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Saturday, 23 February 2008

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Not a trick, just a nice bokeh demonstration from a largish sensor and an f/2 lens. This is not a picture a current compact could take.

For me, low light capability is supreme. I am trying to get good at shooting dance under theatrical lighting. I am ALWAYS stuffed in the low-light corner of the envelope: too high an ISO, too wide an aperture, too slow a shutter speed. Autofocus performance in low-light is crucial as well.

For the average snap-shooter, low-light performance is key too! That picture of your mom and your sister laughing in the kitchen as they clean up the dishes after Christmas dinner? Do you want your camera to record the scene as you remember it, or with a little crappy flash that records it "deer in the headlights"?

Very interesting point of view, and I mostly agree with you, Mike.

Yet I see a flaw in your reasoning; not big, but a flaw:

In most electronics gear in the XX century, the "sufficiency point" concept made sense.

Enter computers/processors. And that idea lost all its meaning: there is, by definition, not such a thing as "sufficiency" in computers: there is, every three months, something bigger, faster, and cheaper.

For good or bad, photography (and many other kinds of products related with electronics) entered into a dynamics which resembles a lot that of computers. And that means that they also are into a huge competition to do bigger, faster, and cheaper. So I don't expect, at all, to see "sufficiency points" reached in dSLR cameras, at any time.

(Or else the market, such as we conceive it today, will be lots.

But mind you: I WOULD ADORE to see the comeback of reason in the form of sufficiency points being something logic again. ;-) )

Excellent points. You could also note the small difference in image quality between cameras like the current Canon G9, the older Nikon CP8400, and other similar cameras which sport a rather small sensor and those from 4/3's or APS-C cameras. The size difference between 4/3's and APS-C is all but trivial.

There is one trivial slip in your list of Kodak's "smaller" formats. You should have listed 110 and omitted 828/Bantam. The standard Bantam image size is actually somewhat larger than 35mmDF (aka Full Frame) due to it being a 35mm wide film with perferations (one per frame) on one side only. If memory holds, the standard was a 28x42mm image. There was at least one split format camera (the Foth Derby, of which I own a sample) that shot two images per standard frame.

"For me, low light capability is supreme."

Tom,
For me too. I would say that the real difference to me with digital over film--my ability to shoot in MUCH lower light is much greater.


"Autofocus performance in low-light is crucial as well."

Right. This to me is a more legitimate criticism of the E-3 than its sensor size. Accord to Pop Photo's review, its AF is very fast with the right lenses but slows markedly in low light--the D300 and A700 do better when the light gets low.

Mike J.

"There is one trivial slip in your list of Kodak's "smaller" formats. You should have listed 110 and omitted 828/Bantam."

dwig,
Thanks for catching that. I'll go change it now.

Mike J.

Great post Mike (as I've come to expect).

My beef with the small sensors is the failed promise of smaller and cheaper lenses. This advantage, IMHO, does not really exist. Maybe the OEMs know that the photo equipment market is in much quicker flux than it has ever been, and thus will not assume that they can sell their new lens model for the next 30+ years to recoup the development costs.

So, other than the cost, why not get a larger sensor (ie "full-frame")?

Right now, cost dictates a large difference between APS-C and FF cameras, but this difference won't always be this big.

"there is, by definition, not such a thing as 'sufficiency' in computers"

Cateto,
Good point, and I'm sure you're right in some respects, possibly many. But in some ways the camera features we are talking about DO admit of points of sufficiency. For instance, dynamic range. We know that we need more than 7 stops. Do we need more than 14? We certainly don't need 30, or 50. So there is a point in there where it will be "good enough" and more will not be needed. I think the same thing is likely of ISO speed. I think we're already approaching saturation on frame rate--my survey a few weeks ago showed only about 11% of our readers consider high frame rate to be important. We didn't ask those 11% how high a rate they need, but presumably it is not infinitely high.

I don't think the megapixel wars will go on forever either, but maybe I'm wrong. There is much more information that could be included in pictures and maybe, once we have it, we will want more. Now, I want more highlight separation and information, for instance. Then there are the cameras that you can focus after you take the picture, which will be very data hungry and processor-intensive when they become viable. So maybe you're right about the size/storage aspect.

Mike J.

Mike
You're right about our impotence to predict the future. So we can only deal with the present and that includes the present state of digital technology. So where are we now? Well we've probably reached the point of sufficiency in the number of pixels. Whether it's 10, 12, 16, or 25 megapixels, we now have a choice based on what we are going to do with the file. The present debate is about the quality of the pixel. Size and spacing of pixels are limited by the physics of light. However improvements in post processing can overcome some shortfalls here. We still haven't reach the point of sufficiency here but a pitch rate of 6 mu seems to be the limit for quality pixels presently. That's it for the sensor. The rest of the future innovations will have to be implementation and feature set. That said, how many cameras can you hang around your neck at one time? There will be a leveling off in sales very soon as the point of sufficiency is fast approaching for 90% of photographers.

You make a very good argument and have raised very good points. I would go buy an Olympus E- 3 tomorrow rather than a used 4X5 Sinar F1 (with Fujinon 90mm and 210mm lenses) I have been wishing for a long time.

'there is, by definition, not such a thing as "sufficiency" in computers'

There's an important difference between general purpose computers and cameras. Computers are used to run a multitude of applications, while a camera typically only runs the software/firmware that was written for it by the manufacturer. Software developers are constantly writing new software that makes old computers obsolete. But a Canon D30 (for example) remains as capable as it was in 2000.

I posted similar postulations on dpreview, and was yelled at. Someone blasted me with "there will never be a 5D replacement." Really? I love the poster who declared "FF will never drop to $1K." Really.

Of course you've read the postings on how 4/3 is dead. Really? I own two 4/3 bodies, and a complement of lenses. Guess I should throw them away. Then the person on dp review who told me I don't know what I'm talking about, when I wrote Moore's Law applies to sensors. Really?

Here's my take.

When, not if, FF drops below $1K for non-pro bodies, cropped sensors will drop below $500, and pricing will be like 35mm film cameras. My Nikon FM10 (really Cosina), cost $265, with the kit lens. That's what is coming for non-pro cropped sensors. The top pro bodies, FF, will be priced like the F6. Sony will heat things up at Photokina. I'm sure you saw their FF mock-up - it looks like the old Nikon F (which I used). And don't forget, Dalsa makes FF sensors. There is going to be a lot of price pressure, once Sony is in the market. And Momma-Miya is selling their bundle for $10K. I can't wait for Photokina. It's going to be fun to watch.

And then there's Olympus. They're going to have to rethink sensor architecture, because they can only pack a limited number of diodes on that small real estate. Do I see Foveon in the wings? I don't know if you saw it, but a Korean photographer compared the DP1 with the Canon 5D, and it was favorable.

