The Shadow of Your Smile

As David Pogue recently reported in a piece, "Cameras That Dazzle, and Dismay" for the New York Times, as Christmas time nears camera companies rush to introduce new and compelling features and/or gimmicks to keep consumers buying digital cameras in this shaky economy. The number of digital cameras that will be shipped in 2009, in case you were wondering, is estimated to hover around 120 million units, according to one online estimate and that huge number doesn’t reflect sales of camera equipped phones.

Some of this year’s fancy cameras are going to be fitted out with just the kind of features you’d expect: longer zoom lenses, better image stabilizers, better video capability. But it’s some flashier new features that interest me because of what they reveal about our relationship to photography through the images we make. There’s a Sony Camera, called a party-shot “personal photographer,” that sits in a dock, swivels around, scans the room for people smiling, and then takes a picture. There are cameras that have blink detection settings, to make sure everyone is open-eyed and ready to be seen. Multiple LCD screens embedded in some camera bodies now allow both those in front and behind the lens to approve of pictures to be taken. One camera flashes a smiley face on its front side, to attract the attention of anyone about to be snapped. Another, a Samsung, goes a step further and in its “kid mode,” plays cartoon animations on the camera’s front screen to snag the attention of kids, or maybe anyone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Also popular this year, cameras with built in micro-projectors that make slide shows and video showings possible, anywhere and on any sort-of-flat surface, so people can broadcast their own breaking news, on the spot.

But the feature that really caught my attention, something I read about on PC Magazine’s website is on a Sony/Ericsson phone that won’t be in the stores until early 2010. The new XPERIA X10 (communication =  experience, right?), with its sophisticated face recognition technology, can identify up to five faces in any picture and then automatically link them, through the user's social network contact list, to the people depicted.

What strikes me is that these new digital do-dads reinforce the fact that the complex relationships between images, business, communication, news, and entertainment keep on morphing. It also makes me wonder what else we, in our wildest dreams as image producers and consumers, really want, and what Santa might be working on for later next year.

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