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article imageOp-Ed: The hottest tech of the year: Part 3 Special

By Jack Kapica     Dec 6, 2010 in Technology
Cameras: The biggest technological advances in cameras this year were where you least expected them — under the hood, where you can’t see them. But they have been making the art of taking good pictures easier.
There were few totally new developments in imaging technology over the past year, but still the whole approach to recording and editing digital images has advanced, if only by greater sophistication in the use of existing software and hardware.
The most interesting development was actually a loss: The disappearance of the mirror as a necessity in cameras. The mirror, a hangover from the analogue days of photography, was once a critical part of single-lens reflex cameras. But the mirror had to get out of the way in a hurry after you pressed the shutter to take a timely picture. Digital camera makers took years to overtake film cameras in this respect, but the mirror-less technology — which was introduced in 2009 and bloomed in 2010 — delivered a lot more.
Without a mechanical mirror, a camera can shorten the awful delay between pressing the shutter and taking the picture. It still takes unconscionably long on some cameras, especially with those cameras whose makers have, to save on costs, cut back on the internal electronics required to process the picture. Those should be run off the market as soon as buyers discover how fast a camera can be.
Without a mirror, a camera could also be made even smaller. It also allowed manufacturers to create cameras with interchangeable lenses, meaning they could sell you a bunch of lenses instead of one fixed on the camera.
With either of two major photo-editing suites  CorelDraw Graphic Suite X5 and Adobe’s Creative Sui...
With either of two major photo-editing suites, CorelDraw Graphic Suite X5 and Adobe’s Creative Suite 5, you can start to think of yourself as a photographer again, not a snap-shooter.
Corel; Adobe
Other developments followed. Larger sensors (think of them as digital “film”) capture more light than their tiny predecessors did, allowing better pictures in low-light conditions; higher-density memory modules allow cameras to store larger pictures (that is, pictures with greater colour range), and faster processors speed up the processing of pictures inside the camera. Before, manufacturers were largely forced to cut corners, at least among low-end to mid-level cameras, compressing pictures (into the .JPG format) to get them to fit into existing memory, with the result that they had to sacrifice a bunch of image data that would have made the images much better. In low-end cameras, extensive compression created the digital equivalent of the old Brownie Box Camera.
But now that many mid-range cameras store pictures in the RAW format, meaning unprocessed and uncompressed images, photographers can get much better results.
And once you work with images in the RAW format, it’s impossible to go back. Get yourself some good image-editing software, either CorelDraw Graphic Suite X5 or Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (for more ambitious and well-heeled photographers), or their slimmed-down and cheaper kid brothers, PaintShop Photo Pro X3 or Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, and you suddenly can think of yourself as a much better photographer.
Sony’s NEX5 offers more detail and colour  which photographers call dynamic range.
Sony’s NEX5 offers more detail and colour, which photographers call dynamic range.
Further on the subject of sensors, a development announced in 2008 came of age this year, the micro four-thirds format, developed by Panasonic and Olympus. It’s a standard that governs the behaviour of a sensor and its size — it’s not as big as the old 35-mm film, but it is 13 times the size of what is usually stuffed into a compact point-and-shoot camera. With sensors, bigger is definitely better. You should know about this format because the size of the sensor is a much better way of judging the quality of a camera than the number of megapixels. Pictures taken with the Samsung NX10 or the Sony NEX3 or NEX5 will offer more detail and colour, which photographers call “dynamic range.”
The Panasonic Lumix G2 has a lens made by the legendary Leica people  with a smaller sensor; but tha...
The Panasonic Lumix G2 has a lens made by the legendary Leica people, with a smaller sensor; but that is the price paid for a smaller, more manageable size of camera.
There’s a trade-off: The little you lose in quality from the smaller four-thirds sensors (from the full-sized ones in professional cameras) is compensated by the smaller, more manageable size of the camera. The Olympus E-PL1 and Panasonic’s Lumix G2 and G10 (which include lenses made by Leica, the high-end German camera manufacturer) use this system, and with an optional adapter, it can use lenses made for four-thirds cameras.
The prices are of course more than those for point-and-shoot cameras, which can go for as much as $500; their mirrorless cousins will run up to about $900. That’s getting expensive — but then the technology in these cameras offer all sorts of other treats as well, such as filming high-definition video, a system for stabilizing images, and a host of settings for various lighting conditions.
Samsung (the NX10 shown here) has thrown most of its efforts into making its line of low-end cameras...
Samsung (the NX10 shown here) has thrown most of its efforts into making its line of low-end cameras easier to use with some better-quality components and faster processors.
