Plenty of smoke and mirrors with the biggest camera manufacturers

Am I just a whinger or is this sort of thing becoming more prevalent these days? Here are two examples with different types of cameras I looked at recently.
First example is the Canon EOS-M, a cute little Micro Four Thirds type mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC). Based on the EOS 600D it is much smaller and uses its own new lens mount. It has taken Canon a long, long time to see this trend and produce its own model of camera. To a very mixed bag of reviews. Most of the reviews I read summed up in basically the same way: this camera was a long time coming, and it’s surprisingly stripped of features considering its price. For example, few lenses and no inbuilt flash. Most of the reviewers imply Canon has only produced this model to head off competition from everyone else, and they aren’t really interested in innovating or capturing a new market segment; they won’t produce a camera that will cut into their D-SLR sales. Rumour has it that a model with built in electronic viewfinder is coming soon, but maybe it still won’t have a built in flash. The lack of longer lenses means this model really is targeted at the high end of the point and shoot market, one step up from either a superzoom, or a large sensor fixed lens compact. Even though you can put any EF-S lens on it with an adapter, Canon has cynically priced this adapter at around $200 to encourage those interested in this route to spend this on a 600D instead.
Secondly, the lower end Sony Handycams: models that sell for up to $650 in NZ at the present time. These have some nice features but the sensor resolution is not one of them. Sony puts a 1.5 megapixel sensor into a Handycam and then claims it can do full 1080 HD recording. The only way it can do this is by interpolating the sensor output, of course. An even more misleading claim (stated in big letters on the outside of the case) is that it can take still pictures at a 5.3 megapixel resolution. Obviously with significant interpolation. Let’s get it plain: interpolation is basically the same as running any image through a piece of software on your computer to scale an image to a larger size. You lose sharpness and quality in doing it. Now when there are tiny sensors in handheld cameras that can easily do the higher resolutions, why is Sony persisting in a Handycam with a low resolution sensor and then masking it with puffery about being able to do these higher resolutions. Just how much would it cost them to put a 5 megapixel sensor into the camera and sell it on the basis of being able to do these things? Next to nothing. I’ve got a still camera here that cost $500 and it can do both those things and it has a zoom lens of 20x. It isn’t as easy to hold as a Handycam, that’s true, and it does cost a bit more to buy in the first place, but that is to be expected with some extra features it has. On the balance I can’t see why Sony is trying to fool people with the misleading claims about the performance of this Handycam, but I guess they are also trying to push people towards the $1000-plus end of their range, remembering they also produce models in the semi-professional market.
So if you want to buy a half decent camera then don’t buy one from any manufacturer that produces a high end professional range. These two examples show they are not really interested in the low end mass market if it threatens their high end high margin stuff. And that is a pity because Canon, for example, does make a lot of half decent compact cameras. It is just that blindingly obvious that Canon don’t want to produce a half decent compact interchangeable lens camera that will cut into their sales of full D-SLRs. Likewise Sony don’t want to produce a Handycam that has similar specs and performance to a digital still compact camera of similar price, they want to put in features that aren’t essential (like the LED projector in some models) and hope people will go for these instead of a higher quality picture, fooling people with interpolation processing. There is one killer feature that virtually all Handycams, even the cheapest $300 model, have, and that is Sony’s remote control tripod, for serious shooters, with all the controls you need on the handle. Another great feature is USB charging, so you can plug in the Juicestation to charge it up if it goes flat out in the field. But at the low end a lot of people won’t buy these accessories. If Sony was producing a model up to say $500 with a half decent sensor in it, then it would be worth buying one. Because I do shoot a bit of video, mostly for school events, and none of my still cameras so far have been able to charge the battery from a USB power source. Plus it can do that remote control tripod thing. But without the image quality for still images, it isn’t worth spending more than $300 on one of these things, so you don’t need the one with the projector in it, for sure. Basically being able to shoot at more than DVD quality is what makes HD video worth having a proper camera for. You can capture a whole lot more with a pan across a scene and then go back later and pick up a frame from it that shows something different that you might not have noticed the first time. It is like listening to good music and picking out the sounds of instruments that you never noticed before. And then you want to have a camera that can do say 2 megapixels out of the box. It’s been years since I’ve seen a camera that claimed a higher resolution through interpolation – and it was another Sony camera – a still one. People aren’t fooled by all that money just for a name, these days. I actually thought the 5.3 megapixel claim was genuine until I read the reviews. No one, not no one, not even Canon, will put such a claim on a digital still camera these days, when they say 14 megapixel then they are talking about a chip with that number of actual pixels. So why it is acceptable for Sony to do this?
Still looking at that Canon D-SLR and which model would be the most useful. Again it’s a tossup between the EOS1100D, EOS 600D and EOS650D. But I wouldn’t use the camera all that much and that is the biggest thing that tends to pull me towards the lower price end. The little MILC was worth a look, but in low light conditions the optical viewfinder and manual zoom ring on the full D-SLR kills it hands down, and that is one of the main reasons I would want to buy a D-SLR in the first place, because of useability in low light conditions. The EOS600D is shaping up to be the best all round combination I think – better video performance, the articulating screen, auto sensor cleaning, these are all missing from the 1100D and it is better made. In fact once I read the reviews in more detail, there is nothing in the more expensive 650D that would make it worth the extra $200. The 600D offers all the features I would ever use – like an external video mic capability, full adjustable exposure during video operation and so forth – it turns out that the 650D doesn’t really justify the extra cost at all.