What about Canikon, and their refusal to have in-body IS? That's going to cost them in the long run. Sony is going to have it with FF.

Lastly, Polaroid. Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well. Sure, you hate to see it. But how many of those crying in their beer actually used Polaroid products on a regular basis? Not many, if at all.

The relentless march of technology. The future is fun.

One of the knocks on Four Thirds is that the DOF "goes on for miles." Of course this is not true. The DOF differences between APS-C and Four Thirds are rather slight. However, the dearth of primes for the Four Thirds format contributes to the misconception that a shallow DOF is unattainable in that format. Not too many people want to pay for and carry the huge f/2 zooms or the Leicasonic 25/1.4, or the rather bulky third party offerings from Sigma. A couple nice f/2 or faster primes at 25mm and below would go a long way towards clarifying the relatively slight divide between Four Thirds and APS-C.

Point of sufficiency is already here for some of us. I'm totally happy with 4/3 in every respect except dynamic range.

The 4/3 may linger, but, I think, only as a fringe system.

Some reasons:

Larger generally *is* better. If you're jammed right up against the noise/pixel barrier (wherever that is, and even if it moves) the larger sensors can play it both ways -- offer slightly more resolution at better ISOs, or the same resolution with a lot better ISO performance, and so on. I'm saying that anything you can do with a small sensor, you can probably do better with a larger one.

Momentum/history. For a top-end 4/3 system to grow, it would have to take away sales from the top-end 35s. Which means people would have to sell off their treasured *systems,* and not just upgrade the camera. For them, buying a 4/3 will be extremely costly; to get people to do that, in large numbers, the 4/3 advantage would have to be huge. I don't see any way it will become huge.

Marketing: Why should the Canon/Nikon Duopoly step back from 35, when they've got big lens systems and accessory systems built around that size? I think they're quite content with the present arrangement, and as long as they can continue to lead in R&D, and to pay the pros to endorse them...why would they risk a change?

Size. One of the sales points for 4/3 was smaller size, and the other day, you wrote an article suggesting that the Olympus was just about the perfect size. Well, guess what? The Nikon D300 is less than an inch longer, less than half an inch taller, and 2/10ths of an inch thicker. When I handled it earlier today, it occurred to me that I wouldn't want it much smaller, at all. I suspect a D300 with the ZF Zeiss primes would be an awesome street camera -- as fast, good and light as any Olympus. And...it's got a bigger sensor.

In your list of sub-35 sizes, you didn't mention the Olympus Pen-F, a half-frame camera, which is a case study in the sufficiency theory. I remember newspaper photographers buying them with the idea that they could shoot longer and cheaper (for the paper) and still have more than "sufficient" quality for newspaper reproduction, because newspapers, after all, are printed on toilet paper. And they were right about all of that. Still, Pen-Fs are collector items, aren't they? People didn't buy them because people didn't buy them.

JC

F2 or 1.4 and full frame. I like the limited depth of field in portraits and it would be a big draw to me. I like a 1:1.5 aspect ratio (6x9 in medium format film was nice) but realize that the shape adds to lens size requirements. Rangefinder is fine...what I really mean is, quiet is nice.
Can't we get a "manual" digital camera? Let me adjust ISO, shutter speed and aperture and put any extra money into sensor refinement.

Joe

Nice writing.

The inconsistency that I see is that, on the one hand you make the point very well that size per se doesn't matter, but rather the qualities that it provides, and if "sufficient" quality can be provided by a sensor of a different size, then we won't care.

But, on the other hand, you make such a big deal about a specific size, 4/3.

What I wish designers (or the marketing dept.) would pay more attention to is raw file size. It keeps going up, by 10 - 20% a year, but the IQ doesn't. (I'm talking about the Canon G9, which I love anyway.)

--Marc

Dear Mike,

A lovely exposition.

A few observations of my own. Both sub- and super-35 mm formats are admissible to your argument. They were all attempts to tinker with 35 mm, over a 50 year span, and they all failed. Steady and remarkable improvements in film made super-35 mm increasingly irrelevant. 25 years after I started using a Pentax 6x7, 35 mm film was producing higher-quality than 6 X 7 cm format had when I started out. Similarly, remarkable advancements in optics, mechanics, and electronics design made sub-35 mm irrelevant. The Olympus Infinity Stylus put the definitive nail in the subminiature coffin.

In the long term (15 + years) this is all even less predictable. Somewhere between 15 and 50 years from now, photography goes seriously nonlinear. I wouldn't try to predict which of several flavors of nonlinearity it will be, but the technical process will not look like anything you've seen before. At some point lenses will stop being recognizable as such. Oh yes, there will be things that will massage the light from the subject before the sensor collects it, but you will not identify what it is doing as forming an image. The science is in the laboratories today; knowing how it will play out in consumer technology would require a crystal ball.

It is possible to build a camera in which overall exposure, shutter speed, and focus are irrelevant. I don't mean they're automatic; I mean that a single universal exposure works in nearly all situations, from the camera's perspective. You, the human photographer, decide which instances of those qualities you want in the photograph, post-capture. Think of it as RAW format on illegal steroids, 50-feet tall and about to trample Tokyo.

The business with Adobe's computational photography allowing user-definable focus that you featured some months ago is a piece of all of this. Or it may not be. Theirs isn't the only approach. But it's a good example of the uncertainty in the future; in their scheme, a collection of smaller sensors in one camera would work better than one larger sensor.

But everything I'm talking about has something in common-- huge amounts of data (and processing) are involved. So while Cateto is wrong for photography-as-we-know it, where there are pretty clearly some limits it makes no sense to go beyond, photography-as-it's-yet-to-be will dictate data collection capabilities way beyond awesome.


pax / Ctein
[[ Please excuse any word-salad. ViaVoice in training! ]]
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When Michael Reichmann reviewed the Olympus E-1, he added a section about 4/3s and stated then he didn't think the future was bright for it, largely on the basis of it's being so small. I replied then that semiconductor manufacturing constraints will make the economics of reduced-size the dominant format.

On a silicon wafer of a given area you can only get a finite number of good chips (regardless of type). If there are 5 unrecoverable faults on a wafer (many defects can be 'routed around' in a finished chip) then if the wafer was making 'full frame' chips, thats a substantially higher loss of revenue than if they were lower cost smaller chips. As well, every sensor sold is a potential entree for the manufacturer into a new revenue stream (extra lenses, flashes etc). The economics just demand moving to smaller sensors.

Where does this leave photographers interested in image quality? At present, there is a big enough market force to maintain large sensor production. But as time inevitably improves product quality (which, really, is what Mike's post is about), the absolute difference/advantage, I predict, will erode for all but a miniscule segment of the market. I don't know if 'medium format' or full frame will go away first, but I'm fairly certain we'll never see another 1.3x from Canon again.

