Photo mask: Underwater photography for the average consumer usually entails picking a waterproof instant camera with a good wrist strap, or in extreme cases, encasing valuable equipment in some expensive one-of-a-kind plastic capsule, either way ending up with often disappointing results.

Just when you had given up on ever being able to savor the precious splashes of your summer memories, an innovation from California toy-maker Liquid Image is finally washing ashore in Japan.

The Underwater Digital Camera Mask being marketed by Hanwha Japan packages a digital camcorder, with the lens built-in just above the nose cover. The user simply wears the bright-yellow camcorder just like they would a regular mask. To take a photo or record video, simply push the shutter button situated above the right eye glass. A second button allows the user to select what mode to use, such as still photo or video. It includes a small LCD screen for viewing the footage, although the mask has to be taken off to check the screen. The mask also has a waterproofed enclosure for a USB plug and a mini SD card slot.

At the heart of the camera is a 3-megapixel CMOS sensor that takes still photos with a resolution of 2560×1920 and records video at 15 frames per second, with a modest resolution of 640×480. The camcorder takes two AAA (LR03) batteries, which are good for up to 30 minutes of recording. It has 16 megabytes of onboard memory and can accept mini SD cards up to 2 gigabytes in capacity.

The device is waterproof to a depth of 5 to 30 meters depending on the model, so snorkelers can certainly use it; Divers will need to check the specs more closely.

Considering its relatively limited photographic abilities, this is a novelty device, but one that offers a real chance for fun for only ¥12,800 — far less than specialty equipment — and that is more reliable than a waterproof instant. www.hanwha-japan.com/products/udcm301

Lasting memories: Mini DV tapes have served as the mainstay recording medium for digital camcorders for the past decade. Despite moves in recent years toward camcorders that offer more flash memory, SD card slots, built-in hard disks and even mini DVDs, Mini DV is still the preferred method for recording and reproducing high-definition video.

Hitachi is taking a trident to the venerable Mini DV tape with its new DZ-BD10HA camcorder. The device offers three different methods for recording video, none of them mini DV tapes.

The camcorder can record directly to either SDHC memory cards or its 30-gigabyte hard disk. The video can then be copied with the push of one button to mini Blu-ray discs, storing up to 4 hours and 20 minutes of Full HD (1920×1080 resolution). The mini Blu-ray discs (8 cm) can store 7.5 gigabytes of data, or just more than an hour of HD video. A variant of the discs with 15 gigabytes is on the way.

The camcorder can also take still photos, has a 7-megapixel CMOS sensor and employs image stabilization to compensate for shaky hands. Moreover, it includes the photographic gimmick/innovation of the moment, namely face detection, whereby the camcorder automatically focuses on faces in the picture.

The multiplicity of recording options looks like overkill. But real one-touch solutions for recording video to discs are worthwhile, when they work. The question is, do we really need another mini disc format when the expanding capabilities of solid-state memory cards show the promise of a much better job? For those who are already riding the Blu-ray bandwagon, even at ¥158,000, the Hitachi gadget is an attractive package. www.hitachi.co.jp

Powering up: Batteries, rechargeable or otherwise, fall into the “necessary” category; sexy they are not. But Sanyo Electric has done its best to polish the image of the humble products with its well-regarded Eneloop lineup of batteries and rechargers.

The electronics maker is plugging a few gaps in its range with new C- (LR14) and D-size (LR20) batteries to be released Sept. 12. Sanyo is bringing out a new, larger recharger at the same time to accommodate the larger batteries.

The NC-TGU01 can recharge all four sizes of Eneloop battery: the two new sizes and the existing AA (LR6) and AAA (LR03) models. It can cope with a mix of sizes (for example a pair of D batteries, a pair of Cs and four each of the AA and AAA batteries) at the same time. It will recharge the new D-size HR-1 UTG-1BP batteries in about 8.5 hours, with a recharging time of 4.5 hours for the new C-size HR-2 UTG-1BP. The HR-1 UTG-1BP has a capacity of 5700 mAh and will cost ¥1,680 each. The HR-2 UTG-1BP (3,000 mAh) is priced at ¥1,380. The new recharger will cost ¥4,980.

Portable power has become so cheap and dispensable that it’s easy to forget where all those used ordinary batteries go when you’re done with them. Reusable batteries are a clear choice not only for the environment but also for your pocket book. www.sanyo.co.jp


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