Monday, December 17, 2012

Smart Cameras

Everywhere you look, people are snapping photos and shooting videos with their smartphones, iPads and Android tablets.
By Michael J. McNamara Published in Compact
Still, a single device that takes great pictures and delivers the benefits of a wireless connection and specialized apps sounds appealing, so let's take a closer look at pluses and minuses of what these new cameras offer.


Just how large can a compact camera get before it's no longer a compact camera? If the current models are an indicator of what to expect in the smartcamera world, we've already reached the limit with the Samsung Galaxy camera. The main reason is its supersized 4.77-inch HD Super Clear Touch Display, which makes the relatively large 3.5-inch monitor on the Nikon Coolpix S800c and 3-inch monitors on the Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6 models seem tiny.

The Samsung screen is gorgeous, and its touch screen allows you to choose between a variety of automatic and manual picture modes. It also lets you show off your photos and videos to a crowd of onlookers, and in combination with the camera's 3G connectivity (enabled through a monthly data plan that costs extra), gives you access to the Internet (including Skype), as well as a host of online games from wherever you can access a 3G network. But that big screen is hard to view in bright sunlight and hard to protect. And as mentioned earlier, it replaces all the quick-access exposure buttons and dials with menus that take more time to navigate. The same is true of the Nikon screen, while the smaller 3-inch Sony monitors can be tilted for easier viewing in bright light and still leave room for important buttons and dials.



Potential compact or DSLR camera buyers can determine how long a fully charged battery will last in most cameras by comparing CIPA ratings in spec sheets. But those ratings don't figure in the extra demands and app drains of a smartcamera. For example, powering the Samsung Galaxy camera's huge monitor, its fast 1.4 GHz quad-core processor and its WIFI, 3G and GPS radios during shooting, editing, sharing and even web surfing takes a lot more juice than just taking photos and reviewing them—which makes you wonder how long its 1650 mAh battery will last during normal use. (By comparison, the WIFI-only Samsung NX1000 with a 3-inch monitor ships with a 1300 mAh battery.) Of course, serious users will opt for additional batteries and available powerpacks—good news for accessory manufacturers.

Newer battery technologies that provide greater power are on the horizon, as are faster, more efficient processors. These certainly will find a waiting audience in this camera class, but for now, buyer beware.

Another warning comes from the antivirus software camp, which is actively combating Android-based virus and shareware programs. Sony reps have pointed to the potential for Android-based viruses, as well as poorly designed apps that could accidentally mess with standard camera functions, run in the background and slow down the camera or keep track of personal data (like your location) as reasons for Sony's decision to control the apps it provides for its cameras.

But perhaps the biggest threat to the success of these new smartcameras comes from the existing smartphone and tablet manufacturers out there—ironically, including Samsung. These manufacturers have made huge strides in improving the camera and video functions found in their smartphones and tablets (as well as the new in-between class that has all the functions of a smartphone, but with a 5-inch or larger screen). It's only a matter of time before a tablet boasts an internal 3X zoom lens, and prototype smartphones that accept magnetically mounted, interchangeable lenses are on the horizon. Will these short circuit the demand for app-enabled cameras?

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