The World of technology moves along at a fair clip. Between a lot of hype, vapourware and duds also comes a lot of great innovation and game changers. Most of it is dictated by serious competition and the need to have a breakthrough product in a certain category. And yet there are certain laggards – product lines and areas within the tech world that seem to be perennially asleep. One of them that seemed forever to be in a state of slumber was digital still cameras. Not much seemed to happen here year after year – they just seemed to limp along, content to be mediocre in approach and innovation. And then, suddenly, they woke up. Catch 22 The world of digital still cameras was boring, insipid, unimaginative and very drab. No real innovation had happened in this category for years. And yet, right after mobile phones, it’s digital cameras that are the most sought after personal gadget. Most people agonise over what to buy, search specs, check out reviews, get misled by numbers and end up with a very mediocre product.
All the innovation that seems to have happened is stretching the megapixel capacity (the greatest marketing ploy of this century) or making the point-and-shoot camera thinner, smaller and lighter. On the other hand, the bulky DSLR lived in a different world. Complex, ugly, monstrous, expensive, convoluted – did I mention ugly? With brain-numbing jargon and a learning curve that was impossible for most human beings to fathom, DSLRs were for the select few who had the guts to wade into those torturous muddy waters. Optical Hell Thus your choice was simple. Live with a camera phone (easy, friendly, always available but with terrible optics, horrible low light results and no real zoom), or a point-and-shoot (thin, light, small, idiot-proof, easy to use, but no real manual control, small sensors and finally very mediocre and middling results) to a DSLR (usually black, unusually big, unnecessarily obtuse but with amazing results – if only you could make your way up the incredibly steep learning curve). We were between a rock and a hard place and an even rockier, harder place.
The Awakening And then, suddenly, the flashbulb went off in the brains of camera manufacturers. Enter the prosumer camera. This is a term that has been used and has been in play for quite a few years. It’s been abused, reinvented and recategorised many times, but mostly it has stood for pure crap. Not any more. The latest breed of prosumers have broken all barriers and innovated at every angle and inch of imaging. These are true game changers. It’s Magic The main shift has been to bring in DSLR capabilities, great optical zoom, interchangeable lenses and simpler operations into form factors and bodies that are small, thin and light. It’s a quantum leap forward when you can take a small little camera that can do it all in auto-mode – or you can switch to semi-auto or manual mode and slowly learn the intricacies and magic of controlling aperture, shutter and speed.
It’s a whole new ball game to use a thin pancake lens and then snap it out and attach a spectacular zoom lens that can bring the action right to your nose. To be able to pull off low-light photography like a pro, use the flash for dramatic highlighting rather than blinding your subject, shoot a panoramic view of a building, get high speed action and sport shots and capture city lights at night with the headlights of a car whizzing past can only be described as pure wizardry. Spoilt for Choice There are lots of choices out there. The Sony Nex 5 really sets the standard high (ridiculously small body with interchangeable lenses and a great sensor); the Panasonic Lumix GF2 hits the sweet spot (super thin, interchangeable lenses, HDMI-out and built-in flash); the Olympus Pen that started it all (the Olympus PEN E-PL2 has 19 available lenses as well as image stabilisation built in); or the incredibly versatile Canon PowerShot G12 (rotating screen, electronic dial).
There are many others like the Pentax k-x, Samsung NX 10 and the Nikon P100. Don’t fall for the easy path. Don’t go for convenience over quality. Don’t go for a typical point-and-shoot camera when the market has incredible choices just a step above. It’s an incredibly lazy choice today to buy a camera based on simplicity and ease. These prosumers have that – plus a lot more. You need to step up and see the rich bounty that these cameras throw up. After all, now that the camera manufacturers have finally woken up from their slumber, it’s time you did too. Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.