Some thoughts on hybrid system cameras

With Sony having just introduced their new α33 and α55 DSLRs featuring translucent mirrors, EVFs and HD video with phase-detection AF, one naturally wonders what is next to come. As I stated in my previous post about the two new Sony DSLRs, these seem to be the first in a yet-to-come line of new hybrid DSLRs, featuring the best of both worlds of traditional (D)SLR systems as well as mirrorless system cameras (so-called ‘EVILs’ or ‘CSCs’).

On the other side, rumour has it that Olympus is developing a new modular camera concept that could accomodate for both classical Four Thirds lenses using a mount module with mirror, as well as for the new Micro Four Thirds lenses using a mount module without mirror. This would also mean introducing different viewfinder modules – one optical, one electronical, and one could also imagine Olympus offering different backs with differently spec’ed sensors and displays.

Both systems aren’t entirely new or entirely radical, though, as they both build not only on earlier concepts (the pellicle mirror SLR is really a very old idea, and modular cameras are the standard in medium format photography), they are also both based on existing lens mounts. In both cases, this is actually a good thing, as upgraders need not buy into a completely new system, meaning they’d have to give up their existing lens collection.

But if you think the logical next step, it would mean to introduce a completely, and truly radically new system, totally giving up on existing solutions. Because ultimately, what Sony have just shown us is only the first step. The consequence would be to install the translucent mirror at a much steeper angle, thus reducing the flange back distance to a level on par with current mirrorless solutions. This way, the system could benefit of the smaller and lighter lenses that mirrorless systems offer, but still have phase-detection AF.
Another possibility would be to introduce Fujifilm’s recently developed on-sensor phase-detection system to larger sensors – provided it would work as well as a traditional PDAF system and not compromise image quality. In a further step, such a camera systems could then be modularized, offering not only great versatility through interchangeable modules, but also the possibility to upgrade only specific modules when technology makes the next leap forward.

I’m sure all of this – if not already in development – is already in the heads of the geniuses in the major camera makers’ development departments – if not even more. As always, I’m curious to see what the future brings!

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