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.

Market Share Distortion

With Nikon’s now announced intention to ship a full frame mirrorless camera sometime this fall, the inevitable “market share” debate has started. 

Frankly, I don’t care. This sansmirror.com site attempts to be agnostic when it comes to products: we cover them all as best we can, and we just report the facts as we encounter them when it comes to market shares. We try to review any significant new product that comes down the mirrorless delivery system, regardless of vendor (disclosure: we’re a bit behind on our Panasonic coverage at the moment, bear with us). 

Some of you, unfortunately, won’t be satisfied with that politician-like answer. Okay, here’s the real answer:

  • Sony’s current near 100% market share in full frame mirrorless will drop to probably something closer to 60% (+/-10%) with Nikon’s introduction, and even further once Canon enters the market. Best case for Sony: they do better than the 14-15% overall ILC market share they currently have once all the big players have announced all their full frame mirrorless products. 
  • Nikon won’t get into the double digits of overall mirrorless market share with a full frame camera* (or cameras).

*Yes, currently I expect Nikon to only announce one full frame mirrorless camera on August 23rd.

The above bullet items are the unvarnished truth as close as it can be predicted at the moment. 

While there’s a lot of discussion and excitement about high-end mirrorless cameras, they represent a relatively small volume of overall camera sales. Based on the last twelve months of retail sales in the US, full frame mirrorless is somewhere around 3% of the total volume of interchangeable lens cameras sold. That by itself fully explains the bullet point about Nikon not going to make double digit mirrorless volume with a full frame camera (or cameras). The bulk of the unit volume is in crop sensor cameras, both mirrorless and DSLR.

The first bullet point is the iffier one. A poor product from Nikon (and eventually Canon) could let Sony retain quite a bit of the full frame mirrorless market, as they have a many year head start and now can supply a full range of lenses. A great product from Nikon (and eventually Canon) would essentially wipe out all that first mover advantage. I’ll have much more to say about first mover advantage when the details of the Nikon system are released. 

Personally, I think people are looking at Nikon’s coming re-entry into mirrorless cameras all wrong. Nikon simply has to put out a highly competitive product to even tread water. Which I’m sure they’ll do. Competitive products are good for all of us. The correct response from Sony will be to push harder and further with their fourth generation A7 models. Add in Canon, and the need for that response is doubled.

Competition is good. Sony did the right thing in being aggressive about A7/A9 development. They knew the competition would eventually come. So now we’re just waiting to see how well Sony actually did with those three generations of iteration. Was it enough? Was it good enough to break serve? Or will we be back to the Canon>Nikon>Sony market status? 

Photokina this year will be a marketing and messaging war like you haven’t seen before. 

And We Got Both

bythom nikon mirrorless

Since it seems everyone is into forensic examination of any material Nikon supplied—this image was in a tweet from NikonUSA—you may note that you can read the number 24 at the back of the front ring, and a 3 at the top of the lens, probably a marking for 35mm. There are more details to be gleaned from close examinations, but I’ll leave something for you to do with your spare time as you wait for the products ;~).

Article updated to clarify wording/meaning

I mentioned Development Announcements from Nikon on Monday when Nikon started their tease campaign. As expected, on Nikon's anniversary date we got the Development Announcement: “Nikon is pleased to announce the development of a full-frame, Nikon FX-format, mirrorless cameras and NIKKOR lenses featuring a new mount.”

That’s really the only information in the announcement (FX, mirrorless, new mount, adapter). No details about the new system have been disclosed. One line should be paid attention to, though: “Soon, Nikon users will have two industry-leading camera systems to choose from, giving consumers the choice to enjoy the unique values that each system offers.” Nikon appears to believe that both their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will be “industry-leading.” Certainly the DSLRs can be claimed to be so. But it’s bold to state that their re-entry into mirrorless will be as good.

