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.

The Mirrorless Lens Conundrum

My 24-70mm f/2.8 S-line lens for the Nikon Z cameras showed up recently, as did everyone else's. Nikon's shipments immediately started triggering the "should I get the f/2.8 or the f/4 lens" type of questions in my In Box. 

bythom nikkor 24-70mm

This type of question isn't new. In the DSLR full frame world, we've long had the primary zoom lens trio—wide angle zoom, mid-range zoom, telephoto zoom—available in f/2.8 and f/4 variants. (In the crop sensor world, we tend to get only one higher end choice from the DSLR makers, with everything else being variable aperture kit lenses.)

In that full frame DSLR world, the differential between the two aperture choices tends to be relatively modest and repeatable. In both the Canon and Nikon zoom sets, the f/2.8 lenses perform better optically than the f/4 lenses at f/4, they can gather another stop of light (obviously), but they're heavier and more expensive. In almost every case, the tradeoff most people get down to is that stop of light for increased size and price, though. 

For example: in the Canon DSLR world the 70-200mm f/2.8 is US$2100 and the f/4 is US$1300. For Nikon, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is US$2800, the f/4 is US$1400, or half the price (you don't get the optional tripod foot, though). Because of those pricings, the Nikon DSLR user is much more tempted by the f/4 lens than the Canon DSLR user. At least they were until the f/2.8E came out and just blew the socks off optical expectations for a telephoto zoom.

In the mirrorless full frame world, things have been a little different. The Sony 24-70mm f/4 (US$900) is not a particularly good lens, while the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 (US$2200) is an excellent lens. Meanwhile the Sony 12-24mm f/4 and 16-35mm f/2.8 don't match up in focal length (both are excellent, though the 16-35mm is better at the equivalent focal lengths and apertures). Finally, the 70-200mm f/2.8 and f/4 in the Sony lineup basically mimic what you find in the DSLR world: substantive price differential, reasonable size/weight differential, modest optical differential.

Canon and Panasonic don't yet really have any "pairs" for the basic three zooms in their mirrorless systems yet, but Nikon is now delivering two 24-70mm lenses. So the question has started to come up: which one? (Note: I've reviewed the f/4 version very favorably, and I'm just starting my review process on the f/2.8 version, so what I say here is very preliminary.)

Nikon didn't make this easy. The 24-70mm f/4 is one of the best "kit" lenses you'll find. At the kit bundle implied price of US$600, it very well may be the best mid-range zoom by a large margin at that price point. Even at the retail price of US$1000, you just don't find many zoom lenses that good at that price point. I'd say that you're being somewhat foolish if you buy a body only in the Nikon lineup instead of the body+24-70mm kit. Moreover, in terms of size and weight, the f/4 version keeps the basic body+lens combination substantively smaller and lighter than you're used to with full frame DSLRs.

But...

The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a better lens, even just based upon some early initial shooting. As much as I like the f/4 zoom, the f/2.8 is so far looking optically better at the same focal length and aperture combos with very few exceptions. (The f/2.8 seems to have a small bit of waviness to its sharpness at a few apertures and focus distances, though, where the f/4 doesn't; so there are points on the frame at a couple of focal lengths where the f/4 can top the f/2.8. That said, the vast majority of the frame on the f/2.8 is going to produce better results than the f/4 at the same focus distance, aperture, and focal length. Why the waviness in the f/2.8 acuity? Probably due to the aspherical elements and how they interact with the optical path as they move.)

Which brings us to: why do you want f/2.8? Two things: (1) a stop more light capability; and (2) a stop more DOF isolation ability. You really have to figure out how much those two things are worth to you (in any brand zoom pair, but particularly in the Nikon 24-70mm duo, as the price difference can be as much as US$1700). Moreover, the f/2.8 version is substantively heavier than the f/4 version, though it's still smaller than you may be used to with DSLR 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses.

There's no question in my mind at the moment that the perfect travel combo for the Z's right now is: 

  • 14-30mm f/4
  • 24-70mm f/4
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-P on FTZ

(For you Sony users:

  • 12-24mm f/4
  • 24-105mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/4)

That's a highly competent and reasonably small kit that covers an incredibly wide focal range.

The conundrum is this: what if you do sometimes (or often) value that extra stop of light and DOF isolation (plus a bit more optical quality)? By this time next year, we'll have 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses in the Nikon line, and we already have 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses in the Sony lineup. Thus, you should be thinking about this now, not later.

I can't really answer the question for you, as there are clear tradeoffs you have to come to conclusions about. I can only make sure that you ponder your circumstances carefully and provide as much information as I can to help you make your decisions. 

In both the Nikon and Sony travel kits I mention above, we've never had it so good with full frame. That's six lenses that produce really strong results; better than the kit-lens results we got in DSLRs through those same focal ranges, IMHO. But it's also starting to turn out that the f/2.8 zooms are pushing beyond what we got with the DSLRs, too. 

Thus, the conundrum is multiple. There's the usual f/2.8 versus f/4 decision, but we're also starting to see a differential between DSLR and mirrorless in these lenses, too. The future is so f/2.8 bright, I gotta wear shades (yes, a Timbuk3 reference).

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Things I Find Strange in the Full Frame War

We're slowly getting more and more details from the camera makers in terms of their overall product positioning as they all get settled in with their full frame cameras and we get hints on what's coming. Yet as I see, read, and hear these details, they still leave me scratching my head at times. 

Here's a list of some of the items that are confusing me.

Canon R and RP

  • If the first camera is the mid-pack R and the RP is a more entry, consumer one, then what's with the f/2 zoom, the upcoming f/2.8 zooms, and all the high-end lenses we know about so far? I get a sense of mismatch when I consider the RF lenses and the R bodies we're likely to have before the end of 2019. Sony's long head start seems to be giving Canon product management a case of the "fits" here. Sony, of course, started with consumer-type lenses and then broadened to the faster, more pro optics. Does Canon think starting with more consumer level bodies but more pro level optics somehow negates Sony's head start? 
  • What's the UX really going to be like? We've already got two very different bodies in terms of the user interface. Is Canon in reconsider mode? If so, why?
  • As I've already mentioned several times, I still don't get the M and R relationship. The basic implication is that if you buy into M you'll have to abandon all that and rebuy into R if you want to move up. Okay, so two things: (1) are you sure that's what you want to do Canon? and (2) where is the full M lens set? There will be M users who don't want to buy up, but without a full lens set they'll find themselves stuck.

