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.

Stop Complaining (Mirrorless Users)

Let's face it, we live in an age of exceptional cameras and lenses.

As with High Fidelity, we've somehow managed to argue our way into little nooks and crannies trying to suss out very small—and to most people unnoticeable—differences. Meanwhile, every camera maker has at least one product that 15 years ago we would have regarded as "stellar," and which today and for the foreseeable future can produce exceptional images.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and define what those cameras are. This article is actually split into two: this site covers the mirrorless cameras and dslrbodies covers the DSLR cameras (duh).

Let's start small and work our way up.

In the m4/3 world, both Olympus and Panasonic have produced gems of cameras that are feature and performance rich. Amazingly, they've managed to differentiate them.

bythom olympus em1ii

Olympus throws their entire engineering expertise at the E-M1 Mark II, and it shows. This is a wonderful camera with only one real fault (other than perhaps sensor size, which is a limiting factor in low light): getting to know it. Oh my lord does dealing with the complexity of this camera give you headaches at first. The feature set and customization capabilities is on steroids, and not particularly well documented, organized, or even labeled by Olympus. Someone hire a UX expert at Olympus, stat.

That said, the sensor does quite well for its size and is very usable out to ISO 1600. The frame rate, focus performance, EVF, and particularly the sensor-based IS (now supplemented by lens IS) are superb once you master the camera and get it tamed and set to your needs. Yes, it's pricey, but no, it doesn't disappoint once you come to grips with it.

bythom panasonic gh5

Panasonic, meanwhile, took the GH5 into videographer dreamland (which you can take even further with something like the Shape matte box and cage, see above). The body size is more DSLR-like than mirrorless compactness, but I don't think videographers are going to complain about that: it's still a remarkably small and capable 4K video camera that just so happens to be a very useful and capable still camera, too. Unlike the EM-1 II, the GH5 is much more understandable and approachable from the get go. On the still side, though, the Olympus has tricks up its sleeve that the Panasonic can't duplicate, though. You just have to bury yourself in technophilia to find and understand them.

So: still enthusiasts pick the E-M1 II and video enthusiasts pick the GH5 and you'll be well rewarded.

Fujifilm and Sony live at the next size sensor level (APS-C), with again two very different approaches. Fujifilm looks like they've discovered a crypt of film-camera engineers and have resurrected them, Sony wants to go all PlayStation on you.

bythom fujifilm xt2

The Fujifilm X-T2 is a masterpiece. Solid camera. Easy to use. Great sensor (if you can live with X-Trans). Excellent performance across the board. Some of you thought my review of the X-T2 was lukewarm. It wasn't. It's a great camera, and an excellent choice for prime lens users due to Fujifilm's reasonably wide selection of such lenses. My biggest issue with the X-T2 is that it's a tweener. Tweener in sensor size, tweener in size/weight. I personally use DSLRs when I want to go one direction, and smaller, lighter mirrorless choices when I want to go the other.

bythom sony a6500

The Sony A6500 is a different beast, entirely. You'll either love or hate it, as the design decisions made by Sony are more to an extreme. I'll give Sony credit for this: there isn't a better performing camera that's smaller. But "small" is one of the A6500's traits that some like and some don't. Controls are small, for instance. But the sensor is excellent, focus performance very good, the EVF is good, and it's even got on-sensor IS packed into that little weather-sealed body. Unlike the Fujifilm, lens selection for the Sony is one area that some might have issues with, as Sony seems to have abandoned APS-C E lenses other than the ones they created for the now forgotten NEX models. If the A6500 has a fault, it is the lack of lens choices that make sense for its small body design and that perform as well as the sensor does. Still, don't rule this camera out, especially if you want to use the 10-18mm f/4, the 24mm f/1.8, or 50mm f/1.8.

bythom sony a7rii

At full frame, Sony has a handful of choices, but the all-around exceptional camera to me is the A7r Mark II. This camera slots up very nicely against the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D810 in terms of all-around goodness. Coupled with the f/4 zooms or the primes Sony and Zeiss have produced, it typically makes for a smaller-than-DSLR kit with (mostly) DSLR level performance. If the A7r II has a fault, it's going to be in the autofocus system somewhere. Direct control is not so great, and there are other small issues that come into play when you start trying to make it track erratic action or shoot in low light. But, oh my, the rest of the camera gives you a set of solid features and specs that we would have died for a decade ago.

In the mirrorless lens world, m4/3 owners are in fat city. I've almost completed my reviews of all the Olympus Pro optics, and there's not a dud among them. Even the 12-100mm f/4, which on paper seems like a reach to put the pro label on, manages to produce impressive results. Olympus just continually hits it out of the park with their top optics, which makes the m4/3 cameras way more viable than they would be had they just done the mediocre lens set that Sony did with the APS-C mirrorless cameras.

