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Tomorrow's Generics Today


Sony's first DSLR camera, the A100
Sony’s first DSLR, the A100, incorporates a dust-reduction system, an idea that may soon be ubiquitous.
Olympus Evolt E-330 camera
The Olympus Evolt E-330 had the distinction of being the “first 21st-century SLR”: it featured a live feed to the camera monitor, plus an optical SLR viewfinder, all in the same camera.

Perhaps you remember back at the beginning of the year, when we first broke the story on the Olympus Evolt E-330. “The First 21st-Century SLR” is what we called it. Catchy, huh? Olympus itself never used the description, but it’s so promotional-sounding, others must have thought they did. At least one publication we could mention picked up our line and applied it to their own description of the E-330. (Oh, when are we going to finally start trademarking our epithets, so that when others cop ’em we can sue?)

What made the E-330 the first 21st-century SLR? In our humble opinion, it was a live feed to the camera monitor, plus an optical SLR viewfinder, all in the same camera. This combination of features permits using the camera in ways no other camera can be used, expanding the practical realm of conditions in which people who use it can take pictures. It was an obvious step, an inevitable step, and a past-due step. We’d been howling for years that it was a step someone should take, and we explained exactly how it could be done. Finally, it got done.

Being the first of anything provides a distinction, but it’s significant mostly to history books. You can’t be the first unless there’s a second—without the second, you’re an “only”—and if there’s a second, it’s probably because the first one’s idea was a good one. If it’s a very good one, there’ll be a third. Before you know it, there’ll be a fourth, then everyone will have it, and it will be a generic.

Rising Tides

At the time this is written, everybody knows that the second 21st-century SLR has indeed arrived. It’s the E-300’s fraternal twin from Panasonic, the DMC-L1. It has the same live electronic viewfinder plus an optical mirror viewfinder. Olympus has struck up the band, and Panasonic begins the parade.

The new Panasonic has another feature heretofore uniquely Olympian: a dust-reduction system. Since the first Olympus interchangeable-lens DSLR, the E1—still an impressive camera, despite “only” 5 megapixels—all Olympus DSLRs have had the “supersonic wave filter” designed to shake dust off the CCD. It has been an Olympus claim to fame, and it’s now Panasonic’s, too.

When Panasonic announced the L1 at the February PMA show, they were quite bold in claiming authorship of the central design of the new camera, leaving some doubt about its actual, factual origins. Olympus? Panasonic? Oh yes, it was co-developed, but listening to some of the chatter, it’s not clear whether it was equally co-developed.

We’ve recently been told (but cannot for awhile say by whom) that a third DSLR with both live feed to the LCD and dust-reduction will be offered in their line, and have heard hints of a fourth.

It’s not clear how many of these cameras will have pivoting or hinged LCD screens, as the Olympus E-330 does. Those that do, as we see it, will have a distinct advantage competitively. A live feed to a fixed camera monitor probably has some advantages, but nowhere near as many as a feed to an articulated one. We’ll see how this plays out in the marketplace.

Meantime, with their gangbusters style, Panasonic had a few people asking: whose idea, really, was it to shake dust off the imager? Whoever’s it was, it’s a very good idea.

Whose idea? Just to blur the obvious suspects, Sony came out with a dust-reduction system in their first DSLR, the A100. Someone else we can’t mention has also promised a dust-reduction system in the foreseeable future.

See what we mean about the history books? Producing it first makes good reading, but producing it best makes good cameras. And only the future will know which dust-reduction system is best.

New Lines of Thought

Dust-reduction has appeared in six camera models that have reached the market, two more are known to be in the pipeline, plus one more maybe. It’s all come about in three years and has a great future. It’s a seriously good feature that, until recently, could not have been considered.

According to some marketers, dust-reduction became important with the advent of digital cameras. They’re the ones whose imaging chip sits in place forever, exposed to the great outdoors with every lens change. This makes them vulnerable to a greater amount of dust than film, though it doesn’t mean film was invulnerable to dust. A dust-reduction system in a 35mm camera could have been handy, too.

Each film frame may have been vulnerable fewer times to dust coming through the lens mount, before the film was wound up on its spool. But it was just as vulnerable to any dust that was inside the camera already, and after awhile that could have been plenty. It could certainly have been sufficient to spot-up the pictures.

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