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 info@photocourses.com 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.


440X Zoom: Those who need to really get close to distant subject might be fascinated by the Samsung SC-D55 and SC-D60 digital video camcorders. With an optical zoom of 22X (not bad, by the way) and the aforementioned digital zoom, the cameras thankfully come with Digital Image stabilization built in. They may have a long focal length (440X) but they are small too. At 2.5 inches they fit in the palm of your hand. Both models allow for a Fire Wire (IEEE 1394) connection as well as a serial connector. The Fire Wire is great for you iMac fans and those who engage in digital video editing. The SC-D55 also has a snapshot mode for single framing images. The DC-55 sells for $699.

© Samsung

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.

Digital Duocams: Just when does a digital camcorder become a still camera and when does a digital still camera verge into camcorder territory? The borders are getting fuzzier as digital still cameras offer movie modes and camcorders offer snapshot options. Both crossovers increasingly feature higher resolution. I guess you get one or the other depending on your avocation or disposition. One such example is the JVC GR-DVM90 that offers digital video motion capture and digital stills in the same package. The unit holds DV tape as well as a MultiMedia card, so you can send the stills to either. This pocket-sized unit also offers FireWire (1394IEEE) download, a feature that at this point seems to define which side of the fence the unit sits (digital motion). Using progressive scan technology, the unit can also take 60 still frame images every second, described as akin to a motor drive on a still camera (that's some motor drive). According to JVC, you can get up to 100,000 still frames on a 60 minute DV tape. To get to the still function you hit the "Snapshot" mode and the image can be captured on the enclosed MultiMedia card. You can get 60 to 200 shots on an 8MB card depending on resolution chosen.

Memory Banks

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.

Another entry into the portable memory device arena (hey, isn't that what the brain is?) comes from a company called Minds@Work. The palm-sized device can hold 6 gigs of memory, contains a Motorola ColdFire microprocessor, a Toshiba hard drive and a rechargeable battery system. Not to worry if the unit loses battery power, says the company, as the information will be safe. It runs about $499.

FireWire Reader: Those who don't play with digital video may have been wondering just what they'd do with the FireWire port on their computer. Now Lexar has come to the rescue with a FireWire CompactFlash Card reader. This high-speed download setup is ideal for those higher capacity memory cards that have been slowly coming down in price. The reader allows you to drag and drop images to perform the download. It accepts Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards. It is slated to sell for about $149.

© Minds@Work


Instant Digital: Polaroid has wisely gone headlong into digital imaging and has expanded into peripheral products as well. Combining their old tech with new, the Polaroid P-500 Portable Digital Photo Printer is a handheld printer that kicks out Polaroid 500 color prints from the memory cards inserted into its handy slot. Polaroid was always an innovator in battery packs contained on film packages, and they have continued this by drawing power from the battery built into the source film here. Thus you need no batteries or AC adapter to make the printer go, making the Portable in the name an apt description.


Dancing Images: The combo-camera concept was a strong element at the show, and Polaroid didn't disappoint with their Photomax MP3. Priced at about $250, the cam/player includes earphones, batteries and handy dandy belt clip. The camera is fairly low res-VGA, or 640 x 480-but that's not really the point. It comes with a 16 MB CompactFlash card, which will hold lots of images but remember you need that space for music too. A USB cable and video cable also comes in the box.

© Polaroid

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.

Calling Dick Tracy: The wrist-radio in that old cartoon has nothing on the Casio WQV-1 Wrist-wearable digital camera. The watch has a built-in monochrome screen and has three recording modes, all of them fairly low-resolution. You can also relay images via infrared data transfer to a computer so equipped or to another such wristwatch camera. By the way, it also keeps time.

10X Zoom Canon Digicam: The Canon Pro90 Digital Camera is the first from Canon with a 10X optical zoom and the company's Image Stabilization technology built in. IS, as it is called, allows you to shoot handheld without too much worry of getting a shaky image, even at the very longest focal length settings. The camera also has 12 "picture modes", familiar to those who use a point-and-shoot or an amateur SLR film camera. It offers a variety of ISO settings so you can up its light-gathering capabilities in various levels of light (ISO 50 for bright light to ISO 400 for lower light shooting.) As befits a Canon it has a good range of shutter speeds (8 seconds to 1/1000 second in automatic) and USB data. What's the pixel count? It's a 3.34 megapixel CCD with 2.6 effective megapixels recorded. The lens is a 7-70mm zoom (equivalent to 37-370mm in 35mm format) and is all glass. There are three resolution options and the Pro90 uses CompactFlash Card memory. One of the more interesting modes is Stitch Assist, which aids in what the company calls "the creation of seamless panoramas." Price is slated to be about $1299.

