After megapixels: 10 new camera battlegrounds
22nd Sep 2009 | 15:00
Touchscreens, GPS, Wi-Fi, better image processing and more
10 weapons in the new digital camera wars
The digital camera market has moved beyond the number of megapixels on offer. Manufacturers seem to be finally accepting the race is coming to an end.
We've been hearing that this might occur for some time, but now it's actually upon us.
Mind you, that's not to say the digital camera market is performing poorly - Global Industry Analysts predict that 122 million units will be shipped next year with SLR models still in growth as users outgrow their current compacts.
"For a long time, megapixels seemed to be an easy way to market the latest cameras, and to a certain amount that's probably still true," explains Amy Davies, Staff Writer on PhotoRadar.com. "20 megapixels just sounds better than 10, no matter what the camera's other features are."
Last month, Canon launched a successor to its flagship PowerShot G10 compact camera - with several megapixels less resolution. The PowerShot G11 uses a 'high sensitivity' 1/1.7-inch 10MP CCD sensor, compared to the 14.7MP chip at the heart of the outgoing G10. Aside from Canon, other major manufacturers have refreshed ranges without upping megapixel counts.
"On the average compact megapixels start to become irrelevant once you reach a certain point, which I think consumers have begun to notice and this is why we're now seeing cameras with 'extras' such as GPS locators, front LCD screens, projectors and so on," says Davies. And that's not all – cameras can even store your images in folders depending on type, recognise different facial aspects and even show strangers how you want them to take a picture of you.
So with the pixel race now dying down, manufacturers want to turn our heads elsewhere. Let's run down a top 10 of gimmicks you should look for on your next compact.
1. 3D cameras
It might have so far been seen as a gimmick, but 3D is now serious business for TV manufacturers and broadcasters like Sky. And its future prevalence hasn't escaped camera manufacturers, either. The Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1 features two Fujinon lenses - each with its own 10MP CCD sensor - that are securely mounted side by side. When using the camera in 3D mode each of these sensors records its own image, which are then fed into the camera's 'Real Photo Processor 3D' image processor. There they're aligned, combined and turned into a 3D image that can be viewed on the rear LCD screen without the need for fancy 3D glasses.
2. Extra screens
A screen on the front of a digital camera? Sounds rubbish? Yep, that's what we thought. The 12.2-megapixel ST550 and ST500 compact cameras have a second 1.5-inch LCD on the front of the camera that only lights up when you touch it. But there is some common sense there – couples taking shots of themselves will no longer have a problem, while cartoon characters on the screen are designed to help children look towards the camera rather than elsewhere.
3. Gesture recognition
The same £299 ST550 Samsung compact includes a technology called Smart Gesture User Interface. This means that you can tap the camera or make a hand gesture to get it to perform certain tasks. While we shouldn't expect it to become standard on all compacts any time soon, it's still an interesting development.
4. In-camera projectors
Nikon has already announced a compact with a built-in projector. The £399 Nikon S1000pj is out this month, but it's clearly the shape of things to come - Nikon says the camera can project images up to 40 inches in size (and as low as 5 inches) and there's also a remote control in the package, so you can set up your own image slideshow on the go. We'll be seeing a lot more of these.
Geotagging, touchscreens, and more
5. Image Stabilisation that's worth having
Once Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) was a gimmick that didn't produce worthy results. But now times have changed, and finally it's an inclusion worth having. Canon was the first to produce an OIS lens, while other manufacturers all have their own names for the technology such as Nikon's Vibration Reduction and Sony's Super Steady Shot.
5. Massive ISO figures
The higher the ISO number on a camera, the higher the sensitivity to light - the system originally came from camera film where film was rated by the same system. ISO levels for compacts floated around 400 not so long ago. Now even cheap £99 compacts have ISO levels of 1600 while high-end compacts trounce this – the G11 can be raked up to 3200 at full res.
6. Direct uploading and sharing
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3 (announced at CES) and the recently-introduced Samsung ST1000 can direct-upload video to YouTube via in-built Wi-Fi as well as Google Picassa Web Albums and Facebook among other services. While these cameras aren't cheap (the ST1000 is £299), expect these functions to filter down ranges soon.
7. More recognition
First there was face detection – now a standard feature on most compacts – then there was face recognition and smile recognition and then blink detection. New model Samsung cameras even include Beauty Shot. This tech uses face detection to retouch facial skin, making it appear brighter and to give the impression of a smoother skin tone.
8. Geo-tagging for all
The Samsung ST1000 also supports geo-tagging and uploading to Google's Picassa Web Albums automatically places your photos on a map. We'd expect most high-end compacts to include GPS within the next year. Location is the next big thing.
9. Full HD video
With mini-camcorders such as the Flip HD and Samsung U10 now coping well with shooting 1080p HD footage, it can only be a matter of time before we see the same in a compact camera (it's already in SLRs). We've already got 720p. Next we'll get the full whack.
10. Touchscreens more common
At the end of last year, most of the major manufacturers had dabbled with touchscreen compacts and this trend has continued with models like the Canon Ixus 200 IS (below). Touchscreens are now filtering down through the market and are becoming more intuitive than ever, enabling you to focus a shot by touching your subject and even shoot simply by tapping the screen.
Liked this? Why not check out Top 5 compact cameras that give DSLRs a run for their money
Sign up for the free weekly TechRadar newsletter
Get tech news delivered straight to your inbox. Register for the free TechRadar newsletter and stay on top of the week's biggest stories and product releases. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register