Electronic Design

Digital Photography Sharpens Focus On Technology

Cell phones with cameras are everywhere. But why don't we see cameras with cell phones? Wireless technology has already become a product differentiator in digital photography. Kodak introduced its Wi-Fi-equipped Easyshare One last January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and began shipping it in late September.

In October, Nikon released the 12.4-Mpixel D2X professional single-lens reflex (SLR) and the Coolpix 8-Mpixel P1 and 5-Mpixel P2 cameras (see the figure). These IEEE 802.11band 802.11g-compatible cameras can upload images directly to any computer or the Internet. They also can upload images to a PictBridge-enabled printer equipped with the optional Nikon Wireless Printer Adapter (PD-10) for wireless printing.

D2X users can send images with Nikon's WT-1A wireless transmitter and remotely control the camera over a Wi-Fi network from a computer running Nikon software. The P1 and P2 come with a copy of Nikon's PictureProject and Wireless Camera Setup Utility, which configures the cameras for wireless operation. Users then can import wireless images automatically into a slideshow as well as edit, organize, design, and share images.

Canon has demonstrated a Wi-Fi-equipped prototype digital SLR camera but hasn't said when it would be available. The prototype's organic LED display extends battery life and is easier to view. Canon used a 2.4-in. screen with QVGA (320 by 240) resolution in its demonstration, but photographers will have to wait at least a year before the display is commercially available. Also, the prototype's hydrogen fuel cells deliver about the same power as a lithium-ion battery pack while taking up about the same space.

SHAKING OFF THE DUST
Olympus' Supersonic Wave Filter eliminates a common problem in digital SLR cameras—the dust that collects when users swap out lenses. It uses ultrasonic technology to "shake" the lens at 35,000 vibrations a second to remove dust from images. This eliminates the time spent editing dust-hampered photographs. Olympus is sharing the technology on a royalty basis with other digital camera manufacturers.

Eastman Kodak's high-resolution KAF-39000 image sensor offers 39 Mpixels, while the KAF-31600 boasts 31.6 Mpixels. Earlier this year, Kodak also announced the first CMOS image sensors through an alliance with IBM and an agreement to license key CMOS image sensor manufacturing technology to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.

And with Leica's Digital Modul-R, photographers can transform Leica's older R8 and R9 analog cameras into digital cameras with digital camera backs. That's no surprise, as market research suggests that digital is the only way to go for both professional and amateur photographers.

HOT MARKET
According to the market-research NPD Group and the Photo Marketing Association (PMA), sales of digital cameras increased 25% from January through July this year compared to the same period in 2004. Also, sales of 35-mm cameras declined 32.9% in the same period this year.

Several analysts think the digital camera numbers would have been higher if camera phones weren't gaining so much traction with consumers. A survey by Parks Associates found that one-fourth of all U.S. Internet households are willing to use a high-resolution camera phone as their primary camera.

"Although the industry is currently focused on iPods and Motorola's new music phone ROKR, consumers would rather have a camera phone," says Vibha Pant, an analyst at Parks Associates. Moreover, Pant believes the impending introduction of more advanced megapixel camera phones will strengthen this demand. Another survey by Informa Telecoms and Media estimates that 77% of mobile handsets will be camera phones by 2010.

But IDC's research refutes the case that camera phones will replace digital cameras, mainly because the resolutions of camera phones have remained somewhat constant while digital camera pricing continues to decline. IDC's survey also revealed that the printing of images captured on camera phones is declining. While one camera-phone image was printed on average per month in 2004, one image is being printed every three months in 2005.

Digital cameras also are producing better photographs. PMA research indicates that the entry megapixel level of new camera purchases has increased, with about half of all digital cameras sold now in the 5-Mpixel range and higher. Curiously, women are buying most digital cameras. According to NPD, women purchased 53% of all digital cameras sold from May to July this year.

"Among female digital camera buyers this year, Sony ranks the highest versus competitive brands in motivation to purchase from recommendations from friends and relatives," says Steve Baker, director of industry analysis at NPD.

IDC conducted another study earlier this year entitled "Closing the Technology Gap: What Women Really Want." It found that women are more than tech savvy. They also demand reliable and intuitive products.

What's next? More megapixels. And look for Sony and Kodak to introduce digital models with touchscreens in the near future. Also, some higher-end models will feature GPS so you don't have to remember where you took a picture.

TAGS: Components
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