Seems like we were all just getting used to the new compact, entry-level DSLR market when along comes an entirely new category that we’ll loosely refer to here as the Power Point & Shoot, though the industry seems stuck on the term “hybrid” cameras.
Sigma was the first manufacturer to come to market with what they called, “A full-spec compact digital camera with all the power of DSLR” when they launched the DP1 late last year. They have since followed that introduction with the DP2, a 14-megapixel beaut with a Foveon X3 image sensor housed in a compact rangefinder-looking body. They added a 41mm f/2.8 lens with a “Super Multi-Layer Coating” to reduce lens flare.
We dare say, images we recently shot were extremely crisp and detailed, even at higher ISOs. The depth-of-field potential is a nice surprise in the DP2 as well. The lens is truly a winner and the body design is rather retro looking and a fraction of the weight of a typical DSLR. However, all this power in P&S form is costly—with a MSRP of over $700 for now.
“We are extremely proud of the engineering and design involved in the creation of the DP2,” said Mark Amir-Hamzeh, general manager of Sigma Corporation of America. “The Foveon X3 sensor attracts pure, rich light and provides full, RGB color capture in a single-pixel location for high resolution and richly graduated tones. The characteristics of the impressive sensor and its standard, high-quality lens combine to produce a real-life, three-dimensional effect in images that is unparalleled by other cameras on today’s market.”
Flood Gates Open
It didn’t take long for a few variations on this theme to appear on the horizon as Samsung and Olympus soon followed.
Samsung’s PMA announcement of the NX Series introduced a line of cameras that utilize a DSLR-like APS‑C-sized image sensor providing a much larger surface area to gather light and produce higher-quality images than comparable digital camera systems. Unlike a DSLR, the NX Series does not feature a mirror box and employs what Samsung refers to as an “ultra-precise electronic viewfinder.” The use of an EVF, according to Samsung, has allowed them, “to significantly reduce the size and weight of the new camera system by decreasing the distance between the lens and image sensor (flange back) by approximately 40 percent compared to traditional DSLRs.” In addition to utilizing the EVF, Live View functionality is available as well for framing shots. The first models in this series are due out within in the next couple of months.
Olympus just announced what they are calling, “A new era of digital imaging with the launch of the Olympus E-P1. The world’s smallest 12.3-megapixel interchangeable lens system camera that blends the high-quality still images of a DSLR with HD video, stereo Linear PCM audio recording and In-Camera Creativity within an ultra-portable body,” the company explained in a recently released statement.
Olympus is calling this one “The Pen” and they are aiming it at what they are calling a new generation of imaging consumers.
“The E-P1 is designed for the mobile, visual generation that lives active lives online and off, and its portability ensures that it will go with you wherever life takes you,” said John Knaur, senior marketing manager, Digital SLR, Olympus Imaging America Inc. “As someone who has shot with an SLR most of my life, I’m excited that SLR-quality images can be captured with a camera this compact and portable. The E-P1 truly allows you to capture it all with the highest still photo image quality blended with HD video, high-end audio, multiple exposure and creative art filters in one small, stylish camera.”
Leica’s D-LUX 4 series certainly warrants mention within this discussion as the company just added the “Safari” model to this popular line. Again, a large 1/1.63” CCD image sensor has been built in to a very compact, retro shell, coupled with a Leica DC VARIO-SUMMICRON lens at 1:2.0-2.8/5.1-12.8 ASPH, this is a high-aperture lens for a digital compact camera and, as Leica touts, “provides image-capture capability far beyond the typical point-and-shoot.”
Micro Promises Delivered
This is essentially what we’ve been promised with the Micro Four Thirds system, smaller form factors within the DSLR market, and thus far the E-P1 seems to have delivered exactly this. “The Pen” actually separates itself from the pack within this Power Point & Shoot category as this one actually offers interchangeable lenses making it a true DSLR. Panasonic’s Lumix G1 also made good on the Micro Four Thirds promise of “compact, lightweight” DSLRs, but that one wasn’t quite point-and-shoot in its design specs.
Tastes Great/Less Filling
Not surprisingly, the debate has begun—as in, are these actually DSLRs or simply high-end point-and shoots—and at these prices (north of $600) who’s buying?
“Right now I see these models as a niche buy,” began New York-based pro-sumer Gavin Lane. “I mean, the technology is whiz-bang for sure, but when you’re in the $600-&700 price range—if you’re buying at that number—you’re buying a DSLR…no?”
Lane added, “The industry might be surprised though. The cool factor can supersede a lot of other stuff and these cameras are definitely cool.”
Samsung feels, while the category might start off slowly, the future for the “hybrid” is quite bright. “We estimate that the hybrid digital camera market will be over 20 percent of the global digital still-camera market by 2012,” said Sang-jin Park, CEO of Samsung Digital Imaging Company.
Bold words from Samsung but consumers have made it clear that “compact and stylish” are the winning combination in the digital camera market to date. So then, what’s the play here?
“This category is aimed at the ‘would be’ DSLR buyers and I think the design and cool-factor will draw a lot of attention,” former New York-based retailer Mark Cavanaugh added. “This early buzz will get this category rolling and you’ll see the technology evolve and the prices drop for sure. It’s a category that is here to stay.”
Casio and Sony are in the “hybrid” game as well but with models that don’t quite fit this Power Point-and-Shoot category, one that remains in it’s own niche. It will be interesting to watch what kind of audience develops, exactly where this product category is headed and how far “cool” can carry a camera.