Nikon Z

  • As great as the video capabilities are—particularly the Z6—I'm still scratching my head as to why no lenses match up for video. Oh, there are some surprises under the covers, such as the parfocal adjustments that are being made by the camera with varifocal lenses like the 24-70mm. Yeah, that's good (though why didn't that become a clear marketing message?). But have you actually tried manual focus video with a Z camera and Z lens, Nikon? Everything breaks down at that point, and we all run to older manual focus lenses that have geared rings. You don't have any of those, either, Nikon. Where's the all-in video bet? Halfway doesn't hack it. Video ILC requires both a camera and a lens.
  • Canon has done a better job of describing what their new mount flexibility does for them. We've not seen the lens nor the explanation that tells us why you picked such a close, wide mount (though there were hints in the CP+ interviews). And no, the NOCT is not the answer, as it's way too specialized and not of interest to most of us. 
  • The future firmware update announcement was interesting, but raises new questions. Proof will be in the doing, not the saying. I'm not convinced that the Eye AF thing is anything other much more than a narrowing of Face Detection AF. Welcome, but not exactly earth shattering. The real issues most of us have seen with the Z focus system have nothing to do with whether somewhat static people were being focused correctly. I worry that this is "feature checkbox" product development and not true performance optimization. Can we get a clear indication from Nikon that 3D Tracking needs to be fixed?
  • US$2000 can't be the entry point for Nikon mirrorless, can it? Nikon started with the number 6, so they have 1-5 to slot under the Z6. However, note the lens road map: nothing truly consumer in lenses could appear until at least 2020. What will Nikon's real response to the RP be? Obviously a Z5 (lower spec EVF/LCD, SD slot, no top LED, 1/4000 shutter), but what's the lens?

Panasonic S

  • Another option in the market is always welcome, but I've yet to see clear messaging that tells me why I'd choose the Panasonic option over the others. A specific feature, such as pixel-shift high resolution is not a system message. We need a strong system message from Panasonic. The closest they came so far is "multiple lens vendors," but I note that Sony already has that pragmatically, and I fully expect to see that with Canon and Nikon, too, as the third party vendors get up to speed with the new mount. 
  • Panasonic now appears to be all-in with DFD focus, as opposed to the phase detect everyone else uses. The question no one is really asking is how that's going to apply to non-Panasonic lenses. To optimize DFD you need lots of data about every lens and its characteristics. Is that really happening, or will only Panasonic lenses get the optimization? (Update: Note that Panasonic says Sigma and Leica lenses will work with DFD. The question is just how optimized that is, not whether or not they work.)
  • Panasonic's pricing was on the high side to begin with. Now with the Canon RP, there's a long stretch from RP to S1. This puts a bit of a damper on potential early sales, which means that the system comes out of the chute just a little slower. Fortunately, Panasonic is in this for the long run, but still, what's Panasonic going to do to push interest early on?

Sony FE

  • To me, it felt that there was a little fear in Sony's marketing and sales methods this past year. Keeping the old A7 models in the market on fire sale pricing, the aggressive holiday pricing on the two top cameras, defensive statements about lens mount choices, and so on. But Sony's real claim to fame with users has generally been hyper fast technology progression. Not been hearing a lot of that lately. The A7Sm3 expectations are piling up because of that. A baby A9 (A7000 apparently an A9-type body with an APS-C sensor) isn't quite the same thing as a huge new step forward. So what's the next step forward, Sony? (And no, the new tracking AF isn't exactly what I'm talking about.)
  • Sony has clearly heard the UX issues (small buttons, sprawling menus, etc.). But we're three generations in with little change (other than additions, which inflate the problem). Sony has certainly heard that Nikon got UX right and I suspect we'll all hear that Panasonic did, too. Lucky for Sony that Canon decided to conduct human experiments in UX and is still casting about. We're still waiting for even a small signal from Sony (buttons easier to use with gloves on would be a start). 

Over a third of the dollars taken in from customers for mirrorless this year should come from full frame cameras. It's extremely important to get strategies and messaging right now that there are four clear competitors (I group all the L-mount companies into one: so Canon RF, L-mount, Nikon Z, and Sony FE). 

Things I Find Strange in the Crop Sensor Mirrorless Market

Now that everyone is playing at the mirrorless camera table, we basically have a duality in product that customers face: (1) full frame and larger sensor models; and (2) crop sensor models (APS-C and m4/3). I deal with what I find strange about the full frame competition in another article. This article tackles the crop sensors. 

Here's a list of some of the items that are confusing me.

Canon M

  • I've written about this before, but the incompatibility of the M and RF mounts in mirrorless is a long-term problem for Canon, I believe. You can't collect a new user at the low-end crop sensor solution (M) and then easily transition them seamlessly to a higher-end full frame solution (RF) later. If an M user has to abandon lenses as well as camera body to upgrade, they can pretty much consider any competitor at that point. And that's doubled by the fact the fact that even the ergonomics don't match from M to RF at this point.
  • Is M solely about the true consumer (lowest common denominator)? Do we ever go beyond where the M5 is today? The M lens selection suggests that we won't. Moreover, several of those M lenses are weak optically compared to the crop sensor competitors, which means that they don't appeal to more sophisticated users. Is M just about picking off people willing to pay US$300-500 for a camera? Sure is feeling that way.
  • The M image sensor is adequate, but not state-of-the-art. This, too, makes the M's look more and more entry-only if not addressed. When does a new APS-C sensor start percolating through the huge Canon APS-C lineup? And will that happen in mirrorless first, or DSLRs? That will send a message to customers, obviously.
  • Overall, I don't get it. The M ought to be the point in the line where Canon grabs smartphone users wanting to move up. But I just don't see the value proposition there at the moment, nor do I see what Canon does with that user once they have them. What is the smartphone user really gaining? That remains clearly undefined in Canon's marketing, but it's also clearly undefined in the product management plan as far as I can see, too.

Fujifilm XF

  • Okay, Fujifilm's all-in with APS-C. They've made that clear with both actions and statements. Moreover, they've made clear that the consumer end is Bayer, the upper end is X-Trans. What I have a difficult time of is exactly pin-pointing which model aligns with which customer and why. At the moment we have: X-A5, X-T100, X-E3, X-T30, X-T3, X-H1, X-Pro2. The lineup doesn't seem fully rationalized to me, and given Fujifilm's small market share, they seem to be pushing too many models. When you couple this with spillover inventory from previous versions (e.g. X-T2), you end up with a huge confusing mess for a customer to navigate through. Yes, I'm aware of the sales techniques that utilize customer confusion, but I'd argue that when you're a distant fourth or fifth in market share, those work against you, not for you. Can Fujifilm clarify their lineup?
  • The APS-C and medium format (MF) combo Fujifilm is promoting is effectively two stops apart, and I'm an advocate of that approach (as opposed to APS-C and full frame, which are one stop apart). While Fujifilm execs are good about talking about this in interviews, their marketing messaging falls far short. In essence, Fujifilm is bracketing the competition. Thus, you need a strong and effective "nearly as good as X [with an advantage X doesn't have]" and "better than X" set of marketing messages. Why those haven't appeared, and why they aren't reinforced after exec interviews, i don't know. 
  • Fujifilm's lens line is now over 30 lenses and growing (though I had to count, as Fujifilm themselves isn't promoting quantity in their messaging very clearly). One thing I'm not seeing from Fujifilm is clear marketing messages helping people understand how to parse all those offerings. As in "we have over 30 lenses and growing: a set of compact lenses for light travel, a set of high performance lenses for high image quality," etc. In other words, logically group things for the customer to understand. I'm not going to be interested in high performance lenses for an X-A5 or T-100, but I'm very interested in compact lenses for light travel. Send me the message that you've got them!

