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Camera and Camcorder Trends: Connected, Compact, and Complex

This year's big camera announcements were all about built-in Wi-Fi, zoom lenses in pocketable frames, and powerful-but-pricey cameras.

What's ahead for digital photography in 2012? CES is a good indicator for what camera buffs will see in the year ahead. Based on what we've seen this year at CES expect Wi-Fi-enabled everything, big zoom lenses on pocket-sized cameras, and impressive full-frame DSLRs with beefy specs and prices.

For an overview of the big deal cameras announced here at CES please check our earlier camera coverage. What follows is a CES synopsis of a few overarching trends and cameras that tie together significant announcements made here in Las Vegas.

See Related Slideshow: The Biggest Camera Announcements of CES 2012

Trend No. 1: Wi-Fi-Enabled Everything

This isn't the first time we've seen connected cameras at CES, but it is the first time we've seen so many of them.

Smartphones continue to encroach upon the turf of standalone cameras at a steady pace, and this year's CES saw a few new phones with some very impressive imaging specs: the F2.2-aperture Nokia Lumia 900, the 16-megapixel HTC Titan II, and the Exmor R-equipped Sony Xperia Ion. And, of course, the secret weapon in all those phones is the ability to share photos and video instantly via an always-accessible cellular connection.

Many big-name camera makers are trying to narrow that gap by building wireless features into cameras that have much better optics and imaging controls than any smartphone out there. At CES, Samsung was the most active player in the connected-camera space, with options such as the 21X-optical-zoom WB850F, 18X-optical-zoom WB150F, and 10X-optical-zoom ST200F all offering direct-upload capabilities and the option to sync up with Android smartphones to offload and share images.

A lower-cost option from Kodak, the 5X-optical-zoom EasyShare M750, also offers direct uploads to sharing sites and the ability to pair with Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices. Blurring the line between cameras and phones even further is the 16-megapixel Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera, which will run Android 4.0 behind its 3X-optical-zoom lens.

Wi-Fi is also a common trend in many new high-definition camcorders, as several different companies have built wireless sharing into their new lineup for 2012. Canon's Vixia line adds four Wi-Fi-enabled camcorders this year--the Vixia HF M52, HF M50, HF R32, and HF R30--which feature direct-upload options for Facebook and YouTube, as well as pairing to iOS devices via a free app. Samsung also offers uploading and syncing features in its new QF20 HD camcorder, and Sony's new Bloggie Live pocket camcorder packs in live-streaming capabilities.

Trend No. 2: Big Zooms in Little Packages

As anyone who's ever tried to take photos from the back of a crowded CES press conference will tell you, all of the instant-connectivity options of a quality smartphone camera mean squat without a decent optical-zoom lens. Far-reaching zoom lenses are one of the big benefits found in many point-and-shoot cameras, and this year, those long optical-zoom lenses will turn up on some very small cameras.

Canon, Olympus, and Panasonic each introduced pocket-zoom models that measure less than an inch thick, with Canon's PowerShot Elph 520 HS offering a 12X optical zoom lens in a boxy throwback body that's just 0.88 inches deep. Olympus's 10X-optical-zoom VG-160 goes even slimmer, packing a 10X-optical-zoom lens in a 0.75-inch-deep frame, and Panasonic's similarly svelte Lumix SZ7 matches that optical reach in a 0.9-inch frame.

A few more long-zoom options surfaced at just over the inch-thick mark, too: Fujifilm's 10X-optical-zoom FinePix T400 at 1.1 inches deep, and Samsung combined two big trends with the slim, Wi-Fi-enabled, 10X-optical-zoom ST200.

Trend No. 3: Pricey Performers

While most of the cameras and camcorders mentioned above are geared toward casual shooters, there were quite a few new offerings for experienced shooters, as well. What was surprising, however, was how little movement there was on the compact interchangeable-lens front: The radio went silent on new ILC offerings from Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony, although Fujifilm did roll out its first entry in the category.

Nikon had the beast of the DSLR announcements with the $6000, professional-level D4, the company's new flagship full-frame model. Along with full 1080p video capture and a 10fps burst mode, it's billed as an excellent low-light performer, with ISO equivalency that extends up to 204,800 and an autofocus system that works at narrow aperture settings.

Fujfilm's inaugural mirrorless entry, the X-Pro 1, will cost quite a bit more than rival interchangeable-lens compacts. The X-Pro 1 is built around a newly designed 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor that uses a unique pixel array to eliminate image distortion, and its innovative hybrid viewfinder displays digital level and exposure data in its eye-level optical viewfinder. The company is positioning the camera as a competitor to mid-range DSLRs rather than other mirrorless cameras, with a price to match. Although its price hasn't been finalized, Fujfilm expects it to be in the $1700 range for the body only when the camera goes on sale in February.

And finally, those looking for a fixed-lens alternative to lugging around a DSLR have a new large-sensored option in the Canon PowerShot G1 X. With full manual controls, a 14-bit RAW mode, 1080p video, a built-in neutral density filter, and dedicated knobs and dials for fine-tuning exposure, its marquee feature is its large 14.3-megapixel sensor: It's slightly smaller than an APS-C sensor, but larger than the one found in ILCs. At $800, it's also priced higher than anything in its class. While it's similar to the PowerShot G12, the G1 X won't replace it; it's the new flagship camera in the PowerShot series, but the G12 will remain in the lineup.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.


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