My latest column was posted a few days ago on Photo.net. It's called "Reserving Judgment." It centers around the Sony A900, but it's really about the increasingly typical reactions of the internet hoi polloi (anyone reading this being company not included) to new cameras—reactions which occasionally exhibit features of mass hysteria.
The A900 and the Canon 5D Mark II together effectively constitute a new class of DSLR—35mm-frame, ultra-high-pixel-count pro-am cameras. Together they take a shark bite out of the low end of the digital medium-format back market, and are a considerable enticement to photographers who print large and whose overriding priority is image quality. I think the more anticipated Canon 5DII will be of greater interest to the majority of photographers, due to three interrelated factors: Canon's higher market share, its much greater installed base, and the loyalty and ongoing admiration of EOS 5D owners for that camera. (Despite its age, I don't expect prices of used 5D's to drop all that much; I doubt it will go much lower than $1,500 any time soon.)
And me? Despite the common wisdom, I find myself swimming against the mainstream again (gee, there's a new position for me). The similarities between the A900 and the 5DII, broadly speaking, are perhaps greater than their differences, but the major difference is huge: it's that the 5DII offers video capability and the A900 doesn't, and the A900 offers built-in image stabilization and the 5DII doesn't. That will make the choice between the two very easy for lots of people. Many, I suppose, will come down in favor of video, although just how appealing that feature will really be in serious still cameras is something I don't think has conclusively been demonstrated yet, despite the conventional consensus that it's the coming thing. The choice is certainly easy for me: built-in IS is a feature I like very much, and I have little need for and almost no interest in video. Sony it is. (Or would be, if I were buying.)
When I was a magazine editor, I used to like two kinds of article submissions best: the really good ones, and the really bad ones. You can imagine why. It was because either kind made the decision I had to make very easy. It was the ones in the middle I found difficult: articles that were good but not great. Those were the ones that gave me fits. I would end up accepting some and rejecting others, but deciding which and why sometimes cost a good deal of psychic energy.
For those in the market for what they offer and able to afford the pricetags, the two new pro-am cams are at least likely to be easy to decide between. Either you're a satisfied 5D owner looking to upgrade or already invested in Canon lenses, or you need or like the video capability, and you'll go straight to the Canon; or you'll have no particular pre-existing attachment to Canon, and don't need or want video, or perhaps you do want IS with all the lenses you'll ever buy, in which case you'll gravitate towards Sony's camera.
Either way, this is a decision between closely competing camera models that most people are likely to find easier than most. For once.
Featured Comment by Clayton: "You knew this would happen, Mike. Some noise about noise."
Mike replies: Yeah, but actual evidence like pictures taken at ISO 3200 –1 with great detail and noise comparable to the D3's don't count. Dpreview's first out of camera JPEGs showed "awful," "horrible" noise at 800, therefore you cannot shoot with the camera above 400. It is said, therefore it is so. Internet wisdom is never wrong.