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Sony Launches the A7 Mark IV

One benefit of being first to act is that you get to the iterative process faster. By the time your competitors attempt to match you, you've moved on and iterated to a new model. 

The Sony A7 appeared back in October 2013 and set the stage for entry-level full frame. The next year we got a quick "fix" with the A7 Mark II, a camera you can still buy new today. Sony went from calling the A7 "entry" to "balanced" with the II model, starting a tradition of leaving the earlier model as the "entry" model.  In February 2018 Sony launched the A7 Mark III. And today, three-and-a-half years later, we have the announcement of the A7 Mark IV.

bythom sony a74side

Aside — As I write this, the A7 Mark II is the "entry model" in the Sony full frame lineup, while the A7 Mark IV becomes the "current" model in this balanced, lower-end camera position. But the A7 Mark III remains for sale in between the other two generations. I understand why the camera makers use strategies like this—Nikon was the first to go three generations on sale with some of their consumer DSLRs—but I don't particularly like this strategy from a customer standpoint. You get people buying solely on price and probably receiving "less" than they are probably expecting based upon the marketing of current products, which can have a long-term impact on brand loyalty. That said, buying at the tail-end of a technology is a way of saving money, and a lot of people use that approach to minimize their costs and get a confirmed stable product. 

To be clear, though: I no longer recommend the Sony A7 Mark II. At its current price point there are now better cameras you can buy that are more current, perform better, and have fewer liabilities. 

For the first three generations, Sony stuck with a 24mp sensor—though they made improvements to it with the Mark III model, including BSI—they mostly concentrated on a number of enhancements that took the A7 from being an awkward but interesting camera to a solid workhorse of a camera that had broad appeal and few downsides ("balanced"). Unfortunately, other companies began using those same 24mp sensors, and I'd argue that both Nikon and Panasonic managed to pass the A7 Mark III by in some key ways. Both the Z6 II and S5, for instance, produce arguably better video than the Sony model. 

Thus, Sony needed the A7 Mark IV to leapfrog back ahead of the competition, and that starts with a new image sensor. 

The A7 Mark IV takes the lower level full frame competition from 24mp to now 33mp. I'm pretty sure that will be the primary attribute being used in marketing against the competitor's cameras, at least until they match it. Likewise, some of the video capabilities enabled by the new sensor and moving to BIONZ XR are being touted. Frankly, I'm not all that hung up on the pixel count, as I think that Sony has done far more to improve the A7 level than just stick in a new sensor. The video improvements are nice, but they, of course, won't be used or appreciated by many.

In terms of the improvements that make a difference, I happen to like Sony's new menu system (the A1/A7SIII one), and the A7 Mark IV now gets that. Discoverability, organization, and speed of access all improve significantly with this new menu system on a touch screen. The EVF gets a much needed bump from 2.36m dot to 3.69m dot. While that doesn't seem like enough to make a difference, believe me, it does. Likewise, the Rear LCD bumps up from 921k dot to 1.04m dot, another long-overdue improvement, though not as much of a change as some expected. Both these display changes catch Sony up to the competition for this highly contested camera category. The other display change is the conversion from tilt-only to fully articulating, which will invoke "but I like tilting" arguments from some. Personally, I like articulating.

The body gets some subtle-but-useful improvements, as well. Essentially, the A7 Mark IV inherits the A7S Mark III body, complete with better passive cooling, a dual/dual card slot arrangement (two slots, one of which take both UHS II or CFexpress Type A cards), and some sharpening of the weather resistance. The exposure compensation dial is now locking, plus it's customizable, allowing you to set a number of other items using it. Another interesting change is that Sony has moved to essentially a Live View switch (ala Nikon), adding S&Q to stills and video positions.

4K 60P video is going to get hyped, but once again this will be from the APS-C crop (Sony calls it S35 mode). At least it will be an oversampled 4K (from 4.8K). More important is that we now have 10-bit 4:2:2 capability in camera, as well as the full range of Sony's gamuts and compression choices. Note that 4K USB streaming is limited to 15 fps.

One downside for some will be that the price point has moved from US$2000 to US$2500. This leaves some room for a Nikon Z6 III and Panasonic S2 (or is it S6?) to step in and undercut Sony on price with similar specs. But that's the thing about being #1 in a slot: you have some pricing flexibility that can enable higher profits, at least at product launch.

The A7 Mark IV seems to have been a bit rushed to announcement. The camera itself won't ship until December, and Sony's marketing and PR materials weren't all ready immediately upon announcement. It took SonyUS a full 40 minutes to update their own site.