The singular wording in the Development Announcement probably came as a surprise to many, as the rumor sites had been predicting two cameras. Actually, I’m going to predict otherwise. It’s neither one nor two mirrorless cameras coming from Nikon in the coming months, it’s four: two FX and two DX. (And no, it’s not all four at once, as some people seem to be interpreting this. I try to write with precision. The key words are “in the coming months.” To put it another way: I’ve seen no indication that the DX mirrorless models Nikon has been working on have been cancelled; they’ve just been pushed back, and multiple times. I suspect that if Sony had been more active with the A5xxx/A6xxx models Nikon might have not reversed their launch priority from what it originally was. But Sony’s continued full frame push certainly plays right to where Nikon wants to be: higher priced, high margin products. Nor is my contention that there are four mirrorless designs moving to production for Nikon derived from Nikon’s press release wording about two leading systems, as many seem to think. Nikon’s press release implies that they will have leading DSLR and mirrorless systems, as I note above. I’m writing, based upon discussions with a few people that know the details, that Nikon will have DX/FX in both mirrorless and DSLR within the year, and probably within about six-eight months from today.)

I’ve written on the dslrbodies.com site for some time about Nikon’s apparent internal debate about how to proceed. Originally it was launch DX mirrorless first, then it was launch FX mirrorless cameras first. Over time there’s been a lot of testing and argument in Tokyo and with the subsidiary presidents on how to roll out what engineering has been developing. 

It appears that stretching out the announcements is a marketing choice Nikon made to give their new system a fairly continuous Internet Amplification Effect. It also gives Nikon's Thailand plant some time to absorb all the changes implicit on it with the closing of the China camera manufacturing facility. If I’m correct, Thailand may be producing as many as nine Nikon ILC cameras soon.

Nikon’s modus operandi has long been “launch top end first, then roll the technology downward.” Thus, the first model we’re likely to see I’d guess is going to be the flagship for the new mirrorless lineup Nikon is launching given that it is FX.

There are some additional surprises in the product(s) itself, but Nikon is playing this as a slow, controlled roll, and I’m fine with that, as it gives me plenty to write about ;~). The actual launch date of the first camera is in late August (August 23rd in Tokyo is what the Japanese press is reporting), with an additional announcement at Photokina in late September, which I’d guess at this point to be either a shipping announcement and/or about additional lenses.

Nikon has started scheduling customer viewing sessions in September starting in Japan. I take this to mean that the camera is in production, but won’t be available to customers until late September at the earliest. 

Design Priorities for Nikon Mirrorless

Now that the cat is out of the box and Schroedinger has found it to be alive, we can discuss the cat more specifically. 

Nikon’s reentrance into mirrorless at the high end suggests that Nikon’s priorities in designing mirrorless products changed. Not rocket science, that. But what were those new priorities?

Let me take a stab at that. In order of priority, I think these would have been the goals:

  1. Compatibility with existing lens set (F-mount). Nikon’s strength has always been their attention to legacy owners, so anything that detracts from that would be walking away from a key strength. Compatibility could have come in many forms, including just using the existing F-mount, but the key issue here isn’t so much the physical form as the performance. 100m Nikkors live in the wild. Abandoning any significant number of them would be a disaster. A disaster so big that it creates the top goal all by itself.
  2. Outstanding Image quality. It’s a digital camera, and it uses lenses. Those are the two key components that determine ultimate image quality. So if you think you’re good at the job of designing those things, it ought to be a very high priority to tweak out every last bit of image quality so that your product performs as good as or better than competitors. Which is what Nikon does. Has done for decades. Unfortunately Nikon hasn’t ever been good at marketing “image quality” even though it’s the heart of their product designs and has been since day one of the DSLR era. The designers would have had this as a key goal. Will marketing manage to project that to users?
  3. Ergonomic consistency. This one’s tricky, and Nikon has outguessed itself several times on this, almost always leading to products not doing as well as expected. The Giugiaro-designed ergonomics drove the late film SLRs and all the DSLRs. The Nikon Df DSLR deviated from that and didn’t establish that 60’s era ergonomics are what camera users really want. The Nikon 1’s near total lack of ergonomic consistency and insistence on chiclet compact camera type control didn’t work. Moreover, Sony—who Nikon knew they would be competing with—is often maligned for its ergonomics. Thus, I’m sure Nikon wanted to carry over as much of what worked for them in the DSLR era into the new mirrorless cameras. It certainly must have been a key factor in design, but not as important as the first two.
  4. Top Focus and metering performance. To some degree these are relatives to image quality, and Nikon may have considered focus and metering as part of image quality. But I put them here because I’m also pretty sure that these were considered potential small compromise points, if needed. I doubt Nikon in the end make any compromise you’d notice, but I’m pretty sure they were willing to accept some if it happened. And indeed, if we don’t see Nikon’s patented quad-pixel idea in the sensor, which I’m pretty sure Nikon engineering thinks represents their best efforts for focus performance, then there was a small compromise made.
  5. Excellent Viewfinder. Also a component that would normally be considered with a higher one, in this case ergonomics. Unfortunately one that’s a bit out of Nikon’s full control, as it requires some key parts from a supplier, and there aren’t a lot of choices there. Thus, I’m sure that Nikon had a priority bar set to at least match competing products, and if possible exceed them. That brings the overall priority for the viewfinder itself down this list some from the overall ergonomics.
  6. Get Video Right and Competitive. Nikon was first to DSLR video with the D90, then was eventually passed by others who had pro video teams (e.g. Canon, Panasonic, Sony). It’s clear that Nikon sees more video in the future, otherwise why the KeyMission trio? The questions have been when and where? A new system is a good place to restart that effort, so I’m sure a lot of priority was given to motion side.

