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.

Really, Canon?

This is how you don't do marketing: Canon Europe's senior product marketing manager gave a quote to Digital Camera World that includes the following: "...should the market demand it, we are ready to create new EF lenses. But for now, our focus is on RF." 

The implication of that quote—and the way that everyone in the press and the customer base is reading it—is that the market isn't currently demanding any new EF lenses, thus Canon is only developing RF lenses now. As dpreview expressed their comment on the quote: "it seems as though Canon has stopped research and development efforts for new EF lenses."

Okay, I understand that this actually might be the case, that Canon's lens team is concentrating only on new RF lenses. Both Canon and Nikon have a lot of lenses they need to produce to make their full frame mirrorless mounts "whole", after all. So you want to say something that indicates that you're urgently addressing that need.

Unfortunately, Canon still sells plenty of other cameras than the RF series. Including another mirrorless system ;~).

What does such a quote getting such widespread re-publication do for Canon? Well, let's see, Canon's DSLR sales still exceed their mirrorless sales (though not for long), so all those DSLR owners are saying "what about us?" Canon actually sells far more M mirrorless cameras than RF, and will (at least until Canon makes a crop sensor RF model ;~), so all those M users are saying "wait, what about us?" Canon also sells Cinema cameras that use the EF mount. So no new EF Cinema lenses, either, Canon? 

I told you earlier that watching the Battleship try to turn quickly wouldn't look pretty. But it can look far uglier if you have someone with a megaphone hanging off the side yelling "we're turning, we're turning." 

I've been highly critical of Nikon's marketing over the years, but that's mainly been about not doing enough of it. This Canon quote running around the Web is something different: it's simply a bad marketing message that is completely counterproductive.

Canon needs a clear strategy that marketing then communicates clearly to the public. 

I have this sneaking suspicion that their strategy is this: 

  • DSLRs go away, replaced by RF mirrorless
  • M goes away, replaced by a future RF APS-C
  • Cinema switches mounts to RF soon (or PL if you want that)

Let's tally up what camera bodies Canon is current selling (from the CanonUSA Web site):

  • 21 DSLRs — EF mount 
  • 3 RF mirrorless full frame — RF mount
  • 8 M mirrorless crop sensor — M mount 
  • 6 Cinema cameras (some with multiple variations) — EF or PL mount

Hmm. 27 of the cameras Canon wants to sell you today use EF lenses, while only 3 use RF lenses. Yet only RF development is continuing? See the problem? 

There are far better statements that could have been made, even if the strategy moving forward is "all RF". For example: "Development is concentrating on RF lenses right now in order to build that new mount into one as strong as our industry-leading EF mount. We'll continue to make sure that whatever Canon you shoot, you have the best possible lenses available for it." 

What we have here is a clear Command and Control problem with Canon's marketing message. 

I have to wonder if the subsidiaries are getting clear Marketing Talking Points from corporate these days. If they are, someone in Canon Europe probably just colored outside the lines. If not, it would tell me that corporate is in disarray and that the subsidiaries are struggling to make their own marketing statements in lieu of ones from the Tokyo office. In today's Internet-driven environment, marketing has to move at warp speed, because those that want to steal, modify, or demean your message move instantaneously. 

One has to wonder if Canon will be the next to announce a restructuring. They're making the soft part of their sales softer by their recent comments and actions. They haven't yet built their new platform into something that will rebuild sales. 

Guessing at Statistics

I don't really want to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, but one thought generally (incorrectly) attributed to him is something we need to discuss here in the camera world: there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. 

More and more we've had an Internet pile on of articles about "sales" and "market share" in the camera world that are marketed as "knowns," but are really simply made up conclusions to support a world view. One article late last year had the conclusive headline of "Why Nikon is Failing..."

In that article there was not one sales statistic given to support the headline, let alone the article's general premise. Then there was an additional thought in that article that wouldn't pass muster in the MBA program I went through: market cap solely denotes ability to compete. 

If anything, companies with larger market caps tend to not be the ones to move quickly when markets change. There's great risk to the cash cow if you abandon it too quickly. 

I see the sentiments of those articles in many articles and forum discussions now. Consider this forum post: "Nikon made a terrible mistake on the Z6 and Z7 that has had a devastating effect on sales, and even the best discounts in the world will not help them." 

So where is the statistic that says that Z6 and Z7 sales have been devastating? Funny thing is, I sell a book on those cameras. I have a pretty good idea of how well the Z6 and Z7 are selling into the serious photographer market because I can compare my current Z book sales to previous similar DSLR books. No devastation is happening. My sales were up last year. 

What we're seeing is lots of people guessing at statistics. And worse, guessing at gross profit margins. Nikon is currently in a stretch of their strategy where they're willing to sell fewer items, but is transitioning to ones with higher prices that cost them less to make. That kind of strategy doesn't work forever, but it's been proven effective during market transitions many, many times. 

It's not just with Nikon that this is happening, and it's not just with downward numbers that I see statistical guessing (and flawed logic).