Nikon

  • With the demise of Nikon 1, Nikon no longer has a crop sensor option in mirrorless. Simply put, Nikon failed at crop sensor mirrorless (business wise; how good/bad the products were is irrelevant at this point). Unfortunately, Nikon made their own problems worse by basically ghosting their customers. For several years. Not. A. Good. Thing. So even before we get to them re-entering the crop-sensor market—and yes, they will re-enter because they have to—Nikon has some full on explaining to do. Explaining that's going to run against their cultural instinct (i.e. they are going to have to explain the failure). I have no idea why this hasn't already happened. See my other article on the Nikon 1 today.
  • The fundamental question everyone has is this: what will Nikon's crop sensor products look like? Will they be smaller F-mount DX bodies with a snout? Will they be Z-mount cameras with a massive opening (far bigger than needed for APS-C)? Will there be a new mount (and will it avoid the Canon M problem)? Heck, might Nikon do the Fujifilm thing and pick a sensor size two stops off (e.g. 4/3)? Thing is, I'm not seeing Nikon start to seed expectations at all here. What that does is make the initial announcement require a full-on explanation of why they chose what they chose and how that slots in with their full frame offerings. The previous bullet adds a complication: Nikon has abandoned a lens mount. So if their crop sensor mirrorless isn't F-mount or Z-mount, customers are going to be hesitant unless Nikon can make a clear commitment of what's going to happen. They won't, because that's not their style. They need to, because this is about future customer confidence.

Olympus

  • Olympus execs basically have backed themselves into a corner, and very defensively: "we'll continue to make cameras and they'll be m4/3." Meanwhile, in three short years they've lost 35% of their sales volume and they continue to lose money in making cameras. That's a huge contraction that cannot continue without one of those two clauses in the quote being wrong ;~). I don't fully understand what's happening here. Proper product line management shouldn't be producing this kind of result. So where's the disconnect? Corporate? Product planning? Marketing? Customer interaction? What's strange to me is that—actually for nearly six years—I'm not seeing actions on Olympus' part that show me that they understand how to fix their problem. To wit:
  • Olympus execs also maintain that the unique advantage of m4/3—and I would agree in theory—is "compact and lightweight products that are highly portable." Which of course, is not what the E-M1X really is. To me and many others the E-M1X is indicative of too much engineering and not enough product management. Yes, some 100% dedicated m4/3 users welcome anything better at the top end, but how many folk is that? With barely 3% of the camera market, it's completely unclear to me why Olympus' priority would be a more expensive camera that appeals only to a small subset of those users. Canon and Nikon don't exactly sell 1DXm2 and D5 cameras in high quantities, and I just don't see the E-M1X nibbling into those numbers, so we have bafflement here. Particularly when at the same time the Pen F was discontinued. Olympus needs to explain why they don't have their priorities backwards.
  • Olympus leans far too much on lenses. The usual comment I hear from m4/3 users is that "the lenses make up for the small sensor." Okay, I get that you want to do some of that. I do generally agree that lenses can help compensate for the sensor. Olympus eventually got round to "kitting" (body plus lens combos) that promotes this. For example, the E-M1m2 with 12-40/40-150mm zoom set, or the Pen F with the 25mm/45mm prime set (why no 12mm?). But I don't at all understand the f/1.2 primes they appear to be pushing towards. The 25mm f/1.2 is almost a pound. That's edging far too much away from the "compact and lightweight products that are highly portable" mantra for me. The recent 12-200mm seems like more the direction they need to emphasize (not so much the superzoom aspect, but the trying to build light, portable solutions for any given function, in this case superzoom).

Panasonic m4/3

  • Panasonic came flying out of the gate in mirrorless. They had a top-three market share early on, but that's slowly eroded. And I don't think the SLR-like thrust lately is helping that (e.g. GH5, G9, G85). Those SLR-like bodies all tend to be large for the sensor size (see Olympus E-M1X for the extreme). That's not a problem for one model, but with Canon and Nikon and Sony downsizing the full frame cameras, Panasonic seems to be too close in size while too far away in performance. This is the thing that got 4/3 into trouble eventually. It's a bit like m4/3 has gone an American diet. Where have the more svelte, compact models gone.
  • Panasonic is all-in with DFD focus, as opposed to the phase detect everyone else uses. The problem is that this really works best with Panasonic lenses, so it's one of those lock issues in a mount that promotes unlocked. 

Sony E

  • Sorry, but I don't get it. The A5xxx seems to be gone. The A6xxx has defocused into a messy overlap that makes it impossible to understand model position. I have no idea how to position the crop sensor bodies, and I'd argue that neither does Sony. The A6400 came out as a "vlogging" camera, not as the A6300 successor. What? These are consumer cameras, and they need clear consumer-type of positioning statements. You buy X for Y, A for B, etc. There aren't enough vloggers—and I'm not convinced the A6400 is really for vlogging—for that message to drive camera sales.
  • Lenses, lenses, lenses. It always comes back to that with crop sensors. The big boys (Canon, Nikon, Sony) seem to want to stifle and restrict their crop sensor users so that they are forced to upgrade to full frame to get true lens flexibility. The far smaller competitors (Fujifilm, m4/3) push large numbers and a full line of lenses to compete. When Sony feared Samsung, they were iterating E lenses. Once Samsung went away, so did most of the E lens development, it appears. Sony needs to protect themselves against Fujifilm more if Sony wants to keep crop sensor market share, I think. It's not a problem today because Fujifilm is still not in all shops and not as visible to the casual consumer yet. But as that changes, the problem will be Sony's poor and aging E lens lineup against Fujifilm's growing and excellent one. These are ILC after all, and even the most casual consumer wants more I in the L for the C.  

Almost two-thirds of the dollars taken in by the camera companies for mirrorless this year should come from crop sensor cameras. That's a big number: something just under US$2 billion using estimated CIPA shipment numbers and today's monetary conversion (the actual retail value that the customer pays adds up to a far higher number). 

If you're going to stay competitive in cameras, you need to be taking a substantive slice of that US$2b number. Right now, Canon and Sony are doing just that, while the m4/3 twins of Olympus and Panasonic are sliding. Fujifilm is taking a smaller but growing part. And Nikon will almost certainly be back wanting a big piece.

