What the New Canon Releases Mean, Part 1

Canon has just launched a huge number of new imaging products. What does it all mean?
Well, Canon have just done their usual half yearly product blitz. Now
that we have all read the press releases it is time to consider the
consequences.

One of those consequences is that Canon is continuing to lead the field
in digital SLR camera developments. They have consistently, in recent
years, effectively lead the field in the introduction of new features
and new price points. While everyone else is still releasing low end
6MP dSLRs, Canon do 8MPs. While everyone else is standardizing on small
sensors, Canon is pushing full frame.

Now you can quibble over whether 6 or 8MP really makes that much
difference, but in reality more pixels give you more options, all other
things being equal. More pixels let you do bigger prints, crop more,
etc. The one danger with more pixels is that, if the sensor size
doesn’t grow, there is the possibility of more noise. In comparisons I
have done, I see a very slightly increased noise level in the 8MP Rebel
XT/350D over the Rebel/300D. Slight and of no impact in real shooting,
but there. That is why the 5D is so important. Not only does it produce
a new price point for a 12.8MP camera from one of the main players, but
it also shows Canon’s ability to bring their full frame sensor
technology down from the top end cameras to the more affordable levels.
There was never any doubt that they could do this, since their move to
CMOS sensors, but it is a clear statement of intent to do so.

Sensors smaller than 35mm are great for sports photographers, who get
an effective boost in focal length for the same money out of their
lenses. But for the rest of us it causes problems at the wide angle
end. It also has the afore mentioned potential noise issue. However,
smaller sensors are cheaper to manufacture. So I expect to see Canon
gradually move to effectively two dSLR families: one based on the
smaller sensor size for the very cost sensitive end of the market that
allows the use of the smaller, cheaper ‘digital’ lenses, and a full
frame line for the serious amateur and pro markets. This is effectively
what they have now, but it will undoubtedly be developed. Price drift
will push both lines lower.

What of the other camera makers? Well, they’ll be playing catchup until
they either manage to get their act together and provide some real
competition, or until there are mergers or dropped product lines.
Pentax, Olympus and Nikon, in particular, are producing great cameras
in their own rights. All make some lovely cameras and they are very
effective. I’ve had an E-300 here for extended testing for some time
and this 8MP camera is a true joy to use. However, while Olympus SLRs
of old were a perfection of engineering and a joy in a small package,
Olympus’ current offerings enjoy no size advantage from their much
hailed small sensor, but the E-300 is a lovely camera. The ist D range
are good cameras. And Nikon naturally has lovely cameras, the D70 in
particular. But sadly none of these stand out as a class leader. And of
course there are the others: Fuji, Minolta, etc, all nice for certain
reasons but either over priced, under marketed or just not a standout.

What the industry could benefit from is one of the other players taking
a huge leap and thus provide some real competition. At the moment I
don’t consider it to be really there. The current state, as I see it,
is that is you already have Minolta or Pentax lenses, you’ll look at
them first. But a surprising number of such people are ditching their
lenses and switching systems. A few new to SLR people might trickle in,
but i think this is more likely to be to Pentax than to Minolta. If you
have Nikon lenses then you will consider Nikon, Fuji or Kodak. Canon
lens people are well looked after by Canon, but also Kodak, if they
want an alternative. Newcomers to SLRs will likely gravitate towards
Canon and Nikon (which is still benefiting from its historical quality
image), and probably Pentax and Olympus.

When I talk to the Canon executives they make no bones about wanting to
own the dSLR market. The market share figures are showing that they are
increasingly doing just that. We can only hope that one of the other
makers has been beavering away in the lab and has a quantum leap just
about to come out, as competition is good for everyone.

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