Dog Days PDF
Written by Leonardo Barreto   


Digital cameras are like dogs in the sense that they live seven years in one year. A good example is the Canon PowerShot G1. This puppy was born on September 18, 2000 with 3.1million pixels. In dog years, it would be 28 years old.


This of course is only a rethorical way to quantify the tremendous speed in which digital photography is evolving.


Three million pixels… back in those days we thought “who wants so much and what for?” We must remember that in that same month the Kodak DC3200 was launched featuring a capacity of 0.9 million pixels (today’s cell-phone cameras have a better resolution).


Today we are in a mad pixel “arms-race” the 16.6 million pixels of the EOS-1Ds Mark II are the normal and necessary thing, the Nikon D2X "only" has 12.2 million, that is the limit of the self-proclaimed “world leader of photography”, but, could it be that they are just carefully assessing what is their target market?


The pressure for more pixels also comes from the point and shoot cameras, which have reached the 8 million pixel mark. This quantity of pixels only used to be found in digital back-ups, but is very important to point out that not all pixels are created in the same way. These are produced by smaller photo diodes than the ones in larger cameras, therefore producing images with noise, like the ones on a TV with no signal.


Again, all of this is happening at a tremendous speed –such as a dog’s life- for instance, Bronica just announced that it will stop producing its medium format cameras except for the Leica-type model 645.


For a while I owned a 6x6 Bronica with three Nikkor lenses, it was a nice Japanese camera, however it was known for breaking down often, and, yes, Nikon made 6x6 lenses.


Bronica took its name from the legendary Kodak Brownie, which could be bought in 1900 for 1 dollar and the advertising slogan said “Just shoot and Kodak will take care of the rest”.*


This is the official announcement from its parent company Tamron:


“Tamron USA , Inc. announced the worldwide discontinuation of Bronica SLR cameras and accessories as of October 31, 2004. ...* ..."Since the advent of digital photography, medium format sales have declined at a rapid pace. Imports today are just a fraction of what they were even two years ago,".... "For Bronica, that slip has been faster since our core customer base, portrait and wedding photographers, has adapted well to digital SLR equipment."... ...Repair service will continue for seven years as is mandated by law.



Mamiya announces ZD


mamiya ZD


Almost simultaneously, Mamiya one of the medium-format fat cats, has announced in Photokina a couple of digital backups and something that no one saw coming: the ZD.


The ZD is a beast never before seen in the digital world, but it can be argued that it will be quite comfortable in it. It is a body that will take all of the lenses of the 645Mamiya line which has 22 million pixels, and a sensor the size of almost a full frame (36x48 mm) and is similar in dimension to the EOS-1Ds Mark II.


Mamiya probably is thinking about using this baby not only to intimidate the makers of digital backups, which cost up to $ 30, 000 dollars (its is rumored that the ZD could cost a third of that), but also to the 1Ds Mark II, which was also announced in Photokina, featuring16.6 million pixels and a full-frame 35mm sensor.


There is no question that this will not be the end of the mega-pixel fever. At the forums of there is the -not very believable- rumor that the new generation of EOS could start off with a 2D of 22 or 21 million pixels.


Hasselblad has announced its H1D, a camera more integrated to its backup, but unlike the ZD which is is in a single unit.


The H1D would cost $19.995 dollars but, like an astronaut on a space walk, needs to be connected by a chord to a computer or an image bank hard drive. The backup plus the camera rises the price compared to the ZD, which runs on memory cards.


Fujifilm is producing the H1 line, a system of the 645 AF format that takes 120 film and digital backups for the Hasselblad brand. It is interesting to know that in Japan this camera bears the Fujifilm name, instead of Hasselblad.


It has to be said that Fujifilm does not own Hasselblad, it is a Korean corporation. The new CEO of Hasselblad was the founder of Imacon which was bought by that corporation to merge it with Hasselblad. So the former founder of Imacon -who originally made the Phase One backup- in a curious twist of fate, is now running the digital destiny of Hasselblad.


This makes us wonder if Nikon -who does not offer any models with more than 12 million pixels- has decided as a strategy to keep its distance with the medium format in the digital age, just as they did in the analog age.


The “ portrait and wedding photographers” as stated in the Tamron press release, “adapted well to digital SLR equipment..." In other words, the makers of 35mm SLR cameras have “stolen” the market away from the medium format cameras, getting to the point of putting Bronica out of business.


For instance, the Fujifilm Pro S2 became a very popular model amongst portrait and wedding photographers, and now that the S3 has come out, it promises no more pixels, but much more detail in shadows and lights, and better dynamic range by using twice the number of photo diodes, which is perfect for a single image of the white-dressed bride and the groom, dressed in black.


Many professionals that cannot or do not wish to buy the digital backups, have opted for the Canon 1Ds, a camera that is capable of producing images comparable to 6x7 transparencies. We can see that Canon is clearly aiming its guns to the medium format field. There is also a very clear trend amongst professionals to replace the legendary F mount by the EOS.


The problem faced by Canon is that the sensors are half the size of the ones in the ZD, so even if they reach the 22 million-pixel mark, the photo diodes would have to be smaller and the image would be less clean.


There is yet another problem, which also is kind of a boundary for the 35mm format: Optics. No matter how good the quality of the Nikon and Canon lenses is, there are reasons to believe that lenses made to project a circle of image that is twice the size have better quality in the resolution of details..


This brings us back to the question of Nikon being aware of this boundary and wanting to keep itself to its turf, either they do not want or haven’t been able to “tackle” this share of the market. But it seems they are consolidating a kind of “sub-format” that even has got a name: The “DX”, which features a sensor 1,5 times smaller that a full-frame 35mm.


They have developed a line of wide angle DX lenses, which deliver an image circle with less coverage then 35mm lenses. Is it Nikon’s idea to wait for Mamiya to compete against the 1Ds? Divide and conquer? The problem is that Canon is also a very good competitor in all of the other sizes.


Anyway, the announcement of the ZD will probably take down the prices of the digital backups, the same goes for Canon, who will have to take competition into consideration when tagging the price for its EOS-D1 line. Other makers that ought to be working in integrating digital bodies for their lines of lenses are Hasselblad and Contax.


Why is there a race for more pixels?


On the one hand, consumers demand them We would simply say “I don’t need a Canon PowerShot G5 of of 5 million pixels if I’ve got the Canon PowerShot G1 of 3.1 million".


How many millions do you need? This depends on what you want to do, for some, a cell phone cam is enough, for others nothing short of 22 million pixels, 16 bits with a cooling system for the sensor is what is “necessary”. Of course each shot of these cameras is 42 megas in RAW.


This is just like the cars, if you ask about the mileage per gallon, that is not the vehicle for you.


The good news is that we will have the resolution that we deem necessary at prices we’ve never seen before. In March 1995 the Kodak DCS460 featuring 6.2 million pixels went for $12,000 dollars, nowadays a Samsung Digimax V6 is around $450 dollars, its weight is 6 ounces and also features 6 million pixels.


Leonardo Barreto
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