As longtime readers are painfully aware, I’m obsessed with big-sensor cameras.
Or, rather, with big-sensor cameras that are, themselves, small.
For most of digital camera history, that’s been a contradiction. Small cameras have small sensors, and therefore produce far too many blurry or grainy shots. If you want a big sensor, you get a big camera-an SLR.
But in the last two years, the camera companies have given up their insane and pointless quest for more megapixels-and begun turning their attention to the sensor-size problem. This, ladies and gentlemen, is absolutely fantastic news.
Last year, Panasonic and Olympus generated all the small camera/big sensor headlines. They developed a new camera format called Micro Four Thirds, a hybrid design that combines some elements of the SLR (interchangeable lenses, full manual controls, big sensor) with some elements of pocket cameras (hi-def movie mode and a smallish body, thanks to the removal of the prism/mirror assembly in SLR cameras).
Micro Four Thirds cameras-there are about five models now-are halfway between pocket cameras and SLR’s, both in body size and sensor size. The lenses are also smaller than SLR lenses.
I love these cameras and love the concept. However, the Micro Four Thirds sensor is still smaller than an SLR’s.
Next month, Samsung will release a new camera called the NX10 ($700 with lens) that shamelessly rips off the Micro Four Thirds idea-or, depending on your point of view, advances it to a necessary next step. It’s a hybrid (mirrorless) SLR, just like Micro Four Thirds, with an SLR-size chip.
This sensor is not the so-called “full-frame” sensor that’s in $5,000 pro cameras; it is, however, the slightly smaller APS-C sensor that’s in most consumer SLR’s, like the Canon Rebel or the Nikon D3000 and D90. (It has 50 percent more area than a Micro Four Thirds sensor.) Yet the camera itself is startlingly small. The body can fit, barely, in a pants pocket; with the included 18-55mm lens, it can fit into a coat pocket.