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Author Topic: Nikon sensors by Sony?  (Read 24353 times)

BertramPaul

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« on: December 25, 2009, 12:40:55 pm »

Does anybody know which sensors of Nikon are made by themselves and which are made by Sony?
It seems Nikon keeps it a real secret and no real "established" source elaborates on this. All I can find is some guesswork.
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ErikKaffehr

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2009, 03:27:09 pm »

Hi,

Nikon probably does not make any sensors themselves. My understanding is that Nikon designs some of their sensors themselves, essentially the chips in the D2H and D3 cameras which use a Nikon specific design. There are several possible options:

- Design
- Specify
- Manufacture

Manufacturing is often outsourced to some firm that has free capacity in a "fab". The CMOS sensors used in the D300 and D3X are essentially designed by Sony and manufactured by or for Sony. It may be that Nikon has significant modifications to their chips compared to the Sony designs or they may just use them smarter.

CCD sensors are probably from Sony.

On older cameras circuit board design played a major role. If I recall correctly the D3 has three or six external ADCs (made by Burr Brown). The new Sony CMOS chips have internal readout circuitry which may or may not be used by Nikon. External ADCs seem to be absent from the 3DX circuit board, which may indicate that it also uses on chip pre-amps and ADCs. Sony's ADCs are 12-bit but the Nikon 3Dx has both 12-bit and 14-bit readout. Nikon may have extra circuitry on their chip in order to support 14 bit readout, or they just utilize the same hardware smarter.

Performace is also affected by microlens and color grid array. My guess is that these parts are made in the same process as the CMOS/CCD chip itself.

The last part of the sensor is the optical low pass filter, which is built of thin slices of double refrigent crystals. The parameter deciding the strength of the OLP is the thickness of the slices.

Best regards
Erik

Quote from: BetramPaul
Does anybody know which sensors of Nikon are made by themselves and which are made by Sony?
It seems Nikon keeps it a real secret and no real "established" source elaborates on this. All I can find is some guesswork.
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Erik Kaffehr
 

DarkPenguin

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2009, 03:27:31 pm »

Thom Hogan is your best bet for this kind of information.

Search his posts at DPreview.
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aaykay

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #3 on: December 25, 2009, 04:16:50 pm »

Other than the D2H and the D700/D3/D3S sensors (which are supposedly fabbed at a non-Sony entity based on Nikon's own design), every single other Nikon sensor is designed and manufactured by Sony's sensor unit (Sony semi-conductor Kyushu).  Like with all manufacturers, Nikon decides on the thickness/intensity of the CFA (color filter array) and the AA (anti aliasing) filter that sits on top of the sensor - which essentially means that the "Sensor Unit" comprising of the Sensor+CFA+AA will not be identical between the various manufacturers, even if the base sensor is the same/similar.  

In my reckoning, after Nikon went and got the D3/D700/D3S sensor fabbed by a non-Sony entity, Sony Semiconductor dropped their preferential/exclusive pricing for Nikon (who is one of their biggest customers), forcing Nikon to purchase the D3X sensor from Sony at a big enough price, that the camera (D3X) could only be sold with a hefty pricetag (effectively, a camera that is otherwise identical to the D3, other than the higher pixel count of its sensor, is being sold for over TWICE the D3's cost).

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longlens1

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2009, 12:42:19 am »

Quote from: aaykay
Other than the D2H and the D700/D3/D3S sensors (which are supposedly fabbed at a non-Sony entity based on Nikon's own design), every single other Nikon sensor is designed and manufactured by Sony's sensor unit (Sony semi-conductor Kyushu).  Like with all manufacturers, Nikon decides on the thickness/intensity of the CFA (color filter array) and the AA (anti aliasing) filter that sits on top of the sensor - which essentially means that the "Sensor Unit" comprising of the Sensor+CFA+AA will not be identical between the various manufacturers, even if the base sensor is the same/similar.  

In my reckoning, after Nikon went and got the D3/D700/D3S sensor fabbed by a non-Sony entity, Sony Semiconductor dropped their preferential/exclusive pricing for Nikon (who is one of their biggest customers), forcing Nikon to purchase the D3X sensor from Sony at a big enough price, that the camera (D3X) could only be sold with a hefty pricetag (effectively, a camera that is otherwise identical to the D3, other than the higher pixel count of its sensor, is being sold for over TWICE the D3's cost).

