Marketing folks at high-tech companies like to provide a simple message consumers can understand. For stereo systems it's the number of watts and for cameras it's megapixels of resolution. This was evident this past week with the rollout of new cameras at the annual Photo Marketing Association trade show in Orlando, Fla.
Though 5-megapixel cameras are more than adequate for most pictures, much of the buzz was about new 7- and 8-megapixel cameras. While the number of megapixels alone is not a true measure of image quality (the size of the sensor, the optics and firmware also influence quality), it's the message that sells cameras, and gets columnists like me to cover them.
The most significant new product introduced was Canon's new EOS Rebel XT ($999), the first fully featured, conventional 8-megapixel (mp) SLR under $1,000. Another hot product was Olympus' new 8-mp E-300 EVOLT camera (about $750 after a $100 rebate). Both represent new performance levels beyond anything seen at these prices, not just due to their resolution, but also to their fast response, handling, features and overall performance.
For the past few months I've been testing the Olympus E-300 and the Rebel XT's big brother, the Canon 20D, which uses a similar 8-mp sensor. Each camera produced spectacular results; so good that either could be the last camera you ever buy.
I found the Canon EOS 20D ($1,500 for the body) to be a near-perfect SLR. The 20D is ruggedly constructed of magnesium, is water resistant and takes superb pictures that can be blown up to poster size. It handles just like Canon's best film cameras, responds quickly, has excellent focus and metering capabilities, and provides complete flexibility with its convenient controls located mostly on the body, rather than buried in screen menus. The XT, while sturdily built, will likely perform nearly as well, but uses more plastic in its construction and has a few less features.
The Olympus E-300 EVOLT is an imaginative new SLR design. It uses a vertical mirror to direct the light to the side after passing through the lens, eliminating the bulky prism found on the top of other SLRs. Combined with its smaller lenses, the camera is trimmer and lighter. Its images were difficult to distinguish from the Canon's. Which to buy is less a question of image quality and more about what feels and handles most comfortably for you.
In the pocket category, two new 7-mp cameras were announced: the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z750 ($450) and the Canon Digital Elph SD500 ($500). While not as versatile as the SLRs, these, as well as their 5-mp equivalents, can produce near-equivalent images under good lighting conditions. Under more taxing conditions the SLRs are noticeably better.
For the first time there were credible cameras under $100: Concord Camera's (Nasdaq: LENSE) model 3346z, with a 3-mp 3X zoom, and Kodak's EasyShare C300, with a fixed focal length lens.
Sharing your images
Once you've taken images, how are you going to share them? Photoleap of La Jolla (www.photoleap.com) just introduced a product that lets you send multiple high-resolution images to others.
Photoleap opens what appears to be a blank e-mail message. Add an address and drag your images (even hundreds of large ones) to it and click send. The window closes and it's done.
At least, you think it's done. Photoleap applies further compression and then sends the photos directly to its server in the background. E-mail systems, of course, would choke with such huge files.
The recipient receives an e-mail with a preview of a couple of the images and a message telling him all of the images are waiting to be retrieved. He clicks on a link, downloads the application the first time, and can then view or print the images at full resolution.
To test Photoleap I sent 200 5-mp images taken on a recent trip using a Casio Z55. My recipient received them about 20 minutes later and was able to view and even print the images at full resolution. The program worked well with both a PC and Mac.
What does Photoleap's compression do? I printed 8x10s of an original image and one subjected to Photoleap's compression (which was 30 percent smaller), and could not tell them apart.
Pricing varies from free for a version that sends 25 2-mp images per message, all the way up to $500 for a version than can send 250 16-mp photos in each message. A $30/year version, allowing up to 8-mp images will suffice for most of us. Of course, you need a broadband connection. A free trial version is available on Photoleap's Web site, www.photoleap.com. Highly recommended.
Following up last week's column on Wi-Fi calls, I was unable to make an in-flight call using Skype from my ANA flight because the plane did not have Wi-Fi service. I was able to make international calls for 2 cents a minute, using the Internet connections from the airline lounges in Shanghai and Narita, a huge savings over the normal $3 a minute charges using conventional phoning.
In a previous column, I wrote about adware maker Claria, formerly called Gator. Claria is one of the worst offenders for secretly sending privacy-violating adware, including pop-up ads, to our computers. The adware is disguised to make it nearly impossible to remove. This past week, Claria's chief privacy officer, D. Reed Freeman, was appointed to a federal advisory board by the Department of Homeland Security.
Nuala O'Connor Kelly, the department's chief privacy officer, said, "This committee will provide the department with important recommendations on how to further the department's mission while protecting the privacy of personally identifiable information of citizens and visitors of the United States."
The appointment is like letting a fox into the henhouse and, worse, it seems to be rewarding Claria's questionable business ethics.
Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at email@example.com. Comments sent to this account are viewed by the editor and may be used as Letters to the Editor.