Note that Ctein, in the post three down from this one, isn't saying that 400 MP cameras would be marketable. He's only talking about the general ballpark of where perfection lies, in technology extrapolated from today's.
One thing you might want to be on the lookout for in terms of the evolution of today's technology would be the first reviews of the new Fuji F200 EXR. Although this looks to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill point-and-shoot, actually it's anything but. It's the first camera to feature Fuji's new EXR sensor technology [WARNING: link is a .PDF]. What's EXR? Basically, it's a sensor array optimized for pixel-binning, so it can alternate between fine detail capture in good light and pixel-binning for high sensitivity with less noise in low light. From the early samples, it looks pretty good up to ISO 800, which is a bit better than the typical. There's also happy talk of a combination mode, sort of an in-camera HDR mode implemented via software; we'll believe that when we see it, although one early sample is impressive enough. Word is that full production cameras are now abroad in the world, so we're in the crow's nest scanning the horizon with ye old spyglass, alert for the initial reviews. (Because it's been a while since I've run up to kick the pocket-digicam football only to have Lucy snatch it away at the very last second.)
The Canon 5D Mark II is continuing to meet a mixed, not to say rocky reception. Many buyers are "ecstatic" about the camera (why do I keep encountering that word from new 5D Mark II owners?), but Michael Reichmann reports a whopping 25% failure rate among the Canon 5D Mark II's on his just-completed Antarctica workshop trip (the loaner from CPS failed, even), and Canon-shooting fashion photographer Ron Purdy has thrown in the towel on his.
A little side-note to Ron's report of banding problems: I have a certain print that has a relatively small amount of shadow area, but pretty bad banding within those areas. When I show the print to people, most of them don't notice the banding until I point it out to them. And it's pretty flagrant. I'm just sayin'.
Rumors have been circulating that Panasonic is about to discontinue the popular LX3. 1001 Noisy Cameras is reporting that this is not true: the camera is in a "deep back order" situation (that's a quote of a paraphrase of an unnamed source, so git'cher caveats on), but is not discontinued. (Want my completely baseless guess? You'll see a refreshed LX4 at a significantly higher price by summer, as Panasonic strives to cash in on this camera's unexpectedly robust popularity.)
Meanwhile, back at the Waukeshavian Ranchhouse, the Canon G10 is now the all-time best-selling camera. More TOP readers have bought G10s through our links than any other camera. Note that we are not talkin' about huge numbers here.
Rumor has it that my #1 all-time favorite photo book is about to be reprinted again—I spoke to the distributor a few days ago. It's never been particularly rare or valuable, but it's been a while since you could buy it new. Word is that it'll be out in a couple of weeks. I'm on the case. Like the hawk.
What would a post about rumors be without fresh rumors of Leica's demise? This time, Andreas Kaufmann is said to be deep in talks to sell the company to Panasonic (why? Old joke, modified: want to know a surefire way to make a small fortune? Answer: start with a large one, then buy a struggling camera company). Seems to me I learned in Logic 101 that if you predict for long enough that something bad will happen, sooner or later you're bound to be right. Keep predicting rain, and sooner or later you'll be right. Repeatedly predict a future terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and sooner or later you'll look like Dick Nostradamus. Foretell a downturn in the market, and sooner or later...you get the point. I've been reading about the demise of Leica since the 'seventies. Nothing's forever, and at some point before the sun explodes Leica will probably cease trading. I suggest people talk about it then.
Okay, now back to the first topic. The point at which the march of DSLR resolution ceases will most likely be determined not by the technology reaching perfection, but by camera buyers by and large declining to spend actual money on further improvements. Consider just one perhaps chilling possible scenario. Say a huge conglomerate with a fledgling DSLR division came out with a really nice camera with ~25 megapixels, but it sold poorly. Then a seasoned mainstream camera company came out with a camera with the same number of megapixels, but priced it at, oh, some unrealistically stratospheric price, achieving predictably low sales as a result. Then say a nearly-as-high-resolution camera by the second company's main competitor, despite euphoric initial popularity, had some, er, nagging quality and operational irregularities, which perhaps causes the sales curve to tail off a bit too soon (this hasn't happened, I hasten to add. It just might). And say that while all this is happening, the world economy tanks alarmingly, casting a freezing pall on camera sales in general and high-end camera sales in particular. And say all these factors, in concert, effectively put the old kibosh on the development of further high-megapixel outliers; say nobody minds all that much, except a few fanatics; and say the standard settles down at, say, the 12–18MP range for the most part, which turns out to be plenty for most of the people actually willing to part with cash. When that happens, we'll reach the marketing analogue of the point Ctein describes at which further improvements are no longer detectable: the point at which further improvements no longer inspire additional sales.
I'm not saying it will happen this time, as in now, but I predict it will happen...sooner or later. I'm just sayin'.*
*Don't you wish I'd stop sayin' that?
Featured Comment by Paul: "Isn't the possibility of failure part of the price of admission for early adopters? Especially as the complexity increases? We accept/expect glitches in our computers, so we have auto-updaters; can it be that far away for camera manufacturers to have something comparable for their onboard software?
"Anyway, I think that on the high-end of the scale, reputations hinge more on how well manufacturers look after their customers, and how quickly they can fix problems.
"I'm just sayin'."
UPDATE from John A. Stovall: "Leica and Panasonic have dismissed as speculation rumours that Leica may sell part of its camera business to Panasonic."