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CES 2009: Digital imaging wrap-up

All things considered, this year's CES had a surprising amount of innovative--or at least interesting--tech for cameras and camcorders.

All things considered, this year's CES had a surprising amount of innovative--or at least interesting--tech for cameras and camcorders, beyond the usual bigger/faster/cheaper we've come to expect from the show.

Though each manufacturer took a different approach to pumping up its HD camcorder lines, they all took a split-the-market attitude: new models based on last year's technology designed to reach lower, entry-level prices on one side and beefing up sensors, optics, and controls for more expensive products to appeal to video enthusiasts. For instance, Sony's new XV500 series features a new back-illuminated sensor and geotagging capability, while Panasonic more widely rolled out its 3MOS three-chip system. Canontook the most typical route, going with a higher-resolution sensor and better lens.

Casio delivered the most novel entries, with sleek ultracompact cameras that integrate the high-speed shooting capabilities of its clunky EX-F1 and EX-FH20 megazoom models. Some of Casio's 2009 models also introduce a neat new feature dubbed "Dynamic Photo," which lets you cut out and overlay a still or movie over another--sort of an in-camera chromakeying.

Both Sony and Eye-Fi attacked the problem of wireless photo and video transmission. Eye-Fi expands the capabilities of its Wi-Fi SD card to support video uploads, and Sony takes a stab and solving the myriad issues that have plagued Wi-Fi-capable cameras by building a browser into the DSC-G3.

Even "the usual" threw a couple of curve balls at us. Zoom lenses on standard definition camcorders have simply gotten out of control, with Panasonic hitting 70x and Sony close behind at 60x. On still cameras, Olympus leaped the competition to hit 26x, with Kodak lagging--hah!--at a mere 24x. The scariest moment of the week wasn't the turbulence flying into New York, but when a Kodak representative told me that he thinks "zoom lenses will replace megapixels" in the specsmanship derby.

Finally, we saw signs of the cycle of death and rebirth in media formats. Only Canon announced a new MiniDV model, and not a single manufacturer has a DVD model in its HD lineup; DVD is still going moderately strong for standard definition. Both may be attributed to the relatively slow adoption of HD players. Into that mix the SD Card Association throws the SDXC format, a follow up to SDHC that promises higher capacity and faster speeds. However, don't expect to see products incorporating it for more than a year, the implementation requires a new controller architecture. Maybe for CES 2010.