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Wednesday, 02 July 2008

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The 35mm camera was so successful because it fit perfectly to the size of human users.
Much smaller (Pentax 110) and it becomes too petite to handle comfortably -- the tiny little lenses are dinky.
Much bigger (Pentax 67) and the interchangable lenses are too large and heavy for most of us to carry around and handle.
Like the three bears' porrage, chair, and bed, 35mm size is "just right."
(Has no one noticed that the reduced-size DSLRs are just a big and heavy as standard 35mm cameras?)

The coming trend should be towards 'computational photography'. Multiple, small, combination sensors/lenses. The results of combining multiple views of the same scene can offer stunning dynamic range and even 3-D. I agree with your assessment of 'tradition' in the camera market and would also argue that engineers want to make bigger sensors and lenses because it's a bigger challenge than making one superb lens/sensor combo. and then differentiating cameras by the number of sensors included.
I have come to the conclusion that the next 'innovative' digital camera is going to come from a non-traditional player like Adobe, Apple, Sharp, Nokia, AMD; or a camera company with nothing to lose like Kodak.
I was hoping Pentax might do the DMD, but their corporate overlords Hoya probably want to sell more optical glass in over-sized lenses and Samsung probably wants to make large sensors for the reasons above, and to sell to camera manufacturers who don't have their own sensors fabs. I expect we will continue to see bigger and more over-spec'd traditional designs for the forseeable future. I don't blame them because the costs of marketing innovative are massive and extremely risky. The entire existing infrastructure would have to change significantly. It's too bad...

This must be the third time I've read your telephoto theory, and it always cracks me up. The longest focal length I can tolerate using regularly is about 105mm, but 85 is plenty. This is one of the reasons I want full-frame: my 35, 50, 85 and 105 are none of the above. Unless I buy a $1700 uber-zoom, wider than 35 is Compromise Land.

Re: depth of field, I freely admit that I can't fully grasp it, and when I see a website claiming to explain it once and for all, the numbers, charts, and physics jargon make my head spin and I give up at about the moment I see the words "airy disk." What I do know is that the DX format satisfies my thin DoF cravings.

I agree with your feelings about the development of digital. Why don't we have interchangeable sensors for DSLRs, for example? Then we could choose to use a monochrome sensor or a color one, a high sensitivity one, a high-res sensor, and when new ones are designed our camera bodes wouldn't need to be replaced... just talking about it makes me kind of bummed about the missed possibilities.

Urg. 135 format is, IMSIO (In My Semi-Informed Opinion) a bit of a dead-end. The argument against it coming down in cost is straight-up Moore's Law. Chips drop in price as the size drops. 135 sized sensors, by definition, will always be 24x36, and hence will only benefit from modest reductions in price. Furthermore, those same reductions will apply by a factor of x^2 to 4/3's, and x^1.5 for APS-C. Why do you think digicams use 1/2.5" as opposed to 1/1.8" sensors? 135 will always be at a significant cost disadvantage.

As for boring design, Amen Brother! SLR's are pretty silly from a mechanical perspective, but they do have the advantage of allowing very sophisticated TTL auto {focus,exposure}. I see two interesting ways to go. One is the video-still convergence, another being really clever use of rapid reading of subframes from the sensor to do clever/fast auto-stuff using the main imager. Oh, and if a sensel can be made small enough, I can see oversampled imagers that have different "full resolution" images depending on the f/ratio selected, eg, resolution selected to oversample the spot size of the lens.

Lastly, as to why cameras are so damned boring? That has an easy answer: Maitani retired.

Whew! You earlier asked for the best of TOP, and this is a best example for me, and many past bests like this as well. Thank you.

On topic, 90+% of consumers will pay up for "good enough", and digital has given them low-expense results as good or better than 35mm film, and easier to use. The self-contained tiny sensor point and shoot camera fits that bill.

Every larger sensor camera (APS-C variants and FF)have been designed for the higher priced, higher margined accessory, starting with the lens choices. FF may be on everyones lust list but I believe all current sensor sizes will continue to be made for many more years even as production costs fall.

As for new designs, traditional shapes imply value. 30 years of the digital personal computer are basically unchanged, and modeled on 30 more years of computer terminal interaction. A quick look around will find hundreds of like examples in everything we use.

While it may be impossible at this point in time to tell whether full frame is the coming thing, the fact of the matter is that there is a vast accumulation of film based lenses out there waiting to mate with full frame cameras.

I suspect that the digital sensor technology may have reached a stage in which affordable full frame cameras is beginning to dawn.

Dan K.

"I overestimated the utilitarian aspect of long-lens popularity and underestimated the status aspect."

Chicks dig guys with big Canons.

Or that's what we like to think....

I'm the guy who has never voted for a winning presidential candidate. My camera choices seem to do about as well as my political choices.

It seems that there is a need for good cameras with SMALLER sensors rather than bigger. Ricoh's GRD gives me pictures with great DOF. Such pictures aren't possible with bigger sensors. Why doesn't someone make an interchangeable-lens rangefinder with a small sensor?

I've never understood the big gap between small sensors and mid-size. It seems that the DMD should have a sensor that's a just a little smaller than four thirds. They could make a square out of 4/3 by cutting off the long edge. The new format would be called "Three Quarters of Four Thirds"

Like you Mike, I have certain demands on my resources, that preclude extravagance. I've recently altered my approach; instead of a D200 or D300, I got a G9. Instead of upgrading to CS3, I bought Elements 6. FF is meaningless to me at this point; and the image quality out of my antique D100 is just fine, as I never print larger than what I can produce on a letter size printer. I even print less, and make DVD's that are shown on a 19" TV.

In general, FF has no meaning as I tend to shoot in a mid range, 35 -55 sort of stuff, so I'll save my money to be "wasted" on kids. As to the future, it will be here soon enough, and as historians, we can dissect the errors.

Viva APS-C :)

Bron

One minor point, aside from my own unimportance as to marketing, is that the best, smartest or most efficient technology does not always win; Apple vs Windows, Beta vs VHS, etc. etc.

P.S.

As to the big lens thing, well, duh! SUV's, too.

I do think larger-than-ff is coming, once sensor manufacturing gets cheaper still (which is a slow process). You already have it, in Leaf, Mamiya and Hasselblad medium format cameras, just not at a price a normal hobbyist can afford.

When the main components - the sensor - is expensive, the whole camera will be expensive. And to buy an expensive camera, buyers reasonably expect high-quality, high-performance components overall, not just from the sensor. So 35mm, and even more medium format is all geared towards the top-of-the-line, no cost spared-style equipment, which of course increases cost even more. But as we are sort of gradually seeing with 35mm sensors, the price is coming down, and veeerrryyy gradually do the rest of the package also come creeping down in ability, quality and price. At this rate we'd still be _at_least_ five years away from 35mm overtaking APS, and medium format overtaking 35mm in market segments. More like 8-10, if ever.

But this creeping downward in price is happening for APS as well, only faster. And while people expect a "real", "professional"-looking black DSLR at 70k yen (which, face it, is a rather large chunk of money for a camera, historically, and a fair amount of money, period), they'd be much more receptive to variations in design and reduction in capability if the price was a third of that.

If we see a shift where the high-end becomes 35mm - or medium-format drops enough in price to overtake 35mm altogether as the highest-end amateur gear - APS equipment will have become cheap enough to compare to film camera prices. And at those prices - think 20k yen for an APS body - there is plenty of room for experimentation.

Dear Mike,

I think you're right about design being stuck and staying stuck for a good while.There are sound design and market reasons for that to happen. So, given that, I think the question of FF ascendency resolves to a different question.

If a pro FF kit ends up being not substantially more expensive nor bigger than, say, a quarter-scale (QS) sensor kit, then FF will be the dominant format. If a QS kit is substantially cheaper/smaller (let's say "substantial= factor-of-two" for argument's sake), then FF will eventually become a niche product and QS will dominate.

This is much the history of film. The dominant pro format moved from 8x10 to 4x5 to 120 rollfilm to 35mm, relegating the bigger formats to niches. It stopped at 35mm because there really was no profound gain in going smaller. Consequently, half-frame and the assorted subminiature formats also became niche items.

I picked QS somewhat arbitrarily. Maybe it'll be 1/3-scale. I dunno. I do know, for a fact, that QS sensors will be entirely capable of meeting most professional needs. That's not to say bigger isn't better, just that smaller can be good enough. Again, much as with film. Does anyone dispute that sheet film gives better quality than 120 roll and 120 roll than 35mm? Of course not. But cost/convenience trumps quality when the quality's good enough.

I do not have an opinion, though, on which way this will play out. I can happily argue either side of whether or not there will be a substantial difference in cost/convenience between FF and QS over the long run.

pax / Ctein

Two reasons that I may seriously consider a D700 (or a D3X) - the 14-24 f/2.8, and the 24 PC-E. This is the first glass I've really, really wanted in quite awhile.

I hope somebody is listen to you in the industry...your readers are shaking their heads.. YES...Try a survey on the blog on 10 things what we want in a camera and vote one each? It would be very popular I'am sure...let me see...........a shutter you can feel not hear....50 zone auto focus with manual override...Lens,a 28mm 1.4 all in the size of a canon G.. among other things.....like you said they're in a rut... with design by committee

One point i disagree with (it's only natural i suppose!), but apart from that i agree with pretty much everything you wrote - you are certainly correct; camera design really is stuck in a rut. What a shame. You never know though, perhaps one day someone will make me that digital Mamiya 7, with a 6x7 sensor... Just for me.

(Just in case you're interested in which point i disagreed with: Yes, i know that you can move closer or zoom in more, in order to control depth of field - but that then means the composition and/or perspective has to change, and you are no longer taking the same photograph. For example, when making photographs with medium format cameras (eg. my mamiya 7) it's possible to subtly blur the background at modest distances from the subject with normal/wide lenses, which i feel really makes subjects stand out from their respective backgrounds, without losing any of the environmental information that i wanted to include. It is a characteristic of MF i really appreciate.)

The conservativeness is disappointing. If you looked at the last gen of 35mm film point-and-shoots and SLRs, and skipped over the period that brought us the articulating Nikons and the Sony F707 and similar (dead-end experiments) and looked at today's digital offerings, you'd think nothing had changed with the internals.