The Panasonic optics aren't far behind optically. I tend to find them having a compromise or two compared to similar Olympus lenses, but one thing Panasonic has fairly consistently done is produce smaller lenses, which may be something that attracted you to m4/3 in the first place and something you shouldn't discount. The better-specified of the Panasonic optics are quite good, and can't be put in the mediocre category, at all.

Fujifilm has built out a very nice basic set of lenses for their X cameras. If you're a 20 to 100mm prime user, or want a basic set of very wide angle to moderate telephoto fast zooms, then you're covered: Fujifilm has excellent products for all those needs. In fact, Fujfilm has done such a great job creating solid, enthusiast-capable lens set, it shows just how crappy and consumerish the Canon EF-S, Nikon DX, and Sony E lens sets really are. So much so that I'd say that if you've chosen APS-C as your optimal sensor size, you need to consider Fujifilm X as your system. The one exception to that is if you're deep into telephoto needs, where a Nikon D7200/D7500/D500 coupled with the proper Nikkors just can't be beat (no, not even by Canon). A D7200 with the 300mm f/4E PF makes 450mm equivalent in most mirrorless systems look big and heavy ;~), let alone slow to focus and often small in buffer.

Which brings us to Sony. With FE (full frame), Sony is now up to a reasonably complete prime and zoom lens set. They're missing a few things still (especially given the recent A9), but I can tell you without revealing any secrets that Sony will be addressing many of the remaining gaps soon. Couple the Sony offerings with the Zeiss offerings, and other than some long telephoto lenses, Sony FE is covered with one heck of a set of lenses. Indeed, some of those lenses are better than they need be for the sensors used, which is saying a lot.

So just as I concluded in my DSLR version of this article, what is it that a mirrorless user should be complaining about? Arguably, nothing. We've got multiple, great, flexible, high performance camera bodies, many great lenses to choose from, all of which are getting even better lately.

Simply put, if you aren't generating great photos from your mirrorless camera system and lenses, something is wrong. Very wrong. We've got exceptional products to use now, so make sure you know how to use them to best advantage.

More CIPA Numbers to Ponder

I’m amused by the various articles citing the latest CIPA statistics. Most seem to only be pointing out that the April interchangeable lens camera (ILC) shipments have shown a slight increase from last year. Here’s the full chart I usually publish:

bythom cipa-4-2017-overall

Mirrorless is clearly trending higher than last year in shipments, DSLRs lower.

As I’ve long tried to point out, it is longer-term analyses that are more important to look at. But even then things aren’t always exactly what they seem. For instance, if we plot the first four months of 2017 versus the first four months of previous years, we get this:

bythom cipa 4-2017

I saw someone comment about that “oh boy, mirrorless is going to surpass DSLR next year.”

Well, maybe. But probably not. Let’s instead do a 12-month trailing analysis. In other words, here are the mirrorless and DSLR shipments from May of a previous year to April of the stated year:

bythom cipa trailing year

Wait, what? Mirrorless is flat?

Yes, in general we’d have to conclude that’s mostly true for the moment. One month, two month, three month, or even four month tracking is still fairly susceptible to new product introductions and other minor things that can cause spikes or troughs.

My own assessment is that mirrorless may come close to equalling its best year to date. There’s a possibility it might even exceed it. But it’s still a fairly flat market with a lot of players in it fighting for market share.

What we can easily conclude from a long-term look at CIPA numbers at this point is that DSLR sales are on a fairly consistent decline year-over-year with no end in sight. For Canon and Nikon to maintain their ILC duopoly long-term, therefore, they’re going to have to step up their mirrorless action, and soon.

As much as the EOS M5/6 picked up significant mirrorless market share for Canon, they’ll need to do even more in the future if they want to keep 45%+ of the ILC market. Think of the EOS M5 as the first useful and significant mirrorless Rebel, and then imagine how Canon has to add the higher models to mirrorless in the coming months/years as DSLRs continue to decline.

Nikon is in the same situation, only worse. While Canon has now proven that they can muscle into the mirrorless market, Nikon has been strangely silent with the Nikon 1, and nothing new seems to be about to pop onto the scene from them. They, too, need a useful and significant mirrorless product, and then to develop that out to supplement and eventually replace their DSLRs.

The real issue for both Canon and Nikon is whether the legacy glass investment by customers can still be leveraged.

