Year 2012: When cameras got brains and connectivity
Nandagopal Rajan December 22, 20122012 was an interesting year for cameras. It was a year in which the pixel numbers in cameras got bigger even as the cameras themselves became smaller. It was also a year in which the digital camera decided that it was time it got rid of the fetters that tied it to a computer for its very existence. Yes, the camera finally managed to break free thanks to some help from wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and 3G. And, of course, it was the year in which the camera got an Android-powered IQ boost.
The best camera of the year in our books was a device that pushed the envelope beyond limits that were thought possible. The Nikon D800 (and the D800E) brought to the DSLR specs that meant they could easily replace professional still cameras and broadcast quality video cameras. Its full-frame 36.3 MP sensor, when announced, had enthusiast gaping in awe and other licking their lips in anticipation. When the product finally arrived, it was everything that was promised, though there were some glitches like excess moire. Still it gave amazing pictures and awe-inspiring video, the likes of which we hadn't seen before.
This was also a year in which a new breed of cameras started finding their feet. This was the compact mirrorless cameras, which promise to become a bridge between the convenience of a compact cameras and picture quality of the DSLR. There were many cameras that impressed us starting with the pricey FujiFilm X-PRO1 and the affordable Nikon 1 V1. But none had the versatility and the features of the Olympus OM-D EM-5, which when locked to a 12-50mm lens could give any mid-level DSLR a run for its money. We haven't seen any other camera, which enlightened by its ISO 25600, can shoot a picture in complete darkness. We had no doubt that this was the best advanced camera of the year, though sadly the camera is not widely available in the country.
As the compacts faced fire from smartphone like the Nokia 808 Pureview, which were good enough to be bought just for their lens prowess, manufacturers started pushing another range of cameras. Called the premium compacts, they were costlier than regular point and shoots but packed much better optics and a whole lot of processing options. The standout in this segment was the Sony Cybershot DSC RX-100 with a splendid F1.8-F4.9 lens with 28-100mm zoom. This camera was amazing in low light and even better when shooting macro, all in RAW. Try getting the above lens features in a DSLR and you will have to dish out more than the camera itself. The other impressive camera in the segment was the FujiFilm XF1, which despite being ultra-compact has a great lens and gives great results. Both are ideal options for power users who don't want to take their bulky DSLR everywhere they go.
Among compacts, Sony and others kept running ahead of the smartphone challengers by bringing in features that phones won't be able to pack into their slim bodies, at least not for some more time. While there were not many devices under Rs 10,000 that captured our attention. The Sony Cybershot W690 emerged as a good compact option thanks to its inbuilt gyro-sensor that eliminated most shakes encountered by shooting. The Samsung WB150F was a good one too, with a combined 90x zoom which gave you many subject option, provided you had a steady hand.
The other big trend in this segment was the advent of the Android cameras. The Nikon S800c and the Samsung Galaxy Camera were both big leaps in terms of technology, but they were not complete devices on their own. We liked the Samsung Galaxy Camera for its sheer ability to connect through 3G where ever you are and its amazing ease-of-use, but it had a so-so camera when you looked at the results. The S800c had a better camera, but offered minimal controls and had just Wi-Fi. Hope this year we get to see a DSLR with Android and 3G connectivity. That would be a camera to kill for.
One of the disappointments of the year was Canon, which sort of went into a shell. Except for the EOS 650D we did not hear much from the company which is still India's top camera company. It seems to have lost its plot a bit with the compact mirrorless cameras and even with the mega pixel counts, when rival Nikon zoomed ahead with their innovations. But towards the end of the year, they have slipped into India the EOS M, their first compact mirrorless camera. More on that when we get a hands-on.
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