"Canon makes the imager in the 1D Mark II," he reminded us, "but not in the Pro 1." That uses the same Sony imager that most of the fixed-lens 8MPs use, which in our experience is not Sony's best effort from the standpoint of noise. Eight million anythings would have to be small to fit in the tiny space the chip provides. Tiny imagers permit smaller lenses, which have benefits all their own, but maybe there's a point of diminishing returns. Maybe an imager has to be a bit larger--;like the so-called APS-C used in most DSLRs or the Four-Thirds format of Olympus --;permitting your eight million pixels to be that much larger. This makes them more light-receptive, reducing the necessity of boosting too much and generating noise in the process. Though we haven't reviewed the Rebel XT as of this writing, a couple months with the 20D persuades us that Canon can, indeed, make a low-noise eight.
While wee bitty sensors have their place in the world, they also may have a ceiling. The gents at Konica Minolta agreed, during an interview, that the picture produced by their 6MP Maxxum 7D is better than that of their 8MP fixed-lens models. Which isn't to say those cameras are awful, but the DSLR, with its larger chip, is terrific.
Size matters after all. And although there are only three cameras with the largest imagers of all, the full-frame models (Kodak SLR/n and SLR/c with CMOS imagers by Kodak, and Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II with a CMOS imager by Canon), the book is hardly closed on the development of 24x36mm imagers. Cameras and lenses that use full-frame imagers have been likened to "medium format" cameras in film, though in actual shape and dimension are no more than standard, universally accepted 35s.
Focusing On The Future?
One of the main reasons for promoting interchangeable-lens cameras is that it promotes interchangeable-lens sales. It's generally said that most non-pro SLR users don't actually buy additional lenses after the one that comes with the camera, but there's always the prospect.
Exactly where the competition will lead is hard to predict, but it could get interesting. Where is it written, for example, that the fixed-lens cameras must have slower start-up and longer shutter-lagtimes? Logically, an SLR ought to be the slower camera in operation, because in addition to everything every other camera must do while making exposures, an SLR must do something about its mirror. Yet these are the fastest cameras. Would it make a good competitive move for a non-SLR manufacturer of consumer-market cameras--;a Kodak, for example (whose DSLRs are all pro-oriented), or Concord, or Samsung, or Panasonic (which has announced plans for a Four-Thirds format DSLR next year, though hasn't specified its price)--;to trim the start-up time and shutter-lag from their fixed-lens models as a way to fight the DSLR menace? In another year or two, start-up and shutter-lag time may cease being the distinctions they are today between interchangeable and fixed-lens cameras.
But for now it is a distinction. So is the picture-quality story, as it's likely to remain among the high-resolution cameras at least. Something like 6MP or 7MP may be the optimum for fixed-lens cameras with itty bitty imagers, and at 6MP they may compare favorably with 6MP DSLRs. But upwards of 8MP, cameras may always require the larger imager, hence the larger lenses, hence the larger bodies.
(The New York Times recently reported that the Canon Rebel XT is the smallest of the DSLRs, a claim that not even Canon makes. The Pentax *ist DS is smaller by a hair, although it was not mentioned by The Times. The article also stated that the arrival of the D50 produces a total of "at least" four DSLRs priced under $1k, which strictly speaking is correct. Add the neglected Pentax, and the total is five. Given that this article from "the newspaper of record" evidently was republished elsewhere, retailers may want to prepare to correct a few misperceptions in this developing market).
Price and optical performance were the two handiest distinctions between digital SLRs and fixed-lens cameras, but they're less pronounced than ever. They'll probably continue to diminish. This pushes the basis of choice between camera types into other areas, such as size, accessibility of features, and similar characteristics of performance. It takes a little more thinking and it takes a little more talking, but it yields a camera that is more perfectly suited to its user's intentions. PTN