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Pentax and Nikon Raise PMA Curtain Early

New York – Pentax and Nikon jumped on the pre-PMA announcement bandwagon with new digital camera introductions this week.

The traditional higher-end photo companies have ventured into competitively priced, high-featured cameras with diminutive form factors.

Among Nikon’s new offerings is the uniquely styled, compact Coolpix SQ. Featuring 3.1-megapixel resolution and a 3x optical zoom-Nikkor lens, the camera sports a swiveling body design that allows the lens path to remain in a straight line, using original light without the use of prisms.

Nikon has also embraced the USB camera dock (popularized by Kodak and Hewlett-Packard, among others). The SQ will ship with Nikon’s Cool-Station Power Base, which transfers images from camera to desktop as well as charges battery in-camera or out. The SQ will ship in the Spring.

Pentax announced three new Optio models. Two cameras, the 5-megapixel Optio 550 and the 4-megapixel Optio 450, share a number of features including SD/MMC memory compatibility, a movie mode that captures up to ten minutes of video with sound, a voice memo recording mode, panorama assist, full manual control and a 5x optical/4x digital zoom.

A single dial on both Optios offers shooting mode selections including Metered Manual, Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE, Program, Picture, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D image, Digital Filter, and User.

Picture modes include Landscape, Night Scene, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Autumn Color, Sunset, Fire Works and Text. Panorama Assist software, bundled with the camera, creates panorama pictures through the vertical or horizontal combination of multiple pictures on a PC. The 3D image mode creates side-by-side double shots with a real sense of depth when seen through the bundled viewer.

The Optio 550 will be available for a suggested retail price of $599 in April. The Optio 450 also ships in April with a suggested retail price of $499.

In addition to capturing .MOV movies, a time-lapse movie mode allows the user to run a set of sequential recorded frames in order as a short film with a selection of 2x, 5x, 10x, 20x, 50x, or 100x recording speeds.

The final new offering from Pentax is the Optio 33L, a 3.2-megapixel camera with a 1.5-inch LCD monitor that both swings up and rotates a full 180 degrees. The 33L incorporates a 12-bit A/D (analog to digital) converter and sports a 3x zoom optical lens with a 2.7x digital zoom. The camera ships in April for a suggested $299.

A newly developed image processing circuit in the Optio 33L allows new images to be recorded any time the camera is on, even during playback modes. A virtual mode dial on the LCD screen gives users access to shooting modes though the camera also features standalone buttons for frequently used functions.

The camera features eight shooting modes, accepts CompactFlash memory, and can record up to 30 seconds of AVI video at 15 frames per second, with a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels.