The origins of this rant begin with a question about Canon’s camera roadmap that occurred during a Christmas party. It built up steam when reading Ryan’s excellent series on camera purchasing and overtopped my levies of tolerance when I was reading this thread on Flickr.
I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!
I’m tired about hearing about how Nikon is going to go “full frame” or about how Canon is going to crush Nikon with a cheap full frame camera.
This is magical thinking on behalf of Nikon or Canon owners. That or Chicken Little thinking if the order is reversed.
[The economics of “full-frame” after the jump]
Someone mentioned that Thom Hogan predicts a Nikon 35mm sensor dSLR by Summer 2007. Then to add credence apparently, “he’s under NDA about further details. :)”
I call B.S.
If Thom was under NDA, he couldn’t even say “Summer 2007.” Plus there is no way a secretive company like Nikon is going to share this information with anyone they think might blab it around. They kept the D70 secret and the D40 under wraps; they surprised us with 10 megapixels in the D200 and by putting a pentaprism in the D80. When it comes to secrecy, this company is the Apple of the camera world.
My guess is Thom Hogan is talking to people who don’t know any better than the next guy. Just because he and Michael Reichmann want it to be so, doesn’t mean it will be. In the grand scheme of the camera market, their opinions move mountains; their purchases on the other hand… Hmm, how come Nikon never made a medium format camera again?
Why Nikon is definitely developing a “full-frame” SLR
Common sense. Do you think Nikon is stupid?
I’m sure Nikon has a 35mm sensor size dSLR under testing and development. If I had to guess, I think they’re maybe testing a couple manufacturers.
Kodak invented 35mm digital sensors and they introduced a 1.3x one for Leica/Panasonic’s new M8. No doubt Kodak wants back in.
Sony makes most of the worlds sensors. They designed and manufacture the 10 megapixel CCD for Nikon’s D80/D200 as well as the 10 megapixel CMOS for Nikon’s D2X/D2Xs as well as the 6 megapixel CCD for Nikon’s D100/D70/D70s/D50/D40. They also manufacture the 6 megapixel Nikon-designed JFET in Nikon’s D2H/D2Hs. Just as Sony moved to APS-C CMOS sensors, I’m sure they’re thinking bigger CMOS. They can’t let Canon rule that roost forever.
Fuji makes their own sensors using a Nikon-designed body. They seem to have hit a limit with their current Super-CCDs. My guess is the next step is to take that design and make it in a bigger package. A full-framed one.
All of this, however, doesn’t mean release. Release is determined by the market. Development lives in the practical reality that a good camera can take years to develop.
And where is the market?
The cheapest “full frame” camera is the Canon EOS 5D which retails (and still sells at some places) for $3300. A reputable dealer (B&H) is selling it for $2800. Over the last year the price has dropped $500.
The construction on the 5D is sub-standard—what is now in a $900 camera. Whoops! there is a $900 camera that crushes the 5D (literally, if I were to bang the two cameras together): the Pentax K10D. I haven’t written about this model yet, but you know my weakness for Pentax and good value means that I obviously love the K10D.
I just wish people would just get over their obsession with the 35mm format and declare the 5D the flop that it is.
Notice how many people drool over the 5D but how few buy it? I even see this on photography enthusiast sites like Flickr. Flickr users are supposed to be the ideal market for this camera and, for the most part, they’re window shopping the 5D, praying for a sequel or a Rebel with “full frame” (Ha! that’s the 5D idiot!). If you read the hype and the press before and during the 5D launch and it was clear Canon thought this would be a category killer for the serious enthusiast.
That didn’t happen. Almost everyone I know who bought one is a working pro (esp. wedding photographer) who would have bought a 1Ds had the 5D not been introduced.
What happened was the 30D and the Rebel XTi and probably a 40D early next year.
By any objective measure, that’s the definition of failure.
Why APS-C won
Why? Well my theory is because it came in the right size at the right time with a resolution that was good enough quality to match our film expectations.
Let me take two anecdotes from history:
Why 35mm won
Consider this. Did you know 35mm came not from the photography world but from cinema? Cinema needed to push at least 24 frames a second and film stock was so expensive that it meant a smaller roll film than the 6x4cm 6×4.5cm 6x6cm 4×5″… plates of the “medium format” or “large format” cameras. They settled on 35mm.
How it won over the photography world is a testament to companies like Leica who introduced rangefinder 35mm; Contax who gave us the 35mm SLR; Pentax which gave us the pentaprism and made these things affordable (K-1000); Nikon and Canon which made added excellent and affordable optics to these things; Konica which added motor drives; Minota which invented usable autofocus…
But most importantly it was Kodak and Fuji which improved film chemistry to the point that these films were both of high speed and fine grain—ISO 100 color slide film suitable for gallery-quality blowups. That stuff was unheard of when Henri Carter-Bresson was taking photographs.
35mm got “good enough,” and the trend to smaller film formats might have continued, but Kodak’s APS was wiped out by that new thing called digital.
Why digital is smaller
Resolution and what defines acceptable resolution. I’ve mentioned this many times before.
Consider digital “medium format.”
Did you know that the standard for a medium format digital back or digital camera is 42mmx36mm? This is twice as big as 35mm film, but…
Medium format film comes in many sizes: 6×4.5cm (645), 6x6cm, 6x7cm, up to 4×5″ (1/2 of large format). All much larger than medium format digital. If you look at it, you’ll notice something familiar about the relationship between digital MF and 645.
