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Top Tech Trends for 2009 Part III: Digital Cameras

In this third and final part of our series on the Top Tech Trends for 2009, we take a look at an area that continues to innovate at breathtaking speed.

By Barry Myers

With even consumer-friendly “point-and-shoot” digital cameras regularly reaching over 10 or 12 megapixels, the wars over megapixels (basically the higher the pixel count, the sharper the image) among camera manufacturers are essentially over. The good and bad news is that those of us who relied on this measure as a proxy for overall quality will now be forced to take a closer look at the many other features that digital cameras have to offer.
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However, as anyone who has recently walked into a camera store knows, this is not getting any easier. Innovation in the digital camera industry may have moved away from megapixels but it has not slowed down. Let’s take a look at where that innovation has taken us…and where we can expect it to go in the future.

Connected Cameras

You only need to look at Part I of the Top Trends series to see that the long talked about vision of a connected world, where all your devices are capable of accessing the Internet, is slowly becoming a reality. You can be sure that the camera manufacturers have taken notice.

As the big brands like Canon, Nikon, and Sony seek to quench consumers thirst for sharing their photos, more and more cameras will feature built-in wireless connectivity to seamlessly link to a variety of Web-based services and devices, like set-top boxes, gaming consoles, TVs, and, of course, digital picture frames.

But why stop there? Sony’s Cyber-Shot DSC-G3 (where do they come up with these names?) includes a browser that allows users to not only instantly upload their photos but directly access popular photo-sharing and social networking sites on the Web.

(Be aware, however, that using the Wi-Fi capabilities on your camera can be a battery-depleting activity. If this is a function you see yourself using a lot, be sure to research the battery life when deciding on a new camera.)

HD-ready

According to a recent study by InfoTrends, a research firm covering the digital imaging industry, the point-and-shoot camera is now the most commonly used device for capturing memories on video. Thus, it should come as no surprise that camera manufacturers are increasingly focusing their energies on upgrading their products for improved video capture.

Already all the major players (Kodak, Canon, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and Fujifilm) are producing cameras that can capture video in mid-level HD (720p) but only Canon’s Powershot SX1 IS captures full 1080p HD video.

Mind you, the SX1 IS will set you back around $600 and the 720p models will still produce some amazing videos and pictures that will look awesome on your HD television. If you don’t have to be the first kid on the block with a camera that captures full HD, you can take heart in knowing that, like everything else in the digital world, prices will drop as we approach the 2009 holiday season.

Where’s Waldo? Now You Know

You probably already have GPS in your car; now you can have it in your camera too! So-called “geo-tagging” is making a slow but steady advancement into digital cameras. If you travel a lot, or have trouble remembering where you were when you took a picture, geo-tagging is a convenient way to help you identify the different locations where your photos were shot.

Nikon's new Coolpix P6000 features a built-in GPS unit that automatically attaches geo-tags to your pictures, identifying the precise location where each shot was taken. Upload the photos to Nikon's "my Picturetown" website and you and your friends can re-trace your travels!

The Computerization of the Camera

Of course, Web connectivity, HD video capture, and GPS capability all require that digital cameras have a whole lot more processing power than ever before. Fortunately, today’s digital cameras are incorporating ever more powerful microprocessors, allowing them to continually improve things like picture stabilization, multi-zone auto focus, scene processing, and face detection.

With Sony’s new face detection technology, SmileShutter, you can wait until the camera detects a smile from your subject before you actually take the shot. (Although how long that might take will depend on factors other than the cleverness of the camera!)

Even as smile detection becomes a mainstream feature, we are already seeing the next evolution of this technology in the so-called “beauty modes” that are popping up on the latest models. Beauty modes purport to be capable of removing pimples, wrinkles and other blemishes from your subject. Of course, if beauty modes work as advertised, you need to ask yourself if you really want pictures of you and your friends looking twenty years younger. (Yes!)

For all of us who fall below the hobbyist level, this increased computing power is also vastly improving a camera’s auto modes with what’s being called “Smart Auto” or “Intelligent Auto”. This feature will automatically detect the scene you’re framing and a pick a mode for you. Panasonic introduced this on some models in 2008 and so far the reviews have been positive.

Store More

The other critical piece of the puzzle, particularly with regard to HD capture, is storage. Here too, the improvements are coming fast and furious. Sony recently introduced the DSC-T700, with an impressive 4GB of internal memory. That’s enough for 1,000 high-res pictures without the need for any additional storage cards.

But if you do use a storage card, an entirely new format, the SDXC, was introduced at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The SDXC card will increase storage capacity from 32 GB up to 2 TB. A 2 TB SDXC memory card could store an estimated 100 HD movies or 480 hours of HD recording or 136,000 fine-grade photos!

SDXC will not only provide more storage but faster processing speed as well. Faster speeds will enable professional-level recording in compact cameras and camcorders, and will increase the number of frames shot per second. SDXC cards should be available this spring.

Best of the Rest

The megapixel wars may be over, but the zoom wars are still going strong. Olympus and Kodak are leading the charge here, with incredible 26x and 24x optical zoom cameras available in the next few months.

You can also expect to see the iPhone factor impact the digital camera industry this year, with more cameras sporting nifty touchscreen capability. Sony was the first mover here and Panasonic recently introduced its first touchscreen compact, the Lumix DMC-FX520. (This would be a great name if Run-DMC were the spokespeople, but it otherwise joins the ranks of confusingly named digital camera models!)

Fujifilm took a leap forward late last year by unveiling a prototype of a 3D camera as well as a series of peripherals (3D printers and monitors). However, this technology is currently proprietary to Fujifilm and could well sport a very high price tag. As of now, no other brands have announced plans to follow suit with their own 3D technology.

With the point-and-shoots now rapidly matching DSLRs in terms of performance, it’s perhaps not surprising that Panasonic recently introduced its “Micro Four-Thirds” format, creating an entirely new digital camera category that lies somewhere between the two.

With all this innovation, there is one thing we can be certain of: digital camera technology will continue to leap ahead faster than we could ever have imagined and it will be easier than ever to take pictures like a pro!

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.
 



Comments:
Comment by dana, posted 2/5/2009, 9:55 AM:

What a great site, so informative!!
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