Okay, CES has never been a show known for breaking major headlines in the digital imaging world, but the 2011 show had a bit of a different feel in this category. With the annual PMA Show moving to September, this year's CES represented the only large-stage opportunity for imaging manufacturers to showcase product for the first half of the year.
We saw several noteworthy camera trends emerge that will help redefine the point-and-shoot category rest the of the year –or at least carry us to the PMA Show (recently renamed CLiQ, September 6-10, 2011, in Las Vegas).
First and foremost, it appears digital camera manufacturers are feeling the coming heat from the smartphone market as the cameras in those devices are starting to get pretty interesting. Better optics, more functionality, uber-connectivity and the simple fact consumers are head over heels in love with them have lifted the image capture part of the smartphone equation to new heights.
But alas, digicam manufacturers seemed to declare at the 2011 CES that they aren't going to take surging smartphone sales lightly. In fact, what we saw on the show floor proved quite the contrary.
Who's Zooming Who?
One area the point-and-shoot category enjoys a major advantage is in zoom range and several manufacturers added extremely compact super zooms to their line-ups at CES at far more affordable price points than in the past.
Samsung was one such manufacturer, announcing the WB210 and PL210. The former features 14MP resolution with a 12x optical super zoom lens set in an ultra slim-line 22.4mm body. The camera also includes the option of a 21mm wide-angle setting, through its super-wide shot mode, to get deeper shots at close range.
The camera also includes a 3.5-inch touch screen with Samsung's new Smart Access UI system that allows users to drag, click and control 'app-style' icons, easily flip through photos, and control camera's features including aperture and shutter speed. Expect an MSRP of around $279. The PL210 includes many of the same features with a 10X optical zoom coming in at $199.
“The ultra compact body means you can make the camera experience a part of every aspect of your life,” said Hyunho Chung, Executive Vice President and Head of the Digital Imaging Business, Samsung Electronics, adding to do this in the super-zoom category allows consumers to take this kind of power, “in small bags and allow them to be taken anywhere at any time.”
Fujifilm rolled out a new super-zoom foursome in their S-Series of long-zoom “bridge cameras” with the intro of the S4000, S3400, S3300, S3200—with zooms varying from 24x to 30x. All four models feature 14 megapixel CCDs, 24 mm wide-angle lenses, the aforementioned powered zooms, image stabilization and three-inch LCD screens. MSRPs range from $229 to $279.
“The zoom category just keeps getting more and more popular with consumers looking for longer zoom ranges,” began Diane Rainey, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at Fujifilm. “These new models bring feature-packed, high-performance cameras to consumers at very affordable price points.”
Olympus is in this game as well with the announcement of the SP-610UZ, a super zoom with a 22x (28-616mm equiv.) optical zoom lens. Add a 14MP sensor, three-inch LCD, 720p HD video and a 3D capture mode, and the company has added a remarkable little zoom camera at $229.
Nikon's P100 (26X zoom) and Canon's SX30IS (35X zoom), both released late last year, have enjoyed tremendous success because of the power-and-shooting flexibility this category affords.
On the lower end, General Imaging (the imaging arm of GE) also announced a new super zoom adding the ultra compact GE X500 that features an electronic view finder, 16MP res, IOS and a 15X optical zoom/27mm wide angle lens. Add Shutter and Aperture Priority Modes; High Dynamic Range and Smile, Blink and Face Detection and at an MSRP of $149.99 GE has added a model that should do quite well.
Giving consumers more control over their images was another theme that emerged at CES. Olympus began adding in-camera “art filters” years ago and the concept has caught on with other manufacturers as well. The aforementioned Olympus SP-610UZ also includes a new set of what they refer to as Magic Filters that work on both stills and videos that include new Sparkle and Punk modes in addition to five other artsy effects.
Casio actually unveiled something they are calling Imaging Square, an online gallery space for extremely simple photo editing. Pre-installed applications for HDR imaging filters are also included in the Casio TRYX, a curiously designed new model with a rotating frame that allows for the 360-degree rotation of the camera's body.
Canon's PowerShot A-series models also now come complete with improved filters, like Toy Camera and Pinhole effects.
“The notion of expressing one's self through images has really caught fire with the younger demographic,” began retail analyst Lauren Sosik. “There is a growing segment of the population that wants to make everything their own. These filters speak very nicely to that.”
Sharing Is Caring
A big advantage the smartphone world has had over the digital camera market is connectivity, as after image capture the user is just a click away from instantly sharing that memory. More and more digital camera makers are including an auto-share option for immediately uploading content to social media sites.
Kodak's new EasyShare line has added a new Facebook-friendly application that includes a dedicated share button for showing off stills and video online. Fujifilm has jumped on this trend as well as their latest Z-series model, the Z90, also includes an auto-share option, the most notable update from its predecessor, the Z70.
Panasonic introduced two new digicams that highlight easy-share features as well. The Lumix FH5 and FH2 both feature Panasonic's Lumix Image Uploader, which allows for specific stills/videos to be pre-selected in-camera for sharing later.
Yes, 3D Too
And, oh yeah, 3D—you didn't think we could talk about CES without mentioning 3D…did you?
Sony displayed the Cyber-shot line of 3D capable cameras, including the DSC-TX10, which they told us will be available this March (MSRP of $330 for TX10). The camera has 16.2-megapixel resolution and Sony's Exmor R CMOS sensors, which is said to improve low-light performance—yet another popular trend in this category. And yes, this model includes the 3D update as well as a 3D Sweep Panorama mode. The obvious idea here is to excite folks about creating their own 3D content to view on the new 3D flat panels hitting the market.
Panasonic is a player here too with two new 3D Lumix models due out this spring, though both are on the DSLR (micro-shooters) side of the fence, offering support for 3D lenses. Just a matter of time before the capability winds up in point-and-shoot models. Since CES, Olympus has added 3D capability in their latest point-and-shoot, SZ-10.
And to add a note on the output side of the 3D equation—Fujifilm displayed some impressive 3D prints at their CES booth that had been captured with their FinePix Real 3D camera. No word yet on when the print service will be made available here in the U.S. but we were assured that it's coming.
Wet & Wild!
The other area upon which smartphones don't tread is underwater and almost every camera manufacturer now has a point-and-shoot model that can withstand a wide variety of elements.
Olympus' new Stylus Tough 3000 brings HD video capture to the mix for the first time in a shockproof/waterproof digital camera. The 3000 also features a number of effect filters we mentioned earlier, SD/SDHC card support rather than Olympus' proprietary xD format, a 12MP sensor, and 3.6x wide optical zoom with sensor-shift image stabilization. Olympus also has the MRSP down closer to $200—at around $239.
Kodak's has entered this rough and tumble space with the new EasyShare Sport—12MP and good to depth of 10 feet – and the price point was a rather eye-opening $79.95.
GE is a player here as well with the colorful, pocket-sized and waterproof GE DV1 that features their built-in flip-out USB plug and 1080p movie-recording capabilities. At slightly over $100, it'll fit more budgets.
Add an ever-increasing list of scene modes along with the aforementioned improvements in low-light shooting conditions—you can even toss in pico projection technology (Nikon S1100pj) that projects images up to 40 inches on a wall—and it's clear the point-and-shoot category is ready for a fight in 2011.
“Years ago the notion of buying a replacement camera every few years was non-existent,” began New York snap-shooter Chris Carpenter. “You kept a camera forever. But today, when you can step up in features and fun so substantially, and pay less than $200 to do so, the idea of buying a replacement camera makes perfect sense.”
Retailers can only hope this sentiment is widely felt.