Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blurring the lines between types of photo products

This is a time of rapid innovation for photography. A previous post discussed the various types of digital cameras currently available. This post is about new image-making gadgets that are blurring the lines between camera types. Expect much more of this sort of innovation as the general public becomes more accepting of cameras that just don’t look like traditional cameras.

Panasonic has been making the Lumix line of digital cameras for many years. These cameras have been well received by both the general public and by photographers because of their good design, high quality construction and image quality. Panasonic has now introduced a new Lumix camera that is also a mobile phone, so far only for sale in Japan. The camera-back LCD functions for both camera and phone and slides to reveal a dialing/texting keypad. There is a 13 megapixel sensor behind a lens that starts at 27mm-equivalent. It is a pretty basic camera but still far ahead of any other camera/phone. Expect something similar, from someone, in the U.S. before too long.

Also from Panasonic is a 3-D lens to mount on micro-four-thirds camera bodies. There are the usual two lenses, no zoom and apparently no aperture control or low-light ability. Having only seen photos at this point, it looks quite thin and light, certainly smaller than the average micro-four-thirds “kit” zoom lens. For a few hundred dollars this would be a good way to try out 3-D without buying a dedicated camera. Assuming there was already a micro-four-thirds camera body in the bag, of course. To a large extent the future of 3-D will depend upon people willing to replace not-outdated flat-screen televisions with new, smaller, more expensive 3-D televisions that require glasses. This could be a tough sell.

Sony is also innovating and blurring product lines. The new Sony NEX-VG10 is a combination video/still camera accepting interchangeable lenses in the Sony E-mount. A-mount Sony and Minolta lenses can also be used with an adapter. The NEX-VG10 has the form-factor of a traditional video camera, the size of a very small DSLR and a very good top-mounted stereo microphone. The sensor is an APS CMOS capable or recording 14 megapixel still images at 7 frames per second and 1920x1080i HD video at 60 frames per second. Image stabilization is supplied by the lenses. The NEX-VG10 seems to pack in nearly all of the best features of Sony’s DSLR’s in a form more suited to video capture, including a side-mounted 3” LCD. Memory is the Sony-standard memory stick or SD/SDHC.

As the number of photographers who grew up using film cameras declines, acceptance of new camera shapes and combinations of functions will grow. A digital image sensor is much easier to work around than a roll of 35mm film. Video has become a popular feature on DSLR’s recently but is inconvenient to use with that camera shape. Cell phones that can surf the internet and cameras that can send photos or video directly to YouTube or Flickr are popular, so combining a phone with a high quality camera seems an obvious choice.

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