Don't know how you learned this, but you are correct.  Nikon management continues to not fully recognize consequences of many of their decisions. Like moving Digital Technical Relations ( telephone service) to the Dominican Republic from Canada. The problem now is not only if they know how to find out the answer but if they comprehend the question.
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georgl

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2009, 02:44:04 am »

Most companies without their own sensors won't admit that. Even Leica (not the engineers) claimed on the Photokina that the S2 uses as self-developed sensor. What they meant is an adapted version of a Kodak-sensor (cover glass, CFA, size...) on a self-developed board. RED is similar, they don't even tell who their supplier is to keep up the "mysterium"-myth. It's also very unlikely that somebody has the capability to really design a sensor architecture (and not only specify it) and give it to a fab which "just" (the most complex and expensive part) manufactures it without understanding the design... That's something I know from many economics who try to cut down production and push outsourcing because it's just stupid production...

The point is: everybody but Sony, Panasonic and Canon highly depends on these suppliers - I'm not sure if that's a good thing, especially when your supplier becomes your biggest opponent...
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ErikKaffehr

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #6 on: December 26, 2009, 03:07:47 am »

Hi,

Panasonic and Samsung also make their own sensors, and so makes Fuji.

Best regards
Erik


Quote from: georgl
Most companies without their own sensors won't admit that. Even Leica (not the engineers) claimed on the Photokina that the S2 uses as self-developed sensor. What they meant is an adapted version of a Kodak-sensor (cover glass, CFA, size...) on a self-developed board. RED is similar, they don't even tell who their supplier is to keep up the "mysterium"-myth. It's also very unlikely that somebody has the capability to really design a sensor architecture (and not only specify it) and give it to a fab which "just" (the most complex and expensive part) manufactures it without understanding the design... That's something I know from many economics who try to cut down production and push outsourcing because it's just stupid production...

The point is: everybody but Sony, Panasonic and Canon highly depends on these suppliers - I'm not sure if that's a good thing, especially when your supplier becomes your biggest opponent...
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aaykay

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2009, 12:28:57 pm »

Quote from: ErikKaffehr
Hi,

Panasonic and Samsung also make their own sensors, and so makes Fuji.

Best regards
Erik

To my knowledge, only Kodak, Sony, Dalsa and Canon have the capability to make large Full-frame (and beyond) sensors, out of which only Sony and Canon have the capability to make such large CMOS sensors in particular.  The others like Panasonic, Samsung, Fuji etc only make smaller sensors.

Making small sensors (upto APS-H) size is an entirely different ballgame from the extremely complex and technology intensive effort involved in making a large Full-frame sensor with multiple passes and complex stitching technology that comes into play.


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hsmeets

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2009, 02:22:46 pm »

Quote from: aaykay
In my reckoning, after Nikon went and got the D3/D700/D3S sensor fabbed by a non-Sony entity, Sony Semiconductor dropped their preferential/exclusive pricing for Nikon (who is one of their biggest customers), forcing Nikon to purchase the D3X sensor from Sony at a big enough price, that the camera (D3X) could only be sold with a hefty pricetag (effectively, a camera that is otherwise identical to the D3, other than the higher pixel count of its sensor, is being sold for over TWICE the D3's cost).

Maybe this also is one of the reasons we have not yet seen the FF D3x sensor in a D300/D700 style body.


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Tony Beach

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2009, 04:10:49 pm »

Quote from: aaykay
In my reckoning, after Nikon went and got the D3/D700/D3S sensor fabbed by a non-Sony entity, Sony Semiconductor dropped their preferential/exclusive pricing for Nikon (who is one of their biggest customers), forcing Nikon to purchase the D3X sensor from Sony at a big enough price, that the camera (D3X) could only be sold with a hefty pricetag (effectively, a camera that is otherwise identical to the D3, other than the higher pixel count of its sensor, is being sold for over TWICE the D3's cost).

Well, the price differential more likely comes down to ADC hardware, features, and market forces.  The Nikon ADC is more precise than the one used in the Sony A900; it stands to reason that part costs more in the D3x than in the A900/A850.  The D3x is overall more capable than the A900 (high ISO, AF, the implementation of crop modes, Live View, etc.).  Nikon has a larger user base and more lenses than Sony does too, which allows them to charge more for their 24 MP DSLR.  Ultimately, the price of a camera is determined by the market, and I'm sure there's a lot of profit coming from the D3x, but probably less so from the A900/A850 cameras.

Quote from: hsmeets
Maybe this also is one of the reasons we have not yet seen the FF D3x sensor in a D300/D700 style body.

