Modest Upgrades from Kodak and Olympus

Two-Megapixel Cameras

Eastman Kodak Co. and Olympus America Inc. just might have the best track records for producing quality digital cameras. They release more models than any of their competitors, and their products frequently rank among the best on the market. The companies' latest two-megapixel offerings, the Kodak DC290 and the Olympus C-2020 Zoom, are well equipped with 3x optical zooms, rechargeable batteries, and synchronization sockets for external flashes.

But despite these strengths, neither camera will set the world on fire, each being no more than an incremental upgrade to a model released last year. The DC290 is the DC265 with a higher-resolution CCD; the C-2020 Zoom is the C-2000 Zoom with the ability to record QuickTime movies. Further dimming their brilliance, the images these cameras produce can't match the quality of those produced by Nikon's Coolpix 950.

Everything Old Is New

The Olympus C-2020 looks awfully familiar-the CCD, the resolution, the optics, even the housing are the same as the C-2000's. The only noteworthy new feature is the camera's ability to record 15-frame-per-second, 320-by-240-pixel QuickTime movies. It's lots of fun, sure, but considering the camera's limited capacity-an 8MB card fills up after 15 seconds-and inability to record sound, it's more of a novelty than a genuine productivity feature.

The Kodak DC290 is the meatier upgrade, adding 700,000 pixels to the image sensor. But despite the box's claim of 3.3-megapixel resolution, the true resolution of the CCD is 2.3 million pixels-only about 9 percent higher than that of the C-2020 and the Coolpix 950. Like the C-2020, the DC290 captures splendid detail when an image is printed at high resolution, but the quality declines when you zoom in. By contrast, a typical image captured with the Coolpix 950 looks good no matter how close you get.

The DC290 ships with a 20MB memory card; can be connected to your Mac's USB port; and provides a terrific, user-friendly menu system. But you can't focus on objects any closer than a foot away, which for the purposes of macro photography might as well be a mile. And the DC290 is slow, taking about 8 seconds to process a picture, compared with 2 seconds for the C-2020. Finally, the LCD preview is choppy and dark, a problem common in Kodak cameras.

The C-2020 would be a winner if it weren't for a couple of technical flaws. If you neglect to remove the lens cap before turning on the C-2020, the camera beeps at you and refuses to take pictures but doesn't tell you why. (Olympus should take a cue from the DC290, whose cap pops off automatically.) And unlike most cameras, the C-2020 fails to ask you to set the internal clock the first time you use it. Once you finally notice that your photographs are stamped with the wrong time and date, good luck figuring out the elaborate button sequence (18 clicks in all!) required to access the clock function.

Macworld's Buying Advice

The first three-megapixel cameras have already hit the shelves, and in the mad scramble that has ensued, who'll come out on top is anybody's guess. In the meantime, those who purchased the Nikon Coolpix 950 can rejoice. For nine months, this camera has maintained its spot as the best on the market. By comparison, the capable Kodak DC290 and Olympus C-2020 Zoom are merely runners-up.

Two-Megapixel Cameras

Eastman Kodak Co.

Kodak DC290C

3.5 mice

Company's estimated price $899

Contact: 800/235-6325,

http://www.kodak.com

Dimensions (w x h x d, in inches) 4.6 x 4.2 x 2.54Weight (with batteries, in ounces) 16CCD resolution (in millions of pixels) 2.30Maximum image size (in pixels) *1,792 x 1,200Default memory 20MBRemovable-media format: CompactFlashProductOlympus America Inc.

2020 Zoom

3.0 mice

Company's estimated price $799

Contact 800/347-4027,

http://www.olympus.com

Dimensions (w x h x d, in inches) 3 x 2.9 x 2.6Weight (with batteries, in ounces) 13CCD resolution (in millions of pixels) 2.11Maximum image size (in pixels) *1,600 x 1,200Default memory 8MBRemovable-media format: SmartMedia

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