Saturday, May 9, 2009

FCAI Establishes Electric Vehicle Working Group

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The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has set up its own working group to examine the challenges faced by importers and manufacturers of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in Australia.

The group will primarily be concerned with assessing what plug-in electric cars will need in terms of infrastructure and what impact, if any, their unique configuration may have on things like registration and compliance.

“Many manufacturers have announced plans to release electric vehicles in the next few years and we must ensure that Australia is ready for this technology,” FCAI Chief Executive Andrew McKellar said.

“The working group will consult relevant external stakeholders as well as state and federal governments to ensure a nationally-consistent approach is maintained,”

FCAI spokesman James Goodwin told TMR that the final number of group members had yet to be determined, but around 20 representatives from various automakers had attended the working group’s first meeting earlier this week. The Electric Vehicle Working Group is likely to be made up of 6-8 manufacturer representatives.

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As the working group is only made up of FCAI members (who must be either vehicle importers or manufacturers), green energy groups such as Better Place and battery manufacturers and recyclers aren’t eligible to take part. They will, however, be consulted, as will all relevant government bodies.

The findings of the group will be especially important over the coming years, as a number of new all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars are slated to enter Aussie showrooms. Mitsubishi’s i MiEV (above) is one that’s virtually locked in for Australia, while we broke the news earlier this week that smart’s fortwo ed (below) is also coming Down Under.

smart fortwo ed

Add those to the Holden Volt and plug-in Prius that should be arriving here soon, and you’ve already got a decent number of cars that can run on electron power alone. The way in which these cars integrate into the Australian motoring environment may largely be determined by the findings of the FCAI’s working group.

The FCAI told TMR that we can expect to see the working group’s first recommendations released later this month, so watch this space.

Mini Turns 50, MINI AUnited 2009 Coming To Help Celebrate

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The first Mini rolled off the production line way back on May 8 1959, and today is the 50th anniversary of that event. It was a couple of years beforehand that the first prototype was tested, and later in August 1959 before it hit showrooms, but it’s the 8th of May that is widely considered to be the day Mini enthusiasts celebrate.

That first car, registration 621 AOK, still exists, being kept warm all these years at the British Motor Industry Heritage Museum, and it’ll be shown off at a number of commemorative events in 2009, including the International Mini Meet 2009.

To help celebrate old man (but young at heart) Mini’s 50th birthday, MINI AUnited 2009 will kick out the jams on May 24 at Harold Park Raceway in Sydney.

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Timed to coincide with with MINI United 2009 at Silverstone in the UK, MINI AUnited 2009 will feature a range of events designed to help enthusiasts take part in what is hoped to be the largest gathering of MINI cars and customers in the Mini’s storied history in Australia.

“This is a great opportunity for all drivers of the ‘New’ MINI and ‘Classic’ Mini to get together and celebrate the heritage of this fantastic brand,” Justin Hocevar, National Manager MINI said.

“What makes it really exciting, of course, that this is happening simultaneously with MINI United celebrations in the UK.”

MINI is also offering a range of MINI AUnited service packages at dealerships around NSW and the ACT to help enthusiasts get their classic Mini or new MINI ready for the big day, including the MINI AUnited 2009 Health-Check, Bling-Pack and Touch-Up packages.

All proceeds from the event will go to Barnados Australia, The Children’s Charity.

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An icon of the 60s, a time of cultural revolution and rapid social change, the Mini stands as one of the most recognisable and memorable vehicles in automotive history.

“Anniversaries are always a wonderful opportunity to look back at the past. But on days like today, it’s also good to look to the future. Therefore, our objective is absolutely clear: We are going to continue the success story of Mini and continue to strengthen it,” BMW Board member, Mr Frank-Peter Arndt said.

“Where is MINI going? Where will it be in 10, 20 or even another 50 years’ time? Perhaps it’s rather ambitious to look that far ahead, but one thing is certain, Mini is a brand not only with a great tradition, but also a fantastic future.”

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“Little did anyone know just how popular Sir Alec Issigonis’s car for the people would be – or that half a century later it would be reborn as the Mini and once again be built in Oxford,” said Dr J├╝rgen Hedrich, Plant Oxford’s managing director.

“This is a momentous day in the plant and car’s history. Everyone at the plant is proud to be part of both the heritage and the future of this car.”

The legend lives on in the new MINI, and while it is larger and bulkier – to cater, of course, to today’s needs and safety requirements – most enthusiasts seem to agree that the spirit of the original Mini remains strong in the 21st century’s own MINI.

