LAS VEGAS--While there's usually a sameness to a given category's product announcements at any trade show, there was an especially striking uniformity to the cameras and camcorders debuting at CES 2010--but in a good way! This year, meaningless talk of megapixels and longer-than-thou lenses gave way to more concrete but less glamorous-sounding improvements across product lines.
On of the most thrilling developments this year is the rapid disappearance of proprietary media; both Sony and Olympus, the last holdouts, announced that most of their new products will support SD cards. At the same time, manufacturers like Canon and Panasonic, incorporated support for the new SDXC "extra" high-capacity cards that were unveiled at last year's CES, and Panasonic and Toshiba announced forthcoming cards. Of course, I think there are still people out there confused about the difference between SD and SDHC, so I don't expect SDXC adoption to be bump free. (In a nutshell, SDXC uses a new controller and file system to support capacities up to 2TB and speeds up to 300 megabytes per second. SD and SDHC cards will work in SDXC slots, but SDXC cards will not work in SD or SDHC slots. Despite announced product support, the products which can use them don't really need them yet, except perhaps the extra capacity for HD camcorders recording 24 megabit per second video.)
The second welcome product trend is the growing adoption of backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensors in point-and-shoot cameras and consumer camcorders. In BSI sensors, the photodiodes sit just below the microlenses and filters rather than below the wiring and electronics as they do in conventional CMOS chips. As a result, BSI sensors can deliver better signal-to-noise for a smaller sensor in low light--as we've seen with Sony's XR500V series--than their older counterparts. Sony rolled its Exmor-R BSI sensor further down its camcorder product line and into a few more snapshot cameras, Samsung rolled out a prosumer camcorder line using one.
Some generally nice developments include at least 720p video on most cameras with 1080i trickling out; in-camera GPS; more companies offering a consumer favorite, the compact megazoom; and for touch-screen lovers, more larger and better-designed implementations. On the downside, standard definition camcorders are not dead yet; noisy 14-megapixel sensors seem to be the new midrange point-and-shoot staple; and even as wide-angle lenses are becoming more pervasive their maximum apertures seem to be shrinking. We're also seeing more variety of wireless support in camcorders, such as JVC's Everio GZ-HM550 with built-in Bluetooth and Samsung's DLNA-friendly models. I'm not sure where I stand on those yet.
And with the PMA show just around the corner we haven't seen the last of the camera announcements for the first half of 2010; start looking for those at the end of January.