Most Important Quality In a Digital Camera?

samsung sh100
Samsung SH100's wifi support connects with consumers - by Samsung

When thinking about the most important qualities in a digital camera it might depend on your perspective. Professionals are looking at chip size, resolution, dynamic range and speed. Most consumers just want to be able to take nice pictures and send them to grandma.

In 2001 Johnathan Kaplan and Airel Braunstein formed a company called Pure Digital Technologies to create an inexpensive digital camera to compete with disposable film cameras. The idea was to have customers bring back their digital cameras for printing, just like a disposable film camera. The company would save money by not needing to manufacture a lot of cameras, which they sold for $20 each.

The idea bombed because customers wanted a cheap digital camera, but they didn’t want to bring them back. Some people were content viewing their photos on the tiny 1.4 in screen, others figured out how to hack the cameras and download the pictures.

Lots of camera sales, but few returns destroyed Pure Digital’s margins and the camera failed. But it did point out that consumers were willing to sacrifice lots of quality for price and convenience.

It comes as no surprise then that Reader’s Choice Awards for 2011 reflect the changing trends in the consumer market.

The trend seems to be toward convenience of sharing photos. This is reflected in an increase in people using their cell phone cameras for more of their photography needs. Cell phone manufacturers have wisely responded by making cell phone cameras better.

In the Reader’s Choice Awards, consumers are going for the models that make sharing easier. At first I was skeptical of wifi-enabled models like the Samsung SH100 and Panasonic FX90, but now it appears they had the pulse of consumers all along.

Vendors Run Short of Samsung ST700

Samsung has a low-cost winner in the ST700 - by Samsung

Samsung has stumbled on a winner with their compact consumer camera the ST700 as some vendors are having trouble keeping them in stock. Released in January of this year, recent price drops have lead to shortages. If the ST700 was a good deal at $279, apparently many consumers consider it a steal at $199.

The specs are impressive for a pocket size camera. A 16.1-megapixel 1/2.3 in CCD image sensor behind a 5x 26mm (26-130mm equivalent) lens with dual optical and electronic image stabilization.

The ST700 is definitely made for parties. On the back it sports a 3 inch touch LCD screen and has the added feature of a 1.8 inch front LCD screen for framing with the camera on self-timer.

On the software side the ST700 is packed with features like Magazine Album, Smart Face Recognition, Face Detection and Tracking and a bewildering host of in camera effects like soft-focus, fish-eye, miniature and cinema.

One feature that’s really clever is the ST700 will put posing suggestions on the front screen so all users have to do is align themselves with the outline on the front screen for great shots.

Video on the ST700 is limited to 720 at 30 fps and with the CCD sensor it’s a little weak on low-light performance, topping out at ISO 3200.

Since the camera has been out a while, there are plenty of user reviews out there. A few users have reported problems with the build quality and units that have quit working. Even users positive on the camera recommend getting a hard shell case and take care to keep dust away from the lens, but overall the camera gets high marks from users.

Make sure you can return it in case you get one of the bad ones, but for under $200 the ST700 is a great choice if you’re looking for a camera to take along to your bowling league or to give to the kids for their social events.

This camera is an upgrade to the ST600 and strong sales of the ST700 should just about insure an ST800 for next year.

Two New Point-and-Shoot Models From Samsung

Samsung MV800
Samsung MV800 is one of two new point-and-shoot models - photo Samsung

Samsung fielded two new point-and-shoot models aimed at the consumer market but packed with enough features to make them interesting.  The MV800 and WB750 consumer cameras.  Samsung also announced the NX200, but that’s interesting enough to warrant a separate post.  Stay tuned.

The MV800 is a 16.1-megapixel ultra-compact point-and-shoot camera that, were it any thinner, you could shave with it.  I have to marvel at the engineering that can pack so much camera into such a small space.

The MV800 features an 3 inch flip-out touchscreen LCD that can face forward, convenient when taking pictures of yourself with friends.

Shooting pictures with the MV800 is pretty much an automatic affair, but it does offer a raft of artistic filters like vignette, miniature, sketch, and a fish eye filter that can be applied after you shoot.

