Thursday, September 6, 2007

The New Battle for the Mid-Range Part I: Canon 40D vs Nikon D300 vs Sony A700

No, not the battle for middle earth, but for your mid-range DSLR dollars! With the introduction of the Sony A700 we now have three new mid-range DSLRs with different feature sets and prices. The prices range from $1300 to $1800, the megapixels from 10mp to 12mp, the features require a matrix comparison. While the Canon monthly production rate is unknown, the Nikon D300 is set at 60,000 per month and the Sony A700 initially at 30,000 per month and then dropping to 20,000 per month. So clearly these are cameras intended for the general advanced/amateur/pro photographer, not just a niche market. This is where the next blockbuster DSLRs will be coming out of.

And of course we are not done yet. Pentax is probably cooking something in the mid-range as well, and if they are, probably so is Samsung. And we still haven't heard from Olympus, the Olympus E3 may be priced under $2000,which, despite specs and lens format, will also make it an interesting alternative to the traditional APS-C mid-range DSLRs.

Canon, as usual, has gotten a head-start once again. While Nikon and Sony fans can only disect specs and scarce sample images, Canon fans have the camera in their hands, and thousands of pictures have already been posted. This along with the price advantage and the Canon advantage are giving the 40D a head-start.

The Nikon D300 was part of the Big Buzz Duo (the other being the Nikon D3), although some cold water was thrown onto the D300 grill with the 14-bit burst mode slowdown (compared to the blazing speeds when shooting at 12-bits).

The Sony has an advantage, there is a lot of pent up demand for a more advanced Minolta-mount DSLR, the A700 is a tape-delayed Minolta 7D II, but done Sony Style. It costs an extra $100 more than the Canon 40d, but it has sensor-shift stabilization giving a lot of lenses a boost. I hear someone shouting "it's the Minolta value proposition, you silly goose!", and I think that's true. Of course the camera is not value-priced, it's value-packed. Yes, the absence of Live View may be disappointing to some, but it's not like DSLR Live View is state of the art. Heck, DSLR Live View CD AF is slower than the shiny silver compacts - not quite DSLR-like performance.

So to recap, Canon 40D is winning the war on the ground (since they are the only one shipping), the Nikon D300 won the war of the "shock and awe" (aka specs), while the Sony hopes to win the hearts of the Minolta users.

A Pentax K10D upgrade (let's call it Pentax K12D?) using the 12mp sensor could give them all another competitor to consider, while the Olympus E3 continues to remain a mystery as the price will be crucial as well as more details on its sensor - will it be the same sensor found in the E410/E510 or will be a beefed up sensor? (just like the Nikon D200 uses a beefed up D80 sensor). With Samsung focused mainly on being #3 in market share, I'm guessing they won't try new bodies or new sensors this time around, they'll probably do another Pentax port. But perhaps they may try the Smart Touch NV-series like interface for their DSLRs? (presumably they should port the Pentax K100D Super, since their previous entry-level DSLRs are the Pentax DS* and DL*)

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