Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

News and commentary about the mirrorless camera world (latest on top). Hover or tap on News/Views in the menu bar above to see the full list of recent articles as well as folders containing all older ones dating back to 2011.

New Olympus Deals

The buying season has started early this year, likely because the camera companies have stuffed the channels believing that sales will uptick upwards for 2017 (probably true, but the question is how much financial incentive will they have to use to achieve sell through in the channel?).

The E-M1 Mark II finally has a real rebate on it of US$200, making its effective price US$1799. While pricey, it's a very technology-filled camera that—if you can get past the menu system—handles well. Likewise, the Pen-F drops to just under US$1000 with a US$200 rebate.

The E-PL8 (what I call the E-P Late) is now US$449 after a US$100 rebate, but frankly I think that's no longer the way to go if you're going m4/3. If you're looking for small and inexpensive, consider an older E-M10 model.

One would expect an E-M5 Mark III to be the next new body from Olympus, and this is producing probably the best value in the rebate lineup: US$799 after US$300 rebate for the Mark II model.

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The Latest State of Mirrorless

For eight years now I've been using mirrorless cameras, and pretty much testing most variations that have come to market. Indeed, I've published reviews of 44 different mirrorless cameras, and by my count have used 72 different models. Those cameras have been to Africa, South America, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and on a host of other photographic journeys here in the US and elsewhere during my travels.

Each year for the past several I've tried to assess where the state of mirrorless cameras actually is, and it's time to do that once again, though I'm going to go about it a different way this time.

I'll be honest, it's getting darned difficult to make a thorough and useful assessment. First, we have so many players to consider. Second, we have so many variations on camera size/type. Third, every manufacturer has upped their game to the point where—for the majority of the people—the performance differences may not be meaningful any more.

So I'm going to start by echoing something I started writing about DSLRs back about 2004/2005: if you're having trouble getting great images out of any mirrorless camera that's sold these days, it's probably not the camera's fault. What I see more and more in the mirrorless world is the same thing that I saw in the first decade of DSLRs: the cameras got highly competent, but the casual user may not be getting optimal results from them.

So right up front I have to say: Know Thy Camera.

Olympus fans rag on me about my continued harping on the user interface of those Pens and OM-Ds. But this is about Know Thy Camera. It's just darned difficult to get to know the Oly cameras quickly and completely. And I'm not alone in that belief.

The good news is that Olympus hasn't really changed anything meaningful in the menus and nomenclature since day one. If you got into the Olympus Pen camp early on and use one of the Olympus m4/3 cameras often, you probably are to the point where you do know your camera, and thus don't see the issue.

I mention all this up front because one of the attributes of my shooting is that I rarely shoot continuously with any mirrorless camera (or system). About the longest I go is what happened in the last two months, when I was carrying only a Sony A9 and A7rII around most of the time. Today I've moved on to another system again.

Thus, one of the things I think I see as well as anyone in the mirrorless world is the "new user impact." A new user coming into any of the existing mirrorless systems has a learning curve. That curve is extraordinarily low for a Canon DSLR owner moving to an EOS M5, but it's ridiculously high for a Nikon DSLR shooter moving to an Olympus E-M1 Mark II.

So I'm going to start my analysis of where we stand at the end of 2017 with a new analysis: New User Learning Curve.

