LAS VEGAS--It's been an exceptionally busy and newsworthy past 12 months for cameras -- budget full-frame models, 4K action cameras and cinema cameras, full-frame compacts. Unfortunately for CES 2013, most of that happened at Photokina this past fall. So while this show brought a few nice, potentially ownworthy updates to existing product lines, none of it really stands out as particularly whizzy.
In advanced cameras, the most common update has been to autofocus systems, with combo phase-detection/contrast AF starting to take over in camera lines that have traditionally had rather slow performance -- new models like the Fujifilm X100S and the Samsung NX300. The X100S has the most technologically innovative advancement, debuting a split-screen electronic viewfinder for improved manual focus control. We had a chance to try it and even though we were never fond of that type of viewfinder on film SLRs, it works well in an EVF (because the viewfinder is brighter than on, say, a cheap SLR).
Perhaps the most notable, though notably good or bad we've yet to decide, is Polaroid's entry into the interchangeable-lens camera market with cheap Micro Four Thirds and Nikon CX-size sensors and mounts. The cameras are extremely plasticky and the sensors are built into the lens, but the company will have adapters for other mounts with built-in sensors. We're really curious about the photo quality.
As far as point-and-shoots go, CES 2013 was a fairly weak show with just one or two interesting cameras launched from each manufacturer. And by interesting we mean that they were mostly refreshes of previously existing cameras with some feature tweaks. Again, that's more an indication of CES' importance as a show for cameras than it is for the state of the category. However, the cameras announced do show where the market is going.
For example, Olympus announced the Stylus Tough TG-2 iHS, an update to its top-of-the-line rugged compact. It picks up exactly where its predecessor left off, but it can now go 10 feet deeper underwater (up to 50 feet), and it now has aperture priority and enhanced macro modes.
Similarly, Samsung rolled out its second-generation of Smart Cameras loaded with Wi-Fi for fast sharing and backup. But while some of the wireless features are new, such as an option to send every photo directly to a smartphone or tablet as they're taken, the cameras themselves weren't remarkably different than last year's models. Likewise, Nikon announced the Coolpix S6500, which is basically just a Wi-Fi-enabled version of the Coolpix S6400.
Sony stuck to entry-level models, though at least it included its entry model with a Sony Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor, the Cyber-shot DSC-WX80, so there's at least some idea of the new features coming to other models this year.
Even Fujifilm backed off on new FinePix models, keeping its typical double-digit list of CES cameras to seven. This included two of the shows point-and-shoot highlights, the hobbyist-targeted HS50EXR and the ultrasupermegazoom SL1000.
Another highlight -- and the only entirely new model announced -- was Canon's PowerShot N. The tiny square camera has a flip-up 2.8-inch touch screen and an 8x wide-angle zoom lens, and does away with a shutter release button and zoom lever, using rings around the lens instead.
The PowerShot N introduces a new Creative Shot mode, too, which will automatically create five different versions of a single shot using different color modes, crops, and styles in addition to saving the original photo. It's an unique option and the camera we tried did the edits fast, so maybe Canon has something here. At least with the mode, I'm not sure about the camera.
So for point-and-shoots this year, it looks like it's just going to be long zooms and rugged cameras from here on out, with a few exceptions like the PowerShot N.
As for camcorders, Sony made the most interesting updates to its lineup, though that's not saying much. And while most manufacturers have cut back on the number of models announced for 2013, Sony still blanketed us with 10 versions.
The POV action camcorder market grew by at least three more as well with two good-looking new models from iON, the Air Pro 2 and Adventure, and the HX-100D from Panasonic, which kind of misses the point of the small action cam market.
Perhaps more interesting was the growing number of accessories for turning an iPhone into more of a point-and-shoot camera, such as the Kickstarter project Snappgrip (available for Galaxy S3, too), Will.i.am's pricey foto.sosho cases, and Olloclip's upcoming case/lens combo.
In the end, CES 2013 wasn't so much a bust for the category, just that it's still not the place camera manufacturers are making huge announcements. But, with CP+ in Japan just weeks away, maybe we'll get some real treats then.