Monday, January 11, 2010

Is the future compact?

We're living in a very interesting time for digital photography. It seems that just yesterday everybody to be discussing the shortcomings of cropped sensor (APS-C) DSLRs when compared to the full frame titans from Canon, Nikon or Sonny. APS-C was said to be doomed and Pentax was harshly criticized by many for not adding a full frame model to its lineup.

Today, in the Camera of the Year 2009 summit at The Online Photographer, 4 out of 8 experienced photographers picked 4/3 sensor compact cameras, by Olympus and Panasonic, as their choices for 2009! The other 4 picks were the Pentax K-x (APS-C DSLR), the Sonny A850 and the Leica M9 (both full frame), and the Voigtlaender Bessa III (medium format film). This has to make one wonder where digital photography is going.

The portability and inconspicuous size of the new 4/3 compacts with interchangeable lens, like the Olympus E-P2 and the Panasonic GF1, combined with good image quality (not up to full frame, but good enough), have been key arguments presented by many professional photographers in favor of these cameras. On the other hand, "professional" camera reviewers have been downgrading them based on overemphasized technical performance issues (auto-focus speed, dynamic range, high-ISO quality, shutter lag, image resolution, ...). In the end, what counts the most? The photographer's enjoyable experience with a camera or the performance numbers in a data-sheet?

But not only the new 4/3s that have been stirring the digital markets. The recent Leica X1 and the Ricoh GXR/A12 are compact cameras equipped with APS-C sensors. And they have been attracting a lot of attentions...

So, where is all this going? Well, to know where I am going, stay tuned to this blog ;)

PS: [Jan 17, 2010] Just found this article at Wired's Gadget Lab: "5 Reasons to Ditch your DSLR", about the new compact interchangeable lens cameras versus "traditional" DSLRs. It is intentionally polemic, but will make you think...


Unknown said...

very interesting post. You know a lot of is just a market to sell more product. Eventually it would seem they will not be able to make aps C size sensor any better. The Sony sensor is a real break through and so is the samsung one when it comes to color and detail i haven't seen a camera match what the k7 can do i term of pictures quality. But that is just what i like.
I mean it will eventually happen when they can't cram anymore megs in a small sensor they here comes full frame. a new market to make money. but when that happens they will need a new market to make money from.
I cruise the dp forums sometimes and you hear people just griping about why don't they have this camera and that camera and well you know cameras are about taking pictures. In fact i just recent wrote a blog post about it where i captured a fun moment with my cell phone camera...see it here

But it really comes down to making new stuff to sell. Its why microsoft makes a new windows even though xp is still good. It why there is a new adobe photoshop and light room and so on. Its all about selling more and more. If any company built the perfect camera then all the companies would go broke.
I see it as two sides. Japan likes things small. America likes things big. There is a market for everyone. But for most i think small is the way to go. I took some photos with the G1 by leica what a nice camera. So solid all metal and nice and heavy. I work at disney world so i see what people buy. American strictly buy what they know Nikon and Canon asians buy point and shoots some dlsr but most small stuff like the canon elf. I think there is a market for everyone its just a matter a filling a need.

Frank M. said...

Of course there is a market for (almost) everything. For full frame DSLRs, for 4/3 (or APS-C) compacts and for cell-phone cameras.
I just find refreshing to see many expert photographers (American, many of them!) saying the 4/3 compacts are enjoyable and useful cameras despite their undeniable image quality limitations. Market is a lot driven by the affective relationship with the product and not just absolute technical qualities and feature lists.