• Tech

Photo Opportunities

3 minute read

More megapixels, sharper autofocus, special antishake features — seems like today’s digital cameras can do everything except provide a clear picture of where the market is headed. Analysts agree that just about everyone in the U.S. and Europe who wants a digital camera already has one. Manufacturers that have so far thrived on low prices and technical simplicity are now courting “prosumers” — amateurs who aspire to the same high-end gear as the pros — and luring the rest of us back to the camera store with snappy new add-ons and features.

Digital versions of the single-lens reflex (slr) camera — still unmatched for speed, image detail and choice of lenses — used to be ruinously expensive. But as costs tumble, traditional SLR-makers like Canon and Nikon have narrowed the price gap with point-and-shoot digicams that prosumers are eating up. Nearly a million digital slrs will be sold this year in western Europe alone, according to tech forecasters IDC, a rise of 45% over 2004. Topping the wish list for many is Canon’s EOS 350D, which arrives this month priced at $1,000 (body only). A souped-up version of the company’s flagship 300D, the 350D bumps up the resolution to 8.2 megapixels — big enough for poster-sized prints — while being 10% lighter and 25% smaller than its predecessor. In response, other makers are cramming slr-like specs into their top-end models. For example, Sony’s 5-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-H1, which will be at CeBIT and is due in June for under $800, sports a 12� optical zoom lens, a spacious 2.5-in. LCD screen, multipoint autofocus and image stabilization to reduce shake on longer exposures.

Back down the pixel ladder, digital cameras have been busy morphing into mobile devices; three out of four digicams sold this year will be embedded in cameraphones, according to IDC, while European sales will rocket by 67% to 73 million. Now image quality is set to soar, too, with 2- or 3-megapixel cameraphones becoming the norm. And that’s just the beginning. By the end of the year, Motorola promises a 3-G phone (no price yet) with a 3-megapixel camera, autofocus lens and 8� digital zoom that also does video conferencing, recording and playback, is Bluetooth-enabled and plays MP3s through its own stereo speakers.

Meanwhile Kodak, the everyman photographer’s friend, launches its EasyShare-One camera in June. The device, priced around $600, has 4 megapixels, 3� optical zoom, a 3-in. lcd touchscreen and enough memory to store 1,500 snaps. Add a WI-FI card (for $100) and you can e-mail the pictures or upload them to the Kodak EasyShare Gallery, where friends and families can view them and even buy prints.

Ahh, the prints! Common sense says we should be viewing digital images onscreen, but few want to. Of the 18 billion or so prints made from digital cameras last year, three-quarters were made at home, according to imaging industry analysts Lyra Research. If you want prints pronto, try firing off credit card�sized snaps on Fujifilm’s portable, battery-powered MP-70 printer ($100), using your cameraphone’s infrared facility. Screen addicts might prefer Pacific Digital’s small solution: the PV1 Digital MemoryFrame Photo Album ($390) uses your hard drive or your camera’s memory card to showcase pics and video clips on a crisp 5.6-in. display. And if you like bells and whistles, the PV1 will also play your MP3s. Enough to keep digital photography zooming? We’ll know as soon as the market develops.

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