If Sony provoked this, then Sony hurt themselves.  Nikon is Sony's largest customer, using more of their APS-C sized sensors than Sony uses.  If Sony can't sell sensors to Nikon, they will have to incur higher per unit R&D and production costs for the sensors they use in their own cameras.  Maybe this is why the A550 is priced so relatively high.

I asked Thom Hogan at DPR if he thought Nikon would do another DSLR with a Sony sensor in it, and this was his reply:  http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp...essage=34047661  We'll have a better idea what is happening between these two companies when Nikon gets around to responding to the A900/A850/5DII offerings.  If Nikon doesn't use the D3x sensor and goes with a non-Sony sensor instead, that will be the sound of the other shoe dropping; and if Nikon does use the D3x sensor again, that doesn't mean they will be using Sony's next sensor in any of their cameras.  If Thom is skeptical about Nikon using any more of Sony's sensors in their FX cameras, it's probably because in addition to the overt things that are happening he's also seeing things most of us don't (leaks and such) that indicate Nikon and Sony are on the verge of discontinuing their cooperation on sensors.
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ErikKaffehr

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2009, 05:35:15 pm »

Hi,

Who is making the FX sensor in the Nikon D3? Kodak and Dalsa seem to make CCDs only. You have any idea?

Best regards
Erik

Quote from: aaykay
To my knowledge, only Kodak, Sony, Dalsa and Canon have the capability to make large Full-frame (and beyond) sensors, out of which only Sony and Canon have the capability to make such large CMOS sensors in particular.  The others like Panasonic, Samsung, Fuji etc only make smaller sensors.

Making small sensors (upto APS-H) size is an entirely different ballgame from the extremely complex and technology intensive effort involved in making a large Full-frame sensor with multiple passes and complex stitching technology that comes into play.
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deejjjaaaa

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2009, 06:29:04 pm »

Quote from: ErikKaffehr
Hi,

Who is making the FX sensor in the Nikon D3? Kodak and Dalsa seem to make CCDs only. You have any idea?

Best regards
Erik

may be some Nikon has a deal w/ some other players that are known to manufacture smaller sensor - Toshiba, NEC, Cypress they all make smaller sensors.
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aaykay

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2009, 06:40:35 pm »

Quote from: Tony Beach
Well, the price differential more likely comes down to ADC hardware, features, and market forces.  The Nikon ADC is more precise than the one used in the Sony A900; it stands to reason that part costs more in the D3x than in the A900/A850.  The D3x is overall more capable than the A900 (high ISO, AF, the implementation of crop modes, Live View, etc.).  Nikon has a larger user base and more lenses than Sony does too, which allows them to charge more for their 24 MP DSLR.  Ultimately, the price of a camera is determined by the market, and I'm sure there's a lot of profit coming from the D3x, but probably less so from the A900/A850 cameras.

I think you misunderstood when you bought the Sony A900 into the equation, since you probably did not read what I wrote.  I did not say a thing about the Sony A900.  I was talking about the Nikon D3/D3s/D700

Quote
If Sony provoked this, then Sony hurt themselves.  Nikon is Sony's largest customer, using more of their APS-C sized sensors than Sony uses.  If Sony can't sell sensors to Nikon, they will have to incur higher per unit R&D and production costs for the sensors they use in their own cameras.  Maybe this is why the A550 is priced so relatively high.

Sony did not provoke this.  Nikon did.  By dropping Sony as a supplier for their D3 sensor and going outside.   And then turning up with hat in hand at Sony's door, when they needed a high resolution FX sensor.

Sony semi-conductor Kyushu (the sensor division of Sony) is probably as large or even larger than Nikon Corporation taken as a whole.  Nikon will buy the sensors from Sony, whether they like it or not.  There is no other supplier who can or will supply sensors to Nikon with the manufacturing critical mass that the Sony foundry has or the sheer R&D resources that Sony semiconductor has.  Sony semiconductor not only supplier dSLR, video and p&s sensors but also makes several other types of sensors for a variety of industries, including the broadcast line and also higher-end video line which are a LOT more specialized and provides MUCH larger margins.

Interestingly, when Sony first started eyeing the dSLR line, their first choice was to "work with" Nikon (than Konica Minolta).  Relatively tiny Nikon, clearly realizing that they would get swiftly subdued and "absorbed" by Sony, bolted like a scalded cat, which was when Sony's predatory eyes fell on Konica Minolta.  Of course within less than a year, KM's dSLR line was "assimilated" into the Sony fold - a fate that Nikon narrowly avoided.  Of course if Sony had grabbed Nikon, they would now have had a companion to their overwhelmingly market dominating high-end professional video/broadcast line.

