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Archive for Sunday, December 19, 1999

OPTIC NERVE: HIGH TECH CAMERAS OPENLY EMBRACE THE FUTURE

December 19, 1999

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Lawrence stores offer a range of high-tech optical gadgetry perfect for the technophile on your Christmas list.

People love high-tech gifts.

They look cool, they do dazzling things and -- whether we really need them or not -- they're just fun to play with.

If you have any doubt about the popularity of giving electronic gizmos and gadgets as Christmas gifts, flip through some of the catalogs you get swamped with during the holidays.

Or take a stroll through local stores.

Every merchant, it seems, is hawking the latest in high-tech toys.

This Christmas season should shape up no differently -- Lawrence stores are offering enough techno gifts to stuff every stocking in town.

Beginner's luck

We recently went in search of the coolest in visual electronic technology and cameras that you're liable to find inside the counters of local businesses.

Salespeople were happy to fill us in on a sampling of "must-have" gifts that are sure to show up under the Christmas trees of technophiles this year.

If you have someone on your gift list who's pining for a digital camera, you might consider the Kodak DC240 Zoom, which sells for $600.

"The thing I like about it is it's easy to understand and user friendly," said Chantal Caldwell, sales floor manager at Camera America, 919 Iowa.

The chunky, little silver-and-black camera has a liquid crystal display screen and big control buttons with a good feel to them.

On the screen, you can choose among several formatting options, such as making your photos black-and-white, color or even sepia-toned.

You can pick different photo borders, too, with themes such as "Classic," "Baby," "Love" and "Party."

"I think this is the easiest digital camera we have. It's definitely good for the beginner," Caldwell said.

She offered some advice for shoppers trying to decide between buying a new-fangled digital camera vs. a traditional camera as a gift.

"If you have a business where you send images over the Internet, a digital camera is what you want. But when you want to take good-quality photographs, old-fashioned film is hard to beat," Caldwell said.

If you have more money to spend on a digital camera, and you're looking for a gift for someone who's skilled at manipulating digital images, consider the Nikon COOLPIX 950.

Selling for $899, it's no stocking stuffer, but you'll be getting a top-of-the-line product, according to Matt Needham, sales associate at The Image Works, 711 W. 23rd St.

"Consumer (Reports) Magazine says it's one of the best. It offers higher image resolution and higher quality than other digital cameras. We sold one today to the city (Lawrence)," he said.

This Nikon provides photographic image quality at print sizes up to 11 inches by 14 inches -- tops by industry standards.

People want 'tiny'

Looking for a tiny, simple-to-use camera?

The line of Canon ELPH products are amazingly compact and couldn't be easier to use.

Canon's Advantix ELPH 370Z, selling for $325, weighs a mere 7.2 ounces without batteries. It's a point-and-shoot camera, with a zoom lens, that fits neatly in a shirt pocket.

If that's still too big, take a look at the Canon ELPH LT ($99). It's the size of a credit card and less than an inch thick. It doesn't have a zoom lens, but it only weighs 4.1 ounces without batteries.

Both the ELPHs take APS (Advanced Photo System) film cartridges that allow drop-in loading and offer three choices of photo formats, including panoramic.

"The ELPHs are good for traveling. We sell them to people who want 'tiny.' It's really the size that sells 'em. People like small these days," Caldwell said.

Another good camera for traveling is the Nikon Nuvis S ($279.95), which has a 22.5-66 millimeter lens and a stainless-steel cover.

"This is my favorite of the APS compact cameras. It's easy to learn, has a built-in flash and is durable," Needham said.

One of the coolest cameras we found in Lawrence stores is the Nikon Pronea S.

The curvy, silver-and-black Pronea S feels so good -- and shockingly light -- in your hand, you don't want to put it down.

The camera, which takes APS film, gives photographers the choice of controlling various settings, or simply choosing a fully automatic mode.

"It's good for someone who's not interested in playing with all the controls of a camera, but it has the versatility of a more advanced camera system," Needham said.

With a 30-60 millimeter lens, the Pronea S sells for $469.95. With a two-lens kit (30-60 millimeter and 60-180 millimeter), the camera costs $599.95.

Celestial bodies

Have an amateur astronomer on your gift list?

Check out the new Meade ETX-90EC automatic, electronically controlled telescope.

"You set it up, you type in what you want to see, and the telescope automatically finds it. No more using books or charts -- it finds everything for you," said Jodi Johnson, vice president of The Image Works.

The telescope costs $599.95. The AutoStar Computer Controller that makes it fully automatic costs $139.95.

There are more than 12,000 celestial objects in AutoStar's database.

"You don't have to be embarrassed anymore when you buy a telescope for your kids and you can't find anything but the moon," Johnson said.

Moving pictures

Back on Earth, a good high-tech gift this year would be the JVC Digital Camcorder GRDVF21, an $899 top-of-the-line product.

"This will film like a regular camcorder will, but it can also take still pictures that you can download onto your computers. It comes with all the software you need and the cables to do it," said Bill Huffman, manager of Rex TV, 2800 Iowa.

The JVC camcorder stores images on a $9.99 DVC (Display Video Cassette) that lets you film for 60 minutes.

Ed Hawkins, manager at Kief's Audio-Visual, 2429 Iowa, showed off what Pioneer Electronics says is the thinnest, smallest portable DVD (Digital Video Disc) available.

The sleek Pioneer PDV-LC10, which sells for $1,200, looks like a downsized laptop computer. It weighs 1.8 pounds with the battery.

Its high-resolution, LCD screen is the largest -- seven inches across diagonally -- DVD screen available among portables.

It has built-in speakers, a wide-screen format and can play for more than three hours using a portable, rechargeable battery.

"The people we sell them to travel a lot. They like to sit on airplanes and watch it with private headphone jacks. When you plug them in, the sound's tremendous," Hawkins said.

So's the clarity.

Watching a DVD (Disney's "Airbud") on the little Pioneer player, the images were bright, alive and highly detailed.

"A lot of older movies are out on DVD now, and a lot of concerts, so you can watch the band while you listen to the music," said Greg Schroeder, audio-visual consultant at Kief's.

-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is jbaker@ljworld.com.

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