It seems like creative shooting modes are popular on this year's compact cameras. For example, though Canon has long given its cameras controls for playing with colors, this year it's just gone and added a handful of simple point-and-shoot options for getting more unusual results. One of them, Miniature Effect, applies a selective focus to scenes making full-size, real-life subjects look like miniature models.
The effect is similar to tilt-shift photography. (Here are some great examples.) Canon doesn't call it that, though, probably because those words don't mean much to most snapshot photographers and because it's all being done digitally.
Using the mode is easy; it's really just a matter of deciding where you want to focus and then taking the picture. The camera gives you a choice of three sizes for the focus area. (In the case of the picture to the right, I used the Medium size.) You can then move the box up and down in the frame to select what's focused on. What's in the box is in sharp focus, everything above and below gets blurred. Contrast and saturation are also heightened. The results are better if your scenes already have a lot of contrast and color, you're shooting from an elevated location, and your photo is of an entire scene, not a single subject.
You can get the same effect with some basic Photoshop skills or even using this site, but this mode brings it to the masses and makes the photos ready to share straight from the camera. The mode is available on the SD1400 IS, SX210 IS, and SD3500 IS; the photos in the slideshow were taken with the SD3500 IS.
It's fun and it's a nice way to add some interest to a typical vacation photo. But the question is, are these modes worth paying extra for? Do they add value or would you pick a model based on it? As I said up top, a lot of the manufacturers are adding these creative shooting modes.
Update: After having a little more time to use the feature (I had only taken a handful of shots with it before posting this), I've come to the conclusion it simply doesn't work very well. I added a couple more slides to the show below including a comparison between the camera's plain Auto mode and the Miniature Effect mode. The problem is, the effect just isn't convincing enough and, as one commenter pointed out, it takes all the artistry out of tilt-shift photography. On the upside, I doubt anyone would confuse the photos taken with this mode for genuine tilt-shift photos like the examples I linked to above. It's a shortcut and, well, that's what the photos look like. And that can really be said about every creative effect I've tried on a point-and-shoot regardless of make or model.