PetaPixel

Full-Frame Sensors in Consumer Cameras

As technology improves, features that were once limited to expensive professional models often become available to the masses, but will this ever be true for full-frame sensors? Nikon’s Senior VP David Lee was recently asked this question in an interview with TWICE, and here’s what he said:

I think that there are definitely two different approaches here. What we’re seeing is that sensor performance continues to improve, but obviously there’s really a need for bulk because with a full-size sensor there’s a real low-light performance benefit, high speed performance, framing rates, and so on and so forth. So, I think you’ll definitely continue to see the higher-end pro consumer continue to have that large format. It’s definitely needed in the D3 and D700. You’ll see that technology continue to improve and grow, but the DX sensor form factor is also important. The compactness of the D3100 and D5100 is very popular. I don’t think one approach will ever overtake the other because of the overall image capabilities and the light performance capabilities.

Seems like he either misunderstood the question, or decided to beat around the bush. It’s an interesting question though — will any of the big manufacturers shake up the industry by being the first to put a full-frame sensor in a consumer-level camera? The sensors have already jumped from pro-level cameras to prosumer-level ones starting in 2005 with the Canon 5D, so it seems like the next logical step will be the consumer level. A sub-$1000 full-frame camera. Now that’s a thought.

How Much Does Size Matter In Image Sensors (via 1001 Noisy Cameras)


Image credit: What’s That? (63) by jurvetson


 
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  • http://twitter.com/mauriciomatos Mauricio Matos

    I don’t see it happening soon simply because 95% of the people who buy those cameras have no idea what full frame or APS-C sensors are and much less the differences. All they (think) they know is more Megapixels is better and they don’t even know why…so the manufacturers wont see the need, unless the price of full frame sensors reach the point where they cost the same or close to the same as APS-C sensors.

  • Cochese

    I’m going to say the answer to that question is going to be no. A huge no. There simply isn’t the room in a consumer level camera for a full-frame sensor and the optics to utilize it properly. It seems like it would be a waste. And with so many people using phones for pictures these days, it seems like it wouldn’t even be practical considering the cost of any camera equipped with such technology.

  • Anonymous

    It has always been a question of when.

    If computers have gone from the size of a house into the palm of our hands, I’m sure something similar can be worked out for for full frame sensors.

  • Elias

    Geez I hope so. I want my 50mm prime to actually be a 50mm prime. 

  • Elias

    Geez I hope so. I want my 50mm prime to actually be a 50mm prime. 

  • Anonymous

    A big no as well.

    The pro market will eventually be assimilated into the much larger, and profitable, consumer market- but with that comes the destruction of half of the pro market. CEO WIllie will have his staff train on these consumer full frames so they will never have to pay a photographer again.

    a 7-10 pixel full frame camera fro 700 dollars cpould be the thing though. pics just wont be big enough for the pro market- magazines, billbaords, etc- but its a huge selling point to push sales. Then the mid level full frames will sell to enthusiasts.

    Chips will get better. If IBM blasted their way through storage density and memory coherency, there’s no doubt that the “sensor size problem” (which is likely fabricated by the industry to plot the next 20 years of sales) is simply the next logical step. FLip up mirros will be gone in the next 5 years anywho, so whats next? image stabilization built into nikon/canon bodies? oh, thats in the future (for them).

  • Anonymous

    A big no as well.

    The pro market will eventually be assimilated into the much larger, and profitable, consumer market- but with that comes the destruction of half of the pro market. CEO WIllie will have his staff train on these consumer full frames so they will never have to pay a photographer again.

    a 7-10 pixel full frame camera fro 700 dollars cpould be the thing though. pics just wont be big enough for the pro market- magazines, billbaords, etc- but its a huge selling point to push sales. Then the mid level full frames will sell to enthusiasts.

    Chips will get better. If IBM blasted their way through storage density and memory coherency, there’s no doubt that the “sensor size problem” (which is likely fabricated by the industry to plot the next 20 years of sales) is simply the next logical step. FLip up mirros will be gone in the next 5 years anywho, so whats next? image stabilization built into nikon/canon bodies? oh, thats in the future (for them).

  • Anonymous

    A big no as well.

    The pro market will eventually be assimilated into the much larger, and profitable, consumer market- but with that comes the destruction of half of the pro market. CEO WIllie will have his staff train on these consumer full frames so they will never have to pay a photographer again.

    a 7-10 pixel full frame camera fro 700 dollars cpould be the thing though. pics just wont be big enough for the pro market- magazines, billbaords, etc- but its a huge selling point to push sales. Then the mid level full frames will sell to enthusiasts.

    Chips will get better. If IBM blasted their way through storage density and memory coherency, there’s no doubt that the “sensor size problem” (which is likely fabricated by the industry to plot the next 20 years of sales) is simply the next logical step. FLip up mirros will be gone in the next 5 years anywho, so whats next? image stabilization built into nikon/canon bodies? oh, thats in the future (for them).