In particular, Canon should be worried about the Sony A7/A9 models, as it’s been proven that some EF lens adapters actually work usefully on those cameras, if not completely or perfectly. That makes it somewhat easy for Canon DSLR folk to slide over to Sony FE mirrorless with little penalty. The question then becomes whether those people like what they got in the Sony and start buying Sony FE lenses. Too much of that, and Canon’s legacy advantage basically falls apart.

Nikon’s not quite in as bad a shape here, as even third-party Nikon F-mount lens makers have a hard time getting full compatibility with the DSLRs. To date, the mirrorless adapters for Nikon lenses have been pretty pathetic. They work best with old AI manual focus lenses with an aperture ring, which isn’t exactly where the mainstream is for Nikon these days.

Still, Nikon can’t sit on their hands (or the Nikon 1) for very much longer. That downward slope on the DSLR numbers has to have top management in theShinagawa Intercity Tower trembling without any evident quake in the region. Everyone inTochigi should be worried, too, as you really need lots of bodies being sold in order to fuel the lens business.

My bet is that the mirrorless market looks far different 18 months from now than it does today. I can’t imagine Canon and Nikon waiting any longer than that to try to put their full muscle into the market.

Personally, I can’t wait for that to happen, because it’ll mean we have a full group of companies actively competing against one another aggressively. Competition is good.

Sony FE Now at Almost Two Dozen Lenses

Today Sony announced two more FE lenses for their A7/A9 mirrorless cameras: the basically pre-announced 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, and the unexpected 12-24mm f/4. This brings to 23 the total number of FE lenses that are available directly from Sony (Zeiss and others also make their own FE lenses).

bythom sony 1635onbody

The 16-35mm f/2.8 is a GM lens that Sony has talked about previously, but shared no details on. At 1.5 pounds (680g) and US$2200, you pretty much have to need the f/2.8 and fine attention to optics to justify it. Still, it rounds out the f/2.8 GM line, so we now can shoot 16-200mm with a set of three lenses, much like you find in the full frame DSLR world.

bythom sony1224onbody

The 12-24mm f/4 G is a little unexpected, pushing the FE system into the really ultra-wide zoom realm. At US$1700, it's definitely not a budget lens, so the 16-35mm f/4 OSS is likely to remain the primary choice of many for a wide angle zoom.

Overall, the Sony FE lens set is a little bunched up. It seems likely that users would only buy one lens from each the following groups:

  • 12-24mm f/4, 16-35mm f/2.8, 16-35mm f/4 OSS
  • 24-70mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/4
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6
  • 28mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, 35mm f/2.8
  • 50mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.8, 50mm f/2.8 macro, 55mm f/1.8
  • 85mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 90mm f/2.8 macro, 100mm f/2.8

We're still missing the wider primes and the longer telephoto choices, at least directly from Sony. Still, most A7/A9 shooters now have plenty of choices from Sony across the primary lens set.

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Canon is Coming, Canon is Coming

And I now believe, so is Nikon*...

Coming to what, you ask?

If Canon Rumors is to believed—the current rumor has a low rating for reliability, but it's something I've also heard—Canon is targeting a full frame EF mount mirrorless camera for 2018, probably for Photokina. The tricky thing here is the EF mount: not a new mount, which means that any such mirrorless camera will probably look much more like a DSLR than any of the current mirrorless models. But that also means that it will take all those 100m+ Canon lenses that have been produced to date. (I discount the Sigma SDs here, which also uses a DSLR instead of mirrorless mount, because they don't look at all like DSLRs ;~)

But I don't think Canon will be alone in this approach. Nikon has been in fervent rethink mode for awhile now, and what I hear out of Tokyo is that they seem to be coming to the same decision: an F-mount full frame mirrorless camera for 2018, with the F mount intact. We very well could have a Photokina showdown between the giants then, as they try to reassert themselves across the entire interchangeable lens camera market with their huge lens sets.

Thing is, the longer Canon and Nikon waited to fully compete in mirrorless, the more their options turned to one: maintain the DSLR mount. That's because if you have to buy new lenses, then the legacy lock that Canon and Nikon have with their 200m+ lens installed base disappears. And the longer you take to enter the mirrorless market with a new lens set, the more the other mirrorless makers have their own lens set advantage.

Fujifilm, for instance, has a strong basic lens set that's only really weak at the telephoto end. m4/3 can top that, with pretty much everything in place someone would want except tilt/shift lenses. And Sony is certainly getting closer and closer to filling out their FE lens set (see today's other story).

Thus, I think it's wrong to expect Canon or Nikon to create any new full frame mirrorless system from scratch. Both companies probably need full frame mirrorless to hold Sony off from making any inroads into the duopoly.