Sony tends to see the opposite kind of commentary. If you were to take the Sony camera sales headlines at face value you'd think that they came from nowhere to wipe out all the other camera companies. The most quoted "Sony is #1" source is Amazon.

Try doing this: go to the Amazon site, type in "best selling camera" in the search box. Guess what you end up with? The first Sony ILC that appears in that search when I did it recently is listed as "sponsored." Meaning that it was an ad placement. Okay, try pulling up the "Best Sellers in Digital Cameras" list. Today as I did this one would believe that the Nikon D3500 and D5600 easily outsell the Sony A7m3. But you'll notice something else in that list: the A7m3 also appears to outsell the D3500 and D5600 according to Amazon. What gives? 

Amazon no longer seems to publish the methodology for how they generate "best seller" lists, but two things stand out: (1) the items in that list are individual kits, meaning that a body only, body+kit lens, and body+extended kit all show up as different items; and (2) a quick perusal showed me that "sponsored" items in the normal listings are showing up similarly in the best seller list, suggesting that Amazon's best seller list can be gamed. 

Sony themselves are very careful to almost always make their claims about how well they're doing using overall dollars taken in (as in "#1 in value of full frame sales"). Even that can be misleading, because in the US they're using NPD data to make that claim, which is based upon what the customer paid the dealer, not what Sony received. If you don't know what a spiff is, you might want to look it up. For as long as I can remember manufacturers have been gaming sales and market share numbers using unseen-to-the-consumer promotions. (Disclosure: spiffs are used far less frequently in camera sales these days than they used to be, but they're still present.)

When I did some work not to long ago for a well-known investment firm that was trying to get a handle on the camera market, we spent a lot of time cross-referencing statistical sources. We found a lot of anomalies we had to account for (e.g. gray market). What we also found was that Canon's and Nikon's statement of unit volume in their quarterly financial statements was as far as we could tell correct. Of the other camera makers, only Olympus discloses ILC volume the same way. Sony only discloses overall DSC (all digital cameras) volume, which turned out impossible to verify. 

The other thing that happens is timing related. One reason why I always use trailing year numbers in my evaluations is that I'm trying to mitigate temporary bumps from new product introductions and short-term discounting. Indeed, that was what that investment firm and I eventually agreed upon: matching up trailing year numbers from NPD, CIPA, and the camera makers (as well as a couple of other private sources). Where we ended up in some disagreement was how to estimate future sales (e.g.  projecting forward-year numbers). 

Thing is, the camera companies are doing the same thing. They're trying to take trailing information and predicting forward potential. The camera makers have better data than the rest of us. At the moment, the camera makers are all talking about further large contraction of the overall market (volume). A few are talking about a small expansion of their own sales in some way (e.g. generally higher average product prices or margins, though sometimes small gains in market share).

Overall, the camera market has been getting weaker and weaker since 2012. We still have the same number of manufacturers, so over time everyone has suffered in some way. Much of their response has gone a bit under the radar. For instance, both Canon and Nikon have significantly upped their use of automation in manufacturing as volume decreased, which means that they've been reigning in their production costs even as volume went down. 

But there's more going on than that. In Nikon-land, we saw 16 new cameras in 2015, 11 in 2016, 3 in 2017, 4 in 2018, and 4 in 2019 (I don’t count the D6 pre-announcement). In Sony-land the numbers from 2014 to present go 17, 8, 9, 4, 5, and 7. Product lines are being cancelled, iteration has slowed, completely new models are now more rare. 

The headline that should be written is quite different than the one you're probably seeing these days. Something like this: "Camera Makers Doing Everything In Their Power to Keep From Failing.” 

And so far, they’re mostly succeeding. Canon and Sony are still profitable in the camera market despite the severe market contraction, and they account for well over half of the entire camera market.  

This is not to say things are all rosy in the world of camera production. They're not. Nikon just had to take a write-down that made their numbers look unprofitable (though on a cash basis, they were positive). The entire industry is under high stress, and you see the results of that in many different ways. But failing? Nope. Not yet. 

I'll got out on a limb here. If Nikon "fails," so will everyone else making cameras. Nikon’s the canary in the coal mine, because so much of their overall business is based on cameras and lenses. A Nikon failure would mean that the market contracted so much that there's no clear profitable proposition for anyone. 

Personally, I don't think we hit that space until we get below 4m ILC units sold a year. 2018 was 10.7m units according to CIPA—though that's shipments, not sales—and 2019 is looking like it will be somewhere around the 8m unit mark. So we have a ways to go before we can start talking about failure.

Still, it’s been a rough time. You probably noticed all those clearance sales over the holidays. Canon was particularly aggressive at trying to move boxes out of their inventory and into your hands. I suspect Canon and Nikon will remain aggressive in moving older boxes this quarter, too.

The problem, of course, is that if you bought one of those deeply discounted cameras at the end of 2019, you’re not really in the market for anything in 2020. Which means that we’re not yet through with market contraction and you’re likely going to see even more articles about how terrible the camera makers are doing.

