Whither the sleeping giant? – or: boy, am I glad I didn’t buy a Nikon D80

Earlier in the year I finally succumbed and bought my first non-phone digital camera. Yes, you read that right. It’s a Nikon D40, the cheapest digital SLR I could find that takes a goodly range of lenses.

Some of the more recent stuff on my Flickr account was taken with it (notably the pencils, Duxford, and Ironbridge), and I’m adoring having a usable stills camera again.

I don’t care that it’s ‘only’ six megapixels, nor that it’s a ‘beginner-level’ camera; I wanted to see if I still enjoyed taking pictures, whether I took better pictures with a reasonable camera, and get some idea of what sort of lenses I might want.

So at the time, I couldn’t justify spending a chunk more change on a D80, because I had a sneaking suspicion that what I really wanted was a D200/D300. And that was more money then I was going to cough up.

…and now there’s a D90. It’s like a D80, only it has a better sensor. It has a ‘live view’ mode. And… and… and… it shoots 720p video.

Now, the handling of an SLR for video would be… er… awful, mostly. It’s built to be held to your face, not moved smoothly at waist or chest level. There’s no microphone jack. It saves motion-JPEG – what is this, the 90s? – and tops out at five minutes’ recording, presumably for buffer reasons but there may also be sensor heat dissipation concerns.

But you do get interchangeable lenses, honest-to-goodness depth of field to play with, and low-light sensitivity. It’s an appealing tool. For limited circumstances, perhaps, but still appealing. Very appealing.

So here’s my thoughts: Suppose —

…then you have to wonder what Canon’s plans are.

They’ve been very quiet this year, offering relatively minor updates to the XL-H1 but not touching the XG-A1. Sony have done exciting things with cheaper XDCAM units and the Z7, Panasonic are going doo-lally over their AVCIntra and P2, and even Nikon have pulled this D90 trick.

Canon, meanwhile, build class-leading high-end consumer cameras in the £600 bracket, and… HDV stuff. Old HDV stuff.

My speculation is that they’re integrating their next-generation still and video camera technologies. Which could, potentially, rock, to the extent of them cleaning up. Who else knows as much about both stills and video as Canon?

Sony’s Alpha dSLRs are, by repute, really quite good, but they’re not Canon or Nikon. Could Nikon make a professional video camera? Really? Could they partner with Panasonic somehow? JVC?

I wonder if Nikon, RED, and Panasonic might demonstrate that a market exists, only for Canon to swoop in at CES or NAB next year with something really quite spectacular.

Damn. And there was me planning to buy an HMC151 this year, too. Maybe, like the D40, I’ll ‘make do’ with something cheaper until it’s clearer which way the wind is blowing.

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