Future Tech 2013: Cameras

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We expect several trends to emerge in connection with this year’s new cameras:

sony rx1
The Sony Cyber RX1.

Big sensors in small cameras: Several excellent premium compact cameras have been released in the past few years, but 2012 was an especially innovative year for the category. That’s because the image sensors in these pocket-size cameras are getting much bigger and much better, and we’re reaching the point where a pocketable camera will offer the image quality of a DSLR.

The marquee models for this trend are Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 ($650), a compact camera with a sensor nearly three times larger than the ones found in cameras of similar size, and the very high-priced Sony Cyber RX1 ($2800), which offers a full-frame sensor that’s bigger than those in most consumer DSLRs. Big sensors translate to outstanding images, especially in low-light settings. As other camera companies unveil their own big-sensor pocket cameras, we’re betting that this trend is just getting started.

samsung galaxy camera
Samsung Galaxy Camera: It's connected.

And that just covers the point-and-shoots. In DSLR-land, full-frame sensors are showing up in more moderately priced camera bodies. Before the latter half of 2012, a full-frame DSLR fetched at least $3000, but two more-recent DSLRs—Nikon’s D600 and Canon’s EOS 6D—sell for around $2000 each. That’s not cheap, but it’s cheap for full-frame. Expect that more-for-less theme to continue.

Strong sales for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras: Fewer people have been buying basic point-and-shoot cameras over the past few years, thanks to the con­venience and improved capabilities of camera-equipped smartphones. Smartphones are sufficient for handling everyday photography, but they’ve also introduced many casual shooters to the fun of photography—from which they develop an interest in higher-quality cameras that capture noticeably better photos.

According to 2012 estimates by the Consumer Electronics Association, DSLR sales are expected to increase by 13 percent this holiday season over 2011, while point-and-shoot sales will continue to trend downward by nearly 8 percent. And first-time DSLR owners will have a number of easy-to-use, well-priced op­­tions to choose from. You can find several good DSLRs for $500 to $1000 as a kit; and as noted earlier, some full-frame DSLRs are now available for about $2000.

Compact interchangeable-lens (or “mirrorless”) cameras have also matured nicely. Compared with just last year, the mirrorless category offers many more lens options to choose from, smaller bodies, and cameras built for both beginners and seasoned shooters.

canon eos
The Canon EOS 6D DSLR.

App cameras and connected features:Wi-Fi–enabled cameras aren't new—they’ve been around since the Kodak EasyShare One debuted in 2005. However, we’ve never seen as many connected cameras as we have in the past year, and certainly not as many high-end models with wireless-sharing features.

Wi-Fi sharing is now an option in DSLRs and compact interchangeable-lens cameras, not just in basic point-and-shoots. Canon’s full-frame EOS 6D DSLR, Sony’s new NEX-6 and NEX-5R interchangeable-lens cameras, and Panasonic’s Lumix GH3 mirrorless camera all offer Wi-Fi sharing features to complement their high-end imaging and video capabilities. Sony’s latest NEX cameras also run proprietary, add-as-you-go apps that let you extend the camera's functionality over time.

On the point-and-shoot side, the 21X-optical-zoom Samsung Galaxy Camera is the most ambitious of the new breed, as it offers 4G and 3G connectivity, runs Android 4.1 and all its compatible apps, and boasts a huge 4.8-inch touchscreen. Nikon’s new Coolpix S800C compact camera also runs Android. Wireless sharing, apps, and smartphone-like features are bound to find their way into many more cameras in the next year.

nikon 1000
The Nikon Coolpix S800C.

4K/Ultra HD camcorders and DSLRs:Quite a bit of hype has surrounded 4K (or Ultra HD) TV recently, and you’ll see a few early-generation 4K HDTVs re­­leased in the upcoming year. But Ultra HD is at least a few years away from being mainstream-ready, in large part because not a lot of 4K content is yet available for viewing. And no wonder: At 3840 by 2160 lines, 4K footage has four times the resolution of 1080p video.

Right now, the cameras and camcorders capable of capturing 4K footage are professional-level models, most of which cost several thousand dollars. The exception is the rugged $400 GoPro Hero3 camera, which can capture 4K video, but only at a sluggish rate of 15 frames per second. In the coming year, watch for more video-capable DSLRs and high-end consumer camcorders that can capture 4K video. These models will be strictly for the early-adopter crowd—very expensive and storage-hungry—and unless you've already bought a 4K TV or projector, will you notice the difference when viewing favorite videos?

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