Improvements zoom on digital lightweight camera by Kodak

The zoom lens-equipped Digital Camera 50 is both a great sequel
to Kodak's ground-breaking DC 40 camera [GCN, Sept. 4, 1995, Page 1] and a missed
opportunity.


For less than $1,000--about the same as last year's model--you get a pushbutton 3X zoom
that equals what you'd see in a 37- to 111-millimeter zoom lens on a low-end 35mm camera.
Even better, a PC Card slot now lets you plug in flash memory cards for 2M to 40M of extra
storage.


The 1-pound, 6-ounce unit that I tested came with a 5M FlashDisk memory card from
SanDisk Corp., providing a second path to extract photos from the DC 50.


As before, you can attach the DC 50 to the serial port of a Microsoft Windows or
Macintosh PC to download all the images. Or you can store them on the memory card instead,
then hand it off to someone else for downloading while you take pictures.


That's a great bonus for military users or government inspectors in the field. It's
perfect for capturing up-to-the-minute images to post on your agency's Internet Web pages.


Data moves off the card about twice as fast as through a cable--a real speed advantage.
Any type of PC Card slot will work, with no special drivers needed. If your desktop system
has no slot, you still can read the card through the cable.


Now for Kodak's missed opportunity. The DC 50 still doesn't have a preview function
like that in Casio's QV-10 LCD. Even though the Casio takes lower-resolution, 480- by
240-pixel pictures, its 1.8-inch color LCD panel shows what you've just photographed.


The Kodak has the highest color resolution--756-by-540, 24-bit--of any digital camera
under $10,000, but you still can't tell whether you've captured the perfect shot unless
you run back to the computer.


I'd hoped for two other things in this new Kodak model. First, I wanted more on-board
memory. The addition of the flash memory card might make the amount of in-camera memory
seem a minor quibble. But the 1M on board limits you to seven high-resolution photos (14
or 21 at lower resolutions), which means you must keep several flash disks handy if you
plan to take dozens of shots.


Second, I wanted a little more control over the lens. I know, Kodak is the
point-and-shoot king. But I can't help wanting to play with shutter speeds, focus and
f-stops to build a better picture.


Minor adjustments to the auto-exposure and focus settings can be made from a small,
black-and-white LCD screen at the rear, but it's not very flexible. This panel also shows
battery life and number of exposures remaining, based on available memory.


Like other digital cameras, the DC 50 has an array of special semiconductors, or
charge-coupled devices, with hundreds of light-sensitive elements to capture images in
real time. It works faster than higher-resolution studio digital cameras that require the
subject to stay motionless for several seconds or longer.


The DC 50's closest competition is the 10-C from Dycam Inc., with virtually the same
body and zoom lens. However, the 10-C lists for about $100 more than the Kodak and takes a
lower-resolution photo.


Epson America Inc. makes a PhotoPC digital camera that sells for less than $500, with
1M of flash memory. Epson claims the PhotoPC will work with any 37mm video camcorder lens
or filter for wide-angle and telephoto shots.


Buy one of these cameras only if you want to manipulate images with your computer. If
you'll mostly just print them out as is, buy a $100 zoom-lens, 35mm film camera instead.


Once you've made the steep initial investment in a digital camera, however, you no
longer pay for film, developing or scanning. You can delete poor images and keep only what
you want. Storage requirements are about 125K per photo in native KDC format, or 1M per
TIFF image.


Kodak's PhotoEnhancer software, which moves the images into a PC, still has some
quirks. The Windows version, which formerly lacked much of the Mac version's
functionality, has improved greatly but still can't rotate or resize photos very well.
Both versions now have options to soften or sharpen shadows. There's a SmartPix menu to
adjust photos taken under poor lighting.


The PhotoEnhancer software, developed for Kodak by PictureWorks Technology Inc. of
Danville, Calif., occupies 2M on the hard drive and needs 6M of RAM. The Mac version
requires Apple System 7.5 to work correctly; it has some compatibility problems with the
latest PowerBook portables.


I had trouble converting PhotoEnhancer's PICT files to other formats when I moved them
to different photo viewers, but JPEG files worked fine.


Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y.; tel. 716-781-7888


Price: $979 list; will be discounted soon by Government Technology Services
Inc.


Overall grade: B+


[+] Flash memory card has great potential for government uses.


[+] User gains more control viewing and saving images.


[+] Zoom lens greatly boosts usefulness.


[-] Redesigned body lacks shock-absorbing pads and protection for flash and
lens.


[-] Taking vertical photos is awkward.


[-] To erase individual shots from a flash disk, you must access them through
your computer. Shawn McCarthy can be reached at (smccarthy@gcn.com)
 


About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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