That’s it. Those would have been the six goals I’d put on the wall of every office where people were working on Nikon’s new mirrorless system. I think they’re likely very close to what Nikon had for their goals, too. I know many of you will write in suggesting various different other things (IBIS, for instance), but most of those will likely be specific features, not broad goals. Specifics derive from overall goals, thus the overall goals are important to establish.

I noted it in passing in priority #2, but it applies to all of these priority: if Nikon hit the goal, it will now be up to Nikon marketing to assert and prove they achieved it. The engineers, I’m sure, will have done their jobs well. Now things turn to marketing and sales efforts.

A Mirrorless Teaser from Nikon


Nikon seems to like teasers and Development Announcements: the micromanagement method of leaking information ;~). 

bythom_nikon_tease


Today Nikon put out a first teaser for its upcoming mirrorless system. These campaigns are basically much like an official leak, in that they presage an upcoming actual product announcement without providing any specific details.

The first time I recall Nikon doing that in the digital age was with the D70, but recently both the D4s and D850 have gotten the Development Announcement treatment, as well as a number of lenses, including the as-yet-to-be-announced 500mm f/5.6E PF. While the Nikon Df DSLR wasn’t officially Development Announced, it was instead teased—the first parts of that teaser campaign are no longer visible, this video appeared in the middle of the campaign—which is what we’re now seeing with the Nikon mirrorless system. 

Why do we get these teasers and pre-announcements? I think it often has to do a bit with a combination of paranoia and eagerness within Nikon marketing. But this time I think this is an echo of what Nikon did with the Df (retro DSLR). The upcoming product is enough different from their DSLR mainstream that Nikon wants to set the discussion about it before the specifics are revealed.

Tech is relentless in terms of having to keep moving. If you go back and look through the recent years’ of actual product announcements, you’ll see that things have been slowing for Nikon in the past few years in terms of ILC product, but the market is still very “noisy” and is best served by keeping the marketing engine active. 

So what to make of today’s teaser?

Well, it’s not at all unexpected. While I’ve known about Nikon’s FX mirrorless development for some time, originally the idea was to release DX mirrorless first. It’s not clear to me why Nikon made the switch to release the FX cameras first, but the internal debate was loud enough that there were some very visible leaks and specific information that managed to get out of Tokyo headquarters.

Indeed, Goto-san’s very public remarks at a Chinese user group last year that Nikon needed to go FX mirrorless I believe were part of an orchestrated campaign to force a decision. Or perhaps test a strawman position in public. And curiously, Goto-san was the one in charge when the Df teaser campaign was done (he’s now an advisor). 

Whatever pushed the decision to do FX mirrorless first it is now clear that the cameras are being produced. Beyond the teaser, which basically only gives us an outline and shape to the product, a few more revealing shots appeared briefly on the Internet, which was long enough for some to copy them and repost. What we seem to have is a far smaller overall body, but with a large grip. Unlike the Sony A7 bodies, Nikon also appears to have taken the “edges” off; there’s a lot of slant to all the panels other than the absolute top and LCD back. 

