Magazine Article


Tenacious Tendencies Tentatively Tendered

You’re probably wondering what the title above means exactly, and we’re here to tell ya. It means a couple of things. First there’s the literal translation: some things are definitely entering the product line-up for the new year, albeit with some uncertainty about where it’s all leading. Clear? The second thing is, everywhere you look, there’s “ten.” Get it? Rub those two thoughts together, and you won’t even need to read the rest of this column.

But yes, everything’s coming up tens. It’s most conspicuous in the DSLR market, most dazzling in the under-$1,000 group, but also, it’s not confining itself to those sectors.

In DSLR realms the 10-trend seems to have begun with Sony and their Alpha, the remake of the Minolta Maxxum 5D, upgraded to a 10 megapixel (MP) imager.

Nikon was next with a pair of tens, the professionally-priced D200 and the just-over-$1k D80. Next in the parade of announcements, if memory serves, was the Canon Rebel XTi, the first 10MP SLR at under-$1k. Then Pentax announced the K10D for $899, body only. And if Pentax has a 10MP DSLR, could Samsung be far behind?

Then came photokina. Another 10 showed up in Deutschland, a professional-caliber camera though not an SLR. It was the long discussed, long awaited Leica M8, the first Leica rangefinder camera to go without film. By Leica’s construct, it’s the heir to a line they began when they brought out the M series 52 years ago. So that’s seven 10MP cameras since the beginning of the year, and we’re not finished counting. But when you have seven of anything on the high-end of photography, you have little choice but to called it “standard;” as in, 10MP cameras are now standard in digital photography.

If you counted the Olympus E400, a 10MP Four/ Thirds DSLR, you’d have eight new 10MP models among the fancy-schmancies. And they could count it in Europe (but Europe only—contrary to some reports coming out of photokina, this model, described as the smallest digital DSLR, won’t even be sold in Asia—Europe only).

Outside the SLR field, Panasonic has brought out two new 10MP cameras with permanently mounted lenses. The Lumix DMC-FZ50 comes with a 12x f/2.8 zoom lens whose 35mm “equivalency” is 35-420mm, and is equipped with Panasonic’s MEGA OIS optical image stabilization. The Lumix DMC-LX2, with its 4x image-stabilized zoom disperses its 10MP across a 4:3 native aspect ratio, 3:2 cropped, or 16:9 (HDTV) field. Is anyone surprised that Panasonic, of all people, is offering digital still cameras with an HDTV frame format?

No, nobody is surprised by Panasonic’s offer. But Leica? Similar to the Panasonic fixed lens, 10s are the Leica V-Lux 1 and the D-Lux 3. Other 10MP models include the Samsung NV-10, whose features parallel those of the Pentax Optio A20: 3x optical zoom, shake-reduction imaging system, FotoNation’s red-eye reduction, and face-recognition technology. Sony’s DSC-N2 couples a 10MP imager with a 3x zoom. The Minox DC-1011 also provides these two key features.

We tried the Olympus Stylus 1000, one of those shirt-pocketable doodads with a 3x zoom lens and a huge LCD viewfinder screen—as basic as that—and, uh-huh, ten megapixels.

Fujifilm’s new top-of-the-line compact, the S9100, is not quite a 10MP camera, but it’s pretty close with a 9MP Super CCD and 10.7x zoom (28-300mm “equivalent”), Picture Stabilization technology, and a tilting LCD monitor.

Before we shout “new standard,” we should bear in mind that there’s an older 10: the Leica R9 SLR with the Digital Modul R (DMR) affixed. We wrote it up in our May 2006 issue, and called it a heck of a picture-maker.

Historically High

The DMR has been with us for a couple years, but you know what? Cameras with yet higher counts of pixels have been with us even longer. What’s the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, chopped liver? The Mark II has 16MP, and including its immediate predecessor (the 1Ds), it carries the plus-ten megapixel market back to 2002. How about last year’s Canon 5D, with almost 13 megs?

Meanwhile, at photokina, Sigma brought us the first DSLR (along with an entry model) weighing in at 14MP. This will renew (or already has) the old debates about Sigma DSLRs, whose Foveon X3 imagers redesign digital capture. Is each photosite one pixel, or three? If you accept three, the new SD14 has 14.1 million pixels. Sigma has done something new in this iteration, which makes their argument more difficult to dismiss than it was in the days of the SD9 and SD10 cameras. We’ll get into that in a forthcoming review of the new model.

If you add to the mix a couple of abandoned Kodaks from years past—the less-than-successful 14n, and the more-than-successful SLR/n and SLR/c—there are, or have been, altogether, on the American market, 14 professional-style cameras with 10 or more megapixels in the past four years. So, what is “standard,” anymore?

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