Magazine Article


Post-photokina '04: Brother, Can You Spare a Paradigm?

Will Kodak's paradigm change again? It could. With so many other paradigm shifts erupting everywhere, no paradigm is safe.

The Paradigm of Pixels

The new high-end Canon adds nearly six megapixels to the sum of its ancestor. Six megapixels? It's becoming entry-level now, with sub-$300 cameras of 5MP already offered, and 6MP consumercams in the cards. Yet in the mid 1990s, the first 6MP SLR, the Kodak DCS 460, cost around 20 grand. And until 2002, it was widely considered the ceiling beyond which digital cameras would not progress.

The difference between the VGA consumercams and 6MP ones is rather stupendous—merely 640x480 pixels composing the picture in one case, more than 3000x2000 composing it in the other. Picture size and picture resolution are not exactly the same, but they have an affinity—more pixels is probably better. Also, however, theirs is also a relationship that depends on geometry, more than simple arithmetic.

Six million pixels is a lot of pixels, but their influence produces diminishing returns. Consider the picture size of the two 1Ds models—4064x2704 pixels in the first one, 4992x3328 in the second. That is, the new camera's picture is 928 pixels wider and 624 pixels higher than the old camera's picture. Every bit counts, of course. But the old paradigm for pixels is that six million is a lot, where the new paradigm is that the actual difference, in such high-resolution cameras as these, is less than the equivalent of XGA. And XGA was the paradigm shift of 1997.

We mentioned earlier that numbers and paradigms are not the same thing, and here's a demonstration. From a stupendous increase in picture size, the new paradigm finds that 6MP makes a moderate increase in picture size. To make a stupendous increase, imagers will have to double or triple in their pixel-count. A 30-megapixel imager in a DSLR will promote a paradigm change in the effect of pixels. Nothing less anymore will.

Paradigm Terminal

Will we see a 30MP DSLR in the foreseeable future? Or ever? One well-known company states a "no comment" in a tone that "sends a message." It sounds to us like "yes."

At Kodak, the broad implication is otherwise. Their current DSLRs, with their 4500x3000 pixels, are sufficient for Kodak's own company. Kodak's marketing paradigm is possibly different from, say, Foveon's. People were printing on Kodak papers before they were shooting on Kodak films. "We're an output company," said a Kodak higher-up in our photokina interview, "and a key role of our cameras is to support our printing paper sales."

In short, the wedding and event photographer for which the Kodak DSLRs are aimed may never need to make prints larger than 20x24, and maybe the existing imagers can handle that. They're certainly splendid at 11x14, where most of the demand maxes out.

For that reason, our interview disclosed that we shouldn't expect splashproofed, weatherproofed, gasketized and sealed, ruggedized photojournalist cameras from Kodak like they used to supply. That market's been saturated. Enough, at least, that Kodak is willing to let Canon and Nikon, with their respective 1D and D1 models, squabble over the scraps. Kodak's paradigm shifted to the commercial photographer in the meantime.

Will Kodak's paradigm change again? It could. With so many other paradigm shifts erupting everywhere, no paradigm is safe.

Take Canon again. They announced post-photokina a new high-resolution digital projector, the SX50. Its output of 1400x1050 is an appreciable leap over the XGA (1024x768) of most other projectors. It's only 376 pixels wider x 282 higher, but in proportion it's a stride. Not a paradigm shift, but it could be pavement in that direction.

At nearly $5k, a projector like this remains industrial-strength. But XGA and VGA projectors, once so pricey, have dropped down to figures that home-theaters can consider, and they make a right pretty picture at that. And that brings up a thought. Once the public has seen how dazzling true high-resolution projection can be—let's say somebody's projector doubles the ante to 2800x2100—the public may crave 30-megapixel cameras for a whole new reason: the projection screen. Photography jumps from the album to the wall. That's a paradigm change.

Don Sutherland has sold cameras across the counter, shot with them as a pro, and written about them for more than 30 years. His first article predicting the future of digital photography (1976) is becoming truer and truer. Don is a photo historian as well as futurist, and is author of the immortal slogan, "If you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you understand the present perfectly." Email Don at