I’m going to start a new rumor right here, right now regarding the next generation of Fujifilm X-Trans cameras, which will feature an X-Trans IV sensor that has “more than 24 MP but less than 30 MP.” This was reported by Fujirumors.com, which has a great track record of being right. The rumor that I’m putting out there is that Fujifilm X-Trans IV sensors will be made by Samsung, and not Sony.
There are a couple of reasons that I think this, and I’ll get into each below in just a moment. First I want to make it clear that I don’t know anyone at Fujifilm, Samsung or Sony and that I have no insider information whatsoever, I’m just speculating. This rumor is simply a guess. But I believe there might be some merit to it, and it makes logical sense. I could be completely wrong, though, so take it for what it’s worth. Time will tell.
If you don’t already know, Fujifilm X-Trans sensors are made by Sony with some custom specifications as directed by Fujifilm. Most importantly, it has a complex X-Trans color filter array instead of a common Bayer color filter array. Something that happened a couple years ago is that Sony stopped manufacturing their 16-megapixel APS-C sensor. For Fujifilm, that meant the end of the X-Trans II sensor, which Fuji wasn’t done with yet.
Going from a 16 to 24-megapixel sensor isn’t as simple of a task as it might sound. There are processor and programming issues, which aren’t too bad to conquer, but the big problem is heat. Specifically, X-Trans III sensors, which are 24 megapixel, put off a lot more heat than the 16 megapixel sensor. That’s been a challenge for Fujifilm, and it forced the (possible temporary) discontinuation of the X70 line, and plenty of complications with their other X-Trans III cameras.
I could be completely wrong, but I think Fujifilm is a little upset at Sony for abruptly discontinuing the 16-megapixel sensor. I don’t think Fujifilm was done with it when they were forced to use the 24-megapixel sensor. I believe that they had plans to use a 16-megapixel sensor in some of their cameras and a 24-megapixel sensor in others. I’m sure they see lost profit potential from it. If I were Fujifilm, you make the most of the cards you’re dealt (and they have), but you don’t forget the position that your competitor/business-partner (“frienemy”?) put you in.
When I read the report that the next X-Trans sensor was going to have more than 24-megapixels, my first thought was, “Oh, Sony must have made a new sensor!” I then got on the ol’ Google and tried to find information about it, but I found none. It may be that Sony is developing (or has already developed) a 26 or 28-megapixel APS-C sensor, but it’s not publicly known as far as I can tell if that’s the case. I’m leaning towards that they haven’t developed it, that they’re happy with 24-megapixels for APS-C.
Sony has a few competitors in the camera sensor market, but only a few. Samsung produces camera sensors, most notably for their cellphones. Canon makes their own sensors. Panasonic makes sensors. Sigma makes their Foveon sensors. Toshiba used to be a big name, but they were bought out by Sony a couple years ago. There are several small names that aren’t used by any of the big camera brands. Sony is the king of the castle as far as camera sensors go.
A forgotten camera line that wasn’t a big success, which came and went without making much noise, was Samsung’s NX line. I owned an NX camera several years ago. It was actually a pretty good camera! It certainly wasn’t perfect, but better than any mirrorless line made by Canon or Nikon.
Samsung abruptly discontinued the sale of these cameras a few years ago, pulling out of the interchangeable-lens camera business. I can think of two reasons why Samsung discontinued the NX line. First, mirrorless cameras were on the rise, but DSLRs were still the primary tool of choice for serious photographers (which is not necessarily the case anymore), so the market was limited. Second, creating a new brand to compete against the established names was a difficult task, one that proved to be too much trouble for Samsung. I think that they would have been successful had they stuck with it for a couple more years, but they didn’t have enough patience.
I figured at some point Samsung would sell their camera technologies to some other company (perhaps Nikon), but that hasn’t happened. They still own all of the NX line. It’s just sitting there, collecting dust. Samsung has seemed happy to focus on cellphone camera technology.
My theory is that, after Sony cancelled the 16-megapixel sensor, Fujifilm began looking for alternative companies to manufacture the sensors for their future X-Trans cameras. Assuming that they shopped around, it makes sense that they had a meeting with Samsung. And Samsung may have said, “You know, we have this 28-megapixel sensor….”
The Samsung NX500 had a 28-megapixel APS-C sensor that was highly regarded but quickly off the market and soon forgotten. In fact, if you visit DxOMark, you’ll see that the 28-megapixel NX500 shares the top APS-C rating with the Nikon D7200 (DxOMark has never tested an X-Trans camera), and the D7200 has the same Sony sensor that’s found inside X-Trans III cameras (with X-Trans array on X-Trans and Bayer array on Nikon). It was a very good sensor, and I bet Samsung wouldn’t mind putting it back into production, giving themselves a chance to make money off of it.
There’s not a big difference in resolution between 24 and 28-megapixels. You would have a hard time even noticing. Still, when you have an APS-C line that’s competing against full-frame, that extra 4-megapixels can’t hurt. Obviously most people don’t need that much resolution, 24-megapixel sensors are overkill for 98% of photographers. And not all lenses can even resolve that much resolution on an APS-C camera anyway, although most Fujinon lenses can.
Where I think 28-megapixels might be appealing to Fujifilm is with regards to in-body image stabilization (IBIS). The only X-Trans camera that has IBIS is the soon-to-be-announced X-H1, which will be marketed primarily to videographers. With IBIS you have the potential to lose resolution at the outside edges of the sensor as it shifts around. A 28-megapixel sensor would ensure that you still have 24-megapixel resolution even with IBIS on. Don’t be surprised if IBIS becomes a standard feature on the upper-end X-Trans IV cameras, including the X-Pro3 and X-T3, and possibly the X-T30, X-E4 and X100V.
I can’t say for sure that the next generation of X-Trans sensors will be made by Samsung instead of Sony. I don’t know what kind of image quality difference it might make if it does happen. It’s an interesting theory, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Not that I’m in the market for a new camera, as I’m very happy with my Fujifilm X100F