Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Engineering cameras

There is a preview of the new medium format system, Hy6, over at Luminous Landscape today, and Colin Jago had a response, too. I'm sure you've all seen them already. Here's my take.

I agree with Michael Reichmann, development of competition like this was fair inevitable and is certainly welcome. However, it seems to me there is a fundamental problem with the way such products are being developed that doesn't fit with modern business reality.

With film cameras, the image record was done in the same way for all cameras. Once you'd established a product that did the basics of framing, focus and shutter release there was a platform for developing smarter ways to achieve these things. Over time various controls developed to assist with metering, multiple frames, auto this & that. All very evolutionary but still fixed to the basics of getting light to the film.

In the digital age, things are somewhat different both for the product and the customer. Getting to the final image capture takes rather more steps than just getting light to the sensor. Electronic controls coupled with electronic recording lead to a whole host of extra features and data required. Customers are also demanding more of their equipment, in the knowledge of what is possible. Developments throughout the camera world are moving fast, which helps fuel users' demands.

With all of that in mind, it is no longer sufficient to design a camera along the lines of "get the light to the sensor, then let's figure out what else to do". A new platform or system ,such as the Hy6, needs a whole lot more in its basic design just to get to the "barely acceptable", let alone excel. Top image quality isn't going to cut it if the rest of the package is difficult to use, software isn't in place to support it, productivity features aren't included.

To make all of this happen, far more effort needs to be spent on the specification, across a much wider range of features. It is now the lens, body, sensor, storage, power, software, controls as a whole that need thinking about. it seems to me far too many of these items have been missed in the Hy6 development - as highlighted by Michael Reichmann. While I believe the system deserves to succeed, and will help bring high-end costs down, I think there is a real danger that this horse will fall at the first for lack of basic jumping ability. It takes a very strong company to be able to carry marginal commercial performance through to a second iteration and beyond.

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