Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report
I missed a lot at CES, unavoidably. For example, it was hard to find Booth 22200 when the banners on the ceiling pointed to 22100-22175 on one side of the hall and 22300-22350 on the other. But there were fun places to pause between here and there. One was Nisus, which makes a little camera that shoots 4-megapixel still pictures, records and stores MP3s, shoots digital movies (even at VGA resolution) and costs just $199. They were doing brisk business at the booth when they weren't busy goofing around. The same went for the folks at NeuTrino Technologies, who have a complex and useful Windows-based desktop software product. I tried to convince them to re-deploy their stuff for Linux but didn't get my hopes up, even though it was clear they take Linux seriously.
It also was fun to see all the LCD and plasma TV screens, which generally looked impressive but continue to be priced way too high for most of the market--but not so high that the haven't made the market for conventional TVs, even "HDTV-ready" ones, terminal. That's why prices for old-fashioned picture-tube TVs are falling toward zero. If you're still into TV, now might be a good time to buy one. I saw in a recent Consumer Reports that the top-rated TV of any type, including plasma and LCD, was a Sony WEGA tube model. (The KV-34XBR910, to be exact.)
As you might guess from the photo galleries I publish along with articles like this one (see also, Linux Lunacy Geek Cruises (2001, 2002 and 2003); OSCon; Apachecon; and Digital ID World), photography is one of my preoccupations. In fact, I began my journalism career 33 years ago as a newspaper photographer and reporter. Since then my specialty has become candid photography, although I enjoy a nice sunset a much as the next lens wrangler.
But I've avoided getting a good digital camera; partly because they're still too expensive and partly because my practical needs are outside the scope of just about everything I've seen from the digital camera makers. For one thing, I shoot a lot of presentations at trade shows and other events (such as Linus' talk on the last Geek Cruise), and I need a long zoom lens to get tight shots of presenters and presentations (an enormous help for note-taking). I also shoot a lot of candids that take advantage of the flip-out viewers that are standard on camcorders and increasingly rare in digital cameras.
My base requirements are simple: 1) long zoom, 8x optical at the minimum; 2) flip & pivot display; 3) small size, so it's easy to carry in a laptop bag or a large pocket; and 4) ability to shoot good pictures in low light. High resolution is nice to have, but not it's not a prime necessity.
So far, the only cameras that do all four of those things have been camcorders that also shoot stills. That's what you see in the archive links above. Most of those were shot with my Sony DCR-PC120BT or its stolen predecessor, the DCR-PC110 (nearly identical, except for the 120BT's BlueTooth, which, in the Sony tradition of hideous UIs, is unusable). The resolution is only 1.55 megapixels, but most of the time that's good enough for the Web. Its built-in processing has a lot of compression artifacts and the color is far from the best. But the Zeiss optics are excellent, and on the whole it does a good-enough job.
At both Macworld and CES I stopped by the Olympus, Canon and Nikon booths to see what they had this time around. The only camera that came close to meeting my needs was the Nikon Coolpix 5700. I loved the way it felt and the size, which is smaller than it appears--it's almost pocketable. But it's still a lot of money I don't have, so I think I'll wait.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal