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You can tell a lot about the future by studying the not-too-distant past. The megapixel war is officially over, as 8 to 10 megapixels has become the default resolution for even the lowest-end pocket cameras. Instead of racing to add resolution, camera makers will be rushing to capitalize on some of the big developments of the past year.
I predict that major manufacturers will be driven to build the ultimate hybrid still/video device, more-versatile pocket camcorders, and pocketable interchangeable-lens cameras, as well as to harness emerging wireless technologies. Here's what we may see coming out of the cameras category at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show and throughout 2010.
Maturation of the Pocket Camcorder
In 2009 we saw the first 1080p-capable, digitally stabilized pocket camcorder, the excellent Kodak Zi8. And according to Cisco, 2.5 million units of the company's Flip Video camcorders have shipped since 2007. Simple, pocketable, and sharing-friendly video cameras are catching on big-time.
Now that the category is a hit, it's time for the specs to catch up. We expect to see a jump in pocket-camcorder features in the next year: higher-quality optics, wireless sharing features, more in-camera settings, optical zoom lenses, and 1080p video captured as high-bitrate AVCHD.
Don't be surprised if point-and-shoot cameras start to adopt some of the pocket camcorders' marquee features, too. We may see models that work in both portrait and landscape orientation to let the shooter reposition the camera depending on whether they're taking stills or video. Point-and-shoot cameras may also incorporate USB connectors to ease file uploads and sharing.
In other words, expect to see pocket camcorders and cameras meet in the middle in 2010.
Even Smaller, Video-Savvy, Interchangeable-Lens Cameras
Last year saw the debut of the smallest, most fashionable digital SLR alternatives yet, with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 and the Olympus PEN E-P1 and E-P2 leading the charge. And last year's PMA show featured a mysterious preview of Samsung's NX series camera, an as-yet-unannounced interchangeable-lens model that's smaller than a full-fledged DSLR.
Over the next year we're expecting to see even smaller and more-feature-packed interchangeable-lens models that offer large sensors, great image quality for both stills and video, and the option of using different lenses in a relatively compact camera.
On the DSLR side of the spectrum, expect to see HD video capture become ubiquitous, as DSLR still cameras continue to become a viable option for professional videographers and independent filmmakers. Last year, HD video recording crept into the feature set of an increasing number of DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, and Pentax. Expect this trend to continue in 2010, and even to pave the way for redesigned DSLR bodies that ease the video-shooting process.
TransferJet and Wi-Fi Direct
For most cameras, sharing and offloading photos and video depends on a separate USB cable. We've also seen our share of Wi-Fi-enabled cameras and storage cards in the past year, but wireless file transfers may get a serious kick in the pants in the coming year with TransferJet- and Wi-Fi Direct-capable devices.
Both technologies support wireless, peer-to-peer sharing between compliant devices, but the logistics differ a bit.
TransferJet is a proximity-based, unencrypted wireless technology that transfers files between devices when you simply touch them together (or move them within an inch of one another). Members of the TransferJet Consortium include Sony, which developed the technology, and other major companies such as Canon, Casio, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Samsung. TransferJet supports peer-to-peer file sharing at speeds around 375 megabits per second.
Wi-Fi Direct is a wireless-networking specification that establishes peer-to-peer connections between Wi-Fi-enabled devices without the need for a nearby router; think of it as a higher-bandwidth alternative to Bluetooth, with transfer speeds around 250 mbps. The Wi-Fi Alliance is planning to start certifying devices for the Wi-Fi Direct spec in the middle of 2010.
What does all of this mean to consumers? For transferring photos and video, at least, USB cables may soon be gone for good.