on their own main floor, but they present just A and Z. B through Y are hanging out with the electronic lifestyle. This year, several cameras of a consumeristic bent decided to join the party.

Consumercams Aplenty

Pentax brought the new Optio A10 and E-10, the latter a “top” model at $350 with an 8-megapixel imager. This gives me the sweats. I remember writing, in this very publication, that digital will have “arrived” on the market when people can buy 4MP cameras for under $400. I don’t remember the canons going off or the bells pealing, but that arrival is now old news.

If 8MP for $350 sets one a-trembling, imagine my response to the four new Fujifilm point-and-shoots, including the first in this class to feature Fuji’s Super CCD for extra sharpness, and Real Photo Technology for low-noise pictures, Fujifilm promises, at ISO settings up to 1600. With a 3.4X zoom lens, the 4-megapixel A500 carries a price of $179. Yep, things have definitely arrived

In that light, Sakar’s 6.1MP Capture Cam for $129.99 seemed quite in place in the neighborhood. Same goes for BenQ’s new camera models, such as the X600, described as “the world’s smallest 6-megapixel camera,” with 3X zoom, an almost unlimited voice-recording capability (up to the capacity of the memory), and a list price of $399. This, along with two other BenQs at $299 and $229, to say nothing of the Casio EX-S600, a 6MP $399 model with MPEG-4 movie capability, image stabilization, and a feature called Revive Shot for copying faded old prints, is further evidence of what has arrived. On paper at least, these cameras would outperform 35mm cameras in the same price range.

New Dogs, New Tricks

And besides equaling or surpassing 35mm P&S cameras in price/performance, the digicams arriving at this year’s CES also did things no other cameras did before. Kodak’s new EasyShare 650 with its 6MP imager and 10X zoom lens for a MSRP of $349 would be considered more or less standard, but the new V560 goes on to include a second lens, an extrawide-angle, and the integral ability to stitch successive pictures together in-camera to create panoramic shots. Such as those that fit the wide HDTV screens, hmmm?

Samsung expanded the camera’s role by instilling its new Digimax i6 with the ability to play MPEG movies from memory cards. It may not equal the impact of the 40-inch plasma that most electronic lifestyle habitues have at home, but for the kids in the back seat, or your own diversion on the redeye back from Las Vegas, it’s better than nothing and it’s value-added, in a 6MP camera that sells for $299. It’s one of a quartet of snappy new high-fashion P&S cameras the company announced at the show.

Another Samsung, the 815, was a bit of a surprise at the CE show. More of a prosumer model, it features a 15X zoom lens, the highest range ever offered on a digital still camera. It’s got an 8MP imager whose dimensions, if I heard correctly, make it closer to APS-C size than the mini that many 8MP chips have arrived in, giving the 815 potential for a richer, sharper picture than many of its counterparts. It’s not a brand-new model, but company reps thought its presence would reinforce the manufacturer’s credentials as a serious camera maker. More of a photo show thing than a CE show thing, but they had it so they might as well flaunt it.

Indeed, off-floor, high-end cameras were very much in the air. We can’t mention who, but at least one more DSLR manufacturer plans to enter the 10MP-and-up derby by mid-year. And then there was the DSLR of tomorrow.

The DSLR of Tomorrow

The DSLR of today entails current imaging technology enwrapped in the SLR body of yesterday. As far as handling is concerned, the camera is little different than Nikon’s legacy design as it came out in 1959. Since that time have come digital ZLRs, and with them, hinged and pivoting LCD screens. These are enormously useful whenever it becomes necessary to hold the camera at a distance, or at an odd angle—overhead, down at your feet, amid objects that don’t leave space for a photographer’s head at the viewfinder.

Why don’t SLR cameras have a live feed to the monitor? Because the mirror-shutter system gets in the way. Or, when the mirror can be locked up, as in the case of the Fujifilm FinePix Pro S3 or an astronomical model of the Canon 20D, they’re good for only 30 seconds at a pop, monochrome and running at something less than a full-motion frame rate.

It seemed like a no-brainer to install a second video system, one which bypassed the camera’s mechanics and fed directly to the screen. Something of this sort had been done with motion picture cameras back in the 1960s. Yet DSLR manufacturers seemed to be saying, “nope—too expensive,” or worse, “who cares?”

In their suite at the Hilton, Olympus said “we care.” Their E330 apparently shares most of the features of the Evolt E300, but it’s a little deeper front-to-back—and has the same hinged monitor as several of the fixed-lens models. This makes it the first SLR that has a design feature completely new and absolutely dependent upon electronics—all the others are mechanical cameras whose mechanical operations merely got taken over electronically.