  • Anonymous

    A big no as well.

    The pro market will eventually be assimilated into the much larger, and profitable, consumer market- but with that comes the destruction of half of the pro market. CEO WIllie will have his staff train on these consumer full frames so they will never have to pay a photographer again.

    a 7-10 pixel full frame camera fro 700 dollars cpould be the thing though. pics just wont be big enough for the pro market- magazines, billbaords, etc- but its a huge selling point to push sales. Then the mid level full frames will sell to enthusiasts.

    Chips will get better. If IBM blasted their way through storage density and memory coherency, there’s no doubt that the “sensor size problem” (which is likely fabricated by the industry to plot the next 20 years of sales) is simply the next logical step. FLip up mirros will be gone in the next 5 years anywho, so whats next? image stabilization built into nikon/canon bodies? oh, thats in the future (for them).

  • Dnguyen

    I think of cameras like the Olympus OM series and 35mm rangefinders (even the M9), and I still dream of compact full frame digitals. Sony (NEX), Leica (M), and Fuji (X100): PLEASE LEAD THE WAY! I want to be a ghost in the streets photographing life as it happens and not seem threatening to people with my 5D & L primes.

  • http://www.ormsconnect.co.za Francois

    “There simply isn’t the room in a consumer level camera for a full-frame sensor and the optics to utilize it properly.”
    Remember the days of film? You could get some pretty compact 35mm SLRs. Take away the extra room for the film spool and they could have been even more compact. A full frame sensor increases size in width and hight, obviously, but that room is already there. The width of the sensor might be thicker, but they can make it fit. And the mirror box is already the same depth between 35mm, full frame and crop. Hey, let’s even forget about SLRs and DSLRs… A full frame sensor and the lens require to throw the larger image circle can go into a camera the size of a digital compact. If they could do it with film, they can do it with digital. See Olympus XA.

    Technologically, they can do it tomorrow if they want (and I bet you they already have). It’s more a question of cost, consumer demand and politics.

    BTW: No room for the optics? What…

  • http://www.ormsconnect.co.za Francois

    “There simply isn’t the room in a consumer level camera for a full-frame sensor and the optics to utilize it properly.”
    Remember the days of film? You could get some pretty compact 35mm SLRs. Take away the extra room for the film spool and they could have been even more compact. A full frame sensor increases size in width and hight, obviously, but that room is already there. The width of the sensor might be thicker, but they can make it fit. And the mirror box is already the same depth between 35mm, full frame and crop. Hey, let’s even forget about SLRs and DSLRs… A full frame sensor and the lens require to throw the larger image circle can go into a camera the size of a digital compact. If they could do it with film, they can do it with digital. See Olympus XA.

    Technologically, they can do it tomorrow if they want (and I bet you they already have). It’s more a question of cost, consumer demand and politics.

    BTW: No room for the optics? What…

  • http://www.ormsconnect.co.za Francois

    “There simply isn’t the room in a consumer level camera for a full-frame sensor and the optics to utilize it properly.”
    Remember the days of film? You could get some pretty compact 35mm SLRs. Take away the extra room for the film spool and they could have been even more compact. A full frame sensor increases size in width and hight, obviously, but that room is already there. The width of the sensor might be thicker, but they can make it fit. And the mirror box is already the same depth between 35mm, full frame and crop. Hey, let’s even forget about SLRs and DSLRs… A full frame sensor and the lens require to throw the larger image circle can go into a camera the size of a digital compact. If they could do it with film, they can do it with digital. See Olympus XA.

    Technologically, they can do it tomorrow if they want (and I bet you they already have). It’s more a question of cost, consumer demand and politics.

    BTW: No room for the optics? What…

  • Igogosh

    Blah-blah-blah. Won’t happen the way people imagine. I have a full frame DSLR from the affordable range -Sony A850. there’s nothing consumer about it. Equipped with the lenses that resolve its capabilities it weighs well over what some pros are willing to haul around, not to mention the size. 
     The quests at the recent weddings I was shooting all had iPhone or smartphone for a camera. When I go out, I get a much smaller APS-C Sony a580 with DT 35mm F1.8 along. That’s as big a camera as some dedicated amateurs will take with them to a party.
     Amateurs will stick to a compact design with cool things that spits out nicely-baked JPEGs that are easy to share. Full Frame is not it:)))

  • Dov

    More to the point the manufacturers see no reason to give up the premium pricepoint on full frame sensors.

    The Nikons DX field is a case in point, the DX cameras create an entirely new prosummer market that rather than having a smooth transition up for the consumer requires them to make the decision of either buying the full frame lenses and taking the hit in the crop factor with the future hope of jumping to full frame.
    Or buying the cheaper DX lenses which outside of being cheaper and lighter and cant be used on the full frame chip camera still give you the crop factor issue.