Quote
I asked Thom Hogan at DPR if he thought Nikon would do another DSLR with a Sony sensor in it, and this was his reply:  http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp...essage=34047661  We'll have a better idea what is happening between these two companies when Nikon gets around to responding to the A900/A850/5DII offerings.  If Nikon doesn't use the D3x sensor and goes with a non-Sony sensor instead, that will be the sound of the other shoe dropping; and if Nikon does use the D3x sensor again, that doesn't mean they will be using Sony's next sensor in any of their cameras.  If Thom is skeptical about Nikon using any more of Sony's sensors in their FX cameras, it's probably because in addition to the overt things that are happening he's also seeing things most of us don't (leaks and such) that indicate Nikon and Sony are on the verge of discontinuing their cooperation on sensors.

Don't know what Thom is basing his conclusion on.   I believe Nikon and Sony will continue their relationship in all spheres and even expand it even further.   It is highly symbiotic, even if laypeople start making conclusions on specific actions with specific products.  
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aaykay

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2009, 06:47:50 pm »

Quote from: ErikKaffehr
Hi,

Who is making the FX sensor in the Nikon D3? Kodak and Dalsa seem to make CCDs only. You have any idea?

Best regards
Erik

Seems like even the Nikon sensor itself does not have any specific markings on them, indicating who the foundry is.   There is some speculation that the foundry is Renesas, even though there does not seem to be solid corroboration about it.   There is even some speculation that Nikon has leased out portions of the Sony foundry to get the fab done, even though Sony was not involved in the R&D associated with the sensors.  But these are all speculations.


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Tony Beach

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #14 on: December 26, 2009, 08:08:14 pm »

Quote from: aaykay
I think you misunderstood when you bought the Sony A900 into the equation, since you probably did not read what I wrote.  I did not say a thing about the Sony A900.  I was talking about the Nikon D3/D3s/D700.
Fine, the price difference between the D3x and D3s is 35%, whereas the price difference between the D3x and the A900 is 300%.  I was addressing why there's such a discrepancy in price in the latter comparison, but the former comparison is probably mainly attributable to market forces rather than Sony unreasonably jacking up the price of the sensor.

Quote
Sony did not provoke this.  Nikon did.  By dropping Sony as a supplier for their D3 sensor and going outside.   And then turning up with hat in hand at Sony's door, when they needed a high resolution FX sensor.
I suspect that the reasons for Nikon using Sony for the D3x and not for the D3/D700/D3s sensors has to do with sharing R&D.  Probably Nikon is sharing R&D on the D3x sensor, but not on the D3/D700/D3s sensors.

Quote
Sony semi-conductor Kyushu (the sensor division of Sony) is probably as large or even larger than Nikon Corporation taken as a whole.  Nikon will buy the sensors from Sony, whether they like it or not.  There is no other supplier who can or will supply sensors to Nikon with the manufacturing critical mass that the Sony foundry has or the sheer R&D resources that Sony semiconductor has.  Sony semiconductor not only supplier dSLR, video and p&s sensors but also makes several other types of sensors for a variety of industries, including the broadcast line and also higher-end video line which are a LOT more specialized and provides MUCH larger margins.
There are other manufacturers Nikon can turn to for their sensors.  The fact that Nikon's number one selling FX sensor is now coming from a source other than Sony proves that Nikon has viable options.  Also, the fact that the best low noise sensor on the market today was engineered completely in-house by Nikon and not Sony undermines your apparent assertion that Sony is driving the sensor R&D more than Nikon is.

Quote
Don't know what Thom is basing his conclusion on.
Like I said, Thom is privy to leaks and such, and he usually knows what sensors Nikon is considering in their next generation of DSLRs.  Nikon uses prototypes in mules to test sensors, and Thom was aware of three different ones being tested, two of which now constitute Nikon's FX line-up, the third prototype might just be Nikon's next FX DSLR (there are some fairly strong rumors about an 18 MP sensor being used, and that too appears not to be tied to Sony).

