Steady Prices But More Features Propel DigiCam Market In 2003

By Greg Scoblete On Feb 24 2003 - 8:00am

With the Photo Marketing Association's annual trade show and convention just a week away, several vendors gave a glimpse of their 2003 digital camera lineups. Models from Minolta, Nikon and Sony point to a high-resolution seeking, but cost conscious consumer becoming more comfortable with the intricacies and dynamics of digital photography.

Minolta announced that the 4-megapixel DiMAGE S414 is shipping this month with a 4x optical zoom lens. Based on the camera design of the DiMAGE S404 and DiMAGE S304, the S414 features a built-in flash, video recording capability, a 2.2x digital zoom, and ships with a 16MB Compact Flash card.

The image formed on the S414's CCD is enhanced by Minolta's proprietary CxProcess image processing technology to optimize sharpness, color reproduction, tonal gradation and noise to create clear and natural looking images. A 12 bit A/D (analog to digital) converter improves dynamic range to ensure natural color and tonal reproduction.

In addition, a high-speed LSI with 32-bit RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) CPU and expanded SDRAM buffer memory allows the camera to be more responsive with a faster operation when shooting. The S414 features a capturing interval time of 0.8 seconds and continuous advance speed of 1.3 frames per second with up to 7 frames (full size images in fine image quality mode).

The S414 offers autofocus, auto exposure and an optical zoom viewfinder in addition to fully automatic white balance and video recording with audio. Digital Subject Program Selection and creative functions such as histogram display of recorded images, exposure compensation and bracketing, custom white balance and digital effects control, give the user more control over the final image.

The S414 will have a suggested retail price of $399.

Nikon will introduce the two smallest cameras in its lineup to date at PMA. The Coolpix 2100 features a new Scene Assist mode along with 14 scene modes. It will come bundled with the new Nikon View 6, which features Pixology's IRISS, a one-touch red-eye fix software that instantly corrects most red-eye plagued photos.

The 2-megapixel 2100 has a 3x optical zoom Nikkor lens and a One-Touch Upload button for transferring images from the camera to the desktop or the Web via USB. It has a suggested retail price of $249.

Stepping up to 3.2-megapixels, the Coolpix 3100 offers the same features as the 2100, including Scene Assist and the Pixology software. It will retail for a suggested $349.

Sony unveiled a large portion of its 2003 digital camera lineup, which will incorporate several new technologies to improve ease of use and image quality.

An element of the Sony digital camera strategy for 2003 is to hold the line on prices but to pack more features onto models, including better resolution, said Mark Weir, senior product planning manager, digital imaging products division, Sony.

"What we saw in 2002 was that the customer preference was not low cost but features," Weir said, who identified $299-$399 as the mainstream of the market. "The market has not yet trended toward entry level price points."

One of the new features Sony will introduce into its digital cameras is called Smart Zoom, an improvement over traditional digital zoom, which Weir said has been rejected as a viable feature by consumers since it doesn't produce a quality image. Sony's answer, Smart Zoom, is essentially a 3.2x cropping tool in the LCD, which lets users focus in on a segment in the viewfinder using all the pixels.

Another new feature integrated across the line is compatibility with Sony's new Memory Stick format, Memory Stick PRO. Sony has also improved its video-capture mode with a new MPEG VX mode to replace the company's MPEG HQ. VX can capture full VGA quality video clips at 16 frames per second.

Finally, the bundled Sony Pixella imaging software now supports CD-burning, allowing Sony digital camera owners to burn their JPEGs to a disk.

Starting the line is Sony's Cyber-shot P-series with four new models. The DSC-P32 features a fixed focal length lens with Smart Zoom and 3.2-megapixel resolution. It will ship in April for a suggested $229.

The DSC-P52 will offer 3.2-megapixel resolution with a 2x optical zoom (with Smart Zoom), and will ship in March for a suggested $279.

The DSC-P72 will feature 3.2-megapixel resolution with a 3x optical zoom (with Smart Zoom). It will also ship in March for a suggested $329.

Finally, the top of the line DSC-P92 will offer 5-megapixel resolution with a 3x optical zoom lens and a suggested retail price of $449. It will ship in June.

The company has made modifications to its CD-Mavica lineup, cutting the size of its two new models in the hopes of broadening adoption. According to Weir, the company wants to expand the market for CD Mavica by both encouraging floppy disc Mavica customers to upgrade, and luring in new users.

The MVC-CD350 features 3.2-megapixel resolution, Smart Zoom, and MPEG VX. It will ship in May for a suggested retail price of $499.

The higher-end MVC-CD500 features 5-megapixel resolution, a 3x optical Carl Zeiss zoom lens and will be available in May for a suggested retail price of $699.

In Sony's "enthusiast" line of high-end cameras, the company will add the 5-megapixel DSC-V1 and stick with the newer F717 through the bulk of 2003. The V1 features a 4x optical zoom, tracking auto focus, adjustable saturation, sharpness and contrast. A new feature in the lineup is program shift, which controls the depth of field without having to adjust the aperture settings. The VI will have a suggested retail of $699 and is expected to ship in June.

In its Cyber-shot compact P-series lineup, the company will replace the DSC-P7 and P9 with the P8 and P10, respectively. The exteriors are now metal, as opposed to plastic and the white balance is now user adjustable. All models will feature MPEG VX movie mode with audio recording and will come bundled with a 2100mAh NiMH rechargeable AA battery, external charger and a 16MB Memory Stick card.

The 3.2-megapixel P8 features a 3x optical zoom, tracking autofocus, adjustable saturation, sharpness and contrast and will ship in April for a suggested retail price of $399.

The P10 will sport 5-megapixel resolution, a 3x optical zoom lens, along with the features of the P8. It will be available in June for a suggested retail price of $499.

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