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2010 cameras and camcorders preview

We're not expecting much that's exciting for cameras and camcorders at this year's CES, but we're open to surprises.

Last year's Best of CES, the Sony DSC-G3. Oops. Sarah Tew/CNET

Our wrap-up from last year's CES was relatively optimistic. "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." Some of the more notable innovations included Sony's back-illuminated sensor, GPS-enabled camcorders, some of which turned out to be pretty good (if pricey); the new SDXC even-higher-capacity card specification; Samsung's odd tilted-lens camcorders; Casio's superburst shooting compacts; and Eye-Fi adding wireless upload support for video to its cards. But while the mind boggles at the tech that must go into a compact 70x zoom lens, that doesn't mean you should want one.

Ironically, with all those interesting new products, we went a different route for our Best of CES winner. There, we posed the question: "Does Sony DSC-G3 camera get wireless right?" Alas, as frequently happens, once we actually got our hands on the camera it turned out the answer was "no." The experience did reinforce the understanding that you can't judge a camera by its specs. Also, that we are doomed to bitter disappointment.

What's in the cards for camcorders this year?

Have we seen the last of DVD-based camcorders? Canon

While we'd love to see the death of standard-definition consumer camcorders on the whole, they're not going anywhere just yet. Don't expect any improvements in the quality of the video, though, which has been mediocre at best since HD models took hold. To tempt new buyers, manufacturers will likely rely on the two features they can cheaply increase while keeping prices below $400: zoom range and storage capacity. Look for smaller bodies with larger hard drives or more flash memory and optical zoom lenses of at least 25x with the 60x or greater lenses on 2009's high-end models trickling down to midrange models. On the upside, DVD models look like they're going the way of the dodo; we don't expect to see many of those in either standard or high definition.

What's in store for mini camcorders?

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

We're not expecting a lot of innovation in high def this year, either, just refinements to last year's models with perhaps across-the-board price drops in the $20-$50 range for a given feature set as the usual attempts to make the designs sleeker and more compact. At the bottom end, we're also likely to see more refinements in the designs of those cheap mini camcorders. It's possible, but unlikely, that there'll be a wholesale shift to 1080p for those models, as those files are still considered unworkably large for those buyers. Of course, there's the rumor that Flip will introduce Wi-Fi to one of its models, but I don't think that'll be commonplace at CES--not all of the mini camcorders come from networking companies (like the Flip's new parent, Cisco), after all.

Not so cuckoo for cameras

CES is generally light on camera launches; most announcements are saved for the annual Photo Marketing Association's PMA trade show at the end of February. Those that do make an appearance at CES typically have some attention-grabbing feature or are simple refreshes of budget and style lines. In 2009, the big feature was 24x or greater zoom lenses. Zoom will still be the story this time around, but likely less about range alone and more about getting the most range in the smallest pocketable body possible (at the lowest price, too). Also, since entry-level cameras all featured 10-megapixel resolutions in 2009, it's reasonable--though not necessarily desirable--for this year's replacements to start at 12 megapixels and go up from there.

One thing you can plan on not seeing: products supporting SDXC. While these higher capacity cards might ultimately replace hard drives in camcorders, there's no need yet for the extra speed. And the first cards aren't expected until late spring.