Remember how early cars looked like horse and buggies because the manufacturers hadn't grok'd what the new internals meant for the external form-factor and possibilities of arrangements it allowed? It's almost the opposite with cameras where there was the period of experimentation and now we've gone back to buggies.

Heck, 25 years ago Luigi Colani collaborated with Canon to conceptualize film-based cameras that are way-more radical than anything we are seeing today. (http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/design/kikaku/t90/03_5systems.html)

This exploration resulted in the Canon T90, which for better or for worse set the paradigm for all SLRs that have followed - Canon's current offerings look virtually the same (except less elegant IMO). On TOP you've referenced the post I did on this on my own blog quite a while back (http://www.richardsona.com/main/2006/9/29/design-classic-canon-t90-slr.html)

"Is Full-Frame the Coming Thing?"

Two answers: No and Yes.

No, because full (35mm) frame sensors have been around for quite a while. I've been using full-frame cameras since the Canon 1Ds Mark II. So it's not a "coming thing"; it's a "now thing".

Yes, because it will be the marketing bogey that all of the secondary manufacturers will try to hit in coming years.

I don't think that camera design "creativity" will come from form sensor factor. The manufacturing barriers are too enormous, Nor will we see a big resurgence in mid-20th century camera designs-turned-digital, such as 35mm rangefinders. All who wanted ashore on that island are probably already ashore.

Rather, I believe that we'll see incremental innovations in sensor technology. Yes, it looks like the Foveon, everyone's former great white hope, is a flop. But there are other possibilities on the horizon.

For example, Sony recently announced a "breakthrough" in potential sensor dynamic range and clarity. They have reportedly developed a chip that captures an image on its back-side rather its lens-side. They claim that this new design offers a significant leap forward for an affordable price.

The real "new thing" on the immediate horizon may very well be HD video cameras designed specifically for dual-purposing. Canon already has a robust line on their shelves and also has immense video lens technology and experience. They may just decide that this is the technology weapon to renew their distance from those slow-footed-but-pesky Nikon people next year. (Nikon has zero video assets.)

So, Mike, I'd advise you to just party like it's 1999 with a new full-frame Nikon or Canon. What you see is fundamentally what you'll see in the photo market.

Mike,

I think it's at least the 3rd time I read an article you wrote about lens size. Yes, most amateurs like to show off with their photo equipment. Most also concentrate on what they can't do with the equipment they have. I have a feeling it's part of the culture we live in more than anything else.

Regarding the crop-sensor angle of view, I must say, I can't see the point. The fact is that the magnification stays the same, all you do is crop the photo. So basically if you had the same lens and take the same photo using crop sensor and FF sensor (using the same zoom value) you will get two identical photos, one is a subset of the other. So in essence a crop sensor doesn't enlarge the subject somehow, it just captures less of the scene, and as such not very compelling.

Erez.

Hi Mike,

I really enjoy your views on photography and this post is no exception.

I think that people want the best equipment when it comes to things that they are interested in whether it is cars, hifi or photography. Thats why people want Full Frame because it is perceived by most people to be better which is a carry over from the film days where Larger format equals better quality.

I agree with you that the camera companies have not been very creative when it comes to innovation and new formats in the digital world. Square format would be nice as I liked it when I had a Bronica 6x6 many years ago. I don't blame companies for not experimenting though as that might put their profits at risk if the change is not accepted by the customer.

I'd like to see HDR built into the camera as well as a non bayer sensor like they had in the Kodak 14n. There is still a lot of innovation that would improve the quality of the image if there was a company out there willing to take some risk.

Regards .......... Aubrey

Dear Mike,

There is one totally new direction for digital design, the camera phone. It does not interest me now but who knows about the future.

I have been using Leica M's for 43 years, so I'm set in my ways with an M8. But I do want a really good compact digital camera with very good high ISO. Say like the Hexar AF with its great 35mm lens. The lack of an optical VF is a deal breaker. A more compact one like the Contax T3 would also be desirable I tried the G9 and it does not meet my standards. Hell, even my old Canon QL17 GIII beats out the current compacts.

Maybe the 35mm SLR IS some kind of perfection: maybe the meaningful advances in camera design have long since taken place. Maybe what EVERYONE has secretly been wanting all along is a Nikon DSLR that lets Nikkor manual focus prime lenses do what they were built to do.

"The fact is that the magnification stays the same, all you do is crop the photo. So basically if you had the same lens and take the same photo using crop sensor and FF sensor (using the same zoom value) you will get two identical photos, one is a subset of the other. So in essence a crop sensor doesn't enlarge the subject somehow, it just captures less of the scene..."

I don't think this is a very good way to conceptualize what's going on. Lens focal length doesn't change magnification regardless of the format size, and perspective is the same, but lenses have to be designed for image circle, too. A smaller format only "crops" a larger format with the same lens if the lens can COVER the larger format. And then, what's the opposite of the concept of "cropping"? Because the fact is that the 300mm on 4/3rds has the same angle of view as a 600mm on 35mm, and a 300mm on 35mm "crops" less, in your terms. But then consider that a 300mm lens on 6x7cm is the same angle of view as a 150mm on 35mm (more or less) and the FF format "crops" it, and a 300mm on 8x10 is a NORMAL LENS.

Most people would not say that the 300mm lenses on an 8x10 and a 35mm are the same, except that the 35mm format crops the image. Rather, they would look at the more readily apparent property, angle of view, and say that the 300mm on 8x10 more closely resembles a 50mm lens on 35mm.

It's also not good conceptualizing because the 35mm lens can be designed for a much smaller image circle and it can be much brighter and higher in resolution on the smaller format. With great differences in format, very different designs can be used. A typical 300mm designed for 35mm would cast an image on 8x10 film about the size of, what, a tennis ball?

Conversely, you wouldn't say that, say, a 7.1mm lens from a digital point and shoot is the "same" as an ultra-wide lens for 35mm, except that it's "cropped," would you? No, because the digital p&s lens can't cover 35mm or even come close. So the "crop" concept when understanding format is really only is true when you are considering magnification ONLY, in isolation, ignoring several other very important aspects of lenses, most prominently angle of view on any particular format as well as coverage.

The "cropping" figure of speech isn't technically wrong, in certain ways and under certain conditions (although as a vocabulary word it should be reserved for cutting off the edges of captured images), but it's just not a very good way to think about all that's going on in the interaction between focal length and format.

Mike J.

Grump Jr. you're making my head hurt in the best tradition of the original Grump.

"digital has settled right back down to where camera design was in 1990—to a norm of Wunderplastik SLRs and dinky point-and-shoots, the exceptions being few and far between"

Absolutely correct; the megapixel war is comparable to the lenspeed war, the motorspeed war, the hexaphotocybernetics war etc.

We have a Technoplastik Wunderblaster known as a Canon Digital XT, a couple of near-misses, Canon G9s, plus the assorted old dinosaurs including the 8x10.

The XT pics are nice and clean with their odd (but perhaps correct) digital look while the G9 pics are a little gritty; otoh have we all forgotten Konica 3200 film? I guess so. Yes, the G9 viewfinder is the pits; you'd think Canon would do far better. But that's beside the point.

Full-frame. What's full-frame? 8x10? 2x2? Of course once "full-frame" cameras were regarded as mere toys. Maybe in fact they still are.

"camera design is stuck. Think rut, think sticky mud. Think hysterical screams of I will only buy exactly what I've bought before only better. Camera design is stuck."

Absolutely. It's the same-old same-old, just different imaging (gads I hate that word) mechanisms. Where's my square-format (digital) OM-4t? Where's my digital Noblex?

The mass market, of course, prevails.

"I now think that that was essentially wrong. What amateurs most wanted long lenses for was not for the narrow angles of view, principally, but for the prestige and pride of ownership of owning really big, impressive, expensive lenses."

Don't tell me you're just now learning this? In my camera-dealer days I could probably count on a finger or two the number of people who bought those big honkers who talked about usage. Not owning, but using them for a specific purpose. It's the gold-Rolex effect; essentially a way of saying "mine's bigger than yours."

Obviously we need another Maitani. Is he (or she) out there? And would a camera maker take the risk today?

I guess we'll see.

-jbh-

I was very disappointed when Nikon did not produce a camera like Pentax, to simply accept all the Nikor lenses. Even better, would be a back with a sensor that could be attached to any camera, old or new, within reason- say since the 1970's.

I find that for most photo enthusiasts, making good photographs is not about fast lens, fast focusing, etc. So interchangeable backs would be a good way to go for everyone. I don't feel like handing out thousands of dollars each time there is a change in technology, however small. All I hear from these discussions is that people want pro digital cameras to be as versatile as point and shoot cameras, much the same way as the old discussions went about the relationship between the different formats in film cameras.

JR

The "DMD" always makes me think what if they dropped an APS-C sensor into a Nikon 28TI body....

I was shooting a wedding two weeks ago and a guest was the local Nikon Rep, Mike. I asked why not? Mike's response: "I suggested it many times, but you just never know what is on there drawing board." With reference to what Michael Reichmann just wrote about Nikon's Board (see link)
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/700-thoughts.shtml Nikon could have many more surprises ahead.

Dear Mike,

I've spent 40 years writing and photographing fly fishing. Years with a Leica M4-P and M3, and later Nikon F3s and FM-2s. And I never, ever, composed better than when I had my Mamiya 6. Something about the square format and the RF's bright line finder.

Anyway, I fully agree with your article. There is nothing new. The D700, exciting as it is, is just an F100. And when indeed are we going to see p&s cameras with larger sensors?

Presently I use 5D and L lenses for work, and G9 for play, and soon also for some work.

Anyway, well said, as always.

Chico F.

I think the main driver for FF was legacy lenses, and the fact that most professionals had a pile of them -- and now the 35mm size that was adopted because of legacy lenses is driving production of a new generation of "digital performance" lenses that are sized to FF, so we are creating a new legacy at the 35mm size...