  • Canon — For previous Canon users of almost any model or type, the M system has a very low learning curve. That's especially true of the menus, but less so of the external controls, some of which are unique on the M5. For folk coming from other camera systems, the learning curve is modest; the organization, nomenclature, and controls present little challenge to someone already well versed in camera-speak. And in terms of converting raw images, an M image is much like any EOS image: there's little you're going to change in your workflow or processing.
  • Fujifilm — An interesting mix. Fujifilm's use of retro-style dials on most of their models certainly makes for low learning curves for the controls for anyone who grew up with cameras in the film era. Ditto the "film simulations." The menus are well organized, but some of the terminology needs to be learned as to what it actually means (400% dynamic range?). Still, I'd call the learning curve here modest at worst case. But that's not true when it comes to converting raw images. The use of the X-Trans layout by Fujifilm definitely means that you need to rethink your raw processing procedures and techniques if you're coming from a Bayer camera.
  • Leica — This sort of depends upon which Leica you're talking about. The M's are recognizably M's. If you came from a film-based M, the digital M's are a fairly low learning curve for you. If you've never used an M before, well, it's a whole new experience you're getting into, particularly with regards to focus and framing. The TL/SL models are interesting: Leica definitely set out to create a modern UI experience with those cameras, and for the most part succeeded. But those coming from any other digital camera will find that the simplicity and directness of the TL/SL models probably bothers them, at least initially.
  • Olympus — Here we go ;~). On the outside, the OM-D's and Pen-F are instantly recognizable as being a modern-retro design (unlike Fujifilm's more traditional retro). I really have no issues with the controls and physical aspects of the ergonomics, and believe that part of the Olympus system tends to be relatively low in learning curve, despite the fact that every model is a bit different and that the top model has so many external controls. But the E-M1 Mark II, for example, is a technological marvel that has far too much of its abilities masked by the menu system and nomenclature. Yes, you can assign lots of those buried features to the external controls. Good luck figuring that out without a long perusal of the manual or a helpful book. Don't get me wrong: there's high reward for laboring through the high learning curve here. But that's not everyone's cup of tea. Setting up an Olympus m4/3 camera for a new-to-Olympus owner has the highest learning curve of the mirrorless bunch, particularly if you're trying to figure out the camera's most advanced features.
  • Panasonic — By contrast, the Panasonic m4/3 cameras are far more approachable than the Olympus ones, and much more easily learned. That's despite too much Japlish jargon and weird abbreviations in the menus and descriptions that really need to be improved. This is changing a bit as Panasonic adds features and depth and nuance. The GH5, for instance, is probably just as complex in deciphering how to set it up optimally for 4K video shooting as the E-M1 Mark II is for figuring out how to do focus stacking or one of the other advanced still features. Still, for still shooters, I'd argue that the Panasonic is more approachable than the Olympus for a new user.
  • Sony — If you come from an early Sony mirrorless camera, you're going to be surprised that the control assumptions and interfaces have all changed. A6xxx and A7/A9 are not your old NEX (or even your newer one ;~). If you're coming from a DSLR then things in the current Sony lineup will look more familiar to you, but the organization and flow is all wrong in the menus. Expect a modest learning curve. Even coming from earlier Sony cameras (e.g. moving from an A7 to an A7R Mark III) you're going to find that Sony has been moving lots of things around and has changed their minds on plenty. Again, a modest learning curve until you've readjusted. Like Canon, though, the raw workflow and processing is not likely to be an issue, particularly if you've used any Sony or Nikon sensor-driven camera before. A Sony ARW processes much like a Nikon NEF.

Wait, no Nikon? Nope. I consider the Nikon 1 line dead and await to see what Nikon will do next in mirrorless. Samsung is also dead. The Hasselblad and Sigma offerings are too low volume and niche to consider in this discussion, IMHO.

Okay, all that said, where are we?

  • If you want a full frame mirrorless camera buy a Sony A7/A9 model. Or wait. Yes, I know Leica makes full frame cameras, but that's a bit like buying a Ferrari: great for your self-worth, I suppose, but not very practical to drive around town. Which A7/A9 model? Well, I've written many times during the last couple of years that the Nikon D810 and Sony A7RII have been the best all-around cameras you can buy, so A7RII. I expect for the next year or more I'll be writing D850 and A7RIII instead of D810 and A7RII, but I'm still in the process of reviewing both those new cameras. The A7RII/III still have some raw edges I wish Sony would fix, but that hasn't stopped me from using them frequently. I have no complaints about the image quality, lens availability, or even handling when used as an all-around, general purpose camera.
  • If you're a bit of an oddball (nerd) and don't mind some things you must study and master, consider the Fujifilm X or m4/3 systems. The Fujifilm X system really tends to appeal to the high enthusiast and professional crop sensor DSLR user base, particularly ones that came to DSLRs from film SLRs. Looking at an X kit spread out on the desk reminds me a lot of my old FM2n days. Fujifilm has the best set of crop sensor lenses of anyone, bar none (buzz, buzz). And those lenses tend to carry over that retro feel, too. Meanwhile, Olympus has built a tour de force of technology into and around their smaller sensor, and in ways that make the m4/3 system function well outside its weight class. Panasonic tends to a little more conservative and a bit behind Olympus in the technologies, but is also worth looking at. And like Fujifilm X, the m4/3 lens set is excellent. Indeed, this is something that gets overlooked by far too many: much of what a sensor resolves is dictated by what's in front of the sensor. Canon and Nikon, with their cheap "kit" lenses on their crop sensor cameras have walked into a door frame: lens quality matters.
  • If you're looking for a small mirrorless camera to serve as a compact, a Canon M might be the one. There are other choices here, such as the smaller Panasonic models (e.g. GX850), or the Sony A6xxx. But frankly, after trying them all, the most satisfying "compact camera" experiences I've had with mirrorless models are the Canon M5 and M6, particularly with the 22mm compact prime. Second choice, the 11-22mm zoom.
  • If you're starting out in sports, action, or adventure photography, get the Sony A9. Sony has several key advantages against the Canon 1DxII and Nikon D5 for someone just coming out of college trying to build their first sports system: a lower body price, a faster frame rate, and silent shooting.

