Full frame 24×36 digital sensor

Canon shocked the high-end digital camera world when announcing the Canon EOS 5D with its 12 M-pixel sensor of a full 24*36mm (also known as full frame). You lost the 1.5 conversion factor on the focal lenght of lenses, but the user grabbed some very neat advantages:

  • A larger surface used to easily improve the resolution to 12 mega-pixels
  • A larger surface used to increase the sensitivity and the quality of images

Amateurs and professional photographers immediately jumped into asking if this was the official end of the 4/3 or APS-C sensors (with their 1.4 or 1.5 conversion factor to the focal length), at least for reflex digital single lens reflex cameras (D-SLR or DSLR).

Logo of Canon (digital photo cameras)Canon answer

Very officially, Canon said and repeated that this was only an isolated application.

Evidence: The EOS 20D has nearly immediately an APS-C successor, the Canon EOS 30D.

Analysis

But, is that really all? It is still a good question. For the time being, the launch of the 30D (it is only an update to the 20D) cannot be the end of the story. A full frame camera can still appear around 2000€ in the near future. Only time will tell.

Nikon logoFurthermore, will Nikon accept to leave this space free for its most dangerous competitor? Maybe not (and some pro photographers seem to have been hearing rumours about something brewing), and then, if Nikon and Canon have something to offer, temptation will be great. Marketing department will be had to stop extending the offer and bringing the fight to a new battleground.

Furthermore, what do you believe that the manufacturers will do while the electronic components (including image sensors) see a continuous technological cost reduction? Very simply, in order to keep differentiating, they will have to extract all possible advantages from full frame CCDs or CMOS sensors and I predict (not this year, but quite quickly anyway) a separation into two different product lines:

  • Prosumer: APS-C sensor D-SLR
  • Pro photographer: full frame D-SLR cameras, at a premium

Last but not least, an argument possibly supporting this thesis is taken from Sony, the largest world manufacturer of image sensors of today. They started a new line of digital single lens reflex cameras (the Alpha series). One could easily notice that in the list of 19 new lenses announced at the same time, there is not a single lens reduced for a small size sensor. All 19 of them are full frame lenses. Could it be that Sony has a good idea of what will appear next in their portfolio?

Conclusion

If you want to invest in lenses if you intend to keep them for a long time and not take the risk of obsolescence as soon as you buy your next body (considering that you intend to stay in the top of the class), you would better avoid lenses limited to small sensors (often identified with a reductive D suffix).

Howeer, lenses specifically prepared for digital photography are quite important. For example, they take into account the need for light rays to emerge from the lens and fall onto the sensor at near perpendicular angle, in order to reach the individual sensitive cells under the best possible conditions – a CMOS or CCD sensor with its surface micro-lenses is much more difficult to light correctly than the old analog Kodak or Fuji film in rolls). But the limitation to a limited size APS-C sensor could turn out to hurt you real bad if in two, three or four years, you were to look at a marvellous full frame D-SLR whose light sensitivity and hyperlative resolution would put definitely in the high end of the digital photography.

Invest wisely. Your lenses will certainly last much longer than the body you just bought last year and seems already a little outdated.