11 February, 2014

Are we there yet?

To use the DXO interactive chart, you need to go there.

Sony's NEX-7 has been around since 2011, so Sony watchers have been awaiting a replacement for a little while now. And, now we have the a6000 — the "NEX" name is gone. The new camera seems to provide incremental (rather than groundbreaking) improvements to the Sony line. This has given me a chance to think about the situation more generally.

DXOMark provides sensor ratings for most digital cameras. And, while not perfect, the DXO scores afford some useful comparative information about camera sensors (and their processing engines). But, in considering these "scores," it's important to remember that 2 or 3 points either way are insignificant.

So let's have a look.

The NEX-7 has an impressive, overall DXO sensor rating of 81. (We'll have to wait for the new A6000's DXO score.) [Update: the A6000 came in with a score of 82.] And, as I've looked at the field, there seems to be a barrier at around 85. For example, no APS-C camera breaks through that barrier. And, not even the Leica full-frames get to 85: The Leica Type 240 scores an 84, the Leica 220 is at 69, and the Leica M9 comes in at 69. No tested Canon, full-frame or otherwise, scores above 82.

So, what gets across that line? Three medium-format backs and twelve full-frames. All of the full-frames are either Sonys or Nikons (i.e. Sony sensors).

Until the beginning of 2012, only four cameras had scored above 85: The three Phase One medium-format backs and the Nikon D3X.

Many people's choice for 2013 camera of the year, the impressive Olympus OMD E-M1, comes in at 73—the best score for a Micro Four Thirds camera.

Thinking about it, I don't know what I was expecting. (Even if they could, there's no chance that Sony is going to let it's APS-C cameras encroach on their full-frames.)

So, are we there yet? If by "there" we mean having cameras that can capture images that will make any photographer's/printer's heart sing, Yeah. 

Do those cameras need to be above that arbitrary line? Nope.

I'm sure that Sony and the other sensor makers will continue to work overtime to develop the next generation of sensors. It just doesn't look like that's going to happen this week.

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