But are they really doing terrible? Let's see, the latest offerings from the Big Three are the 1DX Mark III, the D780, and the A9 Mark II. All really strong updates of really good existing cameras. Features aren't being cut. Performance is not being dropped. Build quality is not going down. 

We'll know when the camera makers are in trouble when (a) updates de-content the product to save the maker money; (b) they struggle to find performance and feature gains; and (c) we stop getting updates at all. 

I'll say this: if you can't find a really good camera that serves basically all your photographic needs well on your dealer's shelves today, I'm not sure why you're reading this. We live in a land of plenty, basically. That, of course, makes the camera makers' jobs even tougher, as they have to come up with things that will compel us to update our existing products. Fortunately, that's still happening, though at a slower pace and with less compellingness, which means we buy less frequently, too. 

So I'll end with this: a friend with a set of top-notch current gear recently told me he was going to buy a just announced US$9500 lens. How much better that new lens is versus what he currently has is an unknown thing at the moment, but my question to him was this: was that the best use of US$9500 for your photography? 

We all chase dreams, but sometimes we should focus a little more closely on reality. With that much money on the line, you'd also have to consider:

  • Buying a new lens that doesn't duplicate what you can already do well.
  • Enrolling in a workshop or seminar that benefits your skill set.
  • Making sure you have proper backups.
  • Updating your computer gear to handle the big new files and heavy processing needs.
  • Traveling to someplace new and perhaps exotic to actually use your existing gear.

We're going to get a lot of tempting new mirrorless product this year (and early next year). Some of it will be easy to justify. For instance any new Z mount lens extends/improves what we can do with the Nikon cameras almost by definition. Ditto for some still missing Sony E mount lenses. Ditto for any high-end Canon mirrorless camera. 

Let's reset the rhetoric to the good side of what's happening: as the camera companies recompose themselves to survive in a smaller market, the products they make are getting better. The only way they'd fail is if they don't do that. That's a known known ;~).

Mirrorless, Without an EVF

Here's a different way to think about the Canon and Nikon announcements last week (1DX m3 and D780): they're mirrorless cameras without an EVF.

The Nikon D780, for instance, is essentially a Z6, but with a mirror box and an optical viewfinder as the primary compositional path. Put it in Live View, and shooting via the rear LCD on the D780 is essentially the same as shooting with a Z6.

Meanwhile, the Canon 1DX m3 is not really different. It's essentially a form of a Canon RF camera, but with a mirror box and an optical viewfinder as the primary compositional path. Unlike the D780, the 1DX m3 has a number of serious refinements on the DSLR side, but when you put it in Live View and shoot via the rear LCD, the 1DX m3 essentially becomes the same as some currently non-existent RF mount mirrorless camera.

This is true for both cameras in both still shooting and video recording modes. Indeed, the D780 gets virtually all the Z6 video goodies, including 10-bit N-Log HLG on the HDMI port, while the 1DX m3 actually goes further than Canon has before with their mirrorless, adding 4K/60P and 5.4K raw. Yet, operationally, these DSLRs work pretty much exactly like their mirrorless counterparts when you shoot video.

All this makes you wonder: why didn't they just put in a flip down (or up or across) EVF in the viewfinder that activates when you press the Live View button? That would not be even close to technically impossible, though it might grow the prism area in size. Alternatively, use an OLED overlay system, though that would require some engineering that hasn't been done before.

The real question I have is this: was making DSLRs into EVF-less mirrorless cameras just a result of so much energy being focused on the mirrorless side of development these days, or is there really an opportunity for a hybrid, best-of-both-worlds camera in the future? 

That's a question we may have to wait another four years to know the answer to, it appears. Why four years? Because a good hybrid mechanism is going to be expensive to develop, thus it would likely only appear on the top end DSLR first, which means a 1DX m4 or D7 that would show up just before the 2024 Paris Olympics.

But here's the problem: the still strongly declining camera sales are likely focusing the remaining R&D budgets away from the DSLR. Canon and Nikon have to clip Sony's wings or else suffer even more than they otherwise would from market contraction, and DSLRs aren't going to do that, no matter how good they are.

As I pointed out over a decade ago, mirrorless was inevitable for the bulk of camera sales for one simple reason: parts reduction. That parts reduction also leads to manufacturing simplification and more assembly automation. Faster, simpler assembly with fewer parts leads to lower overall product cost (to the manufacturer) and potentially higher gross profit margin. (The same thing is going to happen in automobiles, by the way: they'll move to electric not just because of global warming concerns, but because it results in a parts reduction and less manufacturing complication.)


You Got A Sony Alpha for XMAS. Now What?

You got a Sony Alpha camera (A7, A7R, A7S, A9, A6xxx) as a Christmas present (probably to yourself, but I’m not going to judge you ;~). This is your first Sony mirrorless camera, so now you’re thinking: what do I do next?