There is some talk of an upcoming Leica R10 that will have a larger-than-35 sensor; most people who believe this will happen (and the possibility has been mentioned by Leica officials) expect a sensor size that will have the largest real estate that will be decently covered by Leica R lenses -- not a 2:3 aspect ratio, but something closer to 3:4 or 4:5. There have also been suggestions that the R10 will be a medium format camera with a FF crop which will use R lenses, and a new batch of Leica lenses that will cover the full MF. That seems unlikely to me, because I'm not sure Leica could afford to do it, but Leica desperately needs something that will distinguish their unbelievably expensive cameras and lenses from the Canons and the Nikons. So that could be interesting. And most Leica fans expect to hear something by Photokina.

My son jokes about it ("I can't possibly come to dinner now -- somebody's made a MISTAKE on the Internet") but honest to God, reading a Digital Photography Review thread on DOF or ISO can unhinge a normal person. Especially weird are what car guys call "comparos" when people try to figure out if a Canon 5d (say) is better than a Nikon D2x, and they analyze tiny fractions of jpg photos taken by two different guys at two different times with slightly different focal-length and quality lenses, while in the background is the usual Greek chorus chanting, "This is useless. This means nothing."

The chorus is right, of course, but really, who cares?

JC

The 35 mm form factor for cameras and sensors is here to stay, simply because the immense 'installed base' provides far too much inertia to overcome. The same principle controls the computer world. The crypt-keeper legacy of Intel's X86 architecture and associated archaic code keep desktop and laptop computers nailed to the floor, despite hardware advances that could provide so much more. (And you Mac lovers, stop smirking. Your machines are now also part of the Borg...I mean Intel...collective.) Sigh.

On the other hand, a reasonable argument can be made that the 35 mm form factor is a sort of optimal nodal point for camera design, and this 'gravitational pull' is difficult to escape. Going to a smaller sensor clearly imposes some limits on noise control and resolution, so if you insist on a really excellent 16x20" or larger print as final output, or want room for cropping, then 'full frame' 35 mm sized D-SLR's will be very hard to match. On the other hand, any larger sensor requires a bigger lens to cover it. Practical realities in precision optics manufacturing quickly escalate costs out of sight...unless you're willing to accept some optical compromises (i.e. higher levels of aberration) which then defeat the purpose of the larger sensor. The 35 mm size may indeed be Goldilocks' "just right".

Certainly more rational lens coverage could be achieved with a format closer to square than the 24x36mm standard. I sort of like the idea of pushing out the full frame sensor to a 36 mm square. This would maximally exploit the image circle of existing "35 mm" lenses without requiring a whole new hardware standard. Won't happen, though. Too much inertia.

"Maybe what EVERYONE has secretly been wanting all along is a Nikon DSLR that lets Nikkor manual focus prime lenses do what they were built to do."

I think that's it right there. To paraphrase Jacob Bronowski, there is nothing new in camera design because there is nothing new in photographer's thought. What I can't understand is why these "optimal" DSLRs are all so damn huge. Many think the Nikon D80 is an ideal size; I think it's a boat anchor. D40/D60-sized DSLRs ought to be the standard, not the exception. The physical bulk of these things is the one carryover from film cameras that I neither like nor understand; there's certainly no overwhelming technical reason for it.

It's amusing how fans of systems that don't have full-frame belittle the importance of it. Nikonians certainly did until the D3 came out.

Full-frame sensors offer the following advantages over APS-C or lower sensors:

1) They offer stellar high ISO performance, far exceeding that of film. When you see the dismal ISO 1600 performance of an Olympus E-420, you can understand why the Four-Thirds format is getting no traction.

2) Their viewfinders are big and bright, nothing like the nasty tunnels even a D300 feature. Sure, there is no reason why an APS camera couldn't have a big viewfinder, if its optical system were designed with a full-sized mirror. That would introduce flare, however, and bulk up the camera.

These two factors in themselves won't automatically translate into market dominance, but if the price premium falls to a reasonable level, most people will go for the more capable camera, except in the ultra low-end Rebel XS/D40 segment.

Re: The appeal of hellishly long and heavy lenses...
Years ago I was shooting an annual horse racing event with the longest lens the paper issued us snappers, a 300mm f4. I ran into a friend, shooting for one of the big dailies in town. He was shooting the race with a 600mm f4. It was a monster. I asked him how it felt to drag that heavy glass around. He said it didn't bother him, because whenever he shot with it, lots of women hit on him. I guess I developed a serious case of lens envy.

"And I never, ever, composed better than when I had my Mamiya 6. Something about the square format and the RF's bright line finder."

Chico,
I had a Mamiya 6 and remember it fondly. This is something you might remember...the Mamiya 6 was originally targeted at wedding photographers...that's who Mamiya figured would buy and use it. All the early ads were directed at wedding use. Lo and behold, it never caught on with wedding shooters, but editorial and magazine photographers loved it and it became quite a fad among them. So sometimes even the camera companies don't know who they're making things for...sometimes products find their own markets.

Mike J.

Discovering the practicality and effectiveness of small sensor all-in-one world has radically changed my relationship with photography.

Why choose a DSLR cost and weight multiple of ten or more? Some professionals may need the features. I've learned that I don't.

The DSLR world is driven by insane profits at the moment, but I expect it to be eroded as the alternatives become more attractive and we become more practical. Think of the demise of medium format. Change can come quickly.

Observing my own use of my 70-200 zoom across the transition from film to 1.5x digital, I find that I'm out at the 200mm end just about as often as before. That is, the lens previously wasn't actually long enough, it was just the best I had (of any convenience; the 300/2.8 weighed a ton and the 500/8 was kinda slow, plus they were both manual focus).

Looking at lens releases, we see the Sigma 50-150/2.8 (roughly a 70-200 equivalent for 1.5x), but we don't seem to see it flying off the shelves, or many other people copying it. In fact, we see *more* 70-300 consumer lenses than we used to. I see here more evidence that people wanted longer lenses than they mostly had on 35mm film.

Similarly, 50mm macro lenses were the norm, then the Nikon 60mm. Longer ones were also available in some lines (and Tamron had that lovely 90mm since forever). And then 105mm started becoming more popular. And then 1.5x DSLRs came in -- and 105mm kept right on taking over, and you started hearing about 180 or 200mm macro lenses.

I'd *love* to see some of the experimental bodies you mention. I definitely want the non-reflex interchangeable-lens large-sensor digital, and would be very interested in the monochrome one (that should be good for a couple of stops improvement in sensitivity, plus of course an increase in real resolving power).

i am a cross platform person, but it seems like we need the engineers at Apple to attempt a camera. They seem to have the ability to think about what could be, as opposed to trying to tweak a current product to make it a bit better. it would be very interesting to see what would happen if very talented people went at it with no preconceived notions of what it should be.......

john

As mentioned above, it seems like the next big thing will be something really new - not a digitization of an older design.

For example, twin lens reflex cameras have already lost a round to 35mm cameras - I'd think manufacturers would be rightfully leary of introducing a digital TLR. They were overtaken by 35mm film cameras - what would allow them to enlarge their market share in digital? That's not a rhetorical question; I'm genuinely curious if someone has a good answer.

Mike: "4/3rds, for instance, means that you can achieve the same angle of view with a 300mm lens as you used to get with a 600mm on 35mm. "

Same angle of view but not the same image quality. Very long end of focal lengths are all about reach which unfortunately is not achieved by cropping -> I would any day take 35mm equivalent with same pixel pitch to replace my 1DMKIII for long tele work if price and buffer speed would be the same ;)

Another thing is legacy of 35mm film SLR background. Once I have been earlier using SLR with 35mm and 50mm lenses, same time enjoying big viewfinder and nice oof, the 1.6x crop was alway feeling 'not right'.

My prediction is that prosumer/pro will eventually go towards full frame while there are still lot of use for crop cameras. For example Olympus E-420 + 25mm pancake is a lot more practical carry around than equivalent full frame dslr.

"digital TLR. They were overtaken by 35mm film cameras - what would allow them to enlarge their market share in digital?"

Hmm. How about now that LiveView broke the psychological barrier and isn't a "solution looking for a problem" anymore?

You could have perfect LiveView A/B with a TLR.

Only, in this age of instant gratification, I don't see many people learning to cope with the parallax error.

First, wouldn't a major advantage of a full frame sensor be the availability of shorter focal lengths? I've heard (though not from authoritative sources) that there are physical limitations that make it difficult to make really wide lenses for small sensors. If this is true, then I would have an incentive to buy a full frame camera, but not at current prices. In a world where cameras become obsolete in ever shortening time spans, I just can't justify $3000.00 for a full frame camera body. Back in "the good old days" I could upgrade my camera myself simply by changing the film; now when new sensor technology is available, I have to buy a whole new camera to upgrade.

Second, as long as we're fantasizing, what I would really like to see is a sensor with random pixel distribution (as opposed to a grid pattern). Not only would this do away with Moir'e issues, but it would help eliminate some of that "home video" quality we often see in unprocessed digital images.

In the final analysis, cameras are only tools. It would be ideal if we could adapt them to the way each of us, as individuals, work. Since digital cameras are mass market items, that simply isn't going to happen. So I suppose that as always, we'll learn to live with, and occasionally exploit, the weaknesses of our equipment.

If one wants to use 35mm lenses from wide-angle to telephoto using their designed for image circle, a full-size 24x36mm sensor is required. The so-called "partial-frame sensor" telephoto advantage is no advantage at all.

Praise be to you for questioning full frame dogma. And really, "dogma" is the right word here, because a lot of the chatter you hear around this subject sounds suspiciously religious (i.e. faith based). For a while I assumed everyone wanted FF because it will always have a noise advantage over smaller sensors. But when you look at the numbers... is that really enough?

What I'd like to see is a facts-based discussion about how much smaller and lighter bodies and lenses can be when designed around APS-C sensors (ahem, TOP?). I'll be disappointed if the industry abandons APS-C (or leaves it to the entry-level models), and I could totally see it happening because with the way silicon manufacturing scales, FF systems won't have to cost as much as they do today for very long, and when prices come down... well, like Mike says, you can't predict the future. But offer a guy a medium Coke for $1.00 and a super size Coke for $1.10, and you know which one he's going to pick.

