Three-Megapixel Cameras Arrive

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If you've been eyeing a digital camera, but have put off the purchase because it was too expensive or didn't offer enough resolution, your wait may be over. Several companies have announced cameras with resolutions well over 3 megapixels. The cameras all cost around $1000, a price that should force down the prices of their two-megapixel predecessors as well.

Nikon's Cooler Coolpix

Nikon ( ) has announced the Coolpix 990, a 3.34 megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom lens. The camera can generate files that are nearly 10MB with true 2048-by-1536 pixel resolution. It is also the first Nikon Coolpix camera to offer a USB interface.

The company claims the camera can shoot images as quickly as 2 fps in full resolution, nearly eliminating the lag time between shots in most digital cameras. The Coolpix 990 can shoot 320-by-240 resolution shots at 30 fps for up to 80 frames. In Movie mode, the camera can shoot 40 seconds of 320-by-240 resolution images at 15 fps.

The camera offers a 50-step manual focus, and the built-in macro lens allows for photography as close as 0.8 inches, about ten times as close as other cameras in its class. It also features four exposure modes -- automatic, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual. The Coolpix 990 has exposure compensation and auto-bracketing capabilities.

Nikon produces optional Coolpix lenses, including fisheye, wide-angle, and telephoto lenses. The camera accepts CompactFlash memory cards. It will be available in April 2000 for around $1000. Its predecessor, the Coolpix 950, now sells for $900.

A New Challenger From Olympus

Olympus ( ), another major contender in the digital imaging market, has also announced a 3.34 megapixel camera. The C-3030 Zoom features a 3X optical zoom and both USB and serial connectivity. The camera offers 15 modes of resolution, including five uncompressed TIFF modes.

The camera features a 15 fps QuickTime movie mode that records 191 seconds of video at 160-by-120 pixels resolution or 46 seconds at 320-by-240 pixels. Users can record sound during the video recording as well. In normal still mode, users can record four seconds of sound for each image.

The C-3030 features shutter speeds from 1/800 seconds to 1/2 second in auto mode, or as long as 16 seconds in manual mode. Manual-focus auto-bracketing is also possible. An inspection mode on the LCD screen allows users to inspect image details at 3X magnification.

The camera comes with a 16MB SmartMedia card, Adobe PhotoDeluxe, and Enroute Imaging QuickStitch panorama stitching software. It will ship in May 2000 and cost around $1000.

Toshiba Steps Up

Toshiba ( ) has introduced the PDR-M70, a 3.37 megapixel CCD camera capable of producing 2048-by-1536 pixel images. The camera has a comparatively large 1/1.8-inch CCD, which means it can capture more light than smaller CCDs with the same number of sensors. Thus, the images it captures should have less noise than those captured by cameras with smaller CCDs.

The camera has a 3X optical zoom, an aperture equivalent to F 2.0-2.5, a built-in speaker and microphone, and an AVI movie function capable of recording 30 seconds of 15 fps video at 320-by-240 pixels. It is USB-compatible and accepts SmartMedia cards. In burst mode, the camera shoots 1.25 fps. In multi-shot mode, it can capture 36 320-by-218 pixel shots in 2.3 seconds.

The camera is expected to ship in March and sell for around $1000. The price includes Picture Shuttle/EZTouch software.

For Fujifilm, the Proof Is in the Pixels

Fujifilm ( ) has announced the FinePix 4700, a camera which features the company's Super CCD image sensor technology. The company says the camera can generate a 4.3 million pixel image file.

Although the CCD has only about 2.4 million photosites, which are light-sensitive diodes that record images, Fujifilm says the camera can produce a 4.3 million pixel image file because its Super CCD technology arranges photosites more efficiently Instead of arranging rectangular photosites on a rectangular grid, Fujifilm's hexagonal diodes are arranged in a honeycomb pattern. This pattern maximizes space, allowing Fujifilm to make the photosites larger.

Because the Super CCD photosites are closer and larger, they can measure light more accurately than a conventional CCD with the same number of diodes. Fujifilm accounts for this improvement by claiming the camera can accurately produce images with a resolution that is 60% higher than the number of image sensors. Conventional CCDs have an approximate 1:1 correspondence between the number of photosites and the number of pixels in the resulting images.

The FinePix 4700 Zoom features an AVI video function, a 3X optical zoom, and three metering modes - multi, center-weighted, and spot. The camera is USB-compatible, and uses SmartMedia cards.

The FinePix 4700 Zoom will ship in April and cost around $1000.

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