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Events Table for MINI AUnited 2009

MINI MEET (2pm, gates open from 1pm)

Participants will meet at Harold Park Raceway for the MINI People’s Choice Awards to determine Australia’s favourite MINI where they will also have the opportunity to view the latest from MINI, including the new MINI Cabrio and Australia’s most fuel efficient and lowest CO2 emitting vehicle on our roads, the MINI Cooper D. The latest MINI Accessories and MINI Collection will also be available for all to enjoy.

MINI SKY (3pm)

As ‘New’ MINI and ‘Classic’ Mini drivers enter Harold Park they will be parked in formation to mark the 50th Anniversary. To capture the memory, aerial photography will mark the occasion.

MINI MOTION (4pm)

MINI Motion is set to be the biggest MINI Convoy Australia has witnessed. From Harold Park the convoy will head north on the City West Link, which will take the convoy over the ANZAC Bridge and past the Sydney CBD.

MINI ICON (4.15pm)

As part of MINI Motion the convoy of vehicles will take in two of Australia’s most iconic landmarks, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House creating a sight to behold for Sydneysiders and a lasting memory for those celebrating MINI’s 50th Anniversary.

MINI VISION (6.00pm)

The sights and sounds of MINI AUnited continue at the final destination but this time in front of the big screen, at the historic Blacktown Drive-In, where the legendary MINI movie, The Italian Job will be screened.

F1: Postcard from Spanish Grand Prix

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After nearly two months in Asia, Formula One returns to its heartland this weekend with the first European event of the championship, the Spanish Grand Prix.

Catalunya is usually regarded as a key turning point in the championship, with teams introducing their first true aerodynamic updates of the season after a long stint of fly-away races. This year is no different.

Ferrari, BMW and Red Bull are among the outfits set to make significant changes ahead of the race, potentially causing a further shake-up of the F1 grid.

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One of the teams not expected to make a leap in progress this weekend though is McLaren, with reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton concerned the track will not suit his car.

“After such a positive performance in Bahrain, we’re fully aware the characteristics of the Barcelona track won’t suit our car so well,” he said.

“In addition, we won’t have the bigger upgrades of some of the other teams as we introduced several new parts during the opening flyaway races, so it will be interesting to see where we sit in the order.”

Meanwhile in news elsewhere:

Formula One BrawnGP Jenson Button

Runaway championship leader Jenson Button says he will not take a conservative approach in a bid to maintain his lead in the title race.

Button said: “You’ve got to be aggressive at this point in the season.

“It might all go wrong, but you’ve got to be aggressive, because if you potter around and pick up the points, you haven’t got a chance when it comes to the end of the year.”

Renault’s Fernando Alonso has come to the support of rival Lewis Hamilton as the Briton continues to reel from the aftermath of the ‘lie-gate’ fiasco.

Alonso said Hamilton’s role in the saga will be forgotten if he is able to return to his winning ways.

“I think to really help the reputation or whatever has been damaged, I think will be very easy if he keeps winning,” he said.

“He will make people happy, his supporters and that’s a very important thing, doing our job. The maximum we can do is driving the car, winning races, winning championships. This is the best thing you can do.”

Finally, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa said his team will not write-off the season and could make a charge up the grid this weekend.

2009 Hyundai Equus Heading To US Showrooms

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With the US-market 2009 Hyundai Genesis and Genesis Coupe models proving to be the modest sales success the Korean carmaker had hoped for, its American dealers are clamouring to get hands-on with the top-tier Korean-market 2009 Hyundai Equus.

In the hunt for a luxury car that will help take the fight to the European marques, Hyundai has been looking very closely at exporting the Equus to North America. And with the big saloon set up for left-hand-drive, it’s already halfway there.

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To assist in the decision, Hyundai headquarters in Seoul will ship 100 Equus’ to US dealerships in mid-2009. It’s hoped that in doing this, dealers will be able to collect feedback from the buying public.

Hyundai has high hopes for the Equus. With 6021 Genesis sedans sold so far in 2009, according to April figures, and reportedly pulling buyers (if you believe the hype) from entry-level Lexus and BMW 3 Series models, Hyundai is hopeful that the same switch can be achieved at a higher level.

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But while there is promise for the Equus in the US market, Jeff Schuster, Executive Director of Forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, said Hyundai needs to consider if it might be trying to stretch the brand too far. With models in the Hyundai range starting under US$15,000, it would seem a valid concern.

Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute however said that buyers of upmarket vehicles now look for intrinsic value as much as badge reputation, and believes that there is room for a lower-priced fully-featured luxury car on the US market.

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We’re unlikely to see the Equus on Australian shores. As with the Genesis and Genesis Coupe, converting Hyundai’s luxury and sports models to right-hand-drive and launching a marketing campaign would make selling the business case to Hyundai bean counters a tough call in the current global economic mess.

