The odd thing is that, if you go back a few years, it looked to be Canon beating Nikon handily because Canon had more assets and expertise in the semiconductor realm while Nikon had always been primarily a camera company.
Nikon D5200, with a sensor from Toshiba, is the top-ranked APS-C camera on' DxOMark test, handily beating all Canon cameras. Nikon has done well with Sony-built sensors, too. Canon has a good image-processing pipeline and other features, but every year it looks farther behind building its own sensors. How long before it starts sourcing sensors from outside?
I think the real question is the camera maker's value add. I guess everyone, even apple has to outsource its chip fab.
It's hard to separate the sensor from the other parts of the camera. I think Canon, which long built its own CMOS sensors, is having a hard time competing. The rest of the camera is important, sure, but the sensor is the heart of the matter and if Canon doesn't get its act together I think they'll have to buy others' sensors the way Nikon et al. do.
My understanding was that Nikon was making modifications to the sensor designs of these other manufacturers, so it wasn't a pure outsourcing. A bit more like what apple has done with its A series of chips for iOS devices.
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