With today’s unveiling of the Nikon D80, a 10 megapixels consumer-grade DSLR, the battlefield is beginning to heat up. By the year’s end, as with all good commercial competitions, the winner is expected to be us consumers. Next up is Pentax and its previously unexpected ally Samsung which both previewed 10 megapixel DSLR cameras around April/May. Together with Sony, which is continuing Konica-Minolta’s DSLR legacy with its just-available 10 megapixels Alpha, these companies are not surprisingly all those who base their digital cameras on Sony sensors.
Given 3 DSLR cameras, presumably using the same sensor, the battle has to be fierce. Each manufacturer has to distinguish itself by making their cameras more attractive. Since they all share the same sensor, image quality is not expected to be the determining factor. Variations in image processing means that noise levels and color rendition will differ, but not by that much since the RAW data will be virtually identical.
The first factor to be fought over is price, its an easy one for manufacturers and pleases consumers. This is mostly a win-win situation, until someone notices where corners were cut to lower price. Then there are features. Since the Sony Alpha already offers body-based Anti-Shake, built-in dust-reduction and unlimited 3 FPS continuous drive, it already set the bar quite high. Nikon’s D80 offers neither of these but instead has some consumer-oriented features like redeye removal, D-lighting, slide-show functionality and a new 18-135mm (7.5X) zoom lens. No word on what Pentax will bring to the mix, typically though, they have relied on low-price, simplicity, good ergonomics and a great viewfinder.
When making a choice, it is important to consider the difference between distinguishing features and deciding factors. They are not always the same. Distinguishing features are used to market cameras and are featured boldly on boxes and press releases. For the Sony Alpha, those are things like anti-shake, unlimited continuous drive, dust-reduction. Deciding factors can be much more subtle things like the use of Nikon lenses for someone with Nikon glass, a high-magnification viewfinder, having 2 control wheels for adjusting shutter-speed and aperture, extremely short shutter-lag or use of compact-flash cards. Deciding factors are more personal than distinguishing factors. The former will come out from review sites while the latter will come out from press releases.
There are 3 manufacturers which do not use Sony sensors, Olympus, Panasonic and Canon. Since Olympus and Panasonic recently released 7.5 megapixels DSLR cameras, they are seemingly taking another route. Both the Olympus Evolt E330 and the Panasonic Lumix L1 use smaller sensors (2X crop) which are already quite noisy even at that resolution, so they probably will not be fighting this round of DSLR wars.
The true wild card is Canon. Having recently introduced the 8 megapixel 30D, Canon may not show a higher resolution consumer DSLR for a while. Then again, a mysterious announcement to be made on August 24th, may be just that. Perhaps an update the to Canon Digital Rebel XT is possible? Speculation is that Canon will not go that route and instead will be revealing a new high-end DSLR. Until its next consumer DSLR, Canon has to rely on its branding and in educating people that its very-low-noise 8 megapixels sensor beats the relatively noisy 10 megapixels Sony sensor.