Watching camera specs in the weekly fliers, it appears that 5x zoom is slowly supplanting 3x as the standard for point'n shoot cameras.
CNET's Stephen Shankland describes an experimental camera lens for taking 3D pictures.
Fife's 3-megapixel sensor prototype breaks the scene up into many small, slightly overlapping 16x16-pixel patches called subarrays... After a photo is taken, image-processing software then analyzes the slight location differences for the same element appearing in different patches--for example, where a spot on a subject's shirt is relative to the wallpaper behind it. These differences from one subarray to the next can be used to deduce the distance of the shirt and the wall.
Olympus now has a digital camera with 20x zoom, which works out to a 26 - 520mm range. Remember, though, that 20x is not as nice as it sounds, because part of the range goes down to wideangle.
The reference point is 50mm: this is the normal view, no zoom, no wide angle.
* Wideangle -- from 50mm to 26mm.
* Zoom -- from 50mm to 520mm.
Thus, the actual magnification is 10.4x (= 520 / 50).
Still, that's pretty good. All those common cameras with their 3x "zooms" provide just 2x, because of the wideangle factor.
Many binoculars enlarge the image by 7x, so this camera dispenses with the need for binocs, and has the added benefit of recording what you see closeup. With one exception: binoculars provide stereoscopic vision, not done by digital cameras.
But this new Olympus is still not as good as camcorders, which now have optical zooms of 35x. How can camcorders do what still cameras cannot? Smaller lens and image size allows for larger zoom ratios.
You can read more about the Olympus SP-570 UltraZoom digital camera at The Imaging Resource. It's just $500; the primary drawback, however, is that it uses xD memory cards, instead of today's standard SD memory cards. Since xD is smaller than SD, you can't even use an adapter to reuse your existing collection of SD cards.
When I helped my mother-in-law buy her first digital camera last Christmas, I also got her the de-rigueur 2GB memory card. "How many pictures can I take," she wondered. 1,500.
Her camera, a Canon SD100, also supports SDHC (secure digital high capacity) cards, which can now be purchased in 8GB capacities locally for just over $100.
One of those 8GB cards would hold six thousand photographs. With the large LCD screen, I suddenly realized that her greatest worry (how to get the photos from the camera onto the computer) was rendered moot. She didn't need to deal with her computer and its mysterious ways.
The computer is no longer required:
-- keep all photos you've ever taken on the camera's memory card(s).
-- print direct from the camera to a 4"x6" printer, which are now under $100.
-- backup the photos by getting a dedicated device that combines a portable hard drive with a card reader.
Now I read that Samsung has shipped a CompactFlash memory card that holds 40GB. That's 30,000 photographs. Or twenty hours of high-definition video.
How much does that represent? I've been taking digital pictures since the summer of 1999. I now have 60,000 photographs taking up 56GB of disk space. But then I typically take 100 photos on days when I am active in picture taking, like on vacation. My mother-in-law tends to take a few photos at a time.
Sony now has a camera with 4GB memory built in. Maybe 40GB will be the future.
Pinnacle Systems is offering its VideoSpin software free -- or nearly so.
(I figure the software is a long-delayed reaction towards MovieMaker which Microsoft includes free with Windows XP and Vista. And it is pretty good software; I've used it myself.)
The basic software is free from www.videospin.com . The download consists of two parts: (1) first a 2.3MB setup file is downloaded; which then (2) downloads the rest of the software to a folder on my computer -- 146MB worth.
Install was not without its problems. It requires shutting down all apps, following which they are relaunched automatically. Following the restart, I found these problems:
-- a randomly-selected image was displayed on my desktop.
-- my mouse lost its definition for the middle button (double-click).
Changing the background in Vista is tedious:
1. Right-click desktop, and select Personalize.
2. Click Desktop Background.
3. Click the wrongly-named Picture Location.
4. Choose Solid Color.
5. Click More.
6. Choose the color.
7. Click OK.
8. Click OK.
9. Click X.
All those steps because VideoSpin chose to change the background without asking me for permission. I wonder what it does on the sly?
Oh, and then the hassle of getting the mouse's center button to work correctly again...
Not Entirely Free
But there are numerous codecs that require royalty payments, and so you have to pay if you want to work with files that use the following formats:
-- MP3 (in DivX files)
-- Dolby Digital AAC audio
The codecs are included free for two weeks; by then Pinnacle hopes you'll have worked them into your productions that you'll have to pony up US$15, which isn't very much at all.
(Codec is short for "code-decode." This is software that converts your videos from and into formats used by specific recording/playback devices. MPEG-4, for example, is very popular for small devices, such as iPods, PalmPilots, and PSPs.)
Desperate to distinguish itself from the all too me-too world of SD memory cards and their plunging prices, SanDisk has relabeled some of its SDHC cards with a "High-Definition Video" sticker. (How plunging are the prices? Our local Wal-Mart has three 2GB SD cards for $44 a pack -- $14.67 each.)
The only difference on these "new" cards: the label, which shows how many hours of high-def video fit on. For example, an 8GB card holds 2 hours of HD video. But in fact, the memory cards can be used for any device that supports the SDHC format -- newer cameras, camcorders, digital VCRs, and computers. The 8GB card's price of US$140 is a $10 premium over the non-HD labeled SDHC card's price ($130).
But then, what do prices mean anymore? SanDisk's Web site lists its 4GB SDHC card at $80, but I picked one up at the London Drug's Boxing Week sale for $30.
What do prices mean? SanDisk lists the 4GB card without card reader for $80, but with the card reader it's $80. (You'll need that card reader if your computer can't read SDHC cards.)