The funny thing is that everyone seems to have written off crop sensor cameras thinking the market is all full frame. Nope. Full frame is the cream at the top. The bigger portion of the drink is crop sensor, and I'd guess this is the next area that everyone starts to focus on now that they've got their full frame (and larger) aspirations laid out. 

I Have a Prediction About the Nikon 1

As I noted in my other article, Nikon effectively ghosted their Nikon 1 customers for over two years between the quiet introduction of the last Nikon 1 (J5) and the complete discontinuation of Nikon 1 gear. 

The failed DL launch—a compact camera line that used the same 1" sensors—probably had a lot to do with that. Had Nikon been able to spread sensor use over five or six models I suspect that the Nikon 1 line might have continued in some form.

Nikon made a business decision that factored R&D and parts costs against what they thought was the market size. The ROI and profit numbers apparently didn't work for them. In essence, the engineers failed (with DL), which caused the accountants to declare that all 1" would fail Nikon's margin tests, while the marketing department wasn't able to clearly override the accounting group's numbers by demonstrating clear demand-creation capability.

Thing is, that decision wasn't about product. It was about yen. 

When the Nikon 1 first hit the market in the fall of 2011, something interesting happened. Nikon cranked up the marketing engine big time. That was one of only three times I've seen them get marketing relatively on point and in customer's faces during the digital era (the other two times were the introduction of the D40 generation consumer DSLRs and the D3/D300 combo). 

Nikon didn't have much choice. DSLRs were in complete disarray due to the quake/tsunami impacting Japan in spring of 2011, plus the floods in Thailand in late 2011. That had the direct impact of pushing back product introductions (D3 and D700 replacements), probably cancelling some (D400), and had Nikon struggling to limp by with the existing DSLRs as they had to rebuild two primary manufacturing plants and deal with parts supply issues for them, because many of their vendors were also impacted. 

The Nikon 1 was built in China, and with perhaps the exception of a couple of parts—of which there were fewer than 300 in the J1 and V1—was what they could build in quantity, and thus what they had to promote. Which explains why we got such a huge Ashton Kutcher-led marketing thrust.

But that's all prelude to today's thought. Here we go:

Several of the Nikon 1 products are going to be classic and collectable.

As much as you might malign the small sensor and some of Nikon's odd feature and performance choices, one fact remains: the Nikon 1 cameras and lenses are the smallest and nimblest ILC gear you can find with good to excellent image quality. The J5 is pretty close to a Sony RX-100, but with interchangeable lens support, for example. And I like the RX-100 a lot.

So what Nikon 1 products do I think will become classic and collectable? 

I just mentioned the J5. I think that's a given, as it is the best sensor the Nikon 1 has had in the best EVF-less body Nikon made. On the EVF side, I think the V1 and V2 are the clear choices, for different reasons. The V3 is a love it or hate it camera, so much harder to predict. Plus we have the AW1, something that's still unique to this day.

All the bodies were produced in enough quantity that there should be enough around to meet collecting demand. Lenses are a different story. All the lenses were pretty good, but the ones you're going to have a hard time finding because the demand will far exceed supply are: the 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6, the 18.5mm f/1.8, the 32mm f/1.2, and of course the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, which made the Nikon 1 a birders delight (at least in good light). Of those, the wide angle zoom and telephoto zoom are the two hardest to find already. Neither was made in huge quantities to start with. The 10-100mm f/4-5.6 also gets a bit of a nod for collectors, but it's pretty easy to find. 

Seriously, I fully expect to find some Nikon 1 shooters (though rarely) five years from now. There's basically nothing like the Nikon 1 products available today, and they have a high level of performance for their size and weight. As I write this, a V2 with the 10-100mm and 70-300mm would set you back less than US$1000. That's 28-810mm folks. Fits in a couple of (largish) jacket pockets. The RX-100 might cover you in 24-200 now, but below and above that only the Nikon 1 suffices at 1". And the lenses that let you do that were quite high quality.

Yeah. Collectable. And usable. 

There have to be employees within Nikon that wish they hadn't cancelled the Nikon 1. Moreover, that the designers weren't hobbled with some don't-compete-with-DSLRs declarations within the company. It doesn't take much imagination to get to a near perfect pocket ILC with a small stable of very useful lenses. Nikon never quite went that far, though. They hinted at it, they poked around the edges, but they didn't quite get all the meat on the table. And then the accountants came in with their cleaver and lopped off what remained.

So we end up with a slightly flawed and not-quite-what-we-wanted classic only available used. Which will still be interesting five years from now, I think. 

The Market Change

While commenting on the Imaging-Resource forum about the seemingly conflicting predictions from various Japanese camera company executives about sales trends, it struck me that it was pretty simple to show everything in one chart:

bythom final prediction

Canon said digital camera volume will drop by about half in a couple of years. That's about what the top gray line shows (doesn't quite reach half in my predictions). That line is the total camera volume, and is driven downward most by the blue line, which is compact camera sales, and a bit less by the orange line, which is DSLRs.

Meanwhile, Sony has said that ILC will drop only by about 20%. That's the red line (orange and green lines taken together). The orange DSLR line drops faster than the mirrorless green line grows, which creates a slow overall drop in ILC. 

Fujifilm says there's opportunity for them to grow. Well, that's the green mirrorless line, which indeed shows modest growth over time. Whether Fujifilm can grab that share from others now that everyone is playing in the mirrorless pond is another story. 

So what's the purple line at the bottom? That's full frame (both DSLR and mirrorless). You can see why the big players want to be in that market: it's not the largest volume, but it's not likely to contract, and it also contains units selling at high prices. Thus, if you can get a chunk of that market and hold it, you have some stability to your financial numbers. Moreover, note the line slopes: purple (full frame) will probably overtake orange (DSLRs) at some point in the more distant future. Now you know why Nikon and Sony have been concentrating on full frame in the recent past, and why Canon's and Nikon's latest full frame offerings have been mirrorless (Sony previously made that move).

Note that the 2018 numbers in this chart are based off of real data. The 2019 thru 2021 numbers are a reasonable prediction based off of past and current data trends. Obviously, as predictions they may be off. I'd bet they're within 10%, though, as the model I've been using to do these predictions is wobbly, but not generally far wrong.

This chart also answers another question that keeps coming up: are APS-C and other crop sensor cameras dead? Absolutely not. You'd have to predict hugely dramatic growth of full frame unit volume for crop sensors to go away in ILC. 

So, all the Japanese executives that have been talking about the state of the camera market can be right, even though at first glance it might look they're contradicting each other. It's just that they're each looking at the market a slightly different way. Canon, as the dominate camera producer across all types, has to look at the market broadly (gray line). Fujifilm, mostly because of their APS-C mirrorless models, looks at the market more narrowly (green line). 

