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2009.02.28

PMA 2009 is starting in a just a few days. Although I’ll be away when it happens from March 3rd to 5th, there are already numerous digital camera announcements for it from nearly every manufacturer. Certainly there will be more product launches before its over, hopefully with some really interesting developments.

While there are new and replacement models of cameras being unveiled, some trends we like more than others:

  • Wide-angle continues to become increasingly common. Nearly all companies offer ultra-compacts starting at 28mm, with Panasonic going as ultra-wide as 24mm. Ultra-zooms now commonly start in the 26mm range. Even compact ultra-zooms such as the 12 megapixels Canon SX200 IS with its 12X optical zoom (28 to 336mm) now offer wide-angle lenses. Given that it also features 720p HD video recording and full-manual controls, the SX200 is bound to be popular.
  • Canon Powershot D10More waterproof and rugged digital cameras make their appearance. Olympus now has competition for its Stylus Tough range. Although they are still unmatched in terms of ruggedness, Canon and Fuji have introduced the Powershot D10 and Z33 respectively. The Canon D10 particularly is waterproof to 10 meters, just like the Olympus Tough 8000. While other tough cameras use folded optics, the D10 has a protruding lens housed in a rugged casing which features special attachment points for increased versatility.
  • HD video is becoming mainstream. No less than 15 digital cameras with 720p HD video capability were announced during the last two months. There is still room to go to 1080p, but the jump from VGA (640×480) to 720p (1280×720) is significant, with the latter having 3 times more pixels.
  • Fuji is still trying to solve problems using innovative sensor designs. While nearly everyone else uses a standard pixel grid with Bayer color-filter, Fuji’s new SuperCCD EXR promises to deliver high image details, low-noise or expanded dynamic range, based on different readout methods. They presently have a monopoly on low-noise high-ISO ultra-compacts and they have been working on expanded dynamic range for quite some time now. The first camera to use the SuperCCD EXR is the Fuji Finepix F200 EXR scheduled to ship in a few weeks.
Trends we dislike:
  • Dumbing-down of features. Follow up models are removing features compared to their predecessors. New Canon Powershot A-series, for example, no longer feature full manual-controls. As an effort, this pushes amateurs to buy more expensive models but leaves less choice of form-factor and focal-length combinations.
  • Change to be different or newer. Certain body-design have worked for a long time but manufacturers are rearranging buttons and menus in a bid to create a new look at the expense of usability. The same goes for ultra-compacts having huge screens and no place to hold them comfortably.
  • Touch-screens. It may work for phones, but not seeing your image clearly because of fingerprints showing up on the LCD is bad.
  • Half-baked live-view. It can be extremely useful if well implemented but camera makers keep getting it wrong. Live-view has to show 100% coverage of your subject and accurately show exposure, white-balance and focus. The Canon Rebel XSi pulls this off, while being slow at autofocus, but the recently reviewed Nikon D90 cannot keep an accurate preview under most circumstances. With the new Olympus E-620, they coined a new term “Perfect Shot Preview” to describe accurate live-view. The way I see it, inaccurate live-view is just a way to get compact-camera battery-life out of a DSLR!
Useful things we would like to see:
  • Olympus E-3More 100% coverage viewfinders in upper mid-range DSLR cameras. Nikon and Olympus already have the D300 and E3 with 100% coverage under $2000. Can Pentax, Canon and Sony follow? At least Sony has the only full-frame DSLR with 100% coverage and built-in stabilization.
  • Virtual horizon/level. A very useful feature introduced by the Nikon D3 that shows if a picture is level. This beats using a spirit-level in the hot-shoe because you can see a tilt-meter in the viewfinder. Pentax could go one further on this by rotating the sensor to keep it level since they already do that for their Shake-Reduction system.
  • Manual controls in more small cameras with wide-angle lenses. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is a great example of a portable companion camera for a photographer when he cannot or does not want to carry his DSLR.
  • More ultra-wide zoom lenses for 1.5X or 1.6X crop sensors. Nikon has the Nikkor 14-24 F2.8 for full-frame cameras and Olympus has the Zuiko 7-14 F4 for Four-Third cameras. There is the Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 but it is not as wide (in terms of view-angle), plus it is not available in Pentax mount although it is made by the same company (Hoya owns both Pentax and Tokina).
  • Interchangeable-lens cameras with high-quality EVF showing accurate live-preview. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 started this category. We hope to see more of these, with different form factors and lens choices.
  • Glow-in-the-dark button labels. It possibly would add less than $1 of cost to a camera but make it so much more usable for night-photography.
  • More cameras using AA batteries. These are great, cheap, versatile and they keep getting more powerful. It can be done for DSLR cameras too, as Pentax shows with the K200D and K2000D.
  • More dynamic range and standard 16-bit image files. Not only do we need to capture more dynamic range but we also need to store it in a standard universally readable image file-format. Something like 16-bit PNG for now and perhaps 16-bit losslessly compressed JPEG2000 when that becomes readable by most software

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