Sony's current camera lineup is now:

  • A1 — US$6500 all around performance camera
  • A9 Mark II — US$4500 sports performance camera
  • A7R Mark IV — US$  high resolution camera
  • A7S Mark III — US$  high-end video-oriented camera
  • A7 Mark IV — US$2500 "beyond basic", balanced camera
  • A7C — US$2000 entry video-oriented camera

A broad set of cameras with different highlights, with a well-balanced camera near the bottom of the pricing. 

One amusing thing that's becoming evident with each additional YouTube influencer video that gets posted today is that suddenly the A7 Mark III focus isn't all that great. This after years of saying it was great, indeed "almost perfect." Turns out that was hyperbole. Influencing, basically. 

Along with the A7 Mark IV Sony announced two new flash units, the (HVL-F60RM2 and HVL-F46RM), and a new AI cloud service.

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Stock or No Stock?

One of my periodic amusements is database surfing to see what I might find. 

So, what mirrorless cameras (body only) are in stock at B&H right now, and which aren’t? The “aren’t" list is pretty short for the major providers, so let’s reveal that (things can and probably will change by the time you read this, obviously; I’m just taking a snapshot in time):

  • Canon R3
  • Canon R6
  • Canon M50 Mark II
  • Fujifilm X-T4
  • Fujifilm X-T30 II
  • Fujifilm X-Pro 3
  • Fujifilm X-E4 (silver)
  • Nikon Z7 II
  • Sony A1
  • Sony A7S Mark III

Surprised? Yeah, I was, too.

With the exception of the M50 and the best-looking X-E4, it’s all high-end or just-introduced bodies that are out of stock. It gets a little more complicated with kits, but I’d judge the same to be basically true: it’s mostly high-end gear or just introduced gear that’s out of stock. 

I don’t know if that will stay true through the holiday buying season about to hit. I have this suspicion that we’ll see a broader and deeper set of products you can’t buy. 

Canon Officially Announces the R3

For top pro cameras, consider this:

  • DSLR era: Nikon first, Canon second, Minolta (Sony) last.
  • Mirrorless era: Sony first, Canon second, Nikon last.

That Canon would move second was actually predictable, in both cases. But it also reveals something else.

Nikon had slumped so far in the film SLR era that they needed to be first mover with a pro body to change the status quo (and did). Once Nikon started moving top pros from film to DSLR, Canon had to immediately respond, and did so quickly. At the beginning of the mirrorless era, Sony wanted to get out of their third place ILC funk badly enough that they became the first mover with a true top pro body (which they iterated into from the A9). Once Sony made their big move and clearly began attracting pros, Canon had to respond quickly. Just as before.

The question is what did Canon respond to? I believe that the R3 is actually a response to the A9/A9 Mark II. Timing wise, it can’t be a response to the A1 (not enough development time, and wrong specs). Which is why Canon’s initial top pro mirrorless camera comes out with the R3 name and not R1. And why it’s not an 8K camera with high pixel count, but instead a 24mp full frame 6K camera (4K oversampled). And why it's US$5999 and not higher priced. Canon is moving second, but Sony has been moving fast enough that Canon’s response is not leap-frogging, as the Canon/Nikon game used to be played.

bythom CANON r3

So what is the R3? 

Well, the R3 is a slightly downsized and mirrorless incarnation of the 1DX, basically. Strongly built weather-proof body with integrated vertical grip and controls. Big battery. Controls suitable for use with gloves. FTP over LAN as well as wireless. 30 fps blackout-free viewfinder (12 fps mechanical shutter), dual pixel autofocus, sensor-based image stabilization, and much more. All the pro-caliber features, but fronted with Canon’s RF lens mount, not an EF one. 

The story that gets everyone's attention, though, is the image sensor in the R3, which is 24mp. At the time Canon started work on a stacked image sensor, the top pro cameras were 20mp, 20mp, and 24mp (Canon, Nikon, Sony). The progression had been 12mp to 16/18mp to 20mp. So 24mp probably seemed like the right idea to Canon (they could have probably pushed upwards to 32-36mp, but that might have seemed like a big leap to keep the perceived high ISO capabilities intact). In essence, Canon thought 8K was further out for the photo journalism and sports photographer than it turned out to be when the R3 sensor development likely started. To some degree, the R3/R5 combo may have been more of an attempt to echo Nikon's D5/D850 success, while dealing with that upstart Sony. 

As much as some will deride the R3 for “not exactly matching” the Sony A1, from a Canon 1DX user’s standpoint the R3 still represents a much needed dual move forward. In terms of sensor and performance, the R3 seems like a clear step forward from the 1DX Mark III, so Canon can still encourage their DSLR pros to start their transition to mirrorless. The R3 is also a step up in key ways from the R5 and R6 for some uses, so Canon will almost certainly end up with photographers who have both the R3 and an R5 in their bag, much like Nikon ended up with D5/D850 photographers in the DSLR realm. So "success", if that's what their target was.

