The state of camera tech

Have you seen 'Oblivion'? I would be the last person to say that they were a Tom Cruise fan (sorry, Tom - I know you must be devastated... after having been a fan and reader of my blog for such a long time...).

Really cool technology.

I want one of those Bubble Ships that Tom Cruise pilots.

Imagine that - a full rotating cockpit attached to a jet-like heli-contraption. What a wonderful aerial photography rig!

Imagine all of the locations I could reach...

While you are at it. Where is my damn hover skate board? And my flying car?

Shouldn't UPS be able to 'beam' things from B&H to Alaska by now?

That's what 'Brown' could do for me.

Technology is a wonderful curse. It is humanities boon and bane - in nearly all aspects of our 'advanced' livelihoods.

I've owned my Canon 5D Mk 2 since late 2009. That's going on 4 years of use.

I also own a 7D - bought that around the same time.

My laptop (a MacBook Pro) is 3 years old now.

My tripod (a Gitzo) is 9 years old.

I have lenses that are 10 years old.

But they all. Still. Work.

Just fine.

They help me create images just as incredibly detailed as the day I unboxed the gear. If anything, the images have only improved - or so I hope.

I've recently become enamored with the idea of smaller camera kits.

SLRs have served me very well over the past 16 years, but after this recent backpacking trip into the Talkeetna Mountains, the idea of lighter & simpler gear really has me thinking.

My good friend (Scott) recently purchased an Olympus OM-D, a 16 megapixel 4/3rds (mirror-less body) camera.

It packs a lot of punch in a small package. Lot's of features, technically advanced, lightweight, great lens selection.

Did I mention it was small and lightweight?

Olympus put a 5-axis stabilization system on their sensor. So, every lens you put on your camera is automatically stabilized.

My only issue with the Olympus OM-D (or any other 4/3rds sensor, or similar) is the smaller sensor. This leads to a lack of resolution for large prints, and poor low-light performance.

Olympus is bucking the trend that seems so prevalent in today's camera manufacturers. Rather than fighting purely a megapixel battle, they are incorporating new technology that is re-writing how cameras are thought to behave.

Instead of stagnating, they are innovating. While Canon and Nikon are content to sluggishly continue their evolution, competitors are conducting a revolution.

It's good to see.

Today, I read a rumor that Canon is preparing to go nuclear (note: that is not pronounced 'nuke-you-lur'...) in the megapixel race. Now, I understand that this is simply a rumor, but the idea of a 75 megapixel digital slr... that's simply another evolution. And not a well thought out one, rumor or not. Currently, Canon doesn't have any lenses that could stand up to that kind of resolution anyway.

Do I want more resolution? Sure! Around 30-36 sounds great for me. This is why the Nikon D800E entranced me for a while. I print large prints: 24"x36", 30"x45", 40"x60", 40"x120"... so more resolution is always nice to have. However, my 22 megapixel 5D Mk 2 can easily create beautiful, highly detailed 24"x36" prints. I also frequently stitch several images together, either ending up with a standard 3:2 ratio (for 30"x45" and 40"x60" prints) or for the larger panoramic prints. It would be nice to not need to take so many images, align & merge them in Photoshop, with a higher resolution sensor.

But the words 'needs' and 'desires' are spelled differently and mean separate things for a very good reason.

Honestly, the camera system that really has my attention at this time, is made by Sony. The relatively new NEX system by Sony is extremely enticing. Small bodies, using high resolution APS-C sensors (just slightly smaller than the '35mm' film equivalent), smaller lenses (similar in size the 4/3rds system - perhaps slightly larger), and industry-leading technology built in. Cool things like high resolution OLED viewfinders - which allows you to see exactly how your exposure looks, before you hit the shutter - it shows your exposure, depth of field, and all the tech data you could ask for (multi-axis camera level, iso setting, crops, HBO.)

Ok, maybe not HBO...

Yet...

The Sony NEX bodies are slim too, with nice grips, and beautiful OLED screens. And now, rumors are building a huge amount of momentum about an all new top tier NEX camera. Again, rumors here, but they seem much more reasonable than a 75 megapixel Canon sensor. I'd love to see a full frame sensor in a new NEX-9 body. 30-some MP resolution, fast autofocus, crop function that lowers the resolution/sensor size to the current 24 MP, APS-C offering in the NEX-7. This would be great for wildlife, and times when you need your telephoto lenses to have a bit more reach. Hopefully, since the camera wouldn't be using the full sensor in this 'crop mode', it could divert some power to higher frame rate and autofocus. Because the NEX series of cameras is also mirrorless (no pellicle mirror), the lenses are also smaller.

Imagine a full-frame, 36 MP camera that is has excellent low light functionality (northern lights, hello!), great resolution for landscape images, and a high speed mode for wildlife, with in-body image stabilization (which, by the way - Sony is now a majority owner of Olympus's camera division - the makers of the best image stabilization tech available). Now, imagine it only weighs about 15 ounces (before lenses, of course).

That's less than 1 pound! That's less than 1/2 the weight of a 5D Mk 3.

Let's compare a Canon 5D Mk 3 system and a NEX-7 system, with lenses. No, the lenses won't exactly match up, but I'm just trying to match the overall kit range.

Canon 5D Mk 3

  • camera body - 33.5 ounces
  • 16-35/2.8 lens - 22.6 ounces
  • 24-70/4 lens - 21.2 ounces
  • 70-200/4 lens - 26.8 ounces
  • 100-400 IS lens - 48.7 ounces
  • TOTAL - 152.8 ounces = 9.6 pounds.

Sony NEX 7

  • camera body - 10.3 ounces
  • 10-18/4 lens (15-27 equivalent) - 8 ounces
  • 18-55 lens (27-82.5 equivalent) - 6.9 ounces
  • 55-210 lens (82.5-315 equivalent) - 12.1 ounces
  • In a pinch, I could even add the A-mount lens adaptor and any of Sony's slr lenses, including their incredible Zeiss line.
    • as an example, Sony has a great 70-400 (that is far better than Canon's aging 100-400 'peer') - 52 ounces
  • TOTAL - 89 ounces = 5.6 pounds.
  • If I drop the 70-400 super zoom, it lowers the kit weight to just 2.3 pounds.

For now - it's all a pipe dream.

But Sony is already tearing the envelope on what was thought possible in the camera manufacturing world.

If this is the kind of camera that they are working on right now, you can bet that I will sell my current (heavy) Canon kit and shift to the Sony world. I have no allegiance to any brand, unless they make my job easier, and the quality better.

Now, where is my damn Bubble Ship!?

Besides a 10-1200 f.4 image stabilized pocket camera - what would you like to have in your dream camera?

Go big or go home, but let's keep your comments in the realm of reality, shall we?

Sea stack island in Spire Cove, Kenai Fjords National Park.