Things move on - So where are they going?

With Leica M's finally starting to reach customers, I was reminded of when I got my Leica M9 just over three years ago. It strikes me the M is entering a somewhat different marketplace to that of just a short while ago. Back then there were two 24MP cameras and a couple of 20MP ones. Currently there a quite a few cameras with 24MP sensors, some 35mm and some APS-C and its almost becoming the standard for high-end cameras. Plus of course we have the 36MP of the D800/D800E.

So back in 2009. I didn't have much doubt that even considering the price of the M9 I was getting the best IQ at low ISO's that I could. I had a Nikon D3X at the time which cost almost as much anyway, so I sold that to pay for the bulk of the M9.

Things really are different now and I wouldn't consider either the M9 or its replacement the M-E or indeed the M as being the camera that gives me the best IQ at low ISO's. That for me, comes from either of my DP Merrills (Actually no longer mine, their ebay auction finished this morning and they are off to new owners) and the D800E. The latter of course is total overkill for most of what I do, and just to remind people this is how 24MP and 36MP compares to A3. 

As you can see, high-end modern digital cameras are producing some huge high resolution files these days. Incidentally the somewhat run of the mill 16MP sensor produces a file just slightly smaller than the A3 box. For the most part 16MP is certainly enough for most print reproduction needs, unless a huge exhibition print is required, and 24MP and 36MP give the opportunity for lots of cropping. So where will it end? Well in reality it probably won't end. As engineers manage to squeeze more and more pixels onto sensors and work out ways to keep the noise down, things will just keep edging ever upwards. This is of course beyond most print needs and we end up with hyper-real images that we navigate around on our computer screens, looking at detail that we couldn't see with our eyes.

So is this what we want? Well considering the sales of cameras like the Nikon D600 and other cameras, I guess it is. Its a different way to look at photography certainly. The photographic print, once the standard method of looking at pictures is not as important as it once was. I can't remember the last time I made a print, probably when I was shooting weddings. I currently don't even own what might be described as a photographic printer, either ink-jet or dye-sub.

In addition to these changes images are now just as likely to be reproduced electronically rather than on paper, and that of course makes these extraordinary file sizes even more over the top. However personally I see no reason to stop moving forward. Who knows what is waiting in the future. Huge wall screens that let us see clearly what we have photographed with our cameras could well start to appear. Its always foolish to assume that things remain as they are, and while 36MP images might seem a bit extravagent at the moment, a few years down the line that might change.

I was amused a while ago when a gadget journalist got himself a Mac with a retina display. He suddenly saw that his mobile phone images, that up to then he had thought were pretty good, were disppointing on the improved resolution of his screen. So much so that he went out and bought himself himself a Canon DSLR!! and recommended that all his readers did the same. I make no comment (You know what I think already) other than to say that I've had several conversations with many of the staff at my local Apple store, many of whom are keen photographers. They all use, you guessed it, DSLR's. 

The bottom line is that things change far slower than we think. The DSLR is obviously not dead and has, I'm sure many years left in it. There are more alternatives now for sure, and mirrorless will continue to take market share away from the big boys. Will we all be using our phones in 10 years time to take pictures? Well personally I doubt it. There is something about a camera that a smartphone can't compete with. Who knows we may even get a 'bigger is better' backlash. We have modern cameras looking like they were designed in the 1930's, so anything is possible. Ultimately whatever technological marvel we choose to use over a certain price level, chances are it gives us results that we will be pleased with. Technology hasn't subsumed the camera as an object of desire yet, and personally I doubt that it ever will. Certainly not when cameras like the Leica M appear. Whatever the price of it, and the fact that it may not quite have the magic of previous incarnations, it is a wondrous looking thing and if the picture below doesn't stir your photographic soul, then you probably don't have one!

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.  

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