The Photography Blog: New cameras, new technology. But is it of any use to our photography?

Alex Hare

nikon 300x225 The Photography Blog: New cameras, new technology.  But is it of any use to our photography?Two recent releases of the latest and greatest compact cameras have introduced some interesting new technology. In addition to the usual advances in auto focus speed, number of megapixels and ISO performance, we have some new and groundbreaking features to consider.

Lets look at the Nikon 1 first. The stand out feature here is the ‘smart’ technology that works with us during the photo-taking process to record our photograph as well as a few of its own for us to consider.

By recording 20 photographs before and after you actually fully depress the shutter button and then recommending your best five to you (how does it know?), you are offered a variety of photographs of ‘the moment’ to choose from.

Purists will worry that we are not actually photographing ‘the moment’ ourselves anymore: the shot that correlates to the moment we pushed the shutter button is not necessarily the photograph we will use and claim as ‘ours’ as this was, quite possibly, taken before or after our best effort by the camera.

Of course the idea is harmless enough, it’s designed so that you are less likely to miss a good moment, such as the changing expression on someone’s face, by recording this expression over a series of images which affords us a choice of the best. This technology will also mean that the auto focus must be much faster than previous cameras where waiting for it to lock focus was sometimes like waiting for paint dry. A welcome improvement, indeed.

The other major feature which Nikon claims to be a ‘world first’ is the Motion Snapshot. Here, you click the shutter and the camera records a short slow-motion video that culminates in the final still. Of course there is then the in-built wi-fi to ensure you can post this to your social networking site of choice.

It’s an interesting concept (video and stills have always been separated on previous cameras) and offers a slick, compact way of combining them in one single bite size segment. It will be interesting to see if this is enjoyed by consumers or not. The potential to bring extra life to a still with a little video to add context to the moment could hold much appeal.

In the other corner we have Samsung’s latest offering; the NX1000. This camera is packed with 20.3 megapixels, lots of slick wi-fi and sharing technology and an ISO range of up to 12,800-the largest by far amongst this level of camera.

First off, that’s a lot of megapixels. It means we have the highest resolution file from a camera of this type to date. This means it can print at a larger size than the competition without interpolating (creating) additional pixels to fill the paper size chosen. On the face of it, it’s a good thing.

Of course, as with any camera, the quantity of those megapixels is no direct relation to the quality and one must be circumspect about the prospect of cameras like these (or mobile phones, for that matter) whether it’s 10, 15 or 20 megapixels, delivering results comparable in quality to top of the range DSLR’s with similar megapixel counts given that they are but a fraction of the cost of these camera and lens combinations.

The test pictures on the Samsung website are also telling: they show a dazzlingly sharp picture and a close up view of the clock tower taken with this camera’s 20.3 mp’s compared to a fuzzy, pixelated view on a humble 16 mp camera. The 16 megapixels was what Canon’s top DSLR carried only a few years ago and you could print flawless, metre wide prints from it. Beware of the sale puff. That said, the results do look very impressive from this camera.

The television advert for this camera is interesting. It claims that, with the NX1000 in hand, anyone can shoot like David Bailey. Really? Isn’t some understanding of timing, lighting, composition, aperture, shutter speed and ISO required in order to use a camera effectively?

Maybe not. The camera also boasts Smart Auto 2.0 which automatically analyses the shooting environment and then chooses the appropriate scene mode from a choice of 16 modes. Before you always had to set it to ‘Portrait’ or ‘Landscape’ scene mode, so the potential banana skin of having the wrong settings dialled in at the moment you want to shoot is taken care of by the camera’s ability to second guess what we want it to do for us.

Similarly the Nikon 1, with it’s pre- and post capture technology, is removing most of the problems inherent with the ‘timing’ part of that photo taking equation. Following on from this, one wonders if a camera will try and get involved with the composition we choose in future models.

Interestingly, both these compact style cameras come with interchangeable lenses which suggests a greater optical quality is afforded over the previous compact cameras released which mostly all came with a built-in lens. Yes, lenses cost extra but they allow us to use better quality glass in front of all those megapixels they are cramming onto the sensor, which is crucial to getting the best out of such sensors.

Of all the new benefits, this is the one that really stands out for me. I’m sure the lenses aren’t as sharp as the top DSLR lenses – how can they be at a fraction of the cost? – but they are a big step in the right direction. Until now, manufacturers crammed more and more megapixels into their cameras and sold this as the benchmark of a camera’s quality.

It’s only part of the picture, however, and in order to make use of those megapixels they must be sat behind a good lens.  Otherwise, it’s tantamount to placing a greasy pane of glass between ourselves and the view seen with our own eyes. Increase the quality of the glass and we increase the quality of what we see, be that with our own eyes or via our camera’s sensor.

And Finally…

Bad weather has made the sun shine on British photographer Craig Easton. His evocative, moody images of the ‘dreich’ – an old Scottish word to describe wet, miserable, dank weather – have secured him this year’s Cutty Sark Award for the overall winner of the Travel Photographer of the Year awards.  The exhibition of the winning photographs runs from July 12 to August 18 2013.

Have your say:

Are you tempted away from the heavy, cumbersome nature of a DSLR towards compacts packed wit the latest technology?

Do you feel the photography process is being ever more eroded by these advances or are they genuinely helping us become better photographers?

How do you pick through the sales patter to identify what is a real help and what is merely superfluous amongst all the features on offer on a modern camera?

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  • uksnapper

    The more megapixels solution is fine IF you have a good sensor and appropriately sharp lens and you do not care about detail.
    Its also apparent that the greater pixel count requires a steadier hand as it shows up the slightest tremor which means that serious cropping will show up any errors.

  • Melville2010

    Your Label’s on crooked

  • QuentinUK

    You are getting the detail because of the high megapixels. High end digital cameras already do 80Megapixels. So they’ll be on the cheaper cameras in a couple of years. As for image stabilisation many cameras already have this. The vibration will be no worse than a telephoto lens on a lower pixel camera. It will be easier to control in camera because the sensor will have to move a smaller distance to fix it.

  • uksnapper

    VR is good,agreed.I know from experience that a higher resolution sensor requires a better technique,it will show up every possible flaw in both your use of the camera and the lens used.
    If the pancake lenses along with the sensors on non pro cameras were as good as you suggest,the pros who need the best availableto earn their living with would be using them and would be ditching their expensive high quality stabilised tele lenses.That they are not is indicative of the difference

  • appliance5000

    No actually – that photography is an art form has been long decided.

  • appliance5000

    All camera sensors are analog(ue).

  • appliance5000

    I’ll bet you talked her down on the price and still expected genius. I’ll also guess that with you standing over her shoulder micro managing she basically said f you.

  • Tim Stubbings

    It’s funny that despite the advances in technology (and it’s no surprise that eventually we’ll have video sequences from which art directors will pick the stills photographs) commercial pro photographers still get hired to light, compose and control a scene (shooting summer in winter etc.). I upgrade my camera bodies every 3-5 years because I need to squeeze investment from it and 99% of my commission use 1% of the camera functions (shutter, aperture, ISO). The basics of photography haven’t changed but the means of capture have – so as long as the tech isn’t the master of the process, it’s all good fun.

  • TheSplund

    What about the relative effects that different focal lengths have on the compression of the depth of field, distorted perspective etc? You might want that ‘fish-eye look’ for landscapes, but you wouldn’t take a portrait with a wide-angle lens and then crop it (not unless you wanted a comical shot of course),

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