  1. Learn your new camera. This is always going to be my first piece of advice, no matter what new gear you get. Carefully reading through the manual that came with the camera and stepping through all the menu options one by one will get you a long way. At least if you’re paying attention. The big problem is that Sony’s naming conventions and menu organization are going to cause some learning distractions for you if you’re coming from a competitor's system. It’s really important to your future enjoyment that you manage to get through this step and into Sony-think. 
  2. Set up your camera. Things like Copyright Information should be filled in, you’ll want to set the menu items on the Camera Tabs to your defaults, not Sony's (you may also have to do a few things in the Setup Tabs, too). So while in Step 1 you learned about all the things the camera could do, in this step you’ll be slowly navigating the full set of menus making sure that each and every menu item is as you want it normally set, with particular care in the Camera and Setup Tabs. With a Sony, also pay very careful attention to the configuration options (button definitions, etc.). That includes C1, C2, and C3, which can reset a bunch of things at once. You save yourself a lot of downstream headache by getting your most used settings all into the physical controls of the camera, where you can change them quickly without having to resort to menu surfing.
  3. Save your settings. This is on Setup Tab 7 (on the A7R m4; might be on a different tab on your camera). Once you've saved settings to a card, you’re going to want to move the file that’s created from the card to your computer (because the minute you format that card in the camera, it’ll remove your settings file!). 
  4. Accessorize. Here’s where you can start to go wrong. One thing I see a lot of Sony users do is over accessorize, which takes their svelte little Alpha into something more approaching a DSLR brick. For example, I see a lot of A7 users buying the vertical grip because their pinky finger “falls off” the bottom of the right hand grip of the camera itself. A better solution might be to buy an Arca-style camera plate that extends the grip properly (many don’t, so this gets to be a hunt-and-search game). I don’t tend to accessorize my Sony Alphas much, but I do have a few things in my gear closet that I use to complement the body, not massively overextend it.
  5. Check your lenses. At this point, I’m not at all a fan of using older rival mount lenses on adapters. A lot of people rush to do this because they think that they made an investment in lenses back when they were a DSLR user and that an adapter just keeps that investment liquid. No and no. Perhaps some manual focus lenses come back to life this way (just as happens with AI Nikkors on the Z-mount with the FTZ Adapter), but I’m kind of doubting you bought an Alpha because you wanted to manual focus lenses. I’m going to be a little controversial here and say: skip the adapters for your older autofocus lenses and just buy into the E mount. You’ve a ton of choice of modern, well-designed, appropriately sized lenses to choose from, so bite the bullet and get new lenses. Retire your old autofocus ones (and maybe the manual focus ones, too).
  6. Figure out your lens kit. Continuing the previous step, the right lens kit really makes an Alpha sing. A solid basic full frame zoom kit is the 12-24mm f/4, 24-105mm f/4, and one of the smaller telephoto lenses (e.g. 70-200mm f/4, but there are now other decent options). For A6xxx users, I’d suggest the two new lenses, the 16-50mm f/2.8 and the 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3, with the older 10-18mm f/4 for wide angle work. If you bought an A7R m4, well, I have two letters for you: GM. If you’re really trying to take advantage of those 61 megapixels, you need top lenses. Start putting the lower lens levels on the m4 and I’d suggest that you probably could have got by with the m3 and saved some money (is it to late for Christmas gift returns? ;~). 
  7. Master focus. This is a shorter step for some of you than with some of the competitors, because there’s a shortcut that most of the Sony users are taking: Flexible spot with tracking. Put the focus cursor on something, press the AF-ON button; follow and reframe as you wish. It just kind of works. It’s that “kind of” in the previous sentence that should have you eventually dropping down and learning how all the other focus options work and when you should use them. 

That’s it; there are no more steps, you’re done. You’re now an E/FE-mount user and probably very happy that you are. Yes, you might drop back to Step 4 and Step 6 from time to time as new goodies become available or you discover something you’re missing in your kit, but at this point in the process you should just be enjoying your camera and shooting with it regularly.

 Bonus Section!

If you’re employed at Sony and reading this, you have a different set of steps you need to perform now that so many actually bought your Alpha cameras over the holidays:

  1. Fix the UX. The A9 m2 and A7R m4 started doing that with the physical controls and grip, so now roll that to all the other A7 models. The A6xxx models need a lot more work on the physical side, though. The bigger piece of the puzzle is the menu system, however, which while extremely rich and deep, is still confusing and disorganized. So put some time into getting that worked out.
  2. Enhance the firmware. We were without time-lapse there for awhile, but we’re still without focus shift shooting. The sole raw compression option sucks, as does your file size optimization. Pixel shift feels like a partially developed feature, not a fleshed out one. These are just the big ticket items; plenty of smaller things need to be worked through, too. Email me for a fuller list ;~).
  3. More telephoto and prime options, please. You’ve done a great job with the basic lens set and extending it in most ways. E (APS-C) could still use a little more love, particularly in the primes, and FE really needs a lot more telephoto options than big zooms. We’ve got no tilt-shift lenses. So there’s plenty of work still to be done.

Just three simple (!) things on your list, Sony. Get those right and you’ll have more Alpha users than you thought you would. Get those wrong, and Canon/Nikon will benefit. 

