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Pushing Back On D-SLR, Vendors Aim High

While the digital SLR has created the buzz, manufacturers have not abandoned full-featured, ultra-zoom fixed-lens models, pouring premiere technology into their new introductions while maintaining a $100 cushion between them and the ever-encroaching SLR.

To stay competitive, Fujifilm introduced the industry’s first 9-megapixel consumer cameras while Kodak bowed its first EasyShare series to break above its $499 price barrier.

Fujifilm unveiled three new digital cameras, including two featuring a 9-megapixel CCD, the first consumer cameras to offer that resolution.

The FinePix S9000, which ships in September for a suggested $699, features the company’s 9-megapixel Super CCD HR sensor, a 10.7x optical zoom lens (28mm-300mm, 35mm equivalent), and the company’s Real Photo Technology for reducing the effects of digital noise, improving battery life and increasing the speed of operation and start-up time.

The S9000 boasts a start-up time of 0.8 seconds and a shutter lag of 0.01 seconds. It offers an Anti-Blur mode that adjust the camera’s ISO settings to combat camera shake and blur and Natural Light mode for improved low light photography. The camera’s manual zoom can be used while recording video, which is captured at VGA resolution at 30 frames per second (fps).

The camera can capture RAW image files and offers a super macro mode for focusing up to 0.4 inches. The LCD can tilt for various shooting angles and the camera accepts both xD and CompactFlash memory cards.

There is still plenty of life left in SLR-type fixed-lens cameras in the era of low-cost SLRs, said David Troy, senior product manager, Fujifilm. “We don’t see the over-$500 category as a ‘dead zone,’ but a key growth area for us,” he added.

Fujifilm also introduced the successor to its E-550, the 9-megapixel E900. It ships in October for a suggested $499.99. The camera features the company’s Real Photo Technology, automatic and manual controls, a 2-inch LCD screen and a 4x optical zoom lens. Additional features include a live histogram display for exposure settings and a highlight warning function that alerts users if a photo they’ve taken is overexposed.

Finally, the company updated the S5100 with the new 5-megapixel S5200. The camera features a 10x optical zoom (38mm-380mm), Real Photo Technology, a start-up time of 1.1 seconds, a shutter lag of 0.01 and a lower power consumption than its predecessor. It also offers natural light and anti-blur shooting modes and macro focusing to 3.9 inches. The S5200 will ship in October for a suggested $399.95

Kodak broke a its self-imposed $499 price ceiling with the introduction of a new series in its EasyShare camera line, positioning the new family as a high-end alternative to a digital SLR.

The 8-megapixel P880, for a suggested $599, is the company’s first model to break the $499 price point since the company directed its focus to the mainstream camera buyer. The P880 will ship in September and features a 5.8x optical zoom lens (24mm-140 mm, 35mm equivalent), a 2.5-inch LCD screen, a manual zoom ring and a selectable 25-point hybrid Auto Focus system.

The second new model, the 5-megapixel P850 features a 12x optical zoom (36mm-432 mm) with built-in image stabilization. It will ship in August for a suggested $499. The P850 shares most of the features of the P880 including in-camera video editing, automatic and manual exposure control, preset scene modes, burst modes and RAW support.

Both models will work with the company’s docks, ImageLink-enabled printer docks and are PictBridge-compatible. The new cameras will also be accompanied by several new accessories, including the P20 external zoom flash for a suggested $149.95, and a 1.4x tele-converter for a suggested $149.95. P850 owners can avail themselves of 55mm black-and-white polarizing and neutral density filters in addition to a 0.7x wide-angle accessory lens for a suggested $149.95.

Sony announced its latest T-series ultra-compact digital camera, offering improved battery life over its predecessor. The 5-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-T5 digital sports a 3x optical non-protruding Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar zoom lens, a 2.5-inch LCD screen and 32MB of internal memory. It uses Sony’s reduced sized Memory Stick Duo media.

Using the included InfoLithium battery, the T5 can snap up to 240 shots per single charge. It features a start-up time of less than one second, 10 preset scene modes, macro focusing to 1cm and a high speed shutter mode for recording action. The LCD screen features an anti-reflective “Clear Photo” technology to reduce glare.

Using PRO Duo media, the T5 can record MPEG-VX video at 640 by 480 resolution at 30 fps to the capacity of a compatible media card. A silver version of the T5 will be available in September for an estimated $350; gold, red and black T5s will ship in October.