Canon, of course, has already dipped a toe into mirrorless with the EOS M, creating the mirrorless equivalent of EF-S and backed with a few new lenses. But looking at the size of the EOS M cameras versus their G X compact series and even other mirrorless cameras, I'm guessing that Canon sees EOS M as their eventual entry product. Basically the gateway drug to their DSLRs and eventual higher-end mirrorless offerings.

Nikon badly stumbled at the same task when they dipped their toes into the same mirrorless waters. While the Nikon 1 could have been that same gateway drug to DSLRs, Nikon chose to use a far smaller sensor and not to use DSLR accessories or controls. They did just about everything they could to make it "not an entry to DSLRs." Then they priced the simple, little cameras higher than more than half their DX DSLR lineup at the time. After six years they have virtually nothing to show for that, and it would take a complete redo of the Nikon 1 to even begin to fix all the problems they made for themselves.

I've long said this day is coming—and technically it still is as we're not to Day Zero yet—as both Canon and Nikon have to eventually evolve out of the DSLR mirrorbox to the simpler-to-build, easier-to-align, fewer-parts world of mirrorless in order to keep costs down. It's remarkable that Nikon can profitably sell a really good DSLR and lens for US$400, but that's pushed them to the extremes of what they can do. Ultimately, doing the same thing in mirrorless would cost them less and thus make them more profit, even at that same low retail price.

bythom 159

But Nikon for the moment seems more focused on the high end, so I expect them to roll with a full frame mirrorless product next. And with the F mount up front. They must defend the F mount or they pretty much have nothing now, given the KeyMission, DL, and Nikon 1 fiascos and the ever-cooling Coolpix.

All this is, if true, good news for mirrorless users. Choice always is good, and having the two duopolists finally playing hardball is going to mean everyone has to up their competitive game. The fact that we might get two of the biggest lens sets out there added fully into the mix means that all the other players need to quickly round out their own lens sets, too.

It's been a bit of a strained time recently in mirrorless. We lost Ricoh/Pentax and Samsung completely. Nikon simply stopped Nikon 1 development by all appearances. Panasonic seems a little on the struggling side outside the GH5, and the Sigma sd line seems to have not even been noticed. We did get forays into medium format mirrorless, but that's well out of most folk's pay grade.

But if I'm right, 2018 should see us have a full range of competitors all trying to get your attention with a wider range of choices than we've ever had. I can imagine Photokina 2018 having 100mp medium format mirrorless, at least a trio of full frame mirrorless players, and plenty of other action as everyone scrambles to be King of the Hill. We're probably coming into the prime for mirrorless now. Once the dust settles out of the super-charged competition, we're probably going to see fewer iterations that take longer cycles to complete.

*Yes, this is a change from my previous thoughts about what Nikon is up to. From everything I can tell, Nikon started down the line of doing a crop sensor (DX) mirrorless system to be followed by a full frame (FX) one. But about the time that the Nikon 1 line was due for some more updates, Nikon seemed to go into rethink mode. Through most of 2016 there seemed to be no clear signals out of Nikon of how they were going to move on with mirrorless. Late in the year I started hearing the full frame mumblings again, and in the giant set of planning meetings that accompany the year end results that happen early each spring, those mumblings have gotten louder. I'm pretty sure now that a full frame mirrorless system is in the works at Nikon. That also corresponds well with their "focus on high-value add products" strategy statement.

Sony Pro Support

With the recent addition of the A9 to the A7 lineup, Sony has now added a a new Sony Imaging Pro Support program that includes mirrorless camera users. You'll need a minimum of two full-frame bodies (even though the image on their site shows one full frame and one crop-sensor body ;~), and three Sony Zeiss or G Series lenses to join. You'll also have to be a full-time professional photographer and provide work samples to prove that.

In return for meeting the qualifications you'll be given a dedicated phone and email support desk to reach (7am-4pm Pacific Time), a 3-day turnaround and discount on repairs, loaner cameras/lenses (limitations), invitation to special events, and three free camera/lens maintenance services a year. Shipping is covered both inbound and outbound on repairs.

By the way, if you're a Sony user and haven't discovered the AlphaUniverse Web site, you should check it out (it's in my Mirrorless Web site links; if you've got other links you think that should be there, let me know). You'll find learning resources there, can see the work of the various Sony Artisans, and check for local events you might be interested in. For example, those of you in the Denver/Boulder area might be interested in an A9 launch event at Mike's Camera in Boulder on the 15/16th.

April Showers Bring May Discounts

It's one of those times of year again. Typically cameras tend to get promoted heavily in Spring (for Mothers/Fathers day, graduation, summer vacations) and then again at Christmas.

