Is there time for an interchangeable sensor DSLR?

Started Oct 19, 2012 | Discussions thread
Leif Goodwin Senior Member • Posts: 1,390
Re: Is there time for an interchangeable sensor DSLR?

Theodoros Fotometria wrote:

Leif Goodwin wrote:

Theodoros Fotometria wrote:

Leif Goodwin wrote:

This is reminiscent of Thom Hogan's modular camera obsession. As pointed out above, the machining needs to be precise to allow the sensor to be accurately positioned. And that would greatly increase the cost of the camera, as you have to build a rugged precisely made frame into which you slot the sensor. The sensor also has to be in a frame, to provide strength, and to allow it to mate accurately with the slot. Both are expensive to make, and increase the size of the camera. In addition, the sensor is intimately tied to the image processing chip. So, as well as the sensor frame, and the sensor slot, you have to design a sensor interface, which allows the signals to go from the sensor to the image processor. That further increases cost. You will always be tied to the same image processor too, so if you want to use a sensor with twice the pixel count, you will be limited to the throughput dictated by the current processor. And you will have to upgrade the firmware. Alternatively, you only have one piece of firmware, and then that constrains what you can do. If you want several sets of firmware installed at once, for several sensors, you need more intenal memory, further increasing cost.

In my opinion this just does not fly. It is too niche, and not suitable for a mainstream product.

The mechanical issues are not so difficult to resolve Leif... not with current tech anyway, there is a limitation with the electronics that the camera bares as far as future speed and processing speed is concerned, but I am sure the D800 (for example) buffer, memory and processing would be up to its limits with only the current sensor that the camera bares and that could satisfy many users for many years to come.... (after all it's been proved that modern cameras can serve for at least four years). It's the flexibility and available solutions that would balance the drawbacks... Possibly in the future, somebody could buy a replacement (upgraded) body and keep many of his sensors, while at the same time keep his old body as a back up and use it with speed/processing limitations with future sensors... That's great


In a later post you refer to MF databacks, pointing out correctly that they are interchangeable. You of course realise how much MF cameras and databacks cost don't you? You haven't given any indication of the cost that this will add. Or the bulk. The examples with interchangeable backs are all very expensive. Manufacturers would have to support multiple sensors, and development costs would have to be recouped from sales. Nikon have released the D800 with two sensor versions. If there was demand for a B&W version i.e. no Bayer filter, or they thought there would be demand, they would surely have put one into production. The same is true for IR and UV sensitive versions. Note that Canon did release an IR sensitive version of one DSLR, but as far as I know they have not done so since. I think the truth is that you'd end up with a white elephant: in four years times sensors change so much that a camera with an interchangeable sensor would be out of date. Recent innovations include the change from CCD to CMOS, the addition of video support, future sensors will have on chip focus support, and other things I have not thought of. You end up freezing in the feature set, and preventing new features. And the truth is that a plug in FX sensor module would probably cost as much as a new FX camera. Why? Because the sensor is a significant part of the camera cost, and specialist sensors would sell in lower volume, so research and development costs would be spread over fewer sensors.

In my opinion there is no market for this idea, the compromises outweigh the advantages once you think it through. Just my opinion.

Interchangeable sensor is different than interchangeable back Leif... I suppose that the extra cost for say a camera at the D800 - 5Dmkiii category, would probably be at 10-15% price raise (inc the same sensor) than the current models to allow for the slight extra mechanical complexity that is required, an extra sensor pack could possibly cost in the 500-1200 era depending on its technology and specifications, the sensor/electronics cost of modern FF DSLRs is not more than 15% of the total camera cost... and this is top for the best of sensors. Take this as an example, if a D600 costs 2000 for the body, what a good quality small carrier (standard for all sensors) containing the sensor only with the electronics that are dedicated to that sensor would cost?

Actually I suspect it is easier to make a databack than a plug in sensor. And I suspect you are wrong about the price of the sensor. The D600 is about £1600, and the D7000 is about £700. The two are similar cameras, so even allowing for slightly better components in the D600, such as a larger mirror, the sensor will be about 1/3 of the price. The D300s is about £1000, and the D800 is about £2000. They are very similar cameras, apart from the sensor, and a bit more memory and processing throughput in the D800. So again a £500+ premium for the sensor is believable. Well, package the sensor as a separate product, with the couplings and frame, and we are talking close to £1,000. In fact I think that is a gross underestimate. That £500+ sensor premium is based on a product that sells in large numbers. The price consists of the actual cost to manufacture the product i.e. raw materials and labour, plus a share of the cost to both design the product and create the tooling. Since these plug in sensors will be a niche product, or at least will have significantly lower sales than a D800, the latter costs will be much larger. So the actual on the street price would have to be much more than £500, easily £1,000 or more. Bear in mind that these things do not have a long life cycle, which works against a low price. Now look at the 600mm F4 lens. How long was it before they refreshed that lens with AFS and VR? A long long time. Why? Because they do not sell many. But, they do have a long lifecycle.

Is this a viable business proposition? I don't think it is. Of course I may well be wrong, but I think they have more important things to attend to that will generate more income e.g. replacement 80-400mm lens, 400mm F5.6 lens, D400 (??), a m4/3 competitor (??) and so on.

 Leif Goodwin's gear list:Leif Goodwin's gear list
Nikon D200 Nikon D600 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D ED-IF Nikon AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D +4 more
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