A Perfect Storm Forms in the Digital Camera Industry

In an effort to compete with two powerful forces—Canon and Nikon, who have dominated the D-SLR markets—three camera companies have come together to produce cameras and lenses. This “high pressure” formation has produced two new products that attempt to create a powerful climate change in the photo industry.

The first product, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1—a collaboration of Olympus and Panasonic—is Panasonic’s first interchangeable-lens Digital Single Lens Reflex (D-SLR) camera. Based on Olympus’s Evolt E-330, the L1 will feature a full-time Live View function on its LCD screen, which is a common feature on lower-end digital cameras but not on D-SLRs. Like the Evolt E-330, the L1 will also include a new sensor, a 4/3rds-type Live MOS sensor with 7.5 million pixels, which Panasonic says provides the image quality of a CCD and the low energy consumption of a CMOS sensor. The L1 will store images on SD memory cards, which Panasonic also manufactures, and is further evidence of the company trying to add yet another revenue stream into its now rather Byzantine business plan. Indeed, as I recently mentioned in my review of the Panasonic SDR-S100 SD Camcorder, the company claims it will have SD cards as large as 16GB and 32GB capacities by the year 2007.
What really makes this a perfect storm is that Panasonic’s older partnership with Leica has produced a new lens, the Leica D Vario-Elmarit f/2.8-3.5 lens 14-50mm, which will include Panasonic’s MEGA O.I.S optical image stabilization system. It’s the same system found in their superzooms, like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30. This is a fast f/2.8-3.5 zoom lens—most consumer D-SLR zoom lenses are in the f/3.5-5.6. This means, among other things, that you’re much more likely to get better, blur-free shots in low light with this lens, provided the system doesn’t produce too much noise. (Stay tuned for our hands-on First Looks review on this.) And if you throw in the Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system from Olympus, you end up with a very feature-rich, D-SLR-and-kit-lens combination.

The Leica D lens will feature an aperture ring, in addition to a focus ring and zoom ring, for direct aperture settings. Many manufacturers have done away with such rings, in order to reduce size and weight. It will be interesting to see the final specs on this lens, especially with an image-stabilization system added to the lens.

Of course, there was no forecast on pricing, although I’m guessing it’ll be around $1,200 with the lens and $1,000 for the camera body only, which is comparable to the Evolt E-330. No word at this time on when the camera or lens will be available.


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