September 26, 2006 12:43 PM PDT

'Manual' is the mantra for new cameras at Photokina

While this year's Photokina promises to be the most well-attended ever, the products introduced so far this week at the biennial imaging trade show in Germany aren't exactly groundbreaking.

That's because many companies continue to crank out cameras with the same features that have been showing up over the past few years on professional models; as they become cheaper to include, they trickle down to the consumer lines. And as chips keep getting smaller and cheaper, manufacturers can include sensors offering higher and higher high-resolution photos.

Photokina cameras

North American digital camera sales will hit almost $8 billion this year, and the average selling price is just under $300, said Ann Morris, a research analyst for InfoTrends, in an e-mail. With the market becoming saturated, analysts and manufacturers believe that people need to be tempted with new features to upgrade.

Kodak cameras include some bells-and-whistles designed to help newcomers used to pointing and shooting learn about manual controls. But the overall design seems to acknowledge that long-term consumer loyalty may come down to the quality of a photo the camera can produce in automatic mode, and how easy it is to do stuff with the photo--whether e-mailing it, uploading it to the Web or printing it and sending it to the grandparents.

At Photokina, Kodak announced the Z710, a 7.1-megapixel camera with a 10x optical zoom lens and a 2-inch LCD available in October for $300. Shooting at the highest resolution, photos are sharp enough to be blown up to 30-by-40-inch prints. There is also an expansion slot for SD/MMC memory cards to augment the camera's 32MB of storage, according to Kodak.

In addition to the automatic features that give users a choice of 18 scene modes and three color modes, the Kodak Z710 has burst modes for action or sports photography, aperture and shutter priority modes for guided manual control, and a full manual mode.

The camera also takes TV-quality VGA (640 by 480 pixels) video with audio, or QVGA (320 by 420 pixels) video for e-mailing. As with many Kodak products, the camera has a one-touch feature: This time it's a share button that allows photos to automatically be sent to e-mail or a printer.

Kodak also announced new rechargeable batteries that it says will allow cameras to take more pictures between charges.

Fujifilm, along with its announcement of an official brand name change for Fuji Photo Film affiliates, unveiled plans for two new digital cameras.

the FinePix S5 Pro is planned for early 2007. The camera will allow users to tag images with comments "by connecting a special bar code reader to the camera body," according to Fujifilm.

In addition to the cameras released this week, Olympus will unveil a concept model of its successor to the E-1 during Photokina, the company said.

But while consumers convince themselves that they will use the aperture priority setting and want full manual control over everything from shutter speed to color saturation, they will probably not use them, analysts said.

"Automatic was the most popular scene mode, and 76 percent of those using it were using it either all the time or often," said Morris in an e-mail.

The trade show in Cologne, Germany, ends Sunday.

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Eastman Kodak Co., Fujifilm, camera, SLR, photograph

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"But while consumers convince themselves that they will use the aperture priority setting and want full manual control over everything from shutter speed to color saturation, they will probably not use them, analysts said."

So true! But remember it was that way in the film camera industry for a hundred years. You've got to admire the fighting spirit of the amateur shutterbug who yearns to master the art behind the buttons, though few get around to it. It's like the Recorder, a musical instrument sold by the millions which perhaps 50 people have bothered to learn to play...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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