From a Canon user standpoint, the R3 is a solid top of the lineup. No doubts on that, at all. That's called "holding serve."

For someone with no brand affiliation, unfortunately the R3 doesn’t seem to top the Sony A1 in anything other than body build. Thus, I’m sure we’ll see an R1 two years out. Whether Sony can continue to stay in front of Canon will be an interesting story to watch (e.g. A1 Mark II versus R1), but I suspect that things will flush out much like they did with Canon/Nikon DSLR: the two brands will first be close together at some future point, then start leapfrogging. 

So what’s with the Nikon Z9? Well, it’s going to be last to the pro mirrorless game (though not by much; I believe it's going to be delivered about a month behind the Canon shipment date), so the Z9 is going to need to be truly a top end to hold serve with Nikon pros. Given what we already know and some of the additional things I’ve been told, Nikon’s been aiming for that leapfrog position already, even if it is only a small gain past the A1. That’s going to put Nikon and Sony at 45-50mp/8K versus Canon at 24mp/4K for awhile, which brings us back to why an R1 is inevitable.

You’d think Nikon would have learned from history, but management changes and mandated priorities from top management took the Imaging group's eyes completely away from what worked in the past. Enough so that a few significant Nikon Imaging key personnel moved from Nikon to Fujifilm and Sony while new management dithered, a staffing migration that’s a little unusual in Japan. It appears now, though, that the deep state of Nikon engineering has gotten back into stride; the Z9 should be a strong statement of what Nikon can do.  

Current state of top pro mirrorless cameras:

  • Canon R3 — 24mp, 30 fps, 6K, tough body build, US$6000
  • Canon R5 —45mp, 20 fps, 8K, small body build, US$3900
  • Nikon Z9 —  45mp, 30 fps, 8K, tough body build, US$6500? (unknown for sure, but this is likely)
  • Sony A1 — 50mp, 30 fps, 8K, small body build, US$6500
  • Sony A9 Mark II — 24mp, 30 fps, 4K, small body build, US$4500

Next on our list of things to discuss will be how technologies leak down from the R3, Z9, and A1 to other models in those company's lineups. BSI stacked image sensors seem like they will do exactly that, at least in the upper range of ILC. But what else? I’ll get to that discussion once I’ve had time to use all the new cameras. 

bythom canon 100-400

Along with the R3, Canon announced two very non-R3 lenses (e.g. compact and inexpensive, targeted towards a different user).

The most interesting is the US$649 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM telephoto zoom. This lens is a really good example of how you can't have it all (size, speed, quality, price, etc.). Canon has made some compromises that are different than we've seen elsewhere so far, emphasizing small "reach" coupled with inexpensive, but that obviously comes at the expense of glass real estate. In particular, the front elements, which typically determine maximum aperture. We've been creeping up on this for some time: originally f/5.6 was the typical aperture at the long end of less expensive telephoto lenses, then f/6.3, then f/7.1, and now f/8. Smaller apertures mean smaller elements up front, which make for smaller size and less cost. 

Canon, however, has found a couple of things to help compensate for what you gave up, and they both come in the "small reach" category. First, this new compact telephoto zoom focuses to a maximum magnification of 1:2.4, which is getting near macro range. So close in reach is pretty good (though variable on this lens depending upon focal length; again, you can't have everything). Second, Canon allows use of the RF 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters with the 100-400mm f/5.6-8 lens. Yes, an even smaller effective aperture. When you give up that much aperture, you often need higher ISO to retain shutter speeds. Effectively you have a 140-560mm f/8-11 or a 200-800mm f/11-16 lens with the converters mounted. 

Curiously, the 100-400mm and 1.4x/2.0x combos start to render the 600mm f/8 and 800mm f/11 compact RF telephoto lenses Canon makes a bit more moot, as they only gain you a stop while giving up the zoom flexibility. Given the price of US$649 for the 100-400mm, I can see most amateur and casual Canon RF users opting for the flexibility of the zoom over the fixed telephotos. If Canon can replace the RP with a great entry camera, Sony is going to see lower end market share erode quickly.

bythom canon 16mm

The other lens is also remarkable: a US$299 16mm f/2.8 prime in the typical STM guise and muffin size. That sure sounds like it's really destined for an APS-C body (24mm equivalent). But yes, it covers the full frame, too. Canon is playing up the use of this lens in vlogging and Webcam use, as well.

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Fujifilm Shows Their Backside...

Fujifilm's "just one more thing" announcement at their recent Summit was that a new APS-C image sensor is coming, and that it's a backside illuminated and stacked sensor (still X-Trans). The rumors have long been that Fujifilm would use the X-H2 model to introduce a new sensor and new technologies. Indeed, there are rumors of two X-H2 models, and given this new revelation of sensor, I wonder if we'll get an old sensor/new sensor twinning?

