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

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