CES 2001 Report
by Ronald Johnson
When we decided to dispatch our "Secret Agent" to the giant Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, we had no idea that he'd encounter so many breaking news items and so much useful information. But we're glad he did and now we're bringing it all to you. If you're planning on buying any product related to digital photography, ready this report first!
The CES Show
This is a giant trade show held in Las Vegas every year in the first week of January. It is the showplace for all types of consumer electronic products-everything from televisions and DVD players to audio devices and every other imaginable electronic gadget. Until a few years ago, this show was of little interest to the photo industry, which had its own giant trade show PMA - the Photo Marketing Association show in mid-February.
That all started to change in 1995. While some photo manufacturers had displayed camcorders and such at CES, in 1995 Casio showed its first little digital camera. One of our agents stumbled upon it, but we couldn't get our hands on the product until the 1996 PMA show. Since that time, the digital cameras have popped up like mushrooms at PMA - 6 models in 1996, perhaps two dozen the year after, and now there are hundreds on display.
PMA used to be the place to introduce photo gear, but digital cameras, printers and peripherals are as likely to be sold in electronics stores as camera stores, so now the first place to see what's new in digital gear is at CES.
These products will be showing up in magazines and newsletters eventually, but you can read about them now (first!) here in this article.
Our "Secret Agent" - Ronald Johnson
We've been able to lure the legendary photography gadfly, Ronald Johnson, to contribute to @Photo. We hope to feature his "reviews with attitude" on a regular basis. Johnson, who operates out of an undisclosed location, is equally at home in the world of silver halide and the newer silicon realm. Johnson knows what works and what doesn't, and he's not afraid to share his views. He would like to hear your reactions to his reviews. If you e-mail him at "Doctor Johnson" at firstname.lastname@example.org we'll forward your comments.
CES 2001 Report
To the casual observer, the giant Consumer Electronics Show held each year in Las Vegas is a mass of sound and light with people seemingly talking to themselves on their hands-free mobile phones as they wander incessant halls of high-tech recycled plastic. If there is any respite it is in the small and short conversations with product managers and eager advocates of the various companies hoping for this year's equivalent of a cabbage patch doll, electronically speaking.
But there are some new things under the sun. There's all the content you could desire on smaller and smaller media, machines that combine camera, video recorder and audio recording and playback in one, with memory that you strap to your belt. If you're into car speakers that vibrate plate glass windows, giant TV screens that dominate rooms, and phones in lizard green that giggle when they ring, there's plenty at CES to keep you satisfied. And there's plenty here for those of us interested in digital imaging news too.
Although there were plenty of digital cameras and a good selection of camcorders, perhaps the major item at the show was the continuing proliferation of memory card options. This is both fascinating and cause for concern. With about eight formats (and counting) now available, one has to wonder just what will stay around and whether the memory device you use today will be gone in the near future.
Do you work with a CD burner now? Companies here indicated that DVD writers would be out sometime next year. That's exciting, but makes you wonder whether that 640MB CD you burn today will make much sense when the massive gigabyte plus DVDs start to enter the market. Do you work with a 16 MB CompactFlash card in your digicam now? That capacity will be dwarfed in the near future if some companies that have developed new optical disks the size of a quarter that feature 500 MB capacity have their way.
All this points out what has always been said about the digital imaging scheme. That what you have today will be obsolete in six months. But now we're seeing it with a vengeance. Do you have to get drawn into the game? I know many people who work with old tech (digital old tech, that is, not film) and do just fine. But if you are getting into higher resolution imaging, have a computer that has a FireWire connector, or just need to always have the latest and greatest, then you are made for this industry.
With that in mind here's a too-brief summary of just some of the products at CES.
Since we're starting to see digital camcorders that offer still photo options along with lots of interesting features, let's start there.
780X Zoom: Okay, 440X sounds pretty impressive, so why don't we up the ante and tell you about the Sharp VL-WD250U and associated series. The 250 has a 26X optical zoom and a 780X digital zoom! Of course, with that much range you need some form of stabilized image and yes, it's built in. The camera also has a very large 2.5-inch Color LCD view screen and IEEE 1394 linkup. Another model in the lineup, the 450, is equipped with something the company calls Super Cat's Eye 0 Lux Recording and a Zoom microphone that adjust to the focal length of the lens. Put a 780X zoom and night vision together and what do you get? Go figure. The 250 will run you about $829 and the 450 about $949.
Portable Memory: The Sima Digital Image Bank is a portable memory holder that allows you to store your digital photos on the go. The unit can handle 8 MB of image information in as little as 15 seconds. The device is sold without a hard drive, which you purchase separately. According to the company you can get a 6 or 10 gig drive and you can upgrade at any time. The unit works with both image memory card formats (CompactFlash and SmartMedia) and can be worked via AC or battery power with an optional battery pack. The unit is $299 and comes with a 2 gig drive, connectors and AC adapter.
Smallest of the small: The Ultra Pocket is perhaps the thinnest (at 0.2 inches) and perhaps in height x width x depth the smallest digital capture device we've seen. The same size but a bit thicker than a credit card, the Ultra Pocket uses a CMOS sensor to capture VGA resolution images. The included 8 MB MultiMedia Card can hold up to 40 images. The company, SMal Camera Technologies, lives up to its name.
A film copy attachment comes with the camera and is said to be perfect for copying film images. How do you get to 6 megapixels from a 3.3 MP chip, you ask? Something dubbed Pixel Shifting Technology does the task, a virtual double exposure and then shift to a single pixel. This is not interpolation, says JVC, but a unique solution that eliminates interpolation in the vertical direction and half of the interpolation in the horizontal. More image data is acquired thus the shift can accomplish the task. Plus there's a Multiple Layer Collage that allows you to mask and layer images right in the camera. All this and more on the QX5 can be had for about $1000.
Memory Card Wars
Rechargeable Charge: It seems as if everyone has finally caught on to the need to use rechargeable batteries. If throwing out batteries from your conventional flash started to hurt your pocketbook, but you still couldn't make the connection, then digital cameras finally convinced everyone of the wisdom of this renewable power source. New technology also made a major difference, and NiCd batteries, with their memory problems (you recharge when the battery is not fully drained and the battery "remembered" that that was all that could be filled, thus you get diminishing returns) are going the way of all old tech. These days nickel-metal hydride (NiMh) is all the rage. Panasonic has gotten deeply into the act with their new 1600 mAh NiMh battery charger 5-hour battery charger. The setup is geared for AA sizes at present. The price is $29 for four AA batteries and the charger, a good deal when you consider how fast your digicam has been draining batteries.
Storage Format Options Grow
DVD Media: Throw out your CD burner 'cause it's old hat by now. Here comes DVD-R and DVD-RAM. DVD-R is priced at about $25 for 3.95 GB of storage and $40 for 4.7 GB. DVD-RAM can hold 2.6 GB, 4.7 GB or 5.2 GB of stuff, and is sold for between $25 and $40.
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