Cameras with long lenses as photographic jewelery is a definite phenomenon but then consider how many of those little point and shoots have really extended telephoto zooms with only a label to proclaim the fact. One has to assume people want these long zooms. Can it all be the bikini-on-the-beach effect?
Saw a guy in a Spanish cathedral one day with a truly enormous long lens on his camera. But, hey, it was white.

I for one don't know which format I want. My longest and dearest lens now is 105mm and it is perfect for my needs on my D80. I don't need anything longer and I like this particular lens so much that I wouldn't want to kill it by using it on FF. On the other hand, I miss a wide prime on D80. So for me, I guess it is both formats or at least FF with enough resolution that makes a 1.5 crop reasonable (and at a reasonable d80-ish cost). I hope my current camera keeps working for the next 4 years or so.

I don't think larger than FF DSLRs (or at least considerably larger) are gonna happen. The lens mounts limit the size of the sensor and I think I speak for most of us if I say that we don't won't a change in the lens mount.


What I'd like to see is ability to change sensors in the camera. You could have a high res one, a low res one with less noise and a B&W one. When there is a considerably better sensor made, you buy the sensor only, stick it in the camera, do some firmware upgrading and done. But that's the old hey-new-film-is-out thinking.

Can people take seriously when you said I´m a photographer and you carry an Ixus in the photographer´s mind they need big cameras,from the end of the 80´nothing change much in design, the first flat screen tv was invented in the 50´s.

It's the viewfinder.

I think a big part of the demand for "full frame" 24x36mm is from photographers who used to use medium format and photographers who really like wide angle lenses.

Say you were formerly a medium format camera user with a two roll a day habit, and decided to switch to digital. A full frame DSLR seems cheap, like for free cheap, but a medium format back costs as much as a nice used car, and depreciates much faster.

There is/was an ocean of cheap medium to large format stuff out there that was affordable to a lot of photographers that can't afford the digital equivalent. Pre digital, my camera buying habits were along the lines ofvarious Autocords, Hasselblads, homemade lumps with a 47mm Super Angulon on one end and a graphic roll holder on the other, old press cameras, a 70mm combat graphic, a 4x5 RB graflex. And you could always sell them for about what you paid for them, although I still have one of all the cameras I mentioned other than the 47mm Super Angulon beasts.

The jump from a APS-C camera to a full frame with more than twice the image area is not that big a jump in price, but the jump to the next size larger is pretty painful.

My feeling is that "full frame" 24x36mm is the sweet spot for serious photographers that would have never considered spending serious money for a 35mm film camera.

BTW, my recipe for the ideal small digital camera would be a camera with a square sensor, say 30x30mm with an electronic shutter and a live view screen and a Leica M mount. No mirror, no rangefinder. The beauty of an M mount is that you can adapt just about any 35mm lens ever made to it. It would make a great SWC replacement.

Also, even though I prefer square formats, why hasn't anyone done a revolving back digital camera? It would be so much easier than revolving back film cameras were.

"Regarding the crop-sensor angle of view, I must say, I can't see the point. The fact is that the magnification stays the same, all you do is crop the photo. So basically if you had the same lens and take the same photo using crop sensor and FF sensor (using the same zoom value) you will get two identical photos, one is a subset of the other. So in essence a crop sensor doesn't enlarge the subject somehow, it just captures less of the scene, and as such not very compelling."

This is absolutely correct, but only meaningful in a limited sense. IF you are using the same lens on you APS-C as works on your FF, AND you have the same pixel density on your FF as you have on your APS-C, AND you have a significantly faster storage mechanism with a significantly larger capacity to accomodate those extra pixels, THEN the APS-C sensor is nothing but a pre-cropped FF sensor.

On the other hand, the APS-C allows you to break each of those rules.

1. The lenses can be smaller and lighter for equivalent edge-to-edge quality (especially note the vigneting and chromatic aberrations around the edged of average consumer FF lenses).

2. Sensor pitch is generally more dense on APS-C, specifically because they then do not need to tax the image processing systems.

3. At the same time, they end up with fewer pixels and thus still tax the image system less, allowing for significantly faster continuous speeds for significantly longer bursts for significantly less cost than is possible (today) in FF sensor cameras. This advantage will diminish in importance over time, of course.

IMHO, the main point against a square sensor is the same one against standard-aspect-ratio television sets (just try to buy one today ... I dare you!): people don't like feeling like some visible bit of technology they purchased is not being used. Oh, they'll buy a camera with a hundred features they do not understand and will never even attempt to use, but if to get a visually pleasing "golden ratio" print they need to cut out half of the square image, and they need to do this on every single picture they take ... I don't think they're ready for that.

On the other hand, I don't mind the "black bars" on my television sets (my last CRT-based set had a "widescreen" mode where it actually condensed the horizontal lines of the image so that the actual displayed resolution was the same with or without black bars), and already crop just about every single picture I take in post-processing. I also find it really agonizing cropping a landscape to a portrait in post simply because it is so rare I captured enough vertically to make it work, and a square captured aspect ratio would help with that tremendously. IMHO, the "ideal" camera would capture a square image, but automatically "crop" that to the central "golden rectangle" portion in either portrait or landscape, allowing the photographer to reconsider orientation and "shift" the cropped window in post, yet provide simple printouts to common photo print ratios.

Mike,

You stated "I overestimated the utilitarian aspect of long-lens popularity and underestimated the status aspect." This is clearly true and one of the main reasons why the D700 is so big and the D3 and 1D family are enormous. You could just as easily have written "I overestimated the utilitarian aspect of small camera popularity and underestimated the status aspect [of having a brick to hand around the owner's neck]."

In the last decade Olympus got burned thrice trying to innovate in camera design. The E-10 and E-20 used a pelical mirror and got bashed by the review sites for robbing x amount of stops from the sensor. The E-1 got bashed for (wait for it...) not having enough mega pixels and too much noise at high ISO. The E-330 is the strangest case - that camera received poor reviews because it had Live View(!) and didn´t look like a 1990´s slr.

No sir, the camera market is not ready for form-factor innovation, it´s all about being able to photograph in the dark.

Has anyone tried the 3CCD approach (or 3 CMOS) for still cameras? Might be expensive but it sure helped a whole load in early DV camcorders and for years in pro video.

"Where is the larger-than-FF integral DSLR?" There was the Mamiya ZD but it priced itself out of success and had similar problems to the Kodak DCS-14n.

"Whither Canon's pellicle mirror as a digital solution?" Not evident yet but Olympus did briefly hark back to the mirror arrangement of the old Pen half frame SLR with the E-300 etc.


As for the tempting proposition of using "legacy" lenses with a sensor shape other than 1:1.5, many 35mm lenses have rectangular shaped baffles at the back end to help with flare control so would not cover a square.

Cheers, Robin

"Back in "the good old days" I could upgrade my camera myself simply by changing the film; now when new sensor technology is available, I have to buy a whole new camera to upgrade."

And therin lies the camera manufacturers' joy.

I'm still waiting for someone to make a modern, reliable, small Fullframe body, with a beautiful viewfinder/rangefinder for all my M lenses, without Leica's boutique prices and practices behind it.

Even better would be 36x36 (no mirror problem there). A digital Mamiya M6 equivalent in a Leica M-sized body.

Mike,

I generally agree with you. However, I do have two things to add. Firstly, photography is, depite the "digital revolution" a very traditional medium, and one with a long history. Right before the advent of digital, camera bodies had long years to be "defined" by manufacturers and users alike. Not perfect for everyone, of course, but a compromise to suit as many as possible. What we had then was carried over into the CCD/CMOS age. Now, the above does not explain why, for instance, the popular 35/40mm high quality compact cameras of the film era have not yet come to life in a digital form. The answer, of course, is money. Manufacturers make a lot more of it with DSLRs, lenses, flashes, and other "add-ons". It is a risk for them to actually make a camera that satisfies the needs of a larger group of people, because then there would be no way for them to make money any more. Even Leica had that problem with the M6, in that it was "too good" and they had nothing to top it with for quite some time, and I would assume that a lot of M6 users have never "upgraded" to the M7. (Even stronger the MP, a regression when it comes to pure features, was welcome by the rangefinder world.) As a result Leica did not have the turnover to set aside some cash for an earlier development of a digital M.

That leads me to my second point. In the next years the DSLR boom-market will mature. Evidence that this is already happening is for instance in the Canon 5D: It's ancient in DSLR-years, yet neither did the market "need" something "better, faster, more" nor did Canon come up with something significantly superior in that market segment. Sure there will be the MKII, or whatever it will be called. But I doubt that photographers will be able to take significantly better photos with that new camera. And people are beginning to realise that. But now to my real second point: Once the market has matured, manufacturers will have to start thinking outside the proverbial box. When DSLR sales as well as compact sales will begin to stall I hope we will begin to see new designs, new concepts, and maybe a convergence of photo and film. Will these developments be radical? Probably not, they rarely are. But if Sigma are coming up with new versions of their DP-series that could eventually lead to a digital rebirth of the Yashicas and Contaxes and Leica CMs. Maybe Nikon will have a go at a digital rangefinder - not the classic Leica concept, but a digitally enhanced one. Maybe EVILs will start to appear.

I guess my argument is that as long as there is a mass market -- and what a market it has been, just look at DSLR and "crappy compact" sales -- manufacturers will not try to be inventive, but to produce one "cash cow" after the other. And who can blame them? ("We're in the business of making money...") But "soon" (-ish, I believe there is still some time for them left to milk the existing markets) they will have to find new ways of making profits, and they will eventually have to cater for smaller markets. Maybe then you'll get your DMD -- and I'll get my digital Leica CL (did I mention that I am a rather "traditional kinda guy" when it comes to photography?).

Regards,
Alex.

According to Wikipedia,

"There were a number of 35mm still cameras using perforated movie film prior to the Leica. The first patent for one was issued to Leo, Audobard and Baradat in England in 1908."

If that's true, then this is the 100th anniversary of the basis of the format so many seem to think is "just right."

In other words, very apt timing on this article, Mike! (Somewhere Oskar Barnack is rubbing his hands together and gloating: "Yes! I knew we would prevail!")

