Does the U.S. bore consumer camera companies?

While higher-end cameras stole the show, there were a lot fewer point-and-shoots at CES 2012--but not because there will be fewer models in 2012.

Compared with CES, PMA was a ghost town, and a hodgepodge of companies that didn't really cohere into a real show. Lori Grunin/CNET

LAS VEGAS--This was an odd CES for cameras.

We usually only get point-and-shoots, and some generally uninteresting ones at that. This year we were greeted with three models targeted at enthusiasts and pros, though: the Fujifilm X-Pro1 , the Nikon D4 , and the Canon PowerShot G1 X . Consequently, they were each nominated for a CNET Best of CES award in the digital imaging category.

The overall number of point-and-shoot announcements was down (no thanks to Fujifilm's deluge of 19 models), but it looks like that's just a CES phenomenon; we expect a lot of the entry-level and mainstream models not announced here to pop up at CP+ in Japan in early February.

Is it a sign of the U.S. market's decreasing relevance to the camera companies? With Kodak having flushed itself, every major camera company is based in Asia. We still buy a lot of cameras in the U.S., but we're not growing as fast as other regions, and are a mature, price-conscious market, which can be unappealing to companies looking for high volume and high margins.

It's also possible that the timing of CP+, in PMA's old spot, simply matches camera makers' habitual announcement cycle.

Despite all that, we still got plenty of point-and-shoot camera announcements, and with them, a closer look at what you can expect this year as manufacturers build out their 2012 lineups.

For 2012, probably the biggest trend you'll find is more models with built-in Wi-Fi. In the past, Wi-Fi cameras were pretty much a joke mainly because they were of limited use; the wireless connection was basically just a substitute for a USB cord, and a slow one at that. Now, in a time of smartphones and apps and faster networks, these cameras can connect to your home network for backup and storage, upload to a cloud service, or send images directly to a smartphone for editing with a favorite app before uploading them to Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

An average consumer--even one who owns a smartphone--probably won't be running out to buy a camera just because it has Wi-Fi anytime soon. Unless the manufacturers and retailers (and reviewers like us) do a decent job of explaining why Wi-Fi is valuable to have and all that it can do for people, it'll just be another feature that never gets used.

Sony's new Balanced Optical SteadyShot was one of the (very) few interesting developments in camcorders this year. Lori Grunin/CNET

Lastly, and less of a surprise, is the continued growth of both the megazoom and rugged camera markets. We'll see a lot of wide, long lenses crammed into ever-shrinking bodies. Canon, for example, claimed its PowerShot Elph 520 HS , announced for CES, is the world's thinnest camera with a 12x, 28mm wide-angle lens at just less than 0.8 inch thick. If you love a long lens, you'll have a lot of options this year. The same goes for rugged cameras, which are just getting tougher.

As for camcorders, there were two things that came out of CES for me. One, standard-definition and hard-drive-based camcorders are dead . And two, Cisco's shuttering of Flip Video really has seemed to tank the entire minicamcorder category (with help from smartphones and compact cameras); there were far fewer announced this year than last.

On the upside, the camcorers that were announced, like rugged models from Samsung and Sony, as well as the Bloggie Live and the Kodak Playfull Dual Camera are compelling products, but for very specific user types. None of the major announcements were about just general-use models, and really, providing niche models is the only way the category will survive.

 

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