Those with a keen eye on the photography market will remember where they were in August this year, because that's when, effectively, the megapixel war came to an end. The number of megapixels a camera's sensor offers has long been on the top line of the specification sheet. As the years passed, up went the resolutions.
But when Canon announced its top-end compact, the G11, which has four fewer megapixels than the outgoing G10, it signalled a shift in focus. And this month's Labs reflects that change. Just as in last year's DSLR Labs, this year the norm is for low-end cameras to offer a 10-megapixel sensor and a mid-range one to hit the 12-megapixel mark. The only cameras this month to buck the trend are the Samsung GX-20 at 14.6, and the Canon 500D at 15.1 megapixels.
The discerning DSLR buyer is more concerned these days with low-light performance; at least, that's what Canon's marketing spin would have us believe. Certainly, when you zoom into any of this month's test images, the difference in the amount of detail resolved by a 15.1-megapixel sensor versus a 10-megapixel sensor is utterly negligible. You'd be better off buying a cheaper, lower-resolution camera and spending as much as humanly possible on a lens upgrade.
|Canon's EOS 500D: goes all the way up to ISO 12800
And you don't get much of an advantage in terms of the largest size at which you can print, either. The largest a 15.1-megapixel print can be at 200dpi is 24in wide. The largest 10-megapixel print at the same resolution will be a mere 4.5in smaller. It would seem that buying a DSLR on the basis of megapixels alone is like buying a car based on the number of cup holders it has.
So, with megapixels more or less out of the equation, the DSLR market is pulling in two directions simultaneously. On the one hand, there's a fierce race to the bottom: the fight to build the cheapest possible camera that you can still call a DSLR with a straight face. On the other hand, manufacturers are trying to outdo each other on features.
So, while Canon is pushing low-light capabilities (although we suspect this is a smokescreen for the 1000D's lack of HD video), others are including camcorder facilities. In fact, our prediction is that by this time next year, virtually every DSLR you can buy for more than $1000 will be HD-capable.
You'll still get stratospheric ISO capabilities - the Canon EOS 500D already goes all the way up to ISO 12800 - while some manufacturers such as Nikon will continue to focus on straight-up performance and handling above all else.
With the resolution war over, then, the next fight looks likely to be the battle of bells and whistles. Let's hope camera manufacturers have their priorities straight.