As for me, I bought an e-1 despite the 'disadvantage' of it only having 5 instead of 6 MP like it's closest market competitors. But a large part of that putative advantage disappears once one prints onto common size papers. The 4/3 sensor is 13 vs. 14.8 mm on the tall side (or a reduction of 13%) not that big a deal. I liked the handling of the e-1 better than the available Canon and Nikon options. I also liked that the lens line, though far from comprehensive, was entirely of new design, specifically for the new sensor format. They indeed have not proven to be 'small' compared to 35mm, but the size doesn't impact my usage. I'm sure I could be happy with a Pentax or Sony (I too really want IS in camera), but a full frame camera isn't something that appeals to this happy amateur.

Patrick

"Nodule: Bigger was better when it came to film, too, but that didn't mean that bigger always won out."

To my ongoing puzzlement, this point seems to have completely escaped the Photoforumosphere (Forumverse? Online CameraChatterarium? Webographic Commentariat? Ok, I give up.)

Medium and large format cameras indisputably produced far higher quality images than 35mm film cameras did but sold in comparatively tiny numbers. Why? Because size, price, and convenience matter, too. That doesn't necessarily mean that 4/3rds sensors will survive over the long term, but if they fail it won't be because bigger always wins.

Mike,

I agree with your sentiments and logic, but would like to suggest a supplementary point of view. The first is about marketing. In a nutshell, I've learned that to be Number One in any market for consumer equipment, a manufacturer must include a minimum amount of mediocrity into the product. If it isn't mediocre enough, it won't be Number One in the market - it's as simple as that. Look through the records to find the name and model number of the Number One selling SLR in history. Then ask yourself "Was that the best camera of it's kind?" The answer (from people like us in this forum) is surely "No." The same is true of motor cars, and most other consumer products.

Secondly, the "logic" behind camera design and consumer choice. The logic is confused because of the unspoken agreement that a single camera should be perfect at any task thrown at it. That unspoken agreement is the cause of the basic problem we all have with cameras. The problem goes away as soon as we consider a particular purpose for the camera. Given a single task for which a camera should be great, it's easy to choose.

We should accept the fact of owning a suite of cameras and lenses, and happily use each of them for the specific purpose for which it was designed.

Our angst comes from the combination of the above two factors. We expect perfection, but the marketing people know that mediocrity is important to sales figures when it comes to a market dominated by consumers who mostly don't understand what they are buying. We camera connoisseurs are in the minority. The camera design isn't addressed towards us. We have to live with that fact. That's life.

Bravo, great post.

As for the future, it is true that we cannot know anything for sure. But I would say that the argument on the points of sufficiency is quite valid. When improvements on any given aspect will no longer reflect in increased sales, the attention of marketeers will turn to something else. They may be dumb, but they have the bottom line to guide them.

This does not mean in any way that the market will stand still. New advances in more-or-less related technologies will act as enabling factors for new evolutionary trends.

For example, there is a tremendous amount of research done on batteries nowadays. Of course, photography is not the reason for this, but it will benefit from the results. This means faster AF, on-board fast wireless, better flashes, etc.

But it also means that we will reach a point where it will become possible to pack real computing power on board of cameras, and not just a select bag of tricks hardcoded in silicon to preserve power.

When this happens, you will see cameras appear with support for user-defined filters, special effects, and what not. You may not want any of this now, but it still will happen. Hopefully, this will open new avenues for creative work, and some such features may very well become the must-have of the future.

And then there's the research in optics... but you get my point. We won't see the day where no further evolution is possible.

One more comment:

"The Sony Mavicas, which wrote directly to CDs"

I believe the original Mavica, which cost $1,000, wrote to a floppy disc. They did make some later models which had a mini CD drive, but I forgot the model names. Also, in the additional format department, there was the 126 Instamatic cartridge, which flopped.

Kodak used to make the Retina Reflex, which was on a level with Zeiss. They killed it off, and replaced it with an Instamatic SLR, which also flopped. Kodak keeps shooting itself in the foot.

Mike,
I think your basic point is right here. In the future we'll look back at whatever developed and the view backwards will be different from the view forwards (we see ourselves moving forward into the future; the ancient Greeks, more accurately, saw themselves moving backwards into the future). And it's likely the future won't be something we'd have predicted.

To my mind, however, and, of course, you're right - I don't know - that future is unlikely to be 4/3 (or APS-C) - in fact, as your discussion of post-Bayer suggests, sensor dimensions will probably be irrelevant. But if new technologies that drive superior IQ mean that a point of sufficiency for sensor size has been reached with 4/3, that still wouldn't be a good reason for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax to all switch to 4/3 - it just means we'll stop arguing about sensor size and start arguing about "photonic entanglement DSPs" or whatever the new Black Swan technology is that makes CCD/CMOS sensor sizes irrelevant. It seems unlikely that some new higher IQ technology will actually require 4/3 shaped sensors.

And I think the point from your original post in this thread and your discussion of how far we've come since the D30 are the most important: image quality is so good now and so hard to distinguish just looking at pictures that it hardly matters (though I must admit when I got my Dimage A1 I never imagined I'd need anything better; when I got my Maxxum 7D I was sure even if technology improved I'd never need more; and now I can't imagine anything more I could possibly need than my shiny new Nikon D300 has to offer! :-))

I think that in a few years people are going to wonder why photography spent the first decade of the digital era messing around with cameras with one big slow single lens and one big chip. The current generation of digital cameras is treating sensor chips like film. A few years from now people are going to scratch their heads in wonder at how silly we are.

It would be so much cheaper and simpler to have an array of cellphone quality cameras that would be sharper than is theoretically possible now with large format film. We will be able to have what would effectively be a f/0.1 lens that could have the plane of focus changed after the exposure, or multiple planes of focus or just extreme deep focus. While they are at it by using buffers, deciding on the moment and length of exposure can be done after the fact,

Look up synthetic aperture photography or confocal imaging on google.

People have been playing around with these concepts for years, it's just now that imaging chips and computational power has gotten cheap enough to make it practical.

Someday some non camera* company is going to show up with what looks like flat piece of plastic that makes anything with a lens and a shutter obsolete.Then instead of the pixel races it will be the density of holographic zone plates races.

(* unless it turns out to be Kodak, which is getting lots of expertise in the required technologies and has done such a fine job of wrecking it's camera bussiness that the company hasn't got too much to lose )

Medium and large formats did not win over 35mm, but on the other hand newer smaller formats than 35mm like half-frame (Olympus Pen), 110, Disk or APS itself all died an ignominious death. So the larger mass-market format did in fact win.

You are assuming that improvements in sensor technology will continue forever (or until 2015, which is effectively forever in the DSLR marketplace). That said, DSLR sensors have reached detective quantum efficiency (DQE) levels that are reaching physical limits. The Leica M8's KAF-1050, for instance, has a DQE of 40% in the green channel, and it isn't even particularly competitive as a low-light camera compared to, say, the Nikon D3. There are also limits as to how much noise digital signal processing can remove.

