Glimpse into Digital Photography's Future

by Derrick Story

PMA 2004 (Photo Marketing Association) just wrapped up its mind-boggling trade show held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. I spent two days on the expo floors (two levels) where thousands of vendors -- from Axiom Connection in England to Wonder Technical Company in China -- provided us with a glimpse into the immediate future of photography.

I was hoping to see more about wireless and GPS capability in upcoming consumer cameras. Nothing to report there yet. But what I did find was evolutionary refinement on nearly every front of digital photography. Here are a few examples.

  • The Foveon image sensor will appear in its first consumer digicam with the Polaroid x530 camera. I was wondering if this ground-breaking technology would spread beyond Sigma's Digital SLRs. Polaroid had a preproduction prototype on hand, but I didn't get to shoot an actual working model. We should hear more about this in the coming months.

  • Kyocera seems to have solved the nasty shutter lag problem that plagues pocketable digicams with the Contax SL300R T*. The technology is called RTUNE Image Processing, and it works. The camera powers up in less than a second, and shutter lag has been reduced to 0.07 seconds. I tried this camera and found it amazing. This model is 3.17 megapixels with a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar zoom, and is available now for $499. You can get the FineCam SL 300R version with the Kyocera zoom instead of the the Vario Sonnar for $399, and I was told they will release a 4-megapixel version of the FineCam soon.

  • Olympus continues to gain momentum in the serious amateur/pro market with their new E1 Digital SLR. This is the first DSLR that uses the new 4/3 format, and the combination of pro features, sexy body, and high performance glass is turning many heads. This camera is particularly good for shooters who don't already have an investment in Canon or Nikon glass. But look out, it is pricy.

  • Keep an eye on Konica Minolta too. They announced the DiMAGE A2 at PMA that features 8 megapixels with a 28mm - 200mm optical zoom and their ground-breaking anti-shake technology. This is a tempting camera for the serious shooter. And they've entered the Digital SLR fray too.

Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and HP dominated the entrance to the first floor. Canon is looking very strong and should continue their momentum into this year and beyond. HP is clearly on the rise and seems to be taking a page out of Apple's book by pushing the digital lifestyle. They have a lot of energy and a compelling product line to support the hype. You should keep on eye on them.

As I've mentioned in a previous weblog, Apple seems more focused on digital music than photography at the moment. They didn't have a presence at PMA while their digital hub PC rival HP looked very strong. It feels like a missed opportunity for Apple.

I did notice however, an abundance of PowerBooks in other vendors' booths. Seems to be a case where the customers are a little ahead of the manufacturer when it comes to digital photography on OS X. It will be interesting to watch how Apple contends with HP on this front in 2004-2005.

I also discovered many other gadgets and goodies. But I'm saving those for my upcoming digital photography book, which I hope O'Reilly will be announcing in the next month or so.


2004-02-16 07:33:27
Now what do I do?
Thanks for the update for the new technology. It all sounds so exciting. Unfortunately I had my heart set on upgrading from my Olympus ultra zoom to a Cannon Rebel digital. I enjoy taking pictures and I want to keep improving my skills. I like the Cannon because I take lots of family pictures so I want the best picture quality because I want things to look nice 20 years from now.

But after reading your weblog I don't see spending $1,000 on a camera that uses CCD technology when the Foveon technology sounds so much more impressive. But is this all marketing hype or is it really better? As much as I like my Olympus I get too much pixelation in low light conditions.

How long do you think the Foveon technology will take to reach low end digital SLR's like the Cannon Rebel and is it worth waiting for?

2004-02-16 09:01:29
Re: Now what do I do?
I hear what you're saying, and others have echoed similar thoughts. But I think you're first inclination was the correct one.

Canon's Digital Rebel is the best value in digital photography right now, especially if you have access to Canon glass. Their CMOS sensor with Dig!c processing enhancement is outstanding.

Foveon isn't being embraced by camera makers as fast as I thought it would. It's a good technology. Maybe manufactures are reluctant to abandon their existing investment in CCD and CMOS and switch to Foveon. But at the moment, the Sigma SLR (with Foveon) doesn't pack as much overall punch as the Digital Rebel.

Lots of things could happen in the next few years. But right now, the offerings from Nikon, Canon, and Olympus seem most tempting on the SLR front.

2004-02-17 01:04:35
Re: Now what do I do?
But it is false economy. Crippled software you can work around but cheap build quality will eventualy shine through.

If you are tied to Canon because of lenses, it's worth saving for the 10D. If not, the E-1 is a beautiful camera to use and the build quality is comprable to flagship products from the big 2.

2006-05-11 08:23:25
do you think you could give me a little bit more one the futer of digital photography brcause i am doing a report on it. :-)