Here's our advice for camera buyers in 2011 and the big developments to watch out for.
If you're shopping for a DSLR don't miss the February 2011 issue of PC & Tech Authority which is on sale now. We've put 11 DSLRs and hybrid cameras head to head. Below is an extract. Get the magazine or iPad edition and you get the full shebang: our full reviews of 11 cameras, comparison feature table, our guide to understanding sensors, plus we kit you out with our accessory guide.
Has there ever been a better time to buy a DSLR? We'd argue not, and offer the excellent Nikon D3100 as proof. For less than $900, you can now buy a camera that shoots HD video, takes wonderful pictures and is compatible with what many experts claim to be the best-quality range of lenses in the world.
There are amazing deals elsewhere too. We're enormous fans of the bijou Pentax K-x and its excellent kit lens. It's another example of superb value, and a great reason for current compact owners to upgrade. Why not when top quality comes so cheap?
Meanwhile, the long wait for high definition video in DSLRs is over. Nikon has made the leap to H.264, 1080p video with its D3100, while Canon continues to blaze away with the same mode on the 550D. Only the very cheapest of DSLRs carry on without any HD video mode at all - the Canon 1000D and Sony A450 are the sole cameras in this month's Labs not to offer at least a Motion JPEG, 720p mode.
While pro photographers might continue to be sniffy about - or at least unconcerned with - HD video modes, they're a hugely desirable inclusion for amateurs, who no longer need to take a DSLR and camcorder with them, or invest a not inconsiderable amount of money in buying two devices. There's also a decent jump in quality between many camcorders and DSLRs, thanks to the larger sensor and more expensive, interchangeable lenses.
As much at risk as camcorders, however, are compacts. Why would a keen amateur spend $400 on a decent compact when for a little over $100 more they could bag a proper DSLR, complete with interchangeable lens system, a significantly larger sensor and far better image quality?
But the real question we aimed to answer in this Labs was simple: have mirrorless SLD cameras come of age? Last year, we were reporting that the likes of the Olympus E-P1 were a promising start, but that without a price drop and quality increase, they'd never truly catch on.
The likes of Sony's NEX-5 and Samsung's NX10 haven't quite cracked the price problem, but image quality is certainly no longer a concern, with APS-C format sensors crammed into almost impossibly small bodies. And, while aspiring pros and true enthusiasts will criticise these cameras for lacking decent lens and accessory support, the reality is that if you're a keen amateur, the kit lens that comes with an SLD camera may well be the only one you'll ever need.
There's still a place for DSLRs; the fact two of our award winners fall into this category are proof of that. But the tide is turning, and we suspect more and more "compact upgraders" will jump ship to the newcomers rather than the old guard.