September 8, 2004 9:00 PM PDT

Sony camera blends photos, video

Sony is looking to make the traveling gadget hound's backpack a little lighter with a new digital camera that also acts as a camcorder.

Digital still cameras have long sported basic video capabilities, but Sony is upping the ante with the DSC-M1, set to be announced Thursday.

The camera uses MPEG-4 video compression to dramatically boost the amount of video it can handle--an hour of high-quality video on a 1GB memory card, said Mark Weir, Sony product manager for digital cameras and photo printers. MPEG-4 also means the camera can capture video on regular Memory Stick cards instead of the more expensive Memory Stick Pro models currently required. "We're taking the pressure off the media card," Weir said.

The device also sports a novel hybrid capture mode that grabs video and high-resolution still images at the same time. Set the camera to hybrid mode, Weir said, and it buffers the video being captured so it can snap a still photo in the middle of an 8-second video clip.

The DSC-M1 isn't intended to replace a camcorder as much as give point-and-shoot photographers extra options when they decide to head out with a single device, Weir said. "Basically, we tried to design a product that can do a lot with video but doesn't forget it's main purpose in life is to be a still camera," he said.

Sony also changed the design on the camera to better suit video shooting, giving it a vertical orientation and a 2.5-inch, flip-out viewing screen. The DSC-M1 sports average specifications as a still camera, including 5-megapixel resolution and a 3X zoom lens.

Sony plans to have the camera in stores by early December, priced at about $600.

Sony has been the perennial market-share leader in digital cameras for years, but the company is facing new challenges from Kodak and increasingly capable cameras built into cell phones.

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