Mirrorless Cameras, Class of 2019

2019 brought us 22 new mirrorless cameras. It’s often useful to look back to see exactly what we got and what changed. As it turned out, 2019 was a very significant year for mirrorless in a number of ways. 

Here’s my quick reflection on the mirrorless cameras of 2019:

  1. Canon EOS M200 — I understand the features/price point approach here; Canon’s trying to reach down low and grab new price sensitive users. Full marks on getting that about right. But…I still don’t understand where the M stands long term. If you attract new users you also want to grow them into your other products later, and that just doesn’t happen with M. Canon is dead-ending new entry level folks into a lens-restricted mount with no upside. Canon’s also pretending that customers will never notice this. (If Canon reads this site, let me point out that they noticed ;~).
  2. Canon EOS M6 Mark II — Actually a really nice camera with what might be the best APS-C sensor yet. Still, there’s that M lens liability. At this camera level we have to also point out that not only does the M mount appear to be a dead end, but the mid-range and telephoto zooms Canon has produced are non-competitive with what others are putting out, particularly Fujifilm and Nikon. Thus, I don’t see why I need such a great sensor if I have to mount an average, dead-end lens on it.
  3. Canon EOS RP — This camera gets highly maligned pretty much everywhere on the Internet, but you know what? I kind of like it as an entry full frame camera. Pity that there isn’t a small and light mid-range kit zoom, though with the 24-240mm superzoom it's still a fairly succinct entry consumer full frame at an affordable price. At least at the holiday pricing. Canon, more so than any of the other companies, is still stuck on selling to the now disappearing masses, and the RP is a camera that is actually well-targeted to doing that. It’s more than enough camera for most people.
  4. Fujifilm X-Pro3 — I was planing to dislike this camera (;~), but actually found myself liking it except for two things: the optical viewfinder has gone backwards in capability, which makes me wonder why it’s there, and once I consider that I wonder why I wouldn’t just get the X-T3 or one of the few remaining new X-H1's instead. I don’t at all understand Fujifilm’s product management at the top of their lineup: it’s produced three somewhat different products that are tough to choose between.
  5. Fujifilm X-A7 — I’ve liked the A’s from the get go. If you’re willing to compose on a rear LCD, they are all quite good cameras, and the latest fixes two of the things that I found the least desirable on the X-A5 (4K video and focus performance). 
  6. Fujifilm GFX 100 — A lovely camera with lots of small ergonomic warts. I chalk a lot of that up to Fujifilm’s ambition here. They tried to get it out fast and with the kitchen sink included. Along the way, they didn’t nail the user experience (UX). I’d really like them to rethink the control positions, feel, and capabilities. In terms of ability, it’s the bomb for people who want to get into serious MF without spending more than they would buying a new Kia. 
  7. Fujifilm X-T30 — One of my oft-recommended cameras. Most people don’t need the X-T3 now that this is out. Yes, there’s some cheapness to it here and there, but it’s still a fine camera.
  8. Hasselblad X1D II 50C — Haven’t tried it yet, but clearly Hasselblad is continuing to make some progress, mostly on the inside (the body and controls don’t really change). 
  9. Leica SL2 — Okay, the SL is now starting to feel more like it belongs now that’s it’s starting to differentiate itself (sensor, UX) and the mount has taken on new life. I’m still not sure it’s worth the Leica tax, though.
  10. Leica M-E (Typ 240) — Hmm. A lower cost M? Are there really folk out there looking for the cheapest entry point into Leica-dom? Even at US$4000 it feels like too little camera for the price, though.
  11. Nikon Z50 — Another middle mirrorless model from Nikon, this time in APS-C. Like the Z6 and Z7, the Z50 is highly competent, and with ergonomics that are, well, so Nikon you almost forget it isn’t a DSLR (at least until you try to use 3D tracking ;~). Moreover, Nikon has put their APS-C entry squarely in their Mount of the Future (Z), which is exactly what Canon didn’t do. I’d argue the Z50 is currently the best overall choice you can make in an APS-C body except for one thing: no lenses. Well, two lenses. One superb lens and one very good one. But still, Nikon so far hasn’t learned from their DSLR DX mistake. So even though they didn’t make an entry mirrorless camera in a dead-end mount like Canon did, they can still suffocate the camera by denying it lenses.
  12. Olympus OM-D E-M5 III — Okay, the E-M1m2 has shrunk and gotten more plasticky. That’s sure the way it feels. That’s both a good thing and a not so good thing. A good thing because the E-M1m2 is a really good camera. A not so good thing because Olympus is still not getting line management right. We’ve now got three E-M1m2’s (see #14). I think we only needed one. So this puts a lot of pressure on the inevitable E-M1m3.
  13. Olympus PEN E-PL10 — Yawn. I’d rather have the Fujifilm X-A7 if I want this type of camera. 
  14. Olympus OM-D E-M1X — I haven’t minced words about this camera: I’m not sure why it was necessary, and it works against the one key attribute of the OM-D’s: size. 
  15. Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H — Panasonic once again has shown that they're more vested in the video world than the stills world. Yes, I know that the S1 and S1R exist mostly as stills cameras. But I don't think the still-oriented cameras are going to get much attraction from the Canikony crowd that dominates the buying. On the other hand, the S1H feels a lot like a GH5 type of camera with a full frame sensor; it'll get some traction on the video side.
  16. Panasonic Lumix DC-G90/G95 — I'm starting get very confused with the G lineup, particularly with the region-specific naming Panasonic keeps promulgating. Moreover, this model feels a lot like "well, we made the G9 into a GH5 with a firmware update, so we need something that isn't a GH5, so let's call that a G90 (or whatever it is in your region)". See what I wrote about Fujifilm's trying to slice the bread too thin at the top.
  17. Sigma fp — Finally a camera from Sigma that people are willing to talk about. Unfortunately, it falls short as a stills camera. Fortunately, it's a mighty little full frame video camera. Sigma still hasn't quite managed to catch up with things like autofocus performance and getting a UI nailed, though. Here's how I think you need to think of it: a poor man's RED. It's really mostly a modular video body on which you'll mount a lot of other stuff.
  18. Sony a9 II — Lots of attention to small details and getting them right this time. Bravo, Sony, that was needed. While many have attacked this camera as “not much new,” it’s clear those folks don’t shoot with an A9, as the Mark II pretty much is a long punch list of things being fixed that we A9 shooters all found wanting. And I still think they have some low-hanging fruit that they can pick up with a further firmware update. For someone just starting out in sports photography, the A9 m2 is now the best entry point.
  19. Sony a6100 — Hmm, I know this is different than the A6000, but a few months later and I can't remember how ;~). See next.
  20. Sony a6400 — Hmm, I know this is different than the A6300, but a few months later and I can't remember how ;~). Yes, two different model updates where the main things that changed were mostly internal and tough to ferret out (e.g. no crop 4K video versus cropped). Not that those things aren't welcome, it's just that I don't quite see how these things really added up to a model number change. I'm not even sure they would have justified a A6300 Mark II monicker.
  21. Sony a6600 — At least Sony was consistent in their APS-C lineup. Everything in the A6### lineup got a boost of 100 ;~). Yet all these cameras retain basic body style and controls, and were mostly updated internally. Why is it the RX and A7 models get Mark changes, and the A### series gets number increments? It all has to do with something (or someone) in Sony's marketing department, who is either being perverse or dim-witted. (Don't get me wrong; I like the fact that Sony spent the time putting some more love into the A6### models, but it wasn't as much love as we all wished, and we're still missing the D500 of the Sony APS-C lineup.)
  22. Sony a7R IV — Seems like this one is everyone’s "camera of the year." Well, not really me. Sure, it picks up the A9 m2’s body and control changes (good) and it adds a 61mp sensor (not necessarily good for everyone given Sony's overly large file sizes). I’m happy with the camera, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. As I've written before, a lot of folk would be better off with a  lower price on an A7R m3.

