by Deanna Ting | November 12, 2012
These days, it seems like everyone's a photographer - especially anyone who owns a smartphone. The popularity of image-driven social media platforms such as Instagram (with 80 million registered users as of September 2012), Flickr (75 million users), Tumblr (70 million blogs), and Pinterest (20 million users), is proof that we live in an increasingly visual digital age. According to a September 2012 Pew Internet Project study, 45 percent of all American adults owns a smartphone. Many smartphone owners use them to take photographs that they then post onto social media sites.

"We've become a world and a nation of photographers," explains K. Scott Crawford, special markets and OEM manager for Nikon. "Unlike the days of film where you only took out the camera for special occasions and you had to be mindful about using your film, today, every moment and opportunity is a 'Kodak moment,' an opportunity to capture our world."

So, it may surprise you that, despite the growth of smartphone ownership and improvements in smartphone camera technology, sales of traditional, professional-quality cameras are still robust. When it comes to incentive redemptions for cameras, digital single-lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, are in high demand. Although they may be larger - and bulkier - than your average smartphone, the picture quality that they deliver far surpasses that of any photo taken on a smartphone or compact digital camera.

"DSLRs and similar products, what some people call 'bridge' or long-zoom cameras, are seeing increasing demands in both placements and redemptions," says Crawford. "This follows similar trends in retail. These are aspirational products and the increased demand is being driven, we believe, by smartphones."

The more people take photographs on their smartphones, Crawford explains, the more they begin to realize that the picture quality of these photos simply cannot match that of a professional camera model.

"Everybody wants to take better pictures," he explains. "Smartphones are poor in being able to define images, have poor optical zoom capabilities, cannot perform well in low light, and lack high image quality when it comes to printing an image. DSLRs do what the smartphone won't do, or can't do, well."

Because DSLRs have larger sensors than smartphone cameras or compact digital cameras, and larger lenses, the picture quality they can produce, even in low-light situations, is without compare. The ability to swap out lenses and add extra flash expands their capabilities.

The higher price points of DSLRs - most range in cost from $500 to more than $2,000 - make them an even more aspirational and motivating item than other camera models. "When an employee has an opportunity to own something like this, without busting his budget, it's very much a motivator," Crawford says.

Shelly Colla, Premium Incentive Group national sales manager for Sony Electronics, agrees, adding: "Even though the price points are higher for DSLR products than standard point-and-shoot cameras, we continue to see strong demand in the incentive channel for the newest technology. There is trophy value in these higher-end products."

Here are some of the newest DSLR and bridge cameras available through the incentive market.


Fine and Dandy
The Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR is a bridge camera that's well suited for serious photographers who want the performance of a DSLR without the bulk or expense. It has a high-performing 16-megapixel resolution sensor, a three-inch LCD screen and a 30X wide-angle optical zoom, and the ability to film in high definition. $499.95.


Rebel With an Eye for Images  
The Canon Rebel T4i With 18-135mm STM Lenses captures photographs with an 18-megapixel resolution sensor, performing extremely well in bright and or dimly lit conditions. An enhanced EOS Full HD Movie mode allows you to film your most treasured moments, as well as view them on a new three-inch touchscreen LCD monitor that's smudge-free. New filters and imaging features let you enhance your photos like never before.  $1,199.

For Serious Pros
The Nikon D600 is, as Crawford describes, "for serious pros." It captures full-frame, high-resolution images and cinema-quality high-definition video with a 24.3-megapixel resolution sensor. By plugging in Nikon's new WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter (redeemed separately), photographers can instantly send images taken from their D3200 to their smartphone for easy uploads to Facebook, Instagram, and more.

You can also use the WU-1b adapter to remotely capture images on your camera by using your phone. $2,099.95.


Shoot in Style
The sleek Polaroid iS2132 is a compact and stylish bridge camera that offers a 21X optical zoom on a 25-millimeter wide-angle lens that can take panoramic photos.  It uses a 16.1-megapixel Sony sensor and also films video in HD. It's available in black as well as a pearlescent red finish. $329.95.

The Compact Camera For a Pro
Sony's new DSC-RX1/b model, which debuts in December, is like a point-and-shoot camera on the outside, but performs like a DSLR with a full-frame 24-megapixel-resolution sensor, a fixed 35-milimeter lens, the ability to film HD video, and a three-inch LCD display screen. $2,799.


Vividly Captured
This compact bridge camera from Vivitar, the VS1527, has a 15X optical zoom and takes photos on a 16.1-megapixel resolution sensor. It also films HD videos and allows you to add special color effects. $299.95.