Archive for Monday, May 10, 2004

Companies zoom in on new features for digital cameras

May 10, 2004

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I was shooting some video of my daughter Bonnie's team at the recent Lawrence High School mud volleyball game, when her sister Julie and her friend Kaitlyn appeared in my lens.

Julie and Kaitlyn gave me an update on their earlier game.

"Hey Dad, can I borrow your little camera?" Julie asked, seeing the old point-and-shoot camera strapped around my neck.

The next evening, I caught up with Julie to retrieve my camera.

"Did you get any good shots?"

"No, I couldn't get it to work. It's out in my car."

I groaned.

We're in that time of year when I often want to capture the Kodak moments of May.

And although it's not my best camera, my 10-year-old Olympus film camera is easy to carry and pull out when I want a quick snapshot of a game, an awards event, a graduation or even a mud volleyball tournament.

But if it breaks, I know I should look into replacing it with one of the new digital point-and-shoot models, which are coming down in price.

More megapixels

I checked in with David Cope, product manager for the photo department at Wolfe's in Topeka.

Cope brought me up to speed on what's been happening during the past few months in the digital point-and-shoot category.

Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Minolta and Fuji recently have come out with new cameras in the point-and-shoot category, he said.

"Virtually everybody is changing their models in this category of camera every six or eight months," he said.

Some feature zoom lenses. Most of the cameras have built-in flashes, he said. Also, the price of higher-resolution cameras with millions of pixels of resolution (megapixels) has been falling.

If you want to make prints that are only 5-by-7 inches or 4-by-6 inches, you could go with 1- or 2-megapixel cameras, which run well under $100.

"You'll probably want to be in the range of 3 megapixels or higher if you want to be making enlargements up to 8-by-10 (inches) or larger," Cope said.

A 3-megapixel camera with a zoom lens starts in the $200 range, he said.

For about $350-plus, you can get a 5-megapixel camera with a 10x zoom, he said. The higher-end consumer cameras have jumped from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels, he said.

Swivel screen

The newer models out this year are going up in resolution quality and offer some new features.

"The average point-and-shoot was at 35 to 105 (35-105 mm equivalent) in a lens in a 3-megapixel camera. It's in the $199 to $300 price range, depending on whether it gives you more manual features," he said.

For example, some cameras come with a lithium ion rechargeable battery and charger, while others use AA batteries.

Some of the cameras also have handy new features. Canon's PowerShot A80 has a flip-out swivel view screen.

"It allows you to get into some odd positions to shoot," Cope said.

The A80 is a 4-megapixel camera, with 3x optical zoom and 3.6x digital zoom.

Bulge factor

I also looked into some of the point-and-shoots that are small enough to tuck into a shirt pocket.

In February, Konica Minolta brought out its new 3.2-megapixel DiMAGE Xg ($399 list, about $299 retail), which was based on last year's DiMAGE Xt. They've improved the startup time to 0.8 of a second and added a larger, 1.6-inch LCD monitor and a few other features.

It weighs 4.2 ounces and is 0.79 of an inch thick. It has 3.2 megapixels of resolution and a 12x zoom lens with folded optics that eliminate a protruding lens.

Casio also came out with a new camera in February in its Exilim line. It's the Casio Exilim EX-Z40 ($399.99 list), a 4-megapixel camera with a 3x Pentax optical zoom lens. The EX-Z40's lithium ion battery has up to 2.5 times longer life than last year's models, allowing up to 360 photos to be taken on a single charge.

It has a 2-inch LCD monitor. Its dimensions are 3.43 inches wide by 2.24 inches high by 0.91 of an inch deep.

Takes a lickin'

Julie brought my old point-and-shoot in from her car. I cringed when I saw it.

"It got a little muddy," she said. "Sorry."

I opened the sliding case, smeared with muddy fingerprints from the volleyball game. The lens was clean and the camera immediately snapped to the on position, ready to go.

"Hold still, I want to see if it works."

I snapped a close-up of her. The flash worked. The film advanced. I was relieved.

"I wonder why it didn't work for you?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said, running up the stairs. "Maybe it was just the mud."

Now I remember why I keep that old camera around.

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