Okay, so you're wanting to know what my "camera of the year" actually is after my last camera comment, above. I'm going to do this differently than those that want to anoint "winners." I can't really imagine that there's a single camera that "wins."

Four mirrorless cameras stuck out in my mind this year for what they did:

  • The Canon M6 m2 is significant because it represents a new era of sensors for Canon users (coupled with some additional refinement of the small camera ergonomics). Several years of everyone writing "Sony sensors are better" are now about to be over (they are in APS-C as far as I'm concerned). Unfortunately for Canon their timing isn't so great: they just invested a huge amount in sensor tech and production that is going to be more difficult to get a return on with the contracting camera market. But the fact that they knew that going in shows that they're serious about getting at least to parity, if not more, in the sensor world.
  • The Fujifilm GFX 100 was a really nice move. Not that the previous GF cameras were terrible or missing much, but being the first to jump on that 100mp small MF sensor and then building an "everything we know how to do" body around it was a smart move in my book. Fujifilm really only needs to do a quick cleanup of the UX and then they've got the MF camera everyone should want.
  • The Nikon Z50 shows that Nikon isn't exactly the third-rate, out-of-touch player that the Competitor's Fan Boys have been trumpeting. The whole Z system is shaping up very fast and hitting well above where people thought Nikon might manage. While personally I wish that the Z7 was > D850 and the Z50 was > D7500 instead of the other way around, there's much to like about all the Z gear so far. The cameras are somewhere between Sony's Mark II/III and III/IV level in their first generation, and the Z lenses have all been a string of very excellent optics, arguably better than their DSLR equivalents in every case. The significance of the Z50 is simple to see: Nikon is in mirrorless both for entry (APS-C) and prosumer/pro (full frame). And they mean business.
  • The Sony A7R m4 shows that Sony will continue to press on with both its technology and UX iterations, and is getting that mostly right as they go. 61mp full frame is tough to argue with, though it doesn't represent as much "gain" as almost anyone has suggested or written.

To me, that's four really interesting and significant plays by the four market share leaders in ILC. Let's hope 2020 sees much the same thing.