What about Medium Format, you ask? Well, Medium Format has never been about "DSLR versus mirrorless." It's been about big sensor versus smaller one, and to a lesser degree, lens sets. Thing is, here in 2017 the sensor is going to be the same Sony 50mp sensor (true of the Fujifilm and Hasselblad mirrorless entrants, true of the Pentax DSLR entrant). So if you're really Jonesing for a big sensor, it's going to be the camera ergonomics and lens sets that should trigger your decision. The GFX 50S, 1XD, and 645D are all very, very different when it comes to those things. Pick which you're most comfortable with.

Finally, I'll admit that I'm a bit torn myself about which mirrorless system to concentrate on in my shooting. Oh, a few I've managed to decide against:

  • Fujifilm X — I generally like the cameras and lenses, generally don't like the X-Trans sensor (other than for monochrome work). As much as the Fujifilm crowd has fawned over the focus, it still isn't at the same level as Sony or the best DSLRs. Close, but not equivalent. Moreover, as I bundled up the X options I liked most, I found I was getting a bit on the heavy side while not having the telephoto options I really need. I made a decision early in the year to sell off most of my X system and just keep a couple of lenses so I could evaluate future X models.
  • Nikon 1 — This one was easy. Nikon went flatline on me. Moreover, they kept trying to make Nikon 1 not a miniature Nikon DSLR, to the point of making duplicate and incompatible accessories. There was a lot to like here, especially once the J series (but not V series) got to the 20mp Exmor-based sensor. The 6.7-13mm, 18.5mm, and 32mm f/1.2 lenses were gems, and the 70-300mm an absolute "friend of birders." At least birders in the sunshine. But Nikon never produced a road map of where things were headed, overpriced everything, made it all too incompatible with the rest of Nikon gear, and then just went into complete product extension flatline. Sorry, I'd like a pulse.
  • Leica — The M's: well, I never had much of an M lens collection (one or two) and I never really liked the rangefinder approach. So I've never done anything other than borrow M gear to test for short periods. The TL and SL have a lot to like, but my TL was buggier than any other mirrorless I've tested to date. And the TL lenses left me wanting. The SL lenses just are too massive for what I need mirrorless for.

Which, of course, leaves Canon, m4/3, and Sony. Even here I have some issues:

  • Canon EOS M — I need a new "buzz buzz*" term for Canon. Specifically for EOS M lenses. There's exactly two I can't live without (11-22mm f/4.5-5.6 and 22mm f/2). That's it. Which makes the M a bit of a one-trick pony for me. With the 22mm f/2 it's a great little walk-around 35mm equivalent camera. Great. Great enough that I'm not tempted by a GR or an X100F or another else that's appeared in that space. But then what?
    Note to Canon executives: You need a pancake 15mm and 50mm. You need one really great faster zoom. Minimum.
  • m4/3 — Both Olympus and Panasonic boggle my mind. Did you know we're approaching 30 Panasonic m4/3 bodies over 20 Olympus m4/3 bodies? If you do a search for m4/3 lenses on B&H you come up with 130 lenses. Personally, I can boil the Olympus line into three cameras I'd consider: Pen-F, E-M10 Mark III, and E-M1 Mark II. I'm not sure why they're wedging an E-M5 in between the two other OM-Ds or continuing the PL/PM/EP models. If they need a lower end, make a lower end Pen-F. Indeed, that's the lineup they should have: Pen-F Jr, Pen-F, E-M10, E-M1. Yes, I know all about price elasticity of demand and product line development and all that other stuff. But seriously, Olympus, spend more time on those four bodies and less time out in the weeds. Meanwhile, Panasonic's numbering scheme appears to every now and then be headed by someone on a drunken binge. Stop that. G, GH, GX and maybe either a GF or GM, all labeled concurrently, please (e.g. G9, GH9, GX9, and GM9 ;~). There's excess proliferation of bodies in both camps when both would be served better by flushing out some odds and ends that aren't really attracting users.
  • Sony — NEX is history. But so, it appears, is the A5xxx. Really? The crop sensor Sony line is now a series of three cameras each of which is a "stick more sensor tech in it" version of the former? I fail to see how this is a useful strategy. Things that were wrong with the A6000 are still wrong with the A6500 (and A6300 in between). And when all is said and done these cameras seem a lot more GameBoy than anything else on the market. Don't get me wrong, I like them, but...
    Note to Sony executives: You're making the same mistake Nikon made with DX, and Canon made with EF-S and is making with EF-M. Samsung made lenses for their NEX-clone that clearly bettered what you put out. You can put all the tech you want at the sensor, but it's the optics out front that are hurting your image quality, not the sensor. What I'd give for Samsung's 16mm f/2.4, 20mm f/2.8, 30mm f/2, 45mm f/1.8, 60mm f/2.8, and 85mm f/1.4 in a Sony E-mount. And no, your Sony 16mm, 20mm, 30mm don't even come close.

