The Post CP+ Wrap-up

I'm doing things differently this year. Rather than write about products that were announced at or just before the CP+ individually, I'm going to work mount by mount (Canon EOS M, Fujifilm X, m4/3, Sony E/FE, etc.).That's the way most users think about their systems, and it's the best way to learn about which systems are progressing quickly and which are not.

What products go into this report? Any product launched between the start of the year and the end of CP+, basically. Why? Because this is traditionally one of the most active periods during which the Japanese camera companies update products (the other being late summer/early fall, with another blip in spring).

For DSLRs, check out the related article on

Here's a quote from Nikkei kicking off the CP+ coverage that should get people's attention: "Canon will shift more of its focus to mirrorless cameras, a change in strategy spurred by sharp growth in the market." In the Japanese market, for instance, Nikkei quoted mirrorless growing by 29.2% last year with DSLRs falling by 10.1%.

Worldwide, the trailing year numbers show mirrorless' growing strength, too: 4m mirrorless units shipped versus 7.5m DSLRs. Given that Canon and Nikon together own more than 95% of the DSLR market, this shift by Canon is definitely worth paying attention to.

The just announced EOS M50* is Canon's hope to take leadership in the Japan market, it seems. It's aggressively priced, small enough to be attractive in that market, and appears to be very carefully cost-controlled by Canon, too. I'll bet there's room for significant discounting if Canon needs to use that to get the dominant market share they seek.

In terms of "current" bodies, that means that the EOS M lineup is four cameras now (M5, M6, M50, M100). All targeted in the consumer DSLR price range.

What is missing, though, are lenses. Yeah, I know the argument: consumers only buy and need one super lens. I think that's a false argument, and has been for well over a decade. The way you shore up a systemis through the things that extend the base abilities of the camera, otherwise people don't need a system camera.

Canon didn't announce any new EOS M lenses in this period, which I think diminishes their push. Even one new lens would have been a message of the kind of strength that Canon really needs to show.

Thing is, I'm told by some in the distribution realm that there are three SKUs reserved for new EOS M lenses this year. That's a start, I suppose. But remember that Canon is going up against full lens lineups in crop sensor mirrorless now, something they haven't experienced before (being at the short end of the supply stick, that is). This allows competitors, particularly Fujifilm, to position Canon solely as a low-end and restricted consumer purchase.

Canon needs to add EOS M lenses, stat.

The third parties aren't exactly helping Canon. The only announcements I can find of EOS M lenses in this period are theLaowa 9mm f/2.8 and 25mm f/2.5 5x Macro manual focus lenses, and those are with the converter. While those will help fill in some gaps Canon isn't addressing, they're small gaps, and being manual focus isn't good.

Probably the most active of the mirrorless camera companies is the ever-expanding Fujifilm. Expanding to what, I don't know. We'll come back to that in a minute.

In terms of cameras, Fujifilm launched three in our study period, which is more than any of the other mirrorless mount providers. Of course, one of those—the X-A20—is a regional-only option, so it's really only two new bodies for most of us.

The X-A5* is already in folk's hands (including mine) and represents Fujifilm's entry position in mirrorless. Curiously, Fujifilm's entry position is the least Fujifilm of the bunch. My sources say that this body is a Fujifilm set of modifications to an OEM design. And that shows.

Focus is the old disappointing and contrast-detect devil that befuddled early mirrorless. The sensor isn't an X-Trans, but a straight off the shelf Sony Bayer. The body is less Fujifilm retro than usual, and the unmarked exposure compensation dial and small plastic vertical control dial are not at all mainstream Fujifilm design standard that I can see.

But it's a competent camera capable of nice image quality at entry DSLR pricing.

At the other end, we have the X-H1. I'm still scratching my head about this one. As we've seen with other mirrorless entrants, camera sizing is growing, almost as fast as my waist line did in my 50's. But not by enough to really distinguish it from the X-T2, in my book.

There's a lot in Fujifilm's line now: X-A5, X-E3, X-T20, X-T2, X-H1, X-Pro2 (and don't forget medium format). But I can't quite make out how that lineup fits together. What am I supposed to buy and why? In particular, the X-E3 and X-T20 are one decision problem, while the X-T2 and X-H1 are now another. The X-Pro idea, which kicked off Fujifilm's retro/modern merge, seems like a bit of an orphan.

I understand filling out product lineups. But anyone that reads my work knows I'm also a strong believer in product line rationalization.Apple's pretty good—but not perfect—at this. The camera companies all tend to be fairly poor at it. They get into one of two patterns: (1) de-contenting to price differentiate (e.g. Canon/Nikon DSLR strategy); or (2) completely different bases that cause customer confusion. It's #2 that I believe Fujifilm is now caught up in.

