Canon EOS1D X
The specs are interesting since they point to a new understanding of the professional market by Canon. They are combining their two lines of professional cameras, the 1D xx high speed sports cameras and the 1Ds xx high resolution studio and everything else cameras. The camera will feature a full frame sensor with 18 megapixels, a 12 or 14 fps shot to shot speed and a stated increase in overall IQ compared with all previous cameras. I think it's safe to say that they have no intention of leaving the dense pack market completely to Sony and Nikon so I'm fairly certain we'll see a "5D-like" camera with a wildly high pixel count in short order. Canon is taking a cue from the stellar noise and quality performance of the Nikon D3s cameras and updating the sensor tech to give buyers an overall level of resolution that will be convincing enough for most uses.
But, in a sense it's a vindication of what I and many others have been saying for the past few years. To wit, the endless race for densely packed megapixels was a run in the wrong direction. There's a sweet spot and the sweet spot seems to be defined by the size of each sensor node. This is why files from cameras like the Kodak DCS 760 could look so sweet. The pixel wells in that camera are 9 microns across. The current APS C and m4:rd's cameras are less than half that size. And the pixel wells in the 1Ds Mk3 are also 1/3 smaller.
While the bigger pixel surface area theoretically yields more dynamic range and less noise the DCS 760 was early enough tech to have some issues with noise at anything other than it's base ISO. But over the span of the professional, digital timeline discerning photographers have consistently found that big pixel cameras trump little pixel cameras when it comes to ultimate image quality (not counting resolution beyond native numbers). The Nikon D2h coughed up a beautiful file with really wonderful colors....as long as you kept the ISO down. I have a magazine cover for IBM to prove it's stealthy capabilities.
Lately I've tested bunches of Canon cameras including: the 5Dmk2, the 7D, the 60D, the 1Dmk2N and the 1dsMk2. While the technical specs of the first three cameras are all really great the files which have the colors and tones I enjoy most are from the 1Dmk2N. The second place finisher is the 1Ds Mk2. These are the two cameras with the largest pixel sizes. Neither of them is as quiet as the 5, 7 or 60D's but I'm betting that most of the improvements in noise characteristics came from improvements in the high speed processors that pull the information off the sensor and "package" it for inclusion on the memory cards. At ISO 200 the cameras are all great. The older cameras just have a different color response.
The larger pixel sizes are also not affected by the physics of diffraction in quite the same way. A sensor with pixel wells that are twice as big as a competing camera all other things cancelled out, would have better sharpness at smaller apertures and this might be just what the doctor ordered for architecture and product photographers who often shoot at f11 and f16.
The change in pixel density philosophy at Canon shouldn't surprise anyone after the introduction of the Canon G11 two years ago. The company ratcheted the sensor resolution back from 14 megapixels to 10 megapixels in an attempt to provide files that looked sharper on consumer monitors and which had much less high ISO noise. Most users welcomed the "regression" because, overall, the files looked better and were easier to deal with.
I welcome the step back. I bought a Canon 5Dmk2 a while back and I dread using it to produce full sized raw files. When I shoot portraits I routinely throttle the whole mess back to the M size raw file (1/2 size). Don't get me wrong, the big files look great. Full of fine detail and all that. It's just that most of the time the files get used at much smaller sizes and I hate the idea of endlessly filling hard drives with big, fat files that basically aren't going to go anywhere.
The bodies are huge but that's a neutral for me. I need the strength training to maintain muscle mass anyway. But when I get on my bike and head downtown for an afternoon of shooting just for fun I've got an Olympus Pen EP3 that fits perfectly in my bike bag anyway.
So, I have high hopes for this camera. It seems perfectly designed to be an all around camera for professional photographers. But that doesn't mean I'm going to rush right out and pick it up when March rolls around. The reservation on the list is a courtesy to ensure I get a camera if I want it. I can decline when the time comes and the camera will go to the next person on the list. I think my time might be better spent searching out more bargain cameras whose prices will undoubtably be affected as the supply of new cameras comes to market. I'll have my eyes on something really sexy. Like maybe another 1Dsmk2 or maybe a 1d3. You never know. March is a long way away.
Anyway, it's interesting to me to see the direction that Canon is taking in their flagship product. In a way it vindicates the statements made by Olympus. They basically said that 12 megapixels was the sweet spot for most consumers. Canon is now saying that the quality of the pixels now trumps the quantity. A good place to stop.
added 1/2 hour later: $6900? Wow. Thats nearly seven 1dmk2n's at today's market price. Or 10 Olympus EP3's..... Some with VF2's.
added on Oct. 19th: Some people around the web-o-sphere are already complaining that the 1DX is a failure because it didn't continue the progression toward ever more megapixels. But I have a simple question.....If lenses can't resolve much more than 18 megapixels on a ff camera isn't increasing the density of pixels kind of silly? Couldn't you achieve the same size results just by up rezzing the files? I mean, after all, if the lens is the limit of resolution in the system more pixels isn't going to add more detail, just more size to the files. Unless you are shooting with some really phenomenal lenses it would all seem moot. (Contax lens users and Leica 90mm APO Summicron users.....go ahead and bitch..). A poll of pro's recently done asked about their lens use. The vast majority depended on the 24-105 and the 70-200L's. Great lenses but probably straining to put real detail into 18 megapixels...