Are Canon sensors…lacking?
The last few years Canon has taken heat for their lack of sensor innovation in their cameras. You have to go back to the original EOS 5D announced by Canon on 22 August 2005, to see Canon’s last major sensor breakthrough. The 12.7 MP sensor sported a 0.5 µm process generation fabrication that Canon’s used all the way up to their current flagship EOS 1D X.
Sony, the current imaging sensor leader, uses a 0.18µm process generation fabrication. You can see the fruition of the technology advance in cameras such as the Nikon D800/D810 and Sony A7R. Samsung uses the same process generation in their resolution leading APS-C BSI sensor (28 MP).
Without going heavy into geekdom, a more advance fabrication process gives you more space and/or efficiencies in the imaging chain. This has played out so far in greater resolution, dynamic range, and color depth. There’s more to making a good imaging system than just the sensor, but it’s called the heart for a reason.
And this is why I feel Canon has taken an unfair beating. In the last 10 years Canon has overhauled their autofocus system to be arguably class leading, amazing given the vitriol towards the EOS-1D Mark III, and introduced the innovative Dual Pixel AF.High ISO performance is competitive with rival Nikon, who during the heyday of the D3/D700 trounced Canon. They’ve advanced their pixel design just NOT their pixel fabrication. It’s not an excuse.
Canon is the majority leader in camera sales and market. The fact they’ve rested on their laurels milking their antiquated fabrication methods while charging in some cases more than their competitors does its customers a disservice. This makes the increasing noise surrounding a possible partnership between Canon and Sony intriguing.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Sony has already shown a willingness to share technology (i.e. mirrorless distribution and a limited technology sharing with Olympus). The obvious net gain for Canon is access to advance fabrication facilities. Sony gets usage of Canon’s Dual Pixel and autofocus technology. Everyone wins.