Quote
I believe Nikon and Sony will continue their relationship in all spheres and even expand it even further.   It is highly symbiotic, even if laypeople start making conclusions on specific actions with specific products.
It is not only notable that Nikon went elsewhere for the D3/D700/D3s sensors, but also that they didn't take a 14 MP sensor from Sony when they updated the D300 to D300s.  Nikon is taking their sweet time on replying to Sony and Canon with a more modestly priced high MP DSLR, but perhaps in the next month or so (pre-PMA) Nikon may come out with something.  If Nikon uses the D3x sensor again, then the explanation for Nikon's delay would be that they are simply pushing as many higher priced D3x sales as they can before undercutting it with a lower priced model; OTOH, if Nikon comes out with a different non-Sony sensor, then that would be one more piece of evidence that Nikon and Sony are diverging in sensor development.
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BertramPaul

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #15 on: December 28, 2009, 03:34:45 pm »

Quote from: Tony Beach
There are other manufacturers Nikon can turn to for their sensors.  The fact that Nikon's number one selling FX sensor is now coming from a source other than Sony proves that Nikon has viable options.  Also, the fact that the best low noise sensor on the market today was engineered completely in-house by Nikon and not Sony undermines your apparent assertion that Sony is driving the sensor R&D more than Nikon is.

Which one is that? The sensor of the D700?
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BJL

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #16 on: December 28, 2009, 04:24:19 pm »

From what I have read, Nikon has collaborated with Sony on the design of many of the Sony-made sensors in Nikon DSLRs, even though Sony might be the major source of the technology. This might be one reason why Nikon has often had a given Sony sensor model for some time before third parties (Pentax, Epson, Leica and formerly Konica-Minolta) get to use it. So it is an oversimplification to say that Nikon is merely a customer, choosing from the sensor designs that Sony creates all by itself and offers to all comers. Indeed, it would be strange for a customer that buys the great majority of a product to have no say in its design. Maybe Nikon balances the advantages of having exclusive design in higher end products with the cost advantages for lower end SLR models of working with Sony for their sensors.

This would be similar to the fact that both Canon and Nikon buy most of the sensors for their digital cameras from Sony: the CCD's in the compact cameras that make up the great majority of digital camera unit sales for both Canon and Nikon.
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aaykay

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #17 on: December 28, 2009, 07:11:18 pm »

Quote from: Tony Beach
Fine, the price difference between the D3x and D3s is 35%, whereas the price difference between the D3x and the A900 is 300%.  I was addressing why there's such a discrepancy in price in the latter comparison, but the former comparison is probably mainly attributable to market forces rather than Sony unreasonably jacking up the price of the sensor.

I think you are mixing and matching things to suit your argument.  For coming up with the 35%, you compared the D3X with its near-identical FX twin, the D3.  For coming out with the 300%, you compared the D3X with another model from a totally different class, the A900, when you had the D700 as an equivalent model (to the A900) to compare the D3X against.  

Bottomline, the D3X and the D3 are near identical, except for the sensor - like it or not.   The D3X has a MASSIVE increase in price over the D3 (in terms of 1000s of dollars), with the only discernible difference being the FX sensor employed. That 1000s of dollars of difference in price, did not arise out of thin air nor out of a desire by Nikon corp to be mean to their customer base.  
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DarkPenguin

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #18 on: December 28, 2009, 07:54:31 pm »

Quote from: aaykay
I think you are mixing and matching things to suit your argument.  For coming up with the 35%, you compared the D3X with its near-identical FX twin, the D3.  For coming out with the 300%, you compared the D3X with another model from a totally different class, the A900, when you had the D700 as an equivalent model (to the A900) to compare the D3X against.  

Bottomline, the D3X and the D3 are near identical, except for the sensor - like it or not.   The D3X has a MASSIVE increase in price over the D3 (in terms of 1000s of dollars), with the only discernible difference being the FX sensor employed. That 1000s of dollars of difference in price, did not arise out of thin air nor out of a desire by Nikon corp to be mean to their customer base.

No, but they can pick the number of cameras they want to sell based on price.
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Tony Beach

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Nikon sensors by Sony?
« Reply #19 on: December 28, 2009, 08:39:26 pm »

Quote from: BetramPaul
QUOTE (Tony Beach @ Dec 27 2009, 01:08 AM) *
There are other manufacturers Nikon can turn to for their sensors. The fact that Nikon's number one selling FX sensor is now coming from a source other than Sony proves that Nikon has viable options. Also, the fact that the best low noise sensor on the market today was engineered completely in-house by Nikon and not Sony undermines your apparent assertion that Sony is driving the sensor R&D more than Nikon is.

Which one is that? The sensor of the D700?

Yes, as well as the sensor in the D3s (which is an improved version of the D3/D700 sensor), and which almost certainly come out later next year as a "D700s."

Meanwhile, Sony will at some point come out with a successor to its A850/A900 sensor, and my guess is we will not see Nikon using that sensor in any of their cameras.
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