    Nikon makes more money from this ghetto like High low end prosummer model due to the amount of DX chips they can get for less.

  • Dov

    More to the point the manufacturers see no reason to give up the premium pricepoint on full frame sensors.

    The Nikons DX field is a case in point, the DX cameras create an entirely new prosummer market that rather than having a smooth transition up for the consumer requires them to make the decision of either buying the full frame lenses and taking the hit in the crop factor with the future hope of jumping to full frame.
    Or buying the cheaper DX lenses which outside of being cheaper and lighter and cant be used on the full frame chip camera still give you the crop factor issue.

    Nikon makes more money from this ghetto like High low end prosummer model due to the amount of DX chips they can get for less.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se Erik Lauri Kulo

    Digital cameras? Psssshhhh, it won’t last! It’s a fly waiting to be squashed. Let’s face it. Also, we will NEVER walk on Mars. NEVER! And I don’t think we’ll have cars that runs on electricity in most of the western households. NEVER!

  • Anonymous

    <$1000 full frame? That would be awesome. For example the amount of noise you get on full frame is way lower than on APS-C.

  • Anonymous

    I’d think it will happen eventually.  I would expect a $1000 FF camera only some time after there’s something in the $1500 range.  One thing that might hold it back is lenses are expensive, someone that’s price sensitive about bodies might not be willing to replace their APS lenses, a lot of full frame lenses are very expensive.  The larger sensors are expensive too, roughly doubling the silicon real estate.  A lot of the cost reductions we see in silicon happen because smaller transistors take less space, less silicon area.

  • pixelbart

    Won’t happen. The consumer market will stabilize on the smallest, most affordable cameras that deliver nice photos at 8×10. At the moment, that point is reached. For €$£99 for a pocketable camera and €$£299 for a (still pretty pocketable) ‘advanced’ all-round superzoom. 35mm film only won because it reached this sweet spot for analog photography. 110 film wasn’t any good above 4×5 prints, medium format didn’t add anything for the average photographer.

    Just look at the difference in size between a Panasonic TZ10 or any other pocket super zoom and a dSLR with equivalent lens(es). Which one would you take with you on holiday if all you cared for were normal holiday pics to share on facebook?

  • Tyler Leeds

    I actually doubt you’ll see a sub $1000.00 full frame.  

    The trend toward lower priced electronics has been driven by the relentless miniaturization of semiconductors.  Your i7 CPU costs much less than a 386 did when it was new simply because the die size (the physical size of the chip) is much much smaller even though it runs faster and is millions of times more complex.  The trouble is that Moores law doesn’t apply to camera sensors.  They are the rare example of a semiconductor that is defined by its physical size rather than its complexity or speed.  The average cost of producing a full frame size piece of silicon, doesn’t reduce very quickly.  Added to this is the fact that manufacturing defects are a function of area produced instead of transistors produced.   I’ve seen stats that full frame chip manufacturers consistently see losses due to manufacturing defects upwards of 30%.  That inefficiency (that only gets better through better QC) will hold full frame sensor prices very high for a long time.

  • Leevy

    Do I got to be the first to mention the Sony A900? Full frame consumer DSLR for under $2000 new? Come on folks.

  • Leevy

    Do I got to be the first to mention the Sony A900? Full frame consumer DSLR for under $2000 new? Come on folks.

  • Leevy

    Do I got to be the first to mention the Sony A900? Full frame consumer DSLR for under $2000 new? Come on folks.

  • Travis

    Let’s not forget about that Samsung medium format that may or may not be coming out soon for the prosumer market.

  • Travis

    Let’s not forget about that Samsung medium format that may or may not be coming out soon for the prosumer market.

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  • brownway

    I could see this happening many camera generations from now.  I could see something like the same situation as canon xs vs. canon xsi.  Two entry level cameras, one has a higher MP than the other.  Maybe you could market the ‘xsi’ version as the full frame.  I mean, come on, I know that if you could scale up production, the cost difference between the sensors would not be that great.  If you could have the same economies of scale on full frame sensors as crop, then it could work.  The problem might be convincing the average rebel buyer that a full frame sensor with equal or less MP is actually better than the cheaper, crop sensor camera.
    I think Sony, Olympus or Panasonic might beat Canon and Nikon to this one.  They seem to be a little more cavalier. 

  • Mardock

    That’s no more true today than it was in 1978. CEO Willie will know more train his staff in consumer full-frames than he would have trained them in how to use a Canon AE-1 back in ’78. As always, the skill of the photographer determines the quality of the work produced, not the other way ’round.

    You’ll always have three types of shooters: casual snapshooters looking to record memories (the smartphone market is now starting to serve them); serious hobbyists (who will buy everything from mirrorless to prosumer DSLRs); and pros. The big advantage of full-frame mirrorless is not that it will create more amateur shooters taking work away from pros, but that it will enable pros to travel lighter and more efficiently.