Toys at the Tailgate PartyBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
LAS VEGAS -- On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show (and the Ohio State-LSU BCS National Championship bowl), Pepcom hosted a Digital Experience! tailgate party. Rimming the Augustus Ballroom at Caesar's Palace with pennants from colleges across the country, plus a PVC goalpost as its centerpiece and ice sculpture bars for both Ohio State and LSU, the real attraction was the dozens of tables packed with electronic gear of one kind or another.
We got in the mood for the three-hour party by hustling down to the airport an hour early to take Virgin America flight from SFO to Las Vegas. We didn't have to be quite that early, it turned out, so we killed some time at SFO's aviation library in the International terminal.
They had toys, too, and a historical exhibit that reminded us how yesterday's innovations quickly lose their luster. See our gallery (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/ICES08/ces-reports/pepcom-gallery/) for some amusing proof.
Virgin is the airline that calls you a guest and lights its interiors in purples and reds instead of fluorescent white. The roomy leather seats all have cupholders and remote controls for the touch-sensitive LCD screens that tap into a number of entertainment channels. Movies, TV, radio, music, much of it free, too -- as are the headphones. Just the thing for a trip to CES.
But some things never change. The flight was half an hour late, so by the time we checked in to our hotel, we only had time to grab our venerable Nikon Coolpix 990 and an upstart Nikon Coolpix S510 we're reviewing and get to Caesar's Palace.
But our high tech travel adventure wasn't quite over, we discovered on our cab ride over.
Our cabbie turned out to be pretty interested in what we were up to. "You mean you cover digital photography?" he asked. When we confessed, he revealed he had a Casio (not a new one) with so many Scene modes he didn't know what to do with them.
"I just take the pictures on Auto," he said. "You think that's OK?"
We reassured him that the Scene modes were only there if Auto didn't work. "Forget it and have fun," we advised. He was grateful.
But it did make us wonder if we've hit some feature wall. When are cameras going to get smarter?
We learned that right away at the Kodak table (http://www.kodak.com) where we saw two new digicams (there are more) that got right to the heart of the matter. We'll have more to say about them later, but compact V1073 and the Z1085 IS both offer Kodak's new SmartCapture technology, a special shooting mode that includes smarts like automatic settings of scene mode, macro, white balance, ISO and adds intelligent processing like edge enhancement, noise reduction and color correction.
You know, all the stuff you would do if you had the time and expertise. The concept is an old one at Kodak. You press the button, we do the rest.
The V1073 also revives Kodak's touch screen technology, first seen on the EasyShare One. During our quick demo it appeared sleek and responsive -- and well organized.
All of the new cameras capture HD video and Kodak's dock can output that video to your HDTV, too. Strangely enough nobody else can say that.
Two other products caught our eye at the Kodak table.
The ESP-3 All-in-One printer is a compact black version of the Series 5000 printers we've been reviewing. No LCD but a beefed up AiO Home Center software package that adds facial retouching to the package. Offering several levels (default, Low, Med, High) of the effect, it's based on Kodak research into what a beautiful face is: symmetrical, less blemishes, wider eyes, larger pupils, whiter teeth, skin tones. A prior version has been available to professional photographers in Kodak Pro software.
We saw an earlier version of the software at a briefing in San Francisco where our own mug was used to illustrated the wonders it can achieve. It ran slowly during the demo but it did blur blemishes and other skin detail. There was no effect on our eyes or pupils or the shape of our head. The changes were not as dramatic as Anthropic's Portrait Pro (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/PORTPRO/PORTPRO.HTM).
The other winner was a digital photo frame with WiFi that, coupled with a new Picture Mail application (which will be a free download for all Kodak picture frame owners), can transmit images from the frame to your EasyShare gallery. It will be available in 7, 8 and 10 inch models.
There was no shortage of digital frames. Two that caught our attention, however, were a test model from Parrot (http://www.parrot.com) and a very attractive model from Ality (http://www.alitypc.com) that uses Instant Messenger protocol to communicate with the Arity online service to share calendars and images, well, instantly.