 

You Got A Nikon Z for XMAS. Now What?

You got a Nikon Z6, Z7, or Z50 as a Christmas present (probably to yourself, but I’m not going to judge you ;~). This is your first Nikon mirrorless camera, so now you’re thinking: what do I do next?

  1. Learn your new camera. This is always going to be my first piece of advice, no matter what new gear you get. Yes, I can point you to my books here, but just carefully reading through the manual that came with the camera and stepping through all the menu options one by one will get you a long way. At least if you’re paying attention. If you’re a former Nikon DSLR user, you’re going to find lots of things the same or similar, but there will be lots of little things that change. Your goal is to notice all those little things and figure out what to do about them. 
  2. Set up your camera. Things like Copyright Information should be filled in, you’ll want to set your PHOTO SHOOTING menu items to your defaults, not Nikon’s (Nikon defaults to JPEG NORMAL for instance, when you should be using RAW(NEF) or JPEG FINE). So while in Step 1 you learned about all the things the camera could do, in this step you’re navigating the PHOTO SHOOTING, CUSTOM SETTING, and SETUP menus making sure each menu item is as you want it normally set. 
  3. Save your settings. You can’t do that on a Z50—come on Nikon, that was a silly feature removal—but on a Z6 and Z7 you’re going to want to use Save/Load Settings on the SETUP menu to save a copy of what you did in Step 2 to a card. And then you’re going to want to move the file that’s created from the card to your computer (because the minute you format that card in the camera, it’ll remove your settings file!). 
  4. Accessorize. Here’s where you can start to go wrong. For instance, too many people “cheap out” because of the perceived cost of XQD cards (or CFexpress now). Don’t let that be you. Apple put Thunderbolt 3 ports in their computers—which everyone once complained about—and the fastest way to get your images from your camera into your Apple computer is going to be a Thunderbolt 3 card reader (not USB 3.1!). And I mean fast. With the latest CFexpress cards and the Atech reader, I’ve seeing really, really fast ingests compared to where we were. Don’t buy the MB-N10, just buy an additional battery or two and a third-party dual battery charger. I’ll get around to a Z accessories guide soon.
  5. Check your F-mount lenses. If you bought a Z6 or Z7 you almost certainly got an FTZ adapter with it, and if you bought a Z50, you acquired one in Step 4 ;~). Most of your F-mount lenses are going to work just fine. Indeed, you’re probably going to rediscover and enjoy your manual focus Nikkors, particularly if you found Focus Peaking and the other helpers in Step 2. You’re also going to discover that your older autofocus lenses that require camera body screw drive are no longer all that interesting. Time to retire them.
  6. Figure out your lens kit. Here’s the smallest and simplest one for full frame: 14-30mm f/4 S, 24-70mm f/4 S, and 70-300mm f/4-5.6P AF-P on the FTZ adapter. That’s a highly capable 14-300mm range that’s size/weight appropriate for the Z6 and Z7. It packs small and tight, yet doesn’t really give up much optically over really expensive lenses. Z50 users have it easy: buy the two DX lenses (either you got them in the discounted two-lens kit, or you’re now kicking yourself and deciding that you need to pick up the 50-300mm separately). The other thing Z50 users need to know: FTZ Adapter with the Nikon 10-20mm AF-P is the most appropriate wide angle solution for the time being.
  7. Master focus. I’m pretty sure this will be the only thing that some of you might struggle a bit with. It’s not because the Nikon Z autofocus is poor. It’s because the focus system is somewhat different than a Nikon DSLR user is used to. Single Point still works the same, but you’re going to have to learn how Dynamic Area changed, that Wide Area is the new Group (but performs a bit differently), and just how much you can trust Auto Area (which is where Face and Eye detection live). That will take some actual testing time on your part to get fully comfortable with. I still say that the biggest issue is that Nikon took away the dedicated focus control button, not the performance of the system itself. If anything, the Z’s are more precise than the DSLRs with focus once you understand how to use them. Don’t shortcut this step. Plan to spend plenty of time with this step.

That’s it; there are no more steps, you’re done. You’re now a Z-mount user and probably very happy that you are. Yes, you might drop back to Step 4 and Step 6 from time to time as new goodies become available or you discover something you’re missing in your kit, but at this point in the process you should just be enjoying your camera and shooting with it regularly.

 Bonus Section!

