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Technology Review

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A camera that sheds light on photographyWhile Sony is a newcomer to the market for digital single-lens reflex cameras, there is much that is familiar about its first offering. The lens mount and many mechanical parts of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 come from a discontinued camera made by Konica Minolta, which recently abandoned the camera business.

Sony, however, says that it has used its extensive expertise in electronics to completely revamp and improve the camera's sensors and microprocessors.

The A100 will be available next month with an 18-millimeter to 70-millimeter zoom lens for about US$1,000. Buyers who don't want the lens can save about US$100. Other lenses and flashes are also on the way, including three high-end lenses developed by Carl Zeiss of Germany.

In addition to being fully compatible with most Konica Minolta Maxxum mount lenses, the A100 has an improved version of a technology pioneered by Konica Minolta that minimizes blurring at low shutter speeds or when using telephoto lenses. Electronics rapidly shift the camera's 10.2-megapixel sensor to counteract movements of the camera in the user's hands.

From Sony's engineers, the camera gained an image processor that analyzes dark and bright areas of photos and automatically adjusts exposures to prevent details from disappearing.

New trick for old phones: Making free aclls online

Internet calling services like Vonage bridge the analog-to-digital divide by letting you use old-fashioned telephone handsets to make online calls, cutting long-distance fees. But even Vonage and its ilk look expensive next to Skype (www.skype.com), which offers free calling from one computer to another, anywhere in the world.

The Skype USB Phone Adapter, available from D-Link for about US$70 from many online and offline retailers, connects a conventional phone to the USB data port of a Windows PC (it does not work with Macs). You can then make Skype calls without using an awkward computer headset. To reach other people who have Skype, you can use the service's instant-messaging-style software to initiate a call or you can assign speed dial codes to your Skype contacts and dial them directly from the handset.

The adapter, model DPH-50U, includes a jack and cable for plugging into a standard telephone wall socket, so you can use one handset for both free Internet calls and standard calls. If you want to cut the landline completely, Skype sells credits that let you make calls to traditional phones, and can set you up with a standard number for incoming calls.

For music lovers, a gadget's gadget

Yes, it's yet another gizmo to carry around. But the Boostaroo Revolution aims to make other gizmos better: It amplifies and improves the sound of iPods and other digital players.

The Revolution is a small device, about the size of a cigar, that runs on two AAAA batteries and has a 1/8-inch audio-in port and two 1/8-inch audio-out ports. Plug any audio player into one end and the Revolution amplifies and improves the signal coming out the other end. The extra audio-out port lets you share your music with a friend.

Essentially the Revolution makes your music sound sharper. It may take an audiophile to appreciate the finer points of this US$60 device, which is available now, but the overall difference with and without the amplifier is noticeable to the ordinary ear. An MP3 file recorded at fairly low quality was transformed from a muddy mess into a listenable audio track. Using a pair of standard headphones, even music downloaded from the iTunes Music Store sounded slightly better.

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