The Comeback Compact

Spooked by popularity of phone cameras, the compact is adding new weapons to its armoury.
Nandagopal Rajan | Print Edition: July 2013

The entry-level point-and-shoot is dead. And, this untimely demise has to be attributed to the growing popularity of the camera phone. There are two other factors that make the phone camera more popular - it is always there in your pocket and sharing the results is as easy as pressing a button.

Faced with this new challenger, compact cameras have been on a path of evolution for a couple of years. On one hand, they have been bringing in features which a phone camera cannot at the moment, while on the other it has been trying to do things which the phone can and it cannot.

So now you have cameras with optical zooms of 20x or beyond and the ability to use multiple lenses, both features a phone camera cannot offer. There is also a move towards adding connectivity to cameras by providing everything from Wi-Fi to SIM card slots. Then some compacts are also trying to add brains in the form of phone-like operating systems that open up the entire world of apps on a camera.

Sajjan Kumar, vice-president of Nikon India's Imaging Division, said in the near future the camera industry will revolve around devices that fit into the stay connected anywhere, anytime zone.

"With 'social' being the buzz word, it is imperative to stay a step ahead and bring technologies which possess capabilities and features enabling users to instantly upload captured images to social networking websites. Nikon is leaving no stone unturned to cater to the diverse needs of the consumers by bringing in technologies like Android, Wi-Fi, built-in GPS and world map," he adds.

In fact, Nikon was the first to introduce to India the new range of compact mirrorless cameras that give users the versatility of multiple lenses on a compact body. The results of these cameras are as good as those of DSLRs. Canon says compared to a phone photography enthusiasts would "prefer a better looking gadget with a good optical zoom lens and image stabilisation feature to get a perfect picture".

One company that is doing a lot in the range of compact mirrorless cameras is FujiFilm. In fact, it is pushing the envelope further with the Premium Compact segment featuring cameras like the X100S, X20 and XF1 which promise DSLR-like image quality and versatility.

Rohit Pandit, EVP, Fujifilm India says their understanding is that every professional camera user who uses heavy gears to capture photographs also yearns for a device which has superior features and is light , compact, easy to handle .

"High quality images can be taken from premium compact cameras which offers flexibility and are at the same time hassle-free as they don't have bulky bodies and lenses. Ideal buyers for this segment are professional photographers and photography enthusiasts."

When we talk about premium compact, it is hard not to mention the Sony CyberShot DSCRX1, a 35mm full-frame camera that is not much larger than a mid-sized compact. But this camera can do better than professional ones when it comes to portraiture or low-light photography. But then this is a camera with a fixed lens and will cater only to a niche segment.

The connected camera craze started with Samsung's range of Wi-Fi cameras like the WB150. Not satisfied with giving simple connectivity in a camera, Samsung shifted its focus to the Galaxy Camera which was almost a smartphone except for the ability to make voice calls.

In 2013, Wi-Fi is becoming a standard feature in even sub-Rs 10,000 cameras, though with varying degrees of success and usability. While wireless connectivity will unyoke the digital camera from its dependence on the computer, it also lets it be controlled from other smart devices like a phone or tablet.

Photography is about to change for ever.

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