SLIDESHOW

The Big Camera Trends for 2011

We've already seen two waves of camera releases so far in 2011, enough to identify the latest feature trends and get an idea of what we'll be seeing more of in the future. Here are some of the most popular new features in digital cameras.

Geotagging

GPS functions are quickly becoming commonplace in digital cameras. This feature records a photo's location into the file's metadata. Some cameras, such as models from Casio, Panasonic, and Samsung, even allow you to see your photos on a map within the camera; it's helpful if you want to map out your images or just jog your memory about where you took a shot.

Conveniently, the technology is showing up in rugged point-and-shoot models such as the Panasonic TS3 and Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS, which lend themselves well to adventurous treks. The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS (that company's first GPS camera) and the Sony DSC-HX9V store altitude, longitude, and latitude. Taking the technology a step further, the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 shows 1 million international landmarks and points of interest. In addtion, we've reviewed the GPS-capable Casio Exilim EX-H20G, which has an excellent in-camera mapping interface to go along with an extensive points-of-interest database; like the Canon model, it also comes with a "logger" feature, which tracks the camera's movements even when you aren't snapping pictures.

Low-Light-Optimized Sensors

Many companies are adding low-light-optimized sensors to cameras, allowing photographers to capture better nighttime photos and other poorly lit shots without using a flash or boosting the ISO. Backside-illuminated CMOS sensors reorder the elements that make up a sensor so that the wiring is behind the light-capturing diodes; this design clears the way for more light to hit the diodes.

Cameras using the technology include the new HS line of Canon PowerShots; the Nikon Coolpix P300 (top sample image), S9100, and P500; the Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 (bottom left); Sony Cyber-shots with the Exmor-R CMOS sensor; and Fujifilm cameras with the EXR sensor, such as the FinePix F550EXR pocket megazoom (bottom right).

In-Camera Help Modes

Figuring out how to navigate all the settings, buttons, and dials on a new camera can be a daunting task. Many manufacturers are adding in-camera help modes to walk new owners through the basic features of the camera, as well as to explain the essentials of photography in plain English.

The entry-level Nikon D3100 DSLR (top left) has a Guide Mode, and the Olympus Pen line of cameras offers the great Live Guide (top right). Canon's entry-level T3i and T3 DSLR cameras (bottom right) both provide a Feature Guide and Basic+ mode for new users. The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V presents a searchable guide, as do some sub-$200 Samsung point-and-shoots.

Flexible and Fun Designs

It's not just what's inside that counts--some new cameras are breaking the mold with fun and unusual designs. In the stunningly retro category are the Fujifilm FinePix X100 (top left) and the Olympus Pen series of interchangeable-lens cameras. The Pentax Optio WG-1 (top right) is built for an outdoors lifestyle, and its design is as bold as its body is strong. Also from Pentax, the K-r DSLR is available not just in the usual black but also in white and red. Finally, the Casio Tryx (bottom) is a twisty pocket point-and-shoot with a touchscreen that you can position in a number of ways.

Touchscreen Controls

Like Wi-Fi sharing options (see the last slide), the camera touchscreen craze is influenced by the popularity of smartphones. Touchscreens are more than just a gimmick, however: The latest touchsceens add some cool features.

For example, on the Panasonic Lumix FX78 (top left) and FP7 cameras, you can use the touchscreen to apply cosmetic touch-ups such as whitening teeth. The Panasonic G-series Micro Four Thirds Lumix DMC-GH2 camera (bottom left) allows users to tap on part of an image on the screen to adjust settings such as focus or exposure. Other touchscreen cameras include the powerful Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS (top right) and the smartphone-like Samsung SH100 (bottom right).

Premium Pocket Cameras

Size doesn't matter when it comes to image quality in the latest batch of high-end compact cameras. Joining the category leader, the Canon PowerShot S95, is the Nikon Coolpix P300, which offers users a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and a 4.2X optical zoom lens, all for an affordable $330. This little camera also shoots well in low-light settings, and comes with full manual controls.

Olympus's contribution to the high-end pocket camera trend is the $500 XZ-1, which offers nearly identical features, adds a RAW-shooting mode, and has a hot shoe for external flashes and unique accessories such as a tentacle-like LED light for macro shots. For photographers who are looking to lose the bulk of a DSLR but are unwilling to sacrifice image quality, premium pocket cameras are a great investment.

High-Speed Shooting

Casio is the leader in incorporating high-speed video capabilities into point-and-shoot cameras. Its high-speed EX-F1 (top left), EX-FH25, EX-ZR100, and Transformers-like Tryx cameras can all shoot high-speed video at varying frames per second. The EX-F1, for instance, can shoot an impressive 1200 fps at 336 by 96 resolution. Users can slow down these high-speed videos to around 30 fps to create great slow-motion footage. Other cameras with high-speed shooting modes include the Canon PowerShot 100 HS and 300 HS (top right), and the Nikon Coolpix P500 (bottom right).

3D Still Images

Many single-lens point-and-shoot cameras are adding 3D features, and Sony is leading the way: Its latest 3D-capable cameras are the Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 and the DSC-HX9V (top), and practically every new Sony point-and-shoot has a 3D mode. Sony also released the CES show-stealing Bloggie 3D camcorder (right) this year, which uses the traditional-two lens method to capture both 3D video and images. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (left), FX78, and TS3 have 3D shooting modes, too, and an optional 3D lens for the company's G series of Micro Four-Thirds cameras is available.

However, to shoot 3D video you'll need a dual-lens device, such as the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 or the Sony 3D Bloggie. What's more, viewing the images captured on most of these cameras often requires a special display device, such as Panasonic's 3D-capable Viera TVs or Fujifilm's digital-photo-frame-like 3D viewer. If the foray into 3D seems like just another new thing to learn, consider the Olympus SZ-10 (bottom), which includes a guide mode that shows users how to shoot in 3D.

Wireless Photo Sharing

Taking a cue from smartphones, cameras are adding more wireless-sharing options. Users love sending photos to family and friends instantly, as well as saving time by not having to transfer photos to a computer first. Olympus uses a Bluetooth transmitter device, the Penpal (left), to transfer photos wirelessly from the E-PL2 camera to a phone or computer. Taking wireless sharing one step further is the Samsung SH100 (top right): Rather than using an accessory to move photos, the entire camera is Wi-Fi enabled (though currently mobile connectivity is slated only for Galaxy S Android phones).

Wi-Fi memory card maker Eye-Fi (bottom right) has announced that all SD cards in its X2 line will receive a free update late in 2011 that allows the card to act as a Wi-Fi access point for tablets and phones. The feature, called Direct Mode, will work with a free app to send photos and video straight to mobile devices.