Does anyone really think Canon, after releasing the 1Dx which was touted as the merging of the 1D and 1Ds lines, but with performance and quality surpassing both, will turn around and hand the IQ crown to a camera body less than half it's cost?
Yes, the 5D3 will have "unsurpassed image quality".......AT IT'S PRICE POINT. But I'll bet the 1Dx wears the IQ crown in a head to head comparison.
I'm not sure you can draw that conclusion from the relative pricing of the two models. In the past five years Canon--and Nikon--have been all over the charts with regard to the relative price/performance ratios of their "flagship" and "prosumer" models. I think that's because both manufacturers and long-time (i.e. professional or serious amateur) customers have been making the psychological transition from film to digital in shifts and starts. Until 2002 or so, camera makers were the optical equivalent of, say, Rolex, producing precision mechanical devices in which the performance of the individual unit correlated precisely to the cost of the materials selected and the amount of highly skilled (and expensive) labor required to fabricate it. The pricing of various models naturally reflected those costs of production.
The digital revolution in photography has slowly been turning that paradigm inside out. The camera body which used to be a precsion mechanical object with a life expectancy of a decade or more is now primarily an electronics commodity item. The best of them--however long they may last--no longer offer competitive performance after four or five years. The lowliest Rebel made in 2012 is probably superior to the 1Ds2 in every respect except build quality. (Let's not get hung up on this ancillary supportive statement, please.) Likewise, the bulk of camera manufacturing costs are no longer in materials or assembly, but in R&D. Once you have designed a component and acquired the ability to fabricate it, the cost of including it in an indvidual unit of production is trivial by comparison.
Removing a $10 chip from your high-volume camera to slightly "cripple" its autofocus performance in relation to your high-dollar model may differentiate your model lines internally, but it leaves you vulnerable to the competitor who decides to incorporate that chip (for little cost) in its high-volume model.
Camera companies (and even some of their customers) seem to remember and forget these facts on a regular six-month rotation. Nikon seemed to have gotten the idea when it began quickly migrating its top-of-the-line autofocus system to less expensive models--giving them a competitive advantage for very little increase in per-unit manufacturing cost. Likewise, there is no question that the D700 was all but the performance equal of the D3--and in a lighter, more compact package. And then, just when it looked as if Nikon had fully made the jump into the 21st century, the company brought out the D3x at an inflated $8000 price that had even ardent Nikon fans howling for a boycott.
With the D800 Nikon seems to have stepped back through the looking glass into the realities of digital era pricing. Compared to the D3x, it offers 50% more MP, better high-ISO performance, faster FPS (and an upgraded feature set in almost every other respect) all for $5000 less--before inflation. Technological progress over the past three years doesn't come close to accounting for this difference. It's one more indication of the blind, arbitrary, stab-in-the-dark nature of current pricing practices among the major camera manufacturers.
Canon's recent history is similarly back and forth. We can argue about the barely discernable differences in the IQ of the 5D2 and the 1Ds3. (The consensus among people who own both seems to be that 1Ds3 renders more subtlely at low ISOs while the 5D2 is better from about 1600.) But Canon itself proclaimed the 5D2 to have the superior IQ and seemed quite willing to throw the 1Ds3 under the bus in return for the massive demand for the 5D2, demand created by its 1Ds3+ feature set. Similarly, Canon's high-end 1+ MP rear LCD appeared first on a "consumer" model. More recently, the pricing of the 1DX and the 5D3 seem to be a step backward toward the old pricing model.
I would argue that the very terms "flagship"and "prosumer" no longer accurately describe any of the models introduced in the last six months by either Nikon or Canon. The day of the $6000 to $7500 (USD) camera body is over, although some folks--among both manufacturers and customers--just ain't got the news yet. The "flagship" models are now loss leaders or exclusively halo products, or both. Top dollar cameras now sell to a small market of well-heeled amateurs and the tiny minority of pros who work under the extreme conditions found in war zones, action photography at the most competitive levels, or resolution-hungry fields like fashion or architecture. And with the D800, erven those boundaries are being blurred. I suspect that nowadays the real value of the "flagship" in the overall corporate marketing strategy is to make similarly-featured but volume-priced models look like a bargain.
Considering all this, I'm not sure there is yet a coherent and internally consistent strategy in the way Canon and Nikon feature-equip and price their models. I wouldn't be at all surprised if--in spite of Canon's claims about unifying the 1D line--the 1DX and 5D3 end up as the latest versions of the 1D4 and the 5D2/1Ds3, each superior for certain purposes. And if the D800 sells well enough to force a high MP response from Canon, it will be truly fascinating to see how Canon attempts to price and position that camera.