The camera can also capture panoramas, 3D photos that work with 3D TVs and records video at 720p.

Price for the MV800 is expected to be in the sub-$300 range, no time frame on availability.

The Samsung WB750 is a 12.5-megapixel consumer shooter featuring a built-in lens that runs from ultra-wide to an impressive 18x optical zoom, coupled with 24x Smart Zoom inside.  Capabilities include the ability to shoot 10 frames per second continuously in burst mode.  Another great choice for soccer moms everywhere.

Samsung WB750
Samsung WB750 - Should be an instant favorite among soccer moms - photo Samsung

The WB750 sports 1080p HD video and the ability to shoot 10-megapixel stills at the same time video is being recorded.    The camera features many in-camera editing options and special effects for video.

One of the more interesting software widgets is the panorama mode in this camera.  All you have to do is hold the button down and sweep the camera across the scene you want to capture.

No word on pricing or availability from Samsung on the WB750.

Mirrorless Cameras Cut Into Canon, Nikon

Mirrorless cameras take a bite out of Canon and Nikon markets - by Samsung

Figures from Bloomberg indicate that Sony, Panasonic and Samsung may be scoring market share gains from Canon and Nikon with their mirrorless camera models. The trend is most obvious in Japan where Canon and Nikon’s combined share of that market has fallen an eye-popping 35%.

The losses for Canon and Nikon have been a boom for Sony, as their market share has doubled.  Panasonic and Samsung also scored gains, but not as significant.

Mirrorless cameras have a smaller physical frame and lower weight, while keeping the larger sensor sizes and interchangeable lenses.  The big chips behind good glass are getting results comparable to larger DSLRs at closer to half the weight of their bigger DSLR cousins.

If you’re tempted to dismiss the trend as one confined to Japan, keep in mind that the smart phone and tablet trend also started there before spreading to more distant shores.

No surprise that rumors have surfaced that Canon is coming out with mirrorless models in 2012, it’s not much of a stretch to think Nikon is engaged in similar efforts.

It’s my opinion that Panasonic and Olympus stumbled with the 4/3 sensor format.  I just don’t see professionals investing in that format when full size and APS-C sensors are superior and proven technologies.  For consumer cams, it’s less of an issue because the average buyer doesn’t really understand the difference in chip sizes.

As the trend in SLRs moves to mirrorless, expect Canon and Nikon to claw back some of the market share lost to Sony.  But I don’t expect to see any significant growth from Panasonic or Olympus until they abandon 4/3.

Samsung Launches NX200

Samsung NX200 - Great camera but no optical viewfinder

Mixed in with the announcement of new point-and-shoot models, Samsung also rolled out the NX200, an upgraded version of the NX100.

The NX200 is Samsung’s offering for the hottest sector of the camera market right now, the mini cameras with big chips and interchangeable lenses.

The NX200 is built around a 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor with an ISO rating of 100 to 12,800.  Surrounding that is a heavier magnesium alloy shell with a bigger grip that answered customer complaints about the handling characteristics.

Mysteriously Samsung left out an optical viewfinder, which is a real head-scratcher for those of us in the business.  Trying to use the LCD to frame stills on an interchangeable lens camera is both clumsy and bizarre.

Samsung tried to address the missing viewfinder with the i-Function 2.0 lenses which allows the user to control more of the camera technology from the lens.  Control functions on the lens include shutter speed, aperture, exposure value (EV) and white balance.

Video is 1080 HD at 30fps with the H.264 codec and stereo sound.

Available lenses include the i-Function 18-200mm zoom, and 16mm, 60mm and 85mm fixed. No word on pricing for the lenses at this writing.

The 100ms Advanced Auto Focus is coupled with a 7 fps continuous shooting mode for high-speed continuous images.  Full frame images are as fast as 400ms.

Other than the strange omission of the viewfinder, give Samsung credit for putting a big chip behind decent interchangeable glass.

Success of the line will depend on pricing.  The NX10 and NX100 were famous for their reasonable price point, prompting many to overlook their shortcomings.  If they can keep the street price under $500, Samsung might have a winner in the NX200.

Some quick comparisons of the NX200 vs some of its competitors: