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Technology

Deja vu

New wave of digital cameras build on their history

March 13, 2007

Canon Canon's Hansa hit the retail market in Japan in 1937. (Ted Kritsonis/CBC)

What's old is new again in photography this year, with the industry poised to roll out its latest toys to make taking that perfect image easier, regardless of whether you're a seasoned professional or a hopeless novice.

Digital cameras are front and centre — as expected — with new models and new capabilities meant to make them smarter and simpler to use.

Face detection is among the new features being promoted by vendors, whereby a digital camera can spot a subject's face and ensure that the right lighting and focus is presented in the final image.

The technology was just one of many novelties previewed at the Photo Marketing Association's (PMA) conference in Las Vegas from March 8 to 11, where imaging and printing companies of all sizes gather annually to show off state-of-the art products.

One of the key additions this year was Canon's use of the face recognition for video, enhancing the feature that was introduced for still images last fall. Canon's offering can detect up to nine faces in a scene, processed in batches of up to four at a time.

Face recognition, noise reduction evolve

"Video is a big step forward and it has a huge benefit for all users," said Neil Stephenson, technical marketing manager for Canon Canada. "Even with photos, the fact that face detection can be applied to just about any shooting mode means that blurry faces should be a thing of the past."

Fuji went one better than Canon this year, and is offering face detection that can handle as many as 10 people in one image. Further to that, the company added a playback option that automatically zooms in on each face for close-up viewing.

Fuji is also taking strides to try to minimize the amount of "noise" in a photo — the dots and spots that can show up in images where the camera struggles to interpret the visual information.

The company said its "double-noise reduction" feature is actually a continuation of a previous effort. The challenge that Fuji says it has addressed has been in making sure that people can still take good photos when they increase the imaging sensor's sensitivity — by raising the ISO equivalent level — because the photo's quality can degrade.

Fixes at the touch of a button

Despite being among the newest to join the list of digital camera manufacturers, HP has outfitted its lineup with more features that allow users to tweak and tinker with the photo inside the camera. Last year's standout was the "slimming" feature that shed pounds off the subject. This year, they went further and added a "blemish removal" feature, so those teenage pimples aren't so obvious.

Red-eye removal, which has been a staple of just about every digital camera on the market for years, is now joined by a more unique "pet-eye removal" that identifies the differently coloured tinges (usually green or yellow) reflected from an animal's retina and removes them with a simple press of a button.

With digital photo frames receiving a greater push this year, Kodak showed off its new frame that allows users to display photos wirelessly sent to it from a computer. The new model comes in three different sizes (seven, eight and 10-inches), and is expected retail for between $150 and $300.

"I could take a bunch of my photos from a recent trip and put them up on my Kodak EasyShare account, so that relatives abroad could see them instantly," Brian Fox, a Kodak spokesman said, referring to the company's online photo sharing service. "All they would have to do is access the folder through the frame and they can browse through them just like that."

Fox added that this particular feature is only native to the wireless models, and can't be used with the standard wired ones.

Personalization jumps to cameras

Kodak also presented personalized and sports-based skins for some of their cameras. The skins are like decals that stick onto the body of the camera.

The company said it has already made agreements with the NBA professional basketball league and the college athletics group NCAA, with the NFL a future possibility. There is no word on whether a similar deal is in the works with the NHL.

Kodak also confirmed that people will be able to create skins based on personal photos, which will be available by using special software. Because the skins are printed on paper with customized cut-outs depending on the camera model, the decals would be mailed to their creators.

The dual-lens technology that effectively gave people two cameras in one by incorporating a standard and wide-angle lens in one unit will have no immediate successor after its debut last year. Instead, Kodak is planning a new release along those lines next year.

Sony followed a similar route in offering face detection and improved features in its line of cameras, but a notable standout was a GPS (CS1KA) unit that comes with software called Picture Motion Browser that displays each photo with a pinpoint location on exactly where it was taken via Google Maps.

The unit could be a unique tool for adventure travelers who have an affinity for taking photos in a wide variety of locales.

Durability of cameras in spotlight

Olympus Olympus encases its Stylus 770 SW in a large block of ice to demonstrate its resistance to freezing and its ability to survive temperatures as low as �10 C. (Ted Kritsonis/CBC)

Olympus seems to have had light-hearted fun in mind with both their wooden body camera and the Stylus 770 SW, a model set to hit the market in March that they say is shockproof, waterproof, crushproof and freeze-proof. Two of them were displayed in a large slab of ice at the show to demonstrate their durability.

"That thing can really take a licking," said Sally Smith Clemens, product manager with Olympus. "It went through a lot of tests, and I think people will be surprised at how useful those features can be."

The novelty and physical durability of the Olympus offerings were a counterpoint to the pedigree Canon put on display.

This year marks the 20th anniversary for Canon's EOS line of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, which the company showcased further with a chronology of SLR cameras going back from the inaugural unit circa 1937 to this year's latest offerings — reminding everyone how far photography has come.

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