The fact is, Four-Thirds cameras are already a failure in the marketplace. Canon and Nikon are leading by far (about 40% each, 84% combined), followed by Sony and Pentax/Samsung in hot pursuit (Pentax has about 5%), all firmly in the APS-C or larger camp. Sony may have a chance of reaching Canon or Nikon's market share, but Olympus and Panasonic are rounding errors in the statistics. It's not as if their bodies are particularly compact either compared to a D40 or Rebel XSi, so the size advantages of Four-Thirds are mainly on paper.

The DSLR market is starting to reach its own saturation point, just like point-and-shoots, and there isn't room for either to introduce a product so revolutionary it trumps their minimal channel presence and allows them to take over significant market share.

We'll see if the Sigma DP-1 validates the small-body, large sensor, premium concept just like the Contax T or Nikon 35Ti did in their time, but the market has settled on cheap-and-cheerful pocket digicams for the masses, DSLRs across a wide spectrum of price and quality for enthusiasts and pros.

One of the principal issues I have with the 4/3 sensor is that I quite simply do not like the aspect ratio. It is the same aspect ratio on our old montors and TVs. The 35 mm aspect ratio is more amenable to cropping to the 16:9 of HDTVs, which I really prefer. The 4/3 aspect ratio is too "square" for my sensibilities. I find the wider aspect ratios lend themselves to photographs with a compositional "weight" that I much prefer.

I am tempted to comment on many TOP posts, but opt out because I simply have little new to contribute beyond the observations already offered.

But I feel compelled to join others in voicing appreciation for Mike's ability to turn a phrase. This post of Mike's covers a lot of ground, but never rambles. The ideas are cogently expressed, and with commanding flair.

Regarding Hugh Crawford's comments, they ring true to me: new technologies have only just begun to impact photography. Todays cameras (and the attitudes of we who use them) are closer to those extant 60 years ago than to where they will be 15 years from now. (I almost wrote "20 years from now" but the paradigm shifts underway will converge sooner, one can predict.)

The great Al Jolson was tagged, midway through the shooting of "The Jazz Singer" in 1927, to introduce the new technology of "talking" pictures. This added dimension to his famous line: "You ain't seen nothin' yet!" So it is today with the state of our art, photography...

Wow... quite a response to your thoughtful and though-provoking piece Mike. I too think that dynamic range is the bigger issue that size per se and I believe this is one area where digital sensors overall have some distance to go before achieving a level of performance that will pass for sufficiency. This and digital noise associated with smaller pixels are the hurdles that smaller sensors need to overcome.

It is interesting to read the observations of the photographically literate commenting here. Trouble is, us lot represent (generously) 1% of the camera market.
99% of camera buyers don't even print these days - right now 2MP is sufficient (monitor resolution). Sufficiency in photography may well be driven by TV/monitor formats.
I've not yet met, in the flesh, a camera user who shoots RAW. Most SLR buyers are doing so for the pose value, I reckon.
As for all the other qualities - there are so few people who know what any of this is. When I talking to ordinary people (rather than photo-heads) they are quite happy that what comes out looks like what they saw.
Anyway, who says the future of imaging is 2D. If/when imaging goes holographic, all this talk of flat photos will be seen as laughably quaint.

Nikon and Sony maybe going full frame. But there are sign that canon is moving from full frame to 1.3 crop factor at lease in 1D mark III. who know which way is the right way?

CCd replced Film and many believe CMOS will replce CCd. Now we have P-MOS and N-MOS which is said to be better in some way over CCD and CMOS. These will somewhat change the landscape on sensor size in some way. Many full-frame users are complainting the buck and weight as they get older and wiser.

What about Single-Pixel Camera that is currently under development in Rice University in Texas? http://www.dsp.ece.rice.edu/cs/cscamera/
The technology now is parallel to what CCD was when it was first use as imaging device. The first Kodak CCD camera took 100 x 100 pixels photo and 30mins to process a picture.

Who can tell what this single-pixel camera will become 10 to 15 years from now? When the time come for this new technology to take over from the current imaging sensor technology. Will we still ask what is the size of your sensor or how many megalpixels is your camera? The answer will be "as you like it sir, I will set my camera it to match whatever you want".

To reinforce the aspect ratio issue with 4/3: As it is now, we have a choice between the sensor dimensions of 4/3 (1/1.3) and APS-C (1/1.5). If I truly like the 4/3 format size, then why not buy a camera with a slightly wider sensor and have the freedom to crop either way, especially when there is an advantage in dynamic range and no price penalty?

your four thirds sensor size is erroneous
the size you quote is the published image area. You should quote like with like sizes as clearly the image area is less than the sensor size.
The most commonly accepted size for four thirds sensor is 18x13.5mm, however the E1 and E3 have larger sensors. The E1 sensor size is published in Kodak's pdf file KAF-8300LongSpec.pdf, and KAFproductSummary1.1.pdf
the E1 sensor is 19.7x15.04mm

FF sensors will not become cheap in the near future ($1K FF cameras will not happen, atleast not in the near future, maybe in 5-10 years, definitely not before), because sensor is a fixed-size chip (unlike computer-processors, that rapidly become smaller, hence use less silicon, hence become cheaper yet more powerful), because the sensor is a fixed-size chip it will use the same amount of silicon and thus no advancement in sensortechnology is going to make it cheaper....
The only thing that can make it cheaper is a radical advancement in silicon processing technology, and those are slow and take a looong time...
Also like patrick pointed out above, flaws in the silicon are way more costly for larger chips, meaning that from fixed-size silicon wafer you will get higher % of working smaller chips, that again will mean that the overall price of larger sensors is even higher than simply due to the cost of the silicon...

Now some personal thoughts, for me, it would seem logical that one day there will be only FF and 4/3 dSLR's left. FF (still expencive) for shooting "black cats in a coalceller" so to speak (and perhaps for higher than usual resolution), and cheaper 4/3 for lesser overall weight (cameras are not that different, but the overall weight of cameras and lenses combined in ones backpack is different enough) and adequate quality for most photographers needs...
APS-c is a strange in-between, it has to use heavy FF glass most of time (there are not that many pro-quality APS-c lenses around), yet it is not that much better than 4/3...so you'll end up lugging a lot of unnecessary weight around for nothing (and if you do use APS-c glass, should you want to go FF, you will need a different set of lenses, hence it will be as expencive as switching systems)...so for me, APS-c cameras has all the disadvantages of both the FF and 4/3 cameras without none of the advantages...
But that's just me...

I for one hope that 4/3 does not go away. I would never go back to shooting longer lenses with a full frame camera.

