Samsung ST550(TL225) technology article on the New York Times


There are celebrations when a war ends, but sometimes confusion, too. The sense of purpose, the unifying morale lift, maybe even the economic boost, are over.

That was certainly the case during the Great Megapixel Wars of 1996-2007. During these years, the world’s camera companies fought doggedly for our hearts and minds, using megapixel count as a weapon. “Ours takes 6 megapixel photos!” “Ours takes 8!” And we marched to their orders, buying a new camera every other year just to keep up.

Now that that war has ended (the megapixel race has pretty much stopped at around 12) the camera companies find themselves flailing for new sales points. Cameras these days have more bells and whistles than a marching band: image stabilizers, superlong zooms, hi-def video, waterproof cases, face recognition, smile detection, even blink detection.

This month, though, some kind of line has been crossed. Two new cameras from Nikon and Samsung don’t just tinker with the camera formula, they rewrite it. One adds a second screen; the other adds a built-in projector.

Actually, Samsung’s DualView TL225 and TL220 cameras introduce two radical elements: a screen on the front and a gesture-and-tilt vocabulary for controlling the thing. (The TL225, priced at $350, has a 3.5-inch back screen, brushed-metal body and HDMI jack for a hi-def TV; the TL220, $300, has a 3-inch screen, plastic body and no HDMI.) What draws the most attention, of course, is that 1.5-inch front screen.

When the screen is turned off, it’s invisible. It vanishes completely into the camera’s smoky-dark case. When you turn it on (by tapping that empty spot with your finger), however, it’s capable of performing several ingenious stunts.

The obvious one is framing self-portraits. On ordinary cameras, that’s a matter of guesswork, or of handing the camera to passing strangers and praying they won’t just run away with it. On the DualView, you can see precisely how the shot is framed, how your expression looks and whether you’ve got spinach in your teeth.

Actually, why not use it even when you’re not taking self-portraits? Shouldn’t everyone have some say in what your pictures of them look like?

When you dial up Kid mode — one of the camera’s 13 canned sets of scene settings — the screen does something else clever: it displays a crude Japanese-style. cartoon animation. (The camera comes with a clown animation; 20 more are available as free downloads.) It’s supposed to capture the attention of younger subjects, so that they face the camera.

It works like a charm (except in bright sunlight, where it’s nearly bleached out). Even older children are captivated, if only by the presence of a video screen on a pocket camera. Close-range photos sometimes reveal the telltale off-axis look of a child who was looking at a spot beside the lens, not into it, but it beats calling out, “Tyler! Hey Tyler! Look here! Hey Tyler!” for the 14th time.

The little front screen can also display a countdown in self-timer mode, current flash or macro settings, or a smiley face when you press the shutter, to cue your subjects when it’s time to pretend to be happy.

The question is: do self-portraits and child shots occur frequently enough to justify the higher price of this camera? (Rival touch-screen cameras cost $50 to $100 less.)

Before you answer, there’s more invention in the DualView than just the second screen. The huge, bright touch screen works really well, but what’s new is how you can control this camera, quickly and precisely, by tipping it and drawing on its screen.

For example, you draw a big X on a photo to delete it. You draw a circle, clockwise or counterclockwise, to rotate it. In playback mode, you advance to the next picture either by flicking your finger across the screen, iPhone style, or by giving the camera a little shake.

Cooler yet, you can switch modes — to movie mode and back, for example — by twitching the camera up, down or left while pressing a button with your thumb. It takes a couple of minutes to master, but it’s a genuine advance in the evolution of gadget controls, and wow, is it cool.



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