Nine, Seven, Four

That's the number of new mirrorless cameras introduced in the first four months of 2018, 2019, and 2020. According to CIPA, the first three months of 2020 had the Japanese companies making  about a quarter fewer mirrorless cameras than the year previous. Note that this is not shipping, but actual production. In a growing market, production happens at a higher rate than shipping. In a slowing market, production numbers appear lower than the shipping numbers. 

We already had an overhanging inventory issue at camera stores worldwide at the end of 2019. Pretty much any mirrorless model you wanted was available, and many (most?) were on sale. As a result, while camera shipments in January were still within a couple of percentage points of the previous year, camera production was down over ten percentage points. That stayed true in February, and then March hit: production slowed to 77.7% of the previous year. April will be worse.

The COVID-19 virus will get the blame for this, for sure. The supply chain was definitely disrupted in March, and all the prognosticating bean-counters in Japan likely also saw that the virus going pandemic would impact sales. Brakes were applied. 

I think, however, the numbers hide a slightly more important problem: the market slide that began with compact cameras, then spread to DSLRs, is about to spread to mirrorless. 

Take full frame mirrorless for example: Canon R/RP, Leica M/S, Nikon Z, Panasonic S, Sigma fp, and Sony A7/9: is there a camera you need that isn't currently made? dpreview's conclusion? "Having considered all these factors, and looked at how they apply to different types of photography, it's difficult to announce a clear winner." 

We have a log-jam of highly competent full frame mirrorless cameras already on the market, and we also have a log-jam of highly competent APS-C mirrorless cameras (probably subject of next dpreview non-committal conclusion ;~). 

It isn't surprising that Canon's leading with FUD-teasing 8K video features for their upcoming and not-at-all-secret R5. Will it focus better, handle better, take still photos better than existing cameras? Doesn't seem likely. We were already chasing minimal gains as it was, and now users are having a chance to actually reflect on that. 

My advice? Stop chasing megapixel and other rainbows. For 99% of you reading this, the Canon R, Nikon Z6, Panasonic S1, or Sony A7m3 are all more than enough camera. I'm also hard pressed to find things to shoot where my DSLRs are a better choice these days. Plus all of my complaints about that current batch of full frame mirrorless cameras is not about image quality, it's nit-picky things about UX comfort, file size, control placement, etc. Heck, the Z6, S1, and A7m3 are all better video cameras than I've used in the past. 

Thus, I find myself paying much more attention to lenses and the other supporting cast of characters these days than I do to the camera bodies. Some really good things are taking place in the lens realm, and that's what interests me the most at the moment about mirrorless. I hope that the camera makers realize that the digital camera boom they experienced in the first decade of this century was an anomaly, and that it's actually the system that's important for continued success with those of us who are likely to continue buying camera gear once COVID-19 passes.

Camera makers need to take all that engineering energy they had as they iterated the heck out of basically the same digital bones from 1999 through 2019 and apply that energy to the rest of the system. Flash "technology" looks like it was conceived in the Stone Age these days. And don't get me started on narrow-minded remotes, the proliferation of connectors in the days of wireless, and a host of things that aren't being done at all.

Tokyo needs to realize that the days of "selling boxes" is over. They sell tool systems to sophisticated users and they've seriously neglected the system part of that.

One problem is that the Japanese camera companies tend to have a herd mentality. They're constantly trying to eat the same grass in the same field and then wondering where it went. 

Today, every camera maker makes mirrorless options (other than Ricoh/Pentax, who is basically still building your father's Oldsmobile). The current cameras are great, and will only get (marginally) better when the Mark VIII model appears. Most of us won't be buying a new body every couple of years because of that. 

That's the reality of where we are. The COVID-19 virus probably dug the hole on camera body sales faster than it would have been made naturally.  

Not that I wish COVID-19 on anyone or welcome its appearance, but I long ago embraced forced change—war, recession, job loss, divorce, etc., and now this pandemic—as an opportunity to sit back and rethink where I am, where I want to be, and how I'm going to go about getting there. Personally, I'm relaxing a bit more and letting my mind drift to the possibilities, not submitting to the reality of pounding out photos, articles, reviews, books, etc.

This is a time for everyone involved in photography to figure out where you are, where you want to be, and how you're going to go about getting there. Let's hope that the Japanese camera companies are doing that, too, because otherwise, once this dreadful virus gets beaten into submission we're just going to get another iteration parade of the same old things ("More Megapixels!", "More K Video!", "Minor Iterations Galore!").

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