We're entering the first of those periods, and pretty much every mirrorless camera maker has new promotions started. As I often do with Nikon promotions on the dslrbodies.com site, I'm going to call out a few things that caught my attention in the latest rebate/discount lists. (Note: if you use any of the links in the headers, they'll take you to a page on this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H, which includes all the active rebates. But other than some small bundled items or future discounts that B&H adds, any official dealer should be able to offer you the Instant Savings/Rebate.)

Canon[advertising link]

  • The EOS M5 I like (see review) has a US$50 discount on it (plus 2% B&H future purchase award), no matter whether you select body only or the body with kit lens. Add the 18-150mm lens instead and the discount increases to US$280. My problem with the 18-150mm is the wide end: it isn't really wide, being something near 30mm equivalent on the Canon APS-C sensor. But couple that with the very good 11-22mm EF-M lens, and you've got a smallish two-lens kit that goes from very wide angle to strong telephoto.
  • The EOS M6 also has a discount with the 18-150mm, but the EVF on the M5 is well worth the extra US$100, don't fall for the M6 unless you're given a real extra incentive to opt for it. The EVF is worth way more than the implied US$100.

Fujifilm[advertising link]

  • The just-introduced X-T20 already has a small (US$50) discount on it. Much of the goodness of the X-T2 (see my just-posted review) is in the X-T20, but at just above half the price.
  • Likewise, the recently announced X-A3 model is also on sale, giving you a two lens kit for just US$699. That's pretty darned good for a near state-of-the-art 24mp APC-S sensor-based system. The downside? No EVF. So this becomes a possible compact camera replacement for some.
  • The rest of Fujifilm's rebates are for previous generation gear. Given that Fujifilm just went from 16mp to 24mp and improved their focus system considerably, I'd tend to stay with the current gear.

Panasonic[advertising link]

  • The GX-85 is a pretty decent rangefinder-type mirrorless camera with a lot of capability in it (as usual with Panasonic, 4K video, for instance). With the new discounts, you get a two-lens kit for about US$700. I'd judge that to be a good price for that camera. While I haven't reviewed it, I did borrow one for a couple of weeks and found it to be much like the other recent Panasonic cameras using that 16mp sensor: very good image quality, pretty photographer friendly, excellent video, and excellent build quality.
  • If you want 20mp, the similar but slightly more upscale GX8 bodies are now under US$1000 and coupled with a free kit lens.
  • Meanwhile, the outgoing GH4—a staple among 4K videographers on a budget—now breaks the US$1000 mark. Not a bad price for a darned good 4K video camera.

Sony[advertising link]

  • A ton of savings here. I'm going to call out the ones that I believe are the real bargains.
  • First up we have the A6300 two lens kit, which gets you about 24-300mm equivalent in a pretty small package, and at a good price. At US$350 off it's worth thinking about if you want a small, portable mirrorless system. Yes, the A6500 has more tech in it, but the A6300 is more than a competent camera (see review). Besides, if you really want the A6500 and that lens bundle, you can pony up more than US$500 and get it on discount, too. Still, I think the A6300 is more the sweet spot for this type of camera. If you're looking for bargains, the A6000 is also available with the two-lens bundle for US$800. So pick your poison. For most people, that would be the A6300, IMHO.
  • Most of the A7 series discounts are mild or big bundles of stuff. I suspect we'll see more discounting on that series in the future as we near the Mark III models appearing. The original A7 (no r, s, or Mark II) is now under US$1000, which might attract those experimenters willing to sample the Sony system. But now that we've seen the changes in the Mark II models and what might be on tap for future ones with the other recent Sony introductions, I'd tend to say avoid the original body unless you think you'll just eventually use it as a backup.
  • The 70-200mm f/4 FE lens has a US$100 discount. Very reasonable price for a very good lens. If you don't have this or the f/2.8 version in your FE kit, you don't have a flexible telephoto lens with strong optical performance.
  • Most of the FE lenses Sony is offering at discount have modest rebates: I don't see any particular bargains there other than the 20% savings on the 50mm f/1.8, but by all means take advantage of discounts while they're available if you need those lenses.
  • With the E lenses (APS-C crop for the A5xxx and A6xxx) models, there are three lenses that have discounts you should note: the very good 10-18mm f/4 OSS is US$100 off, which is a 12% discount. The already modest priced 35mm f/1.8 OSS and 50mm f/1.8 OSS have US$50 discounts. All three of these lenses should be in any A6xxx kit.

This article is a bit of an experiment. I generally don't tend to post pointers to sales. So if you liked this and want more articles like it more often, please let me know. Likewise, if you'd rather I didn't do this, let me know that, too.

