HOME Technology Nov 2009
Clever camera chameleons
Edgy innovations ahead
Compact camera companies have called ‘time out’ on the battle to cram more megapixels into less space in favour of adding value in other areas, including cuteness, robustness, battery life and improved speed and performance.

Canon and Panasonic are offering waterproof and shockproof cameras to compete with the ruggedised Olympus options and the next generation from Fujifilm and Ricoh aim to resolve image noise and poor dynamic range by combining two images to enhance detail.

Users already expect smart features including intelligent autofocus, optical stability, sound recording for verbal notes, macro or document capture, rapid fire shooting and higher quality short movies, which all used to be part of more expensive cameras.

Recent innovations include LCD screens on the front and back, smile detection, ‘party trackers’ that automatically snap people in a party situation, touchscreens, panorama stitching, faster shutter speeds and even inbuilt projectors.

Nikon is breaking new ground with the inclusion of a projector in its Coolpix S1000PJ compact camera,geared to share images more than a metre wide on a flat surface in a darkened room. It comes with a remote control unit ($799).

While high pixels enable larger prints to be made without reduction in quality, the game ends at 12Mpxels for most compact cameras. You can only cram so much into a small CCD (charge coupled device) or sensor before quality starts to deteriorate, particularly in low light situations.

Pixel squeeze over

Compact cameras typically operate at high ISO levels in low light to enable faster shutter speeds and combat camera shake. However that heightened sensitivity, combined with a high pixel count on a small sensor, means the signal to noise ratio can produce pixilation or grainy images.

The shift away from pixel squeezing means manufacturers can concentrate on other aspects of technology, for example the Coolpix S640 boasts autofocus response time as fast as any digital SLR, ensuring you get what you see when you click the shutter.

The DSLR (digital single lens reflex) market is also looking increasingly attractive, with less bulky, more affordable and professional offerings.

The quality and speed of the lenses makes a big difference as does the sensor size, which is typically 1200 percent larger on a DSLR than a compact camera. Lower pixel density means there a huge improvement in quality over a compact camera with the same megapixels.

Expect to pay $1000 - $1600 for a quality DSLR, particularly if you get two lenses with a good range from macro and wide angle to portrait and telephoto.

DSLRs are also in the process of downsizing with innovations from the Micro Four Thirds partners borrowing from the compact camera design and doing away with the need for an internal mirror.

The first pseudo-SLRs or hybrids are already available from Panasonic and Olympus and there’s a certain buzz about their video quality.
Some cameras are already offering high definition (720p) video which is a huge step up from the web quality of the past.

Reducing the size of components has also meant better battery economy although it’s still a good idea to have a spare battery charged and ready to go so your photo session isn’t over before you’ve captured the moment.

Photography has never enjoyed such popularity or such clever cameras. Not a lot of people like to admit it, but 90 percent of all photos are taken in the default full automatic setting. The fact is most branded cameras are so good at determining the right settings that they do a better job than even a knowledgeable person fiddling around.


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