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Cool Cameras at PMA 2009

Text & Photographs by Allan Weitz

Many of the more interesting announcements and product rollouts found at this year's PMA show were consumer-oriented. New DSLRs making real-world debuts included the 4/3-format Olympus E-620, which makes claim of being the world's smallest and lightest image-stabilized DSLR. The new camera contains a 12.3Mp Live MOS sensor, a TruPic III+ image processor, a 7-point AF system, in-camera IS, and can capture images as JPEG, RAW, or a combination of the two. As part of the celebration Olympus also introduced a new Zuiko Digital ED 7-14/4 ASPH (14-28mm equivalent) zoom lens, which should take care of all of your wide-angle needs.

Panasonic created a stir with its Lumix GH1, a compact DSLR-style bridge camera that plays nicely with Zuiko Digital and other 4/3-format optics. The GH1's 12.1Mp Live MOS sensor can capture dynamic stills as well as High Definition (HD) AVCHD 1080p/24p video with true stereo sound. Unlike other video-enabled DSLRs released this year, the new GH1 is the first DSLR to feature active autofocus when shooting in video mode. Still formats include JPG, RAW, and RAW w/ JPEG in 3 compression formats. Video can be captured in high-resolution full HD (1920 x 1080) video at 24 fps or smooth HD video (1280 x 720) movie at 60 fps using an AVCHD format (MPEG-4/H.264). Images can be viewed via the camera's EVF or on the 3" wide-view LCD. New lenses to go along with the GH1 include a Lumix G Vario 7-14/4 ASPH and a Lumix G Vario HD 14-140/4-5.6 ASPH.

Super-zoom bridge cameras were also big news at this year's PMA. Perhaps the most interesting of the lot was the Sony DSC-HX1. Aside from a 20x (28-560 equivalent) zoom lens, a 9Mp CMOS sensor, and the ability to capture up to 10 full-res images per second, and 1080p HD video capture, the HX1 performs a few tricks that used to require an advanced degree in Photoshop.

Panoramic images up to 224-degrees diagonally can be created by pressing the shutter and slowly panning the camera across the desired image path. The camera then takes this 'pan' and recomposes it into a single wide-field still image. The HX1's shutter is mechanical, which eliminates distortions common to progressive-scan video capture.

It doesn't stop there. A Handheld Twilight Mode enables you to capture low-light images under lighting conditions that normally would demand a tripod. (Think image stabilization on techno-steroids) On a similar note, the Sony DSC-HX1 can also be set to capture 6 consecutive images, selectively sample each image, and combine the best features, i.e. shadow and highlight detail, contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise levels, and combine the best of these images into a single 'ideal' photograph. Not bad… huh?

Other notable digicams at the show included the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS, Canon's contribution to the 'bridge club, which packs a 10Mp CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 4 image processor, ISO sensitivity up to 3200, an optically stabilized 20x (28-560mm equivalent) zoom, a swivel-based 2.7" LCD, and RAW and/or JPEG capture. Still shooters can choose between 25 shooting modes that include 12 Special Scene Modes. And for those wishing to go beyond still capture the SX1 IS can also capture Full HD 1080p video for high-quality motion imagery.

The Pentax X70 contains a 12Mp CCD, a 24x (26-624mm equivalent) zoom, a 2.7" LCD, a triple IS system(mechanical, digital, and ISO-based), up to 11 f/p/s, HD 720p video capture, a 2.7" (230,000 dot) LCD, and macro focusing down to about a half-inch. Equally compact is Fujifilm's FinePix S1500, which contains a 10Mp sensor, a 12x (33-396mm equivalent) zoom, a 2.7" LCD, a 2.7" (230,000 dot) LCD, and ISO sensitivity ratings up to 6400.

Promoted as having the world's 'most powerful zoom', the Olympus SP-590UZ sports a 26x zoom with an equivalency range of a whopping 26-676mm (f/2.8-8) lens. As you'd hope, the SP-590UZ has dual IS systems, a 2.7" LCD, Advanced Face Detection, in-camera stitching, HD output, and high-speed sequential shooting.

 

Nikon's very-able CoolPix P90 is Nikon's latest tweener, and contains a 12.1Mpsensor, a bright 3" pivoting LCD, VR, Motion-Detection, distortion controls, Active D-Lighting, a maximum ISO of 6400, and a Sports mode that can capture up to 15f/p/s.

Unique unto itself is the Sigma DP2, Sigma's 2nd-generation Foveon X3 CMOS driven rangefinder, which features a fixed, 24.2/2.8 (41mm-equivalent) lens making it a pocket-sized, street-shooter-style digicam. Images can be composed using the DP2's 2.5" (230,000-dot) LCD or can be supplanted by an optional optical finder that slides onto the camera's hot-shoe. The camera's Foveon X3 sensor renders incredibly sharp, chromatically-correction-free imagery.

 

Three words that come to mind when seeing a Leica D-LUX 4 are trim, stylish and sexy. There's no 2 ways about it, the folks at Leica know how to design gracefully beautiful cameras. Available in black or titanium, the D-LUX 4 features a 24-60mm equivalent Leica-designed zoom lens with an impressively fast maximum aperture range of f/2 to f/2.8. The D-LUX 4 captures images in JPEG and RAW, which can be processed in Capture One 4 software. The heart of the D-LUX 4 is a 10.1Mp (1/1.63") sensor, and there's an extremely bright 3" (460,000-dot) LCD. Also available (and oh-so cool-looking) are an optional 24mm-equivalent optical finder that slips onto the camera's hot-shoe, and a smart grip that makes the D-LUX 4 look like a mini Leica M camera. Nice… real nice.

Point-and-shoot digicams continue to cross our shores, and most all of them contain impressively large sensors, large LCDs, user-friendly menus, 80-billion shooting modes, 80-billion exposure modes, and Face Detection for up to 80-billion faces (with Smile Detection) and are available in a number of stylist colors. The pocket digicams that caught our attention were the latest 'rough-and-tumble' point-and-shoot cameras.

Showing off their 4th-generation tough-as-nails pocket cameras was Olympus, which introduced 2 new 'Tough'-series cameras. The Olympus Stylus Tough 6000, which features a 3.6x zoom, a 10Mp sensor, and a 2.7" LCD, is shockproof based on the results of a 5' drop, waterproof down to 10', and freeze-proof down to 14-degrees. The Tough 6000 also contains dual IS and a Tap Control menu.

The Stylus Tough 8000 goes a few stops further with features including a 12Mp sensor, shock-resistance from a 6.6' fall, waterproofing down to 33', and the ability to resist up to 220 lbs of pressure.

If you're looking for something a bit more playful in the waterproof/splashproof department, have a look-see at Canon's PowerShot D10. Resembling a first-generation iMac, the PowerShot D10 is waterproof down to 33', freezeproof down to 14-degrees (F), and drop-proof from a height of 4'. Spec-wise the D10 has a 12.1Mp sensor, 2.5" LCD, and a 3x IS optical zoom.

 

Equally fun and waterproof down to about 9' is Fujifilm's FinePix Z33 WP, which is available in black, blue, green, and magenta. A 10Mp sensor and a 3x (35-105mm equivalent) zoom lens, and a slew of advanced exposure and shooting modes make the Z33 an inviting travel companion for those who prefer digicams that beg to go daytripping.

 

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