Reading between the lines, it appears that Fujifilm is now going more strongly after the old Nikon D300/D500 crowd: a top-end crop-sensor camera that is fully pro in performance.

Both Canon (7D Mark II) and Nikon (D500) have made the mistake—so far—of not defending a strong product position that they once held uniquely. Both company's urge to push serious users to full frame, and now to full frame mirrorless, left them neglecting those unique cameras, and neglect has resulted in not only Canon and Nikon selling fewer of those models as they age, but has opened opportunities for competitors. 

I'm stunned that Sony didn't jump into this market already. A US$2000-2500 A7000 would have nailed Nikon's DX coffin shut. Of course, at that price, it might have blunted Sony's full frame sales a bit, but I am certain that there's a pro-performance crop-sensor market, and at the moment it's not being served well. Nikon's DSLR D500 is, at five year's old, still the reigning champion and best choice in this space, but it won't be for much longer. 

To keep the crop-sensor performance cameras up with the full frame ones, high bandwidth and more megapixels are going to be needed in the eventual competitors. Fujifilm has now hinted that this is exactly what they're going to do, and have even added a necessary lens to the future fray (road map says 150-600mm).

Windows shut fast in tech markets. While we've heard rumblings that Canon will make a top APS-C RF camera in 2022 and that Nikon has prototyped a Z70/Z90 type camera, one wonders if those are really coming and whether they'll be "enough" if they do come. Canon's already gotten caught flat-footed twice in their mirrorless transition. The M's are old-think and target low with no future compatibility, the first two RF cameras were quickly managed DSLR-conversions. Nikon has no DX strategy for mirrorless that I can tell. Two odd feature-alike-but-style-different cameras and three lenses are not a strategy. 

So, Fujifilm has a shot at the market I say exists but Nikon executives wonder whether it exists. Clearly the target is 30mp+ APS-C, 20/30 fps low/no blackout, high performance autofocus, pro-level features and customization. That level of camera works well for both the sports and wildlife markets, assuming you have the lens set to support it. Maybe it's a US$2000 camera, maybe it's a US$3000 camera in the new lower volume reality, but I'm sure it would sell. 

I'm not sure why Fujifilm pre-announced their intentions here. That seems a bit on the too-confident side unless they know something the rest of us don't. 

I'll take a wild stab at what's going to happen (not a prediction, a guess):

  • Canon will launch first with a top-level RF crop-sensor camera in the first half of 2022. It might not hit all the performance targets necessary to dominate the market, though. 
  • Fujifilm will continue to leak lots of information, and we'll know about the X-H2 second, though it might deliver later than people think (late 2022 or maybe even 2023).
  • Nikon will be third to high-end crop sensor. Will they go straight to higher megapixels and stacked sensor, though? That's the question, and that's the determination of when. 
  • Sony will oddly stay mostly away from this market for the time being, so would probably end up last to launch, which surprises me.

Again, the above is a guess based upon the things I do hear about future crop sensor cameras and where those products are in the current development pipeline. I would caution, however—especially in the case of Nikon and Sony—that sometimes they fiddle with things deep inside their engineering groups and then suddenly have a breakthrough on a key element that then prompts them to push straight to early production. Within both those companies there are lot of products that never saw the light of day because something didn't quite go right during development or they felt they couldn't market the result successfully in the current environment.

So What's Really Different with the X-T30 II?

There's been a bit of inconsistent information that's circulated across the Web about the X-T30 II, and it takes a real long and close read of the specifications to see the absolute differences. Here's what I see the differences as:

  • Bigger buffer. At some settings, the buffer has improved. For instance, at 8 fps with the mechanical shutter the JPEG buffer increases from 90 frames to 105, and the new Compressed Raw offers a higher buffer than before (23 versus 18). Not all settings produce buffer changes, though. Given that, I suspect that this is simply improved internal workflow changes, not a physical bandwidth or card slot change.
  • Increased video recording times. The original X-T30 was quite constrained on video recording times, allowing only 10 minutes in the 4K settings. This has improved to 30 minutes in the II model, plus we got the 1080/240P capability.
  • CIPA battery life changed. Not particularly significant, but the value upped by 10 images to 390. Again, I'd put that to internal processing efficiencies, not a physical change.
  • Rear LCD. I didn't catch this at first, but it appears that the II has a 1.68m dot LCD instead of 1.04m dot. As with some of Sony's recent LCD changes (the "a" models), this is probably a reaction to supply chain limitations; Fujifilm's subbing in a display they can get in quantity for one they can't.
  • Supplied accessories. The AC charger and USB plug adapter disappear from the box and become "optional." 
  • Improved focus tracking. An algorithmic change to the focus system calculations when tracking moving subjects.
  • Low light AF change? This one still needs to be verified, as Fujifilm used the 50mm f/1.0 lens to achieve the -7EV number. I don't recall the exact number Fujifilm claimed on the original X-T30, but I don't think it is at the same level.
  • The Auto mode has been updated. Fujifilm has changed the algorithms slightly on how it creates JPEG files with automatic scene detection settings in play. 

