Do Camera Launches Change Anything?

Today I want to talk specifically about the mid-level, full-frame offerings: Canon R6 Mark II, Nikon Z6 II, Panasonic S5, and Sony A7 Mark IV. I'm going to use those specifically to reiterate something I've been advising for quite some time.

First, look at the launch dates:

  • Panasonic S5: September 2020
  • Nikon Z6 II: October 2020
  • Sony A7 Mark IV: October 2021
  • Canon R6 Mark II: November 2022

Since we're two or more iterations in for all four models—I consider the S1 the S5 predecessor—it should be relatively easy to see that we're playing leapfrog at this camera level. Canon's simply the most recent frog to jump, and given the two-year product cycles at this level, one would expect Nikon to be preparing to jump (probably delayed due to supply issues). 

bythom frogleaps

One critical thing to notice is that the two most recent frogs to jump also increased their price. The old price point had been basically US$2000 +/-100. The new price point appears to be US$2500 +/-100. 

Anyone that's read my advice on the Internet in the last three decades—yes, I'm well into my third decade at this—knows that I favor staying with a brand rather than constantly trying to pick the frog that's leaped most recently. You can see that best right now with Sony, who's iterated their A7 four times in nine years (again, about a two-year development cycle). If you had bought the original A7 in 2013 and taken my usual advice—update every other generation—you'd be using a very versatile and absolutely competent A7 Mark III right now. The recent Mark IV (and A7R Mark V) gave you a preview of what you're likely to get when you update to an A7 Mark V in late 2023 or early 2024. I'll bet you have been, are, and will be a happy camper. 

It's when a cycle goes a little long or a company is perceived as playing catch up that the user angst sets in and I start seeing the "should I switch to X" emails begin to rise in volume. This is happening today with Nikon, who some believe have missed a Z6 III drop. 

Not really. Yes, the two-year cycle expectation would have been October 2022, but I'll bet we'll see the Z6 III before March 2023. That's not a significant change in cycle, as critical parts—typically image sensors—often push regular schedules off by as much as a year.

But even if you were to believe that the Z6 II is "getting old" and the new cameras were passing them, is that really true?

For US$500 more (at MSRP) you can get the the latest frog (Canon R6 Mark II) with the same pixel count, better still bursts, and video that's just caught up, compared to a Nikon Z6 II. Oh, and the Z6 II currently has a US$200 discount, so the difference is really US$700. We could get into more esoteric arguments about fine details between the two, but guess what, in a few months we'll be arguing about the next frog leap and those short-term arguments will have die off. 

So, no, if you're in the Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, or Sony mid-level, full frame world, the new camera launches probably don't change anything for you. At some point you bought (buy) into the brand, and then you should probably upgrade no faster than every other cycle to maximize your capability versus price over time. Using the subscription model that's so popular these days, upgrading every cycle means you're paying ~US$100 a month for your camera subscription at this level, while upgrading every other cycle is ~US$50 a month.

Where things might change for someone is if they're not at all committed to a brand right now. Those new to the market have to pick a frog. There are really no bad frogs in this bunch, though some are more recent jumpers than others. If the goal is to buy into most current frog, your choice here is Canon, or maybe Sony. 

However, the confusion comes in for those that have been following frogs in the DSLR market. A Canon user might have gone 5D, 5D Mark III, now what? A Nikon user might have gone D700, D750, now what?

The simplest answer is just hop on over to the mirrorless equivalent (see what I did there? ;~). 

For the Canon user, that would be an R6 Mark II, for the Nikon user that would be a Z6 II, though in both cases you're not gaining pixel counts, you're just getting the latest mirrorless equivalent of what you've been using (which should have a number of other performance, focus, feature and video advantages). These users could consider moving up a step to get even more (R5 or Z7 II, for example), but that comes with extra cost. 

The problem, of course, comes in all the combinations and permutations of where a user has been with cameras and where they could go. I've seen users do backflips, lateral leaps, and even trip as they attempt an upgrade. 

So, two words of advice:

  • Budget — Is your budget at the same level as before, or can you contemplate a move up?
  • Brand — Given that all frogs are in the same jumping competition now, why not wait for your frog to jump?

It's very easy to get enamored by shiny new magnesium alloy, extra buttons and features, and some well-crafted Marketing manipulations messages. None of those things really make your photography better. What I've tended to find is that the newest camera might make your photography easier, but that comes at a big ticket expense coupled with the time to learn how to use it properly. If you're doing the frog upgrade at the expense of not buying an excellent, full, and proper lens set for your work, you're probably making a mistake. 

I wrote an article that outlined the order in which you should do things over ten years ago that's relevant to frog jumping. Here's the order:

  1. Upgrade the photographer.
  2. Upgrade the support and discipline.
  3. Upgrade the lens.
  4. Upgrade your understanding.
  5. Upgrade your camera.

I stand by that. So as you contemplate the frog jumping contest and what it means to you, make sure that you've paid attention to number one through four in my list. 

I would be remiss to not point out that #2 might be improved by moving from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera (the built-in sensor-based stabilization) and #3 might be improved because some of the new mirrorless kit lenses are better than some of the older DSLR lenses you might have, even top ones. You still have to do #1 and #4, though ;~).

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