A crazy Luddite once asked me, "Why can't we just have a good old fashioned manual camera with a digital sensor?" The ill fated Epson R-D1 comes as close to this as possible. Just the other day some one looked at a grainy shot I took at 1600 ISO with my R-D1 and said that that looked like a "real" photograph. How about a Nikon FM3a with a FF sensor and lets call it a day?

Very nice dissertation Mike, so many things to ponder around :) Let's see if I can drop some ideas:

- Althought I completly agree with the show off aspect of big lenses, some people do really need big fast lenses, in my case the culprit is aviation photography, you never can have enough.

- As with camera design, I couldn't agree more, stuck in formats and forms, so do we really need a rethink in form factor or ergonomics? Can't really say, but we must also think that digital manipulation has made formats a worry of photography geeks, what was the latest crazy crop you enjoyed?

I do like though the discussion related to composition on different formats.

- Related to FF I think is here to stay, for most people 35mm feel and use is right and I want to have the same feel on my DSLR that what I have in my 35mm film SLR, which I think is one of the big reasons for FF in high end dslr (I mean viewfinder and lens results wise). So for the next 3-6 years I do really hope FF settles, after all my lens investment is focused on FF DSLR.

My two euro cents :) I'm sure I have left many ideas behind.

"Where's my digital Noblex?"

Here you go. Hold on to your wallet!--

http://www.roundshot.ch/xml_1/internet/de/application/d438/d925/f933.cfm

I'm with Bromley on the depth of field issue. The thing I miss most about shooting medium format was being able to pop the subject out of the background using a normal or slightly wide lens at moderate apertures. Moving closer helps, of course, but it also affects composition and perspective.

As a Canon shooter I've had the opportunity to shoot FF for several years, but I've stuck with my 1-D Mark II bodies with their 1.3x lens factor. Mostly because we don't have the budget for an upgrade to the 1Ds series (at eight grand apiece, and I'll take two, thanks.) Nor will be buy a medium format digital back any time soon (those things cost more than my first house.)

I did have to snort at your description of photographers who always wanted more DOF and now want less -- very funny. But I think you're mostly talking about landscape shooters, the f/64 types, and not editorial/photo-J/people shooters. There were certainly times when I wanted more DOF, but for the vast majority of my shooting, what I wanted most was to be able to *control* it for the final image.

I'm patiently waiting to see what a new 5D looks like. I may have to pick one up just to get back to my "real" wide angle lenses. However, both Canon and Nikon are smart enough to put the Audio Tagging feature only in their Pro (expensive) bodies, knowing that's one feature that some of us can't live without. They sell more Pro bodies that way.

"When considering the "FF" question, for instance, the fit with 35mm camera body styles and existing 35mm lenses is the only thing that answers this question: why not bigger than 24x36mm? If bigger is better, why stop at 35mm size?"

For ME the only reason is markets and my wallet. I LOVE extreme bokeh. I LOVE to take handheld photos in dim light without flash.

EOD 5D fullframe is not is eneough for me. Medieum or even large format digital would be my choise instantly if it would be possible for me. I don't care about megapixels. With 5D I can get good A3-size photograph easily. I wanät bigger pixels for better ISO performance and larger Bokeh.

"Set the zoom a little longer or move in a bit, fer Pete's sake. Aperture and format size aren't the only means of controlling d.o.f."

I disagree completely. Long lens with small aperture coost more and the image is not the same. Sometimes I want wider angle and sometimes not. Still I can allways dream about more bokeh.

Well. I do not use tele lenses much. Mainly for more bokeh (but I still don't usually like the narrow angle).

Those are the reasons I want bigger sensors. More light and more bokeh. Recently I have been using large format film for bokeh purposes, but I still would like to have same advantage in digital world too. With LF-film explosures are quite long even in daylight.

I'm Waiting for A Kind of Pentax LXD

Square format is really a TOP idea!!!
(36X36 mm²)
With the same light measurment the Pentax LX has and the Olympus OM2 first.
Measure the light during exposure!!!
With a CMOS sensor it seems feasible..no?
And please...an improved dynamic like on the Fuji sensors because it's always a problem to have the best of both world CCD/CMOS, low/high lights.

I Think camera need to be greener..

The idea with a "sustainable" camera is to use most of the old days lenses.. Pentax for me is OK because most of the Time I use Manual Focus with old-days K mount lenses. It is perfect to improve creativity and understanding DOF (talk about hyperfocus with a plastic ZOOM without DOF Scale...This is basic in Optics).
You want people to understand the basics, the laws of physic? Give people a Tool to experiment!!

We need a camera with a philosophy a "APPLE/PENTAX" camera solidly built with metal for the body, good handling and Silent (think about the Nikon F6).MADE TO LAST and CREATIVE.

A design for peoples who use their left eye and for those who prefer the right one..
A design for everybody use. With a 100% bright and big viewfinder(energy saving)
The LX had different viewfinders...
If they make it I'll buy some new lenses...!-)

Most of all, photography is not only for shooting everything with 5im/s (it's better so we take it for the new LXD and also a flash sync 1/250 s).
It's about our relation with Life - how we see our environment - and how we share with others. I prefer spending more time to enjoy LIFE to MEET, SPEAK and ACT with others!! Trying to record the world around me.

Semiconductors and sensors are not a green industry..BUT just make an effort.
Think about a camera sells with SOLAR charger.

I have a lot of ideas too but I'm not the only one.
Give US the possibility to dream about the perfect camera for photography of all purposes.

THE MARKET NEED THIS! I know they think the market need only to buy THINGS...and everything will be better for everybody..."In the best world possible"(Voltaire in "candide")
They are silly, what Adam Smith said was only PRESCRIPTION, NOT SCIENCE. Because scientists know that a theory wich cannot survive to all experiments is not complete.

On the form of the camera - why should it change? It has evolved to what it is today through years of hard use by the most demanding of customers. Yes, it could be changed, but tell me what radical alteration would make it better?

In fact, in the P&S world we see all kinds of variations in shape and size - but can anyone think of a single one which could be scaled up to FF/APS-C size and do a better job than the SLR format?

I think that for the foreseeable (ie with technology we know about) future the still camera will remain pretty much the same. It has simply proven to be the best way of packaging a recording method and optical system of approximately 35mm proportions.

And the size for this form is pretty well determined too - the old Pentax MX\ME is probably as small you want to go (many found it too small) while the Pentax 6x7 stretched the upper limits of what could be handled in that shape.

Whether there is a FF or APS sensor in the box probably doesn't matter - both have pros and cons ... it is very much a personal choice, just as are lenses. Neither is better. Nikon are going full frame because Canon and Sony are and can't be seen to be lacking.

Cheers,

Colin

Whither camera design? You posed 2 questions there Mike. You brought in 'format: size & shape' and then actual the design of the camera and the assorted technology within it.

Will we see newsize & shape formats? I doubt we'll see any new formats any time soon as the makers will have 'the lesson of 4/3rds' to dampen their enthusiasm. [there's actually nothing wrong with, or bad about 4/3rds if all you shoot is 35mm-like images and printing them on A4 (letter?) sized printers. It's a capable system that will deliver probably better images than 3:2 APS, probably more economically and with far less user maintenance]

But, what puts the fly in the 4/3rds soup is that the bigger formats are better in certain areas and there's no way any absolute 'seeker of the best quality' amateur will settle for beans on toast when he can have beef. Nor will a pro hamper himself compared to his competitors.

4/3rds gets a bad rep as all the 'review' sites basically compare numbers and specs so 10 is better than 8 and 12 is better again. So as high ISO can be measured and compared easily, that's what happens. However, if you could measure and compare vignetting and corner softness just as easily... well you follow.

Where will camera design go? Well we'll still be using 'black boxes' in 10-20 yrs time... and I believe they'll still look like cameras. BUT where I think digital will go is 'LiveView'.

Cameras will all have realtime, accurate representations of 'what you'll get, pre-shot'. Now you'll get that on a fully flexible screen (big) and that will be detachable and/or you'll be able to connect up other larger screens (laptop, etc) much like it is now only more so... and wirelessly.

Then once LiveView is good enough to replace the optical viewfinder, the latter will disappear along with the swinging mirrors and expensive glass inside SLRs. Yes, EVF is the way forward... eventually (some point & shoots are there already)

Well that's what *I* expect to see.

I agree with your post, Mr. Grump, :)

As others have pointed out in one way or the other, the installed base of 35mm format engineering is a major factor, and it also allows manufacturers not to be "overly" creative, so to speak. Less R&D costs, etc.

I too would love to have a real digital TLR.
The luminance only sensor is also interesting to me.

"First, wouldn't a major advantage of a full frame sensor be the availability of shorter focal lengths? I've heard (though not from authoritative sources) that there are physical limitations that make it difficult to make really wide lenses for small sensors."

This reminded me of a question I've had in the back of my mind. As I remember from ancient days, making wide angle lenses for SLR cameras was inherently more difficult since the mirror meant that the lens elements had to be farther from the film plane than in a rangefinder camera. Wouldn't a non-slr design have an advantage in sharper/faster wide angle lens design?

Fazal Majid wrote: "It's amusing how fans of systems that don't have full-frame belittle the importance of it. Nikonians certainly did until the D3 came out."

I feel this might have been directed at me in part, so I'll comment further about what I think.

I shoot Pentax, who may or may not come out with a FF camera in the future. It's Pentax, they're weird, so who knows! :-) In any case, I, personally, have little interest at present in FF given the choice of lenses available. You see, the vast majority of lenses people use on APS-C are 35mm focal lengths. Apart from zooms that go out wider to compensate for the reduced FoV (17-55mm, etc), most lenses aren't adapting to the cropped FoV. Pentax, I think, is one of the few (only?) companies that seem to be dedicated to APS-C and have been releasing a host of lenses that mimic the FoV of FF. For example, we have the f/2.8 zooms 16-50mm and 50-135mm, the 17-70mm f/4, or the upcoming 55mm f/1.4. (I know that Olympus is also creating a new line of focal lengths, but they're a different case, as a 2x crop factor is harder to deal with than 1.5x.)

Ironically, I am not a wide shooter, and my favourite focal lengths for a zoom are 28-70mm...in APS-C. On FF, they're just too wide for my taste, so buying a FF camera for me would be annoying because nobody makes a 40-105mm f/2.8.

