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The digital camera market is something of a paradox. Digital cameras have been one of the hottest consumer electronic items for the past seven or eight years, and continue to sell by the million over the world. However despite this, many manufacturers are finding it increasingly hard to turn a profit. The problem is that the market is virtually saturated with low-cost, high-performance cameras, and consumers are spoilt for choice. In order to make a sale, manufacturers are cutting prices while at the same time offering new advanced features to temp consumers to upgrade from their existing camera. The profit margin on compact cameras is extremely low, and this is the reason that several big-name brands, including Konica-Minolta, Kyocera and Hewlett Packard have thrown in the towel and withdrawn from the digital camera business altogether. There are a couple of other companies that might well go the same way before much longer.
One has to wonder then at the wisdom of American industrial giant General Electric, which has recently chosen to enter the digital camera market and is now selling its small but growing range of cameras in Europe.
Under its new General Imaging brand, GE has launched a total of six cameras in three basic body configurations, ranging from the £60 A735, a 7-megapixel 3x zoom model running on two AA batteries, to the £139 E1235, which has a 12-megapixel sensor and Li-ion rechargeable battery. Apart from the size of the sensor, the zoom range and the power source, all six cameras have basically the same set of features, so today I'm taking a look at the 8-megapixe, 4x zoom E840s, which at £109 is the second most expensive model. As you can probably tell from those prices, they're not exactly competing with the likes of the Canon IXUS or Nikon S-series cameras. There is a more sophisticated model, the 10-megapixel touch-screen E1050, due out in June provisionally priced at £149, but for now GE seems happy to enter at the lower end of the market.
The initial impression of the E840s is certainly favourable. Despite its low price the camera is well designed and solidly made. It has an all-aluminium body finished in an attractive semi-matte and available in a range of colours including black, red, blue, silver or white (depending on territory). The overall design of the camera is very slim with rounded-off corners, somewhat resembling Casio's EX-S series. It measures 95.7 x 58.5 x 23.5mm (not 19.6mm as the spec sheet in the manual claims) and weighs just 95g minus card and battery, so it will slip easily, as these things so often do, into a shirt pocket or handbag.