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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
Bright outlook for digital cameras
By Richard Taylor
BBC World ClickOnline

Digital photography has been around for the best part of a decade, but in the last few years it has really come of age.

Visitors to Cebit
The talk is no more just about megapixels
2004 is set to be a watershed year, when, for the first time, we will be snapping up more digital cameras than their analogue counterparts.

Life through a lens has never been more exciting, judging from the range of digital cameras on show at the recent Cebit technology show in Hanover, Germany.

Over the past couple of years, manufacturers have been competing furiously to improve picture sharpness, or resolution, so much so that today even budget models have sensors capable of several megapixels.

In fact the so-called megapixel race has come on so quickly, that it is now running out of steam.

"End users don't need more than four or five megapixel cameras," said Harold Jutten of Pentax.

"They see that that is enough for very good, high-resolution pictures. I think pixel-mania has stopped."

This means that the big players are competing on other territory, such as design. For example one camera has an optical zoom lens, which, instead of coming out of the camera, moves up and down inside the chassis.

Permanent memories

New technologies are playing their part too, like a so-called optical image stabiliser which helps alleviate the effects of camera wobble and the resulting blurry photos.

There is also a push to get us printing our photos. Around eight out of 10 digital pictures are thought to never make it into printed form at all.

Brendan Gore of Panasonic
The type of quality still picture you can get with a digital camcorder is not as good as a dedicated digital camera
Brendon Gore, Panasonic
"In the world of photography we're dealing with emotional moments, it's a memory. something I want to keep," said Patrick Bluhme of Kodak. "I want to touch it, I want to feel it. That's even true in the digital world."

You do not need a PC any more to join in the revolution. If you are at home, simply docking your camera into a dedicated printer will do.

On the High Street, watch out for retail kiosks where you put in your memory cards and see the results seconds later.

And with cameras making their way onto mobile phones, solutions are even appearing for DIY printing while you are out and about.

The other noticeable trend is towards convergence. Many digital stills cameras offer video as a bonus, just do not expect great quality.

"You are definitely getting convergence, but there's a difference in performance," said Brendon Gore of Panasonic.

"The type of quality still picture you can get with a digital camcorder is not as good as a dedicated digital camera."

Saving the past

Interestingly, it is the camcorder makers who seem to be taking convergence seriously.

Some camcorders have better sensors so you can get higher resolution stills, and there is even one which has two lenses to cope with differing requirements.

Sony camera at Cebit
Digital cameras packing more into a smaller device
More generally, though, the watchword in the camcorder world is evolution not revolution. The main battleground is over recording formats. A few players have gone the recordable DVD route.

"It's much more easy to use, you get higher performance, you don't get the degradation that you get with tape, if you want to go to a video clip you go straight to that clip through an icon," said Mark Wilkin of Hitachi.

The 8cm discs come in different varieties and not all will play back in a regular DVD player.

They are also more expensive and smaller than regular DVDs, each storing 2.8 GB of data, only about 20 minutes of really high quality footage.

No surprise then that, for the time being, most manufacturers are sticking with tape-based systems.

But there has been progress on other fronts, in particular little features, which help us on our way to producing better movies, like enhanced filming mode.

"We've added a feature which allows you to record in a very dark environment, but still you have colours in your picture," said Jean-Baptiste Duprieu of Sony.

At the end of the day though, there is no getting away from the bare facts. If you are hopeless behind the lens, not even technology can save you.

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