Digital SLR Price Drops, with More to Come

Digital SLR Price Drops, with More to Come

by George Schaub

The recent announcement of the $599 D40 from Nikon ( is just the beginning of an anticipated flood of announcements from DSLR makers about more reasonably priced units on the way. Granted, this is a 6-megapixel sensor, but that might just be right for the audience Nikon has defined for this camera. And despite the lower price it's no laggard when it comes to features and Nikon's advanced image processor. In truth, if you don't anticipate going beyond 11x14 prints (which are easily achieved with this and similar 6MP models with a judicious amount of image upsizing via resampling) then this compact unit might be just the ticket.

While we await a production sample to do a full test on this camera, I can't help but wonder what affect this trend will have on integral lens, and particularly EVF (electronic viewfinder) type digital cameras, many of which are in this price range already. My gut feeling is that the effect will be profound, and that we might see a drop off in EVF intros (of which we have few coming anyway), and especially on higher priced integral lens models.

One of the main, and valid complaints against integral lens cameras is the bothersome shutter lag. Anyone who has attempted to photograph children at play, in the backyard or on the soccer field, knows what shutter lag means. You press the shutter release button and wait...and wait...and in photography a second or even two is an eternity. By the time the camera decides what the focus and exposure will be the subject is gone and the shot is lost. Yes, you can cut down on this by setting up the shot prior to exposure by putting light pressure on the shutter to give the systems a head start, but that's not always possible, and it's not the way I think photographs are made.

In fact, you might have noticed that we don't do reviews on integral lens cameras in Shutterbug. Yes, we'll do a review if the camera has something unique and shows off a technological breakthrough that we think will affect all cameras up and down the food chain. But in general we don't (though we do get information on dozens of such intros each show cycle) because we don't see them as offering the tools required by photographers. Even the long range zoom models with image stabilization do not get the nod from us for much the same reason. While we respect the sophisticated technology of such units we always run up against the same problem of the camera getting in the way of spontaneous photography. That, by the way, is why we don't even get near cell phone cameras. Yes, they are fun and convenient, but in general the image quality is so abysmal that we can't in all honesty feel they are right for photographers doing photography.

Cell phones, however are doing one thing--knocking down the price, and the introductions in lower MP digicams. Not very long ago the 3MP digicam was the rage...then the 4...all the way up to those 10MP units we see today. And we hear rumors that a 12MP digicam will showcase early next year. We'll have to see how packing all those pixels on relatively small chips works out, and we suspect that this will be a very heavily processed image. That speaks to the advances in image processing achieved of late, and when one of those come out we will put it through its paces, just out of curiosity.

But the question remains--will lower MP DSLRs be so beneficial to the current integral lens buyer, in terms of lens and accessory options, that the integral lens snapshot user will see the light and make the switch? Of course, there will always be folks who remain intimidated by any kind of SLR. It was the case in film days and remains so today. And OTUC (disposable) film cameras still sell. But given the frustration many users feel with their integral lens digital cameras, and how they miss so many shots, perhaps a point and shoot type DSLR will begin to make more sense. True, the D40 is not just that, but given that one shoots on full Auto it can certainly behave that way.

Now we await the turn of the year and the coming product introductions at the two major shows slated for early January and then early March. My guess is that we'll see lots more affordable DSLRs from just about every manufacturer. And then the megapixel race, with the bar set by the D40 at 6MP, can begin all over again.