A Sigma 150-400 lens now gives me incredible range and quality that's good enough for a 16x20, all in the form factor of an old-style 4.0 80-200.
Similarly, a 2.0/150 gives me the same results as an old-style 2.8/300. I know which one I would rather carry all day.

The latest Leica/Panasonic zoom gives me a high quality 28-300 that is the same size as a FF 28-70.

I'm sure that a FF camera could give me prints that go to 20x24 instead of 16x20, or a slightly higher useable ISO (at the cost of slower, non-stabilized lenses), but why would I or the average photographer bother? The best camera (or lens) is the one that you have with you, not the one that you left at home because it's too heavy.

Sorry to be the jerk in all of this...

But hasn't it occurred to anyone that the current state of affairs in digital photography is a short-term aberration?

There has been a significant amount of money pouring into the DSLR market since the beginning of the decade.

However, haven't you all noticed that print media is fast disappearing. Further, notice how much of CNN, ESPN, etc. have become videos? (Who needs a bunch of still photos when you can get the original video of Clemen's testimony?) Even the New York Times has gotten into the act!

That's not to say that news photography is going to disappear. I just think that most of the "news" corporations are going to wake up one day and ask themselves if they really need hundreds of the latest camera for all of their photographers. Maybe some of their photographers can make do with older equipment.

How about wedding photographers? Maybe there will come a point when they ask if the new $5000 camera is really going to lead to an improvement in the bottom line.

Finally, what about all of the "amateur/hobbiest"? DSLRs are new and novel in this decade. What new "fad/hobby" will command their attention in the next decade? Is it possible that they will simply say, what I have is good enough photographically. Maybe I should put the extra money into my retirement accounts.

Anyway...

My point is that I don't believe that DSLRs are going to sell as well in the next decade. Without all of this extra money pouring in, I think the innovations will slow significantly.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I really don't believe most of the people here have utilized the equipment they currently have to the limits of its capabilities. A slow down in camera releases could be a good thing. People can spend more time taking photographs with what they have instead of wasting time fantasizing and wishing for the next big thing!

Everything Mike says about distinguishing between 4/3 and APS-C can be said about the difference between APS-C and FF. So my money is on the APS-C size and I do see an advantage in smaller size lenses. My 50-135 f2.8 is a heck of a lot smaller than the 70-200 f2.8 on my 35mm analogue camera.

Mike P.

It seems to me that the 4/3 sensor is ideal for DMD compacts.

One of my dream cameras is a camera using 5M pixel 4/3 sensor in a body and lens modeled on the Olympus Pen-EE half frame camera. That light meter surrounding the lens? Its now a multi-colored LED array "ring-flash"!

Oly are you listening?

What a lively subject ;-))

Mike you've done very well. Congratulations.

I`ve been using Olympus for 34 years now. Starting wit an OM-1. I currently own an E-1, E300 & E-3. Personally I cannot see the difference when I take a specific photo with either one of Olympus, Nikon or Canon. So a lot of the arguments are just that..."Arguments" for the sake of being argumentative. I'm obviously a Olympus fan just as somebody else is either a Nikon or Canon fan and each of us will always defend our choice. Happy snappy or should I say "Enjoy your photography" regardless.

What gets muddy in these arguments is the "general" consumer vs. the pro and advanced hobbist.

The general consumer does not want to lug around a 5lb camera and many do not want the limiations of a point-and-shoot. The smaller lighter cameras win out in this respect. I meet parents every week who want to shoot their kids sporting events and drudge the fact that the guy at the camera store sold him a boat anchor and find themselves either not bringing the camera or setteling for less quality images but easier to take around P&S.

When I show them my E-510, they are amazed. I have turned many converts to an Olympus system. A recent parent even baked me a cake to thank me -- LOL!

There are more general consumers than there are pro's. I cannot believe that the industry will go to single format anytime soon.

Silicon to make chips is NOT cheap and thanks to a commodity boom, it is getting more expensive to make. Bigger sensors means lower yields per wafer which means higher cost. While they can demand 5k from a pro, not so from anyone who is not a pro. Smaller sensors have a higher yield so they can be cheaper. Note that Intel and AMD are going to smaller and smaller chips partly for power consumption reasons but more due to cost.

The argument to size is more unclear when it comes to lenses. The FF crowd rightfully argues that some of the best 4/3 lenses weigh as much as the FF lenses and are about the same cost. Here, I believe we have a physics problem that cannot be solved. There is only so much that can be done to attract and bend light. I do believe we are going to see a move to in camera IS but lenses are going to stay the same.

Is bigger better? No, but in the world of engineering bigger is much easier to optimize for a specific quality attribute. In the case of ISO/Low light attributes, it may be that it is currently easier with larger photosites. However, as we have seen Kodak recently announced a process to do the same in a smaller package first stated to be in cell phones and then move to cameras. So, there could be a day when 4/3 sensor could have the same low light performance as FF. Would manufactures then still use larger format sensors that provide lower silicon wafer yields, or would they go to higher yielding wafer if the attributes are the same?

As you said, nobody knows -- the punduits at this point on either side of the argument are both wrong until proven otherwise -- one thing is constant, things change.

I appreciate the agreement E gave me re: sensor manufacture economics (I was tired of the voices in my head being the only nes who did).

I'd like to clarify that in my original comment to Mike's posting, that although I was talking about 4/3, the points I make apply equally to APS-C (and I think that is what Mike was getting at originally; 4/3 and APS-C are effectively equivalent). I wasn't making claims about 4/3 being a better development strategy for manufacturers vs. APS-C, just that the two seen as representing 'reduced size' of a similar format together represent where sensors will go long term.


Patrick

"It's not as if their bodies are particularly compact either compared to a D40 or Rebel XSi, so the size advantages of Four-Thirds are mainly on paper." - Fazal Majid

First off look at your hands, camera bodies of a certain size feel comfortable in your hands, and if it's made too big or too small the camera just doesn't feel comfortable and you can't hold it steady...cameras will continue to be made a certain size.

Second, dSLRs can be made smaller for those with smaller hands, the E-400/410 are proof of this.

Last, the benefits of the FourThird format is not in smaller bodies, but smaller lenses...look at the size of the Zuiko 300mm f/2.8 and compare it with the equivalent Canon 135 format 600mm f/2.8 lens, if there is one (I couldn't find one).

Obviously sensor development will be an on going thing for many years to come, but why do we end up with a whole new camera for every new sensor. Can't the electronics be made so that it can easily be changed for the latest version, keeping the same body and lenses?

An easy target for this idea would be Leica. Those guys make a nice camera with superb lenses that just cries out for a removable electronics package to be slipped into it. Instead of coughing up a ridiculous amount of money for a complete camera you would instead buy a body and lenses and chose the sensor/electronics that suit your goals.

