The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show officially opened its doors at the Las Vegas Convention Center yesterday morning, with a handful of new camera announcements raining down among the downpour of general tech news. CES may not be the biggest camera show of the year, but as the most important general tech show, it's still may be the most exciting.
The economy being what it is, the question on everyone's mind, and a favorite topic for striking up a conversation, seemed to be whether that excitement would be tempered this year by lower than usual attendance. I haven't seen any official numbers from the sponsoring organization, but my unscientific read of lines at the taxi stand suggests that things are indeed off the mark a bit from last year.
With a number of the manufacturers we routinely call on having moved their meetings to less expensive, more accommodating off-site locations this year, it's possible that this has served to alleviate some congestion. And walking the show floor, it's hard to spot much of a difference: as always, CES is still a zoo, and if there are a few less manufacturers in the hall than in years past, the sheer size and scope of this event remains awesome – or fearsome, if you're trying to get from one end of the sprawling convention center to the other.
We weren't just cruising the floor to take it all in, though. A full day of meetings has given us lots of new information – much of it forward-looking and, thus, confidential – as well as some additional hands-on time with newly announced products and concepts. Without further delay, here's what we were able to round up during day one.
Sampling the Sony G3's Wi-Fi connectivity
Sony arguably took the prize for biggest camera news of the day with the launch of the T700-derived Cyber-shot G3 wireless cam. The ability to upload photos wirelessly has been with us for awhile thanks to Nikon and, more recently, Panasonic, but the G3 claims to have simplified and streamlined the uploading process. Plus, the camera's built-in web browser makes accessing any hot spot – whether its free with a terms-of-service splash page, or a pay-per-use connection – a possibility with this camera.
The G3's design provides an elegant solution to the problem of limited space on an ultracompact – especially one with a 3.5 inch LCD. The camera's sliding design opens horizontally to reveal the lens on the front, and a zoom toggle on the back.
The rest of camera's operations are managed either by the camera's touch-responsive display, which uses an interface that appears to be identical to the one found in Sony's T models, and a handful of controls affixed to the G3's right-hand side.
Among those right-hand controls is the camera's network access button. With a slightly primitive but plenty functional web browser on board, it was clear from a few minutes with the G3 that login issues on hot spots would be no trouble (though as suspected, you probably won't find the G3's browser and web interface nice enough to want to use it for routine browsing).
The better question, then, has to do with ease of use. Most Wi-Fi cameras that we've tested have been clunky at best when it comes to finding networks, connecting to them, and uploading images. Admittedly, this has left my standards for performance in this category pretty low, but in sampling the G3's connectivity options across a hot spot Sony had set up at their booth yesterday, I found the camera to be surprisingly streamlined and intuitive in this regard.
The above video shows how quickly and seamlessly the G3 hooks up to a known network: press the network access button, give the camera 20 seconds or so, and you'll find yourself at Sony's default browser screen – ready to upload images to one of the device's pre-programmed locations, or head to the web and find new ones.
Obviously, we'll have to get a G3 review unit outside the safe confines of a purpose-built wireless network to determine how well it actually handles the various connection situations one is likely to encounter. But a combination of intuitive connection controls and easy-to-grasp prompts for selecting which images or videos to upload have started this Cyber-shot out a step in front of its other wireless picture-taking competitors in our book.
Casio shows off FC100's slow motion prowess
Casio made a splash yesterday in announcing that the high-speed (as in 1000 fps) video capture that has heretofore been reserved for the company's high-end ultrazooms is coming down in size and price. Just hours after the announcement, Casio had the FC100 high-speed compact out on the show floor and ready for some firsthand evaluation.
On the outside, the FC100 looks like a lot of other compacts. It's roughly the same size as a Sony W camera, with solid if fairly conventional build and styling details.
But it's what's on the inside that really gives the 9 megapixel, 5x zoom FC100 its appeal. Apparently lifting its firmware and interface unchanged, or very nearly so, from the Casio FH20, the FC100 offers a much more intuitive shooting experience than Casio's first high-speed effort, the F1.
In order to ensure that a crowd dominated by male tech journalist paid attention, Casio hired a few scantily clad dancers – pretty much standard operating procedure for a Vegas trade show – to help demo the new model's high-speed capture capabilities.
Even the new model's 210 fps capture, as seen above, provides an impressive slow-mo effect at normal playback speeds, and the 1000 fps video mode was – to put this the best way I know how – unbelievably, even painfully slow. Moreover, these video and still capture modes seem like the kind of thing that would be a lot of fun at sporting events in particular: we're thinking parents would be drawn to the idea of being able to capture ESPN-worthy slow motion videos of their Little Leaguers or soccer standouts.
Still waiting on new Micro Four Thirds lenses
We always expect photo-centric imaging giants like Nikon and Canon to stay above the fray on the question of camera announcements at CES: in recent memory, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Fujifilm have always opted to release few if any new models at this show, holding their high-profile news for the smaller, imaging-focused PMA show in the spring. Hence, for a journalist covering camera tech, CES is invariably dominated by the big electronics conglomerates, and among these multi-faceted firms, Panasonic alone was notoriously absent from this year's slate of CES product launches.
Although Panasonic made their presence felt again this year on the show floor, still cameras were clearly a secondary focus this time around. Presumably the company is holding everything for PMA as well, though we had halfway expected to see something new to bolster support for Micro Four Thirds and keep the revolutionary system in the news.
Sadly, the most we got from Panasonic on this front this time around was one of the more thoroughly dissected camera body displays I've ever come across at a trade show. Side by side with a conventional DSLR (the Lumix L10), it's a fascinating study in exactly what goes into a Micro Four Thirds camera – and, equally, what doesn't.
Panasonic had a lot of great looking G1 kit on their publicly released roadmap for 2009, and assuming economic conditions haven't thrown a wrench in the works, the absence of these launches at CES is only serving to heighten anticipation for PMA.
Photo gallery: Samsung HZ10W hands on
I wasn't able to delve into the new Samsung HZ10W compact ultrazoom as much as I'd hoped on Wednesday evening, but Samsung was more than happy to indulge my curiosity about the new launch on the show floor yesterday. To that end, we've posted a few hands-on shots showing off the new model.
Performance-wise, things are looking equally good for the new model. The HZ10W is comfortable in hand, easy to navigate, solidly built, and – most importantly – provides snappy response for snapshooting across the range. We noted briefly in Wednesday's show update that the interface had also received some work, and after a little more probing, it looks like Samsung has sort things nicely.
Oh, and that mystery rocker switch on the back panel? It's actually a dedicated exposure control: click left or right on the switch to set exposure comp on a +/-2 EV sliding scale in program mode, for instance.
For all the useless dedicated buttons many small cameras offer, it seems that Samsung's latched onto something truly logical here.