If you think the world is getting better looking and easier you probably were at PMA to see the dizzying array of new, exciting and low-cost cameras.  Actually a camera isn’t a camera anymore in the usual sense.  It

is a camera on steroids.

Still and video come together in a single unit with higher and higher resolution, cleaner, crisper quality photos and videos, better and better software suites and wild array of accessories to blow your money on.

We had our mind almost made up on a new camera before the show and now we’re back at ground zero again.  4MP, 5MP, 8MP, 4x zoom, 10x zoom, 2.5-inch LCD, 3-inch LCD, 256MB internal memory, 512MB internal memory, 1GB and larger cards (at various speeds) and more with prices that are becoming very “consumer.”

It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a camera snob and only consider units from Olympus, Canon, JVC, Sony, Pentax, Konika Minolta and Panasonic when you see what Kodak has done to reshape their image.  Even the new units from Concord, Fuji, HP and others we never heard of offered a blinding array of compact, ultracompact, enthusiast, zoom, superzoom, SLR and features at prices that are tough to ignore.

Power, Quality in Your Hand

The great thing about the PMA event is that you can see what the pros use — photographers and videographers — and you can see what ordinary folks can afford.  As every videographer will tell you in two years or less all that breathtaking gear they paid US$3,000 plus for will be US$300.  It will also be smaller, lighter and with features everyone wants but only the pros know how to use!

It reminded us of the LAOX stores we visited in Osaka and Tokyo on our last visit with floors of cameras and accessories wall to wall.  The visit was mind-boggling.

We went to buy something specific and got so distracted we ended up looking at all the goodies and CE/PC toys.   But at least we didn’t have to walk far to see 100-200 different cameras.

We admit cameras aren’t our long suit but from what we can tell the MP race is more marketing driven than an issue of enhanced image quality.  If a little linear resolution produces huge pixel increases.  That means if they double the linear resolution they increase the megapixels by 4x which doesn’t have much to do with colour and sharpening algorithms and the subtitles of image quality.

But that stuff is way over our head so maybe it is easier just to deal with megapixel numbers as we have in the past with the speed of system microprocessors.  That moves a lot of computer iron!

What was amazing at the show though was how compact (ultracompact) the cameras have become as the quality image quality has increased.

According to InfoTrends the digital still camera market is already getting mature.

They estimate that by the end of last year 42 per cent of the U.S. homes had digital cameras and by the end of 2006 penetration will have increased to 62 per cent.

Once a market — any market — reaches 50 per cent, increases are slow and painful.

They are usually achieved at a major reduction in profit margins.

InfoTrends estimates that about 21 million digital cameras were sold last year but only about half were first-time buyers.  Over the next two years manufacturers will have to persuade people to replace units or add a 2nd/3rd camera.  That requires more features, more capabilities at the same or lower price.

Phones Everywhere

While the camphones have finally taken off in the US and there were some amazing next generation units shown at PMA, we continue to believe these are two separate product categories.  The tug of war we see developing is between the camera producers and cellphone manufacturers is more in their minds than in the consumer’s mind.

People buy camphones because let’s face it, that’s about your only choice today.

Most of the pictures that are taken are “impulse” shots.  In fact, we wonder how long it will be before someone is shot trying to catch a “photos/video at 11” shot.  In addition, people are being encouraged to do more with their cellphones than make calls and take pictures.

If you’ve visited Japan recently you see people doing text messaging, playing games, handling email, Web surfing, listening to music and watching movies/TV.

Phone multitasking is also popular in Europe and is increasingly important here in the Americas.   It is possible to print camphone photos but it isn’t popular and doesn’t look like it is going to become popular any time soon.

But people buy cameras to take photos/videos.  That won’t change even when camphones have 3-5MP cameras built in (yes the numbers game again).

All of the camera folks were offering some flavor of the complete end-to-end to Ofoto or EasyShare gallery through their printing dock.  Or you could email content, move it to a photo printer or download it to your PC for sharing.

This complete solution approach is one we have to begrudgingly admit that HP has down pat.  They’ve got the download port on their PCs and their photo printers.

They’ve got the software.  They have the bundled email solutions.  They’ve certainly got the printers!

Printing Battle

The printing options arena is brutal. There are the traditional printer folks who are trying to convince you to print your photos at home and conveniently save a ton of money. Or you can take your cards to the store, a photo kiosk or the office (that saves even more money). You can upload them to an on-line photorepository somewhere in the world or do what our son does (obviously theminority) and upload to retail.

Epson and HP (and a few others to lesser degrees) are aggressively going after this home market even though InfoTrends projects more of the printing will ultimately swing back to the retailer.

Great! But the problem is people aren’t printing their stuff. Mostanalysts agree; IDC, Gartner and InfoTrends; only 12-14 per centof all of the shots taken; the number is huge and getting hugher; ever kiss a piece of paper.

As we noted in our last Insider (and will cover more thoroughly when we look at some of the storage picture based on some new information we’ve received) we have NO idea what people are doing with all of those photos and that video they are capturing.

If they don’t print the stuff and they don’t seem to be sending it to digital archive caves somewhere on the Internet then what are they doing?

Well the memory card people say a lot of the folks are using their cards as fairly expensive archive media. Hard drive people are delighted that most people though simply open folders on their drive and drop in their photos and videos to sort, edit, author and archive later.

The Killer App

Weeks ago we were talking with Katherine Cochrine of CDR-info (check www.cdr-info.com) about this issue. The Achilles heel to the storage dilemma; and it is getting worse instead of better; is the need for software that manages, archives and retrieves your content. Initially we called it Meta data.

But it really goes beyond that and we agreed what was needed was meta-meta data because we are dealing with highly heterogeneous stuff. Whether it is on your notebook, your home media server, your production facilities server or your enterprise data farm you’ve got volumes (bunches) of data that isn’t nicely organized.

It is difficult to put your fingers on specific information and it’s getting worse, not better.

Kat felt that the Web and search engines were good models but they didn’t easily scale; up and down. But she wasn’t optimistic and felt the solution was at least five to six years away.

Do you realize how huge your photo and video files (let alone your music files) will be by then?

Our only short-term hope in her estimation develop meta data using meaningful descriptions (yeah like that will happen we have a hard enough time getting people to document the software they write) and collect it somewhere that was accessible.

Kat’s eureka?

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