Two-megapixel digital cameras are now commonplace and will soon be superseded by a new generation of three-megapixel cameras. But it wasn't long ago that one-megapixel cameras overwhelmed us with their image quality. Do you really need more than 1 million pixels in your digital images? If the answer is noand you want to save some moneythe last of the megapixel cameras have just come to market, in the form of the Epson PhotoPC 650 and the Olympus D-450 Zoom. Both cameras produce good-looking pictures, but the Olympus model stands out with higher resolution and a host of useful features, includingtrue to its namea 3 x optical zoom.
The Olympus D-450 Zoom (left) and the Epson PhotoPC 650.
The PhotoPC 650 captures images at a maximum of 1,152 by 864 pixels; the D-450 Zoom boasts a more impressive 1,280 by 960 pixels. However, we were generally pleased by the image quality of both cameras. Images produced on the PhotoPC 650 did not display excessive levels of noise or artifacts, but they looked a little softenough that you might want to sharpen them in your image-editing program. Images from the D-450 looked better, with sharp detail and low noise levels, requiring minimal editing. Indeed, the noise level equaled that of images from some costly two-megapixel cameras.
Like most inexpensive digital cameras, both models use range-finder designs, meaning you view a scene through a different lens than the one that captures the image; Olympus's C-2500 and D-620L, in contrast, are single-lens-reflex cameras.
The D-450 Zoom is much easier to handle. It sports the same feature and button layout as Olympus's earlier point-and-shoot cameras, and its simple operation is reminiscent of a 35mm camera. The 3 x zoom lens is a bit slow to respond to the zoom control, but it gets the job done.
The PhotoPC 650 has a boxy feel, and the on/off switch is inconveniently placed under the lens. The controls and labeling are not always intuitive; prepare to spend some time with the manual familiarizing yourself with the camera's functions.
Both cameras offer multiple flash options, including forced flash and red-eye reduction. However, if you use the PhotoPC 650 flash when capturing an image, be patient. Once you've pressed the image-capture button, you have to wait up to four seconds for the camera to trip the shutter. By comparison, the D-450 is quick on the trigger, whether it's using available light or the built-in flash. And the PhotoPC 650 lacks the D-450's optical zoom, although it does feature 37mm threads for attaching a variety of optional lenses.
The D-450 Zoom stores images on Lexar Media SmartMedia cards; the package includes one 8MB card. You can purchase additional cards with a maximum capacity of 32MB; it's unclear whether Olympus will modify the camera to accept the 64MB cards that are expected later this year. The PhotoPC 650 stores images on sturdierbut costlierCompactFlash cards, also from Lexar. The package includes one 8MB CompactFlash card, on which you can store 30 megapixel images with minimal compression or 47 at medium resolution.
One disappointing aspect of both cameras is the lack of built-in USB ports. Instead, both cameras feature serial interfaces and Mac/PC serial cables; as any experienced digital-camera user knows, transferring images through a serial cable can be painfully slow. However, the CompactFlash card included with the PhotoPC 650 is USB-enabled; just attach one of Lexar's JumpShot USB cables to the card to transfer images directly to any USB-equipped Mac. But JumpShot does you no good if you have CompactFlash cards that don't support USB.
Olympus offers no USB connectivity at all; users of recent Mac models will need to add a serial interface or, if you want faster transfers, a USB-based SmartMedia reader. Both cameras also include video-out ports for viewing images on a TV set.
Both cameras are good for capturing images to post on the Web, and you can use them to produce decent-looking prints as large as 8 by 10 inches. At $499 for the Olympus D-450 Zoom and $350 for the Epson PhotoPC 650, both are affordable as well. However, the Olympus camera, with its sleek design, higher resolution, and 3 x optical zoom, is clearly the better choice, despite its higher price tag; images from the PhotoPC 650 look good, but the D-450 Zoom's images look even better. The biggest knock to the Olympus camera is the lack of USB connectivity; the Epson camera also lacks built-in USB but compensates with its USB-enabled CompactFlash cards.
RATING: PROS: Affordable; good image quality; uses USB-enabled CompactFlash media. CONS: No zoom; unintuitive design. COMPANY: Epson America (800/289-3776, http://www.epson.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $350.
RATING: PROS: Affordable; excellent image quality; good assortment of features. CONS: No USB interface. COMPANY: Olympus America (800/622-6372, http://www.olympus.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $499.
April 2000 page: 44