By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Fresh off another strong year, digital camera manufacturers will hit the CES floor with a number of new models they hope will keep the market's momentum surging through the duration of the new year.
One of the prominent ironies of the digital camera industry is that as the market grows (as it did 27 percent in 2002 according to NPD Techworld), the products shrink. Indeed, a number of manufacturers including Logitech, Sony, Canon, Casio and Minolta have introduced full featured, megapixel and above digital cameras that can fit into shirt pockets and reported strong sales.
This shrinking trend will only grow more prominent in 2003 if CES is any indication. Even though many of the major camera manufacturers have held their digital camera introductions until March for the PMA show, those that have come to Las Vegas did so with diminutive digital cameras.
Size will not be the only driver in 2003, however. There will be an increasing emphasis on broader feature sets and novel features. Lower-end models from Argus and Trek, for instance, pack features such as removable USB drives into their VGA cameras in an effort to spur excitement in the otherwise flagging market for lower-end cameras.
Here's a glimpse of what the show has to offer in digital cameras:
Argus' new DC1800 4-In-1 digital camera can serve as a PC-cam, video camera, and features an internal USB port that can be exposed and directly inserted into a PC when the user is ready to download photos or store documents. The camera can be pulled apart to expose the USB plug but it also ships with a docking cradle that connects to a PC for image transfers. The camera captures still images in 640 by 480 (VGA) resolution and has 16MB of internal memory for storing up to 250 still images in VGA mode.
The camera will ship with ArcSoft Photo Impression 4.0, Video Impression 1.6, Photo Base 3.0 and has a suggested retail price of $79.95.
Casio will introduce its third generation ultra-small Exilim camera, the 3-megapixel Z3. The camera sports a 3x optical/3.2x digital zoom lens and a larger, 2-inch TFT LCD screen than previous models. It offers Casio's best shoot mode for improving digital picture taking and comes with a mic for appending voice notes to still images.
The autofocus Z3 will ship in March. Suggested retail price was not available at press time.
Olympus will take a page out of its film line with two new digital introductions: the Stylus 300 and 400, modeled stylistically on the company's Stylus film cameras (the best selling point-and-shoot film cameras in the industry, according to the company). These point-and-shoot digital cameras are 3- and 4-megapixel, respectively, and feature an all-metal, weatherproof exterior — a first in the Olympus digital camera line. The cameras will also feature Olympus' proprietary TruePic technology for improved image quality, USB Autoconnect for software free image downloads, and five creative scene modes. Both models sport a 3x optical/4x digital zoom lens.
The Stylus 300 will be shipping in February for a suggested $399, while the 400 will ship in April for a suggested $499. Both cameras take the new xD-Picture Card memory format, jointly developed by Olympus and Fujifilm.
Panasonic will introduce two new Lumix models that will ship in February, one model will be the first digital still camera to feature a 12x optical zoom (as of this writing).
The DMC-FZ1 features a F2.8 12x zoom lens from Leica, 2-megapixel resolution, a stabilization function, a special panning mode, 4 frames per second "burst" shooting, and an included lens hood to diminish flare and ghosting when photographing extremely bright scenes. The camera will have a suggested retail price of $499.95.
The second offering is the compact, 3.2-megapixel DMC-F1 for a suggested retail price of $399.95. The camera features an all-metal body, an F2.8 Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 3x optical/2x digital zoom lens, and QuickTime motion image recording with audio and burst shooting.
Panasonic's 2003 Lumix line will incorporate several new features across all models, one of which is the Venus LSI high speed response system, which minimizes shutter to shutter time between capturing shots and recording them onto the SD memory card. Another new feature in the '03 Lumix line is an improved, cradle-type battery recharging system that enables users to charge a spare battery while the camera is in use.
Pentax is debuting a tiny camera that it claims can fit into an empty Altoids tin. The 3-megapixel Optio S has a façade measuring less than the size of an average credit card and is .75 inches thick.
The Optio S sports a 3x optical zoom, a movie mode with sound playback, a 1.6 inch LCD monitor, an image viewfinder, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The camera comes with 11MB of internal memory able to record up to 120 images without the use of additional recording media. It also has an SD card expansion slot.
The Optio's movie mode records movie clips with sound up to 30 seconds in length at 15 frames per second. The camera offers a number of shooting modes including single, continuous, self-timer and remote control along with manual shooting modes including standard, picture mode, night scene, movie, 3-D, and panorama assist.
The Optio S also offers metering with a choice of multi-segment, center weighted, spot metering as well as through the lens (TTL) auto white balance, pre-set daylight, shade, tungsten light, florescent light, or manual settings. The camera features a 28-zone, 62-city, world time settings with a three image-option alarm clock. It is compatible with Epson Print Imaging Matching II (P.I.M.) to improve print quality when using a P.I.M. enabled Epson inkjet printer.
The Optio S will ship in early April for a suggested retail price of $399.99.
Samsung will have one of the most robust digital camera offerings, debuting five new models in its Digimax line at the show. All the new models accept SD/MMC flash media. Ship dates were unavailable at press time.
The entry-level Digimax 101 is a 1.3-megapixel model with an all-metal body, an optical viewfinder, and ten second self-timer. The camera's flash modes include automatic and red-eye reduction. The 101 feature 8MB of internal memory, a 2x digital zoom and a 1.6-inch TFT-LCD screen. The estimated street price for the 101 is $119.99.
The Digimax 201 is a 2-megapixel camera with an optical virtual image viewfinder and a movie clip mode, which captures video clips at 320 by 240 resolution. The 201 feature 8MB of internal memory, a 2x digital zoom and a 1.6-inch TFT-LCD screen. The camera also features user selectable ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200), adjustable white balance and five flash modes. It will carry an estimated street price of $139.99.