All this simply to explain that there are many like me, who don't care for FF for *practical* reasons, and not because our system doesn't have it. Other advantages of APS-C include smaller, lighter lenses and easy-to-implement in-body shake reduction, both of which I appreciate a lot.

And it's not that I think everybody shoots like me, they don't, but *most* people never go above ISO400, *most* people will never need wider than 15mm-equiv. (which you can achieve on APS-C with the Sigma 10-20mm), *most* people like the longer "reach" of 300mm on APS-C, and *most* people have enough problems as it is dealing with the thin DoF of an f/2 lens on APS-C to even complain or think about making it thinner.

However, I can see why many professional photographers would want FF, but I ask the professionals reading this to remember that *MOST* photographers, are not professionals, so their needs are different. I am convinced that the masses are clamouring for FF because of all the noise made by a small group of users: the professionals. A significant fraction of these masses are people who have never shot with FF and have no idea how it will affect their pictures, they just think a) bigger is better, and b) if pros want it, it must be right. What the pros need, and what the masses need, are very different things. This is true of just about any hobby, and we need to bear it in mind, even if the hobby-equipment companies don't.

When/if companies give up APS-C in favour of full-frame, I anticipate a flood of complaints from “the masses”. Do you guys remember the riots on the streets that took place when APS-C was introduced and "24mm is no longer wide!"? Well get ready for the avalanche of "300mm is no longer long!" riots, together with fora on the net inundated with "I just got my new FF camera but now shots with my 50mm f/2 are all out of focus...and I have to stand really close to people to take their portrait, what's up with that!? Should I send my lens in for servicing? And my 18-55mm zoom shots are all dark around the corners; does it need cleaning?"

Let me summarise the situation with some ancient Greek logic: Humans are never happy; photographers are Humans... You can work out the rest :-)

PS: Apologies for the long post.

Engineering, physics and user requirements converge on designs that make sense for a given application.

Why do sensor chips "want" to be small? Although raw silicon is priced by the mm^2, yields drop as a function of their area. Thus, the cost of a chip is proportional to the square of the area. If your lips moved reading the last couple sentences, the bottom line is that big chips are really, really expensive. I bet there's a big pile of duds outside of both Canon and Nikon!

Why do sensors want to be big? Because high-end cameras are diffraction limited, extra pixels won't help resolution. Because noise is a function of the sqrt of the incoming signal, small pixels are inherently noisier than big ones. So, those of us who want to print BIG pictures need bigger sensors; with today's technology 35mm seems to be a good tradeoff between cost and resolution for the largest number of customers.

There are engineering feats that can ameliorate some of factors driving large sensor sizes. For example, Foveon sensors theoretically should be able to get more resolution at a given sensor size (they get three color values from one sensor site).

Why not square sensors? Well, what do you want the images for? A picture frame? They're usually 4x5. A TV or computer screen? 16x9 seems to be the norm. Heck, if you were trying to optimize lens coverage, you'd have circular sensors. This is too much brain damage for product designers. It's safer, smarter and more practical to stay with the herd. When you fit in an ecosystem, you get to take advantage of aftermarket products, and there's less of a missionary sale to the end customer. (Hey, here's the 100 page book you have to read to be smart enough to understand why my gizmo is better. Wait, wait, come back, don't you realize I'm smarter than those other fools?)

And finally, how important is resolution at all? Do your kids regularly blow things up to wall size prints, or are they more likely to show their pics on a facebook page or a cellphone screen? Do a little survey. The next time you see someone behind a huge DSLR, note their age. How many under-50's do you see? You might think you're impressing those around you with your 1200mm lens, but I suspect you're just amazing them that someone as old and feeble can haul around such a ridiculous lens. The users who are most likely to attract a mate are the ones using camera phones!

There.

The larger than FF integral DSLR arrived a few years ago, and disappeared fairly quickly. It was the Mamiya ZD. Costing slightly more than the then-current Canon 1DsmII, it delivered 22MP and superb IQ at low ISO's.

Mamiya also introduced the same imaging system in a 645AFD back at the same price.

Everybody bought the back instead of the camera. Despite it being essentially the same price. It got to the point where you couldn't get your mitts on the back anywhere due to supply issues but the ZD cameras still weren't moving.

Seems that people who buy $10,000 digital setups want the most flexibility for the money. In MF that means a back so you can still shoot film as well as digital. Otherwise that means buying a 1Ds and AF 35mm glass despite the lower IQ at low ISO's compared to the similar-cost MF solutions (there are a few backs in that range now).

Mike,

As you have stated camera development is stuck. In response I have just purchased a old Olympus Pen FT to come up with something that fits my needs (and has most of what you have called for, except the digital). I can't wait to use it. These monster cameras and lenses bore me. If I want to go big I will get out a medium format camera like the old Bronica SQ that I also got cheap because they are being dumped. I do not need to produce quantity like a pro. So I can just have fun with them and focus on getting the types of pictures I want. ( I still have much to learn.) Yes I do have a digital SLR (Pentax for obvious reasons--great use of old lenses) but I limit it to color imaging of mostly family photos.

By the way all of this talk of super cameras is, in my opinion, for well heeled amateurs who want to look like pros. I cannot tell you how many people I have met who seem to think if they buy an expensive camera and massive lens they now take great wedding photos and portraits. Fortunately for them our standards as a society are dropping and their friends and family think they do a great job. All I see are sharp snapshots.

It will be interesting to see what the world recession does to this idea of highly expensive throw-away cameras that we have gotten so accustomed to since the advent of digital.

You know, now that I look at it, that big white lens you have pictured there happens to be the one I use for bird photography--

http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/selfjb.jpg

It's a Canon FD 600/4.5, so it doesn't mount to a digital camera without an exotic and rare adapter (which I happen to have, for when I eventually acquire a DSLR). It's a fine lens--

http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/hgull.jpg

Weighs a few pounds less than the comparable $8000 EOS lens, and can be had for around $1200-1500 these days, leaving plenty of cash left over for the proper tripod and head and lots of film and processing.

I have always been under the impression that the reason that the world settled on 35 mm was that it presented a reasonable compromise between size, weight and cost of equipment and the size of the final print that it was possible to produce. If we could make decent 11 x 14s from 110 size film, people would have migrated to that format, wouldn't they?

I get a kick about hearing APS-C and 4/3's referred to as achieving long focal reach by pre-cropping. No one ever describes 35 mm as a pre-cropped medium format. It's all relative isn't it?

I am also perplexed by the idea that FF is attractive because of the large arsenal of FF-format lenses that people don't want to part with. But people upgrade, buy, sell lenses all the time. I keep reading posts by people who are willing to dump their entire Canon (or Nikon) gear when the competitor releases some new feaure or other. It seems to me that often equipment trading in/up/across is the real hobby, not the taking of pictures. I think that people are LOOKING for excuses to go buy somewhere new and different. It's easier than taking photographs.

As to innovation in design, I guess there's always room for improvement but maybe 50-60 years was enough to arrive at the optimum layout of camera functions, so it may not be surprising that all we did is trade the film for a sensor. But there are some new tricks: seeing the histogram on the Sony R1 before taking the pic is useful; live view seems to be useful in some circumstances; sure is nice not to have to wait for the proofs to see if the flash/light layout/exposure was right.

But I agree that the DMD is missing. When sales taper off and everyone's D-SLRs are sitting idle in dresser drawers next to their old unused film SLRs, the manufacturers will have to invent DMDs or something like that to get people to spend some more money.

A couple of days ago I was drooling over the D700, but the spittle has dried, and I can move on...

The two digitals I have are the Epson R-D1 and the Ricoh GRD II. I bought the R-D1 because I was looking for a digital equivalent of the OM system, at least in terms of size, and Olympus, at least at that time, wasn't coming forth with a compact body. Because I was not migrating from Leica, I had no nostalgia for the 35mm angles of view of the lenses I bought. It didn't cause me any grief to think of and treat the 35mm lens I had as a 50mm and the 50mm as a short telephoto. In fact I found my Nokton 50mm to be a satisfactory substitute for my Zuiko 85mm.

When I bought the Ricoh, I bought the external viewfinder, thinking that I would use it most of the time. I always thought that people framing pictures by holding the camera out in front of them, away from their eyes, looked geeky. It wasn't natural like sticking your head under a dark cloth, or sticking the viewfinder to your eye. But a funny thing happened. I found I really like framing with the display. I generally only use the external viewfinder for composing in bright light.

Would I like to see a full-frame successor to the R-D1. Yes, if the body could still be compact. Yes, if that is the only way to approximate the low-light capabilities of the D3/D700 -- I want that! But I would also like to see live-view. I don't know how much the mirror factor is what limits its use on dSLRs. But if it can be implemented parallel with a rangefinder system, so that it works like on the GRD, that would be a welcome feature.

If only camera makers could monetize the enjoyment of photographers, we could see some really innovative products that are of actual use.

Which brings me back to Maitani. He was a photographer first and an engineer second, and designed cameras that he needed to get the shots he wanted. The results were the Pen, Pen-F, OM series, and the XA. And he had to fight management every step of the way to get the product he envisioned to market. You ask where the innovation has gone? I think its vanished (largely) because cameras are spec'd by marketing committees and designed by engineering committees, with no single person whose passion is photography leading the charge against conventional wisdom about "what sells."

Presently my only digital camera is a 40D but have several film cameras of different makes that I use fairly often.

I have used a borrowed 5D and I know if Canon upgrades it to basically a 40D with a full frame sensor then I'm buying one.

While the 40D has IQ and features and "usability" that has me using my film cameras less and less, the FF has the dof control, the viewfinder, and "the look" I still use film for.

I've ran a test with the 5D, the 40D, and the 1V with E100G all slung around my neck at once. Each had the same 17-40L F/4 on them and I would stand in the same spot and make the same photo with each camera, framing each identically. The 40D is nearly equal resolution of the 5D but the tones are a little different. The 5D and the 1v give the same look in perspective, dof, etc. but each has its own look and tones. The 5D has a few moire issues but all digital does.

I find the cropped sensor is great when shooting the kids playing ball so I will probably keep one of those around but the FF gives me the look/perspective/dof I am used to after years of 35mm use.

