Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Is the DSLR "revolution" over?

The Canon 60D was announced the other day.  You know what my reaction was?  A yawn...

Nikon announced some new DSLR's recently as well.  More yawns.

I remember back in the "early days" of the Canon DSLR's when the Canon 10D, 20D, etc, were being announced about every 16 months or so.  Each new camera typically brought major new useful features to improve DSLR usability and image quality and the announcements were met with feverish excitement by photographers who pre-ordered anything and everything that Nikon and Canon released.

From 2004 - 2007 the changes became evolutionary in nature instead of revolutionary and focused primarily on improving image quality and high ISO shooting.  Each camera became a smaller and smaller incremental improvement over the previous one.  Instead of people saying "I have to get the latest and greatest!!!" they began saying "Maybe I'll hold off until the next model comes out".

Then came the Nikon D300, D700, D3 and the Canon 5D MkII and 7D between 2007 - 2009.  These cameras returned us to revolutionary improvements and completely raised the performance and quality bar even higher than it already was.  They were a big step forward, not an incremental step.

Among many other things, these new cameras arrived to the market with:

1)  New excellent auto focus systems.
2)  In-camera image and lighting enhancements (i.e., Nikon's Active D-Lighting and Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority, etc).
3)  Lens flaw correction algorithms in the camera.
4)  Lightning fast burst speeds.
5)  Huge buffers.
6)  High speed processors.
7)  Dual-card slots.
8)  Off camera flash control built into the DSLR body.
9)  High megapixel counts.
10)  Very high ISO capability.
11)  Incredible noise reduction technology.
12)  The capability to modify the camera operation to the shooter's preferences.
13)  Etc, etc, etc...
14)  And the big one we were all waiting for......high definition video!  Finally!

Wow!  That's a lot of technology that was packed into these few new revolutionary cameras.

But revolutions have to end some time and progress has to settle in... 

With cameras like the 60D, we're now back to smaller evolutionary changes again and I think that's the way things will stay for quite a while.  The current high end DSLR's from Canon and Nikon (D300, D700, D3, 5D, 7D, etc) are absolute monster machines that can pretty much do anything that a photographer would want to do. 

Having owned my 7D for many months and putting it seriously through its paces over a recent two week vacation, I would have to say that it's a near perfect camera.  Understanding how to use it properly and when to turn on which image enhancing function resulted in so many technically stunning images from my recent trip that I was blown away.  From a creative aspect some of them weren't that great because many times I was in a rush, but from a technical perspective, wow!  Sharp, clear, properly focused, properly exposed, fantastic looking photos time after time.  Even when shooting at very high ISO, or in full auto mode, or when using long shutter speeds.  The 7D just kept producing technically great photos.

The state of the art is here!

So where do we go next?  My thought is that the major focus for the camera manufacturers will be in two areas:

1)  Improve the integration of high definition video into DSLR's to make it easier to shoot and post-process.  DSLR video is still an immature technology that's great, but has a way to go before it's easy to use.

2)  Continue to improve image quality through better sensor design.

Seriously, where else is there to go?  The top end DSLR cameras do EVERYTHING!   

I would seriously recommend getting a top end DSLR like the Nikon D300 or Canon 7D and holding onto it for a long time.  Save your money on camera bodies and buy yourself some good lenses instead.

Happy shooting!

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