Holiday 2012: This Year's Top Trends and Breakthroughs
Trending topics on Twitter change rapidly from one minute to the next, but in the world of electronics manufacturing, trends evolve slowly, often taking an entire calendar year to surface. Here at B&H, we’re among the first to get our hands on the latest professional and consumer equipment, and we’re always looking for new trends in the products: feature and design changes that fundamentally impact how we use and interact with our gear. Below we’ve compiled the highlights from the trends and technological breakthroughs that took place in 2012. Read on to learn about the changes that shook the worlds of photography, computers, video and audio production.
Photography’s Forward March
Large-Sensor Compact Digital Cameras
The dream of a small and lightweight camera with a full-frame sensor and a fast lens became a reality in 2012. Announced in September at Photokina, the Sony Cyber-shot RX1 is indeed the world’s first ultra-compact camera with a full-frame 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, paired with a fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens. The arrival of the RX1 proved two things: one, that the technology required to create a camera like this was in place, and two, that there’s an unmistakable desire in the marketplace for small cameras with big sensors—and manufacturers were already responding. These cameras appeal to experienced users who want a little camera that captures above-par imagery. They’re also attractive to beginners who desire a high-powered camera that they can take everywhere, and indulge themselves in experimenting with various techniques.
The RX1 features a BIONZ image processor that makes it possible to shoot up to five frames per second and record 14-bit RAW image files. It shoots full HD video at 24p, 60i or 60p, and you can acquire stills while you’re shooting video. Separately available electronic and optical viewfinders can be added via its multi-interface shoe, which is also compatible with an external flash, a thumb grip or a clip-on LCD monitor. A 3” 1229k LCD is built in for framing and viewing your shots.
Announced back in January 2012, the Canon G1 X took the familiar G-Series form factor and loaded it up with a 14.3-megapixel 1.5” (38.1mm) CMOS sensor, which is nearly the same size as the APS-C sensors used in professional DSLRs. With improved high ISO performance and a built-in f/2.8 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) lens with a 4x optical zoom, the G1 X packs a considerable amount of power into a pocket-friendly shooter. Another appealing 2012 compact is Sony’s RX100. Its 1” (25.4 mm) CMOS sensor with an effective resolution of 20.2 megapixels is somewhat smaller, but the camera itself is smaller too, as it’s the most pocket-ready of the three. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, the built-in 28-100mm (35mm equivalent) Carl Zeiss lens on the RX100 excels in low light, and provides 3.6x optical zoom.
A Point-and-Shoot with a Telephone’s Soul
If you’re wondering why mobile phone manufacturers have yet to incorporate decent point-and-shoot-style zoom lenses and features into smartphones, so are we. However, with the introduction of the Nikon COOLPIX S800c, we witnessed the opposite of this in 2012. The S800c is a 16-megapixel point-and-shoot camera that runs on Google’s Android operating system. Instead of the peephole-sized lens you get on smartphones, this camera has an f/3.2-5.8 NIKKOR ED 25-250mm (35mm equivalent) 10x optical zoom lens. The S800c features built-in Wi-Fi, which lets you tap into all of the goodies the Web has to offer. However, it cannot be used as a traditional mobile phone.
You can download and run apps on the S800c for everything from games like Angry Birds to dedicated photo apps for editing and sharing images. We won’t be surprised to see more cameras with Google’s OS in the future. The power of third-party apps is incredibly intriguing for photographers. Imagine having map and language translation apps on your camera when you travel. Now imagine an app that reminds you what time magic hour was going to fall. Now stop imagining, because these apps already exist.
Mirrorless Goes Mainstream
Mirrorless system cameras have remained hot items for manufacturers like Panasonic and Olympus for a number of years. However, both Nikon and Canon stayed decidedly out of the pool. That changed in September 2011, when the Nikon 1 J1 and V1 were unveiled. This introduced an entirely new system and imaging format for the venerable Japanese camera maker. This movement continued in July of 2012, when Canon announced the EOS M, their first mirrorless camera. The dance floor at the mirrorless disco was suddenly at full capacity. The EOS M is an interchangeable lens camera with a Canon EF-M mount, and with a separate adapter, you can use Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses as well. The EOS M features a large, 18-megapixel APS-C sensor and a 3” 1040k dot, touch-screen LCD. It can shoot full HD video, and features a 3.5mm input for an external mic, too.
