Wanting an EVIL Mongrel

March 9, 2010

As recently as 2008, the digital-camera market had essentially split into two parts.

On the one side, there were full-featured (but bulky) DSLRs. On the other, there were small (but inadequate) point and shoots.

Today, there is great excitement as camera-makers grope to find some middle ground between those two extremes. The dream is to cram better image quality and more photographic control into a sub-DSLR package.

Counting Micro Four Thirds cameras and “serious compacts,” I can think of a good dozen such models on the market now.

But for a prospective camera shopper, it’s immensely frustrating that despite all the exciting new ideas floating around, none of the current models have “put it all together.” Each seems to combine some worthwhile virtue with some head-slapping flaw.

So let’s fantasize for a moment. What if we could choose all the strong points of many different cameras, and glom them all together into a single one?

My EVIL Mongrel

My EVIL Mongrel (Parts Are To Correct Scale)

We start with the sensor, of course.

There’s a recent crop of cameras praised for a 12 megapixel, APS-C sensor of good quality—particularly at higher ISOs. You can see this in reviews of the Nikon D5000, the Pentax K-x, and the A12 module used in Ricoh’s GXR.

Interestingly, every one of these shares the same 4288 x 2848 resolution—down to the exact pixel. It’s public knowledge that Sony supplies the sensor used in the Nikon; so it’s suggestive that these are all close cousins of a particular Sony chip design.

I’d also be perfectly happy with the Four Thirds sensor used in the Panasonic GH1. It tops all other 4/3 chips in performance; it also permits native 3:2 aspect ratio shooting. But Panasonic seems to have decreed that it will only be used in their premium-priced 1080p video models. That’s okay: the Sony chip is apparently cheap enough to stick into $500 cameras.

Leica’s X1 shows that it’s physically possible to fit a great APS-C sensor into a very svelte, handsome body. (Just ignore its staggering price.) Some are sure its chip is also a Sony; although the 4272 x 2856 pixel specs don’t quite match.

I am personally a fan of the X1′s uncompromisingly retro top controls. But if you prefer a slightly more modern control layout, we might also look to the nicely-built Ricoh GRD III for inspiration.

But the weakness of the X1 is that you’re stuck with a non-interchangeable, f/2.8 lens. Obviously that won’t do.

Eventually, Sony intends to join the mirrorless APS-C party; but until then, Samsung’s NX lensmount is the only one available for a mirrorless APS-C body. Happily, there’s already a very decent “wide normal” f/2.0 pancake available, as well as adapters for other mounts.

Naturally it would be preferable to get even brighter lenses: e.g., Panasonic’s excellent 20mm f/1.7 (for µ4/3) is another half-stop brighter. And while we’re mentioning Panasonic: We would definitely want to use their speedy contrast-detect autofocus system, taken from the G-series cameras. It’s clearly superior to Olympus, Leica and Ricoh’s versions.

So, we’ve covered the “IL,” what about the “EV”?

Some prefer an electronic viewfinder to be integral with the body; but I think it’s more flexible to make it removable. When you want maximum compactness, you can leave it at home in a drawer. Or when using prime lenses, some may prefer a dedicated optical viewfinder:

Leica X1 Optical Viewfinder

Leica X1 and Optical Viewfinder

Leica helpfully adds a green focus-confirmation LED to the back of the X1 camera body, which you can see in your peripheral vision when using this accessory viewfinder. But since we’re going to have a socket for an electronic viewfinder anyway… Why not have connector on the OVFs too, to light them up with a few essential display items?

While many are still wary of electronic viewfinders, there are currently several very decent EVF implementations. But, we have to give the nod to the Olympus VF-2 as the one receiving the most favorable press. It’s a 1.4 million dot display, and is nicely adjustable to different angles. So let’s include that in our EVIL mongrel:

Side view of Mongrel EVIL

More Dubious Fantasy Photoshoppage

Oh, and the Olympus E-Pens prove that you can have in-body image stabilization without having the camera become a chubster—so let’s add that too.

Any takers?

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10 Responses to “Wanting an EVIL Mongrel”

  1. Mohamed Says:

    1) An 8MP backlit Fuji EXR APS-C sized sensor The 8MP will give you an extra half-stop vs 12MP. The low light EXR mode will add an additional whole stop (though 4MP is a little too small).
    2) Adapters that can somehow autofocus lenses from other mounts
    3) An extremely fast lens like that 0.95 Noktor, with the ability to retract like the Olympus zoom to a pocketable pancake size when not in use, and hopefully any visual anomalies at such wide aperture get corrected by the in-camera processing
    4) Higher density pixels in the center, so you can “digital zoom” in good light with the prime lens while still retaining detail
    5) Those nice gimmiks like a projector and a front screen for self-portraits…and webcam functionality. Why would I buy a ******* webcam if I already have a 1080p recorder???!
    6) Titanium construction (even with the internal components) for durability and light weight

  2. petavoxel Says:

    Oh, another detail I forgot: Let’s have a 3″ Samsung AMOLED screen on the back (wider viewing angle; better battery life).

  3. Mohamed Says:

    So which of the aforementioned camras would you personally prefer? The large-ish NX10 with its APS-C sensor? The GH1 with its 1080p recording? The EP-X with its IBIS? The GF1 with its fast autofocus? Or a plain DSLR?

    • Mohamed Says:

      Actually the GH1 is larger and heavier than the NX10

      • petavoxel Says:

        For a while I thought the GF1 came the closest, but shadow noise at ISO 800 was just not acceptable. The straight-up cost/image quality advantage of one of the smaller DSLRs is hard to ignore.

  4. Huggs Says:

    There should be a camera company that makes “open” chassis for custom parts. Could you imagine the mods? That sir, would be awesome.

  5. [...] is widely assumed to reflect a switch from Samsung to Sony as the sensor supplier for the K-x. As I mentioned Tuesday, Sony’s current 12 Mp APS-C sensor seems to be at the heart of some highly-respected models [...]

  6. [...] I discussed last week, Sony’s APS-C chips apparently make their way into several Nikon models, as well as the [...]

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