The Camera Wars are dead – All of them
The “megapixel wars” began as soon as DSLRs started appearing on the scene. Nikon’s flagship D2h could only shoot 4.1 megapixels. Then came 6, then 8, 10, 12, 16 and more. But it’s died down a lot lately.
This is just one of the “camera wars” that have happened over the years. But are they all now over? That’s the belief in this interesting and thoughtful video from photographer Matt Irwin, following the hype of Sony’s A9 III global shutter CMOS sensor.
What are the camera wars?
Over the years, there have been several different wars in photography. The most famous of which being the whole Nikon vs Canon… thing. But there have been wars based on more than simply brand loyalty. Like the megapixel wars.
The Megapixel Wars
The race to produce the highest-resolution sensors was a big deal in the 2000s. Even into the early 2010s, resolution was still fairly low. 2010’s Nikon D7000, for example, was only 16-megapixels. Only Nikon’s flagship Nikon D3x had more, at 24.5 megapixels.
Canon, too, had similar resolution cameras, although bodies tended to offer slightly more, on average, than their Nikon counterparts. Over time, the base level standard increased, to the point where pretty much everybody is making the same thing now.
Nikon, Canon and Sony all have sensors in the 45-50 megapixel range. The vast majority of the planet’s population will never need any more than that. Even Sony’s new A9 III (buy here), containing its world’s first global shutter CMOS sensor is only 24.6-megapixels.
The Frames-per-second (FPS) War
This was something else that even in the early days of DSLRs, people wanted more of. I mean, I had a 35mm SLR that could burn through a 36-exposure roll of film in four and a half seconds and I demanded the same of my DSLR, damn it!
Or at least, that’s how everyone seemed to feel at the time. Most of my shots, although of animals, were quite staged. They were for illustrative and documentary purposes. But it felt like every other DSLR owner I knew wanted to be able to shoot at least 10fps for some unknown reason.
DSLRs topped out at 16, with the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III (buy here), but mirrorless cameras now go up to 120fps and as Matt shows in the video, most people will never even need over 30. And for those rare scenarios that do, just get the camera that does more. Rent it if you don’t need it often.
The Autofocus War
While there have been a number of autofocus wars over the years, the most recent has happened since Nikon and Canon joined the mirrorless fray. Before, Sony only needed to keep up with DSLRs. Now that they’re all making mirrorless, the competition hotted up.
Along came AI-powered autofocus systems with subject recognition and intelligent predictive this and that and it was just… Well, yes, it’s all very nice and good, but pretty much all the manufacturers have it now. Even Panasonic finally joined the 21st century and adopted PDAF.
Yes, each one has slight advantages and disadvantages over the other, but overall, they’re pretty much all equal these days. This was a very short-lived war that got as good as it needed to be for everyone and then just fizzled out when everyone was happy.
Global Shutter War?
Matt doesn’t believe that global shutter vs. rolling shutter will become the next war in photography. I have to say, I largely agree with him. I’ll admit that it’s possible, but unlikely.
The tech’s not quite there yet. Despite Sony’s claims during the Sony A9 III (buy here) announcement that it produced this global shutter CMOS sensor without any performance hit to low light or dynamic range, DPReview’s tests show that it does. The Sony A9 III has many compromises that not all photographers will be willing to accept.
However, some will accept it because the other benefits it offers far outweigh those below-par specifications. They’re not important to them. And those are the people who’ll buy the A9 III.
For most applications, the rolling shutter CMOS sensor is going to remain standard for a while to come. Unless there’s some big surprise breakthrough in global shutter CMOS technology over the next couple of years, it’s just unlikely to.
So, what’s next?
Now we just all get on with shooting, I guess. That would be nice, huh? Never going to happen. People are still always going to complain and lust after more gear. And there will probably be a new race popping up that we don’t even know exists yet.
We’re already starting to see it with some of the AI-powered feature implementations we’re seeing on some cameras. Most autofocus systems are now also powered by AI. Who knows where that particular rabbit hole could lead us?
But what about core photography features? I think we’ll start to see some better high-ISO performance. Or, perhaps first, an AI-powered assistant while the real feature is being developed. With the exception of perhaps the Sony A9 III, I think the dynamic range of cameras today is also pretty good for most use cases.
Even looking at video, which has been a huge race ever since it was first introduced to DSLRs with the Nikon D90, is starting to peak a bit. While 8K may have been thrust upon us, 12K isn’t coming any time soon.
We’ve already got just about every camera on the planet now able to record raw video into an Atomos Ninja (buy here) or Blackmagic Video Assist (buy here), with 4K, 6K and 8K resolution and frame rates all the way up to 240fps on some cameras.
I’m not saying nobody will ever need anything faster or higher resolution, but we’re a long time off those sorts of things becoming mainstream, if ever.
What do you think the next photography war will be? Or if there’ll even be another one at all.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.