If you’re employed by Nikon and reading this, you have a different set of steps you need to perform now that so many actually bought your Z cameras over the holidays:

  1. Keep updating the firmware. You simplified a lot of things. Some of those simplifications should be rethought and some of the removed options added back in. 3D Tracking AF UX is still the big gripe, though, so just fix it. The whole Save/Load mechanism needs more work, as I’ve outlined elsewhere. There’s a nice, solid list of things you can put in a firmware update or two to keep all those new users happy with their purchase while attracting new ones.
  2. Accessorize properly. Some of this will have to wait for Mark II models, as the hardware simplifications preclude a lot of things that the user base is (or will be) asking for. The vertical grip situation needs a complete rethink. USB should power the camera, not just charge batteries. There’s no Z flash, just older DSLR flashes that have lots of small issues when used on the Z’s. If a screwdrive FTZ could be made, you should make it. There’s plenty to be done, it seems.
  3. Figure out your lens kit. I’ve been giving you high marks so far, but we’re now getting to the difficult part of the Z mount: extending the basic lens set. Full frame is missing long lens options, and of course I’m going to say buzz buzz again if all we get is three consumer DX lenses. But you’re a preeminent lens company—or at least you say you are—so this shouldn’t be all that difficult for you. You control every bit of the process from making glass to the mount the finished lens sits in. It’s important that you get the lens set right, and it’s going to be doubly important that you get the DX lens set right, as you can’t live off of full frame alone.

Just three simple (!) things on your list, Nikon. Get those right and you’ll have more Z users than you thought you would. Get those wrong, and Sony will benefit. 

Stop Being a Technophobe

The latest protests from users I see boils down to this: XQD and CFexpress cards are too expensive. 

Well, when compared to ten-year old SD cards, sure. 

But a new 128GB Sony Tough UHS-II SD card is US$210, while a new Sony 128GB Sony Tough CFexpress card is US$220. Not exactly a big difference in price. Next, look at the maximum speeds. The CFexpress is 1480MB/s write speed, the SD is 299MB/s write speed. Read speeds are actually even wider apart, and that would make a big difference in ingest speed if you're using the right card reader (which isn't, ironically, Sony's; the Atech TX-1CXQ [advertiser link] would be faster, as it runs on Thunderbolt 3; of course, you'd need a computer that uses Thunderbolt 3, such as those MacBook Pros that everyone says have terrible ports ;~).

The arguments about card costs are basically technophobic. The people making them are perfectly satisfied with slow writes, slow ingests, and poor buffer performance, perhaps because they bought a lower end camera in the first place that writes slowly and has only a modest buffer. They're okay with that, apparently. Unfortunately, the market to sell such cameras has shrunk so fast that its not likely that the camera makers want to really be in that market anymore.

I'll admit I'm a technophile: I want camera companies to be at the forefront of technology because I know that there are benefits for doing so. That said, I still have to ding Nikon—the company that took the primary risk with XQD and is now poised best to utilize CFexpress—for not putting state-of-the-art card slots in their cameras. Even the fast D5 maxes out below what a current XQD card can actually do these days. 

The SD standards group is trying keep up with the CF standards group (which started in CompactFlash but migrated to CFast, XQD, and now CFexpress). They have a proposed update to SD—SDexpress—that gets them to older XQD speeds (mainly because they limit the PCIe bus to one lane), but won't keep up with where CFexpress is going (four lanes). Moreover, if your future camera doesn't support the SDexpress standard, the new card will fall all the way back to UHS-I speeds. Yikes. 

To my knowledge, no camera maker has committed to SDexpress. Quite a few are now on the CFexpress bandwagon, though (Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony). This is, in my opinion, the correct choice, particularly since CFexpress has three physical card sizes defined, of which the XQD-like one is the middle size (Type B). Type A is more like the SD size and more likely than SDexpress to get design wins because it means engineers are creating to one standard, not two. 

Cameras are already well behind current tech state of the art in so many ways (Wi-Fi capabilities and speeds, serial port speeds, card speeds, to name just a few). If the camera business is going to have a future, it needs to catch up to the 21st century expectations ASAP. 

Heck, maybe cards should only be a "backup" slot. In other words, stick some NVMe SSD into the camera as main memory, and only have the card slot be used for backup, copy, or overflow solutions. But for that to work, you'd need fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi, serial connections, and maybe 5G to get the data off the camera when you're not using a card. See what I mean about cameras not living in modern times?

Please stop complaining about card costs. All that's doing is allowing the camera makers to claim they're doing the right thing by remaining far behind the times with their tech. The accountants at the camera companies are using it as a form of confirmation bias that then forces their engineers to use cheap, outdated parts that just put their cameras further and further behind modern tech. Some day in the future (or present ;~) you'll complain that there's nothing really new or useful with their latest camera and you'll just keep your old one instead of updating. 

If you don't see the problem with that, let me explain it clearly: the fewer reasons camera makers give you to update your camera, the more likely they go out of business.

I want a camera that can keep up with the latest MacBook Pro. That can keep up with my networks, both wired and wireless. That doesn't put arbitrary limits on shooting because it's waiting around for sluggish internal bandwidth to finish its job. 

You should want that kind of camera, too. And if it appears, it's going to have a CFexpress card slot if it uses cards.

2020 Mirrorless Camera News/Views

Mirrorless camera news and views for 2020. The stories in these folders were front page news on sansmirror during the time periods indicated:


2019 Mirrorless Camera News/Views

Mirrorless camera news and views for 2019. The stories in these folders were front page news on sansmirror during the time periods indicated:

2018 Mirrorless Camera News/Views

Mirrorless camera news and views for 2018. The stories in these folders were front page news on sansmirror during the time periods indicated:


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