New Inexpensive Cameras From Umax and Ixla

Who wouldn't be tempted by a sub-US$200 digital camera? New models from Umax and Ixla are both suitable for shutterbugs on a budget. If top quality isn't a priority, the Ixla SuperPro 640's $100 price tag is especially attractive, but you'll get more out of the $199 Umax AstraCam.

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For first-time users, the stylish AstraCam offers a top optical resolution of 640 by 480 (enough to e-mail photos or post images to a Web page), and up to 20 seconds of voice annotation per image. You can adjust the white balance for an indoor or outdoor setting (choices include modes optimized for a cloudy sky or for fluorescent light, among others). While you can't view your photos instantly -- there is no LCD -- a status panel indicates the number of images you've shot and the remaining battery life. The AstraCam can store up to 46 shots in its 4M bytes of memory. The rounded edge on the camera's body allows you to hold it comfortably with your right hand, and its svelte design allows it to slide easily into your pocket.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat dissatisfied with picture quality. Likely due to the camera's low VGA resolution and lack of a built-in flash, indoor photos often came out grainy and dark. And even a slight camera movement while snapping a photo created blurry pictures. Outdoor images were clear and crisp, however.

Downloading photos to your PC is easy via an included Universal Serial Bus cradle. Umax also provides an AC adapter, two rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries, Umax's own software for importing and organizing photographs, and Adobe's PhotoDeluxe for editing and enhancing images.

Priced at just $100, Ixla's Digital SuperPro 640 garners more attention for its price than its pictures. It's the cheapest digital camera we've seen, but you get correspondingly few features. This bare-bones model has 640-by-480 optical resolution and can store up to 30 photos in its 2M bytes of internal memory.

Unlike AstraCam, the SuperPro accepts four alkaline batteries and has a built-in flash, which improves image quality by creating brighter photos.

Still, picture quality remained disappointing, with flat colors and obscured details. You can brighten dark pictures by using the bundled Ixla Photo Easy image-editing software, but details remain lost. And even with the flash, many indoor pictures looked much fuzzier than those shot with the AstraCam. But outdoor images looked fine.

Like the AstraCam, this camera lacks an LCD viewer. Its status panel displays the number of shots taken, flash mode, and warns you when the battery is very low. The camera comes with both a USB and a serial port, and comes with cables for both. (If you have a choice, USB moves the photos more quickly.)Zoom InThough the Ixla's price is tempting, you may be disappointed with the photos.

Despite its own indoor hiccups, the Umax should please digital camera beginners without breaking the bank.


PRO: Compact; voice annotation, rechargeable batteries.

CON: No flash, produced grainy and dark indoor photos.

VALUE: An affordable entry into digital photography--just make sure you have good light.

Street price: $199

Umax Technologies



Photo Easy Deluxe with Digital SuperPro 640PRO: Very inexpensive, comes with built-in flash.

CON: Low detail on images, fuzzy indoor shots.

VALUE: Bare-bones digital camera for buyers on a strict budget.

Street price: $100

Ixla USA



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