Okay, we're finally to the payoff.

What's Thom using?

Right now I'm having a bit of a crisis. The two mirrorless systems for which I can say I have a full, complete system are very different: Olympus m4/3 and Sony FE. But I really wonder if I need two.

I love the Olympus E-M1 Mark II—at least once I get my head back into it and re-master the menus—and the lenses are extraordinary. An E-M1 with the 7-14mm f/2.8, 12-40mm f/2.8, and 40-150mm f/2.8 is a really small 14-300mm kit with some great optics. When I'm in the "Olympus Groove" the E-M1 Mark II feels just right in my hand and the controls are natural (assuming I got them programmed right again ;~). And if I really wanted to go smaller, the Panasonic f/2.8 lenses would net me some more savings. Or I could go with those great Olympus primes and be real small. Every time I think of a 14-mile-in-one-day backwoods hike I think first and foremost about the Olympus m4/3 gear. Coupled with a small tripod and a pano head, there's nothing I can't do, yet I'm at a carry weight I can still handle now that I'm in my Medicare years. I'll labor a bit more with the raw conversions than I do with my full frame cameras, but I'm happy with the results.

I love the Sony A7R (currently II going on III)—at least if I've got the right lenses on it. First, as I noted above, the Sony raw files are as easy to work with as my Nikon DSLR raw files. And pretty close in absolute quality, enough to ignore most of the time. The IBIS is nice, the EVF is good (and getting better with the III). My problems are twofold. First, the A7 bodies just aren't all that comfortable in the hand, the controls are too small, and some are in the wrong place. When I said the Olympus feels just right, the Sony feels just wrong (note that the A9 improved that some, but the A9 isn't the camera I need here). I'm just not as comfortable shooting all day with the Sony A7 bodies as I am with my Nikon DSLRs or the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Simple as that.

And then there's the lenses. The f/2.8 GM lenses are great. But they don't save me anything over the Nikon f/2.8 lenses, so it gives me no real reason to pick up the A7RII over the D810 (now D850). I'm holding out high hopes for the upcoming Sony 24-105mm f/4, because the current 24-70mm f/4 leaves a lot to be desired other than its size (and Nikon's DSLR version also leaves a lot to be desired, so the A7II gets a shot here with the right lens). I really need a smallish travel lens on this A7RII, and that just-announced 24-105mm f/4 is my next big hope. Yes, it's bigger and heavier than the 24-70mm f/4, but it's also lighter and smaller than the 24-70mm f/2.8. I'm hoping to find Goldilocks.

Because if I don't, I'm not sure why I'm using an A7RII(III).

Now I'm a bit of a special case. Right now I have pretty full sets of m4/3, Sony FE, and Nikon DSLR (DX/FX) gear to choose from. Which I choose for a job or a trip depends upon the strengths and weaknesses of each as it relates to said job or trip. And guess what that keeps coming back to?

You guessed it: lenses.

I don't need more megapixels. I don't need better pixels. I don't need more features. I don't need more frames per second. I don't need better autofocus (though I wouldn't complain if I got it). What I need is a complete system where the lenses perfectly complement the bodies and create an optimal kit for me to carry.

At present I can only say I have that with two systems: Olympus m4/3 and Nikon FX. To which I'd add that Fujifilm X users can get to that level, too, as long as they don't need much above 200mm.