5 Things Mirrorless Users Should be Doing but Aren't

Not that mirrorless users are any worse than DSLR users, but I keep running into a few things that most mirrorless users are simply not doing, but they should be.

Let's start with a simple one:

  • Save your settings to a card — Most of the recent mid-to-high end mirrorless cameras have this function, but you're not using it! Yet many of you (and I) complain about how difficult it is to find and set up all the possibilities on your camera. You don't want to ever have to do that multiple times if you can avoid it!

    So do yourself a favor. Get your camera set up basically the way you want it to be when you turn it on each time you go out shooting. All the button customizations, the basic image quality settings, you name it. Now take a small capacity older card you have laying around, mark it with the word SETTINGS, and save your settings to it. Take the card out of the camera, put it in your card wallet and...the day you've completely messed up your settings and want to return to square one, just get out that card and restore your base settings.

    Seriously, this little thing you haven't been doing will save you a lot of time down the road. 

Related to settings—plus the fact that some cameras have hundreds of things you can set with an untold millions of combinations and permutations—is that I find quite a few mirrorless camera users simply don't study their camera and learn what it can and can't do. 

One thing I've noticed recently is that the "go to" method of continuous focusing for many mirrorless users is to put the camera in some form of 3D/Face/Eye tracking, put the initial focus cursor (if there is one) on the subject, start the focus system (half-press of shutter release or AF-ON button), and then reframe their composition. Basically, if the camera identifies and seems to follow the subject decently, they assume they can then just ignore focus and concentrate on framing.

This technique works reasonably well for some types of shooting, and I'll use it at times with certain cameras, but it tends to not be perfect. The casual users like it because it achieves better focus than they've gotten from previous cameras (compacts, SLRs, DSLRs, etc.); but beware: "better" is not "optimal." 

But it's not just focus where I see this. Default image quality settings. Automatic white balance. The list goes on with things that people tend to not get a full understanding of, let alone:

  • Change your settings to what is optimal for a situationTo do this, of course, means you must also Learn Your Camera's Details and Nuances. There's a reason it takes me over 1000 pages in my Z6 and Z7 book to completely describe all the features and performance, plus when you might want to change a setting: modern cameras are complex. Perhaps too complex (story for another day).

    Nevertheless, the more you learn about what you camera can and can't do, how to make it do it's best under your control, what it might not do optimally and need help with, and so on, the further you can take your picture-taking. 

    What I find is this: too many mirrorless users are counting on the what-you-see-is-what-you-get EVF—which remember, is basically a small uncalibrated XVGA screen—to inform them of everything they need to know. Appears to be in focus (with those handful of pixels). Looks like the right white balance (on the uncalibrated screen). Seems like the right exposure (and the JPEG histogram wouldn't lie to me, right? ;~). 

    Trust, but verify. And control everything. To do that, you'll need to learn more about your camera than just using it at a bunch of default and automatic settings.

Speaking of which. There are automatic defaults that maybe you spend a little more time understanding. In particular:

  • Turn off IS. Don't Use IS unless it's necessary — Here we go. /Shields up, negative comment deflectors active./ 

    The number one thing I see mirrorless users not doing is turning IS off. Instead, they get reliant upon the crutch of the camera having to deal with casual and poor handling on the user's part. 

    I've heard some really convoluted logic from users on this. "I'm getting older and can't hand-hold consistently at 1/60 any more, but IS lets me shoot at 1/15 all the time and then I don't have to worry about trying to hold the camera steady." Then I ask to see an image at pixel level. Motion! 

    But it's not just that. In lens IS has a tendency to make bokeh rough, and even on-sensor IS can impart bokeh changes, particularly if you're using silent shutter. IS doesn't tend to do a good job of removing shutter slap (use electronic first curtain shutter instead). IS has a top frequency of correction. What happens when the vibration/motion is above that frequency? Sports shooters asked for IS on long telephoto lenses from the SLR/DSLR makers, then started turning it off when they discovered that at 1/2000 of a second shutter speeds their edges weren't as crisp as the lens could deliver. 

    Don't get me wrong. IS is a great feature. But just leaving it on all the time is not the image optimization technique you think it is. The proper thing is to leave it Off unless needed (e.g. you know it will improve your results), and to not handle your camera more sloppily just because you think an automatic system will fully compensate.

    Update: I've seen the comments on several forums about this point. I'll stand by what I wrote, though I'll add one comment: where I draw the line on this tends to be a little different from brand to brand. The Olympus IS systems are the best of the breed, IMHO. They resist producing the acuity loss I'm trying to avoid on moving subjects and inactive platforms better than the rest. I would guess that if we were to look closely, we'd find higher specified parts and frequencies being used in the Olympus system. Sony sits a bit behind Olympus in this respect. Nikon's Z IS is at the other end of the spectrum (that's not to say their IS doesn't work, it's just not the most effective one). 

    I know this is a controversial subject. I've even seen people try to "prove" I'm wrong, but the problem is that they then use static test charts as their subject. If your subject is static and the camera moving (e.g. handheld), that's actually when IS tends to do its best job. Since that is actually how most people are photographing most things, they get deceived into thinking IS should always be on. 

    You need to develop your own standards on this, but you also need to be aware that IS isn't an "always on" option. Indeed, if it were, the camera makers wouldn't let you turn it off! Subject motion is where you look to set your standard. Maybe you think IS is fine with a slow subject, like a person swaying or moving slowly. But there will be some level of motion speed where you're better off turning IS off unless you're shooting from an active platform.

Next up: mirrorless cameras have a long record of fixing/adding things in firmware. The Canikon DSLRs have a very long pedigree and generally ship with very stable, finished firmware. The mirrorless cameras? Not so much, as they're often pressing new technologies forward in hardware, and it sometimes takes time for software to catch up. So:

  • Update your lens firmware — Yes, update your camera firmware, too, but you're more likely to notice that a new version of camera firmware is available (hint: look over in the right column [bottom on small mobile screens]). What I see over and over again in the field is someone who's updated their camera but never realized that they needed to update their lens firmware. (My Useful Mirrorless Web URL page has many of the firmware page links, but be sure to drill down; sometimes the lens updates are more buried or in a different place.)

    Personally, I have a difficult time keeping track of this in the m4/3 world. Too many moving parts. In much of the mirrorless world, a bunch of lens updates would mean that you have to keep mounting each new lens that needs an update on the camera in succession, repeating a not-so-great process over and over. Which is probably why you don't do it. 

    Yet you should. Because a lot of those lens updates fix or improve camera/lens communication when focusing. 

