I'm finding it harder than ever to get excited about digital cameras. Call me jaded but it seems like every few weeks a tech maker comes out with yet another new model, promising higher-resolution photos than the last. What are the latest ultrathin point-and-shoot models promising? Six megapixels (dots)? Seven? More importantly, can anyone really tell the difference? The answer is probably no (unless it's your job to know this kind of stuff).
That's why Sony's press event for its new Cybershot lineup was such an eye-opener. I had very low expectations but Sony managed to surprise me. The pictures taken with one of four new models—the T100 (the T20, W80 and H7 were the others in the lineup)--were stunning. They were mainly of the indigenous flora in Hawaii: a close-up of water droplets on a leaf, an exotic brush-like plant set against a blue sky, grey-green fern fading into a morning mist. They were unlike most digital photos in that the colors weren't just vivid and bright; they represented a natural color gradient of in-between shades that normally show up on film but not in digital pixels. Being a cynic, I couldn't trust that I was seeing raw photos so I later approached the photographer and asked if he’d touched up the photos. Nope, he said, they were shown as he had originally shot them.
Another reason I think anyone would have been impressed: The photos were displayed on Sony’s Bravia high-definition TV screens. Even on the big 40-inch screens, these photos were sharp and there was none of the blurring around the edges you often see with enlargements. This is exactly the sort of synergy between products that Sony needs to do but hasn’t been very good at. It demonstrates that Sony is finally moving in the right direction.
Plug these cameras directly into your giant, high-definition TV (with a DVI-D cable) and voila! Your photos in dazzling high definition. Fact is, the resolution, or picture detail, of photos taken with practically any digital camera sold in stores these days should be good enough to view in a high-def format. Two megapixels is really all that you need. But most cameras aren't equipped to perform what's known in tech-speak as "high-definition output." Translation: The digital signals sent from your camera to a TV via the thin black cord will normally show up as less-than-satisfying images--nothing like the crisp footage of a high-end video camera. Looks like Sony's solved that one. (The Cybershot DSC-T100--the four on the left side in the picture above--is a slim, wallet-sized gizmo that shoots 8-megapixel photos and is expected to sell for about $400.)
Another nice feature: editing photos without a PC. You still can’t do too much—creating fish-eye effects or converting a color photo to black-and-white, for example. But it shows how Sony is putting TVs—not PCs—front and center in the digital era.
There are more improvements in store for these gadgets. None of Sony's new cameras connect with an HDMI cord, which allows for two-way high-def digital signals. Sony engineers tell me they decided against HDMI cords since most high-def TVs still use older technology. Remember that the PlayStation 3 videogame console relies on an HDMI link. That should give you some indication of what you can expect from the next generation of cameras. (Editing your pics with just the camera and a TV set?!!!) If you’re like me and just got a new camera, then you might hold out for the next-gen hardware. If you’re shopping around now and own a high-def flat-screen TV, I’d recommend checking out a Son