And here's why they call it the SuperDisk camera -- a full-sized 3-1/2 inch floppy diskette drive that can use either the 120MB SuperDisk diskettes or regular 1.44MB DOS formatted diskettes. The camera appears as another removeable floppy drive letter under Windows.
The SD4090 uses a 7.2v 1250mAh lithium battery that closely resembles those used in the Sony digicams. It comes with a combination rapid charger and AC power adapter. A completely dead battery can be fully recharged in about one hour and twenty minutes.
On the charger is an LED "gas gauge" that indicates when the
charge has reached the 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% levels. A fully charged battery will
let you shoot about 200 pictures, half with the flash.
On the top is the combination Mode/Power dial, the microphone and the shutter button.
The controls are simple and clearly marked. Most all of the camera's features are
changed or set via onscreen menus except for the Recording Mode and the Flash Mode
which have their own dedicated buttons. The large 4-way jog switch lets you
navigate the menus, make selections and is also used to adjust the volume during
playback. And you'll have no problem hearing the audio through that huge speaker.
A typical play mode screen showing the last picture taken, the battery status,
time and date, image number and the resolution/image size.
To quickly locate any desired image for playback you use the thumbnail display mode.
Navigate through the thumbnails with the 4-way jog switch and then highlight the
picture to display full screen.
Steve's ConclusionIt's nice to see someone other than Sony finally produce a digicam that can use conventional floppy diskettes. It's even nicer that they also made it capable of using Imation 120MB SuperDisk floppy diskettes. For around $10 you can store over 400 hi-res 1280x960 images on a single disk. Unfortunately it also means that the camera must be physically large enough to accomodate a 3-1/2" floppy drive. The SuperDiskCam is considerably larger and heavier (one and a half pounds without battery) than most current digicams which decreases its "totability" factor significantly.
Due to its size and noise, yes, it is a noisey camera, it does not make a very good "candid" type of camera. The floppy drive makes enough noise but if that's not enough you can crank up the volume on the speaker as it has its own simulated "motor drive" sound effect when you push the shutter button. For those who can deal with the size and noise factors, this is still a good camera. Like the Sony Mavicas the SuperDiskCam has got a huge 2.5-inch color LCD and a rechargeable lithium battery pack that lets you shoot hundreds of pictures per charge. The 3x optical zoom lens covers a useful range from medium wideangle to moderate telephoto (34-102mm) and has good closeup capabilities down to half a foot or less even though it lacks a dedicated macro mode.
I found the SuperDiskCam to be rather slow at initial startup taking around fifteen seconds to verify the diskette and extend the lens before it was ready to capture the first image. If you forget to slide the lens cover lever it promptly displays a message on the LCD telling you to open it. When sitting idle the camera goes into sleep mode to conserve the battery and you have to press the shutter button to wake it up, this takes a good ten seconds or so. Storing captured images took anywhere from three to eight seconds and never seemed to be consistently the the same length of time.
Indoors the big color LCD is excellent and even outdoors it is highly useable even in direct sunlight. There is an adjustable LCD backlight but turning it up or down too far throws off the ability to judge the exposure. The exposure compensation is a bit radical as it only allows for full stop increments, most cameras today have 1/3-stop settings. I found myself consistently boosting the compensation one or two stops to the plus side when shooting flash pictures. They looked OK on the LCD (or a TV screen) but were much darker when viewed later on a properly color corrected computer monitor. There is a spot metering option but unfortunately it is not indicated on the LCD viewfinder so using it is rather awkward at best.
I would prefer to have an optical viewfinder to allow the camera to be used in the "up against your face" mode that most of us are accustomed to. This not only alleviates the problem of seeing an LCD in high ambient light conditions but it also makes it much easier to follow rapidly moving subjects. It does take a while to get used to holding a camera out in front of you instead of pressing it up against your face. This camera is certainly big enough to facilitate an optical viewfinder so I hope they consider it for future models.
The SD4090 has problems with automatic white balancing. Quite often I could shoot the same scene twice and get different results in the overall color balance. I saw this not only in flash pictures but outdoors in the bright sunlight as well. I ended up with quite a few pictures where the blue sky had a more than obvious green tint to it. This was easily correctable in software but to the novice digi-photographer it could be very annoying. The camera does have a manual white balance option that works very well and it also has presets for sunny and halogen (indoor) lighting.
This camera does have some very nice features. It is one of only a few digicams capable of capturing motion and sound at the same time. If you like sending 10 seconds movie clips to Grandma showing the baby walking it is great. And once the kid starts talking then Grandma will be able to hear it as well as see it. The sound capture can also be used in conjunction with the still image capture so keeping notes attached to a picture is really simple. The audio is recorded in mono so it isn't that much of a disk waster and it's recorded at high frequency so it's quite clear. Hearing your recorded audio is no problem thanks to a really big speaker on the back of the camera.
If you like recording your buddy's golf swing the SuperDiskCam has got a burst recording mode that lets you capture up to 16 images in 640x480 resolution at one- half second intervals. Another interesting feature is the time lapse recording mode. You can set the camera to capture an image once a minute or as long as once every 24 hours so it could be used as a NannyCam if concealed in the book case.
Downloading the images from the camera to the computer was a breeze thanks to a high-speed USB port. If you're looking for a serial port connection forget it, this camera doesn't have one. Once you install the USB drivers your Windows 98 PC treats the SuperDiskCam as if it was just another removeable floppy disk drive. You don't need any special download software, just fire up Explorer and drag and drop your files to the hard drive. Transfer speed was excellent requiring about one second per file to copy them over, so even if the 120MB diskette is completely full it should only take a couple of minutes to transfer the whole thing. Panasonic has included a file conversion utility that lets you take ordinary JPG image files and sticks the necessary header information into them so that they can be uploaded and displayed on the camera.
All things considered this is a good camera but for its somewhat dated one megapixel image resolution I think that it has been priced too high at $995 MSRP. I expect to see this camera dramatically reduced in price as it is up against the likes of Sony who will undoubtedly be doing some price slashing when their new multimegapixel Mavica models arrive shortly. The overall image quality is good but not great, pictures often lacked color saturation (depth) that is common to other cameras in this resolution class.
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