Cameras from Platform to Stealth to Drag Race

It is incredible sometimes to watch how some fields can completely change due to a technical revolution.

The digital camera business is clearly one of these. For decades mechanical cameras were similar and dominated by a high end duopoly of Canon and Nikon with Minolta as the dark horse.

They were standards built on the great platform of their lenses. In razor and razor blade fashion, you could spend $30k on lenses and then be trapped forever more as a Canon or a Nikon person. A lense would last literally for decades.

Then came the digital revolution. It meant that the initial digital models looked just like their mechanical film brethren. I had a Nikon f80. (I need to find it again) bought incredible Nikon glass like their incomparable 70-200. And it was painful to switch to Canon.

With these digital cameras came TSE who realized that they didn’t have to follow the dimensions of the big cameras. In particular the so called mirror-less cameras came out.

In the beginning these were point and shoots with very small sensors that couldn’t hope to match the quality of a 35mm film. But silicon moves ahead and with digital came the replacement of optical viewfinders with touchscreen a and displays ripped out of high volume mobile phones. The first players were stealthy. They were adjuncts to the prosumer cameras. Like my first canon point and shoot. It was 3 megapixels and no match for a film camera.

The platform leaders responded with their strengths and built a whole digital line around their lenses. But the upstarts kept coming with higher quality and more important none of the size limitations of having to be optical.

Today the world is again Balkanized. Nikon and Canon don’t have competitor systems because they need to defend their high end turf so instead the prosumer is switch en masse to a whole set of players.

Sony, never a player at the high end, acquired Minolta and then built a whole family of Mirrorless and digital cameras around their new E-mount. These cameras were light and small and had quality very close to their bigger brethren. Moreover they shared technology with dedicated video cameras.

Two smaller vendors Olympus and Panasonic joined forces to create a micro-4/3 mount which is much smaller but therefore much lighter. And image quality was very close because lenses could be designed with less cost and more importantly they out big processors in their cameras to do everything from image stabilization to correction of know lense defects. Fuji innovated on sensors and also created their own mount system.

In the end we now have a drag race for the next set of prosumer standards. Nikon and Canon still don’t complete while my four best camera buddies have evenly divided into a Olympus fan, a Fuji fan. A Samsung dabbler and me. I’m just dithering away looking for a market leader.

In the end the cycle has begun again but this time focused on lenses for these new mounts. Who will win, well that’s what a drag race means. It isn’t clear.