You might have noticed that I took the separate "still missing from..." commentary for each system out of the Article section and consolidated it into a single article, Missing Items in Each System.
This is a good point to assess what it is we really want from each mirrorless system in a more general way rather than call out specific products and features. We're almost 10 years into the mirrorless era after all, so it's a good time to get out of the weeds, move to higher ground, and survey what we really wish for in the future.
So here's my wish list for each mirrorless camera brand in 2017:
- Canon — Now that Canon has indicated that they're all in with the EOS M—a couple of years ago it looked more like a regional experiment—what we want from them moving forward is simple: to really be all in. That means a full line of bodies and a full line of lenses, minimum. But it also means that Canon has to more clearly tell us how they see EOS M as different than EF-S (crop sensor DSLR), and how it's different from the mirrorless competitors. The fear is that Canon sees EOS M solely as a gateway drug to DSLRs, and thus holds something back in the mirrorless line. If that's going to be the case, we need to know what it is they're going to hold back.
- Fujifilm — The 20mp X-Trans bodies are their best effort, but then along comes a 50mp Bayer medium format and more low end Bayer models. I'm of the opinion that Fujifilm has a lot more explaining to do about X-Trans, and it could start by making sure that every converter program in the world is optimized for the different filtration pattern, complete with Fujifilm's spectral shifts. In other words, I—and you—need to see Fujifilm work harder to make sure that whatever tangible gain there is by switching from the traditional pattern is held throughout the workflow, no matter what the workflow. As most of you know, I'm a little bit of a skeptic of the X-Trans story. That's especially true since Fujifilm had previous unique sensor designs in the past that they eventually discarded. There was a lot of false marketing hype with X-Trans when it appeared ("no moire"), but the truth of the matter is this: all sensor filtrations that spread color rendering across the sensing area—as opposed to Sigma/Foveon's spreading it through the depth of the sensing area—produce artifacts. I see it encumbent on Fujifilm to make sure that those artifacts are minimized no matter what software I use. Things are better than they were when the X-Pro1 first appeared with X-Trans, but they're not perfect.
- Nikon — What's the plan? Nikon never really gave us one—the only mirrorless company never to have a lens road map—and now the silence out of Tokyo is deafoning, to use the cliche. No new cameras, no new lenses, compact cameras that look like they were forged on Nikon 1 models, and not a single peep out of management. So what we need from Nikon is simple: communication. Clear communication. Communication of their intentions for mirrorless moving forward. Because at the moment, they're not moving.
- Olympus — Send in an ergonomics and UX expert, stat. It's not so much the controls and buttons are bad, it's that the whole gestalt of the Olympus UX (user experience) wreaks of geek engineer sweat and jargon. I think I was the first to write that the Olympus menu system gave me a headache every time I had to set up a new camera. That was seven years ago. Recently, another experienced photography blogger, Lloyd Chambers, wrote about setting up the E-M1 Mark II "Plan on spending at least an hour messing around just to make it work properly and having your brain and eyes fried after trying to grok it all." So it's not just my brain that hurts trying to get Olympus gear set for use. Users have been making excuses about this for years saying "well it's fine once I get it set properly." No, it's not fine, and sometimes the cameras refuse to stay set properly. But the real issue is that it's just a turn-off to the photography crowd Olympus wants to sell to. How are the sales doing? Down after being flat for awhile. I have to think the unapproachability of the cameras has something to do with that.
- Panasonic — 26 cameras in eight years. Personally, I'd love a simpler Panasonic lineup that had a bit more thought in terms of clear differentiation. Of course, some of the problem is that Panasonic doesn't have any clear marketing. Quick, what's the difference between no extra letter after the G and ones that add an H, F, X, and M? And really, G80, G81, and G85 to differentiate models for different regions? Nikon eventually failed at that (and still is with serial number differentiation that makes them unable to shift inventories globally). Overall, my biggest wish for Panasonic in 2017 is that they get their distribution and marketing sorted out.
- Ricoh/Pentax — Hello? Anyone still there? Both sides of the company had early mirrorless entires. The K and GXR are gone, the Q is so small I can't see it. So Ricoh/Pentax gets the same wish as for Nikon: what's the plan?
- Sigma sd — Let's just admit up front that Sigma is marching to a different drummer. In fact, it might not even be a drum they're marching to. Still, there's something amiss here. If you're going to rely on a sensor that's really only excellent in bright light, it seems that the camera ought to be designed for a type of shooting that benefits from that. The sd bodies feel awkward and sluggish. They're not optimized for landscape shooting (which benefits from the sensor), nor studio (ditto), nor for anything that I can see. The feature set seems a little random ("what we've been able to implement so far") and you get the impression that you've bought a DeLoreon, best case.
- Sony E — Lenses, lenses, lenses.
- Sony FE — As much as the Mark II designs fixed many problems with the original A7 models, I've still got a fairly long list of things I'd like addressed. Many of them are UX things, so it would be nice to see releases in 2017 that don't get 100% stuck in how much technology they can add to the cameras, but that make the cameras better balanced tools.