I actually prefer film and still shoot it (8 rolls so far this week) but the increasing difficulty in obtaining quality processing in a timely manner at a reasonable cost make me realize that it's days are numbered as anything but a niche. So, like many others I see FF as its replacement, not the APS-C sensor camera.

I seem to remember a Kodak bust called Advantix or something like that. I think cropped sensors, except when needed for telephoto work are just something people have used because the FF was not available or not affordable.

Square sensors are available for medium format such as the Phase One P20+. Nice large pixels of 9 micron size 36x36mm sensor size and 16MP. No vertical, horizontal choice, just shoot and crop later.

[Mike said]...I consistently assume that photography enthusiasts are more interested in pictures than they in fact are... [end Mike said]

Wow! You really hit the nail on the head!!

This explains, for me, a lot of camera silliness. Leica. Hasselblad. Rollie. Canon and Nikon (emphasizing big sensors and big lenses).

Yikes! It's the power of perception. It's the power of marketing. It's the power of group-think. It's the power of social demands of projection of "power".

I printed what I feel is a nice image yesterday and passed it around to my software and electrical design engineering colleagues over lunch. My preface was that I'd hauled out the 4x5inch view camera and took a few photos. Something about "missing" the good 'ol film days. While it's true that I still have a fortune invested in LF and MF gear (particularly rare and brilliant optics), the truth is I'd made the image with a wee-sub-$250 ultra-small sensor digital point and shoot. I had them hooked into believing it was really a LF work. Quick thinking was required on my part to neatly avoided a public beating.

OK, so if Canon comes out with a $1200USD full frame sensor DSLR I'll likely buy it. But that doesn't mean my image making will get any better. All it'll mean is that I'll have yet another tool to use in creating photographs.

Nice post...It makes me feel OPTIMISTIC

The Icamera, FM3A Digital or LXD..FF or square sensor.
Using with everybody's ideas, It sounds great.
I think those camera are perfectly made for :

- students (learn with a FM3A Digital or a LXD...and never leave it)
- popular quality photography (Icamera)
- "Old style" reportage photography without Huge zooms and extreme shooting velocity and a real "POINT OF VIEW". That's also why we love fixed focals like said Mike in another essay.
- culture of the image...

To be continued...

Interesting post and thread.
But are people looking for FF for at least 2 good reasons?
1 - wide angle is wide again.
2 - quality of the pixels. People always complain about camera manufacturers with their megapixel war in P&S cameras, the tiny sensors just can't give you good pixels in return. And people have speculating that 10-12 MP is about as good as it gets with APS-C sensor size without risking higher noise issue?

I must really ask, what is DMD? I searched this article for a decoding explanation, but I could not find any. I do shoot for 30 years, and being a PhD in Silicon Valley, I consider myself a tech bufff par excellance, relentless reader, creator and searcher of novelties, and yet, the "DMD" things escaped me fully! Sorry! Please do consider that 3 letters build over 26*26*26=ca. 17,000 acronyms, many of which are being used over and over again in different meanings.

Thomas

I do have the sense that we are getting to "enough" in terms of the mega-pixel race. I find myself wondering about the camera companies' business models once there is not a perceived need to "upgrade" a camera body every three years. Or maybe that need will always be there. I was in my local used camera store yesterday (LeZot's in Burlington, VT -- stop by if you get a chance -- it's small, but they cater to the university community and often have some gems sitting behind the glass) and I was amused to see a dozen Nikon F's with various prisms/finders sitting in the display counter. These are 40-year old cameras and this tiny shop sells 'em with a warranty. That really says something about the mechanical quality/durability of those machines. They were over-built brass and steel monsters. When I read Mike's comment about the digital FM3a above, a little light went on over my head >bing

Ben Marks

Off topic a bit but, lemme ask all you techno-futurists who think video will replace still photography how this will work (there may be a simple answer that I'm missing because of my relative ignorance.)

Let's say as the photojournalist assigned to a press conference you need a good shot of the president looking like a buffoon or looking like a hero depending on which paper you work for. You attend the press conference and take 10 minutes of video of the whole thing and go back to your office to win that Pulitzer Prize. You open up the "file" and then what are you faced with? ABOUT 14,400 FRAMES TO GO THROUGH TO FIND THAT ONE SHOT FOR YOUR DEADLINE IN AN HOUR! (I'm assuming about 24 frames/sec).

How do you find the time to dig that one telling frame out of that haystack? Am I missing something or is video replacing still photography just another rabbit trail brought to you by the dunderheads who think machines see better than people? Just another idea that will force some grunt (YOU!) to sit in front of the computer screen for long long hours instead of thinking, selecting, waiting for your moment in the first place before you shoot.

I'm puzzled by some of the comments about most people not using ISOs over 400. If that's true, I suspect it's mostly due to image quality limitations. Above ISO 400 on most current DSLRs starts to look crappy (sorry if that's too technical). And on P&S digitals, even 400 ISO usually doesn't look so hot.

I would LOVE a camera whose base iso was around 1600-3200, but produced equivalent results to today's ISO 200. There's loads of situation when I'd rather be using a faster shutter or smaller aperture. I've never, ever bumped into the top shutter speed on my DSLR. I'm not even sure what the top shutter speed on my d80 even is.

"What is DMD?"

Sorry, Thomas! It stands for "Decisive Moment Digital" and refers to a column I wrote 2+ years ago. Here is the link:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/DMD.shtml

Mike J.

I agree with most of what you say wholeheartedly and think manufacturers need to think outside the box more. I'm getting so tired of camera evolution going only one way, getting larger and LARGER all the time. I'm a big fan of collecting and occasionally using much older film cameras. I personally would love to see a square format digital version of those wonderful drop front folding 6x6 rangefinder cameras of the 40's and 50's. They were incredibly compact by todays standards and I believe could be made with a 24x24 or 30x30 sensor even with very compact lenses. They wouldn't even need to be folders to still be more compact than most of todays offerings. Mamiya can you hear me? I don't have any real need for fast frame rates, single shot is fine. Another thing, why do cameras dslrs have to mimic the sound of the film cameras the emulate. I don't need or want an imitation motordrive effect or shutter click. There is no reason that ALL dslrs can't be as quiet as the old Olympus OM series which was nearly as quiet as a Leica M. Like you Mike, a single shot would be fine with me and perhaps they could come up with a way to convert an RGB Bayer array to Luminence only. Maybe a chip you could insert , or a button to push, to electronically activate or deactivate the color filters over the array similar to the windows that exist now that go from clear to translucent with the application of current. Keep up the great work, you're the only blog I make sure to check in with everyday. I don't want to misss a thing!

Re: the comments of Jeff Glass, who speculated on how video capture will affect still cameras:

It depends who you ask.

Basically, if you're a photographer whose photographs are affected by how many "frames per second" your camera can record, then yes, 30fps high-resolution video capture will figure greatly in your future.

(Not that there's anything wrong with this approach - in many common kinds of photography, frame speed genuinely does matter - but there are also countless "family and friends" snapshooters who fret about whether their Canon 40D can really shoot 6.5fps as claimed or "only" 6.3fps as tested.)

But if you're a photographer who can get photographs that are completely satisfying to you with a camera that only takes 1 or 2 frames per second at most - and you never find yourself wanting more - then high-resolution video capture won't be something you'll have to concern yourself with even among other photographers in your area of interest (let alone in your own camera).

Mike, you make such good points that I wanna puke with envy. Not the least your last point. I have a couple comments on eolake.blogspot.com

Mike, I wish a widely read author such as yourself would do more whining about depth of field than less, due to its importance and poor user understanding and crappy implementation on the cameras.

On the other hand I think we need a different approach to the depth of field discussion which for some reason I have never found on the net. My mind is not of sufficient clarity for me to remember every thing I've read. As a refresher I did a quick search of all your articles relating to DOF and had to give up after wasting half my life on your thoughtful prose, so I may have overlooked something and if so must apologize before hand.

In a nut shell I think depth of field is one of the controls that should be offered by the camera and it is certainly possible do to it with current electronic wizardry.

I've written a short article that covers the subject at the following link as space is too limited here...

http://rvewong.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/aperture-and-shutter-please-release-me/

I hope you can add your insight to the proposal.

I think the camera companies make money on the FF cameras and, at best, only break even on the consumer grade DSLRs. Gimme a break, I wonder if the FF Nikon 700 (body only) really cost 6X the D40 with a kit lens. I would guess the entry level DSLRs are loss leaders for all the major camera companies.

Hi Mike,

I haven't posted to your blog before but have enjoyed it since it's been online and also your Sunday Photographer column on Michael Reichmann's site before that. Keep up the good work! It sure as hell gives me something interesting to muse over at lunchtime during the working day.

On your post about full frame. I think there's another factor at work with the attraction going on, especially for amateurs like me. It's the concept that FF might provide that extra something that we are missing with our APS-C DSLRs. Yes I've got one, but I've also used slide film. Weirdly the camera that got me into photography was a Sony F717 which you mentioned above. What a great camera! I learnt about ev compensation, aperture, shutter speeds and ISO on this. The camera had a tilting body, lots of cool buttons and an electronic view-finder (why do people complain about these?) It was fun! I started thinking about my shots and the kind of pictures you could you make. I started looking on the net and was inspired by people like Sam Abell. This made me want to shoot film and I got a film slr and some Fuji Sensia. It was fantastic! My obsession with photography deepened and my wife started scratching her head. But I kept up with all the developments in the digital camera world and eventually convinced myself I needed a DLSR. My K10D has done everything promised but for the first time, and although I've used it plenty, I'm disappointed with the results I get and just with photography in general. Something's missing from those beautiful slides I used to get back when I was using film. And here's (finally) where FF comes in. It's the 'magic bullet' that will provide me that missing factor. Pro's use it, artistic people use it, so it must be good. But the more I think about it the less I'm convinced. What extra something can it provide? Dynamic Range - yes an FF will have lots more than my dslr but so did the Fuji S5, and pictures from that camera don't look so different, and they don't look like film. Less noise - no, my slide film pictures have heaps more noise, especially when I've scanned them in using the crappy scanner I have! So why is it when I decide to make a shortlist of photos to enter into the 'Structure' round of AP magazine competition they all turn out to be film shots I have made? I have come to the following conclusions:
- digital is just too precise, especially with anti-shake. Thus it will never have the ability to surprise and delight us as film can. Film is just more quirky and expressive, especially in the hands of an amateur like me! It makes me feel artistic and encourages (rewards) me to take more off the wall shots. Digital returns to you straight away a sharply defined record of your inspiration. Where's the room for dreaming?
- DLSR's in general now aren't fun cameras - they just do everything that everyone expects. Compare the sony Alpha 100 (or 700) with the R1. Like my F717, th R1 did all sorts of weird and wonderful things. It had lasers coming out the front to help with focus - Wow! Okay so it looked like a bazooka and probably felt like one around your neck, but the Alpha dslrs now just tick all the boxes - live view, sensor cleaning, anti shake, dr enhancement, yawn...