2009 Nissan 370Z First Test Drive

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The new 370Z. It’s here, it’s as good as the hype suggests, it’s a blast at the wheel, and you can buy one now. And because I’m a lucky dog, I’ve driven it.

Lighter, shorter, lower and more powerful, the new Zed is a quantum advance over the out-going model. It is also blisteringly fast and superbly balanced. Almost everywhere you look at the new car, the shortcomings in the old have been addressed and improved.

On our first test drive through and beyond the Adelaide hills, we put it through its paces. Among the cold black hearts of the motoring press Nissan had assembled to pass judgment, the verdict was all-but unanimous - the new 370Z is a superb new contender in the sports coupe segment.

If you liked the old Zed, you will love the new one. And if your first experience of Zed-motoring is at the wheel of the 370, you’ll be asking yourself “how long has this been going on?”

So, where is it better (besides everywhere), and why will you like it?

More than just styling changes

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First off, it looks better. There is a slightly ‘hawkish’ line to the long bonnet and the kicked-up hip-line over the raised haunches - a nod to the styling of the original 240Z - adds athleticism to the lines at the rear.

So too the swooping line of the roof, which now has its highest point at the top of the windscreen. Up front, the ‘arrow-head’ lights (which I’d had reservations about when I first set eyes on net images) and the gaping fanged maw, give it real presence on the road.

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It would be hard to say it’s beautiful; it looks what it is - a well-crafted hammer.

Visibly smaller and ‘lighter’ on its wheels than the 350Z, the new car looks more the athletic road warrior than the highway tourer. And it turns heads everywhere. Heading back to Adelaide, the striking new colours of a wolf-pack of Zeds slinking along in file had the kids pouring out of school in the mid-afternoon absolutely gaping.

But there is more to the exterior than just styling changes. The bonnet, doors and tailgate are aluminium: alone giving a weight-saving of 32kg. Similarly, lighter materials have been used throughout the body structure and suspension underpinnings to save around 100kg overall. (That’s like having one less chunky passenger in the car, every time you drive.)

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In keeping with the old, and evident in the images, the engine is mounted far back in the chassis, giving a 53 to 47 percent front-to-rear weight distribution.

But the new 370Z sits on a shorter wheelbase (now 2550mm) than the outgoing 350Z - 100mm, or 10 centimetres, have been taken from behind the hip-point of the driver and the rear axle - and it has a wider front track (15mm) and wider rear (50mm). It has also had 8mm shaved off the height and the seats are 10mm closer to the ground.

the new car looks more the athletic road warrior than the highway tourer.

Under the whip, the shorter wider wheelbase and lower centre of gravity translates into noticeably superior handling.

The work bench

The interior was perhaps the Achilles heel of the 350Z, particularly of the first models to arrive. It certainly attracted the severest criticism. In the new 370Z, there are no such worries - things inside have been vastly improved.

Gone are the tacky plastics and strange little cubby-holes. In their place now a nicely-designed centre console (with sat nav as standard fitting) and a quality soft-feel dash. There are soft suede trims on the doors, heated seats, well laid-out controls and brushed metal trims and highlights.

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The three-cell instrument panel has larger, more easily read guages, and there is a cohesiveness to the way the interior elements work.

The flattened ‘kidney-shaped’ wheel feels just right: soft to the feel, neither too fat nor too thin. And the electric seats - leaning to soft but infinitely variable and nicely shaped for my frame - are trimmed in a non-slip leather for when things are getting (ahem) ‘exciting’ on a mountain road.

The 370Z also comes loaded: there are illuminated audio and telephone remote controls - and cruise control - on the steering wheel; Bluetooth phone connectivity is standard; there is also a Bose six-CD with radio (natch) and MP3 capability. And, to get things really hopping when you cruise through the ‘hood, there are speakers everywhere and two 115mm woofers in a 7.7 litre ported enclosure.

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Aside from the big step-up in quality, the second-most noticable change inside is that the 350Z’s slightly daft (from a usability point of view) strut brace that prevented you from carrying anything but a tooth brush, your pet rat and a packet of exotic prophylactics in the back, is gone.

Well, not completely gone, the brace now sits behind the seats, but the rear hatch of the 370Z offers a clear cargo area that’s good enough for two golf bags Nissan informs us.

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Some of the plastic fit back here is not up to the high standards of the rest of the interior, but, overall, for general fit and finish, for design ergonomics and for quality of materials, there is little to find fault with. Inside, the 370Z feels and works the way you’d expect a premium car to feel.

