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The big camera companies slept through CES because their ideas aren't futuristic enough

The big camera companies slept through CES because their ideas aren't futuristic enough


Keep an eye on the startups and the underdogs in 2017

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Nikon D5 and D500 photos

If you’re a fan of big name cameras, this year’s CES was a bore. Sure, Nikon released a pedestrian entry-level camera. Canon’s G9X Mark II is another unnecessary sequel. The beastly Panasonic GH5 was a lone bright light, especially for shooting video — but we knew it existed months ago. Sony, Fujifilm, and others essentially sat the whole thing out.

So if it’s the Consumer Electronics Show, and cameras are one of the most ubiquitous consumer electronics, where the hell are all the cameras?

I get it. It’s hard to make a splash as a camera company at CES when everything is a camera. On top of that, Photokina — the biennial photography trade show — was less than 4 months ago. CES has also grown so big, it’s likely that large companies want to announce products on their own terms, especially since development seems to be plateauing in some respects.

Fascinating ideas were at CES, you just had to hunt them a bit

But despite the dearth of camera announcements, 2017 is still good year to be excited about photography. The most intriguing, wild ideas are coming from the startups and underdog camera companies. Some of those were actually at CES, even if they were easy to miss.

PogoTec is a company I wrote about near the end of 2016, but it only just showed off the first working version of the PogoCam camera this week. It’s a goofy idea on the surface — a tiny camera (with severe memory and battery limitations) that magnetically clips in to a track on your glasses frames. But PogoCam isn’t too far off from Snap Spectacles, and its more pedestrian approach represents the increased ubiquity of cameras.

PogoTec’s founder comes from the vision industry, was able to strike a deal with glasses companies like FGX International to build this proprietary track into their popular glasses frames. FGX also has a heavy presence in big box and drugstores. All this means that someday soon you could be staring at a display full of low-end Snapchat Spectacles while you wait in line to buy your toilet paper.

PogoCam attached to a compatible set of glasses frames.
PogoCam attached to a compatible set of glasses frames.

Thermal imaging company Flir announced better, more affordable versions of its thermal cameras this week, too. Thermal imaging is undoubtedly a niche, but it’s remarkable that there’s a gadget that lets you capture photos that visualize parts of the spectrum we can’t see for under $200, and comes in a form factor that plugs right into your phone.

Kodak licensee JK Imaging revealed the full details of its new dual-lens 4K 360-degree camera, adding some healthy competition for Nikon and Samsung in this new space of spherical photos and videos. And the Polaroid Pop is a wonderful realization of mixing digital and physical photography.

Increasing the power, diversity, and ubiquity of cameras means we’ll also be asking a lot of important questions in 2017, especially ones about privacy. (Hi, Spectacles.) But they’re questions we wouldn’t explore further if it hadn’t been for these offbeat ideas, and CES is the perfect place to start posing them.