PMA: Compact cameras litter the show floor

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If PMA’08 has any theme, it is ‘point-and-shoot.’ In the past month—culminating with this week’s show—we’ve had a veritable onslaught of compact camera announcements. According to IDC, there were nearly 34 million cameras sold last year. Based on the sheer number of new cameras here at the show, that’s obviously not enough.

I stopped counting today after I hit my 30th new point-and-shoot camera, and I hadn’t yet gotten to the Nikon booth, where six new Coolpix cameras awaited my inspection. Everyone’s in the act, including Canon, which introduced four new compact cameras, including a 7.1-megapixel model priced at $129.

Prices are coming down, megapixels are increasing, screens are growing larger, and they’re all getting more stylish (at least in the eyes of the vendors). Most of the new models have some sort of “intelligence” built-in, designed to provide features like face recognition and to prevent badly exposed pictures. But many offer way too many scene modes, and none of them have an optical viewfinder, which means that you spend a lot of time squinting and holding the camera out away from your face.

Take for example, Panasonic, which introduced seven models at the show, ranging in price from $150 to $350. I spent time this week playing with the Lumix DMC-TZ5, and it’s a nice camera: 9.1 megapixels, 10x optical zoom, and a bunch of features that seemed more like marketing points than actual user benefits. The images it takes are quite good, but the camera suffers from the plague of the small camera: shutter lag. And, running around the show floor today, it was hard to find a small camera that didn’t have some similar drawback.

More than one person I spoke with thought that the camera vendors should focus more on usability and less on megapixels, glitz and having ten different models, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. The call of Costco and Best Buy is too great, and everyone wants a chunk of that 34 million. One friend, who was at Macworld Expo and is here in Las Vegas put it quite simply: point-and-shoots are the iPod cases of PMA. They’re everywhere, and it’s hard to distinguish them from one another.

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