Guest Commentary - Killer Features vs. Pseudo Features

I got my digital camera, the Panasonic FX7, partly because it looked great, but mostly because it had a killer feature. In these days of pseudo-feature overload, let me remind you of what that is. A killer feature is a feature that changes the way you use a piece of technology, or substantially improves the results you get from it. It's a feature that blows the competition out of the water and makes you ask why somebody would get a product tat doesn't have it.

Every camera manufacturer advertises a list of features as long as your arm. Most of these are pseudo features. Casio, for instance, has a special mode that allows you to take two portraits together, each taking up half of the frame. Why you would want to do this, nobody knows. That is not a feature. It is a pseudo feature.

The killer feature on the Panasonic FX7 is image stabilization. Basically, it compensates for the slight shake of the photographer's hand. In general, that will make your pictures noticeably sharper—all of them. It'll also let you take pictures without a flash with a quarter the light that other cameras need. This is a big, big deal. And it really works.

Recently Fuji introduced a little camera, the F10, that lets you ratchet up film speed to 1600, something that in practice you can't otherwise do except with a much more expensive and bigger digital SLR. That, too, is a killer feature. All else being equal, it's hard to understand why you'd get the cameras without the killer features. Maybe they like the lousy pictures they get with the tiny flashes. Maybe they just like pictures that aren't sharp.

More likely, however, we are so inundated with pseudo features that for the ordinary consumer (I hate that word, but let's use it anyway) it's hard to tell what's a real feature and what isn't. You can look at Consumer Reports, but frankly that venerable journal is just as overwhelmed as the rest of us. You can look at the reviews on Amazon.com, but, again, those are also a jumble of marketing speak—or, worse, the preserve of videophiles who use their magnifying glasses top compare minor differences in chromatic aberration. Or you can ask the guy at Circuit City. Yeah, right.

It has become commonplace to say that the progress of technology has repeatedly been marked by the triumph of marketing over innovation. Over and over we have been told that Sony's beta was a "better" format than VHS. But "beta vs. VHS" are technological standards that don't make any difference to real users. When it has come to real features—power steering, stereo speakers&mash;people choose right. Unfortunately, marketers have gotten smarter: if you exhaust people with pseudo features, they won't notice the killer features they're missing. Which is really too bad. Because the Panasonic
s image stabilization kicks ass. -Mark Gimein