And as a work-bench for the serious driver, it is a very nice place to be.


One of the aces in the deck of the 370Z is its new-gen VQ37VHR 3.7 litre V6 engine. It’s a cracker this thing. Red-lined at 7500rpm, it will howl there effortlessly and willingly; throttle response is instantaneous and it can be brutally quick when kept singing in those upper registers.

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With peak power of 245kW @ 7000rpm (that’s 15kW more than the last of the 350Zs) and peak torque of 363Nm @ 5200rpm, this all-alloy 24 valve twin-cam unit (in which 35 percent of the components are all-new) is one of the best V6s you’ll drive this side of Christmas.

It is a superb unit, makes a fearsome bellow when working, and is huge fun when you bury the shoe.

We sampled both the seven-speed auto and the six-speed manual. Both are nicely matched to the characteristics of the engine. With steering-wheel paddles, 0.5 second shift times, and a high level of lock-up preventing torque converter slip, most drivers can probably post faster point-to-point times with the auto.

But me, I’d choose the six-speed manual every time. It requires a firm hand (like the older Zeds), but with a precise gate, short throw and with SynchroRev match blipping the engine (and rev-matching) on downshifts, it’s a blast firing from apex to apex on a twisty road.

For my liking, the shift doesn’t quite ‘centre’ strongly enough at fourth and third, but it might be just me - others weren’t complaining.

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With a light dusting of rain when heading out of Adelaide and with some long sections of tight corners and negative camber turning-crests, the superb chassis balance and predictable handling of the 370Z absolutely shone. You feel incredibly well-connected through the wheel and with what’s happening below, and can use the masses of power under the toe to tighten the line when really pressing.

The redesigned all-independent double wishbone front suspension and revised multi-link rear has less of the jiggle and none of the jarring of the first of the 350Zs (which, granted, improved over the life of the model).

2009 Nissan 370Z Z34

The new car however is simply a brilliant steer. Straight out of the packet, it offers genuine track-day handling.

Brakes too are nicely weighted and with good pedal feel. Up front, 355mm Akebono sport discs and four-piston calipers do the work while 350mm rotors and two-piston calipers look after things at the rear wheels.

The only shortcoming on the road is the tyre roar. It’s not overly intrusive and only noticeable on coarse black-top, but it may bother some. The fact is, it’s not really a short-coming. Nissan could easily stick some more sound deadening in there, but the weight would suffer, and so the sublime handling would also suffer.

The value equation

So, would we buy one? Would you buy one?

Let’s not kid ourselves, at $67,990 for the manual, and $70,990 for the auto, the 370Z is getting into serious cashola territory. And it is going to be out of reach for a lot of car buyers.

But, that said, in the context of its capability - and it is such a damn good drive - and in the context of its competition, it looks like very good buying.

The cheapest BMW Z4, with far less standard kit and less raw performance, is considerably dearer. The Cayman, which might be the 370Z’s natural enemy in outright performance, is stratospherically more expensive.

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So, yes, at the price you get a hell of a lot of performance and a hell of a lot of car. As Nissan Sales and Marketing General Manager Stephen Collins said, “The 370Z is alone in it’s class; in our view it is a very good value proposition.”

Lastly, that beautifully balanced engine is capable of returning some unperformance-car-like fuel consumption figures in normal driving. How does 10.5 l/100km for the manual, and 10.4 l/100km for the seven-speed auto sound?

Certainly, on this first drive, it’s fair to say that the legend of the Zed has a most worthy new flag-bearer in the new 370Z. While one of the cars on the media launch smellied its clutch, likely a one-off having had some fearsome treatment in very unsympathetic hands, the 370Z feels incredibly robust.

It also offers a stylish, blisteringly quick, balanced but raw-boned drive that sets it well apart from the common rung of sports coupes.

Nissan hopes to sell 100 a month. When word gets out, bugger the recession, that projection will likely be a tad conservative.

F1: Teams May Boycott 2010 Entry Deadline

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BMW Team Principal Dr Mario Theissen has refused to deny speculation the Formula One Teams Association may boycott the FIA mandated entry-date for next year in a bid to get the two-tier championship overturned.

FOTA is demanding urgent talks with the FIA over the new regulations in a bid to force a change before the May 29 entry deadline.

If a deal cannot be reached in time, rumours emanating from pit lane suggest FOTA will conduct an en-masse protest, forcing the FIA to reconsider its position on next year’s championship.

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Dr Theissen evaded the issue when speaking to Autosport, saying: “Sorry. This is part of the discussion we want to have with the FIA.”