Among consumer-priced cameras, Samsung brought out one camera that features interchangeable lenses (the NX10), throwing most of its efforts into making its line of low-end cameras easier to use with some better-quality components and faster processors. The NX10, a 14.6-megapixel item comes with an 18 to 55-mm interchangeable zoom lens; other lenses include a 30-mm Pancake wide-angle lens and a 50 to 200-mm zoom lens. Among its more interesting features is a “supersonic” dust reduction system (it vibrates at 60,000 times a second) that cleans the sensor, a feature made necessary with interchangeable lenses, which leave the sensor exposed during changes.
Another higher-end Samsung product, the 14.6 megapixel NX100, offers an interesting feature on the lens barrel, called the “i-function button,” which instantly adjusts the aperture, speed and exposure without forcing the photographer to look at the back of the camera, where these settings are often displayed on other cameras. It also has a built-in i-Scene mode that identifies the type of lens that has been attached, and suggests which kind of scene the lens is best suited for.
For its part, Sony added two cameras — the NEX-3 and the NEX-5 — for its intermediate α (alpha) series, which feature a newly developed 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, which is about 60 per cent larger than sensors in micro four-thirds cameras. They also have interchangeable lenses and bodies made of magnesium alloy (the NEX-5), and polycarbonate (the NEX-3), and are “easy to slip into a small purse or jacket pocket for ultimate portability.”
The real innovation here is Sony’s introduction this year of Single-Lens Translucent technology, which changes the role the mirror plays. Instead of a flapping mirror, the camera uses a semi-translucent mirror that allows the most of the light to get to the sensor while reflecting some of it to a sensor in the top of the camera, so there is no camera shake with a moveable mirror.
These cameras are fairly expensive ($650 to $800), but they also add features you can’t get many other places. One is called Sweep Panorama, which lets photographers capture shots up to 226-degree horizontal or 151-degree vertical. With 3D Sweep Panorama mode, Sony says the two are “the world’s first cameras that can shoot 3D panoramic still images with a single lens” that can be viewed in 3D on compatible 3D televisions. Three new lenses were also introduced, including a 16-mm wide angle prime lens, an 18-mm to 55-mm standard zoom lens and an 18-mm to 200-mm high-magnification zoom lens.
Nikon’s D3S is a classic tool for professional photographers and artists as well.
Nikon’s D3S is a classic tool for professional photographers and artists as well.
For its part, Nikon, the industry standard in cameras and the favourite among news photographers, has released four new single-lens reflex cameras, ranging from the D3100 ($570 body only, for the serious amateur), to the D7000 ($1,280, body only) to the D300S ($1,500 body only), to the D3S ($5,200 body only). These prices are getting into the vertiginous range, but they’re worth examining if only to get an advance look at what technologies will eventually trickle down to lower-priced cameras.
The D3100 has a Guide Mode, which uses a graphical interface on the camera’s LCD that suggests camera settings according to what the sensor “sees.” More interesting is the new EXPEED 2 image-processing engine, which allows a split-second shutter response and sensitivity up to ISO 3200 (expandable to ISO 12,800). Nikon has also adapted the autofocus system to video shooting and while in Live View mode. Its face-detection technology can lock focus on as many as 35 human faces.
The Nikon D7000, which is in the professional range, has an FX-format CMOS sensor that is the same size as 35-mm film cameras and running at 12.1-megapixels. Combined with the new image-processing technology, the camera can shoot continuously at up to five frames per second.
What’s interesting among these still cameras is that all of them have been creeping into the realm of video for the past few years, and we can eventually expect to see cameras that can shoot extensive video as well as first-rate still images. Already, cameras such as Nikon’s shoot video in 1080i resolution, which will make your movies rock on your giant flat-panel TV.
Cisco’s Flip Ultra video camcorder is a premium camera in a tiny body (about the size of a pregnan...
Cisco’s Flip Ultra video camcorder is a premium camera in a tiny body (about the size of a pregnant cellphone) and it shoots in high definition.
And to see how good these things can be, there is the astonishing Flip Video camera, from Cisco. The Flip Mino (pronounced “minnow”) was released in 2008; this year Cisco released the newest version: the Flip UltraHD, a premium video camera in a tiny body (about the size of a pregnant cellphone) but it shoots in High Definition (1280 x 720 pixels) and comes in two models, capable of one- or two-hour videos.
The new version has an improved rechargeable lithium-ion battery (up to two hours of recording time and enough memory to store that much video), a large LCD screen as well as software called FlipShare, which enables users to edit the video and upload it directly to YouTube and MySpace — perfect for the social-networking crowd.
It’s priced at $239, but the real thrill is watching the result from this tiny wonder on your high-definition LCD TV.
Part 1 of The Hottest Tech of the Year: Television
Part 2 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Smartphones
Part 4 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Printers
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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