Sony FE to me is a far trickier call. As I noted, the f/2.8 GM zooms basically force me to assess Sony FE against Canon EF and Nikon FX. The maturity of the ergonomics of the Canon and Nikon camera bodies then become a key deciding point. If Sony is going to insist that the A7 is distinguished by a small body, I need the lenses that complement that better, and I still need the ergonomics to take a step forward. The minute my gloves come out this winter, my Sony body heads into the closet.

Yes, I've been harsh on Sony in this article, but that's partly because they're so close to having something that really plays a new role.

*For the past decade I've used the term "buzz, buzz" to rag about Nikon's persistent problem of ignoring the DX lens set and not completing it in a useful fashion. It seems that all the top crop sensorcameravendors keep thinking that crop sensor is only about selling and providing convenience, so they tend to emphasizesuperzooms, kit lenses, and a few cheap options. They're worried that they'll cannibalize their own full frame sensor offerings. Yet I can clearly measure the leakage from Nikon DX to Fujifilm X, and I'll bet that if I surveyed those leakers carefully I'd find that "lens set" was at the top of the reasons they left Nikon DX. Better to cannibalize your own users than have someone else do it.

Canon (EF-S and EF-M) and Nikon (DX) and even Sony (E) seem to all think that it's all about theup-sell: "hey, if you want a complete lens set or better lenses then just buy (the way more expensive) EF, FX, FE." That's short-sighted, and it's enabled competitors to hold onto and increase market share in ILC, particularly m4/3 and Fujifilm X. The Canikony thinking about crop sensor lens sets is paternalistic and fundamentally wrong. There's no reason why you can't have a relatively complete DX lens set and a complete FX lens set that's even better. No reason.

Canon Deal

If you've got some Canon lenses and are interested in sampling the EOS M, Canon has refurbished EOS M5 cameras with a refurbished EF-EOS M adapter (plus some additional gifts) for US$637. You have to enter the discount code TREATPLEASE at checkout to get this price.

This is a pretty exceptional price for a very good APS-C mirrorless camera body. The normal refurb price would be US$784. I also like that Canon includes a one-year warranty on their refurbs, unlike some other companies.

Note that Canon also is honoring the 15% off TREATPLEASE coupon on their lens refurbishments.

Sony Announces the A7R Mark III

Sony starts off the third generation of the FE mirrorless camera line with the A7R Mark III. Overall, this is not the usual Sony "push the tech further than anyone" type of release we've gotten used to, but more of a "round out the issues of the previous version" release. The Mark III picks up a lot of small pieces of tech from previous Sony models.

bythom sony a7rIII 24-70

That starts at the sensor, where we have basically the same 42.2mp sensor as before, but with a slightly different set of toppings (gapless microlenses and a new anti-flare coating).

Frame rate has improved from 5 fps to 10 fps (mechanical or electronic), with an 8 fps low-blackout ability (similar to the A6500). Improvements to BIONZ, faster UHS-II card writing, and other improvements push the buffer up a maximum of 87 compressed, or 28 uncompressed raw files.

Autofocus is still using the 399 point phase detect from the sensor (about two-thirds of the frame), but implements better contrast detect capabilities and some of the algorithms/techniques of the A9. We also get the thumbstick to control AF point from the A9.

Behind the sensor, the IS system has been improved. It's still 5-axis, but now rated at 5.5 stops CIPA. The IS system has also been configured to give a multi-shot high resolution mode (four images cancel out Bayer effects and lower noise). However, these four images are not assembled in-camera, nor are they near instantaneous, as there must be at least a half second delay between each. Sony promises computer software to process these files.

As in the Mark II, the Mark III model can shoot full frame 4K that's downsampled, or a 4K Super 35 crop (about APS-C) that's not. Sony claims better video quality for both versions, though it is unclear how that is achieved. We do gain a Hybrid Log Gamma function that captures in Log but displays corrected on the camera. One additional gain in the video capabilities is 1080P/120/100.

bythom sony a7rIII back

While the Mark III retains the Mark II body for the most part, there are changes. I've already mentioned the additional of the focus control thumbstick. Other changes include using the larger NP-FZ100 battery first seen in the A9 (650 shots CIPA), the dual SD slot configuration (one UHS-II, one UHS-I), plus the use of the 3.6m dot A9 EVF.

Sony made a number of small claims regarding the A7R Mark III: Eye-detect autofocus performance was doubled, camera features aren't disabled with the buffer full, and the use of a USB 3.1 port allowing faster tethering.