I am as keen as anyone for new and better stuff, but alot of my favourite lenses are sitting around collecting dust while camera manufacturerers spend alot of time and money dressing up their latest sensor in fancy new bodies with bad viewfinders and a lot of extremely useless features.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Mike:

"But in some ways the camera features we are talking about DO admit of points of sufficiency. "

I agree. But the key point IMO is not that, actually, most of the current dSLR are close (or into) the sufficiency point. And yet, customers play the game as if they were not at that point.

In other words: I (as many others) am convinced that current dSLR outperform the abilities of 99.99 % of their users (including me: I have a K10D and I am sure I can't use its countless possibilites). But still, the customers look forward to further improvements, EVEN if they are not enabled to use the full possibilities of their current dSLR: they always want more.

Call it marketing, call it measurebation, call it whatever: fact is that people start dreaming in the next model, with more megapixels, more fps, better low light performance, etc etc. It does not matter what they ACTUALLY can use: what matters is the theoretical possibilities, although in most cases, they will remain untouched (with the small exception of a few test in the first weeks after the camera is purchased).

In short: I have the feeling that it is less about the reality, and more about the always-better-although-I-won't-ever-care-to-use-it. Which is EXACTLY which happens in computers: they get speedier every month, yet people does the old, boring, and simple text processing, and a few users (1% maybe) are actually power users.

We all are into a course game of electronics. The market is power-driven (or money-driven, if you will), not reality-driven.

Just to clarify the Canon 1.3x sensor cameras: the original Canon EOS 1D had a 1.3x sensor back in 2001. The 1D Mark II, the 1D Mark IIN, and now the 1D Mark III all have the same size chip, called APS-H.

The 1Ds series of cameras have the "full frame" sensors.

Several years ago a Canon official suggested that these two lines would converge at some point, but it hasn't happened yet. The 1D series generally has half the number of megapixels and about twice the shooting speed as the 1Ds series cameras.

So Canon isn't "moving into" 1.3x sensors. That's where the pro Canons started.

Dear E,

I don't agree with your analysis of cost trends. First,computer chips have not gotten smaller-- in fact,the long trend has been towards bigger chips. The gates on the chips have gotten smaller.

Second, the cost of sensor chips is dominated by yield, speed of fabrication and cost of fabrication (material costs are insignificant at the present time). All of these undergo steady improvement and have not topped out. It didn't require radical change for there to have been massive price drops over 10 years for chips of constant area. We've not hit the wall.

One may not expect sensors prices to drop by a factor of two every 18 months as they do for computer components. But one may expect an ongoing considerable drop in prices.

That said, your underlying thesis is correct -- sensor costs will be a significant factor in total camera price for some time.

pax / Ctein

Very well written.
I would like to add that the price (or possibly the price difference) is a major contribution to the perceived value of the product.
You will rarely see a bad review for a more expensive product just because if "it's more expensive" it must be better. This is true for almost all consumer goods.
In reality the "normal user" cannot tell the difference between different lenses/cameras, once it's printed nicely. Already we magnify our pictures to the "pixel level" to find the faults and compare products.
No one seems to agree to the basic truth that it's the photographer not the camera that take good photos.
My two cents.

The whole concept of "sufficiency" is intriguing. In computers, for example, I've often thought that there might be a speed/purchase barrier at the point where computers could achieve "real time" generation of fully realistic action figures for gamers. We're very close to that now. Once we get there, why would mass-consumers (as opposed to scientific users, or model-makers) want more processing speed?

With photography, I think there's a point where additional resolution becomes non-economic, and I'd suggest that point is where typical home high-resolution art photographs become big enough to be displayed in-home as paintings are now. That would mean high-resolution prints, after some cropping of the RAW image, at 24x36, or even 30x45. These would be prints that could withstand close inspection without pixel noise becoming obtrusive. We're close, but not there yet. Maybe two or three more generations of high-end DSLRs?

JC

All I can say is that I currently find the small 4/3 sensor in my E3 'sufficiently' good to get on with taking the pictures I want.
It's far better at low light indoors at ISO 800, with the 25mm f/1.4 Summilux than my Leica M6 with 50 f/1.4 and Fuji 800 neg film.

Overexpose latitude may not in the same class as NPH/NPZ film but seems to keeping up with similar pixel count APS sensors.

Four-Thirds is everything you say it is. But the problem I see with it, is that it's an option we don't need, and won't miss.

Mike wrote:
"The Sony Mavicas, which wrote directly to CDs, and the digital "bridge" camera, like the Olympus E-10 and Sony F-717, also exploited markets that existed in their time. Where are they now?"

They lost to cheaper larger sensor alternatives.

IMO, those bridge cameras served as a "bridge" to DSLR photography for many who waited for prices of DSLRs to drop or (in my case, as an F717 buyer) for their brand of choice to offer a DSLR. Let's say you could build those cameras now with the sensor-du-jour for $499 (the Canon G9 suggests that the prices would not be substantially lower, given the lenses, more advanced technologies and smaller market). Depsite a more appealing price (these were $1000+ cameras) they would probably sell in much smaller numbers than in the past because they're neither pocketable (or even close) nor "good" (being small sensor cameras). I think that the demise of the bridge camera (or prosumer) argues more in favor of full frame than 4/3.

The problem I have with 4/3 isn't so much that the sensor size is "bad" but that it (the size & aspect ratio of the sensor) doesn't offer advantages over competing systems, and nothing else inherent in the system is sufficiently appealing to attract more than a niche market. In short, you can argue that the 4/3 system may be "good enough" for far more than the camera buyers who choose it, but I haven't seen compelling reasons to choose it over the competition.

The E-410 seems like it could be an alternative to the EVIL camera we're all waiting for ... but what lens do you put on it ? I thought about this, enough to do a little research, and found the compact Oly OM-series 24/2.8 which could be focussed manually with stop-down metering. But then why not a Nikon D40 with a Nikon 28/2.8 which yields a FOV I like better and, if still manual focus, at least meters without having to stop down ?

The problem with the whole sufficiency argument is that consumers don't settle for sufficiency, and when there are millions of FF-compatible lenses already out there, they don't need to. The key is to not look at 4/3 versus APS-C & FF, which are bound to "win" based on impossible-to-overcome market share (16 million Minolta Maxxum lenses out there; 30 million - IIRC - EOS lenses and how many Nikons ?) but to judge it on more realistic expectations. I can't imagine Sony/Nikon/Canon/Pentax standing a chance trying to move their customer bases to anything other than APS-C/FF.

- Dennis

I'm all for 4/3: 36mm X 27mm!!!

"Obviously sensor development will be an on going thing for many years to come, but why do we end up with a whole new camera for every new sensor. Can't the electronics be made so that it can easily be changed for the latest version, keeping the same body and lenses?