Also available in Sony's MemoryStick PRO Duo format.
Using timelapse photography lets you notice things that you might not otherwise; same with slow motion photos.
Casio is blowing us away by showing their new $999 super-high-speed digital camera, the EX-F1. It is capable of the following speeds:
-- 1200fps at 336x96 resolution.
-- 300fps at 640x480 (VGA)
-- 60fps at 6 megapixels (full resolution).
-- 30fps at 1080i in H.264 movie format.
Engaget has photos and video here.
My in-laws are staying with us over Christmas, and my mother-in-law asked which digital camera to buy. "Everyone seems to have one these days," she used as her excuse. No kidding; two strips in last week's color comics featured digital cameras.
By coincidence, FutureShop has one on sale that I would recommend for her: Canon SD1000 for $189. On top of that price, she'll have to add 13% sales tax, an environment levy, and another $25 or so for a 2GB memory card.
Here's why I picked it:
-- small size, but not as small as the ELPH series, which are too small. And thinner than Canon's A-series.
-- relatively large LCD screen (2.4 inches), important for aging eyes.
-- 3x zoom, the minimum acceptable level. 6x would be better, but then she'd be getting the larger A- or PowerShot series.
-- quality by Canon. Low-cost cameras from other companies can have image problems or difficult user interfaces.
-- optical viewfinder: important when it is too sunny to use the LCD screen.
-- LiIion battery. It gets charged in the camera, so swapping AA batteries is not an issue.
"How many pictures will it hold?" she wondered. About 400-600, depending on the settings. She could take pictures all year long, and then the next time I see her, I could put the pictures on the computer for her.
And that's the problem with digital cameras. She has an old Windows ME computer, and I don't even know if this Canon will work with it. Does the computer even have USB ports? If so, they'd be the slow v1 type. Privately, I worried that her digital camera might end up like the DVD player we gave her one year for Christmas: unused, because it is too hard to figure out -- all those wires and tiny buttons.
Film cameras don't have that problem. She could bring the entire film camera to the photo processing place, they can take out the film for her, and in an hour hand her back the prints. Negatives are filed in a shoe box. On that thought, I suppose she could bring the entire digital camera to London Drugs, and let them get the JPG files off the memory card, place them on a CD, and/or print them out.
(One of last week's cartoons features Cathy ready to make Christmas gifts from her digital photos. Except then she gets frustrated by having so many digital photos on her computer that she can't find the right one.)
"Well, I might need a new computer then," she said. "I'd just have to replace the monitor, right?" Um, no. The monitor was one of the parts she'd keep. "It's this box" -- I pointed to a computer case in the FutureShop flyer -- "that you need to replace. They're $400-$600." On the other hand, there are some pretty cheap computer packages with nice big LCD screens.
"And I can erase the pictures I don't like?" Yup.
"It's so handy to be able to see your pictures right away," she concluded.
I used to insist on buying cameras that used rechargeable AA batteries. Replacements are universally available, relatively cheap, and it's easy to take along several spare sets for extended trips.
In contrast, I used to not like proprietary batteries, because (1) the expense and difficulty of getting spares; and (2) if the battery quit, but no replacement could be found, the entre camera would be wasted.
No longer. I've changed my mind, because proprietary batteries:
1. reduce confusion for the neophyte. Need to recharge the battery? Just plug the entire camera to the charging cord. The battery never need come out of the camera. In contrast, buying AA-based cameras means also buying a trickle-capable battery recharger and spare AAs -- which can cost as much as the second proprietary battery.
2. last longer between charges than do AAs -- roughly twice as long, in my estimation.
3. last the lifetime of the camera. We used to think of the camera purchase as a lifelong investment. No longer. With the low price of digital shooters and low manufacturing quality, by the time the proprietary battery wears out, the camera is ready to be replaced.
4. allow for slimmer cameras. Simmer cameras are easier to take with you, and so you're more likely to capture those really special pictures.
And the most important reason of all:
5. reduced consumer confusion. Remembering to swap AA batteries, having spares on hand, not using alkaline, knowing which kind of charger to buy, remembering to have spares in the charger, having to open and close the battery compartment, inserting the AAs upside down -- it is just too much hassle. With the proprietary battery kept inside and charged by the camera, there is none of the hassle associated with AAs.
Don't mind me being late getting over AAs. I was the last on the block to buy a CD player.
As digital photography became popular, Kodak, Fuji, and stores that print photographs became scared, because photo buffs no longer needed to have their photos printed.
What to do? How to turn around their fading market?
They decided to turn their fears back onto their customers. Kodak is running ads with the headline, "Mothers don't let your babies grow up to become pixels" urging mommies to print out all digital photographs of their precious darlings.
And last week, London Drugs sent out a glossy 20-page booklet to reinforce the fear:
Print Them So You Can Count On Them
Unfortunately, computer memory is subject to damage and loss. Magnetic memory is more fragile than it seems and you just don't want to leave your valued memories to chance or accidents. To ensure that your treasured photos are always safe and at your fingertips they should be printed, not just stored away in bits and bytes.
You don't know what you got until it's gone.
Scarey stuff, and filled with half-truths. London Drugs (and Kodak) ought to be ashamed of themselves.
The new threat, however, is Facebook. My daughter just got back from her high school band trip to Northern Canada. She was in charge of taking photographs on the trip, and she took over 900 pix in the seven days. She won't be printing any of them. For classmates who want the whole batch, she'll burn a DVD. For everyone else, they can view the photos on Facebook; she spent yesterday evening uploading the best several dozen pictures.