News/Views

News & Opinions about the mirrorless camera market appear below, latest article first. Over in right column—bottom if you're reading on a small screen—you'll find the News/Views Archive, which lets you go back in time to look at articles that have trickled off this page. If you're looking for older articles, click here for the deeper news archive.

 If you want to read an article below without the sidebar and other distractions, just click on its title.

Be Careful What You Wish For

As we start 2021, I'm now tracking nearly 250 current lenses from the camera makers alone, plus an almost identical number from third-party lens makers. Call it 500 mirrorless lenses that are available to you new today. 

Now obviously not all 500 of those are available in all mounts, and there's a ton of duplication—I'm not even going to try to count all the 35mm focal length lenses—so for your particular camera there might not be quite such an absurd range of choice.

In the film and DSLR world, something around 60 lenses from the camera maker and another three dozen from third parties pretty much sated lens demand in each mount. Call that 100 lenses each in the EF and F mounts. 

We've already far surpassed 100 lens choices in the Sony E mount. Ditto m4/3. But would you believe that we're already up to 61 lens choices in the Nikon Z mount? And let's not get started with what happens when you put a mount adapter on a mirrorless camera.

And yet I keep hearing "we need more lenses." 

No doubt there are some gaps in virtually all the mounts, but I'd judge only a few of those to be critical. When I look at the known Road Maps and sort through the rumors to find the most likely ones, the number of critically missing lenses is going to reach zero soon, maybe even this year. 

Moreover, quite a few of the mirrorless lenses we've received in recent years are arguably "the best XXmm ever made." I see that in some lenses from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony, for sure, but I also see it in a few third party lenses, too. 

Recently, while trying to review the Z-mount "normal" lenses (50mm f/1.2, 50mm f/1.8, and 58mm f/0.95) I found myself sort of staring at great, greater, and greatest. All three of those lenses simply blow away what I was used to with film and DSLR versions. 

So what exactly is it that we're still looking for in lenses? (On bythom this week I've got an article entitled "Looking for Mr. Goodgear" that examines the bigger gear picture.) 

I'm starting to wonder. As I look at all the mirrorless mount options, I'm finding that there are camera and lens sets in virtually every one that I could easily live with for my work. That's absolutely true for the full frame mounts, but it's pretty much true for any of the mounts, particularly if I'm willing to use the maker's lens adapter to also use their DSLR lenses.

The bigger problem for this site is that I can't possible review every lens that comes along. I'm falling behind just trying to to do that with one mount, let alone seven active mounts. Thus, I'm going to have to make some tough decisions this year about which lenses I pick, and why. The generic me-too type lenses aren't likely to get as much attention from me as the more interesting new possibilities. 

If you have some specific lenses you think I should be looking closer at, by all means let me know. 

Did Something Change?

It used to be that the pro sports photographers and photojournalists all used Canon or Nikon DSLRs with single digit numbers in their name. Then Sony came along with the A9 in 2017 and joined the party. 

bythom sony a9

The thing that distinguished all those cameras is that they were optimized for speed and low light, not pixel count. The Canon 1DX Mark III and Nikon D6—the current models in a long lineage—are 20mp, while the Sony A9 Mark II (also current model) is 24mp. The Nikon D6, in particular, has sensor design that particularly suits high ISO work, to the point that it actually impairs dynamic range some in the lower ISO range.

Rumors—and not just about the upcoming Sony A9 iteration—seem to indicate that the days of low pixel count but high speed are nearing an end. Nikon's upcoming high-end mirrorless camera is also rumored to be a high pixel count camera. Meanwhile, the recent Canon R5 will happily fire away its 45mp at 20 fps. 

What happened?

Three things are driving the trend line now:

  1. With BSI and other advances, the light collection on a full frame sensor is about the same whether the sensor has 20, 24, 36, or 45mp. If you're talking about output that isn't stretching pixels out into visibility (e.g. almost all news reporting and even sports photography such as the Sports Illustrated magazine spreads), then the visible noise is the same. But what about cropping to get the sports image, you ask? Same thing applies, as if you don't have enough lens, you'd be cropping both a 20mp and a 45mp image.
  2. With copper, stacked silicon, and smaller process size, among other things, bandwidth has improved and will continue to do so. Add in faster and better SoC (Bionz, Digic, Expeed) and sometimes dual SoC, and you can handle that bandwidth just fine.
  3. The overall market collapse coupled with the pricing pressure on photographers has made the "just buy every model you need for specific purposes" notion fly out the window. Not many are buying multiple cameras now, and the ones that are tend to be looking at video features, not still features. Meanwhile, camera companies can't afford to have huge model lines where every specific need is filled.

