2009 has seen the digital camera arms race continue at an ever increasing speed. With Canon announcing that its profits were down over 80% in the fourth quarter of last year and the rise of the cameraphone, one might have thought it was going to be a tricky time for the imaging industry. Think again.
Just a glance at our cameras category on Pocket-lint will give you some idea of what a hotly contested gong the Pocket-lint Best Digital Camera Award 2009 is going to be. So long as it takes a snap, then it counts.
Starting with the biggest, and mercifully fewest, to contend with, it's been an important time for the top end of the camera world. One of the main focuses has been to attract the growing snap happy, photo uploading market of users to the more professional equipment. One way to do this has been in the interfaces of the devices themselves with Pentax, Olympus and Nikon offering camera usability, simplicity and even advice in their models such as the Pentax K-x, the Olympus E600 and the Nikon D3000.
The second most major way to add value to their products has been to bring in HD video as well, seen in cameras such as the Nikon D5000, the Canon 500D and the Pentax K7 all the way up into prosumer and professional products in the very desirable and very expensive shapes of the Nikon D300s, D3s, the Canon 7D and the 1D Mark IV - although it is unlikely that the last of these will make it out in time to qualify for the award. What's more these bigger boys have continued to raise the bar in speed, focus and light sensitivity with up to 9fps shooting, 51-point AF and near pitch black recording ISOs of 102,400.
A special mention should also be made to two other DSLR manufacturers for two very different reasons - Leica, for making our eyes cry tears of blood at the £16,000 Leica S2 DSLR with a photo format of its very own, and Sony for the leaps and bounds made with the company's Alpha range of DSLRs that have finally made it a brand to take very seriously in this field.
Never before has there been such an enormous and specialised range of snappers in the compact department. Gone are the days of the straight forward point and press. Even phones have got smile, beauty and blink modes as well as a thousand and one scene set ups too. The manufacturers have had to think more niche and by jove have they been creative this year. Among the hundreds of new models that seem to have come in two major deluges at the beginning of the year and just in time for Christmas, are those for style or affordability such as the L-series from Nikon, the CyberShots (including Party Dock) from Sony, the Z35 Finepix from FujiFilm and the all touch Canon IXUS 200 IS, there seem to so many to remember that it just makes your brain hurt.
One of the really big categories this year has been the super-zooms. As the technology has advanced they've managed to stuff more and more into those tiny chassis with over 20x magnification and full DSLR processors inside almost as standard, plus the inevitable HD video shooting too. See Samsung's WB5000, the Panasonic FZ35 & 38, the Powershot SX20 & S90 and the Nikon P90 for some excellent examples. Take it one stage further and you meet the compact cameras that cost more than the low end big versions. Designed as walkabout cameras for professionals, where perhaps a DSLR might get in the way, you'll find the Fujifilm FinePix S200EXR and the upgrade of the hugely successful G10, the Canon G11.
It's now even possible to mistake the level of sophistication that lies within these super gadgets with a trend towards old school looks burning a strong line this year, particularly with the rise of the micro four thirds system most famously in the Olympus EP-1 but also with great grace in the Panasonic GF1, the cooler cousin to the high spec of the Lumix GH1 with its HD video improvement on last year's model. At the same time there have been equal levels of excitement over the return of the Rangefinder in digital form although few will ever use it with it coming at Leica prices.
Finally the sub-category has produced machines that'll simply record anywhere with rugged and waterproof models from Olympus, Canon and GE and, best of all, there's been the down right bizarre with the dual screen Samsung ST550 & ST500, the dual lensed 3D-shooting FujiFilm W13D and the dual functioned retake on the insta-matic with the POGO camera from Polaroid as well as the return of the original itself.
If that lot wasn't enough, just about every device has become better connected, as is our want, as the power of the interweb grows, and it's regular business to see cameras with GPS, Wi-Fi and all sorts of native support for Flickr, Facebook and YouTube uploads. What on Earth will they think of next?
If you need us to point out the most obvious trend in the camcorder department, then you've been on another planet for the last 12 months. No, we're not talking about HD but pocket-sized recorders - which as it goes, are pretty much all HD now anyway with only a small clutch not quite as Full as the others. The huge success of the of the Flip Mino spawned not only the 720p Flip Mino HD but also latterly the premium Flip Ultra range with more memory and resolution than ever before.
Creative has followed suit with the Vado HD and Kodak has continued to show us there is life after film with the impressive Zi8. Naturally, Samsung has spotted the same gold rush and come up with something special all of their own with the HMX-U10, while Toshiba has decided to do it their own way, for better or for worse, with the Camileo S10 at the beginning of the year and more recently the upgraded S20 and higher spec, larger form friends at IFA 2009. Even Medion, who seems to be popping up in all sorts of unexpected award categories, has pitched in with some style and purpose, as well as the usual value, focusing on rugged utility with the Life S47000.
With high resolutions and impressive frame rates already well established in more serious camcorders, this year provided an opportunity for the industry to do something that technology does when it has nothing better to do - make everything the same but smaller. However, what was recognised was that with greater power comes a greater responsibility and both battery life and stability have been well looked after, while developing their two greatest enemies - memory space and zoom. The choice for the former seems to have been to stay away from inefficient, energy consuming HDDs and either go with SSD or memory card solutions from the Canon LEGRIA series to the superb selection of Sanyo Xacti Dual camcorders all the way back in Q1. Perhaps the most interesting technology here though has come from Sony in the CX505VE Handycam, still positioned as the only camera at this level to feature 3-dimensional stability control - pitch, roll and turn all cancelled out.
Resolution has been on the rise for quite some time now in mobile phones but when the compact business decided that HD recording was the new megapixels, someone forgot to tell the handset manufacturers. The Samsung Pixon12 was the first to catch up with the dedicated gadgets but there have been plenty of others with the same functions, features and nigh on glassware as the compact cameras - if with slightly lower megapixel counts. Take your pick from the LG Viewty Smart, the Sony Ericsson W995, the Nokias N86 and N97 and even the HD video shooting of the Samsung i8910. While no one would suggest that these phones offer as much as the dedicated cameras, it's hard to argue that the shots you can get out of them are certainly good enough. The next assault will be to get optical zoom sorted.
Beyond the quality snappers, there's a whole world of digital imaging out there that doesn't need that same level of finesse but are excellent gadgets noe the less. Webcams managed to go HD this year with the Microsoft Lifecam and even take on a new form with IP cameras, essentially for surveillance of one kind or another that you can network and view from anywhere on line. The Y-cam and Compro IP50 are good examples as any.
Finally, there's the pseudo-novelty angle with keychain spycams, dangerously probe-like USB snakecams and even something to see a day in the life of your pet too. Oh yes, and Apple added a video camera to the nano. Enough to consider? Now, go choose.
What do you think?
But these are just some of the fantastic choices our readers have had in 2009. What would you like to see held aloft as the winner of Pocket-lint Best Camera 2009? Who have we missed out? Which are your unsung heroes and of those we've already mentioned, which would get your vote? Let us know in the comments below and you can help our panel decide which make the shortlist of nominees to be announced here on Pocket-lint on 16 November. We'll have all out coverage of the Vodafone Pocket-lint awards 2009 right here. Don't miss a minute of it.