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April 2002, Week 2 -- Two New Digital Cameras, Two Different Markets

 

 EasyShare Digital Camera

   Kodak is taking a lead in the digital camera market, and none too soon, many would say. The struggling company is watching the market for digital cameras accelerate at close to light speed, while the market for traditional cameras, and the all important film sales, move just as quickly in the opposite direction

   But the model DX 4900, introduced just this month, puts Kodak in the forefront again. At less than $400 list price, it is the lowest cost 4MP (megapixel) digital camera you can buy. We've been trying one out and this is "point and shoot" simplicity, an absolute jewel of a camera. The only other 4MP cameras below $500 right now are the Toshiba PDR-M81, at $499. We can expect many more high-resolution cameras to follow below $500, which has been a barrier till now.

 

   Four megapixels refers of course to the number of dots -- four million of them, that make up the image. It's kind of a key level. While it's only about a quarter of the resolution of a 35mm film negative, it is detailed enough to make a photographic quality 8x10 print. Four meg, as they call it for short, makes a big difference in picture quality. Taking a shot of someone in the office, we were able to zoom in and read the titles of the books behind them; we could even read what was on their computer screen. This puts the 1.2MP Panasonic camera, that I bought over a year ago for $800, into the garage sale category now. Such is progress.

 Kodak Camera Dock

   On the downside here, the camera comes without a battery charger. The lithium battery pack supplied with the camera lasts for quite a while  and can be replaced with cheaper ones from electronic supply stores when it burns out. If you want a charger you have to buy a so-called "Kodak docking station," currently selling for around $80. Some retailers will probably throw this in for nothing, however, as earlier models in this Kodak line are already being sold with the docking station thrown in, and it's the same docking station for all models.

 

   There's some very nice software with this camera. The chief delight is a screen that pops up when you connect the camera to the computer and lets you simply click with the mouse to send any picture as an email, put it into an album, post it to the web or order a print. When you put the camera into its recharger docking station, the software automatically comes up and starts displaying the frames. That's nice.

 

   The Kodak DX4900 comes with a 32MB (megabyte) flash memory card, enough for around six hi-res (high resolution) pictures. This would be a good place to slug in that new 1GB (one gigabyte) flash memory card from SanDisk that we wrote about last week; then you can take 200 hi-res pictures. Web sites: www.kodak.com; www.sandisk.com.

 

The other camera

 

 

   The other new camera is just about the cutest thing since speckled puppies. It's a "300mini" from Benq, which used to be called Acer. (I'm darned if I can figure out why they changed the name.) New web site: www.benq.com.

   The 300mini takes 640x480 pixel pictures, which is so low resolution that I'm not sure they're making those chips anymore. But ... the pictures are recognizable, and since the camera has a list price of $99 and is only about half the size of a candy bar, this can be fun.

   Actual dimensions are 85x40x20 mm (about 1.5x3.5 inches) and the weight is 49 grams (less than two ounces). It comes with a USB cable and a lanyard to drape it around your neck, but you don't need either of those things. First of all, no one on the planet will be able to fit the lanyard through the tiny hole provided in the camera case. And you don't need the USB cable because the camera has its own USB connector and can be plugged directly into the computer without a cable.

 

   This tiny, tiny camera takes 26 single pictures or two seconds of full motion video, has a view finder, a tripod mount and works off one AAA battery. It will be a big hit with kids and spies.

 

Comparing cameras

 

   There are dozens and dozens of digital cameras and it's hard to compare all the features against each other. On top of that there are new ones coming out almost weekly. The best web site we've found for this is www.steves-digicams.com. The site has reviews but the best part is simply being to look up cameras by features and prices.

 

Changing subjects, sort of

  PrintMaster 12

   Our favorite program for making greeting cards and other fun print jobs is Broderbund's PrintMaster Platinum, now out in version 12. Take some of those digital pictures and move them into greetings for family, colleagues and friends.

   The program comes with 230,000 images and 14,000 project templates. What we really like is that when you drop a list you're looking through to look at something else, it doesn't make you start over on your return but continues showing you clip art from the point where you left off; I don't recall seeing such a feature anywhere else among card programs. PrintMaster Platinum 12 is $40, for Windows; www.broderbund.com.

 

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.