Nokia Lumia 1020.

The digital camera business is what we might call mature. Improvements this year have on the whole been small and incremental. But that's not a bad thing.

In January we got our hands on the latest Canon pigment ink printer - the Pixma Pro 10 - which for less than $1000 turned out some the best prints we've produced.

Black-and-white prints are rich with excellent preserved detail. Apart from the higher price we pay than the Americans, both for the printer and inks, we reckon it is close to perfection.

Nikon 1 V2

Nikon 1 V2.

Nikon surprised us with the tiny and exquisite mirrorless interchangeable lens Nikon 1 V2. We'd been unimpressed with Nikon's first attempts at this category of camera, with the emphasis on total automation, but the V2 is a camera of a different order. At more than $1000 for camera and lens, it is over-priced. Haggle.

Late in the year two category-killer cameras were released: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the Sony a7 - not-quite-identical twins.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 looks like the company's farewell to DSLRs. This is the most highly evolved micro four-thirds mirrorless system camera to date. There is nothing you can do with a DSLR that you can't do with the E-M1 ($1855 with 12-50mm lens). The price puts it up against some stiff competition from mid-range Canon and Nikon DSLRs, where what it yields in sensor area it makes up for in features. We particularly like the in-camera correction of diffusion that occurs when the aperture is stopped down past f8.

Panasonic Lumix GM1

Panasonic Lumix GM1.

Sony wowed reviewers with two mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras with full-frame sensors. The Sony a7 and a7r are similar in most respects except pixels numbers; the a7 has a 24-megapixel light receptor, the a7r has 36 megapixels. In other words, the a7r competes with the fabulous Nikon D800, with the same sensor, but does so in a smaller body at a lower price. Sony has clearly seen that resistance to this new camera form will come from people with a big investment in lenses and has provided optional adapters for Nikon, Canon and Leica. The a7r body sells for about $2500 and the a7 body for about $2000.

Both the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the Sony a7s have electronic viewfinders that are so good we have had to eat our words. All our pessimistic predictions that EVFs will never match optical viewfinders are ash in the mouth!

We own and love a Nikon and a Canon DSLR but we admit to a preference for the mirrorless interchangeable-lens form. The market says otherwise, with MILCs trailing DSLRs in sales, presumably because people equate serious quality with bulk and mass.

Olympus EM1

Olympus OM-D E-M1.

Looking at sales figures, it appears customers now divide between those satisfied with their smartphone and those who still believe bigger is better.

If you want proof to the contrary, pick up the new Panasonic Lumix GM1 ($1000). This tiny gem has a face area not much bigger than a credit card. It is a micro four-thirds MILC with serious external controls and Panasonic's excellent touchscreen system. It also mates up with Panasonic's free smartphone/tablet app, the best of any remote control app on offer (sadly, not for Windows phones). Unlike most apps that give limited control to the phone, the Panasonic app puts almost every camera function onto the smartphone.

The inclusion of wi-fi in cameras and the provision of controlling apps has been one of the worthwhile innovations of 2013. The idea is old but it didn't take off until the smartphone filled the technological hole in the concept.


Joby Grip-tight and Gorillapod phone stand.

Speaking of smartphones, the outstanding new player in 2013 is the Nokia Lumia 1020. This Windows Phone 8 sports a 41-megapixel camera which, with clever resampling and combining of pixel output, produces stunning 5MP images. We have been using this phone/camera for a month and are constantly astonished at the image quality, particularly the resolution of fine detail and the absence of noise.

Nokia has announced that the forthcoming version of the phone operating system called ''Black'' will give the camera RAW recording capability in Adobe's universal DNG digital negative format. Already available is the Refocus app, which makes it possible to take a photo without worrying about the point of focus because you can select it in the camera after the event. It incorporates ''colour pop'', which renders the image in black-and-white except for any block of solid colour that is chosen to stand out.

But what's the use of a phone camera if you can't hold it steady for those longer night shots? There is good news, however. The small, easily pocketable Joby Grip-tight phone stand and the associated Joby Gorillapod stand ($30 each) will keep the phone steady.

Sony A7

Sony a7.

The photo storing and sharing site Flickr keeps track of the cameras used by its subscribers. Canon is the most popular, aggregating all its models from top DSLRs to compacts. Apple, with only a few iPhone models, comes in next. In individual model rankings, the iPhone is the world's most popular or most used camera.

Sony tops the compact camera usage with the DSC-RX100. This is an indicator that customers shop seriously, perhaps guided by reviewers. The camera has only been on the market for a little over a year but has been widely hailed as the best compact, with a larger sensor than most, and serious functions, such as the ability to record RAW.

Finally, what would we most like to find in the Christmas stocking? We would be happy with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 or a Sony a7r or, perhaps, a 38cm Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display. Is that asking too much?


Nokia Lumia 1020.