Panasonic's adding four new compact cameras to its already extensive Lumix digital camera range. But these are no ordinary point-and-shoots, because they sneer at mere face recognition technology, and instead offer face identification.
Here's how it works: you train the camera with images of specific people--family, friends, stalking victims--and add keyword tag data such as name and age. Later, when the camera sees a group of people, it quickly highlights any faces it can identify. It will then optimize its focus and exposure for these faces so that the resulting image has the best possible shot of your pals. Name, age and other data will also be appended to the image, presumably in the metadata.
And in the same way that face detection is becoming ubiquitous (I was surprised when even my Canon 50D DSLR had it built-in) you just know that this technology is going to spread first into other digicams and then into smartphones. Having a camera tuned to snap your loved ones in a scene, and then making it easier to find those people in your vast digital photo archives is an undeniably neat solution, similar to some of the features Apple's debuting in iPhoto'09 (ed. note: let's hope the Lumix's face recognition works better than Apple's).
But the downside is that we could all lose a little more control over what happens with images of us online. Everyone with a camera like this will be carrying around a compact, powerful, image-based personnel identification/tracking system. When those photos go online, complete with tagged ID and location details, you know at least some of them will end up automatically connected to your Facebook profile simply because the data's already there, with no user input required. And it's not hard to imagine Google catching on quickly and building a scanable face database. Better hope your name is spelled correctly.
The Lumix face ID tech will come in the DMC-FX40 (pictured above), FX550, TZ7 (sold as the ZS3 in some regions) and FT1. The TZ7 and FT1 can shoot high-definition video, but otherwise the cameras are pretty standard--the TZ7 for example has a 15 megapixel sensor, 12x optical zoom, Leica lens and all the usual compact camera automated bells and whistles like 27 different "scene" modes. They'll be hitting the market at between $400 and $500 over the next few months.