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Olympus flashes digital cameras

The company focuses on the masses with a new line of digital cameras--smaller, lighter, cheaper--and a complementary photo printer.

Olympus America introduced a new line of digital cameras that are smaller, lighter, and less expensive than previous models, as well as a 'personal' photo printer for use with digital cameras.

The new cameras will offer the same image quality as Olympus' previous line of cameras but will include enhancements that should make them more versatile and broaden their appeal beyond traditional PC users.

Olympus says that pictures taken by the new cameras can be viewed on a television with the use of a built-in video-out connector. This connector also allows images to be taped on a VCR. Users without computers can store pictures on the VCR tape instead of a computer's hard drive.

Additionally, the new cameras can store images on a removable 2MB or 4MB SmartMedia storage card. The storage cards enable users to take panoramic shots by "stitching" together as many as 20 shots for one large photo. Picture storage is limited only by the number of removable cards one has, although higher quality images take up more storage space.

Because digital cameras can transfer photographs directly to a PC for viewing and retouching with the use of special software, the market for the devices is expected to expand rapidly. Marketing research companies such as International Data Corporation forecast that the digital still camera market will grow to 15 million units annually by 2000.

Camera vendors and PC manufacturers alike are betting that digital cameras will be the tool of choice for shutterbugs.

Intel has announced guidelines for new low-cost digital cameras in an attempt to make these devices as commonplace as printers. Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and other major companies will support the guidelines. (See related story)

Olympus is offering two new digital cameras--the D-220L and D-320L. The D-220L offers an image resolution as high as 640 by 480 pixels, the D-320L 1024 by 768 pixels. Pictures can be viewed on a built-in 2-inch LCD screen. Also, both cameras offer selectable image quality (lower resolution means more pictures can be stored), exposure control, and four flash modes.

Olympus is bundling photo-editing software from Adobe and multimedia presentation software with both new cameras.

In related news, Olympus introduced a color photo printer that it claims offers print quality equivalent to a 2,400-dpi (dots-per-inch) ink-jet printer. Most ink-jet and laser printers can achieve only a 600-dpi resolution.

When connected to the new Olympus digital cameras, the printer can create an index page showing up to 30 photos for archiving purposes and provide reprints of photos still stored in the camera. The printer is expected to be available in October for a price of $399.

The D-220L digital camera is expected to have a street price of $499, the D-320L $699. Both are expected to be available in September.