Other than the change in Rear LCD, it appears that most of the camera changes revolve around new firmware. 

Fujifilm Updates Mid-Level Products

Fujifilm today updated two "mid-level" cameras. By this I mean cameras in the middle of their two primary product lines (XF and GFX). 

bythom 1726

The GFX50s II is basically the GFX100s body with the 50mp small medium format image sensor. Given that the GFX100s sold in double the quantity that Fujifilm originally expected, the GFX50s II at its new low price is likely to also be quite popular. The major talking points are the addition of sensor-based image stabilization and the US$3999 price. Initial examination shows that this should be an interesting choice for many photographers currently considering high-end full frame. 

Many among the Fujifilm faithful were expected one or both of two things: X-T40, or adding sensor-based image stabilization (IBIS). We got neither. The X-T30 II is thus not quite what people were expecting, consisting of no meaningful physical changes to the older model, but rather a number of firmware and operational improvements. Of course, Fujifilm did hint that in 2022 as part of their X-mount 10th anniversary Fujifilm will introduce a camera with a stacked BSI X-Trans sensor (likely referring to the X-H2 model). 

Fujifilm also announced that they will support the Blackmagic Design RAW format in future GFX cameras, as well as a new XLR microphone update. Apparently firmware updates are coming in October for the GFX100s, as well.

In addition to the cameras, Fujifilm launched three new lenses: GF 35-70mm f/4.5-5.6, XF 23mm f/1.4 II, and 33mm f/1.4.

The new GF lens is approximately 28-55mm (effective), and far smaller for travel than the current 32-64mm f/4 partly due to its collapsing design. Weight also drops almost in half. The new lens doesn't have image stabilization (OIS in Fujifilm terms), nor does it have an aperture ring of its larger sibling. Given the size/weight change and the low US$999 price (US$500 if bought with camera), I'd say that Fujifilm is trying to squeeze into competing with the full frame cameras such as the Nikon Z7 II or Sony A7R Mark IV. 

Moreover, Fujifilm discussed three upcoming GF lenses, 55mm 1.7, 20-30mm unspecified, and a tilt-shift lens (also unspecified). 

Meanwhile, with XF lenses, Fujifilm is now promising higher resolution lenses in the future. Other strategies for future lens design are to broader the focal length options (a 150-600mm was discussed) as well to make lenses work better for both still and video. I also note that Fujifilm has lately been working on autofocus speed with the XF lenses, too. 

Fujifilm's competence and confidence—not unrelated—continues to grow with each annual X Summit. This was the sixth such event, and as noted we're coming up on the tenth anniversary of the FX system, which is one of the reasons why Fujifilm has a lot to crow about. Being relatively early to the mirrorless camera market has paid dividends for Fujifilm, returning them, at least temporarily, to what they can say is a #3 position in the primary ILC market (they were #3 in DSLRs for awhile, though their dependence upon Nikon for bodies to cannibalize hurt them and caused them to eventually withdraw temporarily from the ILC market). 

Clearly, Fujifilm wants to solidify that position, which is probably one reason why they peppered their new product introductions with a fair amount of discussion about future products. Fujifilm still has some weaknesses in both the FX and GF mounts that need to be addressed, and I think the operative word for the day was "we're going to address those." 

As always with Fujifilm, I appreciate their no-nonsense, emphasize the details and benefits approach to product introductions. 

Sony Announces the ZV-E10

Okay, what’s Sony up to now?

bythom sony zv10 kit

Another new camera, but probably not the one you were expecting. 

While Sony loyalists have long been expecting something new in the A6### form, Sony instead produced an APS-C body much like the ZV-1: a small camera designed primarily for vlogging and video streaming. 

Other specs that you might want to know are that the new ZV-E10 camera has a fully articulating display, no EVF, the usual 24mp APS-C sensor, and a ZV-1/A7C type design overall. Video maxes out at 4K 30P or 1080 120P, and uses the XAVC-S compression. We get S-Log2, S-Log3, and HLG. To make it more blogger-friendly, there’s a product focus mode, a bokeh button (maximum aperture), a button to swap between Photo/Video (and S&Q) modes, and headphone output. The camera can stream directly via USB-C to a computer. The kit lens is the not-so-great-but-small 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6.

