Olympus and Canon's Tilt-Shift Simulators
Good for: Making full-size objects look miniature
Think of your camera as a shrink ray, able to reduce large land masses and buildings to tiny scale models of themselves. Creating a miniaturized look used to require a special tilt-shift lens or Photoshop work, but Olympus's latest Micro Four-Thirds cameras (the Pen E-P2 and Pen E-PL1) and three new Canon PowerShots (the SX210 IS, SD1400 IS, and SD3500 IS) put access to this trickery inside the camera itself. Olympus's Diorama Art Filter and Canon's Miniature scene mode both choose a narrow horizontal plane of focus, blur the top and bottom of the image, and give colors an artificial boost. The resulting images make big objects look really small.
Sony's Handheld Twilight Mode and Advanced Scene Recognition
Good for: Crisp low-light photos without a flash
Shooting in dark conditions without a DSLR normally involves an image-quality compromise. If you use the camera's flash, you blow out foreground subjects while making the background pitch black. But if you boost the ISO on a small-sensored point-and-shoot camera to create an evenly lit photo, you usually generate a noisy, sometimes unusable image.
A couple of useful features in Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-WX1, DSC-TX1, DSC-HX5V, and DSC-TX5 cameras offer solid alternatives for shooting in low light. Handheld Twilight mode takes up to six photos at different exposure settings in rapid-fire fashion, and then overlays them to generate a smooth, noise-free low-light image. Advanced Scene Recognition mode allows you to take two shots in quick succession--one with the flash on, and one using low-light-optimized settings with the flash turned off--and lets you view the two shots side by side.
Nikon's Built-In Projector
Good for: Sharing photos the old-school way
A few years ago, it would have been logical to predict that every camera in 2010 would offer built-in Wi-Fi. But with the Eye-Fi card taking care of most wireless sharing needs, camera makers are getting creative and providing other means of photo sharing. Sony has TransferJet and Kodak has in-camera Facebook tagging, but Nikon may have the coolest in-camera sharing technology of them all: the Coolpix S1000pj's built-in projector, which beams your photos and video to the nearest flat surface for all to see, ridicule, or make shadow puppets onto.
Samsung's Front-Mounted DualView Display
Good for: Self-portraits and timer shots without the guesswork
Nikon's projector-camera isn't the only innovative display technology to show up among the latest crop of point-and-shoots. Samsung's DualView cameras have a secondary display on the front, which you can use to compose self-portraits, keep an eye on the self-timer's countdown clock, or play an animation to capture a little child's attention. And Samsung hasn't stopped there: The company is the first major manufacturer to use AMOLED screens on a growing number of cameras, and the gesture-controlled, touchscreen interface on the Samsung TL225 is as polished an interface as we've seen on anything that isn't a phone.
Canon's Wink Detection
Good for: Remote-controlling your camera without a remote
Many of today's cameras have a smile-detection feature, which fires the shutter as soon as a subject in the frame grins. This year sees another threat to your camera's remote and self-timer: Canon's Wink Detection feature (found in the new PowerShot SX210 IS, SD1400 IS, and SD3500 IS), which, as its name suggests, snaps a photo as soon as someone in front of the lens winks. We haven't had a chance to test it yet, but we're hoping that it puts a slight delay between the wink and the shutter's firing. Otherwise, everyone will end up looking like Popeye.
Casio's High-Speed Shooting Mode
Good for: Super-slow-motion action shots
Casio's high-speed cameras have been available for a few years now, but the company's High-Speed Exilim cameras are growing in number and shrinking in size. The most enticing high-speed addition this year is the High Speed Exilim EX-FH100, a pocketable 10X-optical-zoom camera that can rattle off 40 stills and 1000 frames of video per second. The high-speed setting lets you take some amazing super-slow-motion footage, record split-second moments of impact, and shoot fast-action sports scenes with a pocket megazoom camera that's built for everyday use.
Fujifilm's Pet Detection
Good for: Snapping forward-facing portraits of your dog or cat
Updated 4/23/2010 after some hands-on testing with this mode in the Fujifilm Finepix JZ500.
It won’t cure green-eye, but Fujifilm’s new Pet Detection setting aims to put some pet-related photo problems on a short leash. Using an in-camera database of breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, Cat Fancier’s Association, and Federation Cyno Logique Internationale, this setting recognizes when your dog or cat is looking at the camera and automatically snaps a shot. The feature is available in four of Fujifilm’s Finepix cameras—the F80EXR, the Z700EXR, the JZ500, and the JZ300—and it beats using one hand to entice your cat with a toy or your dog with a treat while you try to take a steady shot with your free hand. However, this mode does need work. In early hands-on tests with the Fujifilm Finepix JZ500, we found that pet detection mode may not be useful for owners of active pets; the shutter often didn’t fire fast enough to capture a pet while it was still looking at the camera.
Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony's Built-In GPS
Good for: Geotagging photos as you take them
Location-based technology in cameras is much less creepy than Foursquare, and a lot more useful. Built-in GPS receivers are finding their way into cameras such as Panasonic's Lumix DMC-ZS7 and Samsung's HZ35W. Sony's GPS-enabled Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V even offers a digital compass to tell you which direction you're facing as you snap a shot. All of this in-camera geotagging makes it easier for you to display your photos on a map interface via Google Earth's integration with photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa.
Olympus's Live Guide
Good for: Learning the ropes without reading a manual
In addition to its interchangeable optics, compact size, and big sensor, the Olympus Pen E-PL1 Micro Four-Thirds camera offers a beginner-friendly Live Guide feature. To help novice shooters master the camera, this on-screen setting offers quick tips for shooting different subjects (kids, pets, and flowers, for example) and describes some of the more complex in-camera settings (aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation, for instance) in plain English. Creating a shallow depth of field by widening the aperture becomes 'Blur Background' in the on-screen help; adjusting the shutter speed becomes 'Express Motion', and tweaking various exposure settings becomes 'Change Color Saturation', 'Change Brightness', and 'Change Color'. As a result, creative casual shooters can easily capture the look and feel they prefer, and then check the metadata for each image to see how to achieve that image manually on later occasions.
Fujifilm's Motion Remover
Good for: Deleting that fast-moving dude who just ruined your shot
It's a common problem: You take a perfect shot of a landmark, landscape, or otherwise still scene, but someone dashes into the frame at the last minute, ruining the photo. Fujifilm's 30X-optical-zoom FinePix HS10 solves that problem by erasing photo-hijackers. The Motion Remover setting scans an image for subjects in fast motion, and then removes the offending subjects while preserving the background area behind the moving object. The feature worked well during my quick hands-on test at PMA 2010, as it retained the background behind a moving person with impressive accuracy.