Mirrorless Had a Good First Quarter

The CIPA shipment numbers are out for the full first quarter of 2017. That allows us to look at the data in a little better light. I don't put much faith on individual month data, but when we look closely at how larger periods have fared year-to-year, we get more reliable patterns to discuss.

bythom 129

The first quarter of each year is an interesting one. Two trends tend to drive the quarter's numbers: (1) how much the camera companies are trying to clear excess Christmas quarter inventory; and (2) new camera introductions.

In terms of inventory, I was surprised that Nikon basically restrained from much in the way instant rebates and sales during the first quarter. Traditionally, they've been active in doing so in the past, but this year they seemed to have completely backed off, and I'm pretty sure it impacted their numbers and the CIPA DSLR shipments.

In terms of new cameras introduced during the quarter:

  • Canon — 2 DSLRs, 1 mirrorless
  • Fujifilm — 1 mirrorless
  • Nikon — 1 DSLR announcement, but not shipped in the quarter
  • Panasonic — 2 mirrorless
  • Pentax — 1 DSLR
  • Sony — nothing

But more to the point, there were at least four mirrorless cameras that didn't really start shipping in volume until the first quarter of 2017. Thus, there wasn't a lot new of high interest or value shipping on the DSLR side during the quarter, but quite a bit of fairly new and high interest mirrorless (EOS M6, Fujifilm A10, X-T20, GFX, Hasselblad X1D, Olympus E-M1 II, Panasonic GX-850, and GH5). Thus, don't get too excited by that unit volume rise you see in this year's mirrorless shipments just yet.

I mention value for a reason. While the shipment numbers for the first quarter showed strength in compacts, lenses, and in mirrorless, across the board the more interesting thing was the increase in value of those shipments: compacts up 6.9%, DSLRs up 4.3%, mirrorless up 38.6% (how much of that was the E-M1, GH5, and GFX?), but lenses down 0.5%. Think cameras are going more upscale and getting more expensive? You're probably right, they are.

Sony's reported camera sales also tell you the same story: 8.5m, 6.1m, 4.2m units sold in the last three fiscal years, with the current year being predicted at 3.8m units. Yet the current year's sales are predicted to be 10.4% higher. Fewer cameras being sold for more money. That's the mantra the Japanese companies are all embracing now.

That doesn't mean there won't be under US$1000 cameras. But I suspect far fewer of them, and you're going to definitely get pass-me-down technology from previous cameras in that market at best case.

Sony's A9 Marketing Push

The Web site sonyalpharumors posted a marketing-use only document for the new Sony A9. If this briefing document is accurate—and I believe it is—it produces a bit of head scratching for me.

Here's the document sonyalpharumors posted:

bythom 127

If we go back a few years, we see Sony executives outlining a strategy of "more." It started in Sony Semiconductor for sensors, but was quickly echoed by the Sony Imaging group. Essentially the sensor group started talking about sensors that had the highest resolution, the lowest light capability, the fastest bandwidth, the greatest video capabilities, and more. Sony was going to pursue these things individually at first, then in combinations as they attempted to "revitalize consumer electronics."

In looking back at some of the Sony Semiconductor presentations, I see these specific things as goals: "highest sensitivity," "lowest noise," "lowest power", "highest bandwidth," "ultra-high-speed," "widest dynamic range", and "highest pixel count."

It's not surprising that we see cameras from Sony that mirror many of those sensor goals. The A7rII targeted "highest pixel count," the A7s targeted "highest sensitivity and lowest noise," and now the A9 targets "ultra-high-speed."

But the Sony marketing document shown above is a bit odd, in that it is a bit inconsistent. I'd say the major competitors for a speed-oriented camera are the Canon 1DxII, Nikon D5, Nikon D500, and Canon 7DII, in roughly about that order. That Sony thinks that the A9 competes with the Canon 5DIV, Nikon D750, and Nikon D810 is strange.

Moreover, I see no real reason why I'd need an A9 for landscapes or portraits, which is in Sony marketing's target audience listing. The fact that "advanced amateurs" are also targeted is probably the clue that gives everything away, and I'm not sure what that says about the A7II and the A7rII. A lot of companies fall into the trap of marketing their latest product too broadly and forcefully, often at the expense of their previous products that are still available. There's a bit of that going on here. I would guess that Sony would be happy if customers bought any Sony camera, but there's a bit of an over push on "buy an A9" in what they've been doing since launch.

