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Digital Camera News and Trends at CES 2006
by Ben Stafford -  1/8/2006

As I think back to my meetings and briefings at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I wanted to step back and think about the trends that I saw with the new digital cameras that were announced and the ones that are yet to be announced.  As far as camera hardware, we saw several 3 inch LCDs on tiny cameras, a lot more attention paid to product design, several efforts to hit the $150 price point, and further confirmation that the megapixel "war" is over.

LCD and Design Improvements

Many of the new cameras (even the smallest) are featuring large 3 inch screens.  Not only is the size increasing, but the quality is increasing as well.  Most LCDs are bright in many lighting situations and viewable from a high angle (170 degrees).  With the larger screen, many manufacturers are including additional features to make the camera a picture viewer as well.  In the case of Fujifilm, they've even added games to show off the screen and to kill time on their FinePix V10.


Fuji Finepix V10 [larger]

The most striking example of a strengthened design effort is HP.  Previously, their R series was boxier and styled similarly to the rest of the cameras in their line.  Their new R927 is really attractive with a slightly different shaped body with a brushed metal look.  Another example of eye-catching design is the Kodak EasyShare V570.


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Kodak EasyShare V570

Less Concentration on Megapixels

This isn't necessarily new news, but CES 2006 confirmed that many manufacturers are not hesitating to introduce lower megapixel models.  You don't have to have more than the competitors now in order to sell cameras.  Companies are quite happy to introduce 4 and 5 megapixel cameras in order to hit a particular price point or to introduce new features for the user.

The $150 Price Point

Many of the new camera lineups that I saw now include at least one camera model that is expected to retail for $150.  In the case of HP, their entire line is expected to range from $119-$200 (they haven't announced exact pricing for each model yet).  Other manufacturers are also looking at that price point.  The Fujifilm Finepix A400 is at $149, the Kodak EasyShare C530 will be available for $139, the Samsung Digimax A503 will run $139.  Other manufacturers will be announcing cameras soon that also will reach into this same price point.

I think that the main reason for this pricing, especially with the better-selling brands is to make more room for higher-end cameras.  It is well known that the manufacturers are making the most money from the digital SLR and higher end (prosumer) cameras.  If they can get more consumers to buy in to a $500-$800 digital SLR (yes, we'll probably see them go that low this year), they have a more loyal customer to which they can sell lenses and other accessories.

Other Services

Another area of effort for manufacturers are ways to make digital imaging and sharing more uibiquitous.  They want to make it easier to share and view your pictures from more locations.  In particular, Kodak has introduced Kodak Photo Voice, which is a service that works along with Skype (a voice over IP service) that lets a Skype caller share their images with the person on the other end of the line while using the Skype voice service to walk you through their gallery.  A beta version of their software is available at www.kodakgallery.com/photovoice.

Microsoft Vista Imaging Capabilities

Finally, to add some eye candy to this article, I thought I would show some pictures from Bill Gates' keynote at CES 2006 where a representative from Microsoft showed off some of the imaging features of Microsoft's new Vista operating system.  While there is nothing new about the features, there are many performance enhancements and enhancements to the look of the system.


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Conclusion

As 2006 gets rolling, it will be fun to watch what will happen in the digital camera market this year.  There will be many more cameras announced around the PMA 2006 show, including some ground-breaking products.  I was lucky enough to be briefed on several unannounced products and I'm very excited to see these new products hit the market.  Speaking of unannounced, Olympus has provided a teaser for a new product that will be announced on January 26.  Here is what they sent: