Kodak's Advantix Preview falls short of being a true hybrid digital/film camera. A complex and somewhat poorly implemented design, the camera seems more of a grudging acknowledgement that photography is moving from film toward cheaper, simpler and smaller digital-imaging alternatives.
The Advantix Preview adds two features to what is an otherwise standard Advanced Photo System (APS) point-and-shoot. The camera offers immediate viewing of your picture on a color LCD and yes/no tagging for future printing. While the camera doesn't conserve film-every picture is exposed-the approach eliminates downstream print costs for duds and provides a measure of the immediate feedback users get with most digital cameras.
It is disappointing that Kodak did not include digital frame storage. Had the company added memory to the system, the user would have a true crossover product that captures VGA electronic images and also handles traditional film.
The Advantix Preview uses a conventional point-and-shoot exposure path with an electronically controlled zoom optics assembly above the APS film plane. Digital capture for preview is the significant twist-a chore managed in the optical viewfinder, and independent from the film exposure path.
Using a series of prisms, the viewfinder image is directed to a beam splitter, which sends the scene simultaneously to the user's eye and to a Sanyo charge-coupled device with 736 x 490-pixel resolution. A motor-driven gradient filter wheel placed over the CCD controls exposure levels for digital capture. Supporting the CCD are three other Sanyo chips-a sensor-timing generator, an image coprocessor and a semi-custom ASIC that also plays a larger role in system electronics.
A Panasonic 8-bit microcontroller manages the interface from viewfinder CCD subsystem to the remaining camera electronics. Those parts include a second Panasonic 8-bit controller, a Microchip mixed-signal device, a Casio LCD driver chip and an analog ASIC for electromechanics command and control.
A maze of connectorized and hand-soldered flex circuits, rigid boards and discrete wires shoehorns the distributed electronics assemblies into awkward and limited spaces of the camera enclosure. The sophisticated film handling and mag-stripe recording inherent in the APS film standard drive high levels of mechanical complexity in the camera.
On top of diverse electronics technologies, screws, pins, springs, motors, gears, levers, latches and other molded plastics contribute literally hundreds of components to the total part count. Evidenced by the credit-card-size digital cameras now available (see www.eetimes.com/sys/uth/OEG20020610S0050), going filmless brings much-needed simplification.
While a detailed cost-of-goods sold estimate was not performed on this unit, $30 to $40 on top of a comparable APS-only camera is likely given the Preview feature additions (LCD, sensor, support chips, optics). At a street price of about $200, the Advantix Preview camera is now priced close to 2-Mpixel, 3x-zoom digital cameras, but falling prices may further undercut the value of staying with film.