It seems that Sony marketing is in a bit of a slippery area here. Sony really doesn't have the lenses to legitimately claim they're going to target the 1DxII, D5, or even the D500 for outdoor sports or wildlife shooting. Speed in the camera is not useful if you can't image the subject properly. Indeed I've written articles about how I'd take less speed and the right lenses over the opposite.

That said, I'm actually looking forward to taking an A9 with the new 100-400mm to Africa, or maybe the Galapagos later in the year. It would in some ways be a repeat of my Shooting With Just a D7200 experience a couple of years ago in that it's not necessarily an optimal combination for the places I visit, but would certainly reveal just how far Sony has come.

But I digress. I find it interesting that there are only two competitive features listed for the A9: speed and silence. In most sports and wildlife photography, silence isn't really needed. There are some exceptions, like golf, but in those we don't really need the speed.

Speed—in context of the A9—appears to mostly be the 20 fps and an uninterrupted 60 fps viewfinder, coupled with a few things that a faster data stream might enable. Sony makes a claim about focus—"foolproof AF/AE while traditional SLRs can only challenge such AF/AE performance improvements"—that needs reliable field testing to even begin to be believed.

I've noted in a lot of the "viewfinder image focus" postings that have appeared on YouTube, et.al., where the boxed area being focused on has things in it that are closer to the camera than the point where I'd really want the camera focusing, and other times the closer thing is what I want the focus to move to. The results I've seen in a number of published frames from Sony's sponsored sports shooting event in New York have plenty of missed and slightly missed focus in them. In fairness, so too would the images from a D5/D500 had Nikon sponsored a similar event at those products' introduction. That's because understanding how the focus system does and doesn't work eventually leads to better capture rates.

So Sony's focus targeting and unexpected object tracking rejection really needs to be tested.

Finally, to a lessor degree, "speed" is the large buffer, though I'll reserve judgment on that until I can shoot sports directly with the A9: buffers have this tendency to look better on paper than in the camera. Indeed, there are already early reports of how slow the A9 is to empty a full buffer. I really don't understand why Sony chose SD over XQD for the card choice in the A9.

Personally, I'm hoping that Sony's A9 claims don't devolve into distracting details that need documenting. While I wouldn't currently consider an A9 a replacement for my wildlife or most of my sports photography given the current lens set, it might very well be an interesting choice for indoor sports, theater, and wedding photography, where the 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens come strongly into play. Indeed, I often want speed in indoor sports more than outdoor, mostly because I'm generally much closer to the action. Of the sports Sony shows in their examples on the product pages, hockey comes to mind as the one place where I'd be most interested in seeing how the A9 does. That outdoor climbing shot? Not so much. (Oh, and the golf shot they posted? Wrong. You don't need silent shooting to take that shot, and I'll bet it wasn't even taken with an A9.)

The A9 is an intriguing camera, and Sony marketing is certainly out in force trying to get who they see as the influencers to write about it.

Fujifilm Pro Services

Fujifilm announced a pro services plan for the GFX in the US, which will begin on May 1st.

bythom fps

This pay-to-play plan is similar to other professional services, in that it includes cleaning services, faster and discounted repairs, and loaner cameras.

There are some odd bits and pieces. Two that caught my eye are the requirement that you join within 30 days of buying the gear in question, and the fact that Fujifilm disclaims providing refunds for almost any kind of dissolution of service. Also, you Alaska and Hawaii folk are not eligible for the service; only continental US street addresses are allowed.

One thing to note: the combination of three-year extended warranty and joining the Fujifilm Professional Services is highly discounted (US$599 instead of US$798). That option doesn't appear on the main page—and I don't have a GFX camera to register so can't see the subsequent pages—so I'm not sure how easy it is to sign up for that option.

Sony Goes Further Upscale with the A9

bythom sony a9

Sony set a new record today in their announcement of the new A9 mirrorless camera. Oh, not the shutter speed, frame rate, or other stuff you might be thinking of; the record they set is in the number of footnotes needed in the first 88 words: 9 (actually 10, since they later footnote something that appeared in those first 88 words).

I always get curious when I see footnotes. Sony is making a lot of claims with this new camera, and the footnotes tell the fuller story that you might miss if you were to read the top level specs.

But let’s get to the basics first. The A9 is a US$4500, full frame, 24mp mirrorless camera that’s pretty much geared for speed. Frame rate? 20 fps. Silent shutter speed? 1/32,000 (though there’s a footnote). 241-frame raw buffer (another footnote). The A9 has dual SD slots (another footnote). A much bigger FZ100 battery that nets a 450 shot CIPA average. A better EVF than anything Sony has done previously, with 3.7m dots running at 120 fps (another footnote). From a spec sheet standpoint, there really isn’t a lot to complain about. Sony’s covered all the bases to make a top end camera. The A9 should ship next month.

