Camera and Camera-Phone Trends to Expect in 2012

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The Expanding World of Interchangeable-Lens Cameras

Of course, if you really want to make sure that your camera outperforms a smartphone, it's best to step up to a DSLR or a compact interchangeable-lens camera.

Panasonic Lumix GF3
Panasonic Lumix GF3
Over the past year, the realm of compact interchangeable-lens cameras has matured significantly, as new players such as Nikon and Pentax have joined the mirrorless fray. Perhaps more important, the world of compact interchangeable-lens cameras has branched out to include different models for different types of users.

Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony, for example, now have several models in their mirrorless lineups, from ultraportable cameras designed for novice shooters (Panasonic's Lumix GF3, Olympus's Pen Mini, and Sony's NEX-C3) to more-advanced and more-expensive models designed to be real replacements for a full-fledged DSLR (Panasonic's Lumix GX1 and GH2, Olympus's Pen E-P3, and Sony's NEX-7).

Now that most of the major camera makers have a stake in the compact interchangeable-lens camera market, look for relative newcomers such as Nikon and Pentax to develop different "levels" of cameras in the category. Also, this could be the year that Canon joins the compact interchangeable-lens party.

Will Lytro Change Everything?

Lytro light-field camera
Lytro light-field camera

Still, for all the variation in the world of interchangeable-lens cameras these days, none of them are capable of light-field photography.

Quite possibly the most exciting announcement in the past year of digital photography, Lytro's light-field camera is due to ship in the first quarter of 2012. It's the first consumer camera that lets you select a focus point for your photo after you shoot it, simply by touching the camera's small touchscreen viewfinder or offloading the images to a computer and clicking on part of the photo.

Lytro's first-generation camera will be very limited in image resolution (rumored to be just north of 1 megapixel), OS compatibility (it'll work only with Macs at launch), and wallet-friendliness (it's priced at $400 for an 8GB version and $500 for a 16GB version).

However, it could make up for those constraints in wow factor and operational simplicity. Other compelling features include a very long-life battery that's built to last on a single charge until the camera's storage capacity is filled, as well as the ability to create 3D stills easily with the camera's light-field sensor.

The camera is an extremely innovative device, and it'll be interesting to see if the product catches on en masse in 2012. And if it does, could Lytro's light-field sensor technology find its way into other cameras and phones?

"We feel that there's a lot of technology that we can apply to some very differentiated, very interesting, and very exciting products," says Lytro executive chairman Charles Chi. "We feel that we have the capital to do that, the capability in the company to do that, and also the vision to execute on the program. So we're very focused on building our own branded cameras and product line to sell in the marketplace."

Phone cameras would be a challenge, however. "If we were to apply the technology in smartphones, that ecosystem is, of course, very complex with some very large players there," Chi says. "It's an industry that's very different, and driven based on operational excellence. For us to compete in there, we'd have to be a very different kind of company. So if we were to enter that space, it would definitely be through a partnership and a codevelopment of the technology, and ultimately some kind of licensing with the appropriate partner."

This story, "Camera and Camera-Phone Trends to Expect in 2012" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Mirrorless Camera

  • Lytro Light Field Camera

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