The fast-paced digital photography market kicked into high gear beginning with cropped-frame sensors (Nikon D1, 1999), and then quickly moved to full frame (Nikon and Canon). But disruption is in full progress, and if Canon and Nikon aren’t careful, companies like Sony and Olympus could eat their lunch.
Hugely improved sensor quality coupled with market demand for smaller, lighter and more convenience now drives a move back to smaller sensors, accompanied by an impressive assortment of lenses, including support from stalwarts such as Zeiss and Schneider. No longer are smaller sensor cameras mediocre solutions for amateurs; professional photographers are using them for serious still and video work.
While the full-frame DSLR remains important for peak image quality and resolution, cropped-frame DSLRs (Nikon DX, Canon EF-S) now reveal themselves as awkward compromises straddling the image quality and usability/ergonomics fence: bettered by full-frame DSLRs on image quality, and bettered by smaller cameras on friendly ergonomics and usability (size, weight, EVF, etc.). The cropped-frame DSLR might not survive the brutal competition now emerging unless some non-inertial thinking is applied to the traditional DSLR design. And as full-frame DSLRs
surpass Nikon’s 36-megapixel mark, the medium for- mat market will face pressure too. Increasingly I see digital trifurcating into these distinct areas:
• High-megapixel and ultra high quality full-frame DSLRs
• Compact and lightweight cameras with breakthrough image quality.
• Camera phones and iPads and the like, which surely will someday deliver advanced image quality and usability.
Absent from the above is the cropped-frame DSLR, a shopworn compromised design running on inertia without the image quality and ergonomic benefits of full-frame; an un-fun user experience offering image quality only marginally better than the best compact cameras. The market is asking for the best combinations of high image quality + best ergonomics + ease of use.