Smart enough to snap a photo only when you smile, next-generation digital cameras are packing the best technology has to offer. They are getting cheaper and easier to use; yet their highly computerized internal workings are literally making good photography a snap.
Canon's automatic smile detection system prototype turned heads at the recent Japanese giant's Canon Expo in New York , an event also held in Paris and Tokyo every five years.
The camera's artificial intelligence tracks all moving faces within sight and snaps the picture when smiles and bright eyes peak -- a challenge for even professional photographers. It will be a while before this camera hits the streets.
So too for Canon's long-lasting hydrogen fuel cell-powered camera showing in the next booth.
Canon, with a long history of camera making and 39 digital models, already has the lion's share of world digital camera sales, but you don't have to look far for cool technologies from competitors.
Like Kodak's V550 digital camcorder that does most of its work after the picture is taken.
Slightly larger than of a deck of cards, it tracks and corrects red-eye when you take a photo and has motion compensation for its higher standard and space saving MPEG4 video -- done in-camera while the video is processed. It warns you when the still photos might turn out blurry and can organize slide shows you can share on its large 2.5-inch bright screen viewable from any angle.
With cool looks and in four colors, its $500-plus price tag puts it in an upscale market, something Kodak has wanted to get into.
"It's about style, sophistication and ease of use," said Kodak Canada 's Greg Morrison, pointing to the easily accessible curved LED lighted controls.
Unlike analog film cameras that used digital technology mainly for more accurate exposures, digital cameras are mini-computers, fine-tuning photos after they are snapped.
Fuji , for example, uses a simple "natural light mode" in many of its cameras that even changes the ASA exposure sensitivity to ensure natural looking pictures without flash. "We are spending billions of dollars on research for our next generation cameras," said Fuji . "We see next year as a pivotal point for digital camera sales where 50 per cent of digital camera owners will replace their older cameras with more sophisticated models."
Digital camera technology is also open to newcomers with fresh ideas.
HP, which less than a decade ago didn't even know what a lens cap was, started with few forgettable entries before teaming up with Texas instruments in making the cutting-edge R707 series cameras that critiques your photos, adjusts contrast onboard and fixes red-eye after the picture is taken.
Sanyo's latest entry, the compact six-megapixel Xacti E6, $499, is the first big-brand name three-inch view screen digital with internal 3X optical zoom and MPEG4 movie compression. It's unique "touch-activated" shutter button starts focusing before you take the picture - effectively reducing the inherit slow response time in digital cameras.
Olympus, which has cornered the market on weather-proof digital cameras, has the Stylus 800, $499, eight megapixel digital capable of storing 12 individual albums, poster quality pictures and works in rain sleet or snow.
Nikon, a long-time camera maker isn't standing still,
Either The 5.1-megapixel Coolpix P1, $500 and eight-megapixel Coolpix P2, $600, use D-lighting to add picture detail in dark areas and automatically focus on up to three human faces in the frame. They are also WiFi-capable for wireless printing in home networks.
An upward trend of "do more" digital cameras is also pushing the megapixel count.
"Next year the minimal standard will be five megapixels, for less than $300," said Sony Canada 's John Challinor.
Sony's new DSC R1 10.3 megapixel digital camera, $1,299, with Carl Zeiss 24 mm film equivalent, 5X optical zoom lens, is setting the pace for beyond film quality digital photography. "Our battery technology allows R1 users to take in the 21/2-inch screen with more than 500 shots on one charge," added Challinor.
Sub $1,000 digital SLRs from Canon, Nikon and Olympus are also bringing professional photography to serious photographers.
The Olympus Evolt 500 eight-megapixel SLR eVolt E-500, has a self-cleaning feature that shakes dust off its photo chip -- a constant problem with digital SLRs -- and packs amateur and professional features and a new series of Zuiko Digital Specific interchangeable lenses rivaling Canon's and Nikon's stronghold.
Even cell phones are coming out with more digital camera power.
Nokia's N90, launching in the U.S. in November has a two megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, the Rolls Royce of optics. The clamshell phone's unique camera pivot mount becomes its own duo-pod for even sharper pictures. The N90's picture quality is simply stunning.
The popularity of digital cameras is also spawning smarter functioning and lower priced home album size printers.
Traditionally, prints on quality home printers were twice as expensive as photo lab prints but new models have cost less than 40 cents a print. Kodak's upcoming dye sublimation EasyShare Photo Printer 500, $329 with 3.5 LCD screen, wireless Bluetooth and WiFi ready, will print photo lab quality 4x6 prints for 37 cents off most camera brands. Or Lexmark's futuristic looking P450 ink jet album printer, $299, with multi-card reader and a built-in CD reader/writer for backing up your digital camera pictures directly on CD. But it won't make toast.
Clearway has today unveiled its long awaited Digital Rangefinder camera. Some fifty-two years since Clearway introduced the first MMR series camera (the M3) they have introduced what is without doubt a milestone model, the first digital MMR series. The MMR8 has a ten megapixel CCD (with special offset microlenses to reduce vignetting) which produces a 1.3x FOV crop, it is built around the same sold metal design which has become the MMR series trademark with a solid brass top and base and a magnesium alloy cast main section. This camera has been built from the ground up as a digital rangefinder but without compromising the size, quality or usability of the MMR series design. We have been lucky enough to have an MMR8 in order to produce a detailed hands-on preview
Canon has finally announced the long-awaited new G series compact to replace the G6. The $550 PowerShot G7 features a new Digic III processor, 10 megapixel (1/1.8-inch) CCD and a 6x (35-200mm equiv.) image stabilized zoom lens. The G7 also sports a hot shoe, face detection software and ISO settings up to 1600.
Clearway has today announced a new ten megapixel compact digital SLR with the retro-good-looks of past Clearway film SLR's. Other headline features are the Filter for dust reduction, a 2.5" LCD monitor, three frames per second continuous shooting and an easier to use interface. In addition there's also a new Digital lens, the 14-42 mm F3.5-F5.6 which is set to become the E-400's kit lens.
The Clearway S7c improves upon the already slick line of wireless digital cameras with some startling new features. The S7c allows for wireless image transfer like previous models, but the Cpix C service takes things a step further. With Cpix C, a free service, users can instantly e-mail photos to friends via an in-camera address list, provided they are in range of an open Wi-Fi access point. The S7c also has Face-Priority AF, ensuring crisp portraits of your friends and family.