PMA 2006 Generates DSLR Disappointment


Where are all the DSLR improvements? Right under your nose, that's where.

The camera makers are perplexed.

You asked for better-than-film DSLRs, and for prices that were reasonable. You got them. Anyone that argues that a Nikon D200 or a Canon 30D misses the mark on either of those requests isn't paying attention.

Yet when PMA came and went with nary a significant DSLR, the screams started on the Internet forums. Even the one significant introduction, the Canon 30D provoked immediately and seemingly hostile reactions amongst many. The 20D/30D forum on dpreview.com ballooned to over 400 new threads a day, many with titles like "Canon keeps shooting themselves in the foot," "Is Canon playing a joke," and "30D disappointment." Arguments broke out all over the forum about what the "minor update" said about Canon's future DSLR plans.

So, despite the fact that this is a Nikon-oriented Web site, let's start with that Canon 30D. The apparent problem is that few tire-kickers are looking past the fact that the 30D body looks like a 20D and the sensor appears to be the same (8mp). Yet the 30D boosts over three dozen differences from the camera it replaces, most of those very significant changes or additions, such as spot metering, ISO visible in the viewfinder, lots of shutter-based improvements, better battery life, and many more. About half the changes are things that many 20D users complained about publicly. Yet the general sense you get from reading all the threads ranges from disappointment to ho-hum, with only a handful of folk "getting it." What's there to get? The 20D was a fine camera that produced quite good, better-than-film image quality. What was mostly needed was to reduce the price (done), fix frustrations in the UI (done), bolster some of its performance capabilities (done), and make update the UI better match the other Canon cameras (done). Did 20D uses need 10mp? No. Did they need full frame? No, the 5D is their upgrade path if they want that. If you have a 20D did you need a new camera? No.

Stop the truck right there, buddy. Read the last two sentences of the last paragraph again: "If you have a 20D did you need a new camera? No." Hey, we all wouldn't kick a little bit more resolution or better high ISO performance out of our beds, but realistically, aren't we already better off than we were with film? I'd argue that the answer is yes. So what's a camera maker to do? Well, exactly what Canon did: add requested features and fix ones that uses found problematic. The 30D is a better camera than the 20D, despite the fact that its image quality didn't really change. But when you upgraded your film DSLR body that's exactly the same thing that happened, right? Your image quality didn't get better (you used the same film, and film improvements came along infrequentely and tended to be modest). But you got a better camera. Better camera = better pictures (or else why would you buy it?). Yes, the implication there is correct: you have much more influence on how good your images are than the sensor in the camera does (or the film you used to use did). If you get a camera that handles better, gives you faster access to features, and just simply doesn't get in the way as much comes along, your picture taking should get better.

Now to Nikon. Nikon didn't introduce a DSLR at PMA. Big disappointment, right? Not really. The demand on Nikon is to introduce as soon as possible. The net buzz for years has been "Nikon is behind Canon," though I don't subscribe to that other than perhaps at the very highest, full frame end. The number of "hurry up and introduce the next best thing" messages seems to increase every year. Well, the D200 could have been introduced and shipped at PMA. Just like the original D70 could have been introduced at PMA (it shipped shortly after PMA). My reading is twofold: Nikon is giving you what you want, and Nikon feels the competitive pressure to announce when ready not to hold for show introductions. I consider the D200 Nikon's PMA 2006 announcement, but we got it early as a Christmas present instead. The shows (PMA and Photokina) seem to have lost their significance as primary PR opportunities. Slowly they're returning to their roots: in the case of PMA, giving dealers a properly timed look at the lineup they'll be selling during the significant camera buying seasons (graduation, return to school, and Christmas).

I said the camera makers are perplexed. Well, they are.


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