PCR finds out what's new in digital cameras

In the frame

Over the past few years digital cameras have fallen in price almost as fast as the technology has progressed.

Not so long ago a basic model would have cost you over £100 and would certainly not have fit in your pocket. Now, certain high street retailers are selling compact 8MP cameras for less than £30. While the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ would certainly apply, these devices have become more accessible and consequently ownership levels have gone through the roof.

In 2009, 105.9 million digital cameras were shipped globally, a figure which is projected to increase by 3.8 per cent this year*. While this certainly reflects decreasing entry-level prices, it’s also indicative of the leaps and bounds imaging technology has made.

One of the latest developments is high-speed panoramic shooting. While compact cameras have for some time been able to stitch three or so photos into one panorama, and countless software packages can perform the same task, vendors have now devised technology that can combine more images taken in rapid succession.

According to Midwich’s product manager for digital imaging, Alistair Coyne, tools such as Sony’s ‘sweep panorama’ allows the user to automatically capture and combine a high-speed burst of images by holding down the shutter button and moving the camera.

But speed is not only important in panoramic photography. From sports photographers to parents wanting to photograph their children, the camera’s speed can mean the difference between getting the desired shot and missing it completely – something vendors are capitalising on. “The future of the compact digital camera market lies in even higher quality stills, tracking and auto-focus features which track objects at high speed,” affirms James Oliver, trade sales executive at Veho UK.

The increasing popularity of social networking sites and sharing pictures over the web has also had an impact on the hardware itself. “With the rising popularity of sites like Facebook and YouTube, consumers now look for easier ways to share their photographs,” observes Patrick Hamilton, public relations director for Kodak EMEA.

The vendor has clearly taken this ethos to heart, equipping many of its newer cameras with ‘easy share’ buttons, allowing the user to upload their pictures and videos straight from the device.

While compact devices are by far the most popular type of digital camera with consumers, the segment has not been entirely resistant to the economic downturn. Last year, 96 million compact cameras were shipped worldwide – down almost 13 per cent on 2008. However, DSLRs – traditionally more of an enthusiast market – saw shipments rise by 2.3 per cent to 9.9 million, despite the recession. And 2010 is expected to be a boom year for these devices, with an estimated 11 million due to be sold before the end of the year – an increase of 11.1 per cent on 2009.

DSLRs still form a niche part of the sector, but their popularity with consumers is growing. “The target markets for each technology are generally different, although there is a certain degree of overlap where retailers can upsell from compact cameras to DSLR models,” says Coyne, adding that there are several so-called ‘bridge’ cameras, which cross the gap between compact and DSLR.

“Not all consumers can afford to pay out for DSLR models and therefore the compact digital camera market has expanded to offer consumers what are known as bridge models,” notes Hamilton. “These compact digital cameras provide consumers with an advanced set of features in a compact form that make them easy to take anywhere at an affordable price.”

One technology aimed at bridging the gap between two very separate markets is micro four thirds, a camera specification established by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008. Because they don’t contain any mirrors, micro four thirds cameras can fit many of the features of a DSLR into a more compact device.

“Before this offering there was a leap to DSLR for a current compact user who wanted to increase their capabilities and this could be quite daunting. The new PEN cameras (Olympus’ micro four thirds range) aid the transition by offering smaller, easy to use models with the performance of a DSLR,” comments Mark Thackara, national marketing manager for consumer products at Olympus.

“Mirrors are no longer a necessary component for digital cameras with interchangeable lenses, enabling smaller designs and aiding ease of use,” he adds.

As many digital cameras now offer high quality video, and camcorders usually offer a still option, could a merger of the two sectors be on the cards? According to Coyne, not in the near future. “Many compact cameras can now record movies in 720p and camcorders can take better still pictures, but I believe we are still years away from them combining as a single technology that can perform equally as well as a camera and a camcorder,” he says. “Although they can both do the basics, it is always best to sell the correct product suited to the customer’s needs.”

*Camera and Imaging Products Association figures, January 2010

Glam from Hello Kitty
SRP: £99.99
Distributor: Meroncourt

They say: Essential for Hello Kitty fans and amateur photographers
Specs: 8MP, 2.7-inch LCD display, 3x optical zoom, 8x digital zoom, built-in flash, video mode, 32MB inbuilt memory, SD memory compatible

Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS
SRP: £349
Distributor: Micro-P, Ingram Micro

They say: Combines cutting-edge technology with stylish IXUS design
Specs: 24mm ultra wide-angle lens, 5x optical zoom, 12.1MP, three-inch widescreen LCD touchscreen display, 720p HD movies, user interface with hints and tips, available in four colours

Olympus E-PL1
SRP: £549.99 (Single lens kit)
Distributor: Midwich

They say: Perfect if you want to take professional quality pictures but don’t want the size and complexity of an SLR
Specs: 12.3MP, 2.7-inch LCD screen, integrated flash, six ‘art filters’, shoots HD movies, AF tracking, image stabilisation, face detection, changeable lens, also available as a double lens kit, comes in black, white, champagne and red

Kodak EasyShare M580
SRP: £179.99
Distributor: Midwich, Direktek, Westcoast

They say: Makes it simpler for consumers to share their pictures with one touch of the Share Button
Specs: 14MP, 8x optical zoom, wide angle lens, three-inch LCD display, HD video capture, built-in HDMI connector, facial recognition, Smart Capture automatic setting adjustment, Share Button for uploading images to web, available in silver, brown and purple

Veho Muvi Atom
SRP: £89.99
Distributor: Direct

They say: The smallest DV camcorder in the world
Specs: 4cm high, 2MP lens, takes both video and stills, resolution of 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second, extreme sports kit included

Sanyo VPC-CG10BK
SRP: £169.99
Distributor: VIP Computers

They say: Packs cutting edge technology into a small, stylish, easy to use camera
Specs: HD digital video, 10MP photos, 5x optical zoom, three-inch widescreen LCD display, digital image stabiliser, detects up to 12 faces, built-in flash, sequential shooting at seven frames per second, SD/SDHC memory compatible

Olympus Mju TOUGH 3000
SRP: £199.99
Distributor: Midwich

They say: Lets you take high quality pictures and film HD movies in the harshest of environments
Specs: 12MP, 3.6x wide optical zoom, dual image stabilization, HD video function, AF tracking, waterproof to three metres, shockproof to 1.5m, freezeproof to -10°C, advanced face detection detects up to 16 faces, 1GB of internal memory, available in red, turquoise, pink and green

Aiptek PenCam Trio HD
SRP: £102.17
Distributor: Gem Distribution

They say: Ultra slim pen-like compact design offers true mobility and freedom
Specs: Records 720p HD at 30 frames per second, 5MP stills, built-in 4GB memory, voice recorder, 2.8cm OLED Display, rechargeable battery, embedded software for quickly uploading videos and images to social networks, USB connection

SanDisk Ultra SDXC Card
SRP: £259.99
Distributor: Gem Distribution, Hama, Peak Development

They say: Perfect for the latest high-megapixel cameras and HD camcorders that support the new SDXC format
Specs: 64GB memory, transfer performance of up to 15MB per second, optimised for SDXC format, class four rating for HD video capture and playback, fast downloads between PC and card

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