It's become a tradition at photo trade shows for at least one major camera company to showcase a nonfunctioning "concept" camera. But at this year's PMA show in March, Olympus, Pentax, and Sony were all in on the act -- or should I say magic show? In my experience, concept cameras rarely make it to stores with the specifications and shapes that they have in the wooden-block stages -- and sometimes they just disappear altogether.
|Show stoppers: At the PMA trade show in March, several prototype cameras were on display. But will these fancy-looking DSLRs ever really hit the market?|
So why display a concept camera? Two reasons: First, to diminish the interest photographers might have in competing -- and available -- models, while building excitement and demand for an upcoming product. After all, who wants to buy a DSLR that could soon be made obsolete by a higher-tech model at a lower price? (This tactic can backfire, though, if long delays turn a concept camera into dreaded "vaporware.") Second, feedback from potential customers, retailers, and other experts on proposed features can help designers create a better model.
Let's hope that feedback, and not distraction, is motivating the current concept crop. By now, Olympus and Pentax should have all the feedback needed to complete their designs, as the Olympus has been in the concept phase since September 2006 and the Pentax since 2005.
Olympus has promised to deliver its successor to the E-1 this year -- with several new features, including full-time live view, enhanced LCD monitor, faster and more sensitive focusing system, and further improvements in both performance and functionality.
Our guess is the camera will also have at least a 10MP sensor (with the Olympus 4:3 aspect ratio), improved battery life, CF and xD-Picture card compatibility, and another hot feature found on the new E-510: sensor-based mechanical image stabilization. In addition, Olympus has promised a slew of new Four Thirds System lenses to help satisfy pro demands.
On its long-anticipated medium-format 645 Digital, Pentax has updated the sensor specifications (subject to change at any moment). The company says the camera will pack a 31.6MP Kodak-developed CCD sensor (last year's concept model was to feature an 18MP Kodak sensor) and it will maintain compatibility with existing Pentax 645 lenses. It also will have dual card slots for SDHC and CF cards, and be available with a digitally optimized 55mm f/2.8 lens. But Pentax hasn't promised 2007 delivery, so beware vaporware!
Sony showed off two prototype DSLRs -- saying it will deliver at least one of them this calendar year. According to Sony, both will feature its new Bionz image-processing engine, with improved noise reduction and speed, plus Super SteadyShot image stabilization.
The larger of the two (shown above) will be built to tougher body standards and higher performance specifications. We hope that it will boast at least a 12MP sensor, plus many of the features, control dials, and capabilities beloved by Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D owners. The smaller one will be an upgrade to the current Alpha 100, aimed at the entry-level DSLR crowd.
Don't be surprised if a live preview feature creeps into one (or both) of these models. But for now that's just feedback I'd like to pass on to Sony designers.