What Does the Canon 70D Mean?


Canon's early July introduction of the Canon 70D didn't generate near as much discussion of implications as I thought it would. 

Three discussion topics I can think of are:

  • Will all DSLRs move to on-sensor phase detect focusing capabilities? Short answer: yes. Even if it's only used for Live View and video, that's a step forward for DSLRs. But being able to get another set of information during mirror blackout could be useful, too. How far how fast we go with phase detect on the imaging sensor is another of those bandwidth problems. More information more often is better, but the flood of information coming off sensors these days is already taxing some of the imaging ASICs. Nikon's architecture can't support multiple EXPEED chips like DIGIC can, so something has to change for Nikon to go much further than they have. It's encouraging to see Nikon continue to make progress with the Nikon 1's on-sensor focusing, but the smaller sensor has the advantage of a deeper depth of field, all else equal. 

    Historically, we wouldn't expect a change to Nikon technology until the D5, which would typically be launched a year before the next Olympics (e.g. launch in 2015). It's difficult to believe that Nikon would let Canon have a two-year advantage with a technology, though, and Canon themselves deployed this first in the middle of their lineup, not on a top pro camera, so I would have to guess the pressure is on for Nikon to do something similar. But where? The next three iterations should be the D4x, D400, and D3300. 

  • The 70D competes with the D7100. Where are the high-spec crop sensor DSLRs? Canon's 7D dates to 2009, Nikon's D300s really dates to 2007, as the update really didn't change much of consequence, and certainly not image quality. It's as if Canon and Nikon conspired together to try to get as many of the crop-sensor using pros and enthusiasts into full frame as possible while ignoring customers that can't afford or don't want the bigger, heavier systems.

    Four years is a long time in digital. It's like dog years: multiply by 7 or so. Moreover, Nikon has been behind in sensor specs for those four years (the 7D is 18mp, the D300s, 12mp). Good thing these are good cameras that hold up well to abuse. Because a lot of folk are still shooting with them, hoping upon hope that Canon and Nikon will give them upgraded versions some day with newer sensor technology. 

    Meanwhile, the D7100 and now 70D are sneaking up with features and performance on their older, professional brothers, and beating them with better sensors. Let me say this as kindly as I can: the camera makers are idiots if they don't cater to the existing 7D and D300/D300s users with new cameras soon. They've already considerably upset that group. Now they're beginning to torture them. When the year is done and no D400 or 8D appears, the camera makers only have to look to themselves to wonder why their margins and sales are down: they didn't deliver to a core constituency. Sure, that constituency is smaller than the fickle consumer crop DSLR crowd, but it's bigger than the FX/full frame crowd, and just as loyal. Moreover, the margins are darned good. Nikon could make a better GPM on a US$1700 D400 than they are on the US$2100 D600 I'll bet. Considerably more.

    August is when the next camera roll-out window starts. Let's hope that the D400 is being positioned in that window.

  • Are the high-end consumer cameras now good enough to take over the pro models? This question first came up with the D7100, whose 6 fps, 24mp sensor coupled with a plethora of other feature upgrades made it look like a D300s killer. Now the 70D comes along with the biggest Canon APS sensor to date, and similar upgrades ala the D7100. 

    The answer to the question is "no", by the way. What looks pretty good on paper doesn't necessarily play out in the field. In the case of the D7100 the wimpy buffer and the less robust build quality alone disqualify it from the true D300 user's upgrade path. I'm a little less sure about the Canon 70D, but initial impressions run along the same lines.

    Moreover, this is modus operandi for the Japanese electronic companies: start really high to get leading edge adopters and a high return on R&D, stop popping out low end products to get the costs averaged over more units, fill out the product line, then start moving the line slowly upwards in parallel. Within a couple of years, the low-end model is as good as the middle model used to be, the middle as good as the high, and so on. Both Canon and Nikon tend to follow this structure, and yes, slowly but surely, even the low end models have risen to a fairly high standard.

    But note the price points: they stayed pretty much the same (a little movement from currency fluctuations and inflation, but not much). Neither company at the moment has a high price point crop sensor DSLR that's current. The "full framers" all try to say "but the low end of full frame is getting down to the price levels that the high end of crop-sensor cameras." Well, stating a fact doesn't necessarily mean that there's logic behind the statement. The notion that a D300s or 7D user would opt for a D600 or 6D instead of wait for a better crop-sensor camera is wrong. The sacrifices to gain the larger sensor would be huge: loss of weather sealing, loss of full metal frames, loss of pro-level controls, smaller buffers, the list goes on and on. And most of the things that are missing are the reason why the person bought the top of the crop-sensor line in the first place. 

So we continue to wait. The lack of much discussion about the Canon 70D release seems to indicate that the crowd is waiting in silence.


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