Thoughts on SiliconFilm

Dan Knight - 2001.06.19

I'm a 35mm photographer from way back. Much as I'd love a digital camera that takes my Nikon lenses, until now they've been preposterously expensive. So I use a wonderful little Canon PowerShot A50 for digital shots and my Nikon N6006 when I want more control.

I've been following SiliconFilm ever since it was announced. It's nice to see they're now taking orders. However, a few points must be mentioned.

What Is SiliconFilm

SiliconFilm is a clever product that fits inside select existing 35mm SLRs in place of film. It uses a CCD to SiliconFilmproduce a 1.3 megapixel (MP) image and has the same sensitivity to light as ISO 100 film.

The bulk of SiliconFilm is about the same size and shape as a 35mm film cartridge, with the CCD sticking out the side like a film leader. The beauty of SiliconFilm is that it doesn't require any modification of the camera or a special camera back.

For $649-699, it's a novel and probably cost-effective way for Canon and Nikon users to go digital with their current lenses, flashes, accessories, and possibly cameras they already own.

"Select" 35mm SLRs

The "select 35mm SLR cameras" supported by SiliconFilm is a very small list indeed:

EOS 1/1N/1V

Not that it wouldn't be nice to own a Nikon N90, but that's a $700 camera body. And then you have to add $649-699 for SiliconFilm. It probably makes for a nice $1,349-1,399 digicam, but that's a lot more than I'm prepared to invest.

1.3 Megapixels

Sorry, but 1.3MP just isn't going to provide 8x10 quality. You can get a nice sharp 5x7 or smaller, possibly a decent 6x9, but as I discovered last week with my Epson Stylus Photo 870 and a 1.3MP file from my PowerShot, an 8x10 built from 1.3MP just isn't quite as sharp as you'd want.

CoverSiliconfilm coverageage

But the most frustrating feature of SiliconFilm is the limited area of the sensor - it uses about one-third the height and one-third the width of a 35mm frame (10.8x8.6mm, to be precise), making a 50mm lens act like a 150mm tele, a 28mm wide-angle act like an 85mm short portrait lens, and an "ultra-wide" 19-35mm zoom only cover the equivalent of a 55mm normal lens when used at the widest zoom setting.


I'm hoping SiliconFilm or someone can come to market with a nice 2-4 megapixel sensor that covers the entire 35mm frame. I do too much wide-angle work for any of the current Nikon digital SLRs to do me any good, and 1.3MP just doesn't offer the quality needed for serious photography. (It's more than good enough for the Web, though.)

SiliconFilm is taking a promising first step and at a pretty attractive price, but for a any of us who want sharp 8x10 or need wide-angle coverage, it's not a big enough step to meet our needs.

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