Magazine Article


Tenacious Tendencies Tentatively Tendered

Non-Stranded Standard

Ten years ago (there’s that number again), the “standard” was VGA quality, that is 640x480 pixels, or about one-third of a megapixel. So it’s not like we’ve left the issue of product standards behind. On the contrary, look how they’ve leapt to 1MP in 1998, 5MP by 2001, and 8MP two years later. If we consider 10MP now to be standard, we can conservatively say that pixel resolution has increased by an average of a megapixel a year, since the consumer market took off in 1996—that we can moderately say.

Is this where it ends? Well, we suppose some in the business could say, “nobody needs resolution beyond 10.” For sure, plenty of ‘em once said “nobody needs beyond 5.” On the other hand, Hasselblad is selling a 39MP camera, so when does that become the standard? The Hasselblad costs twenty grand, you say? Hey, the first digital camera, with only 1MP, cost half as much again. We’re in no position to rule anything out.

What would a 40MP camera give us? How about amazing sharpness, without the need for “blur” filters, that everyone except Foveon uses? People don’t need 40MP resolution? They don’t need 40” HDTV screens either, but somebody’s buying ‘em—for exactly the same reason. People love highly detailed pictures. The 16GB CompactFlash card announced at photokina by SanDisk is a step toward the supercamera, though a lot of other steps are called for. It’ll be awhile before consumercams have the processing architecture to move 40MP pictures through quickly.

But there’s no reason to think we have to stop the pursuit of infinite resolution—we will only if we want to. Meanwhile, we’re at 10. Where does that put us?

Numbing Numerology

If we go by Canon’s specifications, which a lot of camera buyers do, we find the 8MP Canon Rebel XT producing a picture of 3456x2304 pixels, the Rebel XTi at 10MP producing a picture of 3888x2592 pixels. That is, the actual picture made by the newer camera is 432 pixels wider and 288 pixels taller than the picture made by the older one.

Let’s see, the difference between this year’s and last year’s models is 432x288 pixels? Is this a big improvement?

Well yes, it is. Any improvement is a big improvement. Still, you gotta admit, 10MP compared to 8MP sounds like a lot, 3888 compared to 3456 does not. So even though 10MP is a great achievement, there’s still room for more improvement, competitively as well as technically.

In the meantime, as already noted, 10MP is the standard. You can buy it on everything from an entry level P&S, to a high range DSLR. And especially, you can buy it for under $2,000, and more especially under $1,000.

Ten Megapixels? That’s All?

So if everybody’s got ten megapixels, what has anybody got that’s so interesting?

Post photokina, it can finally be told that new features are bursting out all over, and they’re not just giddy frills. They’re serious features that can be useful, depending on how people go about taking pictures.

If they change their lenses a lot, and some DSLR owners do, they may be concerned about dust getting in and accumulating on their imagers. So which brands now have dust-reduction systems? Well, of course, Olympus introduced the feature to the market with their E-1, four years ago, and have presented it on all their DSLRs since. Canon introduces their own system in the Rebel XTi, and Pentax introduces theirs in the new K10D. All three manufacturers claim that although similar in principle, their respective dust-reduction systems are separate inventions covered by separate patents.

Panasonic has also joined the low-dust school, presumably using the same system as Olympus.

In-body, anti-shake systems, are all the rage too, having started in the Maxxums, leapt to the Sony, and joined by the Pentax (in two models—the 6MP K100D, and the 10MP K10D). The K10D is said to be weatherproofed, with seals all over the place to keep the insides dry and clean. This would be the first DSLR priced under a grand to make that boast (the second would be the Samsung knock-off).

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1, although announced at the last PMA show, has become abundant only since autumn. It represents the second brand to provide a live-view, on-camera monitor, first on the market last winter via Olympus. Leica-branded versions as the Digilux 3 share the features of the L1, in Leica livery.

So you could say almost all the majors are offering something new—as in nonexistent more than three years ago—in high-performance DSLRs priced less than a thousand bucks. That’s pretty impressive.