Sunday, October 09, 2005

Smile, the camera is waiting for you

The recent New York Canon Expo was a chance for Canon to display its cutting-edge digital camera technologies, such as the ability to track all the faces in a group photo and take the photo as soon as everyone smiles.

Smile, the camera is waiting for you
Only cheerful faces in smart cameras of the future

Steve Makris
The Edmonton Journal

Saturday, October 08, 2005

NEW YORK - Smart enough to snap a photo only when you smile, next-generation digital cameras are packing the best technology has to offer. They are getting cheaper and easier to use, yet their highly computerized internal workings are literally making good photography a snap.

Canon's automatic smile detection system prototype turned heads at the recent Japanese giant's Canon Expo 2005 in New York, an event also held in Paris and Tokyo every five years.

The camera's artificial intelligence tracks all moving faces within sight and snaps the picture when smiles and bright eyes peak -- a challenge for even professional photographers. It will be a while before this camera hits the streets.

So too for Canon's long-lasting hydrogen fuel cell-powered camera showing in the next booth.

Canon, with a long history of camera making and 39 digital models, already has the lion's share of world digital camera sales, but you don't have to look far for cool technologies from competitors.

Like Kodak's V550 digital camcorder that does most of its work after the picture is taken.

Slightly larger than of a deck of cards, it tracks and corrects red-eye when you take a photo and has motion compensation for its higher standard and space saving MPEG4 video -- done in-camera while the video is processed. It warns you when the still photos might turn out blurry and can organize slide shows you can share on its large 2.5-inch bright screen viewable from any angle.

With cool looks and in four colours, its $500-plus price tag puts it in an upscale market, something Kodak has wanted to get into.

"It's about style, sophistication and ease of use," said Kodak Canada's Greg Morrison, pointing to the easily accessible curved LED lighted controls.

Unlike analog film cameras that used digital technology mainly for more accurate exposures, digital cameras are mini-computers, fine-tuning photos after they are snapped.

Fuji, for example, uses a simple "natural light mode" in many of its cameras that even changes the ASA exposure sensitivity to ensure natural looking pictures without flash. "We are spending billions of dollars on research for our next generation cameras," said Fuji Canada's Kent Hatton. "We see next year as a pivotal point for digital camera sales where 50 per cent of digital camera owners will replace their older cameras with more sophisticated models."

Digital camera technology is also open to newcomers with fresh ideas.

HP, which less than a decade ago didn't even know what a lens cap was, started with few forgettable entries before teaming up with Texas instruments in making the cutting-edge R707 series cameras that critiques your photos, adjusts contrast onboard and fixes red-eye after the picture is taken.

Sanyo's latest entry, the compact six-megapixel Xacti E6, $499, is the first big-brand name three-inch view screen digital with internal 3X optical zoom and MPEG4 movie compression. It's unique "touch-activated" shutter button starts focusing before you take the picture - effectively reducing the inherit slow response time in digital cameras.

Olympus, which has cornered the market on weather-proof digital cameras, has the Stylus 800, $499, eight megapixel digital capable of storing 12 individual albums, poster quality pictures and works in rain sleet or snow.

Nikon, a long-time camera maker isn't standing still,

either. The 5.1-megapixel Coolpix P1, $500 and eight-megapixel Coolpix P2, $600, use D-lighting to add picture detail in dark areas and automatically focus on up to three human faces in the frame. They are also WiFi-capable for wireless printing in home networks.

But until a Canadian standard for wirelessly uploading your photos to the Internet from public hotspots are ironed out, as they are in the U.S. with Kodak's just-released Easyshare WiFi Camera (not available here) you need to be wired up for sharing digital photos online.

An upward trend of "do more" digital cameras is also pushing the megapixel count.

"Next year the minimal standard will be five megapixels, for less than $300," said Sony Canada's John Challinor.

Sony's new DSC R1 10.3 megapixel digital camera, $1,299, with Carl Zeiss 24 mm film equivalent, 5X optical zoom lens, is setting the pace for beyond film quality digital photography. "Our battery technology allows R1 users to take in the 21/2-inch screen with more than 500 shots on one charge," added Challinor.

Sub $1,000 digital SLRs from Canon, Nikon and Olympus are also bringing professional photography to serious photographers.

The Olympus Evolt 500 eight-megapixel SLR eVolt E-500, has a self-cleaning feature that shakes dust off its photo chip -- a constant problem with digital SLRs -- and packs amateur and professional features and a new series of Zuiko Digital Specific interchangeable lenses rivalling Canon's and Nikon's stronghold.

Even cellphones are coming out with more digital camera power.

Nokia's N90, launching in the U.S. in November but still an orphan camera-phone in Canada, has a two megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, the Rolls Royce of optics. The clamshell phone's unique camera pivot mount

becomes its own duo-pod for even sharper pictures. The N90's picture quality is simply stunning.

The popularity of digital cameras is also spawning smarter functioning and lower priced home album size printers.

Traditionally, prints on quality home printers were twice as expensive as photo lab prints but new models have cost less than 40 cents a print. Kodak's upcoming dye sublimation EasyShare Photo Printer 500, $329 with 3.5 LCD screen, wireless Bluetooth and WiFi ready, will print photo lab quality 4x6 prints for 37 cents off most camera brands. Or Lexmark's futuristic looking P450 ink jet album printer, $299, with multi-card reader and a built-in CD reader/writer for backing up your digital camera pictures directly on CD. But it won't make toast.

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