Still, the X-H1 has the one feature that everyone asked for (IBIS) and reaches more easily into the video realm than the other X's. Thus, it won't be ignored by the Triple F crowd (FujiFilmFans).

Between the X-A5 and X-H1, Fujifilm can now walk into any distributor or dealership and claim to be a "full product line." That's probably the most important thing for them at the moment. But still, I really hope that they do a bit more rationalization of the models. Long term, I suspect that no camera company is going to be able to keep more than a few models in their lineup. So it's important to start putting the stakes in the ground now.

In terms of lenses, Fujifilm went low, with an entry 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6*powerzoom lens that's much more suited to the X-A5 than the X-H1, even though the power zooming part is designed for the video side of things (e.g. X-H1). Fujifilm also went high, introducing the two MKX cine lenses (18-55mm t/2.9 and 50-135mm t/2.9). The latter I understand, the first isn't wide enough.

The Laowa 9mm f/2.8 and 25mm f/2.5 5x Macro lenses also got added to the X mount choices. As I've noted before, Fujifilm has arguably the best APS-C lens lineup available, particularly when you start adding in some of the third-party lenses.


This is a Photokina year. I really would expect Leica to be most active around their home turf show, not the away game that CP+ provides. Thus, we really only got a few customized bodies, plus the 75mm f/2 and 90mm f/2 Summicron SL lenses.

We'll see much more from Leica later in the year, I expect.

Nikon CX
Hear the crickets? I do. Nearly everyone else does, too.

Nikon last made a mirrorless sound back in April 2015 (J5 introduction). Since then, all quiet on the Eastern front. In fact, the reclamation team has come in and started emptying the manufacturing plant while the accounting team figures out how many zeroes they need to add to the write-down number.

I've written many times about the mistakes Nikon made with the Nikon 1 line. No need to repeat myself. And the good news, if there is any, is that Nikon doesn't appear to be going to repeat themselves. Any new mirrorless product from Nikon will likely not be in the Nikon 1 lineup, it will be something new.

Of course, the original plan was for that "something new" to have appeared by now. First it was a late 2017 launch, then an early 2018 launch, but instead we just hear crickets.

What's that, the crickets are chirping faster? Are things warming up?

m4/3: Olympus and Panasonic
The m4/3 twins were active early this year, though not as active as you'd expect from a pair celebrating their 10th birthday.

On the Olympus side we got the mailed-in E-PL9. Olympus took what they had in the firmware pile and added it into the E-PLate. The E-Plate is selling for just US$550 these days, while the replacement will limp into the market trying to catch a few more fish at the higher "list price."

I had to read the press release quite a few times to figure out if there was anything worthwhile that changed in the new model. Bleach Bypass Art Filter anyone? Okay, sure, it has a built-in flash now, and the grip design is different. Yes, there's 4K video and Bluetooth and a sweep Panorama feature, too. But realistically, not much of significance changed. The big change for a still shooter would be the inclusion of the flash.

Olympus also made some firmware updates to the E-M1 models, the E-M5II, and the Pen-F. The most significant of those was to the E-M1 Mark II, which got a fair amount of tweaking on stability and performance. But overall, these weren't significant feature additional updates (unless you call a new art filter —yep, Bleach Bypass again—significant).

Panasonic, meanwhile, did a bit more on the body side.

First, we got the surprising GH5s. That's basically a GH5 with a different sensor, one tuned for video low-light performance. The sensor-based IS had to go, which has the video crowd all bummed, but you can't dispute the low-light performance, which is clearly state-of-the-art for a crop sensor camera.

Meanwhile, the GX9 is basically a sensor update to the previous model (20mp up from 16mp). The rear LCD gets a minor upgrade, and a few other subtle things turn up (faster fps, for instance). But again, not a huge iteration change. Which I guess is where we're at with m4/3: 10 years in and the major stuff has all been done, it's just iteration city for most of the line at this point.

The only real news on the lens front comes from Panasonic: the Panasonic Leica 50-200mm f/2.8-4, which looks to add another really nice telephoto option to the already well-filled m4/3 lens lineup. I will say this: Olympus and Panasonic seem to have figured out how to cooperate to fill out a complete and very interesting lens lineup. Instead of just duplicating each other, even when there's overlap (the 12-35mm f/2.8 versus the 12-40mm f/2.8 for instance) there's plenty to distinguish one from the other.

Sony FE/E
Sony has been slow and steady in mirrorless, at least on the full frame side of things. The A7 Mark III introductions seem to be all slotting into just about the expected time periods (two year iteration rate), with only the A7S now waiting for its turn.

