Tech Industry

2011 digital-camera preview

Here's a look at what we expect to see in digital cameras at CES 2011 and throughout the year.

Is the Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS a sign of cameras to come?

Ah, it's that time of year again where we reflect on the technology that arrived and got us to open our wallets and try to predict what will tempt us in the coming year to toss last year's model for the new shiny shiny.

In past years, when it came to digital cameras the majority of announcements at CES were for refreshes of budget and style lines with the exception of a few with some attention-grabbing feature or design.

However, a big reason for that was the annual Photo Marketing Association's PMA trade show that followed CES at the end of February. PMA's been moved to the end of September for 2011, though, so maybe that will shake things up a bit for CES announcements.

Or maybe not. We still don't expect any digital SLR announcements and probably no new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras either. On the other hand, with more people trading in their low-end point-and-shoots for smartphones, there's a good chance we'll see a better assortment of midrange and high-end cameras.

So, without further ado, here are the digital-camera features and technologies we're expecting to see in 2011.

Longer zooms, smaller bodies, lower prices
If there's one thing that sells compact cameras, it's a zoom lens. All of the major camera makers have at least one compact megazoom in their 2010 lineup, while many have two--one basic, one packed with features. This will continue, but there's a good chance we'll see the price of a basic 10x zoom camera drop to an MSRP of $150 or less before the year is out. Also, though there are currently cameras with longer zoom lenses than 10x in pocketable bodies, we expect to see even more of them in 2011 in even smaller, lighter designs.

More BSI CMOS cameras
The adoption of backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensors in point-and-shoot cameras will continue to grow, perhaps reaching down into cameras below $250. 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 in low light. They're also faster and use less power than CCD sensors, allowing for faster shooting performance with less of a hit to battery life.

Expect a jump from 14- to 16-megapixel resolutions in point-and-shoots for 2011.

More megapixels
Though it will do nothing to improve photo quality, manufacturers will push the megapixel count up again because it still sells cameras. The count's been growing by two every year for the past several years, so expect to see 14-megapixel sensors in low- to midrange compacts with 16-megapixel resolutions on pricier models. And no, they'll be the same tiny 1/2.3-inch type found in the majority of point-and-shoots.

Enthusiast compacts
On second thought, not all higher-end point-and-shoots will pack tiny, high-resolution sensors. We expect to see more compacts with larger sensors and fewer pixels targeted at enthusiasts. These will also feature modes for more creative control over results for those who want to venture away from shooting in Auto all the time.

Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof
Along with an increase in enthusiast models, we'll probably see more rugged/waterproof cameras. It's another one of those areas where smartphones really can't compete without a specialty case for protection. Prices will still be somewhat high for the really rugged models, but there should be more less expensive options that offer modest protection from weather and the hands of small children.

Creative shooting modes
Maybe it's to compete with the apps available on smartphones or maybe manufacturers are just running out of ways to fix bad photos, but creative shooting modes were popular additions to point-and-shoots in 2010. It's a feature trend we certainly see continuing into 2011 models.

In 2010, we got hit with the first wave of consumer digital cameras and camcorders that shoot in 3D. Since Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung sell everything you need for 3D viewing in your home, we expect them to lead the way with more 3D-capable cameras. However, we also expect camera makers that don't make 3D TVs and Blu-ray players to join in. They likely won't have dual-lens, dual-sensor cameras like Fujifilm, but they'll find ways to produce a 3D photo since then it'll just be an extra feature and escape being labeled "a 3D camera."

The one thing we're not sure camera manufacturers can address fast enough is the rapidly growing number of consumers addicted to instantly sharing their photos online. Without the always-on connection of a broadband network, getting your photos off your camera and onto a social networking or photo/video sharing site requires more of an effort. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth are rarities, and we've yet to see one that worked really well. Kodak's done a good job with its Share button allowing you to tag photos in camera to e-mail or post to various sites, but it requires you to connect to a computer to send them. So maybe we'll see it and others advance that some. Or, who knows, maybe we'll see the first broadband-connected SD memory card.