Now that smartphones have powerful cameras and video systems built right in, makers of traditional cameras have had to adapt: Today's nominally consumer-grade camera comes jammed with advanced features like video, global-positioning systems and rugged designs. If you know the tricks, seemingly basic cameras can be turned into business-ready multimedia imaging devices that can help your firm market, communicate--and make more money.
Here are our picks for low-cost, portable cameras with small-business game:
SONY NEX-5 ($800, PACKAGED WITH 16MM LENS)
Remember the difference between single-lens reflex cameras and point-and-shoot units? SLRs were pricey but powerful and let you change lenses; point-and-shoots were cheaper but had limited features and only internal lens adjustments. Those days are over. The new Sony NEX-5 brings the interchangeable lenses of the SLR to a point-and-shoot-size camera, opening a level of professional-quality imaging to smaller firms. Not only can the NEX-5 shoot seven frames per second in continuous live-action stills mode, the unit also produces fabulously high-quality, high-resolution video. If you are looking to add multimedia to your social media pages, take quality comps of your work for clients or otherwise create powerful marketing material, you will be surprised by how professional a tool the NEX-5 can be.
CASIO EX-H20G ($350)
Most businesses are about being somewhere and doing something at a specific place and time. So most businesses should get to know the Casio EX-H20G. Not only does this unit have a traditional global-positioning system, but it also has so-called autonomic positioning--basically, what a guided missile uses to stay on course. The tool allows this super-simple point-and-shoot camera to generate a remarkably accurate position for where and at what time photos are taken. Say you're out doing an onsite for an upcoming job. Rather than pinging your location with your cell phone, jotting down an address and hoping that Google Maps gets it all right so you can find your way back, take a picture with your H20G and know your position is correct. Getting an accurate fix on where you need to be is a handy tool indeed.
KODAK PLAYSPORT/ZX3 ($150)
The ruggedized Kodak Playsport/Zx3 is made to help adrenaline junkies record their latest base jump, cliff jump or ski jump. But this small, good-looking video and still camera has solid small-business skills lurking inside. Sure, the Playsport pumps out reasonably high-quality video, good still images and has an easy-to-use USB output that lets all images feed directly into a PC. But what makes the Playsport unique is its tougher-than-nails case and lightning-fast turn-on time. So instead of having to baby your iPhone in an add-on case and wait forever to take a picture, you can grab the Playsport, shoot what needs to be shot and move on. If you doubt the business value of that, just ask any of the many iPhone owners out there whose camera doesn't work at all.