This begs the question. Why?
It’s because fashion photographers and high end landscape photographers who comprise nearly the entire market of these cameras know that the resolution of a 42x36mm is as good on blow ups as their 645’s are. Sure theoretically you can get more resolution off a drum-scanned 645 print, but realistically you can’t.
(There is a secondary issue here that film can accept light coming in at all angles while microlenses have to focus light to the photosensitive area of the digital sensor. This means only the center portion of a traditional film camera design is usable without vignetting. Don’t believe me? Take another look at Canon “full frame” photos again. You’ll see it—that tell-tail darkening near the corners that you didn’t remember seeing with that same lens on your EOS film camera. Darkening the corners means a loss of contrast and a loss of contrast means a loss of sharpness. So much for your umpteenthousand dollar “L” lens purchase!
This is super extreme in rangefinder cameras, so Leica resorts to actually angling the microlenses in the M8 and having lenses communicate their model number to the camera so it can gain-up the edges in the camera firmware. Clever, but you’re approaching the limits and living with some nasty compromises: increased luminance noise, reduced color accuracy, and decreased sharpness for example.)
Digital has surpassed film in resolution and sensitivity. It has always surpassed film in terms of convenience and cost.
Live that reality.
And where will the market be?
That’s a tough one. But if I were a betting man…
I expect that late this year or early next year Canon would introduced a 5D sequel, it will probably retail for around $3200. There is not much room here because there is no demand for more megapixels: 12 million is more than enough. I can see them improving the construction, fixing the crappy flash sync, and upping the frame rate back to the professional 5 fps. The last one would justify the price, but Canon isn’t about to eat more into the sales of their top model.
I can see the 5D dropping in street price to $2600, maybe as low as $2200 over the year. Let’s split the difference and say the 5D will close out the 2007 selling for $2400.
My guess is that Nikon’s probable sweet spot for a full frame digital body is around $1900. The minimum acceptable quality bar for them will be a D80 in look and feel. While they are both giants of the photography world, Nikon is a much smaller company than Canon and can’t afford to gamble for two years on a mistake—they’ve got to hit the ground with a winner.
I’ll assume Canon isn’t stupid either. Canon’s costs are Nikon’s costs. So I’d bet on no full frame Nikon in 2007. I’d say odds are 50-50 for one in 2008 and with certainty by sometime in 2009.
Even after that, I’ll find utility in my APS-C Nikons. The 18-200mm VR alone justifies APS-C, and this estimate goes a long way to showing why I feel that there is a great future in Nikon DX. Canon EF-S certainly has one too… but there you have so many people there freezing excellent purchases of the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS and the 10-22mm f/4 by getting all misty eyed on “full frame” Canon 5D or a never-exist “full frame” Rebel. Also, I think Canon’s habit of breaking backward mount compatibility might bite them in the ass this time.
What about Moore’s Law?
I bagged on this earlier so I’ll reiterate.
Moore’s Law is about fitting more ICs in a smaller package, not making existing packages bigger.
To do that, you would need to improve plasma deposition, etc. which moves much more slowly. I like to say these sort of advances “move at the speed of chemistry.”
I’ll introduce an analogy here: the chemistry of Li-Ion batteries. How much have they improved their battery capacity in the last six years? If anything because notebook chip and LCD backlight power demands have increased, I’ve noticed notebook weight creeping up.
Not exactly Moore’s Law at work.
What about the past?
Ahh, but then you might point out how cheap cameras have gotten. dSLRs of D70 construction cost $6000 six years ago; four years ago they were $2000; just two years ago they cost $900 for the body; now you can get a Pentax K100D for $520 or a Nikon D40 for $600 with lens.
You might look at digital pocket cameras and say, “Look I can now buy a 7 megapixel camera for $200. We are reaching a singularity!” You might then exclaim.
You’d be guilty of a simple fallacy.
What you are missing is that we witnessed two classically disruptive technologies occuring in succession: film to digital and then CCD to CMOS. The former accounted for the first (and largest) price drop. The second drove improvements in CCD manufacturing and both CCDs and CMOS were able to take advantage of Moore’s Law in terms of image processing capabilities and image storage capacity: two things that made the bulk of your digital photography costs at one time.
Now I hear a lot more people saying “6 megapixels is good enough.” My opinions are clear: 2.5 megapixels was enough to convince me to abandon film; 6 megapixels is indistinguishable from film; and since, reality trumps theory, you can get away with even larger prints. Every new day brings the gradual death of the megapixel myth among exports, professionals, journalists, and consumers.
If people were clamoring for more megapixels now, I’d say the camera market would be like hard drives: you are getting more storage for the same price. But like hard drives, you aren’t getting any cheaper.
And with sensor sizes it isn’t like hard drives, it’s like Li-Ion batteries. What you’ve seen is a jump discontinuity by moving from lead-acid and nickel based batteries to Li-Ion. But it’s hard to look at that and extrapolate into the future wonderworld where our notebooks are powered by a battery the size of a fingernail and our dSLR camera bodies costs $200 for a full frame sensor.
If you want the Canon 5D and can get the money together, just buy the damn thing.
That was the advice I gave at the a Christmas party. And if you read this far, you now know why.