Mirrorless Cameras, Class of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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