Price of the camera stays at US$3200 (which explains the recent discounting on the Mark II model), and it should ship before the end of November, barely.

So what to make of this latest A7?

A lot of people are surprised that it's an A7R that gets the Mark III treatment first. Most of the rumor sites were suggesting that the A7 or A7S would be first. But the "action" is in the high-end cameras now, and Sony's most conspicuous camera there was the A7R Mark II, and it was a head-to-head competitor with the Nikon D810 (and Canon 5D Mark IV). I suppose it's possible that Sony learned of the impending D850 and wanted to shore up the A7R. Indeed, they have, whether that was their intention or not.

In the last generation of cameras, I considered the Nikon D810 and Sony A7R Mark II two of the best, most well-rounded cameras you could buy. Arguably, they were usable for any photographic purpose. I don't see that changing in this generation. The D850 and A7R Mark III both upped their games, in slightly different fashions. Both shoot at faster frame rates, both make additional performance claims, both incorporate features from their flagship (D5, A9), both are in the same price range. And I think both will sell well.

Meanwhile, Sony added to their lens lineup with another new lens, the 24-105mm f/4 G OSS. Let's hope this is the missing link in the f/4 lineup. While it's slightly bigger and heavier than the 24-70mm f/4 Zeiss, the hope here is that it doesn't have the optical letdowns of that lens and becomes the smaller/lighter travel mid-range zoom.

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Fujifilm Deals

You've asked me to post when there are strong deals going on mirrorless products, so here's one such post.

Fujifilm has posted discounts on quite a bit of their lineup, including the recent GFX 50S medium format camera and lenses.

Let's start with the GFX 50S: if you buy a body with a lens (any of the six currently available), you'll get a US$1000 discount. So the camera with a standard lens now works out to about US$7000. Still priced well above the high-pixel count full frame DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but well under the price we're used to for medium format. I haven't reviewed the GFX 50S yet, but it's in the queue.

GFX lenses sold alone all have an approximately 20% discount on them at the moment, as well.

Meanwhile, almost all of the APS-C bodies are either US$50 off (A series) or US$100 off (pretty much the rest of the line), with the X-Pro2 being US$200 off when purchased with the 23mm lens. The most recent X-E3 is not discounted, however.

Of this group, the likely body to catch the most interest is the X-T20, which is now US$800 with the discount. The X-T2 is US$1500, but many won't find a US$700 difference between the T's, and thus be somewhat interested in that X-T20 at that low price.

Lenses all get a discount, too:

  • US$50 off: 18mm f/2, 27mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4, 60mm f/2.4 macro
  • US$100 off: 10-24mm f/4, 14mm f/2.8, 16mm f/1.4, 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6, 23mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.2, 55-200mm f/3.5-4.5, 90mm f/2 macro
  • US$150 off: 16-55mm f/2.8, 50-140mm f/2.8, 56mm f/1.2APD, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6

Yeah, that's a lot of APS-C lenses on sale. Take that, Nikon (buzz, buzz ;~). I've highlighted in bold the lenses that at these prices I would be strongly considering if I were a Fujifilm user and if I didn't already have them. Those bolded lenses are really strong performers, especially considering their new price.

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Sony Deals

You've asked me to post when there are strong deals going on mirrorless products, so here's one such post.

Sony has a number of deals now going on with their mirrorless products, all expiring November 3rd [disclosure: these are affiliate links via B&H and many include additional items such as storage kits or cases]:

The highlight discount there is the A7R Mark II. While we all expect this camera to be replaced with a Mark III model in 2018, you still have to say this is an excellent all-around mirrorless camera with excellent performance, and at this new price, a bit of a bargain. I definitely can recommend that camera at that price. See my review.

In the APS-C offerings, things aren't quite as exciting, as these are all modest deals on cameras that are a bit long-in-the-tooth (there's no deal on the A6500, the current top of the APS-C line for Sony). The two lens A6000 kit is probably the stand-out in terms of value in this list, as that camera may not have the gee-whiz focus performance of the higher models, but it still is a really highly competent APS-C camera, and that two lens kit takes you from 24mm to 330mm equivalent. All for a price equivalent to some 24mp DSLRs, but in a package that's far smaller.

Still, the A7R Mark II deal is the best one in the bunch.

Fujifilm's Big Announcement Day

bythom fujifilm xe3

Fujifilm today went on a binge of announcements, mostly centered on the new X-E3 camera, an update of the X-E2/X-E2s.