An easy target for this idea would be Leica. Those guys make a nice camera with superb lenses that just cries out for a removable electronics package to be slipped into it. Instead of coughing up a ridiculous amount of money for a complete camera you would instead buy a body and lenses and chose the sensor/electronics that suit your goals.

I am as keen as anyone for new and better stuff, but alot of my favourite lenses are sitting around collecting dust while camera manufacturerers spend alot of time and money dressing up their latest sensor in fancy new bodies with bad viewfinders and a lot of extremely useless features.

Am I the only one who feels this way?"


Great post and responses all. I had to quote Conrad's excellent idea as I was just bemoaning the fact that I think I'm in the humble 0.5% who use all their camera has to offer and still want more. I think a modular approach is a fantastic way to address the specialization of camera use. I shoot at night and am always concerned with noise/sensitivity and would love to have a fresnel screen in my camera along with longer shutter speeds (I do have a stopwatch but consistency is problematic when stitching multiple shots together).

I find that most "civilians" want to push a button and have the camera give them a good looking shot automatically. They are the ones that get sold on bells and whistles and then never use them. It would be wonderful to have a basic framework of a camera to then upgrade as my needs dictate.

I am an artist (www.beaucomeaux.com) and it seems that when these discussions arise, the assumption is that the print size is always around 8x10 or so. For the 0.00003% of us making much larger work, the extra resolution, etc. does matter.

By the way, I think dynamic range is the next area to see great improvement...

"But then why not a Nikon D40 with a Nikon 28/2.8 which yields a FOV I like better and, if still manual focus, at least meters without having to stop down?"

Well, actually it does not. Only the D200, D300 and D3 meter with older Nikon lenses.

OTOH, on the Olympus E400, you can use the Zuiko 21mm/3.5 (or even the expensive f/2), which gives you a 42mm equivalent, comparable to a 28mm on a D40.

I'd like to use more often, my excellent and expensive f/1.4 primes on my excellent and very expensive full frame DSLR...
But it doesn't have in camera IS...
(Hello, Canon...why no IS on your new luminous primes???)
So most of the time, I prefer to use my f/4 24-105 IS...
And I'm sure I'm not the only one...

Maybe all of us should (re)read Dirck Halstead's article The Coming Earthquake in Photography.
http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0704/the-coming-earthquake-in-photography.html

It supplies a lot of answers to our questions as to where we're going. It shows us a lot of room for computer technology improvement (equipment manufacturers will be looking at this for mass market product possibilities). As soon as all of us will read panorama format magazines and watch moving images on HD format tv's and computer screens a lot of photographers may want to use this aspect ratio, of just extract their imagefiles from video footage.
Will there be dslr's in the near future that can process multiple exposures in camera to give us files with more dynamic range? Or bodies with an affordable high resolution panorama aspect ratio sensor?
Maybe not, because the resolution of lenses in popular systems will not be adequate. With the development of 24MP or higher full frame sensors this shortcoming in lens resolution (bad corner sharpness)will become more apparent. APS-C or 4:3 sized sensors may well be the answer.

Until then I will be perfectly happy with my Canon 5d, while spending too much time online reading about equipment and forum posts from guys seaking advice about which lens to bring on a trip to Europe. I'll just forget about the crystal ball for now and remember that there is so much more work to produce with my current system and so much more work to enjoy (all of yours) that it is about time to grab the camera bag again.

Mike, don't forget to present us your selection of random excellence. The true challenge is in one's personal development.

So many issues - hard to make one coherent statement!

1 - The D30 - arguably the best looking images of any Canon DSLR to date at 100 ISO (but I've not tried the new 1Ds3) - if you like "silky" D30 images define the term. But not enough pixels. Since the D30, pixel count has been THE driving force in DSLR development. I think we have reached a practical limit. Now people are asking for more dynamic range, hi ISO quality etc. The goalposts will always be changing.

2 - APS-H - it is a very popular format with a small but important market sector. As long as speed is a requirement, there will always be some who will sacrifice FF for FPS - of course, in the Nikon approach, it doesn't have to mean a different camera.

3 - The future - frankly, for the mass market, I don't give photography as we know it more than 10 years (if that). Instead we will be "frame grabbing" off much higher definition video. Such cameras, I'm sure, will be equipped by a "single frame mode" which will be about as popular as the "print" button on a Canon 5d :-)

There will always be still photography, but I suspect it will soon be at the level of, say, large format photography today.

Bernard - thanks for the info re: Nikon metering; I filed away some specs on lenses for future consideration, still hoping for that EVIL (or even a more suitable version of Sigma DP1). As for Oly with the 21/3.5, that's $500 used in EX condition (though I could probably find one a bit cheaper) and ends up slightly slower with slightly deeper DOF than APS-C with a much cheaper 28/2.8. So sure, 4/3 offers a sufficient alternative, but not an alternative with a compelling reason to consider it.

"4/3 offers a sufficient alternative, but not an alternative with a compelling reason to consider it."

How's this? Suppose you wanted a camera with a reasonably fast wide-to-telephoto zoom and image stabilization. The Canon solution would be an EOS 40D with 17-55mm f/2.8 IS (at least $2000 US) or an EOS 5D with 24-105mm f/4 IS (more than $3000 US). The most comparable Pentax solution would be the K200D with 16-50mm f.2.8, for approximately $1400. If you went with a K100D or a slightly slower lens (f/4), it would cost much less.

There is no Nikon equivalent. None of their bodies have IS or VR. Nikon has a 17-55 f/2.8 for approximately $1200, but it also lacks VR. There is no Sony equivalent either. Although the bodies have VR, their fastest zoom is a 24-70mm f/2.8 Zeiss, which isn't even available yet.

And then there's Olympus. An E-510 body is just under $500. The 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko is around $450. Both together would sell for around $1000.

Now granted, this is a very specific circumstance, but photographer's needs are often very specific and, in any event, this offers at least one compelling reason to consider an Olympus. Not because it's a 4/3rds camera, mind you, but because it offers the solution you're looking for. The only other option, if you're into other systems, is to make do with something else or wait patiently for Canon/Nikon/Sony, etc. to introduce what you've been waiting for.

One final thing to keep in mind is that many of the posters seem to take the position that there's "one right answer for everything," when in the real world it's more often a question of "What's the best answer for this particular person and for the time being?" Choosing a camera is not a political statement or an investment strategy. It's about choosing the right tool for the job. Different jobs, different tools, and the more choices we have, the better.

What I never understood is why the 4/3 technology was never implemented in 'bridge' cameras like Sony's APS-C sensored R1.

A 4/3 sensor in an F717, F828 type body would have been wonderful and for all but action, may have been perfect. I think there is still a demand for this type of camera. Like the Fuji F30 the joy of finding these or others like the SUPERB Konica Minolta A2 on eBay is turned to disappointment to see what they're still getting for them.

