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Casio, Minolta, Olympus Unveil DigiCams

Small, inexpensive and feature-rich characterize the new, post-PMA camera introductions from Casio, Olympus and Minolta, respectively.

The introductions come on the heels of a survey from Nikkei Market Access that noted production of digital still cameras, which had been steadily rising, stalled last year partly due to over-stocking. The survey found the global production of digital cameras in 2001 remained at a 20-percent increase from the previous year to 16.33 million units.

Production in 2002 is projected to rise by 18 percent to 19.27 million units, the same level as in the previous year, due largely to favorable year-end sales in 2001.

Hoping to capitalize on the growing market for shrinking cameras, Casio’s new Exilim EX-S1 is a credit-card sized model with 1.3-megapixel resolution, an optical viewfinder and both internal and removable memory (SD). Its sister model, the XD-M1 is only slightly thicker and features an MP3 player and movie recording mode.

Both cameras ship in July with a USB docking station for PC connectivity. The M1 ships with headphones.

Minolta introduced a new digital camera, the DiMAGE F100, with all new automatic focusing features along with a successor to its high-end DiMAGE 7, the DiMAGE 7i.

The DiMAGE 7i will carry an estimated street price of $1,099 while the DiMAGE F100 will have an estimated street price $699. Both cameras ship in May.

The 4-megapixel F100 features three new improved focusing technologies developed by Minolta: Area autofocus (Area AF), Subject Tracking autofocus and automatic digital subject program selection.

Subject Tracking AF and Area AF work together to locate and follow the subject through three-dimensional space within the camera’s focusing area, which ensures that the autofocus system is always ready to snap a picture, without delay. By activating the Area AF system with the shutter-release button, the camera evaluates the objects in the extra-wide focus frames and pinpoints the subject.

If the subject moves, Subject Tracking AF will adjust the focus to ensure sharp images; the active AF sensor is displayed in the focus frames and will follow the subject’s movement.

The F100 also sports Automatic Digital Subject Program Selection. This feature, the first of its kind according to Minolta, automatically selects one of five subject programs — portrait, sports action, landscape, sunset, or night portrait — to optimize the camera’s exposure and image-processing controls based on the subject and scene. This frees the photographer from having to evaluate the conditions and manually adjust the camera settings for each new situation.

Minolta’s high-end entry, the “pro-sumer” DiMAGE 7i, features a 5-megapixel resolution, 7x optical zoom, GT Lens technology, as well as more features and improved performance capabilities than its predecessor, the DiMAGE 7.

The DiMAGE 7i incorporates an autofocusing system that’s two times faster than the DiMAGE 7. In the program and the aperture-priority exposure modes, the Minolta DiMAGE 7i’s shutter speed tops out at 1/4000. The new UHS (Ultra High Speed) continuous-advance drive mode can take approximately 7 frames per second.

The price compression that characterized the digital camera market in the fourth quarter of 2001 looks to continue unabated through 2002 as the latest low-priced, high megapixel model courtesy of Olympus makes clear. The new D-380 is the lowest priced Olympus point and shoot 2-megapixel camera with an estimated street price of $199 (suggested retail price of $249).

The D-380 will be available in April.

The camera sports a simplified menu system, Olympus’ USB Auto-Connect feature for driver-less connectivity (Windows XP, 2000, Me and 98 and Mac OS 8.6 – OSX) and new long-life battery circuitry for extended battery life.

According to the company, the self-portrait and image resizing modes, as well as the ability to merge two shots into one image, are features never before offered in an Olympus digital camera at this price point.

The D-380 comes with the Olympus all-glass 4.5mm f4 lens (35mm equivalent in 35mm format) with fully automatic features such as Multi-mode flash, auto white balance and digital ESP metering. Built-in long-life battery circuitry helps consumers get more mileage from ordinary alkaline batteries. When Olympus’ LB01 (CR3V) batteries are used, battery-life is extended even more, about three times.

The D-380 comes bundled with an 8MB SmartMedia card with an additional 1MB of internal memory for processing and saving images, along with Olympus’ Camedia Master 4.0 software for image editing.

Olympus’ other introduction, the D-520 Zoom, is the successor to the D-510 Zoom and will be available in April for a suggested retail price of $349.

The D-520 is approximately 30 percent smaller than its predecessor with a 3x optical zoom coupled with a 2.5x digital zoom for a total seamless 7.5x zoom. It also features 2-megapixel resolution, QuickTime Movie Mode, and USB Auto-Connect.

The camera also comes with image edit effect modes, such as black & white, sepia and file resize; along with the ability to record full motion video (up to 60 seconds at 15 frames per second) on the included 16MB SmartMedia card.