Sunday, 23 November 2014

Product news, sensor size is the new megapixel race

The camera industry is in a crisis. People have more or less stopped buying basic compact cameras, since mobile phones take good enough pictures anyway. Also DSLRs are seeing less sales.

There are two areas which still see good sales: Premium compacts and mirrorless cameras.

Panasonic used to be king of the premium compact line, with the Lumix LX7, and the Leica rebranded version. However, Sony raised the bar significantly with the RX100 series of cameras with a larger 1 inch sensor.

Panasonic's answer was the Lumix LX100, with an even larger sensor, however, now the camera is getting worringly larger than the predecessor. Also Canon wants to take part in this segment, with their Canon G7 X, also sporting a 1 inch sensor. Both of these cameras have significant issues, though: The Lumix camera lacks an articulated LCD screen, and the Canon lacks an EVF.

4K video


When the Lumix GH4 camera (my review) was launched this spring, it was a game changer. It was the first affordable interchangeable lens camera to feature 4K video recording. Since this time, we have seen some competition.



Sony have released their Sony A7s (s for "sensitivity") full frame camera. It can record 4K video without cropping, unlike the Lumix GH4. On the other hand, it needs an external HDMI recorder for 4K. One such option is the Atomos Shogun 4k, costing a whopping US$2000.

Samsung have been quite innovative with their lines of mirrorless cameras, the APS-C sized NX mount, and the 1 inch sized Mini-NX mount. Still, their impact have been limited, with no super interesting options.

They recently released their flagship camera, the Samsung NX1, which aims to change this. It is priced similarly as the Lumix GH4, and gives you 4k recording without an additional crop.

It also sports 28MP resolution, the highest yet for an APS-C sensor. Finally, it has the H.265 codec, which promises better video quality. However, some would say it is still untested.

Beyond these expensive and rather large cameras, we have not yet seen 4k video trickle down into smaller volume cameras in the mirrorless segment.

Camera
System crop
4k crop
Native resolution
Weight
Price
Native lens selection
2x
2.6x
16MP
560g
US$1500
1.5x
1.5x
28MP
550g
US$1500
Moderate
None
None
12MP
489g
US$2500
Limited

With the ability to record 4k video without cropping makes the Samsung NX1 a good option. It also comes with the Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 pro grade zoom lens.

Sony


With the Sony A6000, they finally did get the on-sensor PDAF technology right, and it performs very well in terms of continuous autofocus with moving subjects. However, it comes with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 pancake zoom lens, which is not very good. See my test here.

They also announced a new version of their A7 full frame camera, the Mark II. It comes with better ergonomics, and, more importantly, it has built in sensor shift image stabilization, quite impressive. It still has the well known 24MP sensor, and does not feature 4k video recording.


Canon


Even if a manager said in an interview that they are committed to mirrorless, they still only have the rather poor EOS M camera out. To stay in the game, they need to release some proper gear, and fast.

Nikon


With the Nikon CX 70-300mm lens (my review), there is a renewed interest in the mirrorless Nikon 1 line. The lens is very good for anyone who wants a long reach at a small size, for example birders.

The Nikon 1 system is good for those who need very fast PDAF performance with moving subjects, also during video recording. It is also interesting for the ability to take a very quick series of images, up to 60 frames per second at full resolution. But beyond these specialty uses, other systems, like Micro Four Thirds, are mostly better.

And Nikon's position on this system is hard to understand. Do they want it to be for the fashion conscious who want glossy, pastel coloured camera kits?

Or for serious amateurs who might want to buy the premium Nikon 1 32mm f/1.2 portrait lens? Too bad that they don't have any sensible pro camera to match it. They have the Nikon 1 V3 camera, but it has some serious issues which will annoy the typical serious amateur, for example, you cannot use an external flash and the EVF at the same time.

Are Nikon really committed to continue the Nikon One line? I think that remains to be seen.

Conclusion


With the camera market in crisis, what is going to happen? Are we going to see some mirrorless camera systems being discontinued?

If Canon wants to be in the game, they need to release a proper mirrorless camera, probably one with the new 20MP sensor with PDAF capabilities, used in Canon EOS 70D and Canon EOS 7D II. They also need more lenses. At this time, they only have two lenses for mirrorless cameras, three including a wide angle zoom lens only available in Japan. I'd say Canon EOS M is closest to being stopped at this time.

The Nikon 1 system also has a foot in the grave, in the sense that no significant new product have been announced for some time. Nikon has an ok lineup of cameras and lenses, but they could do with some exciting news. For example, a macro lens is missing. Some choose to use the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 DSLR lens on a Nikon 1 camera, using the FT-1 adapter. And it works fine, but a dedicated Nikon 1 macro lens could have been more compact.

Nikon 1 have gotten some attention lately with the Nikon CX 70-300mm lens for birds, wildlife, sports, and so on. But can this lens alone float the system?

Nikon's problem with Nikon 1 now is sensor size. While the megapixel race was very important in the last decade, we now have a sensor size race. The general public is more aware that a big sensor is good for selective focus and image quality, and we see the camera makers trying to tap into this by offering large sensor enthusiast cameras.

Sony was an early mover with the RX100 series of compact cameras, offering the same sensor size as Nikon 1, but with a better specified zoom lens built in. After the first RX100 camera, it is harder for competitors to release a premium camera with a smaller sensor.

Nikon launched the Coolpix A in early 2013, with a 28mm equivalent f/2.8 prime lens and an APS-C sensor size, but it was not very popular, due to a steep price, no eye level viewfinder, and no zoom.

The market is more demanding now, and wants: A large sensor compact camera, with a wide angle zoom lens, that has a large maximum aperture, and a tilting LCD touch screen, as well as an EVF. Canon have tried to answer this by launching the Canon G7 X, however it misses out on the EVF (not having an electronic eye level viewfinder).

Nikon don't have any camera which matches this, while Panasonic is all in with the Lumix GM5 for those who want an interchangeable lens camera, and the Lumix LX100 for those who don't. However, with the sensors topping out at 16MP resolution, the specifications are starting to look a bit dated for the general public.

It seems that the winner is going to be those who combine a compact camera with a large sensor and a bright zoom lens, including an EVF. Sony and Panasonic are the closest now, while Nikon and Canon have not succeeded in winning this market.

1 comment:

  1. The key is "What will the public WANT?" vs. "What do photographers NEED?" is what sells cameras, or anything really.

    Megapixels still rules the roost for the average consumer. However, for enthusiasts it's moved to "sensor size" and 4K video support.

    I'm one of the few that are satisfied with the m43 format since it's not too small, but not too large, it's just right for me.

    All I want now is a more sensitive (light capturing capability) sensor. Any more than 16MP is going to be too much to properly hand hold and will also require better glass to resolve. (Considering m43 sensors are 1/4 the area of an FX frame, and the 50MP Canon 5DS, which is less than 4x the resolution of a 16MP m43 sensor, is considered too high resolution to get the most out of by hand holding (it's meant for studio work) and there are only a handful of lenses than can actually resolve that high of a resolution onto its sensor.)

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