As most digital camera enthusiasts know, improvements usually come in small incremental steps: one or two more megapixels, 1X or 2X more zoom, etc. Occasionally, we see a leap, a change that is more than incremental and expands photographic possibilities. A few years back, Fuji’s 4th generation SuperCCD HR brought a leap in low-light sensitivity which has still not be equaled by its competitors.
This year seems to be the year of speed. Canon was first on this front with the introduction of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. This high-end DSLR captures 10 megapixels images at 10 FPS. Nikon followed with the announcement of the Nikon D3, a 12 megapixels full-frame DSLR which can shoot between 9 and 11 FPS. In terms of processing power, both these digital cameras can capture and process at least 100 megapixels each second.
The speed improvements brought by these very high-end DSLR cameras is being percolated down into some advanced DSLR models. This is standard practice in high technology since it is easier to recover R&D costs using higher-profit items like devices aimed at professionals. Canon announced the 10 megapixels EOS 40D which captures at 6.5 FPS while Nikon announced the 12 megapixels D300 which captures at 6 FPS.We can expect the smaller DSLR manufacturers to follow suit with speed improvements in their DSLR models by the end of next year.
One big surprise came as an announcement from Casio which features ultra-high-speed capture in a prosumer-type fixed lens digital camera. The model in question is still an unnamed prototype, as can be seen on Casio’s dedicated mini-site. This prototype camera can shoot 6 megapixels images at 60 FPS. That represents a processing power of 360 megapixels each second! At speed, this capture rate is much higher than 1080p HDTV.
The processing power to capture over 100 megapixels each second could be used in powerful ways. For example, a combined continuous drive and exposure bracketing mode could be implemented. Using the Casio’s prototype implementation, we could obtain a 5-frame exposure bracket 12 times per second. This would be extremely useful for street and people photography where expressions and lighting can vary rapidly.
Not forgetting that high-ISO is important too, the Nikon D3 improves on this front with a base-sensitivity going up to ISO 6400 and boosted ISO settings up to ISO 25600. Since traditionally Pentax and Sony use the same Sony-built sensors as Nikon, we can expect both these manufacturers to come up with similar offerings. Indeed, both Sony and Pentax have stated their intentions to produce 2 new DSLR models. It is highly likely that Sony will show both a cropped-sensor DSLR as well as a full-frame one based on prototypes shown. Pentax will most likely produce two cropped-sensor DSLR cameras, not to stress the limits of its lens production capabilities.