The dSLR market is maturing and so it is time for camera manufacturers to develop some courage and dare to be different.
While there are lots of lovely things happening in the dSLR market, with excellent new models rolling out, there is a need for change as so many of these models just seem to be slight variations on the same.
It is time for manufacturers of courage to emerge who will bring out specialist dSLR models that can better meet the needs of particular, niche market segments. Now some manufacturers have done just this, with things like the Canon astrophotography dSLR (now withdrawn), the Nikon aimed at forensic work and the Fuji for infrared photography. But there are much larger niches than these.
The niche market of particular passion to me is black and white photography, and particularly infrared photography. Imagine a mono model. It would have no Bayer color filter, so there is no color interpolation to do, speeding up image processing and reducing the RAW file size. It would also have no IR blocking filter and perhaps no anti-moiré filter, so the images will be sharper straight from the camera. Ideally it would have selectable infrared blocking and visible blocking filters that move into and out of the light path and influence both the image taking sensor and the AF/AE sensors so that focus and exposure will be correct no matter which mode it is used in. Such a camera would be widely applicable to most segments of photography, if they shoot enough mono to want a dedicated body.
Another possible niche, and one related to the above would be multi-spectrum imaging. Since a Bayer filter most naturally used four pixels to cover the color range, image a camera where the Bayer filter is cell filters for RGB and IR, perhaps, or four visible light filters that allow for greater color accuracy and dynamic range. Such a filter could allow, with processing, for either more accurate natural color rendition or false color images, depending on how it is processed.
There are also camera features from the past that have gone out of fashion that perhaps could be brought back. The most obvious is the interchangeable viewfinder from cameras like the Canon F1 or the Nikon F2, etc. This way you could work with an optical waist-level finder when you wanted to and an eye-level viewfinder at other times. There is no technical reason why a dSLR could not have one. Waist level finders have immense use in so many areas of photography, from macro to careful landscape photography.
Since cameras are really computers highly dedicated to one purpose, a courageous manufacturer would open a model up at the software level and allow users to extend the functionality and indeed create completely new ways of using the camera. Afterall, computer manufacturers don’t lock their models up, rather they from a suitable applications programming interface (API) so that others can write applications to make the computer do useful things. Imagine a camera where you could do this. Perhaps have a Reset button or an Original Mode button that switches back to the manufacturer’s setup for those times when a bug arrives. CHDK exists for many Canon compact camera models, but this does not have Canon’s sanction and is rather a hacking exercise. The fact that this works proves that such a scheme is possible.
Sadly most camera manufacturers, or perhaps it is just the marketing types who manage them, are not very imaginative. They are risk averse and so we end up with a lot of similar models. New features, the most recent example of which is Live Preview, crop up and then everyone has to adopt them out of fear of being left behind. But no one, or perhaps few, are willing to stand out from the crowd. We need some risk takers in the photography industry.
There are plenty of niche camera makers and products for niche markets. The problem is that the mainstream manufacturers, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Olympus, all are not so used to thinking about niche markets. The fact is there can be a tidy market in niche areas, and of course you can also leverage the exposure to assist your marketing in other areas. There have to be as many B&W and even IR photographers out there as there are, say, people who will buy a Leica rangefinder. If you can make money (presumably) on a special camera like that then there must be a better business case for a camera that would be mostly identical to an existing model, with slight (relatively) component and assembly differences and different firmware.
I think it is time for the mainstream manufacturers to start looking outside the box a bit and thinking differently. Imagine a version of the upcoming Sony 24MP or the likely Canon 6D that could do BW and IR. At the likely resolution of the 6D and certainly of the Sony there will be less urgency to revise the BW model as frequently, so they could likely get a much longer life from the model before updating it.
There is, I believe, an opportunity. Let us see if anyone has the guts to take it up.