SLIDESHOW

This year's hottest digital camera trends

We've already seen two waves of camera releases so far in 2011, enough to identify the latest feature trends and get an idea of what we'll be seeing more of in the year ahead. Here are some of the most popular new features in digital cameras.

Geotagging

In-camera GPS abilities are quickly becoming commonplace in digital cameras. This feature records a photo’s location into the file’s metadata, and some cameras, such as models from Casio, Panasonic, and Samsung, even allow you to see your photos on a map within the camera.. It's helpful if you want to map out your images, or just jog your memory about where a shot was taken.

Conveniently, the technology is showing up in rugged point-and-shoot models like the Panasonic TS3 and Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS, which are more likely to be taken on adventurous treks. Canon’s first GPS camera, the SX230, and the Sony DSC-HX9V store altitude, longitude and latitude; the Canon model, like the Casio Exilim EX-H20G, also comes with a "logger" feature, which tracks the camera's movements even when you aren't snapping pictures. Taking the technology a step further, Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-ZS10 also shows one million international landmarks and points of interest. We've also reviewed Casio's GPS-capable Exilim EX-H20G, which has an excellent in-camera mapping interface to go along with an extensive points-of-interest database.

Low-light optimized sensors

Many companies are adding low-light optimized sensors to their cameras that allow photographers to capture better nighttime and other poorly-lit shots. These backside-illuminated CMOS sensors reorder the elements that make up a sensor so that the wiring is behind the light-capturing diodes. This clears the way for more light to hit the diodes. Cameras using this technology include the new Canon PowerShots, the Nikon Coolpix P300 (top sample image), S9100, and P500; the Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 (bottom left); Sony Cyber-shots with the Exmor-R CMOS sensor; and Fujifilm cameras with the EXR sensor, like the FinePix F550EXR pocket megazoom (bottom right).

In-camera help modes

Figuring out how to navigate all the settings, buttons, and dials on a new camera can be a daunting task. That’s why many manufacturers are adding in-camera help modes to walk new owners through the basic features of the camera, as well as explain the essentials of photography in plain English. Nikon's entry-level D3100 DSLR has a Guide Mode (top left), and Canon's entry-level T3i and T3 DSLRs both have a Feature Guide and Basic+ mode for new users (bottom right). The Olympus PEN line of cameras has the great Live Guide (top right), and Sony's HX9V has a searchable guide, as do some sub-$200 Samsung point-and-shoots.

Flexibility and fun designs

It's not just what's inside that counts. These new cameras are breaking the mold with fun and unusual designs: The Casio Tryx (bottom) is a twisty pocket point-and-shoot with a touchscreen that can be positioned in a number of ways. In the stunningly retro category we have the Fujifilm X100 (top left) and the Olympus PEN series of interchangeable lens cameras. The Pentax Optio WG-1 (top right) is a built for an extreme outdoors lifestyle, and its design is as bold as its body is strong. Also from Pentax, the K-r DSLR isn't just available in the usual black, it also comes in white and red.

Touchscreens

Like wi-fi sharing options, the touchscreen craze is influenced by the popularity of smartphones. They’re more than just a gimmick however—the latest touchsceens actually add some very cool features. For example, the Pasnasonic G-series Micro Four Thirds DMC-GH2 camera (bottom left) allows users to tap on part of an image on the screen to adjust settings like focus or exposure. On the Panasonic Lumix FX78 (top left) and FP7 cameras you can apply cosmetic touch-ups such as teeth whitening using the touchscreen. Other touchscreen cameras include the smartphone-like Samsung SH100 (bottom right) and the powerful Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS (top right).

Premium pocket cameras

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to image quality in the latest batch of high-end compact cameras. Joining the category leader, the Canon S95, there’s the Nikon Coolpix P300, which offers users an aperture of f1.8 and a 4.2X optical zoom lens, all for an affordable $330. The little guy also shoots well in low-light settings and comes with full manual controls. Olympus’ answer to the high-end pocket camera trend is the $500 XZ-1, which offers nearly identical features, adds a raw-shooting mode, and has a hot shoe for external flashes and unique accessories, such as a tentacle-like LED light for macro shots. For photographers looking to lose the bulk of a DSLR, but not willing to sacrifice image quality, premium pocket cameras are a great investment.

High-speed shooting

Casio is the pack leader for high-speed video capabilities in point-and-shoot cameras. Its high-speed EX-F1 (top left), EX-FH25, EX-ZR100, and Tryx can all shoot high-speed video at varying frames per second (fps). The EX-F1 can shoot an impressive 1200 fps at 336 by 96. Users can slow down these high-speed videos to around 30 fps to create great slow-motion videos. Other cameras with high-speed shooting modes include the Canon PowerShot 100 HS and 300 HS (top right), and the Nikon Coolpix P500 (bottom right).

3D

Many single-lens point-and-shoot cameras are adding 3D features, and Sony is leading the way with the technology: its latest 3D-capable cameras are the the Cyber-shot DSC-WX10 and the DSC-HX9V, and practically every new Sony point-and-shoot has a 3D mode. Sony also released the CES show-stealing Bloggie 3D camcorder this year, which uses the traditional two-lens method to capture 3D video and images. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10, FX78, and TS3 also have 3D shooting modes, and an optional 3D lens for the company's G series of Micro Four-Thirds cameras is also available. However, to shoot 3D video, you'll need a dual-lens device, such as the FujiFilm FinePix Real 3D W3 or the Sony 3D Bloggie. What's more, viewing the images captured on most of these cameras often requires a special display device, such as Panasonic's 3D-capable Viera TVs or Fujifilm's digital-photo-frame-like 3D viewer. If the foray into 3D seems like just another new thing to learn, consider the Olympus SZ-10, which includes a guide mode that shows users how to shoot in 3D.

Wireless photo sharing

Taking a cue from smartphones, cameras are adding more wireless sharing options. The feature is popular because users love the instant gratification of sending photos to friends and family instantly, as well as saving time by not having to transfer photos to a computer first. Wi-Fi memory card maker Eye-Fi (bottom right) announced that all SD cards in their X2 line will receive a free update late in 2011 that allows the card to act as a Wi-Fi access point for tablets and phones. The feature—Direct Mode—will work with a free iOS app to send photos and video straight to the mobile devices. Olympus uses a Bluetooth transmitter device, the PenPal (left), to wirelessly transfer photos from the E-PL2 camera to a phone or computer. Taking wireless sharing a one step further is Samsung’s SH100 (top right). Rather than using an accessory to move photos, the entire camera is Wi-Fi enabled, but currently mobile connectivity is only available for Galaxy S Android phones.