Digital demons

Introduction

When it comes to digital cameras, more megapixels and bigger zooms abound, but are they yet good enough to replace film cameras? Olympus has added a couple of new models to its range, with some groundbreaking technology. The Camedia C-700 is billed as the world’s smallest 10x zoom camera. This zoom level is impressive, as you can get good pictures from a distance without any digital-zoom trickery. Digital zoom is a bit of a con anyway – it just blows up the image in the same way as Photoshop. All about image
The 4040 has only a 3x zoom, but it makes up for this by having a massive 4.1-megapixel CCD. This means that the picture resolution is 2,272-x-1,704 pixels – allowing for fantastic image quality at up to A4 size on an inkjet printer. You could even blow it up to A3 and still have acceptable quality. There’s also an enhanced-quality mode that outputs a 3,200-x-2,400-pixel file, but this is an interpolated format. The controls on both cameras are similar, with simple access to the features. The C-700 has a pop-up flash, while the 4040 has a fixed flash. Both models can do the usual gimmicky things – such as record sound and MPEG movies – but they concentrate on being good at the basics. Dark horse
The 4040 uses the Olympus Super Bright Zoom lens, which is a F1.8 lens. It also has a clever noise-reduction system that’s good for low-light shots. First, it takes the shot – for example, a city night-scene. This kind of shot shows up the noise from a CCD in the worst way. In the noise-reduction mode, a second shot is then taken with the shutter closed. The picture from the second shot should be all black, but again there will be a noise pattern. The camera looks at the second shot, maps the noise from the CCD, then corrects it on the original shot. The results are amazing – though it does take a little longer. Both models use a USB cable to connect to a Mac. If you’re running Mac OS 9.1 or OS X, no drivers are required. The cameras simply mount on the desktop, and let you drag pictures to the hard drive. In OS X, it works even more politely, automatically downloading files to a chosen folder, and even making them into an HTML page if needed. Pretty impressive. Battery life is always an issue with digital photography. Freedom from film is great, but if you’re constantly worrying about flat batteries, then so what? Traditionally, rechargeable batteries have been the answer to this, but keeping track of battery power is a hassle. Some models can use regular AA batteries – which are more convenient, but they don’t last long and cost a fortune. A better way is to have a lithium rechargeable cell, ideally one that can be charged by plugging power directly into the camera. This method works well, but you still have to keep track of the charge in the battery. Like mobile phones, the displays only give a vague indication of charge. Olympus has taken a completely different tack, using non-rechargeable lithium batteries. This gives the best of both worlds, though there are still some drawbacks – £20-a-go for a start. However, the battery life is amazing, far better than I had expected. I first tried the C-700 back in mid-June. I took it on holiday for a week, then on my brother’s stag weekend, then to his wedding – and the batteries lived on. I was taking pictures two months later before the batteries ran out. I wouldn’t mind paying for them, because it means I’m not constantly worrying about when they’ll run out. And when they do, I have spares ready to go. Perhaps it just appeals to my rampant consumer sensibilities. However, a straw poll of the office showed I was in the minority here.
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