Things are going the right way :-)

We are getting there, a couple more years and I believe we will have the digital camera that will really make photography easier: a compact full frame body that can take SLRs lenses, and that also comes with dedicated "pancake", compact premium lenses.

Canon is so far the closest to deliver that dream camera with the EOS M, and they are really close: the only thing it's missing is a full frame sensor. It takes Canon SLR lenses, it is small and also has dedicated high aperture pancake prime lenses. Last but not come quite cheap.

My readers now I am a Nikon guy, simply because I believe it is factually, and with a significant margin, better in the field of SLRs (more solid, better metering, better lenses, better sensors). However, right now, I wish I had Canon gear to justify buying an EOS M ! Ok I won't, but when Nikon launches a competitive product, I'll be the first one to preorder.

Why would it be a giant step forward?
Well, there are a lot of ways to use a camera. Some include heavy support and steadiness, like shooting on the side of a football pitch. For those, actual full frame SLRs do great. But for most of us, when do we use our cameras? When we travel...and isn't it a pain to carry around?
Now I will suddenly address a much smaller segment of photographers, but one that spends a lot of money on gear: how many of you advanced SLR users who strive for quality photography went out without your SLR  because well,  it's a pain to carry, and missed great shots? Ever dreamt of that other body you could own, that would be like super small, and you could take this for travel, and the big one for when you do a wedding, or wildlife? Well that's a dream I make everyday and I'm sure many of you too. I need that camera to finally come out !!! 

The road so far
Since the introduction of digital, advantages over analog were pretty obvious: shooting in a virtually unlimited manner, at fix cost (almost...), easy post processing and share-ability as well as duplication are immediate and infinite. However, some things remained inferior at first: low light was crap (now it's amazingly good against analog), camera bodies were not exactly small. Also, manufacturers quickly segmented the market in two: the professional stuff, essentially SLRs, and the mass market cameras, back in the days simply called compacts. If you are a young reader, you have to imagine that none of the other segments (mirrorless, bridge, etc) existed. And very quickly, manufacturers started taking us for idiots: when the pros were being served large sensors and evolutive gear, the mass consumer was being sold pixels, big zooms and other BS that is totally irrelevant when it comes to photography. 

Then after a while, the two segments sort of met: SLRs became affordable, and compact nearly as expensive as. The amateur wanted the SLRs feel but without the price tag (especially on lenses), so they launched the bridge: compact quality in a SLR looking body. Plain stupid. You get more inconvenience for nothing in return, expect that people standing 10 meters away think you have an SLR.

Skipping a few steps, the same companies got a better sense of the market, and consumers refined their needs: it has to be compact, and some of us started to realize that maybe the lens was the key component for image quality, not the pixel count. Also lens changeability appears to look cool and pro (since SLR owners do it?). Well, they were not going to sell us more pixels anyway since they reached a plateau, so we got the mirrorless system. Here again, we have been taken for a bunch of raging morons: they sold us systems with the sensors and image characteristics of a compact (give or take), but for twice the price and...without the lens ! Ah the lens? Well good new everyone: there was this time more than one to buy, and nearly at the price of a good SLR prime lens. Not to mention that when a new format come out, it's all worth nothing more than a Facebook stock.

The OMS is a very decent compact system, if it was a 24x36 (full frame) sensor I would own one already.

A new Hope, the X100
Then Fuji launched the X100. A mix between smart marketing, a good design and some significant improvement for the user. Of course the price was still a bit of a joke but well, God bless Fuji for opening that door: there is a market for someone who wants top quality image, with a lens and sensor that allows a lot of margin in manually setting up your camera. An APS-C sensor (same as a DX SLR), a prime 35mm F2 quality lens and a robust body...even for $1200 we were getting close to the real thing.

X100, not without flaw but damn, sexy !

Since then, other manufacturers jumped in, and electronic goods reviewers starting being a little more educated (or did the manufacturers change the pitch points and lead them towards it?): they finally started to explain that the 2 key components of a digital camera are :

  1. the lens
  2. the sensor, and when it comes to this, the bigger the better.

I won't list all the mirrorless systems that came out with a more decently sized sensor lately, there are plenty of good choices. However, they are just better enough to be an improvement over the previous generation, but not really to the point that it would satisfy the picky annoying mofo that I am. Some might say they are trying to sell an other generation of lenses that won't be compatible with the next systems...

I havent's tried it, I've only seen the corny Canon samples. All I know is that it is small, has a sensor that to me is "the minimum acceptable", it also has dedicated compact lenses and can take Canon SLR lenses. All the rest is futile, it is simply one last step away from what I have been waiting for: the full frame digital camera with a compact body. 

Still a long way to go
Not so much from a technology point of view, I'm certain many prototypes exist already. It's a business thing: the fact is, a 5D won't take better pictures than a EOS M with the same lens. No, it won't. It'll just be faster, maybe more accurate in some situation, more solid etc. I own an F5 and an FE, one is like the former D4 and the other is like the cheapest Nikon ever, with the same lens, trust me, same result. Difference is in the automation and extra features only. The problem is, some day, people will figure it out. That same day, the pros will still buy 1Ds and D4s, but the marketing manager a Canon will face a serious segmentation problem: why would anyone else still buy me an SLR?

Well here is my forecast: SLRs will be re-centered on what they really are for: the professional who needs reliability in extreme conditions, fast response time, extreme amount of shots taken, and good image quality in the weirdest situations (sports, war reporter, etc). Those cameras will cost $5000 because they will be produced in small amounts. Of course some show offs will get them to shoot bad portraits in weddings or to walk around heavy on vacations, but if they want to waste their money...

On the other end, the mass market and serious amateur gear will be a modern version of what the rangefinders used to be: smaller body with less extreme features but capable of the same images as an SLR. A range of lenses with good optical quality but that will be more affordable, probably plastic and China made. For those who will own pro gear, the pro lenses metal and Japan made will still be adaptable on those smaller bodies.
Manufacturers will sell those mirrorless systems for about the same price as the actual non full frame SLRs, simply replacing them for a product that makes a lot more sense. Because lets face it, when I see tourists with a entry level SLR, kit lens and flash open on full auto shooting the wing of the plane thru the window, I think to myself: "maybe they had to rob those people of their hard earned money, but at least they could have sold them something smaller to carry around".

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