Monday, March 05, 2007

The 10 Megapixel Digital SLR War

Apparently, everyone is getting on the 10 megapixel digital SLR bandwagon. We had Nikon with the D200 a while back. Then came the D80 and now the newly announced D40X. Pentax is there with the K10D. Olympus has been on there for a few months with the E-400 (which was not available in the U.S.). Now Olympus has jumped on with the E-410 and E-510 cameras.

Sidenote: By the way Olympus, when are you going to make sense with your lineup? The E-1 is or was your flagship model. Then the E-300 and E-330 following. The E-330 was supposed to be better than the E-500 but now the E-400 is better than both. Then comes the E-410 and E-510 while the E-510 is a better model than the E-410. This sequence is a mess. The E-410 should be the better model. Confusion abounds once again. It really is better to follow the typical 1 is better than 3 which is better than 4 which is better than 5 which is better than 10 or 100 or 1000 or whatever. It makes so much more sense.

Of course Canon recently joined with the Digital Rebel XTi. We must also mention Sony and the DSLR-A100 which descends from the Konica Minolta family tree. That gives us all five of the major digital SLR manufacturers making 10 megapixel digital SLRs at a competitive price point. This is a very interesting market all of a sudden. The good thing about all of this is increased competition. That is good for the consumer. Another sidenote: I am really not sure whether to include Sony in the big four (or five). I am not very impressed with the Alpha and its image quality. Sony does have big marketing money and brand name recognition but their product is not there yet in my opinion. They really are not a camera company of long standing recognition.

Canon has a nice camera line and the Digital Rebel XTi is no exception although ergonomics and configuration are a nuisance. The whole Digital Rebel line has been plagued by cheapness and it shows. Image quality seems to be very good and high ISO performance is good as well. Nikon does a nice job although I am concerned about their noise reduction. It has a negative effect on picture quality in my opinion. Of course, the D40X is very attractive to me because of its small size. We will have to wait for the reviews to make more informed opinions regarding image quality. Its downside, once again, is that it only works with AF-I and AF-S lenses. This pretty much eliminates all regular prime lenses. The exceptions are the super telephoto lenses.

Olympus is still out and about with the Four Thirds system. I like the system from the standpoint of small lenses and compact bodies but high ISO performance has been less than acceptable for me. This is automatically difficult for Olympus because of the small sensor size. Live view is a nice feature but not that useful for me. As sensor technology improves, Olympus will benefit significantly but it might be too little, too late compared to the other players in the market.

Sony has some interesting lenses but I do not like their camera body. I have not had very much experience with the Alpha and I have not had any experience with the Konica Minolta cameras that came before. Like I said earlier, Sony is really not a camera company. They make a little bit of everything and they are not doing well right now. Major competition is hurting them from Samsung and others. Their vision seems to be fading and they are not innovating like they did in years past.

Pentax competes well because of great ergonomics and features in its K10D. Weather sealing is a big plus that only Nikon provides at the 10 megapixel level but at a significant price premium. Pentax has very good brand recognition with people who used to shoot film in the old manual days. I think they will continue to grow and do better in the digital market.

The other interesting development is that Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, and Sony all have in-lens focusing motors either available or on the horizon. Canon has been using USM for quite a long time now and Nikon has been using its AF-I and AF-S focusing motors for a long time now as well. Pentax is just getting into this with its announced DA* SDM lenses. Now Olympus has jumped on with three new SWD lenses just announced. Although I am not aware of the timeframe, Sony also has their SSM lenses. It is nice to see that all five major camera manufacturers are going this way.

The whole shake reduction, vibration reduction, and image stabilization issue has also developed some interesting twists. The biggest two digital SLR companies, Canon and Nikon, both use in-lens image stabilization (Canon) or vibration reduction (Nikon). Olympus, Pentax, and Sony have all gone the in-body shake reduction or anti shake route. I personally prefer the in-body option because all your old lenses, in the case of Pentax at least and Sony to some extent, automatically become stabilized. I do not like to pay for it in every lens. This is also a big deal with prime lenses. I really like shooting with good prime lenses but Canon does not make any wide angle to short telephoto prime lenses that to my knowledge have image stabilization. With my Pentax system, all of my prime lenses are stabilized. It is good to see that everyone is going this general direction.

Even though it is not a digital SLR, another recent 10 megapixel camera is the Leica M8. We should also mention the Leica Digital Modul-R which is also a 10 megapixel body but a few years older. I am particularly interested in seeing how Panasonic and Leica work with Olympus on new Four Thirds options. I have been intrigued by the Panasonic DMC-L1 since it was announced but I have not been intrigued enough to seriously consider buying one. I do hope to buy a Leica M8 (or M8 successor) at some point but it really does not make sense for me right now. I think if Olympus, Panasonic, and Leica can get high ISO noise under control for the Four Thirds system they will have a compelling product line. They still do have an uphill battle to fight. Myself, I am staying with Pentax. I like having so many lens choices over so many years.

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