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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Full-frame cameras shoot for attention

Delivering top-notch image quality in a tank-like body, such premium models are becoming more affordable, as seen at the Photokina expo in Germany.
The Straits Times - September 26, 2012
By: Tan Chong Yaw
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Full-frame cameras shoot for attention -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A bumper crop of full-frame cameras was launched this year and more than half of them were at Photokina (main photo).

Full-frame cameras are the top dogs among DSLR cameras. The choice of professional photographers, they are built like a tank and deliver top-notch image quality.

They are also literally heavyweights as the body alone can weigh about 1kg - almost twice that of a consumer DSLR camera.

But the two latest full-frame models launched at Photokina by the world's top camera makers Canon and Nikon mark a change to this scenery.

Not only are they are smaller and lighter than those of their class, they are also the cheapest of such models launched.

Nikon's D600, at $3,249, is more than $1,000 cheaper than the D800 - almost a third less.

Although the Singapore price of the Canon 6D has not been released, it is 40 per cent cheaper than the 5D Mark III in the United States market.

With the 5D Mark III costing $4,699 here, the 6D may be even cheaper than the Nikon product.

The more attractive pricing could be due to the looming threat of weakening sales.

Keeping DSLR sales going

DSLR camera sales will start declining annually from 2014, according to research firm IDC's latest forecast of the camera market up to 2016.

By 2016, sales are expected to drop 5 per cent from this year. The decrease, while slight, will be a staggering blow to camera makers as DSLR camera sales have been enjoying double-digit growth for most years.

"Introducing higher-end technology such as full-frame sensors in lower-priced models is a way to keep DSLR sales going," said worldwide digital imaging practice research manager Christopher Chute of IDC.

Mr Gerard Tan, account director of market research firm GfK Asia, sees it differently: "It's a move to make photo enthusiasts stick to DSLR cameras and not choose mirrorless models instead."

Mirrorless cameras are the fastest growing camera market segment.

Despite a full-frame sensor being more than twice the size of the largest sensor - an APS-C one - in mirrorless models, many consumers opt for mirrorless cameras for their sound balance of price and performance.

But there is a clear movement towards full-frame cameras in recent years.

More models to come

An extraordinary one third of all full-frame cameras ever launched were rolled out just this year. There had been only about 30 such models in the last decade since the first full-frame camera was launched in 2002.

Before the start of this year, there were only eight such models on the market. Then 11 new models were launched this year - six at Photokina.

Leading the charge was Nikon, which started the year with three models. It launched four this year, including the D600.

Nikon Singapore's managing director, Mr Masanobu Tsunoda, said the D600 "creates a new market category" of "approachable and affordable" full-frame cameras.

Canon Singapore's consumer imaging & information group assistant director MrEdwin Teoh told Digital Life that Canon wanted to "provide a solution that offers the benefits of a full-frame sensor at a more affordable cost" with the 6D.

Both emphasised that outstanding image quality was the chief attraction of the cameras. Generally, full-frame models remain few and command a price premium.

German optics maker Leica launched two rangefinder types. The cheaper one, the M-E, costs US$5,450 ($6,680) in the US.

Leica's rangefinder cameras are high-quality models on which focusing is done manually by matching two views of the subject in the viewfinder.

Sony unveiled full-frame sensors in a translucent mirror model - which looks like a DSLR camera but which uses an electronic viewfinder - and a compact camera. Both carry a US$2,798 price tag.

Medium-format specialist Hasselblad, which announced a mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor, intends to launch a full-frame DSLR camera next year. It will not come cheap as the APS-C model already has a whopping 5,000-euro ($8,000) price tag.

For now, Canon and Nikon are the only two in the "affordable" full-frame game.

But with their higher, pricier models still in the running, expect the next models in this segment to cost even less.

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