The X-E3 brings Fujifilm's latest technologies to the E body: 24mp X-Trans sensor, 4K video, Bluetooth connectivity, touchscreen, and phase detect autofocus on the sensor. You also get the focus position joystick that premiered with the X-Pro2.

Overall, the X-E3 takes a bit of volume and weight away from its predecessor, keeping it more clearly in the compact and light category in the Fujifilm lineup. The rangefinder style EVF got a few tweaks, including a different eye point and magnification than the preceding model. In many ways, the X-E3 may now be a slightly better choice than the X-T20, adding some additional focus controls and Bluetooth while sacrificing the built-in flash (the X-E3 comes with a small external flash).

Body only is US$899, unfortunately a step up.

bythom fujifilm 80mm

Along with the X-E3, Fujifilm had a torrent of other things to talk about, including the new 80mm f/2.8 Macro for the X mount, the 45mm f/2.8 for the GF mount, new firmware updates pre-announced for the X-Pro2, X-T2, X100F, and X-T20, a new lens roadmap, and a new Fujifilm X RAW Studio software program that is sort of weird (it requires the camera hooked to the computer, as the actual raw demosaic is done by the camera's imaging ASIC chip, not the computer).

Overall, Fujifilm continues to be quite active in releasing mirrorless products and then refreshing them with firmware updates. At present count the APS-C lineup consists of six current bodies and 22 lenses, plus a small medium format body with five available lenses (soon to be six).

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Trade Ins

Both Olympus and Sony currently have trade-in events going on. With Olympus you get a US$300 bonus on your trade-in towards their current mirrorless cameras (other than the E-M10III just introduced), with Sony you get a US$300 bonus towards the A7 series, or up to US$500 bonus towards the A9.

Here are the two relevant B&H pages [advertiser links]

Get used to this, you're going to see more of it, and from more manufacturers in the future.

Why? Simple, Japan wants you to update faster.

Digital cameras, including mirrorless models, got quite competent very fast. I wrote years ago about Last Camera Syndrome, where users simply decide that what they've got is good enough and they stop looking at and buying new models.

Realistically, how many of us need more than 16mp? Or ISO 64,000? Focus stacking? 20 fps? Full-time EVF with no blackout? Answer: not many. Are those things nice to have? Sure. But are they enough to get you to pull out your credit card and yell Charge! Probably not.

Moreover, the camera makers have been all swimming upstream with their models, reaching new higher price points (not in inflation-adjusted dollars, but consumers don't think in inflation-adjusted dollars). So not only are those nifty new features not really necessary, it looks to most like they'll be a pain in the credit score to obtain them.

Thus the trade-in bonus. Not only do you get the trade-in value for your camera—which, by the way, is being driven down by this same insidious practice—but you get some bonus cash. By definition, you have to give up your old camera to get the new one (as opposed to keeping it as a backup), which basically cures your Last Camera Syndrome.

For now. As with all marketing/sales schemes, these things tend to run their course and some new scheme will be needed once the last updaters are squeezed using this technique.

So, if you've been jonesing for a new mirrorless camera from Olympus or Sony, there's a way to reduce the financial pain, at least by a bit. The Olympus program ends in late October, the Sony program at the end of September. Just remember this: there's likely to be lots of new marketing programs that hit in mid-to-late November.

Canon EOS M5 Repair

I should have taken a photo.

Of course, I would have taken said photo with the camera that was damaged. That's because my other two cameras at the time were Nikon D500's with long telephoto lenses. And I don't use my iPhone on long trips where there's no cell service (let alone Internet service).

Of course, I could have taken a photo when I got home with one of my other cameras or a macro lens on my Nikons. But I'd already partially repaired the camera and was in a hurry to get things off to where they needed to be so I could catch up on a month's worth of being off the Internet.

Here's the story:

I took my Canon EOS M5 with me for a month in the middle of nowhere in Botswana in July as my wide angle to normal photographic option. About halfway through the trip, the camera got jammed against something in the vehicle and the viewfinder eyepiece drooped off the back of the camera. This is a vulnerable point on the M5 design: the eyepiece sticks out behind the camera a significant ways, and in looking at the design after the fact, there's a clear joint that can fail if you put too much pressure against the back of the eyepiece.

At first I thought the camera was going to be unusable. But in my tent that night I took a close look, pulled out my tool set, and did a little improvised repair. I was able to get the eyepiece back aligned with the inner EVF and the joint basically back together (with some duct tape). But the automatic eye detection no longer worked. For that I simply programmed one of the function buttons to do the display transfer manually.