So while the top of the DSLR market maxed out with the 20mp Canon 1DX Mark III and Nikon D6, the mirrorless market is likely to top out differently, with the Canon R5, Nikon Z9, and Sony A9 Mark III all around the 45mp mark. It's a good thing we've moved to the faster CFe cards, as we need big cards that perform really fast, particularly on ingest to our computers. And yes, that means that your old computer might not keep up and you'll need more storage and backup for it. The price of progress.

But this trend isn't going to stop with just the top-end cameras, either. I think the mid-level cameras will rise up in pixel count, too. The Sony A7 Mark IV is rumored to be coming in at 30-32mp.  I'll say this, too: the only thing I don't like about the Canon R6 is that it's just 20mp. It's the highest priced in the "basic" full frame model competition (R6, Z6 II, S5, A7), and it has the lowest pixel count. That will work against it over time, I think. 

Yes, I know some of you are saying "stop, I don't want more pixels." But the other trend dedicated cameras are fighting against is that smartphones are adding pixels, too. In order to stand out, there's a delicate balance where the ILC is going to have to be clearly better than 20mp with a 20-100mm lens (which is about where the middle of the smartphone market seems to be headed). 

Moreover, I've written it before: more sampling is always welcome. My goal has always been "optimum capture with optimal processing," which is basically the Ansel Adams thing stated a different way. 

Those two things taken together mean that there will be fewer of us in the future, but we'll be asking for "more." Those that don't need "more" will more and more find that their smartphone is all they need. 


What Did 2020 Bring Us?

It's time to look back at 2020. What did we get? Let's start with the mirrorless cameras (order listed for a maker is latest introduced camera first, earliest last):

  • Canon M50 Mark II, R5, R6 (3)
  • Fujifilm X-S10, X-T4, X-T200 (3)
  • Leica SL2-S, Q2 Monochrom, M10-R, M10 Monochrom (4)
  • Nikon Z7 II, Z6 II, Z5 (3)
  • Olympus E-M10 IIIs, E-M10 Mark IV, E-M1 Mark III (3)
  • Panasonic BGH1, S5, G100 (3)
  • Sony A7C, A7S Mark III (2)

That's a total of 21 cameras. Who would have guessed that Leica would have led the camera introductions? ;~) In terms of clearly "new" models, we got 10. The other 11 are what I would call generational updates of existing models, and many of those were very tame updates.

The most impressive of the new cameras for me are probably the two Canon full frame models (R5, R6). These are completely new models with completely new technology, and they immediately put Canon back into the full frame mirrorless customer hunt big time. 

Nikon put most of their effort into entry-to-mainstream full frame. Olympus continued their "just roll what we got into more models" strategy, while Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Sony were the companies that stuck their toes into new waters, not necessarily successfully. 

I expect Canon to be slightly more active with camera introductions in 2021, Olympus and Leica to be less active, and the rest to be about as active as they were in 2020.

Now for mirrorless lenses:

  • Canon 50mm f/1.8 (RF), 70-200mm f/4L (RF), 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L (RF), 85mm f/2 macro (RF), 600mm f/11 (RF), 800mm f/11 (RF), 24-105mm f/4-7.1 (RF) (7)
  • Fujifilm 10-24mm f/4 (XF), 50mm f/1 (XF), Fujifilm 30mm f/3.5 (GFX), 45-100mm f/4 (GFX), 35mm f/2 (XF) (5)
  • Laowa 15mm f/4.5 shift (RF, Z, FE), 14mm f/4 (M, L, Z, FE), 50mm f/2.8 macro (m4/3), 9mm f/5.6 (M, L, Z, FE), Laowa 65mm f/2.8 macro (M, XF, TL, E) (5)
  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 S (Z), 50mm f/1.2 S (Z), 24-50mm f/4-6.3 (Z), 20mm f/1.8 S (Z), 24-200mm f/4-6.3 (Z) (5)
  • Olympus 100-400mm f/5-6.3 (m4/3), 12-45mm f/4 (m4/3) (2)
  • Panasonic 85mm f/1.8 (L), 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 (L) (2)
  • Samyang 35mm f/1.8 (FE), 85mm f/1.4 (RF), 14mm f/2.8 (M, XF, m4/3, FE), 85mm f/1.4 (M, XF, m4/3, FE), 75mm f/1.8 (FE) (5)
  • Sigma 24mm f/3.5 (FE, L), 35mm f/2 (FE, L), 65mm f/2 (FE, L), 105mm f/2.8 (FE), 85mm f/1.4 (L, FE), 100-400mm f/5-6.3 (L, FE), 16mm f/1.4 (TL), 56mm f/1.4 (M, TL, m4/3, E) (8)
  • Sony 28-60mm f/4-5.6 (FE), 12-24mm f/2.8GM (FE), 20mm f/1.8G (FE) (3)
  • Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 (E), 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 (FE), 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 (FE) (3)
  • Tokina 400mm f/8 (m4/3, FE), 85mm f/1.8 (FE) (2)