Parrot's experimental device implements a new protocol called Near Field Communication that resembles Bluetooth without the pairing. Just wave your NFC device in front of the frame and they're paired. If that device is a cellphone, you can upload your images to the frame.
Just one catch. There aren't many NFC devices yet, we were told, and certainly no digicams (which rarely feature WiFi and even more rarely Bluetooth).
The Arity frame has WiFi so it can get on the Internet via your router and tap into the company's online service. But it also has a custom-built user interface accessible either with the remote control or by touching the frame itself (which is also a touchscreen like the ones we used on Virgin America). Using IM protocol, you can sync with Google calendar and instantly send an image from the service to the frame or vice versa.
Monitors illuminated with light emitting diodes promise a whole new dimension in color retouching from the LCD and CRT monitors we're been using.
For example, ViewSonic's $799 22-inch widescreen VLED221wm desktop monitor, features the world's first 12,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio in an LCD desktop display, according to the company. It can display 118 percent of the color gamut based on the National Television System Committee guidelines. In comparison, ViewSonic said, most CRT and LCD monitors on the market today only display 70 to 80 percent of NTSC's range of colors.
It supports a native 1680x1050 resolution and boasts a 5ms response time. The display is equipped with dual analog and digital inputs and integrated stereo speakers with a power consumption of just 38 watts.
Kodak wasn't the only company introducing new cameras. General Imaging (http://www.general-imaging.com), which is still new to the game, introduced a few new GE models and Fujifilm (http://www.fujifilm.com) was showing off its very attractive Z100fd, which updates the Z5fd.
The Z100fd offers ISO sensitivity up to 1600 with a 5x zoom lens and adds an interesting filing capability. You can tell the camera to save your photos into any of five default folders (like Travel).
Also exhibiting were Canon (http://www.usa.canon.com), Nikon (http://www.nikonusa.com) and Olympus (http://www.olympusamerica.com). While they weren't showing anything new for CES, they did have a few products we were interesting in finally getting our hands on.
First was Canon's new 70-200mm image stabilized L-class zoom lens. It has put a lot of the old non-IS version model on the used market. And our own review (http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php?product=999) proved it as sharp as primes.
But our visit with Lindsay Silverman at Nikon focused on the D300's Live View mode. Lindsay gave us a demo, switching to it from Continuous mode, and using it two ways: handheld and tripod mounted.
Handheld mode is a "Hail Mary," Lindsay said, appropriate for event photography where you've got to hold the camera away from your eye to get a shot. Focus isn't set until you fire the shutter, but you can compose the shot.
Tripod mounted mode does focus and even lets you magnify the focus target, which itself can be positioned anywhere on the scene just by using the navigator. That's perfect for shooting macro and seeing depth of field live without having to find the little DOF preview button on the front of the camera.
This is Nikon's first shot at live view technology. Lindsay admitted he wasn't sure at first what it would be good for, but he's found a couple of uses for it already and is confident Nikon users will find more.
We visited Sally Smith Clemens at the Olympus table where she graciously posed by the fish tank. Olympus still astonishes people with their waterproof digicams three years after they hit the market.
But we were there to get a lesson in the E-3's Live View mode. "What's the trick with the Focus Lock button?" we asked innocently. We can never remember. She showed us you can press Focus Lock in live view as if you were half-pressing the shutter button on a digicam and then press the shutter to get the capture. That shows you focus before you fire, but firing does take the time to refocus. But even better (here's the trick), you can keep your finger on the focus lock button and press the shutter button and the camera won't refocus, so you can catch live events with live view.
By the end of the evening we were stuffed with plenty of new information and a few things to examine in more detail on the show floor Monday and Tuesday. To clear our head, we took a stroll down the Strip to our barracks.
It was, of course, dark out, except for the lights of the Strip. But not just the lights of the Strip. Everywhere we looked, we saw the bright LCDs of digicams, some firing flash, some in Night Landscape mode. It was astonishing. There had probably never been so many cameras on the Strip before, we thought.
We took out the little (and it is little) S510 that we had relied on more and more during the evening to get our Pepcom gallery shots (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/ICES08/ces-reports/pepcom-gallery/). How would it do outdoors at night? You can see in the gallery, but we really could have danced all night with it.