And voila, the camera worked for the rest of the trip.

Obviously, I sent the camera off to Canon for repair when I got back. I had no expectations of what they might do or charge.

Well, here's the result: CanonUSA decided to replace the camera entirely, and for US$292 (plus shipping). For those that want the details, it took one day for them to create the estimate, another two days to ship the replacement after I okayed the cost.

I consider that result fair, and quick.

Oh, and here's a strange thing: Canon really sent a complete boxed item, complete with manual, battery, charger, straps, USB cable, etc. That's despite the fact I sent my unit back with no battery or accessories.

I do have a question into CanonUSA about what happens with the damaged camera. Do they scavenge it for parts, take it back to the factory for refurbishment, or just wrote it off and scrap it? When I get an answer back, I'll let you know. Answer: "We have a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. As such, we have a robust program to recycle all possible components from damaged products." A little non-specific, but an answer that points the right direction.

They'll Be Back (Nikon, That Is)

I'm going to go out on a limb here. (I don't usually drop into rumors and speculation about future model announcements.) Nikon is going to show back up in the mirrorless camera realm, and very likely within the next two to three months. They really want to ship before the end of the year.

But exactly what is it that they'll ship?

Ah, the 64,000 yen question.

As I've indicated elsewhere, Nikon has pretty much prototyped everything, from new CX (Nikon 1) options to entirely new DX to FX mirrorless cameras, both with and without the F-mount.

If the news I'm getting out of Tokyo is correct, though, it's without F-mount. I say that because more than one source in Japan tells me that what gets announced by Nikon and when it will be announced is dependent upon the lenses. That hint tells me two things: Nikon will have more than one new sensor size in mirrorless, and it will have a new mount of some sort that requires new lenses. (Before panic sets in among Nikon faithful: I'm pretty sure Nikon will go the adapter route for current F-mount if they come up with a new mount.)

Here's my current bet: we'll first see a DX mirrorless option from Nikon targeting about the low DSLR point in performance/function (though it is likely to be more EOS M5 priced). While I know a lot of you have been clamoring for Nikon to compete with the Sony A7/A9 series using a full frame entry, I don't believe that will be Nikon's first move out of the gate, and for the same reasons that Canon didn't make that move first. The risk of being perceived as coming out with something too little, too late is higher in full frame than with crop sensor. Moreover, Nikon's weakness is in the under US$1000 mark right now, and that needs fixing.

Thus, my additional bet is that full frame from Canikon in mirrorless happens around Photokina 2018 time (fall).

The D5, D500, D850 introductions have nicely solidified Nikon's performance camera base in DSLRs. Nikon doesn't want to be sending mixed signals, just as Canon didn't want to send mixed signals with the initial EOS M models. DSLRs for performance aren't dead, but certainly mirrorless for convenience/travel cameras is very alive. Nikon is also averse to self-cannibalization. Thus, Nikon isn't going to undercut the D5, D500, D850, D7500 just after having produced them.

On top of that, Nikon's lineup weakness today is all below the D500 (or perhaps below the D7500, it's difficult to judge on the early D7500 numbers). Nikon has proven that with a bit of sales promotion they can move plenty of D500, D750, and D810 bodies, plus the D850 is an announcement hit and should be tough to find in stock between now and the end of the year. Where Nikon is weak is between the Coolpix P900 and the D7500, exactly where a crop sensor mirrorless system would live.

The critical thing for Nikon is messaging right now. The Nikon 1 message being sent is that it is dead. Samuel Beckett would probably be writing a play called Waiting for V4 at this point ("Nothing to be done/I'm beginning to come round to that opinion.").

So, if Nikon is reading this, here's a guide:

  1. There must be a clear statement as to what happens with Nikon 1. Better still, fix Nikon 1 and continue it as the small entry option in place of the DLs. But that requires feature, compatibility, ergonomics, price, and other adjustments.
  2. There must be a clear statement as to where any new system fits in the full Nikon product line. Hint: it currently would go Coolpix->(CX)->new mirrorless->pro DX->pro FX, with each level gaining performance and ability, but all having the same base ergonomics and feature set, and recognizably Nikon.
  3. There must be a full and useful initial lens set plus a lens road map at launch. Not the "some things behind glass" you did at the Nikon 1 launch.
  4. If you can't match or beat the EOS M, you're not ready to launch.
  5. Don't panic, and don't forget to carry a microfiber cloth.

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