I have no problem with targeting the vlogging market with multiple models (Sony now has the ZV-1, ZV-E10, and A7C). The problem I have is whether or not the differences are meaningful in enough ways to justify more new models. So let me state my issue with the ZV-E10 right up front.

The ZV-1 has a 1” sensor with a solid f/1.8 lens. The ZV-E10 has an APS-C sensor, so 1.7 stops better in theory, but the kit lens with the ZV-E10 gives that all back. In essence, the biggest thing we’ve really gained is interchangeable lenses at the price of some body size gain. Moreover, the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 is about my least favorite APS-C kit lens at the moment (only the Canon M kit lens is worse; the Fujifilm 15-45mm and the Nikon 16-50mm are far better in my testing). Disclaimer: I own a ZV-1. I’m not seeing any reason to own a ZV-E10, particularly given the high rolling shutter on the ZV-E10. And if I were making a decision right now as to which one to buy, I’d probably buy the ZV-1. The only thing about the ZV-E10 that really tempts me is the headphone jack.

It feels to me like Sony is now searching for unit volume via micro-diversity of product. We’ve been down that path before (with both Canon and Nikon), and it ultimately fails and creates a product line mess. Particularly when the approach wasn’t fully rationalized in the first place. Moreover, can Sony really micromanage the chip and parts shortage with more bodies? I’m not sure about that, though at least for many of the key parts, they’re totally in Sony’s control. 

So let’s start again: should there be a lineup of vlogging cameras? Sure, I’ll agree to that. At the low end you have things like the DJI Osmo, at the high end you’ve got people using full frame mirrorless bodies on a gimbal. The ZV-1, ZV-E10, and A7C seem to all be aimed at trying to fit in between those end points. So what’s the model progression that makes sense? Technically, the ZV-E10 should be reasonably equidistant from the other two models. It doesn’t feel to me like it is, particularly given the kit lens.  

Which brings me to another point: if I’m vlogging with a camera, I’m in front of it. Why are all the controls on the back of the camera? Thus, if Sony is making a full line of vlogging cameras now, are they learning from their earlier cameras? Doesn’t really seem like it to me.

The Price is Right

It's time to play a little game. 

Hello audience. Can you guess the price of each mirrorless camera currently available new without going over what the sticker at the dealer says? 

Then come on down!

It's time to play The Mirrorless Price is Right!

Okay, you don't have to really guess. I'm going to fill you in (using current B&H prices as I write this; there are very few active Instant Rebates at the moment, so it's a good time to play the game). I'll be rounding the numbers as best I can. I also can't guarantee that some prices won't have changed by the time you read this, as all the camera companies are micromanaging their inventories right now. 

Still, we're in a pretty calm pricing period right now, and there are no holiday promotions in sight.

First up, let's look at the full frame mirrorless scene:

bythom ffprices

I've made the body-only prices in bold as they're more direct apples-to-apples in comparison. For kit prices, I've used the least expensive body+lens kit each maker lists at the moment; you can find more expensive kits for many of these cameras.

Things that strike me in the above table are:

  • Canon has a widely-spaced spread in body pricing. 
  • Nikon somehow fits five bodies into a tighter US$1700 spread centered around the Z6 II.
  • Panasonic seems to be reducing their lineup (the S1 is technically available, but at a strangely high price; rumors are it is out of production).
  • Sony's using older-generation bodies to look like they have entry units to compete against Canon and Nikon. Because of this multi-generation thing, Sony also appears to have the most bodies available (11; and surprisingly, Nikon is second with 5, for the same reason).

What full frame models would I really consider buying today (i.e. recommend)? 

  • Canon R5, R6; really nice cameras (ignore the nay sayers)
  • Nikon Z5, Z6 (barely), Z6 II, Z7, Z7 iI; a totally solid lineup in the middle of the market
  • Panasonic S1H, S5; both really good cameras that get overlooked a lot
  • Sony A7 III, A7C, A7R IIIa (barely), A7R IVa, A7S III, A9, A9 II, and A1; current generation bodies are all varying degrees of good, plus the older A9 is still a very viable camera for certain tasks (action)

I'd pass on the Canon R and RP, the Panasonic S1 and S1R, and the Sony A7 II and A7R II. These cameras are showing some age or seem to be going out of production.

Now let's turn to crop sensor cameras. The table looks a more cluttered, and with more competitors:

bythom csprices

Things that strike me here are:

  • Canon is cramped into the low end with few (4) choices.
  • Fujifilm is trending higher price now with the X-TA# and X-T### models out of the picture. 
  • Nikon is targeting higher than Canon, but also currently has few (2) choices.
  • Olympus (now OMDS) has a pretty nice and broad range of choices (7) if you count the previous generation bodies left on sale.
  • Panasonic has a broader line (9) than most give them credit for, but realistically, in terms of sales volume, it's the G9 or GH that get the most attention.
  • Sony's lineup has narrowed (4) from the NEX days. The newest of those cameras are now two years old, the oldest is seven!

