AP­PLE IPHONE 4S

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Ap­ple, $799-$999 ap­ple.com.au ★★★★

FROM the out­side, the new iPhone is al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able from its pre­de­ces­sor. A prankster could swap an iPhone 4S with the last model and the owner wouldn’t know. . . un­less they had noted its 3g weight gain, the ever-so-slight move­ment of its vol­ume keys or, you know, they turned it on.

Its same-ish ap­pear­ance should not di­min­ish this smart­phone’s achieve­ments, how­ever. They’re just hid­den on the in­side.

The iPhone 4S cam­era, for ex­am­ple, takes a mas­sive leap for­ward. Now a full high­def­i­ni­tion and 8-megapixel shooter, it is ca­pa­ble of tak­ing video and pho­tos you would ex­pect from a com­pact cam­era.

It fea­tures a big, fixed aper­ture of f2.4 to let in more light and adds a hy­brid in­fra-red fil­ter to cre­ate uni­form colour across pho­tos (read: elim­i­nate the nasty green mark from the cen­tre of im­ages).

All up, it’s an im­pres­sive pack­age that sub­tly im­proves on other phone cam­eras. The other head­line fea­ture of the iPhone 4S is Siri, the voice-recog­ni­tion fea­ture billed as an ‘‘ in­tel­li­gent as­sis­tant’’ that can an­swer even con­ver­sa­tional ques­tions.

Siri is at her best when deal­ing with facts. Ask her how many kilo­me­tres in a mile, how big a 42-inch TV is in cen­time­tres, or how old Jerry Springer is and she’ll quickly de­liver an an­swer.

She’s also ac­com­plished at set­ting re­minders, pre­dict­ing the weather and tran­scrib­ing SMS or email mes­sages (as­sum­ing she un­der­stands you). If you store con­tacts with iCloud, she’ll even re­mem­ber re­la­tion­ships and re­spond to com­mands such as ‘‘ mes­sage my mum’’.

All these prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions are in ad­di­tion to her list of whim­si­cal an­swers to ques­tions such as ‘‘ Do you know HAL 9000?’’ or ‘‘ Where can I hide a body?’’.

Un­for­tu­nately, Siri’s use­ful­ness is ham­pered in Aus­tralia as she can­not de­liver map, traf­fic or busi­ness in­for­ma­tion here, yet. Once that is added, she’ll be very use­ful in­deed.

JEN­NIFER DUD­LEY-NICHOLSON

THEY are smaller, lighter, smarter and they’re pre­dicted to be the hot-ticket pho­to­graphic item this Christ­mas. Com­pact sys­tem cam­eras are grow­ing both in mod­els and in pop­u­lar­ity, with pre­dic­tions that sales will dou­ble in Aus­tralia this year.

In­dus­try ex­perts say the mar­ket has also re­ceived a ‘‘ sub­stan­tial boost’’ from the en­trance of lead­ing pho­to­graphic house Nikon, which launched its first com­pact sys­tem cam­eras here last week.

An­other highly ad­vanced model is also ex­pected from Sony soon, while Olym­pus has just launched its third Pen cam­era of the year and Pana­sonic de­liv­ered ‘‘ col­lapsi­ble’’ lenses for its new mod­els.

But man­u­fac­tur­ers warn more ed­u­ca­tion may be needed for con­sumers to em­brace the tech­nol­ogy, and en­thu­si­asts could de­rail the trend with a de­bate about tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions and cam­era la­bels.

Pana­sonic launched the first com­pact sys­tem cam­era in 2008, with Olym­pus de­but­ing its modern Pen cam­era the fol­low­ing year.

This new type of cam­era made it pos­si­ble to swap lenses and achieve high-qual­ity im­ages, while us­ing a cam­era body sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than a dig­i­tal SLR. It cut weight and bulk by re­mov­ing the cam­era’s in­te­rior mir­ror and de­liv­er­ing a smaller sen­sor that re­quired smaller lenses.

Photo Imag­ing Coun­cil of Aus­tralia ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Paul Cur­tis says that weight loss made the cam­eras at­trac­tive for both keen ama­teurs look­ing to ad­vance their skills as well as ad­vanced shoot­ers look­ing for a travel-friendly cam­era.

Olym­pus pro­fes­sional photography man­ager Lu­cas Tan ex­plains that sav­ings, as well as ad­vance­ments in new mod­els, are con­vinc­ing more peo­ple to buy com­pact sys­tem cam­eras.

The brand launched three Pen cam­eras late this year, with the cheap­est and small­est — the Pen Mini — out this month. But it is the most ad­vanced model that is a main­stream hit, he says.

‘‘ There are peo­ple who are ask­ing for the Pen E-P3 in stores that we never thought we’d sell it to,’’ Tan says. ‘‘ We thought we would range it only in photo spe­cialty stores but now the top 25 Har­vey Nor­man stores also carry it.’’

But Aus­tralia has been slow to fully em­brace the new cam­era type. Com­pact sys­tem cam­eras now make up 45 per cent of all in­ter­change­able lens cam­eras in Ja­pan, 40 per cent in Hong Kong and 30 per cent in Korea.

‘‘ In Aus­tralia you’re look­ing at com­pact sys­tem cam­eras hav­ing about 9 or 10 per cent mar­ket share, but that’s steadily grow­ing and we see very strong growth into Christ­mas,’’ Tan says.

Pana­sonic Lu­mix group mar­ket­ing man­ager Alis­tair Robins says Aus­tralian sales ap­pear to be a year be­hind those in the UK, where com­pact sys­tem cam­eras have just claimed 20 per cent of the mar­ket. ‘‘ As a re­sult, we’re now ex­pect­ing (Aus­tralian sales) to dou­ble in the com­ing year.’’ he says.

A spate of new cam­era re­leases is likely to fur­ther ig­nite those sales.

Nikon launched its first two com­pact sys­tem cam­eras last week: the J1 that it touts as the small­est CSC model avail­able, and the V1 that prom­ises a shoot­ing speed of 60 pho­tos per sec­ond. But the mod­els have been crit­i­cised for hav­ing a smaller im­age sen­sor than oth­ers (13.2x8.8mm).

Af­ter launch­ing its NEX-5N cam­era last month, Sony is al­ready tout­ing a new top-ofthe-range model in the NEX-7 due later this year. It prom­ises a 24.7-megapixel sen­sor, OLED viewfinder and gen­er­ous APS-C im­age sen­sor.

While the de­bate over sen­sors is likely to fuel fierce de­bate by en­thu­si­asts, Robins says ‘‘ for con­sumers it’s re­ally about the out­put from the prod­uct and what pho­tos it pro­duces’’ that will mat­ter.

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