If Santa's feeling both flush and photogenic this year, a new digital camera by Ricoh is worth a look.
The Caplio RR1 costs $699, but given the functionality it's a good deal.
First, the camera is shirt-pocket-friendly at roughly 5 inches wide, 3 inches high and an inch deep. But in spite of the size, it offers four-megapixel resolution.
A pixel is a picture element, and four megapixels is the resolution of the newer digital cameras used by Associated Press news photographers.
What it means is that you can print out a finely detailed 11x17 image that most folks couldn't tell from a continuous tone film photograph.
Not all photos require that kind of detail (or eat that much ink when printed) and the camera offers the user a choice of resolutions. It also offers a monochrome mode suitable for copying documents.
For still photographs, the shutter options include time-delay and continuous shooting for stop-action series. There's a built-in flash and a 10.8 digital zoom effect. (The optical zoom is 3x).
Storage is on an included 64-megabyte SmartMedia card, and the camera adds an additional eight megabytes in hardware memory. You can either view your shots through a traditional optical viewfinder or through a pop-up LCD display that you can twist 180 degrees for the best viewing angle.
Interface to the PC or Macintosh (software for both is included) is by USB cable. If it were a film camera, the ISO setting (a measure of sensitivity to light) would be 150, 200, 400 and 800.
Just as with much more expensive cameras, you can associate sound with the photos, but Caplio goes beyond a 10-second caption description. In "sound" mode, the camera becomes a digital voice recorder capable of storing about two hours of audio. The camera ships with both audio and video cables.
Video? Sure -- the camera also functions as a video recorder, able to shoot about five minutes of QuickTime video on the standard storage card, 11 minutes if you go for the optional 128-megabyte card. You can also view stills on a television set. If you want to do some pre-editing, the camera has an on-board cropping utility.
Power comes from a rechargeable lithium ion battery.
The camera is full of nifty little touches, including two shutter releases, one on top for when the camera is being aimed horizontally, another on the side for vertical shots. A nice little key pad helps you navigate menus and settings.
Although anything with a 159-page manual could hardly be called "point and shoot," the camera has a solid, intuitive interface and is ideal for the serious hobbyist. It should also spark some interest at newspapers wishing to equip reporters.
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