What crop sensor cameras would I consider buying these days (i.e. recommend)?

  • I like the Canon M6 II. Solid camera with a top sensor, bit pricey with the EVF, while the native lens selection is poor.
  • Fujifilm's lineup confuses me a bit. I like the X-S10 and X-T4, not so much the others. Lenses are solid in the 10-200mm lens range, a bit weak beyond that.
  • Nikon's lineup is fledgling, but people underestimate that Z50: it's a really good camera and competitive at its price point. Somewhat like Canon, the appropriate lens lineup is not great.
  • With Olympus, I really like the E-M10 IV, plus the E-M1 II/III. The former coupled with the smaller lenses and primes, the latter with the f/2.8 and f/4 PRO zooms. Nothing terribly wrong with the rest, but the three cameras I mention are Olympus' most competitive bodies. And lenses? m4/3 has you covered.
  • If you're into video, you already know how good the GH5's are. The rest of you? The G9 is probably your camera. Again, m4/3 has the lens side covered.
  • Nothing wrong with any of the Sony bodies, but the A6100 is the value proposition here, with the A6400 being my second choice. Lens choice is probably third in the crop sensor world (m4/3 is first, Fujifilm second). Crop sensor doesn't get the love at Sony that full frame does.

I'd pass on the low-end Canon's, the other Fujifilm bodies, the Olympus E-PL10 and older E-M10 models. and I think the Sony A6600 is too much money for too little beyond the A6400.

Finally, you probably want to see the whole enchilada put together (including Fujifilm's MF entries):

bythom allpricing

Android Cameras are Back

Both Nikon and Samsung experimented with an Android-based camera. Both failed spectacularly. Now we have Yongnuo showing an m4/3-based Android camera in China. Will it fail, too?

Probably. The issue is the same one that makes SnapBridge and the other camera-to-mobile platforms problematic: too much manual customer labor to get the desired result. 

bythom yongnuo yn455

Although the Yongnuo YN455 has cellphone capability built in and thus can send images out directly (if you're willing to pay for an extra line), the problem is that Android cameras have up to this point been very modal: you can be in the camera mode or in the phone/tablet mode. In the camera mode you take images that go to the Camera Roll, but you typically still have to change modes and then pull those images off the Camera Roll via your preferred mobile social networking program. This really doesn't go beyond the SnapBridge modality, unfortunately, though it does it on one device.

At the other side, are you going to still carry a phone if you have a phone/camera? If not, the phone in the camera body becomes somewhat cumbersome, and it's not going to slide into a shirt pocket, so you're likely to not have it as accessible. 

Do I believe that a camera/phone combo can be made correctly? Absolutely. You'd tend to still have that second problem I refer to if you designed it as an ILC (accessibility), but you can certainly get rid of the modal issue if you understand the problem well enough and want to devote enough resources to get it right and keep it up to date with most recent social network APIs (ah, there's the rub). 

Convergent devices have long been sought after in the high tech world. Convergent means that you take two or more dedicated devices and combine them into one integrated device. To date, the primary ones that have managed to successfully do that in the consumer space are some form of the receiver/amplifier/player/speaker, the printer/copier/fax, and the phone/computer thing we call a smartphone. 

The problem with convergent devices is that they have to fully integrate all the devices to truly break down the barrier in using two or more different devices. If all you've done is move two different devices into the same box and have to control them separately, that's not enough. And the modality that Android has tended to enforce—you can get around this, but then you have the added issue of syncing to Android releases and security patches—makes it tough to totally combine that camera and phone. Even within the best smartphones you still find a small layer where you have to do something manually to share out of the Camera Roll. In iOS, that's the share icon (arrow up out of a box). In essence, the camera apps are trying to bridge the modality by giving you that shortcut icon. 

I’m Confused

So Nikon is marketing the Zfc towards a more style-conscious younger crowd, it appears. So if you’re not in that crowd, you get a Z50 instead?

bythom nikon zfc colors

Great, so the dedicated camera user that’s button-and-dialed into Nikon’s well established UX doesn’t get a flipping LCD, better autofocus, USB-C, USB charging, and 900 second shutter speeds (which I’ll note CAN’T be set on at the Zfc’s shutter speed dial, so much for dials ;~). But the dedicated camera user (Z50) does get a built-in flash, scene exposure modes, and a few other tricks. 

The Zfc is being perceived by some as sort of an FU towards the button-and-dial Z50 crowd: sorry, you can’t have any of those things that would make a good camera better. Let’s hope for at least a firmware update that gives us the better AF and 900-second shutter speeds on the Z50, but I’m not holding my breath (if it was in progress, it should have came with the Zfc announcement; I suspect we’ll get a real Z50 II instead).

