Wi-Fi Cameras – The Next Big Thing?

Imagine a digital camera with the same functionality you get from your camera phone–but with the quality-control functionality that you expect from your regular camera. The future is now–almost.

Wireless digital cameras are arguably the next big thing in the photography world. A marriage between Wi-Fi technology and digital cameras allows the photographer to connect to a wireless network without needing cables. Photographers can download the pictures to a computer, save the pictures directly to a computer as they are shot, send images to a printer, or share photos via a cellular network the same as with a camera phone.

Take last summer’s World Cup, for example. As fans screamed, professional photographers sent pictures of Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi flying to photo editors’ screens around the globe. The cameras’ Wi-Fi transmitters sent the images wirelessly to a nearby colleague with a laptop, who in turn sent them zipping around the world.

The Wi-Fi advantage for professional photographers is apparent–but what about the rest of us? Do we have a use for this feature? Camera manufacturers are betting we do. Increasingly, wireless technology is incorporated into high-end digital cameras, as well as in the point-and-shoot models available to the home consumer. Kodak set the ball rolling by announcing a wireless-enabled, point-and-shoot digital camera at the CES trade show in 2005. Nikon and Canon threw their hats into the ring shortly afterward. Sony came on board in March of 2007.

A Must-Have Feature?

I’m predicting it won’t be long before we think of Wi-Fi as a must-have feature when we shop for our next digital camera. Picture the next big corporate event, where the office’s rising star snaps pictures of schmoozing executives and projects the images on the wall via a projector hooked to a laptop. Imagine making a huge splash at your kid’s birthday party when you snap pictures of arriving guests, wirelessly zoom the images to a printer, and tuck the picture into the kid’s goodie bag moments later. Or, how about your next vacation, when you instantaneously send your vacation pictures to a Web page or to someone’s computer?

Even better, consider that Wi-Fi cameras use 802.11b and g computer networking technology to connect to a wireless network. If your home computer is Wi-Fi enabled, you can connect your wireless digital camera to it and download your photos. Say goodbye to card readers and USB cables.

However, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of. First, Wi-Fi-enabled digicams are still new technology–so expect some bugs to iron out. Secondly, Wi-Fi-enabled cameras “talk” only to their manufacturer’s propriety software, restricting you to use of that one particular element. (Oh, where have we heard this complaint before in the technology world?)

And lastly, the Wi-Fi capability adds about $100 to the price of the camera, so expect a reduction in camera features as the manufacturers try to make the cameras affordable to home users. Prices vary, but the cameras are more reasonable than you might think.

Today’s Technology

Nikon’s CoolPix P2 5.2 MP camera is Wi-Fi-capable, and sells at Amazon for around $200. The camera can transfer your saved images to a printer (no computer required), or to a wireless-equipped computer, or can send the images directly to the computer as you take them.

Amazon consumer reviews vary, with some saying the camera works fine, but the Wi-Fi is a dud, and others claiming the Wi-Fi is fine, but the camera is flawed. Still others rave about both, but claim that the Wi-Fi connectivity is difficult to set up. A Photo.net review of the CoolPix P2 and its sister camera, the CoolPix P1, points out that the Wi-Fi support permits sending pictures to a computer fewer than 100 feet away, and that this computer must be running Nikon’s photo-management software. Also, when in the wireless mode, the camera offers pure “point-and-shoot” functionality–a fact that will irritate more experienced photographers.

On the plus side, however, the camera supports “slide show” functions, so you can do that corporate party thing mentioned earlier. Imaging-resource.com calls the camera a good choice for beginners or mirrorless camera deals for experienced photographers wanting a “take-anywhere” camera.

Kodak’s EasyShare One takes a more ambitious approach. This camera uses a touch screen and a Wi-Fi adapter card (sold separately) so you can plug into any Wi-Fi hotspot and send the pictures wirelessly to any e-mail address stored in the camera. The 4MB camera sells at Amazon for about $175.

 

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