The devil is in the details, of course, and there wasn't much in the way of details in the teaser. There have been a few substantive reports of specifications—most notably on Nikon Rumors—but I think that there is much more nuance than has been rumored. This is a big launch for Nikon, with multiple products (cameras, lenses, and accessories). There’s much, much more that will be revealed.

Which brings us to the teaser campaign. If we go by past Nikon teases, they usually last two weeks to a month. Photokina is the last week of September. Nikon has a press conference in their booth scheduled just prior to that show, but I believe they’ll announce prior to that. At this point, given Nikon’s past actions, one could imagine a full announcement anywhere between late August and mid-September. Between now and the announcement, we’ll see a series of more revealing teasers and emails (you can sign up for the email list here), much like we did with the Df.

When we have an official product name and official details, I’ll be opening up new sections for the products in the camera and lens menus of this site.

Update: I’m seeing a lot of people write about Nikon’s first serious mirrorless system. Sorry, but the Nikon 1 was a serious system. No other mirrorless system had some of the things that Nikon pioneered there, including early phase detect focus that worked, the AW, an 85mm equivalent f/1.2 lens, and the 189-810mm equivalent telephoto. Nikon did confuse themselves about how the camera should be positioned, but the Nikon 1 system had several key D3 designers in its development, and this was a very serious product that was marketed and priced poorly.

New Fujifilm Lenses

Fujifilm had a lot to say about lenses yesterday, introducing the 8-16mm f/2.8 and 200mm f/2 lenses that had been on their roadmap. They updated the roadmap to include three new lenses, including a 35mm f/1 (but only coming in 2020). 

The more important aspect of what Fujifilm said, however, came in a press release from corporate: the current lineup is producing lens sales that are growing at 20% per annum, and Fujifilm is investing in new plant facilities at the Taiwa factory in Japan to increase production capacity of lenses by as much as 70% by 2020. 

I'm sure that some Web sites are going to pick up on that press release and make claims for Fujifilm's dominating mirrorless. Two caveats are right there in the press release, though: (1) the 70% increase only occurs if and when all the new facilities go operational; and (2) apparently Fujifilm is moving some of the video lenses there, as they specifically mention "other [than GF and XF] interchangeable lenses." 

Curiously, Fujifilm also mentioned another lens in the press release that isn't on their official roadmap, a 305mm f/2, though it isn't clear if this is destined for the XF series cameras or not.

The Nikon 1 Discontinuance Continues

PA LehighPkwy 5-2007 CP500 1229

Nikon's labyrinthian Web presence hasn't fully caught up with itself. On the nikon-image.com Web site, which is primarily the Japanese subsidiary's online presence to home country users, the Nikon 1 cameras, lenses, and accessories have now been removed from the current product list to the "old" (discontinued) list. 

On the imaging.nikon.com Web site (and most of the subsidiary sites) the Nikon 1 products still appear. On the NikonUSA Web site, the Nikon 1 products still appear but if you try to order them from Nikon's store, they all indicate they're out of inventory. 

Sadly, we're at the end of the Nikon 1 life cycle, which I predicted well over a year ago. Indeed, I got into arguments with loyal Nikon 1 users over my contention at that time. The facts, though, are inarguable. Nothing new has been announced in that lineup since April 2015, so we've had more than three years in this death cycle spin down. At the original pace of development, we should have seen a new camera in early 2017, or new lenses in 2016. Instead we saw a slow wind down where Nikon just went silent and kept selling the inventory they had.

The plant in China that makes Nikon 1 products began closing last year. I don't believe any new inventory was really produced in 2017. Nikon simply kept their prices stable and let the product eventually sell out throughout most of the world. Here in the US, I know of no one with any significant new Nikon 1 inventory, though you may be able to find a random dealer or two that still has something on the shelf.

As I've done with Samsung, I'll leave the Nikon 1 information in the data pages on this site for reference. When Nikon returns to mirrorless with a different system, I'll open up a new section for that. 

Fujifilm's Summer Sale

Fujifilm USA has just put quite a bit of their mirrorless product lineup on sale, and I thought you should know about it, as a few of those items are on my recommended lists and the savings aren't trivial.