The BMW Board recently approved the continuation of its F1 program despite the struggles faced by the team this year, but Dr Theissen believes sentiment could easily change if the FIA does not review the current situation.

“Apparently everybody is disappointed about the sporting results, but other than that there is no news and we have not discussed it since,” he said.

“What is important though is next year’s regulations. We really hope that there will be a one tier F1 next year, and not two classes of cars running to different regulations, because that would definitely affect our next internal evaluation. It would be a different environment.”

FOTA conducted a meeting at Heathrow on Wednesday to discuss the changes planned for next year, and reports indicate teams unanimously oppose the ruling to grant budget-capped outfits certain technical freedoms.

BrawnGP boss Ross Brawn said it was crucial for the teams to find a solution in consultation with the FIA.

“We want to put together some ideas in the next few weeks, and our goal is to reduce costs but also keep F1 as great as possible,” he said.

FOTA’s decision to provide a united front will no doubt be a boost to Ferrari’s hopes of finding a resolution. It comes only a week after FIA President Max Mosley told the Financial Times the sport can survive without the Maranello-based manufacturer.

Ferrari also appears to have found an ally in the drivers, with former World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso refuting Mosley’s suggestions, saying they cannot imagine an F1 universe without the team.

Canon PowerShot D10 Review

The Canon PowerShot D10 represents Canon’s first foray into the all-action world of adventure cameras. The Canon D10 is waterproof up to 10 meters / 33-feet deep, freeze proof from -10°C / 14 degrees Fahrenheit, shockproof up to 1.22 meters / 4 feet, and is fully protected from dust. More regular features include a 12 megapixel sensor, 3x zoom lens with Optical Image Stabilization, 2.5 inch LCD screen, and new Smart AUTO, Blink Detection and FaceSelf-Timer modes. The uniquely styled Canon PowerShot D10 has a recommended price of $329.99 / £379.00 / €449.00 - we find out if this is the perfect action camera.

Ease of Use

The Canon PowerShot D10 is certainly very distinctive, with toy-camera-like looks that you'll either love or hate. Our review model had a turquoise blue and silver colour scheme, which can be customised by purchasing an optional coloured Front Cover Set. This is a well-made digital camera with a sturdy metal body and excellent overall finish. It's just about small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, featuring a 3x optical zoom lens that's equivalent to a focal length of 35-135mm. The maximum aperture is a fast f/2.8 at the wide end and a respectable f/4.9 at the other extreme of the zoom range. The PowerShot D10 is quite bulky, measuring 4.9cms thick when turned off, making it more suited to a small camera bag than a trouser pocket, but it only weighs 190g without the battery or memory card fitted.

As with most Canon cameras that we've reviewed before, the PowerShot D10 is one of the better models around in terms of build quality. Even the tripod mount is metal instead of plastic and positioned centrally in-line with the lens. The only minor criticism is the lack of any handgrip on the front, with just a smooth, flat finish embossed with the Canon logo, making it more difficult to hold than it really should be. Also, changing cards or batteries is not possible while the camera is mounted on a tripod, because the compartment door hinge is too close to the tripod socket.

The Canon PowerShot D10 has relatively few external controls, 14 in total, which reflects the fact that this is quite a simple camera in functionality terms, with only limited photographic control on offer. All the controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology. As this camera will spend quite a lot of its life underwater, it thankfully has large On/Off and Shutter buttons, and the optical zoom is operated by buttons on the rear, rather than a more fiddly push/pull lever. We would have liked the zoom buttons to have been a little bigger though for quicker access in more unfamiliar shooting environments.

Located on top of the PowerShot D10 are the Print Transfer, Camera/Movie and Play buttons, plus the On/Off and Shutter buttons, and on the bottom are the metal tripod mount and sealed battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot. On the rear of the PowerShot D10 is the 2.5 inch LCD screen, with all the rear controls located to the right. You can directly access the various focus and flash options by clicking left and right on the navigation pad, whilst up and down are respectively used to set the exposure compensation and timer options. There is sadly no dedicated button for ISO speed, which is a commonly used feature, although you can work around this by optionally setting the Print Transfer button to one of 7 available options (which include ISO speed).

Virtually all of Canon's compact digicams offer a few little known but advanced functions, and the PowerShot D10 is no exception. These well-kept secrets, which you usually only learn about if you read the user guide attentively, include auto-focus lock (AFL), autoexposure lock (AEL) and flash exposure lock (FEL). To lock the focus on a subject for a series of consecutive shots, press the Left button on the four-way pad once while holding the shutter release depressed halfway. To lock the ambient exposure, do the same with the Up button. Flash exposure lock is achieved the same way when the flash is set to Forced On. AEL is available in Program, Quick Shot and Movie modes (you needn't hold down the shutter release for AEL when you are in Movie mode though).

