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Digital camera quality at low cost

HP, Kodak, and Olympus strike a major blow against the low picture quality that has dogged sales of digital cameras.

A major blow was struck today against the low picture quality that has dogged sales of digital cameras, as three major companies released digital cameras that boast million-pixel resolution for under $1,000.

Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, and Olympus each introduced low-cost, high-resolution digital photography systems designed to shrink the gap between digital and traditional photography at the Photo Marketing Association show in New Orleans this morning. Konica is slated to make a similar announcement.

These "megapixel" cameras, while falling short of the resolution levels obtained by film cameras, significantly improve the graininess that has characterized much digital photography. Megapixel refers to the fact that these cameras can pack over a million pixels into a single image.

Analysts say that today's announcements may be the turning point in the widespread acceptance of digital cameras. Until now, megapixel cameras have generally cost over $1,000. The cameras unveiled today range in price from $599 to $899. Not only will these price points make these cameras more attractive, they will push prices on lower-end digital cameras to as low as $199, encouraging mass consumers to try them out.

"This is only the beginning," said Gary Peterson, an analyst with ARS. "These megapixel cameras are affordable, which justifies the consumer to buy them."

Olympus America introduced what is perhaps the most interesting new product with its $899 Digital Photo Studio, a product bundle made up of its CenturionS film-based camera and the ES-10 film scanner.

The CenturionS uses Olympus's Advanced Photo System film, which can be developed normally, or fed through the ES-10 scanner, where the images will appear as a digital contact sheet.

Digital photographs developed by the Olympus system offer 2.1 megapixels per image, a resolution that is close to the picture quality of traditional film.

Hewlett-Packard for its part came out with the HP PhotoSmart C20, a megapixel camera whose pictures, when printed on HP's PhotoSmart printer, appear as 3.5 inch-by-5 inch conventional photos. It is expected to have a suggested retail price of $699, and will be available this spring.

The HP PhotoSmart C20 comes with a television connection that allows users to preview or display photographs on their TV sets. The camera also features a color display to allow users to edit out unwanted shots.

Finally, Kodak struggled in announcing its megapixel offering, the Kodak DC 200, with 1152-by-862-pixel resolution. It's the same as the DC210, the company's current offering, without a zoom lens.