Wasting no time, Nikon announced an updated Nikon 1 J2 in August 2012. It featured an improved 3”, 921k dot LCD screen, a 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, and the camera body is available in six different colors. The Nikon 1 cameras comprise an interchangeable lens system, and they utilize the Nikon 1 mount. The Nikon 1 J2 shares many of the features of the original J1, such as its EXPEED 3 dual image processor, but it also features a new Creative Mode on a rear dial, which offers eight different ways to take artistic-looking shots.
Some really nice, higher-performance mirrorless cameras were also announced in 2012. In September, Panasonic announced the Lumix GH3, which features a magnesium alloy, weather-sealed body, a Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount, and a headphone output for monitoring your audio as you shoot 1080/60p HD video (we’ll talk about headphone outputs on still cameras later in this article). Olympus announced the OM-D E-M5 back in February of 2012, which is also housed in a weather-sealed magnesium body and features a Micro Four Thirds sensor and mount. This camera has received an impressive amount of positive feedback from its early adopters.
Price-Friendly Full-Frame DSLRs
For many fans of digital photography, the lure of full-frame cameras has always been intense, but the price of admission for a body with one of these sensors has always been prohibitively steep. When you wanted a full-frame camera around the $2,000 price point in the past, you had no choice but to seek out an older model that featured aging technology and behind-the-curve features. However, two similarly named full-frame DSLR bodies arrived in 2012, and they both offered far more budget-friendly pricetags: the Nikon D600 and the Canon 6D.
The D600 is more compact than other full-frame Nikon DSLRs, and it’s armed with a 24.3-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor. The D600 features robust 39-point autofocusing with scene recognition, and an EXPEED 3 processing system that enables you to shoot up to 5.5 frames per second at full resolution. Wi-Fi isn’t built into the D600, but it can be added with the separately available WU-1b wireless adapter. The Canon 6D features built-in Wi-Fi and a 20.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. The 6D is powered by a DIGIC 5+ image processor, which enables 4.5 frames per second of continuous shooting, and it has an 11-point autofocus system.
Wi-Fi or the Highway
Cameras that feature built-in Wi-Fi are nothing new; however, we witnessed an unprecedented flood of them in 2012. The aforementioned Nikon S880c, Lumix GH3, Nikon D600 and Canon 6D are all in the Wi-Fi club, but we saw many more besides those, such as the Sony NEX-6, NEX-5R and the Canon PowerShot S110. You can blame the Wi-Fi craze on the popularity of smartphones, tablets and other mobile gadgets. Most camera manufacturers offer free mobile apps for mobile devices, which enable you to do things like fire the camera’s shutter remotely, preview the camera’s images from afar and post images and video directly to social networking sites. Wi-Fi is becoming standard, and it looks like it's here to stay.
More Sweet Glass for Micro Four Thirds
Fans of the Micro Four Thirds format had more to cheer about in 2012, besides the release of the GH3 and the OM-D EM-5. Several new Micro Four Thirds-mount lenses were released, such as the Voigtlander Nokton f/0.95 17.5mm. Its drool-inducing f/0.95 maximum aperture manages to keep images nice and sharp, while providing creamy bokeh. All in all, this lens makes an excellent companion to the always desirable Nokton 25mm f/0.95. Sigma also released some new Micro Four Thirds lenses in 2012. The 19mm f/2.8 EX DN is a high-performance wide angle with a 38mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, and it’s also available with a Sony E Mount. The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN is a 60mm (35mm equivalent) prime which is, again, available with a Sony E Mount. For a full rundown of the new lenses for mirrorless cameras, check out this B&H InDepth article.
Computer and Mobile Device Juggernaut
Touchable PCs and Windows 8
In a daring reaction to the tablet mania that’s taking over the Earth, Microsoft released their radically different Windows 8 operating system in 2012. Gone are familiar old friends like the Start button and the Media Center, and in their place are a somewhat unusual “modern user interface” elements, like animated Live Tiles and all sorts of touch-enhanced doodads. Just as quickly as Windows 8 materialized, so did an unusual slew of new computers that took advantage of its touch environment.