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Front Rear

The Function/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad opens a sub-menu, which allows you to set ISO speed, white balance, colours, metering, continuous shooting and image size/quality settings. This system is a good compromise given the size of the camera's LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls, although using it underwater is rather less intuitive. Note that some of these options may be unavailable depending on which shooting mode you are in.

The 2.5 inch LCD screen has a wide viewing angle from left to right, adequate resolution of 230,000 dots, and is visible in all but the brightest of sunlit conditions. It offers twice the normal levels of brightness by default, with 5 adjustable levels available, and a 2mm perspex shield protects it against scuffs and fingerprints. Both the screen cover and camera body had a few fine scratches, though, after a couple of weeks of use. There is no optical viewfinder on this model.

There is a single sealed port on the right side of the Canon PowerShot D10 (when viewed from the back), which accepts both the USB interface cable required to connect the camera to a printer or computer, and the AV cable. There are no controls on the left side of the PowerShot D10. Interestingly the D10 features an innovative connection system on all four corners of its body, enabling you to decide where the supplied wrist strap or the optional carabineer, shoulder, or neck straps are attached.

The menu system on the Canon PowerShot D10 is extremely straight-forward to use and is accessed by a dedicated button underneath the navigation pad. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually that complicated. A row of 2 icons along the top of the LCD screen represents the Camera and Setup sub-menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about.

Due to the bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time. In the Shooting menu, you may do things like specifying the AF Frame (Centre or Face Detect AiAF, the latter of which can now recognise faces at sharper angles), enabling or disabling Servo AF (useful for tracking subjects in motion), adjusting various flash settings, and setting the new i-Contrast function (which is Canon's answer to Sony's DRO, Nikon's D-lighting and Olympus' SAT, and works by lifting the shadows while leaving the midtones and the highlights alone in a high-contrast scene).

If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and fairly easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Canon have chosen to cut costs and only supply the full manual as a PDF on a CD, rather than in printed format (there's just a short printed guide to the camera's basic features). Not much use if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does.

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Front Waterproof

The Canon PowerShot D10 offers Program and a comprehensive range of different scene modes - including dedicated Underwater, Snow and Beach modes - aimed at the user who just wants to point and shoot, making this camera particularly well-suited to the beginner. The new Smart Auto Mode automatically determines the subject's brightness, contrast, distance and overall hue, then selects the best scene setting from 18 possible modes, which is more than most competitors. The PowerShot D10 uncannily selected the right kind of scene mode for almost every environment that I tried it in. Strangely, Canon have not included their Easy Mode on the PowerShot D10, a useful mode for beginners which automatically sets every shooting option apart from turning the flash on and off.

The PowerShot D10 has a comprehensive Face Detection system that makes it easier to take great portraits. It detects up to 35 faces in a shot and adjusts the focus, exposure, flash settings and white balance automatically. The new Face Self Timer function is very useful for including yourself in group- or self-portraits. When you press the shutter release, walk into the scene, and two seconds after the camera detects that a new face appeared in the frame, the camera will automatically take the picture. Finally, Blink Detection can detect if a person in the picture has blinked and will automatically prompt you to retake the photo.

The Canon PowerShot D10 features an anti-shake system, called IS Mode - turn it on in the menu system and the PowerShot D10 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are three different modes. Continuous is on all the time including image composition, Shooting is only on when you press the shutter button, and Panning as the name suggests is best when using the camera to track a moving subject. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.

Leaving the anti-shake system on all the time didn't affect the battery-life too much, with the camera managing just over 200 shots before the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery ran out of power. As part of a belt and braces approach, the anti-shake system is also backed up by motion detection technology that assesses camera or subject movement. The latter is effectively what rivals would refer to as digital anti-shake, as, activated in Smart Auto mode, it boosts ISO to a level (between ISO 80-800) it considers will compensate without hopefully introducing too much noise.

The PowerShot D10 can record VGA video at 640x480 pixels at 30fps in the Quicktime .MOV format. Unfortunately sound quality is not that great, with the usual background noise that accompanies movies shot with cameras that only have mono sound, and there's no speaker on the camera to actually playback the sound. Even worse, you can't use the optical zoom at all during movie recording, just the 4x digital zoom setting. On a more positive note, the D10's anti-shake system is available when shooting movies, which helps to ensure less shaky footage.