The Digimax 240 is a 2-megapixel camera with a 3x optical/2x digital zoom lens, a movie mode, and adjustable white balance (auto, daylight, cloudy, sunset, fluorescent, tungsten). The camera is DPOF compatible and has an NTSC/PAL video output for viewing images on a television. It will have an estimated street price of $179.99.
Stepping up the ladder, Samsung's new Digimax V3 and V4 share the same feature set except resolution (3.2-megapixel for the V3, 4-megapixel for the V4) and LCD pixel count (75,000 for the V3, 118,000 for the V4). Both cameras offer a 3x-optical/4x-digital zoom lens with a 6-centimeter macro. They offer both manual and automatic focus, exposure, shutter and aperture controls along with three customizable "My Set Modes."
The V3 and V4 can take video with audio, make voice recordings, and can also capture images in uncompressed TIFF format. The cameras accept SD/MMC memory cards. The V3 will have an estimated street price of $329.99 and the V4 will sell for an estimated $429.99.
SiPix will introduce the StyleCam Blink II, a digital camera that can be worn around a user's neck. It features 8MB of internal memory that can hold up to 300 photos in 320 by 240 mode or 60 images in 640 by 480 (VGA) mode. It can also create up to 100 seconds of digital video with a "streaming snapshots" feature. The camera also ships with a USB cradle that attaches to a desktop or notebook computer for videoconferencing.
It is compatible with Microsoft NetMeeting, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN and AOL Instant Messenger services. The Blink II will ship in February with ArcSoft PhotoImpression and VideoImpression software for a suggested retail price of $39.99.
Trek Technology describes its new ThumbDrive camera as "a self-contained data storage device and digital still camera." The 2-piece hybrid camera captures images in 640 by 480 (VGA) resolution and records up to 32 seconds of video clips. It also doubles as USB data storage device.
The ThumbDrive Camera requires no driver installation, software or cables. The camera connects to a battery pack that offers four hours of continuous shooting with a single AAA alkaline battery. Remove the camera from the battery pack and plug it in to any computer with a USB port and it appears as a removable drive.
The ThumbDrive Camera will come in two versions, a 128MB model for a suggested $149 and a 64MB model for a suggested retail price of $99.
Vivitar will have a broad new lineup of digital cameras debuting at the show.
The 4-megapixel ViviCam 3825 is shipping this month for a suggested retail price of $469.95. It features a 3x optical/2x digital zoom lens with macro. The V3825 also has a burst mode allowing for the capture of sequential images in rapid succession. It comes bundled with a 16MB SD card.
The V3825 can capture motion JPEG video clips at a resolution of 320 by 240 in AVI format. Other features include auto focus, auto white balance, exposure compensation control, an integral four-mode flash, slideshow playback mode, 4x playback zoom (for still images), a 10-second self-timer, and a tripod-mounting socket.
Multi-lingual camera interface menus are available in eight languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese.
The 3-megapixel ViviCam 3745 sports a 3x optical/2x digital zoom and will ship in February for a suggested retail price of $399.95. The V3745 has a movie mode allowing for the capture of movie clips to the capacity of the SD card, as opposed to a pre-determined limit. The V3745 also comes with 16 MB of internal memory.
The V3745 can capture motion JPEG video clips at a resolution of 320 by 240 in AVI format. The camera also sports auto focus, auto white balance, exposure compensation control, an integral four-mode flash, slideshow playback mode, 4x playback zoom (for still images), a 10-second self-timer, and a tripod-mounting socket.
At 2.1-megapixels comes the ViviCam 3675, shipping in February for a suggested retail of $359.95. It features a 3x optical/2x digital zoom with macro, 8MB of internal memory and an SD slot. Motion JPEG video clips can be captured at a resolution of 320 by 240 in AVI format. Other features of the 3675 include auto focus, auto white balance, exposure compensation control, an integral five-mode flash (including slow-synchro mode), slideshow playback mode, 4x playback zoom (for still images), a 10-second self-timer, and a tripod-mounting socket.
Also at 2-megapixels, the ViviCam 3640 sports an autofocus lens with a 3x digital zoom capability based upon ADZ technology. ADZ (Advanced step-less Digital Zoom) allows the photographer to select any digital zoom level from 1x to 3x in a smooth and continuous fashion – emulating optical zoom. In video mode users can zoom to 2x, and image playback zoom is supported to 4x.
In addition to capturing digital still images, the V3640 can also record 60 second video clips or Motion JPEG video clips up to 60 seconds at a resolution of 320 by 240 in AVI format. In addition to video capture, the V3640 can be used with a PC as a Web cam providing live video up to 15 frames per second at 320 by 240, or 30 frames per second at 160 by 120. The V3640 features an automatic shooting mode with the ability to specify any one of four white balance settings.
The V3640 features a built-in four-mode flash that includes red-eye reduction. It comes equipped with 8MB of internal memory that can be extended using optional Smart Media memory cards. The camera is shipping this month for a suggested retail price of $169.95.
Finally, the ViviCam 3330, at 1.3-megapixels, ships in February for a suggested $199.95. It sports a 2x digital zoom with macro. It has a movie mode that can capture movie clips to the capacity of the SD memory card. The V3330 also feature a Web-cam mode and 8MB of internal memory.
Though the 3330 is a 1.3-megapixel camera, bundled software can interpolate images to 2-megapixels based upon processing inside the camera. The camera can take Motion JPEG video clips at a resolution of 400 by 300 in AVI format. The 3330 also features focus-free operation, automatic white balance, exposure compensation control, an integral three-mode flash (including red-eye reduction), a 10-second self-timer, and a tripod-mounting socket. The V3330 comes with both USB and video output cables to download images for viewing and/or editing.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.