Canon's New PowerShot: A Sharp Elbow Jab at Encroaching Smartphone Cameras

Last Updated Sep 14, 2010 1:31 PM EDT

Canon (CAJ) announced a new camera. Normally that wouldn't be a story with industry impact, until you consider what $429 will be able to buy in point-and-shoot form: so much in the way of capabilities that the best smartphones will be incapable of keeping pace. This is product introduction as statement, a declaration of how the camera industry has decided to defend itself. It's an impressive salvo, both in technology and strategy.

For a while it's been obvious that the camera market was in the midst of enormous changes. In April I mentioned that the Nokia (NOK) N8 was the Swiss Army knife of handsets. Maybe the jack of all trades was the master of none, but it sure made a strong case for having only one device in your pocket. My BNET colleague Damon Brown said it was an example of how smartphones made point-and-shoot cameras pointless.

Just a couple of months after, we began to see how point-and-shoots were moving upscale to capture the interest of a smaller market segment willing to pay more. Canon's PowerShot SX30 IS takes a different direction, bringing a powerful collection of features, and the abilities they convey, that any smartphone will have a difficult time duplicating:

  • The lens can go from the standard 35mm SLR equivalent of a 24mm wide angle lens to an 840mm telephoto. That's long enough to require a tripod for steady shooting, and yet able to give a full wide angle feel on the other end.
  • The camera makes that range available with a real optical zoom, so you don't lose any of the potential image quality. Digital zooms effectively enlarge an image, reducing resolution.
  • Canon says it uses its normal lens manufacturing processes for this camera, which means a good chance at high quality optics, far beyond what smartphones could offer.
  • Although megapixel counts by themselves are relatively meaningless, the 14.1 megapixel sensor means the ability to get a pretty large image. Even if not printed at a large size, that gives you the ability to crop out a smaller section and still get good image resolution.
  • New image stabilization helps steady the hand-held shot and adds 4.5 stops of compensation. That's the equivalent of saying that you can shoot in darker ambient lighting or use a far slower shutter speed without blurring the image more.
  • The camera will take 720 HD video with stereo sound.
There's more, but no need to belabor things. Camera makers are clearly finding ways to revitalize point-and-shoots by offering compelling combinations of features that aren't physically possible at this point on a smartphone. The optical zoom alone would be an enormous challenge. And at $429, it's not a device that's within the economic reach of many.

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Image: courtesy of Canon
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.