In terms of mounts:

  • Canon M: 6
  • Canon RF: 8
  • Fujifilm XF: 6
  • Fujifilm GFX: 2
  • Leica L: 9
  • Leica TL: 3
  • Nikon Z: 8
  • m4/3: 7
  • Sony E: 3
  • Sony FE: 20
  • Total: 72

Look at all that Sony FE activity. Sony has the fullest full frame lineup, and one that's the oldest and most mature, and lens choice is the reward. I don't expect that to hold up. Canon and Nikon have clearly shown that they have substantive body volume now, so the third parties will find a way to bring their FE lenses to RF and Z in 2021, I'm pretty sure. 

With lenses, I expect Canon RF and Nikon Z to be much more active lens mounts in 2021, Fujifilm XR/GFX, Leica L, and Sony FE to be about the same, while the rest are unpredictable. 

It's impossible yet to determine exactly how many mirrorless cameras were physically made and sold in 2020, but we can start to take an educated guess: 2.8m cameras. At a 1.7x attachment rate, that would also imply about 3.8m lenses.

We're at a critical point, partly due to the pandemic: for the camera business to stay active and healthy those volume numbers will need to grow significantly in 2021 and onward, and the average sale cost will have to go up, as well. That's a tall order, but possible if the world starts to return to some level of normalcy and becomes more travel-friendly by mid-2021. 

Doh! Website Taken

So, Olympus has turned over the Imaging group to a new company, OM Digital Solutions. Only problem? omdigitalsolutions.com is a Web site of an Indian SEO company. omdigitalservices.com is also taken. Ditto omcameras.com and omdigital.com. 

Here's a little help for JIT and their new company. The following Web site name is still available: omimaging.com. So is om43.com and omdimaging.com. Meanwhile, the domain name of om.com is for sale. 

Why do I get the feeling that the Web site will become an issue? For the time being, the Olympus Web sites still have camera info, and it appears that getolympus.com—the online sales site—will be back on Monday, though I suspect under new ownership. However, if OM Digital Solutions doesn't have rights to the Olympus name past a certain point, how does that work?

The devil's always in the details.

Update: the company picked om-digitalsolutions.com. So now a firm in India is going to get a lot of traffic when people omit the hyphen... The new Web site is pretty barren. Clicking on the Product/Support tab takes you to the old Olympus Asia product pages.

News/View is New

In trying to keep my various Web sites all lean while still the same in design, one thing I've done is simplify the News/View sections. You'll find more of a "blog style" to this section now, and not the warren of folders and subfolders that were starting to get completely out of hand. 10 years worth of articles meant thousands of articles were cluttering the menu system.

The way things work now is that the top News/View page is the one you want to point your RSS newsreader at. There are no submenus in this section (though it is still possible to get to an individual news/view page directly if you know how or a link is offered to it). To find articles that move off that page, you'll need to look in the monthly archives that are referenced at the bottom of that top-level News/View page. 

Can you still get to the thousands of previous News/Views articles? Yes. I've left them in place on the server, they're just not reachable via the menus. Old links and searches should still find those articles. If you want to "hunt" for something manually, you should simply start at the Old News/Views header page and drill down.

Sansmirror Site Changes

I spent the last two weeks of 2020 working on changes to all my sites, this one included. So what changed here on sansmirror? Here's a summary:

  • News/View has changed structure. See the article on that. You'll need to re-point your RSS reader.
  • Olympus has become OM Digital Solutions. The divestiture of Olympus Imaging to JIP is now complete, and thus the official name change you'll see throughout the site.
  • Every article and page on the site has been re-edited. In some cases, that was just to check wording, grammar, and spelling, in other cases I made substantive changes to bring articles up to date (e.g. the Systems pages in the Article section). In a few cases I made updates to page structures.
  • Menus were simplified. The sprawl of pages made the hierarchical menus get out of control. I've minimized the menu system some. Remember, you can always select ANY heading in the menus, including the top menu item itself. You'll be taken to a section header page that allows you to navigate further, and that header page often has additional information on it. Put another way, you can just click on Cameras in the top menu and you'll be taken to the cameras section header page, which provides both information generally, as well as ways to navigate deeper into that section.
  • Advice was updated. In a number of places I provide guidance or advice about products. As the market changes constantly, I've updated that to my current opinions.

Literally thousands of pages of information populate this site, so I can't vouch for having caught every change I should have made. If you find something that needs to be fixed, by all means drop me a line (contact info is at bottom of every page with email link in Copyright notice). 


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