Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known by its Panasonic brand name, will launch several new digital still cameras at the Ceatec Japan 2003 exhibition in Japan this week including a model that brings higher resolution to its 12X optical zoom FZ camera and a prototype model that imitates some of the controls of a manual camera.
Like the company’s other models, which are all sold under the Lumix name, they are the result of collaboration between the Osaka-based company and Germany’s Leica Optical AG. Matsushita is responsible for the digital side of the camera while Leica is responsible for the optics.
Matsushita launched its first FZ-series camera with a 12X optical zoom about a year ago but the launch model was a little disappointing because it was matched with a relatively low-resolution 2-megapixel image sensor. The new model being unveiled at Ceatec, the DMC-FZ10, now pairs the Leica zoom lens with a 4-megapixel CCD (charge coupled device) image sensor that can deliver pictures up to 2,304 pixels by 1,728 pixels resolution.
There are four main resolution modes down to 640 pixel by 480 pixel (VGA) and a fifth mode which delivers 1,920-pixel by 1,080-pixel images that match the resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio of high-definition televisions (HDTV). This HDTV mode is designed to match such televisions, many of which have memory card slots for displaying images captured with digital still cameras.
The 12X optical zoom lens is equivalent to a 35-millimeter to 420-millimeter zoom lens on a conventional 35-millimeter film camera, according to Matsushita.
Although the zoom lens is not removable there is both a wide-angle and telephoto conversion lens that can clip onto the front of this fixed lens. In terms of a 35-millimeter film camera, the wide-angle lens extends the range to 28 millimeters while the telephone lens provides a 1.5 times zoom to result in a maximum zoom equivalent to a 630-millimeter lens.
Several additional features are incorporated in the electronics of the camera including an image stabilizer that can help counter shaking that becomes more noticeable as zoom is increased and a histogram function that provides a visual illustration of luminance levels of the image being captured. A 2-inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD is mounted on the rear of the camera.
A full battery charge should last around 100 minutes or enough to capture 200 pictures with the LCD monitor switched on, said the company. This can be extended to 120 minutes or 240 pictures when the LCD is switched off and the image finder is used. The camera weighs 550 grams and measures 138 millimeters by 87 millimeters by 106 millimeters.
The company’s other two new cameras are compact models that share many features in common.
The main difference between the DMC-FX1 and DMC-FX5 is in the resolution of the image sensor. The former has a 3.2-megapixel CCD and the latter has a 4-megapixel CCD. For users this means a maximum image resolution of 2,048 pixels by 1,536 pixels on the FX1 and 2,304 pixels by 1,728 pixels on the FX5.
If you will just be looking at your images on a computer screen or television the difference in quality between the highest quality pictures from each camera will probably not be too noticeable. Where the difference is more likely to show is when images are printed out on a high-quality system, such as those now offered for digital camera users by some photo developing shops and services.
Each camera has the same Leica 3X optical zoom lens, a 1.5-inch TFT LCD monitor and supports the HDTV mode that is also included on the DMC-FZ10.
The cameras both weigh 185 grams and measure 108 millimeters by 51 millimeters by 27 millimeters. Battery life is 60 minutes or 120 images with the LCD on and 120 minutes or 240 images with the LCD switched off, said Matsushita.
All three cameras store images on SD (Secure Digital) or MMC (Multimedia Card) memory cards and support PictBridge, which means it can be connected directly to and control a compatible printer without the need for a personal computer. The proprietary USB Direct Print standard is also supported.
The DMC-FZ10 will be available in Japan from Oct. 24 for ¥75,000 (US$675) and in the U.S. during November where it will cost $600. The DMC-FX1 and DMC-FX5 will launch in Japan in late November and will cost ¥55,000 and ¥45,000 respectively. No international launch has been announced.
Visitors to Ceatec will also get a chance to see the company’s DMC-LC1, which is not scheduled to be launched until the second quarter of 2004. Equipped with a 5-megapixel image sensor, the camera has manual control rings on the lens and a shutter speed dial and is designed to replicate the manual controls available on standard film cameras.
Ceatec 2003 takes place between Oct. 7 and Oct. 11 and Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan.