Does Anyone Have an APS-C Plan?

Before we get started, we need to recap where we are with APS-C mirrorless:

  • Canon — Basically re-iterated the bottom of their previous Kiss/Rebel idea, plus a topper camera (R7).
  • Fujifilm — All in on APS-C, but now with a proliferation of “different” cameras and similar primes.
  • Nikon — Had triplets and then stopped birthing anything.
  • Sony — The NEX to A6### story is one of decline. 

Full frame is not an issue for anyone: the entry, mid-range, and top cameras are there for all brands that participate—though Sony uses older models for low-end entry pricing—well defined, and now multiply iterated. One would conclude from examining Canon, Nikon, and Sony full frame mirrorless lineups that each has a plan, knows what they’re doing, and is deep in iteration of that. Panasonic has a mini-plan ;~).

Not so for APS-C. I’ve heard so many varying and confused explanations from Japanese executives about their crop sensor lineup now that I’ve come to the conclusion that they simple don’t know what to do. 

Fujifilm is probably in the best position with APS-C mirrorless, mostly because they skipped full frame and rely on APS-C for the bulk of their sales. But even with Fujifilm I get puzzling explanations of why their models are what they are, how they differentiate them and why, plus what they think a “complete” lineup actually looks like. 

To me, it seems like there are too many pet projects at Fujifilm, as well as some too-strongly held beliefs. I’m not sure why they think they need to make the X-T50 a 40mp camera, for example, or why a new X-TPro needs to be developed. It’s really difficult to say what the entry point is for the Fujifilm lineup (probably X-S20), and the top end in the X-H2S has virtually no sales energy in the market, meaning it was a swing and a miss.

On the lens side, we have a full range of Fujifilm primes that seem to be going through regeneration, while the X-H2S isn’t getting much of the lens support it really needed. There’s simply no clear hand guiding the Fujifilm offerings in a way that someone who doesn’t already follow Fujifilm would understand, which inhibits their growth. 

That said, Fujifilm looks like the gem in APS-C mirrorless world compared to the others. 

Dropping over to the other long-term player in APS-C mirrorless, Sony, we also find large potential for user confusion. The wide, deep, and quickly iterated days of NEX models are long gone now. The A6000, A6300, A6500 trio looked like a strong start to the post-NEX days, but things have been limping since, and are now confused with the ZV-E10 evolution. 

The A6100, A6400, and A6600 showed up as modest iterations five years ago, and since then, we’ve only seen the A6700 add to the iteration, so generations are taking longer, and no longer appear synced. 

We did see Sony produce a few more E-mount lenses, but mostly centered around the uses that ZV-E10 users would appreciate. 

What it feels like to me looking back at the Sony APS-C mirrorless history is that they started with great energy and excitement and quick responses, slowed some as they introduced full frame, and now are completely distracted with “other things.” 

Canon and Nikon, the late entrants, have taken different paths. Canon, for instance, seems to have taken their decontented model Kiss/Rebel idea even further in the mirrorless world, with the R100 being so basic even Canon doesn’t ever talk about it in positive terms. The R10 and R7 at the top of the lineup have had more success, but “success” in this instance doesn’t mean “strong seller.” 

Now it appears that Canon is ceding RF-S lenses to the third parties (Sigma has announced six lenses for Canon APS-C, Tamron one). Meanwhile Canon has just a total of four kit zooms, and hasn’t bothered to bring other M-mount lenses over to RF-S. Parental neglect, for sure.

Nikon is the worst of the bunch so far, having a five year old camera that they “iterated” by giving it cosmetic surgery to create a new body, twice. Somehow, the optical side of the company managed to give those three near-identical cameras five lenses, which is one more than Canon managed. Still, it’s a pretty limited, small scale offering from Nikon, with no clear indication what the future may bring.

One thing I see in all four APS-C players is that their engineering teams aren’t really giving their marketing teams a story, just a few random options to try to figure out how to explain to customers. Which the pathetic marketing teams in Tokyo can’t manage to do. 

/Sarcasm ON

Canon: We Made the Kiss/Rebel worse.

Fujifilm: Don’t Try to Use Two of Our Bodies Simultaneously.

Nikon: Choose a Body Style for Your Five-Year-Old Camera.

Sony: Sorry, but We’re Running Out of Gas.

/Sarcasm OFF

To a large degree, the Japanese companies see APS-C as the last defense line against smartphones. All retreated from 1/2.3” sensors. Most have given up on 1” sensors. So it’s APS-C where the line between smartphone image quality and dedicated camera image quality is being drawn. 

And the line is being drawn poorly. Heck, is it even a line? More like a dotted line in faint gray. If I squint I can almost see it. 

(I said Sarcasm OFF!)

This is a real problem. APS-C is the entry point for dedicated cameras now. But it’s not much of an entry point, and I don’t see any of the Japanese camera companies getting marketing messages out that are clear, direct, and define the expectations. 

As I’m wont to point out, all of the APS-C cameras still have issues with getting images to where the user wants them. I’ll give Fujifilm some credit for getting their camera-to-smartphone software closer to what is needed, but in general it appears that the Japanese companies are so afraid of smartphones that they don’t want to mention them, ever, let alone integrate with them. 

The sum of the parts (smartphone, camera) should be greater than the sum of the parts. Instead, trying to use them together today is a lesson in subtraction, not addition. 

Getting APS-C right should be a critical strategy at every camera company. None seem to be seeing it the same way that I do, so I’m predicting more customer erosion, not a growing customer base.

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