The world of digital cameras has been a bit boring lately. Not much innovation seen from the outside. Just a convergence of still and movie, and the mash-up of technologies, every increasing high ISO and image quality.
But is there a camera renouveau? Something that would reinvent the camera as we know it? Let’s see.
Convergence of still and movie is the added capability to shoot movies with a still camera. This feature has been around for a while on point and shoot cameras. Most of them have been shooting movies, low-res mostly, but increasing every now and then.
But the real break was when, after addressing the technical limitations, Nikon, then Canon, release DLSRs, the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5DMkII able to shoot video in HD. In 720p for the Nikon and 1080p for the Canon.
A lot of professional filmmakers got their hands on the 5DMkII, for good, as it represented an unprecedented image quality for a price point that was lower than dedicated video cameras. Second units, TV series, reporting were main consumers of this technology. Even after Canon released firmware updates to address most of the issues found the movie mode.
Nikon was first, Canon was best. This seem to have opened the gate for a flow of new DLSRs capable of video; now even the low end Canon Digital Rebel shoot at least 720p.
The mash-up of technologies came by way of the micro Four Third standard (m-43 for short). Not to be confused with Four-third. The 4/3 is IMHO doomed: a smaller sensor than the current line of DLSRs, marginally smaller camera size, as the low-end Canon Digital Rebel and Nikon have been getting getting smaller does not seem to make it a good alternative. Also it now seems to get less developments now from Olympus, and Panasonic seems to have stopped ; and this is probably because of its limited success. I’m purely speculating, but I do believe that 4/3 is gonna be phased out. I could be wrong.
On the other hand the m-43 seems to be taking speed. Take a point and shoot camera design, put a interchangeable lens mount, make it a standard, cook it with another manufacturer (or more) that will make lenses and body, and you have the micro Four Third standard. Olympus initiated it, as a spin-off of the 4/3, with the help of Panasonic. It represents a good trade-off between size and image quality: bigger sensor than in (almost every) point and shoot, interchangeable lens like a DSLR, it makes the almost perfect system in-between pocket cameras and DLSRs.
It even inspired Samsung with their own lens mount, and Sony with the NEX (featuring a bigger sensor, APS-C size and a slightly smaller body than Olympus or Panasonic) and the E-mount. Even more, Panasonic and Sony both have video cameras using their respective mounts ; same lenses as the still cameras but dedicated to video.
So what about the renouveau? I think it could be coming from a known player that, sometime, just come with very innovative products. And that would be FujiFilm, with the Fuji FinePix X100.
The originality for the X100 comes in the viewfinder. The trend in the recent years has been to remove the viewfinders, including on micro-4/3 cameras, to replace them with the back LCD. This has been bugging me personally and I still feel uncomfortable when using the back LCD. The alternative is the DSLR, which does not make for a pocket camera. That’s not the case of the X-100 that features a unique hybrid optical-electronic viewfinder. On paper it looks like the best innovation in viewfinders in recent times.
We’ll see if that’s the renouveau, the innovation that will invert the trend.