That said, a live-view, inexpensive DSLR with an 18-200 equivalent lens may accomplish the same thing - albeit at the expense of 1-2 stops, body and screen articulation...on second thought, no it does not.

How 'bout it Oly? A C9090 with a 4/3 sensor and movie mode?

As an observer of friends (as opposed to trends) I don't see still photography being replaced by video. People are buying memory hogging 8, 10, 12 & 13.6MP compacts for "poster sized prints" and I don't see them being satisfied by still from HD video (sufficient or not). But more to the point, I just don't see "real people" taking the time to extract stills from video ... it's bothersome enough to get prints made from stills on a memory card at the kiosk at Target or online through Shutterfly. Everyone I know is on their 2cd, 3rd or 4th digicam (and I know very few people with digital SLRs) while very few of my friends own a video camera at all (and only a few use the video feature on their digicams "for fun").

The e-book is going to replace the printed book any day now, too :)

Reminds me of the late 70s/early 80s when Rollei was introducing some really neat stuff, like 35mm cameras that mimicked the look and design of a Hassy or a Bronica, rather than a Nikon F. I wondered if it was the camera of the future and drooled over it. Rollei ended up bankrupt.

The optics are tuned to the size of the sensor. Changing die size requires new R and D... Increased pixel densities of up to 100 megapixels are possible but, like large format film be left to only crazy people like myself and spies... In chip fabrication, there is new work being done on 3D cubes - sensor on top layer, processing layer, memory layer 1, memory layer 2, 3 4 etc... By moving sensor data to memory layer quickly instead of transfering to storage - shutter speed becomes very high... In a nut shell... If you want it enough you will get it... But you'll have to yell...

@Dennis - and digital will never compete with film :)

And don't forget, video capability is a major selling point for nearly every consumer digicam. As with all technological shifts, a number of things have to fall into place at the same time. The rapid growth of YouTube and look-a-likes is providing an environment where DIY video is the norm. But, most importantly as manufacturers run of meaningful new features for still cameras, something new will be required to open the consumer's wallets.
(eg - CD replaces LP, DVD replaces video, - don't get me started on phones!) Very few NEED any of these things, but the electronics industry needs us to want them. If there is not a market, they will create it.

The issues of frame grabbing and printing stills is an easy thing to address software/hardware, but more to the point, how many images ever get printed anyway? With broadband (wireless) nearly everywhere in 10 years, what value does the "snapshot" have anyway?

Still photography, as we know it, will become the preserve of artists and dinosaurs. (I'll be one of them - but I'm not saying which).

My kids will be doing something far more (technologically) amazing.

Cheers,

Colin

If we are throwing [sic]s around, how about one after factorials?

I believe that Olympus has been using sensors that are technologically inferior to what's in the Canon and Nikon DSLRs, which is why the Oly cameras always seem to perform worse in tests. Furthermore, the new E-3 seems hampered by bad software (software that converts the output from the sensor into a digital file, whether Raw or JPEG).

I do hope that Oly can find a better sensor for its E-510 replacement so the world can see that 4/3 provides just-as-good IQ.

Mike, you miss the fact that this is mostly an economic question, not a quality one. The problem I see with 4/3 isn't so much that Olympus is a modest step behind in image quality at any stage of the game, it's that the smaller sensor size isn't providing economic advantages.

The Sony/Nikon DX and Canon APS-C sizes are being produced in such high volume now that they negate the economic incentive for the slightly smaller 4/3 size, which is being produced in much lower quantities (and likely subsidized by the sensor maker, as well, which doesn't bode well for the future). Thus, I'd guess that Oly is paying about as much for its sensors as Nikon is for theirs. Couple this with the 100m installed base of legacy lenses in the Pentax/Nikon/Canon/Sony world, and Oly has yet another economic hurdle to surmount.

The premise behind 4/3 was simple: as good as APS, smaller/lighter, and optically better. Those were the messages Oly has consistently made in their marketing and promotional efforts for 4/3. The reality is not quite, no, and probably not. My take on Oly is that they absolutely need to deliver on one of those promises in order to have any long legs in this market at all, and the one that they had the biggest chance of differentiating (size) seems to have taken a step backward with the E3.

The bottom line for Oly is still the same: they haven't proven they can compete on the bottom line (e.g., no economic incentive for them to use 4/3) and they haven't yet really managed to equal their marketing message.

That's not to say the E3 isn't a nice camera. It is. But it feels compromised in dynamic range and high ISO compared to the similarly-sized D300. I still struggle to find any advantage for anyone in the choice of 4/3.

Just to clarify, you can mount a modern Nikon 28mm 2.8 (AF version) in a D40, and YOU WILL get metering, you'll miss AF since it's not ultrasonic, but you get metering. Of course, with older, non-chiped lenses, you lose metering too.

Thom: re: the "there are 100m legacy lenses for ...." argument is a fallacy because a) it's not 100m legacy lenses that can be used on any of the platforms you mentioned but X millions for Nikon, Y millions for Canon etc. and b) Oly is hosed in that sense regardless what format it chooses since it has no AF digital capable legacy lens. In other words, the legacy lens is entirely not about economic, nor sensor size, or anything really.

Compared to the D300, E-3 has in body IS that works with even adapted lens, 35-100/F2 and other highly regarded lens, and a swivel LCD. Are those more important than higher ISO performance? That's about what it boils down to be.

Where does Panasonic fit in to this. They are at the top of the consumer electronics field and a successful camera maker. Surely they didn't choose 4/3 for their DSLRs out of the blue.

I have now spent a considerable time working with E-3 raw files, considering it to replace my 5D. In many cases the E-3 quality is good enough to be very close to 5D at 12x16". In other cases the difference is obvious, namely on dark low contrast fine textures (I do B&W landscapes).

In fact, 12x16 seems to slightly push the 4/3 limits. It is an outstanding achievement considering the sensor size. It does make the E-3 tempting because on all other aspects it is probably a better and more fun camera than the 5D.

However, these are only true at ISO 100. At ISO 400 the differences become obvious and 12x16" from the E-3 are not really satisfying.

It seems 4/3 takes easily the place 35mm film used to have. A 5D competes easily with MF film. Actually my 12x18" prints from 5D are at the level of 12x18" from 6x9 film.

I see how the E-3 can be compelling for reportage. It is not, however, for fine art B&W landscapes.

I don't have the technical chops or hands on experience to offer an opinion about future of reduced size sensors. However I noticed today that Olympus has announced a new DSLR and pancake lens that are light weight and make a roughly pocket sized combination.

I've been thinking about pulling the trigger on a Sigma DP1 for street photography but this Olympus offers much more versatility in an easily manageable package. It also has the disadvantages of mirror vibration and increased noise.

Is this then the camera that delivers on the smaller and lighter package that 4/3 has promised?

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