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2010.10.21

Last time we looked at the direction of interchangeable lens cameras, which are evolving in multiple directions to obtain different compromises of image quality, speed and size. Today we look at the evolution of digital cameras and where we would like them do go. In 6 years of Digital Camera Evolution, Neocamera took a look at what has changed over the last 6 years of digital camera evolution among fixed-lens cameras, showing that progress has been tremendous in some areas while very little has changed in other. So the question is, what do we want to improve next?

Image-quality and speed are certainly top priorities for digital cameras going forwards. It is interesting to see that while DSLRs have improved in both steadily, fixed-lens cameras which are split between CCD and CMOS implementations have been struggling to do both at once. We have very high quality images coming from CCD cameras and very fast CMOS-based fixed-lens cameras. BSI-CMOS sensors improve quality a bit but still lag being slower CCDs. Future cameras should keep these challenges as their primary targets. Namely, to improve image-quality and all aspects of camera-speed.

Image-quality improvements where mostly focused on image-noise but we would really like more advancements too in terms of dynamic-range, detail-retention and automatic white-balance. Focus-speeds, shutter-lag and shot-to-shot speeds – the most important measures of performance – have improved at a glacial pace. Even DSLRs which were fast already, have not been able to get much faster at this. Among fixed-lens cameras, focus-speed has been at a stand-still, at least until we see what the Phase-Detection-capable sensor from Fuji can do. One day, we hope that autofocus will be so fast that no one will notice it anymore.

Like any products being marketed, cameras need to have new features to warrant more purchases and upgrades. After a few years of simplifying compact and ultra-compact cameras, there has been a come-back among such cameras for getting back more advanced features such as manual-exposure, manual-focus and bracketing. This is certainly welcome by many, including advanced users who like to have a small second camera but cannot give up photographic controls. This is a trend that we would like to see continue.

Also of great value is features which enable the camera to take photographs that would otherwise be tedious. In-camera panorama, now up to 360°, are a great example. One can do it later on a computer but without proper care it frequently results in a miss and returning for a reshoot is not always even an option. Doing it on-site, means you can try several times until it works. New sweeping-panoramas are a much faster to capture than individual frames. The present limitation is that the resulting image is of low-resolution, due to limited processing power in the camera. It would be awesome if that sweeping feature could capture full-resolution frames and the motion-path to let a computer do the stitching later, while also producing the low-res panorama to make sure that everything holds together.

As much as we like the return of more controls among advanced compact cameras, the basic point-and-shoot models should really become simpler. For example, having removed things like exposure controls from their A-series Powershot, Canon has not really simplified their cameras. They still require too much interaction to be used by those who simply want to point, shoot and move-on. We now find many small cameras that have over 20 scene-modes, way too many to choose from. It is a legitimate use of a camera, now everyone whats to do photography, but most people want memories. Could we get away with a power-button, zoom-lever, shutter-release and flash-toggle button only? Maybe, it would make quite a simple camera. OK, maybe add a movie-mode button too.

So we have one line of cameras that should get more useful features and one that should get simpler. What is left is to start improving digital cameras beyond what they are. No, not adding a phone or built-in video games, it really has to be related to photography. Certain models already have built-in GPS units which geo-tag photos. Great option that saves the need for a separate GPS unit… unless you need one for navigation too.


Now consider the traveler, packing his camera bag fill of cameras, lenses, flashes and accessories. How much bulk could be save? Well, thanks to high-ISOs, now up to 102,400 less people feel the need for a tripod. Next, camera makers can look at filters, could we make cameras that have more than ND-filters in them? A polarizer behind the lens – with some way of rotating it or maybe auto-rotating – could avoid needed multiple sizes of polarizers or step-up rings. Could the ND-filter be electronic instead, effectively creating ultra-low-ISO sensitivities? It would be much better because one would be able to see and frame with the ambient light-levels. The camera would also focus without the diminished light which a screw-on filter causes.

Flashes are bulky and have a lot of accessories with them. Some cameras can trigger them wirelessly via pulses of light. Surely someone can create a built-in remote trigger using radio-waves. How about built-in flashes with tilt-and-swivel capabilities? Or a pull-up diffuser? Our suggestion is to bring more capabilities into the camera. Digital-levels are a great example of this already. The need for a hot-shoe level is greatly reduced, plus being able to see the digital-level in viewfinder makes it vastly superior. A hot-shoe level really requires a tripod to be used. Some medium format cameras have a vertical-orientation tripod socket, saving the need for an L-bracket, this is probably not a hard thing to add on larger cameras.

Novelties are bound to always exist as each camera maker tries to find a break-out features. 3D is probably next. Face-Detection is now ubiquitous but it had to be attempted first. May we live in interesting times!

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