  • Entry level: the X-A5 and X-T100 both get a US$200 discount if you buy with a 50-230mm lens. This puts both cameras with a 24-345mm equivalent lens set at well under the US$1000 mark (US$800 for the X-A5, US$900 for the X-T100). 
  • Upper level: The X-T2 body gets a US$500 discount and the X-H1 body gets a US$250 discount.
  • Top level: The medium format GFX50s body gets a US$650 discount and the lenses for it get discounts ranging from US$350 to US$550.

These are all good products for their category, and the discounts make it far easier to consider them. Curiously, I've come to like the X-A5 better than the EOS M6, but still prefer the EOS M5 over the X-T100 (review coming). Interesting how small differences in features/controls/performance can make big differences in how well you like something.

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Sony Can Do

Update: Oops. The 3.0 update has been pulled by Sony temporarily while they investigate some issues. 

At Sony Kando 2.0, Sony staff, including engineers from Japan, were listening to the Sony Ambassadors, the press, and the customers who had signed up. 

One thing some people didn't understand about the Winter Olympics was why so few A9's appeared to be in use. Well, one reason for that is that many of the big agencies use serial numbers to track who shot what, and the Sony cameras don't write the serial number into EXIF data! 

Guess what? Today Sony announced the 3.0 firmware update for the Sony A9 and it has a new menu option: Write Serial Number. Why we need a menu option for that, I don't know. I suppose some might say being able to leave it off is a privacy option, but I just hear no one asking for that. 

Other things that Sony added that were clearly suggested by the early A9 sports users include the ability to add the AF Track Sens options to a Custom Key. Indeed, a lot of the changes to the camera's firmware all center around autofocus and autofocus performance. 

Now we just need Sony to spend a little more time on the physical ergonomics of the camera, and they'll have a very competent competitor to the Canon/Nikon top DSLRs. Well, okay, one more thing: Sony's firmware installation procedure is still problematic, particularly on a recent macOS computer.

Meanwhile, Sony has officially launched the 400mm f/2.8 GM. The expected price was met at US$11,999, but the lens is significantly lighter than many expected, fast 102.2 ounces (2895g). 

Complete Site Update

Once a year I like to go through a complete page-by-page refresh of each site, checking for various issues, inconsistencies, needed corrections, and improvements that can be made. That takes a bit of time, as this site has grown to about 1500 pages.

Sansmirror.com has now gone through that annual physical. Here are the changes you might notice:

  • Cleaned up the style sheet and fixed page margin and other CSS issues. 
  • Moved menus to top of display, and simplified them; added home page to menus.
  • Fixed site search.
  • Updated the privacy policies.
  • Updated a few articles (e.g. the 3 travel camera kit article).
  • Cleaned up article formatting throughout. Reviews should be more stylistically the same, for example. Breadcrumb links (just under page title) should appear more consistently throughout.
  • Removed ratings from old camera reviews and added information about whether camera is current at end of review. Added year to any "recommended" comments.
  • Reorganized Articles section so it isn't a long scrolling list of articles.
  • Updated the Camera FAQ.
  • All camera data pages now have link to lens section for that camera.
  • Updated the Lens FAQ.
  • Updated and checked the Other Mirrorless Sites of Interest links.
  • Updated B&H and affiliate links; added links for products that have become available at B&H
  • Removed the "pre-order" language
  • Fixed Page Last Updated dates
  • Added missing Samyang, Sigma lenses to database
  • Fixed incorrect B&H ad links
  • All pages now have the correct date on the bottom for the last time they were modified.
  • Changed a lot of image sizing so as to produce fewer re-size artifacts when you change window size (or device).
  • The photo gallery is back (photos taken with mirrorless cameras)
  • Began using m1 for Mark I, m2 for Mark II, etc.
  • Transitioned to https. (Update your bookmarks to https:sansmirror.com)

Note: This site is designed to be compatible with the following browsers:

  • Desktop: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 9+
  • Mobile: iOS 6+, Android, Windows

You might notice that the Recommended dates for lenses sometimes end (e.g. Recommended (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)). The usual reason that happens is either than higher pixel count sensors started to reveal weaknesses more easily, or better lenses came along. Likewise, for camera bodies (typically because the sensor evolution). I'll try to make sure each year and go back and re-evaluate those dates. The first year in any recommendation will be the year I first used/reviewed the product.

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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