With the megapixel race basically over, we're entering a golden age of digital photography in which camera makers can stop competing on specs and concentrate on adding features that make these things really useful -- especially for folks without the expertise (or desire) to constantly fiddle with settings.
Casio is certainly taking on that challenge. For years, the company has been adding "Best Shot" scene modes that go way beyond the usual suspects such as portrait, landscape, and sport in order to optimize settings for various environments.
At PMA, Casio made what I thought was an over-hyped announcement about its new eBay mode for optimizing shots of small objects (such as vintage Fisher Price Little People Dogs) that you might sell on eBay. Essentially, it's a macro mode.
Not a bad idea, but what really excited me was an even simpler mode called "soft flash." And unlike the Best Shot modes, which are getting buried in an ever-growing collection (now totaling 34), soft flash is an easy-to-access flash option, just like auto, redeye reduction, or slow synchro. And all it does is decreases the flash intensity by about 50%.
This is great! Simple, but really great.
Usually, the flash is way too powerful. Since camera makers don't know what we'll be taking pictures of, they just assume the worst-case scenario -- something about 10 feet away. And they make the flash correspondingly supercharged. But I typically use my pocket cam to take close-up photos of friends. And if they are the least bit fair-skinned, they come out looking rather Goth. Take this -- admittedly extreme -- example of my poor buddy Matt taken with my Canon PowerShot sd450. (Click on any photos for an 800-pixel-wide version.)
He looks like one of the glowing white aliens from Close Encoutners -- perhaps fixing to abduct rosy looking Aubrey (who's far enough back to avoid the worst of the flash burn).
I often try to fix this by covering about half the flash with my finger. But I far prefer Casio's method. To see how well it works, check out these two shots taken at PMA with the Z600 camera. The product manger, Scott, was one of the many good sports at PMA who modeled for dozens of test shots with their companies' cameras.
The top photo was taken with standard flash. The second with soft flash. Neither is perfect, but the second is way better. We see something like natural coloring on his face, and a lot less of the shininess from too much flash hitting pale skin. (A redeye reduction version of soft flash would be a nice addition in the future.)
I later learned that Pentax also recently came out with a similar flash option. I hope all the camera makers follow suit. (Canon?)