A new 1.3-megapixel credit card-size camera offering print-quality images was released in Japan on Tuesday by Fuji Axia-, a division of Fuji Photo Film, in Tokyo.

Fuji's Eyeplate Mega, measuring 8mm (0.8cm) in thickness, is based on the Ultra-Pocket reference camera design developed by SmaL Camera Technologies.

The Eyeplate Mega is based on the second update of the Ultra-Pocket design, which can produce images of 1,280-x-1,024 pixels, said Romney Williams, executive director of business development with SmaL. Fuji has licensed the Ultra-Pocket camera components and specifications from SmaL, and will assemble and distribute the camera under the Eyeplate Mega brand.

Running on a lithium-polymer rechargeable battery, the camera can take as many as 1,000 photographs on a single battery charge, said Aimee Yoon, a SmaL spokeswoman. The camera recharges automatically when connected to a computer via a USB port.

The USB connector also allows users to download images from the camera to the computer, she said. The camera is compatible with the Windows and Mac OS X platforms.

The camera's internal 16MB of memory can hold 21 high-resolution pictures and 88 low-resolution pictures. The camera will ship with an SD (Secure Digital) memory card slot that allows users to add memory.

A compact plug-in strobe flash will ship at no extra cost with the camera, said Williams. The flash will be powered by its own AAA battery so it doesn't infringe on the camera's battery capacity, he said. "Fuji Film wanted to develop the smallest camera possible," which is why Smal developed the flash as an accessory that plugs in easily, Williams said. The introduction of a strobe flash overcomes a problem with the earlier version of the camera, which had difficulty taking photographs in dimly-lit settings.

Autobrite technology The digital camera also incorporates improved Autobrite technology from SmaL, which allows the camera to better adjust to backlighting and glare, Williams said. Autobrite technology uses sensors and a chipset to perform its adjustments, according to SmaL .

The first version of the camera, which measured 6mm in thickness, is included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's thinnest digital camera. It was capable of producing 1-megapixel images, he said.

Instead of trying to compete with companies offering high-resolution, feature-rich cameras, SmaL is trying to enter segments that other digital camera makers cannot hit, particularly in terms of size and weight, according to Williams. "We're not in the megapixel race," he said. "We are in the race to produce the smallest and most stylish lifestyle products. We're continually pushing the envelope on the thin form factor. That's where we see our strengths."

Thin factor The camera is aimed at three segments, he said. The first target segment is first-time digital camera buyers, who are looking for an entry-level camera as opposed to an expensive camera. The second is the segment of existing owners of high-resolution, bulkier digital cameras. "They're carrying those cameras only for photo opportunities, whereas they miss out on spontaneous events, so this is a companion camera," he said.

The third target segment is gift givers, as "the thin form factor amazes people," and makes for a good present, said Williams. US consumers bought 9.4 million digital still cameras in 2002, according to a research report by the Photo Marketing Association. Of that figure, 25 per cent of the digital still cameras were given as gifts.

The Fuji Eyeplate Mega camera, priced at ¥12,800 (£66), will become commercially available on July 14 in Japan and later in the US and Europe, according to Williams. Other cameras based on the Ultra-Pocket reference design will become available in the US through Fuji and other distributors later this year, he said.