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Latest digital cameras focus on ease of use

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Posted 03-21-2009 at 06:59 AM by JDArt

Digital cameras have matured. The megapixel race is slowing, and the cameras themselves are no longer a novelty to many. As a result, camera makers are putting more emphasis on usability than ever before.

The latest cameras - many of them being introduced for the first time at the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) annual trade fair from March 8 - 11 in Las Vegas - improve on existing digital cameras in ways that will allow users to concentrate more on their photograhs and less on the technology used to create them.

No dust
Digital SLRs (DSLR) - which offer users a choice of lenses - are the fastest-growing segment of the digital camera market. DSLRs have always had advantages over point-and-shoot compact cameras in several areas: notably speed, resolution, and quality of image.

But they also were also prone to attract dust on the sensitive imaging sensor whenever lenses were changed. The dust, in turn, showed up on images as spots - some more pronounced than others. Spots on images meant more time in front of the computer, removing the spots one-by-one with software tools.

After years of playing down the dust problem, the major makers of digital SLRs are finally taking dust-busting seriously. Olympus was the first DSLR maker to implement an anti-dust system in its E-400 and E-500 series. Now Canon, the world's largest camera maker, has put an anti-dust technology into its just-announced 1D Mark III, Canon's flagship camera aimed at photojournalists and sports photographers. This follow Canon's introduction of an anti-dust system in its popular Digital Rebel 400D XTi, introduced late last year.

Expect anti-dust systems to become a standard feature of DSLR cameras from now on, although Nikon remains conspicuously tardy in introducing its own anti-dust system for DSLRs.

Live view
Compact digital cameras users have long enjoyed the ability to frame an image by using the LCD on the back of the camera rather than having to peer through the camera's viewfinder. DSLR users, by contrast, could use their LCDs only for reviewing images already taken in the traditional manner.

Now things are changing. Olympus again was the first out of the gate with a DSLR that offered "live view" - a technology that allows DSLR users to compose a shot by using the LCD on the back of the camera. Now Canon has implemented live view on its 1D Mark III and will likely carry the technology over to its other DSLR models as well.

Live view is not just a gimmicky feature for camera novices who don't want to press a camera up to their face to peek through the viewfinder. Live view allows users to compose shots that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to frame - as when holding a camera high above your head or very low to the ground.

Bigger LCDs
The LCDs on the back of digital cameras have become increasingly bigger over the years, providing a clearer and easier-to-see view of menus and images. The latest digital camera models are sporting 3-inch LCDs - soon to become the standard.

Canon's new SD-series compacts and Sony's DSC-H9 and -H7 cameras sport the larger screens, and you can expect other manufacturers to follow suit.

Greater dynamic range
The human eye can easily pick out detail in scenes that contain both dark shadows and extreme bright areas. Digital cameras in the past haven't been so adept at this - with the result being images that either were exposed properly for the shadow or for the bright areas - but not both.

Newly announced digital cameras improve dynamic range dramatically. Sony's DSC-H9 and DSC-H7 cameras contain a dynamic range optimiser technology that can analyse image data and determine the best exposure to retain shadow and highlight detail. Fuji's S-series DSLRs have been out front in the push for greater dynamic range. And Canon's 1D Mark III and Digital Rebel XTi both boast of greater native dynamic range due to improvements in sensor technology.

High-def outputs
Sony is the first compact digital camera maker to begin offering high-definition output capability in its compact camera models. The forthcoming Cybershot W-series compact cameras will allow users to view their images directly on the latest high-definition television sets. As high definition televisions become more commonplace, expect to see other digital camera makers jump on the high-def bandwagon.

Enhanced light sensitivity
Digital cameras has always offered users the flexibility to change "film speed" - or ISO - settings on-the-fly, allowing photographers to take shake-free images without flash even in low light situations. With the newest cameras from Fuji, Canon, and others, the lights can get even lower. Sony's newest DSC models, Canon's 1D Mark III, as well as new models from Nikon and Olympus sport ISO settings as high as 1600 and even 3200.

For those who have waited until now to join the digital camera revolution, the news is all good. The newest digital cameras represent a generational shift indicative of a technology that's in its prime - more concerned with perfecting existing features than it is with adding new ones.
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