Moore's Law and lenses

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BoatGuy
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Moore's Law and lenses
7 months ago

In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, posited Moore's Law. His prediction was that the number of transistors on a given area of semiconductor would double every 24months. A little later Dave House, another Intel exec, amended this 18 months. Amazingly, after almost 40yrs this continues to be true. Doubling the number of transistors either reduces the cost, or doubles the processing / storage for the same cost.

Since photography switched to digital we've been riding on Moore's Law. More transistors produces both high quality sensors, the processing power to manipulate more pixels or more information about the pixels, higher burst rates and digital video.

The side effect has been that our camera bodies are now like our computers. Manufacturer's upgrade bodies frequently and a 3yr old body is dated. I dragged a Nikon D300 all over the world for five years. It still works perfectly, but its 12M pixels, lack of video, and IQ are bettered by cameras costing 1/3 it's original price. And for it's original $1,700 price I could now buy full frame 24M pixel a7.

My NEX-6 is replaced 18months later by an A6000 with more pixels, better processing, improved focus, etc. etc. This trend is not going to stop anytime soon.

Now more than ever before, the only lasting investment we make is in glass; the body's have a relatively short product life. But manufacturers make us commit. Taking glass designed for one mount and putting it on another comes with compromises.  I'm familiar with all the adapters and "legacy glass" choices, but a truly integrated light weight system is going to be from a single vendor, or at least with lenses built for the the body's native mount.

Unlike film, it's clear that sensor size is a small part of body size. Our sensors are trending to larger because we're being offered better IQ without weight of a bigger camera. But they do take bigger glass, Moore's Law has some impact (lens correction s/w) on optical physics, but for the most part a bigger sensor means bigger glass. So here is how I see my choices:

a) lock on on a sensor size, buy good glass, and let Moore's law improve the IQ and other features that are driven by processing power every 18months. I replace the body every 18months, but keep the glass. It could be 4/3, APS-C, or full frame.

b) Buy lenses for a larger sensor, like full frame, and put them on an APS-C body while I wait for full frame to get sorted out.

For all it's fans, DP rated the a7 just 2% better than an NEX-6 and I have a feeling the a6000 will close that gap to 1% or maybe DP will rate them equally.  The a7 is clearly a first generation camera that needs a lot of maturation. The a7 also does not have the build quality of the D300. I've used my NEX-6 for a year and there is no way it could survive the 5yrs of travel that the D300 endured.

Don't misunderstand, I think Sony is on to something and Nikon shows no indication of getting with the party. But Sony's build quality and maturation is going to take another 2-3yrs. That said, if Nikon released a full frame mirrorless camera tomorrow Sony's lead would evaporate in seconds. But sadly I think Nikon is in denial.

So does it make sense to buy FE lenses, mount them on an a6000 and wait for the a8 or a9? Or will Moore's Law continue to level the playing field and committing to high quality APS-C glass for the next 10yrs be a good move?

I mostly shoot while traveling, but that covers everything from people to landscapes and underwater (no underwater with NEX!).  Lighter and smaller is better.

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 BoatGuy's gear list:BoatGuy's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Sony a6000 Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS Sony E 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 PZ OSS Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS +1 more
Nikon D300 Sony a6000 Sony Alpha 7 Sony Alpha NEX-6
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