For years I've been arguing with Olympus users about the next thing they don't do: clean the image sensor. Why Olympus? Because of the small sensor and diffraction limits, no one tends to shoot above f/5.6. Plus Olympus chose a very thick filter glass so as to put any dust or other surface problem in a position where its primary impact is more of a contrast lowering, not an observable spot. So what happens is that Olympus users don't "see" a problem, thus there "isn't" a problem. That, of course, is wrong. Update: this article was no different. Bang came the "Olympus sensors never need cleaning" comebacks. That usually comes based upon subjective anecdotal experience in looking at their own images. The last two times I was physically present with an Olympus user who claimed this, we did two things: took a scope to the sensor filter (oh, dust!), and then wet cleaned it (oh, swab picked up stuff!). Again, from a photographic standpoint, you generally don't see a direct dust spot on Olympus gear due to the thick filtration over the sensor. Any small dust, pollen, or other thing that continues to cling to filter front just tends to create an extremely small contrast reduction over a group of pixels. Most people are perfectly happy with that, apparently. Olympus users seem to think I'm saying that the Olympus shake-it-off system isn't very good. That's not true at all. The built-in sensor cleaning Olympus has is among the most effective I've seen. But it's not perfect. 

Thus:

  • Clean you Image Sensor periodically This is a tricky one, as Olympus very clearly said that you shouldn't use sensor-touching techniques for this yourself, and other companies have warnings about not doing the same thing in their manuals. 

    So, first make sure that your camera's shake-it-off function is turned on and done automatically (preferably at shutdown, as doing it at startup means it takes a few more moments before the camera is ready to shoot when you turn the camera On). Second, keep the camera's mount pointed down when changing lenses, and don't change lenses in dusty or misty environments if you can avoid it.

    Next, do periodic visual inspections in a clean environment. Have a known clean blower bulb handy when you do, and use it to blow anything off that the shake-it function didn't get. 

    Keep your lens mount clean, and the back area of your lens clean.

    What happens after that? Well, given the camera companies are trying to keep you from touching the filter over the sensor directly—mostly because they fear you'll damage the IBIS system—the simple *cough* solution is to send your camera in for sensor cleaning once a year. My experience with that is mixed. Sometimes I get an immaculate sensor back, sometimes it looks like an untrained monkey did the work. Still, unless you're a risk taker, it's really your only viable option.

Okay, so there you have a bunch of things to start doing. Or write me an email arguing that you don't need to do them ;~). Good luck with either approach.



Is There a Preferred RAW Converter?

Short answer: yes, but it varies with the camera you're using.

It always feels like I'm going down a rabbit hole these days. Bugs Bunny is getting really annoyed with me dropping in for a visit.

There's just one problem with my short answer: everything keeps changing. Photo processing software is a seriously moving target. Just when you think you have an answer, a new version of something comes out and the answer changes (see final paragraphs).

But at the risk of having the ground fall out from under me and paying an unexpected visit to Bugs again, here's my current thinking:

  • Canon userAdobe converters. Originally, the Photoshop guys were pretty much a Canon shooting crowd. The Adobe assumptions about demosaicing and color were very much informed by that. Given that Canon is the overwhelming market leader in terms of volume (50% of ILCs), Adobe seems to spend more time and care dialing in Canon results than anything else. I wouldn't expect otherwise. 
  • Fujifilm userIridient Developer, probably. Oh X-Trans. Now complicated by phase detect positions on the sensor. More than any of the other type of raw files, the best way to convert a RAF has changed over time. I'm not even sure my current experience is correct things change so fast. One problem with Iridient is that it's a Mac product (though there's a Windows "transformer" option). The other problem is that it's a slightly awkward program to use in a workflow. Still, the best RAF conversions I've seen come out of this converter. Update: Several folk wrote me to say that Capture One now is doing as well as Iridient Developer in terms of getting clean results out of X-Trans, plus Fujifilm has a similar relationship with Capture One as does Sony (see below). I haven't tried Capture One lately, but intend to soon.
  • Nikon userCapture NX-D, but... If you want raw conversions that exactly match what the JPEG engine in the camera does (which is really, really good), then there isn't another choice. The problem is that NX-D is just the Silkypix base with Nikon modifications, and it tends to be slow, cumbersome, and buggy. Personally, I've had no end of issues with Capture since Nikon took it back over from Nik. So Nikon users tend towards Adobe, Capture One, onOne, or Luminar. Note that the Z6 and Z7 NEF files provide Adobe converters with some additional XMP information automatically, so Adobe isn't a bad choice over Capture NX-D.
  • m4/3 userDxO PhotoLab 2. In particular, if you can endure the extra processing time needed for the PRIME noise reduction in PhotoLab, this is really the best way to make the most from the small image sensor. If I've got higher ISO m4/3 images I need to process, PhotoLab is always where I head first.
  • Sony userCapture One. First, there's the fact that Capture One Express is free for Sony users (and upgrades to a fuller version are discounted). But then there's the fact that Sony and Phase One did some work together behind the scenes, and I think it shows. Phase One's color science works quite well with the Sony cameras. 

That said, there's something to be said for choosing a converter that fits your workflow and sticking with it. Moreover, choose one that has plenty of tutorial instruction and instructor support.

Over time, I've learned how to make Photoshop ACR jump through hoops and do what I command it to. On my Olympus ORF files, for example, I've got maybe 16 "corrections" I pretty much perform at some level from what Adobe wants to do by default. 

You can chase your tail by switching from converter to converter. Your learning curve will be massive, and then new versions of converters come out, and everything you think you've gained is now questioned again. 

But someone asked, and I answered. Different answer available tomorrow...

The Next Full Frame Cameras

Oh, the headline got your attention, did it? 

There's only one "known" full frame mirrorless camera coming that we can talk about: the Sigma L. That's going to be a 20.3mp full frame, L-mount camera that arrives some time in 2020. 

Sigma will tell you that it's a 60.9 million something sensor, but in terms of the output, it's really 20.3 million final pixels. The thing is, it's not a Bayer sensor, but a Foveon design—and one that returns to the original Foveon three layer approach—so basically you're getting full luminance and color data at 20.3 million positions. 

From there, we have one "somewhat likely" full frame candidate in 2019: Sony has yet to introduce a Mark III version of the A7S. What that would be is anyone's guess, as the A7S sensor was an unexpected one-off and that's likely to be true again. 

I use the words "somewhat likely" for the A7S Mark III for a reason: keeping an S model distinguished from the new A7m3 on the video side is going to be a tough deal to accomplish. The 12mp of the A7S basically means you're using every photosite for 4K video, and thus you're getting Bayer impacts when you do (i.e., you're interpreting luminance at every other position). The 24mp of the A7m3 has better luminance integrity for detail but worse luminance noise. From a pragmatic approach, though, Sony would now be shoehorning the A7S into a more narrow space than before, and it was already in a narrow space.

