Despite a massive cold front that stranded many attendees back East, more than 150,000 people from around the world attended the 2014 International CES.
This year again, PMA was integrated into CES, and while PMA@CES was small, there were imaging-oriented products throughout CES. In fact, it seems that just about every conceivable device that somehow might benefit from having a camera installed has been visually enabled.
The great diversity of products sometimes makes it difficult to find the hidden gems, but I gave it a valiant try when I got the assignment to find “Intriguing Imaging Products at CES.”
Some major imaging trends that were evident at CES were miniaturization, remote access/control and functional convergence. The miniaturization of devices is amazing. Cameras with greater functionality and higher quality are getting smaller and smaller, some weighing a few ounces. Many cameras can now be controlled remotely and have their images transferred through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Almost all of the cameras displayed, even less expensive models, are capable of capturing still images and video.
I didn’t want to include any DSLRs in this wrap-up, and there were a lot of models at the show. But DSLRs are more evolutionary than revolutionary by now. Nor did I want to use point-and-shoot compacts, but Canon introduced the PowerShot N100 P&S, which it calls a new concept camera. It has two cameras (a 12.1MP main camera and a sub-camera) that can be active at the same time, for picture-in-picture or video-in-video files.
POV Action Cams
The action cam segment was one of the hottest imaging categories at the show. There were dozens and dozens of models. As expected, GoPro, which dominates that market, got the most attention.
But my choice is a camera that captures a full 360º of activity. Designed primarily as a helmet cam, the Voxx International 360Fly panoramic videocam is a 2.0-inch diameter sphere that weighs about four ounces. It integrates a 12.4 megapixel sensor and an ultra-wide-angle f/2.5 lens. When mounted, the camera points upward, making it possible to capture 360º of action horizontally and 240º vertically.
Since action cams frequently get wet, most require a waterproof housing. The 360Fly doesn’t. It can be submerged as deep as five atmospheres. Captured images are transferred wirelessly to Wi-Fi enabled devices, where they can be viewed and navigated in as one continuous 360º image. It’s expected to be between $400–$500. 360fly.com
Along with action cams came wearable cameras. There were a host of small cameras that slip into pockets, clip to visors or are worn around the neck with lanyards. Wearable cameras aren’t quite as rugged or as versatile as action cams, but they’re ideal for capturing day-to-day activities.
Autographer brought out a wearable camera of the same name that shoots eight hours on one charge. It has a 5MP low-light image sensor and comes with a fixed-focus, 136º eye-view precision lens, 8GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot for storage expansion. Weighing only about two ounces, it’s easy to carry around and easy to use.
The Autographer can be set to capture images at predetermined intervals or triggered manually. When shooting in automatic mode, five built-in sensors, controlled by sophisticated algorithms, tell the camera exactly the moments to fire. Built-in GPS tracks where the photos were taken, and high-quality stop-motion videos can be created within the camera. It’s possible to sync the unit with smartphones via Bluetooth, and the Autographer Share cloud service included in the purchase price of $399 provides a convenient option to place creations online. autographer.com
Robotics/Drones for Aerial Shooting
Another category that got a lot of attention was visually enabled remote-controlled drones and robotic devices. Most had cameras simply so they could be moved within the space they were operating, but some of the drones were equipped with serious cameras to capture high-resolution images. In most cases, they are controlled by iOS/Android devices through a Wi-Fi connection, and captured images are transferred wirelessly back to those devices for local or cloud storage.
One of the leading companies is Parrot. It had the most creative product demonstration of drone aerial maneuverability, where multiple units were choreographed in computer synchronized aerial ballets.
It was a tough choice, but the drone I went with was a higher end model. DJI, the company that developed the popular Phantom 2 Vision flying camera, is set to release a professionally targeted drone, the Spreading Wings S800 Evo. This hex-rotor model is specifically designed for serious photography and videography work.
Rather than just carrying a small Wi-Fi enabled videocam, it’s designed to carry serious digital cameras, such as the Sony NEX-7 or Panasonic DMC-GH3. It comes with a Zenmuse gimbal, for a high degree of image stabilization and very smooth position control. Its retractable landing skids make it possible to get a potential 360º field of view. Its price is yet to be set. dji.com
Poppy 3D Stereo Device
Stereo imaging was very hot at CES a couple of years ago, particularly stereo TVs and gaming glasses. There were also digital stereo cameras. This time around, stereo wasn’t that big, but there was one stereo device, the Poppy 3D, I found particularly interesting. It turns the iPhone into a stereo camera and viewing device, without electronics or batteries required.
You slide the iPhone into a slot on the Poppy, much like you might put an image wheel into a View-Master, and the phone can be used to capture stereo photos or video, which can be viewed on the iPhone. A companion Poppy 3D app calibrates image capture and facilitates recording and playback. Captured images and video can also be displayed on stereo TVs or stereo-enabled devices. It can even be used to view the large amount of 3D content available on YouTube. The Poppy 3D, $59, is an ingeniously simple device that works really well. poppy3d.com
Flir One Infrared Camera
Flir developed the forward-looking infrared camera technology that law enforcement helicopters use to track suspects in total darkness. These cameras are very expensive, relatively large and very sophisticated. The company just released its first consumer product, the Flir One. It’s inexpensive, small and still quite sophisticated. The unit attaches to the front of an iPhone 5 (Android models are expected later in 2014) and has two built-in cameras: an infrared thermal imaging camera and a VGA-resolution conventional camera. The thermal imaging camera captures a heat signature image that is defined in great detail by an overlay image captured by the second camera. Once captured, images can be transferred and viewed on the iPhone.
It’s important to understand, the Flir One does not capture the ethereal, artistic-type infrared images associated with infrared film. These are thermal heat images. This is the first generation of the device, so even with secondary camera enhancements, image quality is quite rough. When perfected, or at least refined, the dual camera concept utilized in the Flir One has the potential to open up a new field of low-light/no-light photography. Priced at $350, it’s affordable enough for anybody to experiment with thermal imaging. flir.com/flirone/explore