Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday Commentary: What The Crop?

This past year has seen a shift in focus towards full frame cameras from the big two (Canon and Nikon), but where does that leave crop sensor camera users? More importantly, where does that leave the users who want to stay with crop sensor cameras? This group, made of two types of photographers, is the largest segment of the DSLR market and cannot be left hanging indefinitely. The largest section of this group is entry level users who don't want to pour thousands of dollars into camera equipment. The second group, the focus of today's post, are enthusiasts and semi-professionals (a large number of whom are wildlife and sports shooters). This second group of people are getting vocally impatient, wanting something new to replace aging and often heavily used gear.

The big two have released one crop sensor camera each this year, both entry level models, the 650D/T4i and D3200. Canon released one new EF-S lens, a revised 18-135mm IS, with a video friendly focusing motor. Meanwhile Nikon released a new super zoom lens, the 18-300mm VR. With only two cameras, and two new lens released this year from the top manufacturers, a lot of questions must be popping up in users minds. Questions like, will company x keep making new lenses for my camera? Are they trying to force me to buy a full frame camera, that I don't really want? Why has the D300s/EOS-7D not be updated, the camera is over two years old?

I think the answer to some of these questions can be summed up like this, 2012 is the year of full frame for the big two. Fuji and Sony have been putting out new crop sensor cameras, but only two of them them are even the least bit interesting (both are in Fuji's X line). The issue is that the Fuji cameras, as good as they are, and don't hold a great deal of appeal with the semi-budget conscious crop sensor wildlife and sports shooters. You know, the ones who have a bunch of Canon or Nikon lenses. The Fuji cameras aren't meant for that type of shooting, so that still leaves this large group of users wanting.

2013 should be a far more interesting year for crop sensor camera users, as I think it is safe to say that a D300s and EOS-7D replacement will come sometime in that calendar year. I also think there will be a refresh of the mid-range models as well. The question is, what will these models look like? Will Canon keep releasing new cameras with the same old 18MP sensor from 2010? Upgrades would purely be dictated by features, and short of something extremely revolutionary that could hold many users back. Simply put, a 7D MKII with the same tired 18MP sensor would likely not do very well. Will there be a 70D? On the other hand, Nikon can choose between the excellent 16MP or 24MP sensors from Sony and Aptina for the D400, but the question is which one will it be? In either case it would be a big step up from the now 5 year old 12MP sensor in the D300s. If one goes in the D400, what would go into the D7000 replacement? For that matter, will the D7000 and D300 line be consolidated or stay separate? If they do, will the D7000 and the D5xxx line merge? The questions arises, because realistically the price D600 puts a cap on the price of any new DX bodies. A D400 would have to be around $1599 vs the traditional $1899 to keep the price between the top DX body and the entry level FX body in a safe zone, for marketing reasons more than anything.

Will there be new or updated EF-S and DX lenses next year? Hard to say. Both Canon and Nikon have been updating mid-range crop sensor lenses, but no new semi/professional ones have been released for several years now (think 17-55mm F2.8 lenses). Going forward it seems likely that most users are going to have to rely on third party manufactures for new crop senor lenses that are not consumer grade. Of course those same third party manufactures are also shifting focus towards producing lenses for all the new full frame users from 2012.

Maybe the real issue is that the crop sensor market is over saturated and the manufactures don't see much room left for growth? With the mass influx of mirrorless cameras one has to wonder how long  high volume entry level crop sensor DSLRs will be big sellers for Nikon and Canon? That being said, I think the market for new high end crop sensor cameras (D400/7D MKII) could still be strong enough to keep R&D worth while for several iterations to come.