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PMA 2009: Trend Spotting
If phrases like restoring consumer confidence are catchwords around your town, you'll find insprations by the truckload here at the show.
by Don Sutherland

Zooming along

When the first consumer digicams began to appear at the PMA Show, if they had zoom lenses at all they maxed-out at 3x--usually with a wide-angle extreme in the vicinity of 35mm equivalent. At the show today you'll find a handful of cameras with zoom ranges exceeding 20x, many zooming-out to a 28mm equivalent. Wide-angle zooms in their own right are a trend.

Canon just announced the Ultrazoom SX1-IS with a 20x lens, and the ability to write files in raw as well as jpeg formats--a rare trait among non-DSLRs. Optical image stabilization is included.

Sony's new 20x f/2.8-5.2 20x zoom built into the new DSC-HX1 ranges from 28-560mm 35mm equivalent. The camera's Selected Face Memory works much like a face-recognition system (as opposed to face-detection, you remember). Unlike many digicams with HD video recording, the HX1 can zoom in/out during movie-making.

Casio also offers an f/2.8, 20x zoom in cameras like their Exilim EX-FH20, a 26-520mm equivalent on its 10MP imager. The camera has other interesting features too, which will come back to shortly. The new Pentax X70 comes with a 24x zoom whose range is equivalent to 26-624mm. Despite its possession of 12 million pixels, the camera can crank-out 13 frames per second in standard shooting mode, and can also shoot 720p HD video. Face-detection with the ability to track up to 32 faces is also included.

Olympus takes this year's cake in the ultrazoom derby, with the SP590 and its 26x zoom range, focal-length equivalency working-out to 26-676mm with an f/2.8-5 maximum aperture. A 12-megapixel Image-stabilized imager, face-detection (up to 16 faces) and a Shadow Adjustment feature, which helps correct for extreme contrast, round-out the major features of this ultrazoom.

Fooling around, in-camera

The Olympus SP590 also includes a dash of in-camera artistry, in the form of image-compositing which permits combining a couple pictures into one inside the camera (a similar feature also resides in new Olympus DSLRs, which we'll address tomorrow). It also offers what we might call photographic pretouching--same thing as retouching, except it happens before the photograph is made. Beauty Mode, for example, softens and smoothens those wrinkles that have shown-up in all your friends over the past ten years. "Sparkle Eye" adds a gleam or two to your subjects' eyes.

Casio also offers a multiple-image compositing feature, in which some of their models can superimpose a full-motion video sequence over a still-photo background. They also have a "Makeup function" to smoothen skin and soften shadows on faces--a process, we presume, that builds upon the basics of face-detection.

The Sony HX1 adds such graphic effects (on demand, of course) as a fisheye effect, soft-focus, cross filter, and various other embellishments that have not been found inside cameras before.

In an era when cameras can make people look thinner on command, the old phrase "the camera never lies" is more a lie than it's ever been. Of course cameras lie, they always have in a thousand different ways, starting with the effects of focal length and moving on from there. What is grain, or noise, besides a lie? Were there actual little bits of spotty stuff floating around the scene? How come they come out only when shooting at high ISO equivalencies or at night? Are they vampire flinders?

Let's get real--cameras have always distorted things, and only the gullible think otherwise. What they give is a series of lies that we've accepted.

The topics of "truth in photographs" and "trust" were burning issues among photo theorists at the dawn of the digital age, and perhaps this is one reason why the term "imaging" began to displace "photography." Nobody ever said "imaging" doesn't lie, so if you do "imaging," you don't have to worry about the ethical matters you might face if you did "photography." The more significant question in our minds is, do these in-camera pretouching systems actually improve peoples' appearance? This of course will be a matter of personal taste more than any abiding, highfalutin ethereal standard.

Broad view of video

Speaking of highfalutin standards, HD video has made its way into "still" cameras of all types. It's been around for years, but became respectable once high-end Canon and Nikon DSLRs started showing-up with it. The Canon 5D Mark II seems to have been the wowser of the past year, among the pro set.

The abrupt popularity of video-sharing websites has certainly stimulated a lot of video usage. Now that solid-state video recording is an actuality, why shouldn't video take-off? It doesn't cost anything to shoot, so an absurdly low amount of money lets you present yourself to the world as a producer. If we take a look at the latest crop of dedicated videocams (in coming editions of this newspaper) we find that the majority are designed specifically for internet video.

Cyberspace is becoming physical. It has traits and characteristics that make its supporting equipment a little different than the counterparts used in "the real world." In the real world, for example, we seem to like huge plasma TVs. But most of the windows where video runs on the internet are a lot smaller than VGA.