The A7III*, the base model, was the only camera Sony announced in our early 2018 window, but it basically brings many of the A9 features down into the entry full frame model. Don't get too excited, the weather sealing isn't up to the other models, there are more plastic parts here, the EVF/LCD have lower resolutions, and the sensor isn't running at the same refresh rate and we've got a long viewfinder blackout time again. This is the base model, after all.

Still, Sony full frame now seems very predictable. A7SIII next, a new A9 variation—probably a high-resolution pro body—after that. Then the IV models start to roll again some time in 2019.

I like predictability. Not that I want to upgrade with every cycle. But rather, knowing that my current choice will be iterated and brought forward into the future, I know that at some point I'll have the option to upgrade what I'm using.

Where I wrote about Fujifilm's un-rationalized line, Sony's A7/9 lineup is very rationale. Easy to to market, easy to understand as a user. Bravo.

Of course, missing in action is the APS-C rationalization from Sony. Where FE is healthy, active, and understandable, the E side of things isn't. We have yet to see an A5xxx since 2014. The A6xxx line consists of the same camera with three difference performance engines. Do you want the EcoBoost or the Biturbo?

On the lens side of things, the Sony FE/E mount is where all the glass activity is at. It's like a giant Jupiter pulling all the lens makers into orbit around it. Look at this:

  • Sony — as if to add an exclamation point to my E comments: 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS. Okay, which camera is that really for?
  • Laowa —9mm f/2.8, 25mm f/2.5 5x Macro
  • Sigma — Nine Art Primes: 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm
  • Tamron —28-75mm f/2.8
  • Tokina — Firin 20mm f/2 AF
  • Voigtlander — 21mm f/3.5, 110mm f/2.5 Macro
  • Zeiss — Loxia 25mm f2.4

That's a whopping 17 new lenses popping up in the FE/E mount during the first part of this year. All those lenses should give Sony users great confidence that they can find the lenses they need and desire. And I don't expect lens introductions for the mount to slow any time soon.

But here's something you probably wouldn't expect me to write about: a cable. Sony now has a control cable that allows an A7/A9 to control an RX0 simultaneously. Bravo. It doesn't seem like much, but when you create a "system" the system really needs to be more than just about a few body and lens choices. A true system extends well beyond the basic components that you use at the center.

I applaud Sony for trying to extend their product use well beyond just a camera/lens philosophy. I want to see more of this. Indeed, my first question about this new accessory was: can I control video shooting on the RX0 while shooting stills on the A7/A9 (or vice versa)? Great system extensions open up new possibilities for those of us working with this gear. That's what we want to see.

Meanwhile, it appears that PlayMemories is dead. We've gotten two cameras now without it, and Sony reps are talking about "not enough demand" and pros not using it. Uh, duh to both. Sony tried to sell features that were in other cameras for free to consumers, and the pros wouldn't use PlayMemories because the options weren't very sophisticated. On top of all that, the app system was not very well integrated, and it was never opened up to outside developers, who actually might have figured out things that might have proven "in demand" or useful.

Final Words
So, Canon and the m4/3 twins get a passing grade, Fujifilm is right at that B+/A- line, and Sony is at the head of the class. Nikon and Pentax: F for missed attendance.

Now for some bad news.

bythom cipa jan2018

Mirrorless shipments (blue circle, left chart) didn't start the year off hot as they did last year. Overall, the trailing year numbers are stuck right at the 4m unit mark, which is what mirrorless achieved last year.

More bad news? Look at the DSLR numbers (red circle). Worst start to a year yet, and that's after a 15%, 24%, 8%, 13%, and 10% series of previous yearly drops. Why's that bad news for mirrorless? Canon and Nikon are going to try to squeeze into the mirrorless game this year, big time.

On the one hand, it's good news for mirrorless customers. More competition is always good. But while I expect this Canikon push to up the volume of mirrorless units for 2018 somewhat to maybe the 4.5m unit range, that volume is going to be split among more competitors.

This is going to be a really tough year for everyone. We're going to see who really wants the mirrorless volume and who will just step back and let the giants fight among themselves.

My guess?

Primary Fighter: Fujifilm

Primary Flighter: Olympus

Sony will sit confidently in the full frame sector waiting for the inevitable Canikon rush.

Bottom line on March 4, 2018: If you want a full frame mirrorless camera, buy a Sony; and you can even buy all three generations of the oldest models if you want to play the price/performance game to the max. If you want a crop sensor camera with a full lens set, pick a Fujifilm or an m4/3 camera body. If you're happy with a small, highly-competent-but-truly-consumer-oriented product with minimal lens choice, the Canon M series is also worth looking at.

*Items marked with the asterisk are in the byThom studio being reviewed.

text and images 2018Thom Hogan
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