While Nikon added video to the Zfc—learning a lesson from the Df—the dials mean you won’t be making exposure adjustments with those dials while taking video: they make noise and disturb your camera handling. So you assign the lens command ring to it (if it has one, otherwise you lose the manual focus ring for a more silent exposure adjustment capability).

There’s a reason why DSLRs (and the serious mirrorless cameras) ended up where they are. The hand grip came about because it’s difficult to hold a gripless camera once you start mounting something other than a small, compact prime on the camera. The button+dial interface came about because you could change settings without taking your eye from the viewfinder or your right hand away from the shutter release. That list goes on. 

I’ve now heard from three trusted friends that have used a Zfc prototype. Their reaction can be characterized as “nice, but it’s not for me.” 

The important question that I’m confused about (the headline, Thom, write about the headline ;~) is “where is Z DX headed?” We have just two cameras and they point two different directions. We have a couple of lenses pointing one direction, a couple others the opposite direction.  

Look, I get the fashion statement thing. I have the same research Nikon does about buying tendencies with the young—particularly in Asia—and right now big black DSLR-like cameras are not interesting to that crowd, while nostalgia and form over function is. Neckstrap cameras are “not cool.” Pastels are hot. 

But that leads me back to my original statement: if Nikon is willing to cater to the fashion group when it still needs to fill gaps with its long-term loyal crowd, what’s that say to their best customers? 

Nikon wants to be hip. The Nikon 1 was also all about hip (e.g. Ashton Kutcher). KeyMission was about being GoPro hip. DLs were going to be RX hip, but RX hip died fast enough that Nikon backed away. 

Let me be clear: I believe that satisfying the hip audience is not going to restore Nikon to a strong, long-term ILC market share. What worries me most is how many emails I’ve been getting that contain statements like this one: "I've been a dedicated Nikon user for over 30 years and am increasingly fed up with [Nikon’s] approach.” 

Realistically, Nikon has to convert many more Nikon DSLR users into Nikon Z System users in order to maintain (let alone build on) their current third place market share in ILC. Ever since Goto-san promoted the Df idea there’s been a part of Nikon that thinks that “just build a legacy camera of some sort and it caters to our established audience.” There’s only one problem with that: Nikon’s biggest audience never used an F, they started with and/or use a D. The legacy issue that Nikon users do resonate with has to do with lenses, not bodies. That’s why a Zfc body isn’t making them particularly happy, but an FTZ-S/AI adapter might. 

Finally, the Zfc name suggests a Zf is coming (and one source with good connections is hearing the same). Such a camera would have done better than the Zfc probably ultimately will. But again the messaging and signaling in splitting the Z System is what I judge to be beyond Nikon marketing’s ability level. Just imagine the outcry if instead of a Z8 in 2022 we get a Zf instead. What the heck is a Zfc, Zf, Z50, Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9 lineup? 

I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. But I’ve been studying the ILC market closely for 30 years now and believe I have a good sense of its pulse. It really feels to me that Nikon has gone for a short term win here at the expense of the long-term one. Historically, Nikon isn’t a low-consumer product maker. Pretty much every time they’ve pushed hard into that realm, they have initial success followed by near total collapse. That’s not how Nikon engineering was designed to work and how it functions best. 

Nikon’s marketing department says that the f stands for film, and the c for casual in the Zfc name. They also say that they want the camera to be used by anyone, anywhere, casually. Hmm. I would think a totally LCD touch UX would be better suited for that than dials that might lie to you. 

Unfortunately, the Zfc messaging puts stronger pressure on the Z9 to be an A1 equal or better. Nikon has let Sony steal the technology leadership (A7S III, A7R IV, A9/A9 II, A1). Canon is working hard to catch up to Sony (R5, R3). Nikon only has the Z9 left to get above those Sony models (at least this year; but Nikon doesn’t have infinite years to get back on or close to the top). Right now, Nikon’s models are mostly all perceived as just below the equivalent Sony models.


Okay, one last thought: I can’t help but think that Nikon is waiting on image sensors. The Z9 image sensor is new, for sure, and it’s establishing the real critical path on the development schedule, one reason why that camera isn’t coming until the end of the year. But all the other interesting camera models that Nikon might contemplate for the near future (e.g. Z90, Z8, Z6 III and Z7 III) likely need new image sensors, too. 

So what can Nikon do with current image sensors? Make a Z30, Z50 II, Zfc, Zf.  It's possible that we'd get all four before anything on the above list. So perhaps Nikon is just trying to get through a rough supply period, much like they had in 2011, which disrupted a generation of cameras. 

Still, consider me confused. 

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