Katherine Boehret

Digital Cameras With Room for New Views

At a glance, the most obvious physical improvements on today’s digital cameras compared with those bought five years ago are slimmer size and larger LCD viewing screens. Other than that, they don’t look a whole lot different.

But this week, I tested two physical features that I’ve never seen on digital cameras.

I used the $430 Nikon Coolpix S1000pj (nikonusa.com), which has a mini projector built right into the camera itself. This extra characteristic lets you take pictures and, by pressing a button on the camera, project them onto any nearby surface, in old-school slideshow style. The projected image can measure up to 40 inches, growing or shrinking as you walk away from or toward the surface onto which the images are projected.

I also tried the $350 Samsung DualView TL225, which had two LCD viewing screens—including one on the front side. This front screen lets the subjects of the photograph see how they look as the photo is being captured, raising the concept of instant gratification to a new level. The outward-facing LCD can also display a smiley face or cartoon animations to encourage children to smile. It also can be used to display a timer’s countdown clock so you know exactly when the photo will be taken.

Technical Advances

These two compact cameras also feature less obvious technical advances that aren’t quite as eye-catching as a built-in projector or dual LCD screens.

Each camera can capture photographs with over 12-megapixel resolutions, and the Nikon and Samsung have 5x and 4.6x wide-angle zoom lenses, respectively.

Both cameras have built-in automatic scene-detecting capability, meaning they can analyze a scene to determine which shooting mode would work best. And they allow the user to edit images directly on the camera like brightening an image or rotating a photo.

The Nikon sticks to one traditional 2.7-inch LCD screen with separate buttons that control functions like menu, timer, deleting and playback. And, like many digicams, it accepts a SecureDigital (SD) memory card.

samsung_mossber

Getting your good side: Samsung’s DualView TL225′s front LCD shows people how they’ll look in photos.

In somewhat unusual fashion, the Samsung requires a tiny microSD memory card. The viewing screen on the back of the Samsung is a generous 3.5-inch touch LCD that covers close to an entire side of the camera; the front-side LCD is 1.5 inches.

I focused my testing on the unique physical features of each camera: the Nikon’s built-in projector and the Samsung’s two LCD screens. I tried them out over the course of a week and used them in real-life situations including at a birthday party and at the Army 10-Miler, an annual run in Washington, D.C.

When the Nikon’s projector isn’t in use, it functions like a regular camera—albeit an expensive one at $430. Nikon says this price is largely due to the cost of its built-in projector. Until now, most people who wanted portable, mini projectors bought them as standalone products; for example, the Pico Pocket Projector from Optoma Technology Inc. is listed for $230 online at Best Buy (BBY).

Subway Show

I took the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj along to the Army 10-Miler, capturing photos of runners as they ran near the National Mall. Later on, while I waited with hundreds of people to get on the D.C. Metro subway system, a friend and I looked through photos from the day by projecting the camera’s images onto a concrete wall.

At first, passersby thought the slideshow images were put there by the race organizers, and they commented about how neat it was that the race images already were posted for everyone to see.

The D.C. Metro was an ideal spot to use the Nikon’s projector because of its low light and white concrete walls. Outdoors, the projected images weren’t quite as easy to see.

I also used the projector in a house and in my office, setting it on a table and turning off the lights for the best view. A tiny remote comes with the camera if you want to sit back and give your friends and family a slideshow. Videos taken with the camera also will play in video format.

To start the projector, I pressed a button on the top ledge of the camera, which immediately covered the lens and turned on the projector’s bright light. A slider button adjusts focus. The image size can be as small as five inches and as large as 40 inches, and it will project from about six feet away. Nikon says the camera’s projector will work for an hour before its battery runs out.

nikon_mossberg

Nikon’s S1000pj displays images and videos with its brightly lit projector—just right for a subway slideshow.
Surprise, Surprise

The $350 Samsung DualView TL225 is black with an accent color that comes in purple or orange. Its front-side LCD screen isn’t visible when the camera is turned off, making for a surprising experience when you take pictures of friends who can suddenly see themselves.

A similar but slightly lower-quality and less-expensive version of this camera is available in the $300 Samsung DualView TL220. This camera’s back LCD screen is a half-inch smaller than the TL225′s and not nearly as bright. Other notable differences include the TL220′s plastic casing compared with the TL225′s aluminum.

Clowns in Action

This front LCD performs various functions in addition to showing people what they look like. A scene called Children puts animated cartoon clowns on the outer LCD in hopes of making a child smile for the camera. Another setting puts a large, yellow smiley face on this LCD when the shutter button is pressed down halfway. And when the camera’s timer is set, the outer display counts down, showing “3, 2, 1″ until the image is captured.

I used this Samsung camera with two LCD screens to take pictures of friends who were all surprised and delighted when they saw themselves on the camera before the photo was taken. At a birthday party, the clown animations made even a group of people in their 20s laugh.

Some Downsides

The downside to this display screen is that it’s to the left of the camera’s lens, so if you’re taking a close-up shot of someone, they will appear in the photo like they’re glancing away slightly.

Another negative of this display is that it blacks out a split second before the photo is taken, so as long as you can hold the pose you saw of yourself on the screen, you’ll look fine.

It’s too early to know whether the innovations in these cameras will catch on, or be viewed over time as expensive gimmicks.

If these features become more common, hopefully the prices will come down and more consumers will be able to enjoy them.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

Write to Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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