The body itself seems like a slightly beefed up A7 Mark II series body, with a couple of changes and additions Sony A7 users will like (a focus joystick, which is absolutely necessary with 693 autofocus points scattered across almost the whole frame (93%), a dedicated focus setting dial, etc.). There’s a two-battery vertical grip option, and a plethora a multiple-purpose buttons on a weather-resistant body.

Inside we’ve got a new 24mp 36x24mm sensor that’s tricked out with BSI (back side illumination) and stacked electronics and gapless microlenses all with copper and aluminum wiring for efficiency. Sony makes a point at the beginning of the press release to call attention to the fact they’re the world’s largest sensor maker (“…a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer…”). It’s likely the stacked electronics that enable many of the speed aspects of the camera. That’s because in electronic shutter mode there apparently is no (or little) rolling shutter effect, and in 4K video mode the sensor pulls a full frame 6K data set that the electronics downsize to 4K. It takes lots of on-sensor or off-sensor bandwidth to do both those things, and it appears much of this is being done on-sensor.

Behind the sensor is a 5-axis image stabilizer that has a claimed 5-stop CIPA rating with a 50mm lens on two axes (another of those pesky footnotes).

So about those footnotes. Some are ignorable, a few are important. For instance, while the buffer and frame per second calculations are correct for one card slot, the second card slot is not UHS-II. Why camera makers think this is a good thing to have differing slots when they are constantly performing integrity checks on the disk tables on cards, I don’t know. Basically you’re always limited by the slowest card in the camera. So shooting to both cards at the extremes of what the camera is designed to do is likely to have some downgrading effect, probably mostly on buffer.

Likewise, that 120 fps viewfinder is actually 60 fps if you want the uninterrupted view with the electronic shutter. Not a terrible deal, but bragging about a spec in one place and then disclaiming for a critical use elsewhere takes away some of the excitement. Likewise, the 1/32000 shutter speed is only available in the Manual and Shutter Priority exposure modes (otherwise you’re limited to 1/16000). Note also that at apertures beyond f/11 focus doesn’t track with the electronic shutter, too.

I think it’s going to take some shooting with the A9 to really get a sense of its ability and how these small disclaimers impact actual shooting. One of the footnotes that concerned me was “25% faster autofocus" than the best A7 model to date. Thing is, I’ve never really complained about the speed at which an A7 focused. It’s the accuracy with which it focuses. Clearly Sony is doing phase detect to initially move the lens and contrast detect to finalize focus. But that finalization is coming off 60 fps data. The thing about the Sony focusing I’ve found is that it is incredibly good at a lot of things, but motion tracking to or from you tends to make for a lot of small misses in continuous shooting. Small misses that net usable images, often because of depth of field, but not tack sharp images.

Sony seems to be trying to say the A9 is a 1DxII or D5 equivalent—especially since they went so far as to copy Nikon’s Ethernet connection, among other things—but the proof is in the shooting. The thing about Nikon’s latest DSLR focus system is that it is fast and precise in tracking rapid and erratic motion. The DSLR phase detect focus design just has more focus discrimination in it due to the geometries involved, so it doesn’t need a second step to verify focus, and the D5/D500 certainly are doing focus calculations far faster than 60 fps with their dedicated sensors and CPU.

Still, any improvement from the A7rII is welcome and definitely will give DSLR users pause. That’s where the lens situation starts to become an issue for Sony, though. We’ve got a 70-200mm f/2.8, but only f/4.5-5.6 70-300mm and now 100-400mm lenses (see below). Sorry Neal (Manowitz, VP of digital imaging at Sony), but I can still “follow and capture the action in ways” with a DSLR that your camera can’t. Make some lenses and your statement has more weight.

So despite all the buzz from Sony that the A9 is a sports-shooter camera, we need to verify that it really does have the necessary focus performance, and Sony needs more lenses for that market ASAP.

I find plenty that’s very appealing in the A9 specs. But I have to wonder from all the footnotes and all the still small-and-hard-to-find buttons whether Sony has fully dialed in a DSLR-killer yet. Testing will tell. Until then, we can all just drool over the plethora of interesting spec points.

bythom sony 100-400

Besides the new camera, Sony also introduced the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens, which covers the full and APS-C frame sizes. While Sony hasn’t yet made a super exotic for the FE mount, this lens is probably right beneath such an effort, being a G Master design with all of Sony’s known flourishes. If the hypothetical MTF charts are predictive of actual performance, this should be a very good lens optically, especially at 400mm.

The 100-400mm lens should be available in June for US$2500.

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