HDTV Output: JVC brought forth two new 3.3 megapixel digital still cameras, the GC-QX5HD and GC-QX3HD. These handsome cameras both have a 2-inch Color LCD screen and can deliver 30 frames per second for smooth action imaging. Just what is HDTV output? The cameras have a Y, Pb, Pr component output that yields 1080 interlaced scanning lines for what the company says is true HD (high definition) quality and permits direct viewing of 2032 x 1536 pixel images. Connector cables, supplied, allow for easy transfer of the images to Internet or videotape. The cameras also have 2.3 X optical zoom (7.1X digital) and two glass aspherical lenses. The built-in flash has red-eye reduction and three ISO settings can be made to handle most lighting conditions. In addition, both models allow for recording of a 20-second video clip, with sound. There is a choice of three capture modes down to 640 x 480. One little extra comes with the QX5-a 6 megapixel "Film Copy Mode."

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.

Olympus Zooms: The Camedia C-2040 and C-3040 are the latest digital still zooms from Olympus. The 2040 sports a 2.1 megapixel chip while the 3040 has a 3.34 megapixel sensor. The 3040 has a 3X zoom, a wide angle LCD and offers autoexposure bracketing.

The C-2040 has an f/1.8 lens that will give you the ability to shoot in low light and extended flash range. It also features QuickTime movie mode and an extended range of ISO settings. Price is about $599. The C-3040 will sell for about $899.


Memory Card Wars

Digital Disk: Hold on to your hats, here's another format for your digital camera. Sanyo Fisher has introduced what they call iDPHOTO, a 50mm diameter disk that can hold up to 730 MB of storage space for movies and stills. The first such camera to feature this format is the company's IDC-1000Z iDshot. It is said that the camera can hold up to 120 minutes of motion and 11,000 still images. The camera also offers VGA resolution motion images at 30 frames per second, an on-camera folder function (more on that in a minute) a FireWire interface (for fast download, essential for the movie mode and faster for stills) and an interval movie function for tracking any number of growing, moving or metamorphising subjects. The iD Photo idea is a joint action between Sanyo, Olympus and Hitachi. The 730 MB disk will sell for about $35. The folder function, as promised, allows you to store and retrieve still and motion plus audio and video in each folder that you create, a blessing with a disk with such capacity. The unit is expected out of the gate at about $1500.
©Sanyo Fisher

Charging Batteries

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.

SD Memory: Well, here's another format for memory cards, the SD, for Secure Disc. These thumbnail size cards are mainly used for the still capture component of digital camcorders, but their size may benefit future still camera design as well. At the show Matsushita, Sandisk and Toshiba announced that they would work toward standardizing the card format and developing a host of products that will use them. Right now they are available in 32 and 64 MB capacity.

More Memory, Again: Digital images are memory hogs and this show has seen more memory card and disc changes than I can remember. Iomega added to this mix with their Peerless Drive System for both PC and Mac. The Peerless disk is about the size of a Palm and can handle 5, 10 and 20 GB capacities. The drive is about the same size as the disk and stands five inches tall. The difference here is that the read/write head is fully sealed into the removable disks. This is said to allow for sustained transfer rates of 15 MB per second with the FireWire module.

And Again: A company called DataPlay has launched another memory storage option called, appropriately enough, DataPlay. These disks are the size of a quarter and can hold up to 500 MB of data. According to the company, they want to replace film and memory cards with the new medium. Samsung has said they will get on board with cameras and more. The DataPlay disk uses a micro-optical engine with full read/write functionality, what the company calls a revolution of CD technology. The sustained data rate, for those who count such things, is 1 MB per second.

Last January we saw more new cameras, but this prevalence of storage devices and other interesting peripherals suggests the Industry knows the digital revolution is here to stay! Watch this spot for the next peek into the future in 12 months when CES 2002 comes to Las Vegas!


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