No I'm not a pro and cameras aren't just a tool and I'm not relying on the results for my livelihood. So I can see that pros might need FF. But as an amateur....I could be tempted but I just don't buy it anymore anymore (err.. pardon the pun). I've tried to convince myself I need an S5 or a Sigma SD14 with a Foveon sensor to bring my inspiration back. Fortunately I don't have the finances to indulge this kind of whim because sooner or later I get over it (and my wife breathes a sign of relief).

Still I reckon the majority of D700 owners, and therefore the market Nikon is aiming at, might not be pros...

Just a quick comment on your hyperlinks following this article - Mr Reichmann and Mr Rockwell. Very recently the former had a right go at the latter for the his popular rant on it's not the camera it's the photograher blah blah. I love Ken Rockwell's articles like this pecisely because they are blah blah rant rant. A bit of blah rant can be refreshing and inspiring - that's one of the nice things about the internet. Reading his endorsement of the Nikon D40 as being the best thing since sliced bread is especially refreshing given that everyone including him is now talking about a camera that will cost about 8x as much.


At one time some company, I can't remember the name of, was working on the concept of a cartridge with a sensor that could be used with most 35mm slr's. The cartridge fit where the film cassette goes and the sensor set behind the shutter just like film. Great idea if it had worked but I'm guessing the engineering obstacles were too difficult to overcome. Too bad, we all could use our camera of choice to shoot digital. Maybe engineering advances will someday make that that concept possible. Just wishing!

Rob

FF, APS-C, 4/3, I don't really care what size the sensor is PROVIDED the quality is there AND the manufacturers can supply me with a 20mm f2.8 and 35mm f2 that aren't the size and weight of a house brick. So far, they have not been able to do that. I suppose impressing my friends with several kilograms of glass is not on my mind when trudging up the side of a mountain. I'm a bit funny that way.

Regarding the issue of lost opportunities, I completely agree. I use 6x6 quite a bit still and would jump at the chance to own an affordable square format digital camera - preferably with a waist level finder of some description.

When sensor design plateau's and there is little difference between manufacturer's chips, then we will see them start to differentiate on form factors, b&w sensors, etc.

I would snap up a FM3a with the D3 sensor in a heartbeat. Would be perfect for what I do.

I forget to notice that what makes me feel happy with my Pentax MX,Pentax LX, old MF K-mount. What give me the envy to use films and MF material...more than my Digital SLR is because I find It's beautiful(personal), simple(formative), ergonomic, energy saving(today "think solar" like I previously said).
These cameras are always working after more than a quarter century (I'm equaly old, I know, I'm not a veteran).
Also because We have the best films ever made (technicaly: Neopan,portra,provia,reala,...). Most people here know that films have a broader dynamic range.

these are good points for this medium but If I can find myself as happy with a digital camera, I'm waiting for this one.

It's not about MegaPixels issue (read the essay: Do sensors "outresolved" lenses on the luminous landscape for those who like techs,optic and physic a big "bravo" to Rubén Osuna and Efraín García).

You are right, by now it's only Marketing (I don't want to speak about cell phone cameras You can use like P&S).

Mike, you wrote that a K100D is like a K1000 in the digital era (or something like this, sorry It's an old topic on the luminous landscape too). I would like to know if you always think it's true in the consumer SLR market? The "real legend" will follow for me when I read all the comments.

With a post like this we are all Maitani!
Camera makers needs Photographers...

Why not making several posts to talk about different cameras WE - as photographers - want and need. It can be really constructive, if their are designers who will read this topic:

For the DMD, or the Icamera, for the build-to-last-old-school-camera(BTLOSC!-)...
K-mount LXD or Nikon FM3A D...Cameras with a "philosophy".
Sometimes things must be repeated. Even the best ideas do not propagate by theirself.
Cynism or pessimism (I Read about Inertia) never make things moving.

For sure I'm an idealist (naive?)

Thank you everybody for making this topic so alive (from Belgium).

If FF gives me a viewfinder like my old ME Super's at a reasonable price I'll probably buy it. I suspect I'm not alone in having the camera's capabilities otherwise exceeding my own.

And 8X10 and 4X5 cameras are essentially the same as they were a century ago. And that's bad why? I've used Nikon cameras for 30+ years and when I buy a new model I appreciate the fact that my hands land in just the right spot, I can immediately start shooting intuitively and I know where the exposure compensation button and dial will be, etc. The features evolve but the camera still feels like something I'm comfortable with. To me that's good engineering. If the camera design works, don't "fix" it. I'd rather that Nikon spend it's engineering expertise and R&D dollars on improving high ISO noise properties, as they obviously have recently, rather than making significant changes to the form factor.

If anything, the D700 announcement shows that FF is off the radar (and likely to remain so for some time) for anybody that wants quality digital that you can carry in a coat pocket. At 1kg + battery with only 95% view, forget it. Add some nice Zeiss glass and you've got a real brick. Not coincidentally, I went out and bought a few rolls of Ilford XP2 Super for my Contax G1 yesterday to serve for walkaround use. The view camera still reigns supreme for landscape. Not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with digital that technology can't fix, but the cameras suck ... unless you're in the turnaround/throughput business.

Steven Palmer wrote: "I don't really care what size the sensor is PROVIDED the quality is there AND the manufacturers can supply me with a 20mm f2.8 and 35mm f2 that aren't the size and weight of a house brick. So far, they have not been able to do that."

Pentax has done just that. Unless you mean "equivalent 20mm" in which case you do care about the sensor. :-)

John Hicks wrote of "the hexaphotocybernetics war".

I'm sorry John, my memory is going -- is that the war in which we defeated the six-limbed squids from Formica 21?

@Jeff Glass:

"Off topic a bit but, lemme ask all you techno-futurists who think video will replace still photography how this will work (there may be a simple answer that I'm missing because of my relative ignorance.)

Let's say as the photojournalist assigned to a press conference you need a good shot of the president looking like a buffoon or looking like a hero depending on which paper you work for. You attend the press conference and take 10 minutes of video of the whole thing and go back to your office to win that Pulitzer Prize. You open up the "file" and then what are you faced with? ABOUT 14,400 FRAMES TO GO THROUGH TO FIND THAT ONE SHOT FOR YOUR DEADLINE IN AN HOUR! (I'm assuming about 24 frames/sec)."

Presumably such a camera would allow the photographer to "mark" their intended moments in the field (hint: to the photographer this would be the same as pressing the shutter to take a photo); the advantage would be that pressing the shutter would trigger, say, the last 2 seconds (plus the duration of the shutter press) to be captured permanently (otherwise the "rolling" footage just shuffles off to neverland like the video streaming through your DVR). So, back home, the photographer would see the specific photos (way, 3 frames per second while he had the shutter pressed), but would also be able to see 48 frames prior to the shutter press and 24 frames per second while it was pressed. Presumably, at some point, he would decide on the specific range of shots to keep and the other frames would get pushed off to neverland as well.

So, you aren't going to have to dig a frame out of a haystack. You will have the frames you shot. You will just be able to "magically" adjust the timing of the shutter press at home, after the fact.

As for would this be useful? Anyone who has ever tried to capture the smile of an infant would kill for such a device. Pros? Probably not (there isn't enough time for a pro to futz around in post changing the moment of capture along with everything else they do). Regular folks? Absolutely.

"Maitani retired". Perfect! My dream would be for a digital OM3-Ti, right down to the mechanical shutter. I missed out on the original and it will always be like the girl I met in school who was already engaged...

Anyway, Mike nails it again. I won't buy any digital SLR until all designers dispense with the ugly sticks used to create these turds. It's much like today's genericars--is it a Camry? An Accord? A Malibu? Does it cost less to design ugly gloppy cameras than svelte sleek ones?

As for construction, if the only metal on offer is magnesium alloy, might as well make it polycarbonate. Magnesium is a garbage metal used because it's cheap and its low melting point makes it easy to work with. But those parts had better be thick. Give me titanium or just don't bother.

For now, I'm hunting down bargains in real cameras, such as the Contax AX. Yeah, I know it's a hippo, but it's ingenious and would have sold like celebrity sex tapes if its name began with "N".

Sorry...I forgot something. Where do these cameramakers get off mixing fractional and decimal values in describing chip size? For example, "1/2.5". That's not how I had math drilled into me. Why not simply say "one centimeter"?

I guess it's like all those misplaced apostrophes I see everywhere....

Five items.

1. Transitive compatibility lockup. (Inertia of current designs) combined with the unchanging nature of the human body. Camera sizes won't change much.

2. Most experiments/deviations from the norm so far have surely cost a lot of money to develop and sell, and been utter flops. (Weird film cameras were flops too, but they were cheaper to try.)

3. In film cameras, lots of people could conjur up a camera (think pinhole like box camera with a view camera lens attached.) In digital, the heart and soul is the sensor, which costs beaucoup dollars to develop. So the variety of cameras will be much smaller.

4. Some of the interesting cameras and lenses of the past arose from various scientific and industrial needs long ago met by some other technology.

5. New stuff is hard to debug. Have you tried a Casio Ex-F1? I have one. It will be the bees knees for about 20 photos I want to make. Utterly horrid for anything else. It will be a long time and a lot of money before a Red-One or Casio morph into a full time replacement for the "wunderplastik SLR." (And what's wrong with wunderplastik?)

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