The ASUS TAICHI is an interesting example of this. This computer was designed to operate both as an Ultrabook laptop and as a tablet PC. It features two 1080p screens, one of which is in the normal location where you’d expect it on a laptop, the other is on the flip side, so when you close the TAICHI, the second screen faces upward like a tablet. There are also two lenses on the TAICHI, for video chatting in either mode. It also features a solid-state drive, USB 3.0, dual-band Wi-Fi and the touch-driven Windows 8 OS. You may find yourself rethinking what a PC can and cannot do in 2013.
Tablets Became a Tad Smaller
Smartphones with larger screens grew in popularity in 2012, and conversely, tablets with smaller screens stood out as the form factor of choice. The Nexus 7 was one of the biggest success stories of the year. It debuted with Jelly Bean, an incredibly powerful version of Google’s Android operating system. Similar to Siri on iOS, Jelly Bean features an intelligent digital assistant functionality called Google Now, which learns your behaviors and tries to anticipate your needs. When the Nexus 7 came out, it was a really attractively priced, 16GB 7” tablet. Its internal storage was bumped up to 32GB later in the year; the price, however, remained unchanged. The basic Nexus 7 is Wi-Fi only, but a version with a built-in 4G radio is available now for pre-order.
Ever since the original iPad was announced back in 2010, people have been wondering if Apple would release a smaller version of the paradigm-shifting device. As an iPad 2 owner myself, it was clear that there was a need for a smaller, more lightweight Cupertino-borne slab, because holding a full-sized iPad with a single hand is always a burden. In October of 2012, Apple finally delivered the iPad mini. It has a 7.9” display, and it’s less than half the weight of a larger iPad. The screen geometry makes it compatible with every iPad-optimized app in the Apple App Store. It has many of the same internals as the iPad 2, and it’s available in 16-, 32- and 64GB versions, in either Wi-Fi only or with 4G radios for various carriers. The mini has only been available for a short time, but I have a hunch that this will be the most popular iPad yet.
Ultra-thin, extra-fine Retina Macs
Apple really evolved their pro laptops in 2012, and they moved in a decidedly ultra-thin and high-resolution direction. The 15.4” MacBook Pro with Retina Display was released in June of 2012, and it's the highest-resolution laptop ever made. Nearly as thin as the MacBook Air, the 15.4” MacBook Pro brings a new level of capability to portable computing, in terms of image resolution and the ability to connect bandwidth-hungry peripherals via its two Thunderbolt and two USB 3.0 ports. Without a doubt, the new Retina MacBook Pros are a killer tool for photographers and video producers. In October of 2012, a 13.3” MacBook Pro with Retina Display was released, and it featured nearly identical specs, with just slightly less resolution than its older, 15.4” sibling.
Blazing-Fast Bandwidth Abounded
If you were a computer and you were released in 2012, the odds are high that you’d be outfitted with a USB 3.0 port or two. The high-bandwidth version of the Universal Serial Bus protocol truly earned its title of “universal” in 2012. Every flavor of computer, external hard drive and electronic accessory proudly sported USB 3.0. Thunderbolt ports also continued to proliferate their way across the entire Macintosh product line, and they even found their way into PCs such as the Acer Aspire S5 Ultrabook, and into ground-breaking cameras like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.
The Continued Convergence of Cameras in Pro Video
Speaking of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, 2012 was a year that saw many bold new video-capable cameras released. A bounty of new HDSLR bodies were released that feature a headphone output. When you have external microphones such as wireless lavs and shotguns attached to a camera, it’s very important to listen to the audio on headphones as you shoot, so you can be certain it sounds okay, and be able to know immediately if there are any issues. For the first time, cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, Lumix GH3 and Canon 1DX all featured headphone outputs in 2012.