Thus, any A7S update has to find a place where it delivers "better" video than the A7m3, which is a tall order. I suppose it's possible to do a 24mp 8K video sensor. Plus there's the chance for a global shutter, removing all rolling shutter issues. But you can see how Sony's got themselves into a fairly tight window here given the A7m3's highly credible capabilities. And if the true target is a "better stills" camera, then the sensor pretty much has to stay well below 24mp, or else Sony has to have invented some new technology that truly goes well beyond what current Exmor sensors can do and obsoletes their A7m3 in doing so.

So, "somewhat likely." I'm sure Sony would like to continue to have a mostly video-oriented A7 model, but they also have to steer clear of getting into the FS XDCAM professional range, too. It's a narrow, tricky, window for them to get through. 

The curious thing is how much Sony is pushing new abilities and performance into Mark III (and A9) firmware this year. That would tend to tell me not to expect a new A7R or A9 this year, but that their lives will be extended by firmware updates. 

Rumors abound about Canon introducing late in 2019 what essentially would be the followup to the 5Ds/r, but in mirrorless form: a high-megapixel count R model (technically, that should be named RP, for R Professional, but Canon's making marketing mistakes galore as they race to mirrorless; the camera they named RP should have been named RC, for R consumer). 

Given Canon's mismatched RF lens launches—high end lenses for lower end bodies—it makes strong sense to believe that those high-megapixel count camera rumors are credible, and that it's coming as soon as possible. But what's the sensor tech? Sure, it'll be dual pixel, as everything Canon fabs now sports that. But will it be something beyond? Canon has a patent on a "dual well" type approach: they really need to do something to bring forward their dynamic range capabilities, and particularly on a smaller photosite, high megapixel count, high-end camera. Put another way: Canon needs more than more pixels, it needs better pixels. 

Finally, images of Nikon early prototypes for the Z6 and Z7 emerged and generated false rumors about Nikon creating a lower-end model to take on the Canon RP. No doubt that will happen, but those photos of "prototypes" aren't what that low-end camera will look like. Nikon certainly would love to replicate the D610, D750, D850 lineup in Z, which would be a Z5, Z6, and Z7. And Nikon would love to eventually add the D5 equivalent, which I'll call a Z9 since it would sit at the top of the lineup and give them a complete line. 

But there's nothing that indicates that Nikon is at all ready to do so or that it would happen in 2019. Indeed, to a large degree, Nikon would have the same problem Canon currently has if a Z5 were to appear any time soon: no suitable lenses for the consumer camera. 

It's not difficult to guess what a Z5 would look like, though: re-use the Z6 image sensor, but lose the top OLED; use a lessor EVF and LCD; opt for SD card over XQD; lose some of the weatherstripping (but not the seam overlaps); perhaps even get rid of the tilting LCD mechanism. As I noted elsewhere, the question is whether Nikon could strip out US$200 worth of parts and manufacturing costs, though. Because that's what they'd need to do to get to Canon's RP pricing. So we also start losing things like the headphone jack, the USB 3.0 port (back to 2.0), the thumb stick, and maybe even replace some of the metal frame internals with plastic/carbon fiber.

If you're keeping track, that's a lot of stuff to rework, test, document, and set up for robotic manufacturing. Again, while I expect Nikon will get around to making a Z5, I don't think it likely to happen in 2019. 

As I wrote earlier this year, we're in a very good spot with full frame now. DSLRs built out their full frame lines earlier, and now mirrorless has mostly built out, with the next steps being reasonably predictable.

So with that in mind, here's the full list of what you can buy today (in bold) and anticipate tomorrow (non-bold). All models in basically ascending order of price/sophistication, with truly speculative models listed in brackets:

  • Canon RP, R, RS, [RX?]
  • Leica M, M10, Monochrom, SL, SLm2
  • Nikon Z5, Z6, Z7, [Z9?]
  • Panasonic S1, S1R
  • Sigma L
  • Sony A7, A7m2, A7m3, A7Rm2, A7Rm3, A7S, A7Sm2, A7Sm3, A9

So again, if mirrorless full frame is something you aspire to, there's plenty or product to choose from already, and there's enough information and informed speculation to understand what might be added to the near term choices. 

I also went through the Canon RF and Nikon Z full frame lens lineups earlier this week. The current and forthcoming Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma L lenses are relatively well known at this point, too. The Sony FE lens lineup is pretty extensive with only a few gaps left to fill. 

So. Even if you aren't going to spring for it in 2019, you should be able to begin making a decision as to whether full frame mirrorless is a place you're likely to go, and further have a pretty good idea of which of the four mounts you're likely to opt for. 

Addendum: You might have noticed that Sony has eight current and potentially nine models in their lineup. I would say that's unsustainable, and will ultimately cause Sony the same issues it caused Nikon when Nikon ran into the declining market size squeeze. 

For the big three players, there are probably only four models they need to make:

  1. True consumer (RP, Z5, ?)
  2. Sophisticated consumer/prosumer (R, Z6, A7)
  3. High megapixel/high prosumer (RS, Z7, A7R)
  4. Pro (RX?, Z9?, A9)

Pushing any further than that in a small volume market—which is what full frame has been, is, and will continue to be—starts to be extremely inefficient. Moreover, if you don't get strong parts re-use across models—and Canon is not lined up properly for that at the moment—you destroy your gross profit margin very quickly. 

Meanwhile, the temptation to keep older models on the market to offer more choices and add some parts use volume—typically driven by the image sensor commitment—is an old Japanese CES trick, but one that tends to put you in a long-term bind. All you're really doing is pushing the rock further down the path. But meanwhile, the path is getting smaller and smaller and tougher to navigate in the camera market ;~). It's a little like an addiction at some point: you finally got your Mark I numbers to where you wanted them, but that was expense of the Mark II numbers. When you get the Mark II numbers where you wanted them it was at the expense of the Mark III. But each "hit" produces less high in a contracting market. So...

Memo to Sony: get the Mark I and Mark II models off the market ASAP. Define a new entry camera (A6). Push frequent and strong firmware updates to keep the Mark III models "current." 

The Blanks in the Canon RF Lens Line

bythom canon rf

We don't really have a lens roadmap from Canon like we do for most of the other companies. The lenses we know about so far give us this picture by focal length:

  • 16mm (covered by 15-35mm f/2.8L)
  • 20mm (covered by 15-35mm f/2.8L)
  • 24mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 15-35mm f/2.8L, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 28mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 15-35mm f/2.8L, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 28-70mm f/2L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 35mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 15-35mm f/2.8L, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 28-70mm f/2L, 35mm f/1.8 Macro, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 50mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 28-70mm f/2L, 50mm f/1.2L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 70mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 28-70mm f/2L, 70-200mm f/2.8L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 85mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 70-200mm f/2.8L, , 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 105mm (covered by 24-105mm f/4L, 70-200mm f/2.8L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 135mm (covered by 70-200mm f/2.8L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)
  • 200mm (covered by 70-200mm f/2.8L, 24-240mm f/4-6.3)

Rumors are all over the place with Canon RF, mostly due to a long list of published patents. We see 35mm f/1.4L, 28mm f/2.8, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 85mm f/1.2L, 90mm f/2.8 macro, 135mm f/1.8L, plus a bunch of DO lenses that could be in RF mount in the recent patents. And that's just the most recent, easily found patents.

