Sunday, September 16, 2007

VIDI: Rebooting the megapixel wars?

For a while it looked like we were caught in an endless cycle of new sensors with more megapixels and everyone trying to out-number the competition. That may still be the case as we speak, but there is hope!

Hope thanks to Sony for introducing the new 6mp 60fps sensor and to Casio for announcing their plans to develop a camera around that sensor.

In theory at least, it could move the focus from number of megapixels to FPS, which as a side-effect could cause faster cameras (in terms of performance) and fewer megapixels because it's easier to 60fps 6 megapixels than to 60fps 12 megapixels. ("60fps" being a verb in this case :-) But it has potential pitfalls as well, for example AF and metering could be compromised for the sake of higher FPS.

Casio may not be the only one. This could be changing the superzoom field significantly. Why did only Casio announce then? It's just that Casio has nothing to lose and plenty to gain by making such an announcement. The rest of the companies with existing superzooms (Canon, Panasonic, Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Kodak) would not dare announce it because they want to continue selling their superzooms. This also opens the door for companies without superzooms, such as Nikon, HP, and Pentax - assuming the Casio 60fps is a "shared" design (eg Sanyo or Premier) that can be "pasted" into other brands.

But this is not the first time we had an attempt to reboot the megapixel wars. Fuji tried when they split up their SuperCCD sensors into HR and SR. While Fuji was touting the advantages of SR, the market was mainly interested in megapixels and that eventually forced Fuji to come up with a more straightforward approach.

Foveon (and mythical/R&D Foveonesque sensors) were another attempt at rebooting the megapixel wars. The debates were (and still are) long and never-ending. However, a number of factors (some having nothing to do with the technology itself) turned Foveon into a niche segment that no longer strikes fear in the hearts of the Bayer crowd (ok, that was a bit over the top).

The other thing that got some traction was low noise advantage. Fuji failed to capitalize on it because they did not release many cameras with it while it was hot, and only recently decided to embrace the SD memory card and added some form of stabilization. So even though the "magic SuperCCD" sensor is "just" 6mp, people are still buying those cameras because they have an advantage over the competition.

And if Casio (and perhaps others) are going to a 60fps 6mp sensor, why isn't Fuji continuing to release new cameras with their new 6mp low noise sensor?

And if you are looking for a conclusion, there isn't one! But please feel free to write one yourselves :)

ps> VIDI being the title of the Sunday Editorials. An explanation is here

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