Every notable HDSLR camera that you’ve ever heard about shares the same kind of audio input: they all have a stereo 3.5mm consumer mic-level input. Okay, the Lumix GH2 had a stereo 2.5mm mic input, but it’s pretty much the same thing. Sony released their flagship HDSLR in 2012, the a99, and predictably, it featured a 3.5mm mic input (as well as a mini-plug headphone output). While the a99 is an all-around impressive machine (full-frame 24.3-megapixel sensor, sophisticated dual AF system, 10 frames per second, etc.), its multi-interface shoe stands out as one of its most forward-thinking aspects. Among other accessories that can be used in the multi-interface shoe (LCD monitors, external flashes, etc.) you can use the Sony XLR-K1M Adapter and Microphone Kit. This accessory upgrades the audio end of the a99 to the level of a pro camcorder with dual XLR line and mic inputs with phantom power, thus making the a99 the world’s first HDSLR camera with a true professional audio interface.
Say Hi to Uncompressed HDMI
While we’re discussing the Sony a99, another welcome feature it offers is uncompressed full 1080 video output on its HDMI port in 60p or 60i. This is a feature that hardcore video people always look for, and we started seeing it popping up all over the place in 2012. It’s desirable because you get better results when you don’t use the video footage that was recorded to the camera’s memory card, and instead use an external recording device like the AJA Ki Pro Mini. Not only is the uncompressed signal from the HDMI output on the camera cleaner that what you get from the camera’s memory card, devices like the Ki Pro Mini let you record in formats like ProRes 422, which can be loaded into Final Cut Pro and edited immediately without the need for transcoding. Many other HDSLR cameras, such as the Nikon D600, also offered clean HDMI out in 2012 as well.
Lots of Action in Point-of-View Cameras
The little HD camcorders that daring souls strap to their helmets, handlebars and surfboards are called Point-of-View (POV) cameras, and we saw continued growth in this area in 2012. GoPro released the 4K capable Hero3 Black Edition, which is a Wi-Fi-enabled little powerhouse. This year we also witnessed two video heavyweights getting in on the action. Both Sony and JVC released POV cameras in 2012. The GC-XA1 ADIXXION by JVC is impervious to water in depths of up to 16.4 feet (5 m) and can withstand impacts from up to 6.5 feet (2 m). The Sony HDR-AS15 features built-in Wi-Fi, and the HDR-AS10 is the exact same camera without the Wi-Fi functionality.
Dubstep Kickstarts Pro Audio
A British Invasion of Underground Electronic Music
A rather menacing-sounding style of electronic music called Dubstep really asserted itself in 2012. Describing what Dubstep sounds like can be challenging, as it's a cacophony dominated by throbbing, distorted bass synthesizers and spacious beats. The best Dubstep often sounds like angry robots battling it out, which is fitting because a remix of the song “Machine Gun” by Noisia (which was remixed by the sadly disbanded group, 16bit) was used in the trailer for the Hollywood blockbuster film Transformers 3. If you’re wondering what Dubstep is all about, this track is a good place to start. Google it, and brace yourself for impact.
2012 will likely be remembered as “the year Dubstep broke,” and with it came a cavalcade of products to support this burgeoning art form. Chief among them were the MiniNova synthesizer from Novation, which features a dedicated Dubstep mode, the Wobble software synthesizer from SONiVOX, which was made specifically for creating Dubstep, and last but not least, the MASSIVE software synthesizer from Native Instruments, which is available in the KOMPLETE 8 bundle. MASSIVE is to Dubstep what the Fender Stratocaster was to 1950’s American Rock and Roll. You can familiarize yourself with more Dubstep tools in this B&H InDepth article.
An Audio Manufacturer Leverages Kickstarter for the Win
Keith McMillen Instruments is a small pro audio manufacturer based in Berkeley, California, which is known for producing innovative MIDI controllers like the SoftStep. They had dreamed up a somewhat radical new product that they wanted to take to market, but they needed to be sure that there was enough demand for it first. In an experimental move, they utilized the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter.com to secure the funding required to create the device. This turned out to be a pretty smart decision. In a matter of hours they had generated enough capital to green-light the product. The result is the QuNeo, a multi-touch pad-based MIDI controller with 251 multi-color LEDs. It proved to be a hit, and now a wireless version called the QuNeo Rogue is in the works, which is being marketed as a solution for the digital DJ who wants to mix wirelessly. The desire to mix tunes wirelessly was also reflected in the Pioneer XDJ-AERO, so keep an eye out for the DJ on the dance floor at your New Year’s Eve party.
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