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Sony took advantage of the International CES tradeshow which ends tomorrow to launch 7 new digital cameras. There are 4 ultra-compact models and 3 compact ones, with 6 of them being refreshed models of existing line-ups and Sony’s first ultra-compact ultra-zoom. Megapixels are being pushed to 14 now for most lower-end models where people count megapixels more than anything else, or at least that is what Sony’s marketing department thinks. The more advanced models instead use 10 megapixels back-illuminated CMOS-sensors which are said to provide superior performance in low light and can be read much faster, allowing rapid burst rates, HD video-recording and a number of clever features unique to Sony.  A new minor development is that Sony is now accepting SD and SDHC memory cards as well as its own Memory Stick Duo cards in all 7 of these digital cameras.

The most interesting model is the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5V. This model is based around a 10 megapixels CMOS sensor which can shoot at 10 FPS and capture 1080i HD video at 1920×1080 @ 60i FPS. This is one of the smallest ultra-zoom ever produced with an ultra-wide 10X optical zoom lens equivalent to 25-250mm in 35mm terms packed into a 1″ thick body. This is an extremely versatile zoom range suitable for most photographic subjects.

The HX5V has advanced image stabilization and a sweeping panorama function. The sweeping panorama feature takes advantage of the high-speed read-out of the CMOS sensor to quickly read up to 100 images while the camera is being panned. The camera then assembles slices of these images into a 7 megapixels panorama while avoiding to slice across moving subjects by adjusting the slice width as needed.

A unique feature of this ultra-compact is its built-in combined GPS and compass which records both location and orientation to allow viewpoint visualization from within Google Earth. The camera also uses the GPS to figure out which time-zoom the camera is in, avoiding manual setting each time a time-zoon is crossed. This sounds obvious but you’d be surprised to see that most GPS-enabled device still ask for the user to manually enter the time-zone. The Sony specifications on this model is brief but we already know that this model offers limited manual controls and shutter-speeds up yo 30s.

The slim sister of the HX5V is the Sony Cybershot DSC-TX7. This extremely slim camera is 3/4″ thick and features most of the HX5V’s technology. It has a stabilized 4X optical zoom lens, equivalent to 25-100mm which is quite a nice range, particularly for indoor and architecture shots due to its ultra-wide-angle reach. What it lacks compared to the HX5V is a built-in GPS-and-compass combo and manual controls. It does gain a larger 920k pixels touch-screen measuring 3.5″ diagonally. Due to the slimmer size, the TX7 uses a smaller battery and which is rated at 230 shots-per-charge, instead of 310.

The Cybershot W310 and W330 are more standard ultra-compact with a 12 megapixels and 14 megapixels sensor, respectively. They are each equipped with a stabilized wide-angle lens with the W310 going from 28-112mm and the W330 going from 26-105mm, both nice ranges for 4X optical zoom lenses. These two models are point-and-shoot models with the capability to record VGA-resolution movies. Even though this is refresh of existing models, it is very nice to see that new lenses continue to see wider which is extremely useful when shooting in tight corners. The performance of which high-resolution sensors remains to be seen but should be able to produce images suitable for rather large prints at its base ISO of 80. On all these cameras ISO can be manually set up to 3200. Ideally a larger sensor camera is required to shoot at light-levels which require such high ISO sensitivities.

Two of the compact models introduced are the 14 megapixels Cybershot W370 and W350. These models are nearly identical except for there lenses with the W350 being the ultra-wide model and the W370 being the long zoon one. The W370’s 5X optical zoom lens is equivalent to 26-105mm while the W370’s 7X optical zoom is equivalent to 34-238mm. Which one is better depends largely on subjects being photographed. Indoor, architecture and landscape shots generally would be better suited by the W350 while sports and street photography may work out with the W370 better. Given the type of audience of such compact cameras, I would guess the W350 would fit more often then the W370.

Both W370 and W350 are more advanced than the slimmer W310 and W330. These compact models feature 720p HD video recording at 1280×720 @ 30 FPS and the original sweeping panorama implementation which uses constant size slices to compose the 7 megapixels panorama. The LCD screen on the W370 measures 3″ which the one on the W350 measures 2.7″. Both screens have the same number of pixels (230K), so this difference is rather minor.

The last camera released today is the entry-level Cybershot S2100. This is an extremely simple low-cost compact camera which has a 12 megapixels sensor, 3X optical zoom lens equivalent to 35-105mm and runs on standard AA batteries. Since it also takes SD/SDHC memory cards, the S2100’s has one of the lowest total cost of ownership on the market, an important position to gain new digital camera buyers.

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