Olympus mju 9000 Olympus mju 9000
Battery Compartment Memory Card Slot

The start-up time from turning the Canon PowerShot D10 on to being ready to take a photo is quick at around 1 second, and it takes about 3 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, helped by a powerful focus-assist lamp. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a very brief LCD blackout between each image. In Continuous mode the camera takes just 1.1 frames per second at the highest image quality, which is slow for this class of camera, although the shooting rate is at least maintained until your memory card is full.

Once you have captured a photo, the Canon PowerShot D10 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 9 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 10x magnification, and filter images by date, category, folder and file type. You can also view slideshows, delete, protect, resize, trim and rotate an image, and set the print order and the transfer order.

The Red-eye Correction options fixes red eye after you have taken a photo (useful if you forgot to activate it before) and i-Contrast improves the shadow/brightness areas, with Auto and Low, Medium and High settings (if you select i-Contrast before taking a photo, only Auto and Off settings are available). MyColors allows you to apply any of the 10 different effects on offer to a photo.

The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and white balance, and there is a small histogram available during playback which is helpful in evaluating the exposure. A third press of the Display button shows the image alongside a small, magnified section, useful for quickly checking the sharpness.

In summary the Canon PowerShot D10 is a distinctive, well-built point-and-shoot model that can be safely used in a wider range of conditions than most other digital cameras.

co-friendly initiatives focus on plastic gift cards

A handful of eco-friendly initiatives are giving new meaning to the term "green card." That's because organizations such as Earthworks System, Metabolix and even Apple are helping to transform hassle-free gift cards into eco-friendly fare.

The timing couldn't be better. According to the International Card Manufacturing Association, nearly 17 billion plastic cards were produced in 2006. And 10 billion new gift cards are created every year. Unfortunately, once spent, these gift cards are tossed into landfills, contributing millions of pounds of plastic to the waste stream. In fact, 10 billion gift cards have the potential to add 75 to 100 million pounds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material to landfills. That's because gift cards are often made from PVC -- a toxic compound that produces carcinogens and toxins including chlorine residue and heavy-metal pollutants. Even worse, when burned, PVC releases dioxins and gases such as hydrogen chloride.

"The current use of PVC for gift cards is problematic because PVC has a whole host of problems across its lifecycle," warns Mark Rossi, a research director at Clean Production Action, a New York-based consultancy that develops strategic solutions for eco-friendly products. "In fact, PVC is made from a toxic chemical called vinyl chloride monomer, which is a known human carcinogen."

Fortunately, efforts are underway to minimize the disastrous impact gift cards are having on the environment. Here are just a handful of ways companies are keeping plastic cards far and away from landfills.

Recycling works
Rodd Gilbert has been buying and selling plastics for nearly two decades, but it wasn't until launching Earthworks System in January of 2008 that he discovered an overwhelming demand for eco-friendly alternatives to poisonous plastic gift cards.

"I've been recycling for about 20 years now and not even realizing how green and trendy it was," says Gilbert, a plastics broker and founder of Earthworks System.

An Ohio-based manufacturer of 100-percent recycled PVC for card applications, Earthworks pioneered the Retailer Gift Card Return Program -- an initiative that encourages consumers and retailers to send back zero-value gift cards for recycling into earth-friendly, reusable sheet material.

Here's how the program works: When a customer redeems a gift card at the retail checkout, the card is retained by the retailer and returned to the Earthworks Recycling Center for shredding. Once shredded, Earthworks transforms the cards into reusable sheet material ready for making new gift cards. The new cards are loaded and used exactly like any other type of gift card.

To date, Gilbert says Earthworks has received over one million gift cards and fields more than 70 e-mails a week from gift cardholders interested in the program. "Some consumers send me one card at a time with really sweet notes like, 'Thanks for doing this,'" says Gilbert.

But it's retailers that promise to really put a dent in gift cards' damaging impact on the environment. Approximately five Starbucks locations in the Greater Cleveland area, for example, are participating in a pilot project with Earthworks so that the giant coffee shop chain can minimize its gift card contribution to landfills. And Gilbert says that a number of other retailers have shown interest in the program. "It's great that consumers are getting the word out but ultimately, I'd like to see Earthworks teach retailers that cards can be made from recycled content," he says.

Still, not everyone is singing the praises of a program that recycles gift cards rather than rids them from the planet altogether. According to Rossi, although a program such as Earthworks' is "an interim step in the right direction," there's much more to be done.