What immediately strikes me is that Canon has 28-70mm covered. If your need is in that focal range, Canon has plenty of options for you, with more coming. Wide angle and telephoto are where the lineup appears weak and needs to be strengthened. 

So let's give Canon 16 lenses to roll out in 2019/2020, what should the unknown ones be (that would be 11 more unidentified ones, and as with my article on Nikon Z lenses, I'm going to boldface my choices)?

Clearly we have two consumerish bodies (R, RP) that need more consumer lenses than just a 24-240mm and 35mm macro. We need a wide angle zoom (16-35mm f/4), an inexpensive mid-range non-L (24-85mm f/3.5-5.6), and a basic telephoto zoom (70-300mm f/4-5.6). We probably also need a 50mm lens that isn't the big, fat, expensive f/1.2L, too (50mm f/1.8). 

Canon certainly knows that some of their most popular primes have been the inexpensive near-pancakes, which attract both the consumer and the enthusiast. I'm on record as saying that every Canon EF user should have at least one of those lenses in their bag. For RF these would be a 24mm f/2.8, a 35mm f/2.8, and a 40mm f/2.8.

Telephoto needs a lot of love in RF: we're missing a macro (90mm f/2.8, but I'd rather have something longer), a modest high-end telephoto zoom (70-200mm f/4L), and of course, the seminal Canon long telephoto zoom equivalent (100-400mm f/4-5.6L).

A fast 35mm prime (35mm f/1.2L) and a wider angle prime (24mm f/1.4L) also seem to be missing, but you could say that pretty much all primes up to 50mm are needed in a fast livery. 

That doesn't leave room for anything exotic. Tilt-shift, diffraction optic telephotos, and fast telephoto primes would still all be missing with the 11 lenses I just noted. 

The thing I've noted before about Canon's RF initiative is the mismatch in lens and body levels. We've gotten the more consumerish 6D (RP) and basic 5D (R) type bodies, but not really the lenses that match them (thus the need to fill in all the more consumer-type lenses; six of my eleven choices fit that definition). The more RP bodies Canon sells, the more extreme this problem becomes, and I think Canon will sell a lot of RP bodies. 

Meanwhile, Canon is reasonably well set up for a 5Ds/r and/or 1Dx transfer to mirrorless—or some new high-end body—but those bodies aren't here yet, so we have this odd L-quality lens but non-L body mismatch. That's a mismatch in price as well as required quality, which is what I think Canon will be fighting until they correct it. Curiously, of the five lenses Canon announced development of for 2019, four are still L's! So this mismatch is going to continue, apparently. 

So, you've gotten my list of lenses, what would be the eleven you'd pick? (Remember to look at the known R lens list first.) 

The Blanks in the Nikkor Z Lineup

bythom nikon zlenses

Nikon's roadmap for Z mount lenses keeps getting small adjustments. At the moment, Nikon is showing charts with three unidentified lenses to be released in 2020, eight in 2021. The operative question is what do we want those lenses to be, and what are they likely to be?

First, let's back up and look at the landscape that is known (through first part of 2020):

  • 14mm (covered by 14-30mm f/4, 14-24mm f/2.8)
  • 20mm (covered by 14-30mm f/4, 14-24mm f/2.8, 20mm f/1.8)
  • 24mm (covered by 14-30mm f/4, 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 24mm f/1.8)
  • 28mm (covered by 24-70mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8)
  • 35mm (covered by 24-70mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8)
  • 50mm (covered by 24-70mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.2)
  • 70mm (covered by 24-70mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8)
  • 85mm (covered by 70-200mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.8)
  • 105mm (covered by 70-200mm f/2.8)
  • 135mm (covered by 70-200mm f/2.8)
  • 200mm (covered by 70-200mm f/2.8)

Look at it by maximum aperture choices at each focal length:

  • 14mm — f/2.8, f/4
  • 20mm — f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4
  • 24mm — f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4
  • 28mm — f/2.8, f/4
  • 35mm — f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4
  • 50mm — f/1.2, f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4
  • 70mm — f/2.8, f/4
  • 85mm — f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4
  • 105mm — f/2.8
  • 135mm — f/2.8
  • 200mm — f/2.8

The first thing that stands out is that there's not a lot happening above 50mm. Clearly Nikon needs two lenses in the telephoto range: 70-200mm f/4 optimized for compactness, and a 70-300mm or 100-400mm f/4-5.6 also optimized for compactness. (I'm going to bold my choices along the way in this article, showing you what 11 lenses I'd make to fill out Nikon's road map.)

There's also no DX lenses nor any true consumer "kit" zooms to go with whatever the Z5 turns out to be (I suspect that's the next model we'll get). If we assume that a Z5 is a high-end DX model, we'd need a 16mm f/1.8 and 16-70mm f/2.8 or f/2.8-4 (I don't think this likely). If we assume that a Z5 is a low-end consumer FX model, we need a 24-100mm f/3.5-5.6, and maybe a 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6. 

Given that we've got an f/1.2 prime coming, I'd expect Nikon to fill out other offerings like that, in particular a 35mm f/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2. We're also missing a couple of f/1.8 offerings: the 28mm f/1.8 and 105mm f/1.8

Conspicuously missing in the Z lens lineup is a macro lens. I personally would like Nikon to break out of the box of their thinking here. Their box would predict either a 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, a 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, or both. I'd strongly suggest that they give us all a little more working distance while adding a telephoto lens option by making a 135mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor or maybe even a 180mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor.

While the PF primes for the F-mount are actually quite good choices on the Z cameras with the FTZ adapter, I'd really like to see Nikon start re-setting that lineup with emphasis on the two things the Z mount provides (potential outer edge gains compactness): 400mm f/4 PF. Note that this dovetails with the F-mount offerings and provides some incentive for DSLR users to switch if that's the lens they really want.

That leaves me three more lenses to fill in. I'd opt for not repeating too much in the main focal ranges, but push to provide more flexibility for the system. Thus, I'd have a fisheye (15mm f/2.8), a tilt-shift (24mm f/4), and a pancake (24mm f/2.8, but it could be 35mm or 50mm; the primary thing it needs to be is super compact).

That's my choices for filling in the 11 lenses not identified in Nikon's road map. What's your choice?


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