"You definitely want to prevent PVC from getting into landfills or incinerators," says Rossi. "But eventually those recycled products are going to find their way into the disposal system. So it's much better to come up with a more appropriate card design for the environment."
Bioplastics to the rescue
One such design is bioplastics -- a material derived from renewable sources such as vegetable oil and cornstarch rather than petroleum. Massachusetts-based Metabolix, for example, has developed a brand of biodegradable plastic called Mirel that decomposes in soil, compost and both fresh and salt water. Because Mirel is made from corn and uses renewable energy in its production, this innovative bioplastic promises to deliver huge environmental benefits. In fact, according to a study conducted by Bruce Dale, professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University, the production of Mirel reduces the use of non-renewable energy by more than 95 percent and provides a 200 percent reduction in greenhouse gases compared to the production of traditional petroleum-based plastics.

"The production of bioplastics can involve less greenhouse gases and less pollution," says Dr. Dale.

In fact, even big-name retailers are warming up to the concept of bioplastics. In December 2007, Target introduced gift cards made of Mirel in 129 of its stores across the country just in time for the holiday shopping season. And Dr. Dale notes that commercial interest in bioplastics products is "coming on real quickly."

Nevertheless, Rossi warns that "just because a [plastic gift card] is bio-based doesn't make it greener." Raw materials, production practices, disposal methods -- they can all have an impact on a product's overall eco-friendliness.

Eco-friendly e-commerce
In the end, perhaps the only sure-fire way of minimizing the impact of plastic gift cards on the environment is to bypass them altogether. Apple's wildly popular online music service iTunes, for example, lets users buy songs, albums, videos and audiobooks from the iTunes Store to send to anyone with a valid e-mail address. No plastic needed -- just a couple of quick keystrokes. After all, finding a gift in your e-mail inbox is a lot more eco-friendly than finding it in your neighborhood landfill.

What's the best way to pay the IRS?

Dear To Her Credit,
Hello, so here is my situation. I already owe $3,000 on credit card debt alone. Now I've just received a letter from the IRS saying I owe them $3,000.

My credit score is not great, and I am trying to improve it. How will this IRS thing affect my credit score if I make installment payments to them?

Another option I have is that my sister offered to put my IRS bill on her credit card. I don't want to that if it will ruin her credit. Her card has a limit of $12,000, and a balance of $3,000. She has very good credit.

What's the best way to pay this off and do the least damage to both of our credit scores? -- Yolanda
Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Yolanda,
First, make sure you actually owe $3,000! The Internal Revenue Service is not always right, believe it or not. It's worth getting a tax professional to look at it if you're not sure.

Assuming you do owe $3,000, your credit report will show the $3,000 debt whether you are paying it to the government or paying it through your own credit card. Andy Jolls, CEO of Videocreditscore.com, says, "Unpaid government debts will make it on to her credit report."

Moving the debt to your sister's card would keep it off your credit report. It probably wouldn't hurt hers significantly, assuming you make payments faithfully. With a credit limit of $12,000 and a balance of only $3,000, she could get a cash advance of another $3,000 to pay off your IRS debt and still only use 50 percent of her available credit.

I don't advise you to do that, however, for three reasons:

* The transaction fee is too high. "The transaction fee the government applies is 2.49 percent, which is way higher than the 1 percent rewards bonus most people are chasing by paying with their cards. This is why wealthy people with large tax bills don't pay by credit card," says Jolls. "Wealthy people know it's going to cost more, and in general they are better at staying wealthy."
* You'll probably pay more interest on a credit card. The IRS currently charges 6 percent interest. The rate varies, but it's almost always lower than most credit cards. (If you set up an installment plan with the IRS, you will have to pay a one-time fee of $105, or $52 if you set up an automatic payment with your bank. If you qualify as a low-income taxpayer, the set-up fee is only $43.)
* Relationships are important and irreplaceable. Your sister sounds very thoughtful and caring. She also sounds like she's been careful with her own money and credit. What if she pays your IRS bill with her card, and then you have trouble paying her back? Or what if you make payments faithfully, but not as quickly as she would like? If you only make the minimum payments on $3,000, you could be paying it off for what seems like forever. You're going to have to figure out how much of her balance is interest on your debt and pay her back for that. Another problem could come up if your sister needs to use her credit for something else. This could get complicated! You're better off keeping your debts separate and your relationships unfettered.

The best solution, of course, is to pay your IRS bill off yourself, as quickly as possible. Maybe you can raise money by selling something, working more, or cutting other things temporarily from your budget. If you've lent money to anyone, now would be a good time to let them know you need it back! And, of course, I have to hop on my favorite soap box and remind you to file a new Form W-4 with your employer if you usually get a tax refund. It would be terrible to pay interest to the government on one hand, while the government is holding your overwithheld taxes interest free on the other!

If you don't think you can pay your tax bill off quickly, set up a payment plan with the IRS. You can apply for an online payment agreement (OPA) on the IRS Web site.

Take care of your credit!