The State of Mirrorless, Summer 2022

From time to time I try to put my knowledge of current camera capabilities into some sort of summary form, with some basic recommendations. That's because what one would consider state-of-the-art keeps changing as camera makers get into full iteration mode with their products. 

I'm going to leave m4/3 out of this report for the moment, as I still have several recent cameras I need to finish evaluating, but for APS-C and Full Frame sensor-based cameras I've caught up with and believe I can summarize properly.

APS-C (Canon M and RF-S, Fujifilm XF, Nikon Z DX, and Sony E)

We're in a bit of a revolutionary period with APS-C in mirrorless. Until this past year, the APS-C products were mostly just simply transfer of existing APS-C DSLR image sensors into mirrorless bodies and then iteration of that body until it became as mature as a DSLR in form and function. Nothing particularly wrong with that, as APS-C DSLRs were quite mature by the time we reached 20/24mp, so the big issue for the mirrorless versions wasn't catching up with image quality, it was simply making a camera as good as the mature DSLRs.

Looking back—and being very realistic about it, not fan boy—Fujifilm and Sony both needed a fair amount of time until they got to relatively solid APS-C lineups. Sony's biggest problem was figuring out what the user experience should be (controls, menus, ergonomics, etc.), while Fujifilm's tended to be that they didn't yet have the code base that had all the functionality that the DSLRs they were to compete with did. Sony "fixed" their problem by rapid model iteration, but that took probably longer than it should have because they kept throwing new technology at problems at the same time. Fujifilm "fixed" their problem with lots of firmware updating, coupled with quite a bit of model design experimentation (still on-going). 

However, both reached a plateau not too long ago. Sony's A6100, A6400, and A6600 represent basically the same low, middle, high model choice that DSLR users were used to, and the UX is (reasonably) consistent and mature at this point. Fujifilm's 26mp X-Trans cameras also reached a level of common maturity with the X-T4 generation of cameras, though I still believe that Fujifilm's model experimentation seems odd and not yet resolved (we have Mode dial cameras versus retro dial, rangefinder versus DSLR style, and several other design choices that don't seem set in stone or backed by a solid marketing explanation). 

Canon was the other early entrant in mirrorless APS-C with their M system. As I've repeatedly explained, the M turned out to be an orphan at the birth of RF, and it simply wasn't a transferable system (you can't make an M to RF adapter for physical reasons). Thus, if Canon attracted customers to M, they would have to tell them to abandon that gear if they ever wanted to move to RF. (As I'll explain in a moment, now people do want to move to Canon RF.)

Which brings us to today...

Here in the summer of 2022 APS-C cameras are seeing some re-invention and a renaissance. Which it probably needed. Specifically:

  • Canon R7 and R10 launched RF-S. Two initial RF-S lenses have also appeared, and I'm sure we'll see more. I'll be posting my review of the R7 soon. Let's just say that it's a camera that Canon badly needed, and which suddenly vaults the company back into strong consideration for anyone considering an higher-end APS-C mirrorless system. Meanwhile, the R10 marks the appearance of something quite Rebel/Kiss-like for the first time in the mirrorless world, and it's long overdue. Both models feel "mature" in the sense that they operate much like Canon's DSLRs and recent RF mirrorless cameras, something the M cameras never quite got right; they felt more like PowerShots with interchangeable lenses, and had a fair amount of experimentation and simplification in their designs. If Canon adds the right RF-S lenses, adds a soap bar type R100 to replace the M###s, Canon will be back off to the races. Indeed, I don't think they'll be able to ship enough R7's in the near term, particularly once the deeper reviews get published.
  • Fujifilm launched a true flagship. I really liked the original X-H1, though it deviated from the established X-T# designs that tended to dominate the lineup at the time. Despite liking it, it also felt unfinished. The recently introduced X-H2s fixes most of the things that didn't quite seem right with the X-H1, and then goes so far as to push the sensor into the Nikon Z9/Sony A1 realm of rapid photography with no viewfinder blackout. The Canon R7 may be a 7D II replacement, but it doesn't quite reach the top flagship level. Fujifilm's X-H2s does. It also feels rushed. We've already seen two bug fix firmware updates, and I'm pretty sure we'll see more. The lenses needed for those that want this level of camera are still limited; basically I can count them on one hand (you typically don't need small, fast, shorter focal length primes at 30 fps). Coupled with the upcoming 40mp X-H2 (no s), Fujifilm has thrown a huge challenge out there in 2022. However, don't misinterpret who Fujifilm is challenging. It's not particularly the other APS-C mirrorless cameras, it's the flagship full frame ones. APS-C mostly has to thrive on US$500-1500 camera prices, or else it simply won't stay relevant for long. But Fujifilm doesn't have full frame offerings, so it's attempting to straddle full frame with flagship APS-C models at one end and high pixel count medium format ones at the other. The remainder of Fujifilm's APS-C lineup here in 2022 still has the same model dissonance it's had for awhile. I'm looking forward to seeing how Fujifilm resolves that in the coming year or two.
  • Nikon went to a fertility clinic and had triplets. I wish I had some dead Z DX cameras to disassemble (I'm not going to risk doing it with my working cameras). I suspect that the insides are even more common than we think. The Z30, Z50, and Zfc all share the same fundamental capabilities, features, and performance. Yes, some subtle changes have occurred (e.g. USB PD in the most recent two), but for all intents and purposes you can consider the triplets as the same camera tailored to different uses/users. Is this Nikon attempting to see what "sticks" before rolling out more DX? I'm not sure why they wouldn't already know, as I'm pretty sure from all the feedback I've received. Moreover, we have a trio of cameras but also only a trio of lenses, and those lenses are all pretty much tailored to only one of the three cameras (the Z50, if you have to ask). The Z30 needs more wide angle options and perhaps a dedicated video lens. The Zfc needs small primes. Though the Zfc is cannibalizing the 28mm, 40mm, and 50mm FX primes for the time being, those are the wrong focal lengths. If you want the right ones, see Viltrox. Nikon's toes are in the DX waters now, but how they'll react to the water is unknown. Still, nice to have another player finally showing interest in APS-C mirrorless.
  • Sony went video. The A5### lineup is dead, while the A6### lineup is dormant (with some models, literally, as manufacturing was temporarily halted). What we got most recently from Sony that changes things for summer 2022 is a video camera (ZV-E10) and a trio of lenses that line up really well with it (the Nikon Z30 is jealous). 

With APS-C mirrorless cameras this summer, we now have some new and interesting choices that have recently appeared (R7, R10, X-H2s, Z30, Zfc, EV-E10). These compliment the choices we already had that have (mostly) all gone through model iteration to get to their current state. In terms of what I'd consider as being an APS-C mirrorless camera I'd consider picking up this summer (each brand I'll list low to high price):

  • Canon R10 or R7. Both get Canon users to a point they couldn't get previously, and both are highly competitive in their price class. I would no longer consider M cameras other than for purely casual use.
  • Fujifilm X-S10, X-T4, or X-H2s. Yes, I know some of you will argue for the X-E4, but I think the X-S10 a better choice. Others will say the X-T30 II should be in there. But for me, these three Fujifilm models represent their best efforts at three distinctly different levels. I can recommend all three. 
  • Nikon Z50. Whoa, what? The oldest of the triplets? The one that does have a couple of small things missing that the others don't? Yep. It's a miniature DSLR in disguise, and a really good one at that. Moreover, it's the only triplet that matches up well to the available DX lenses, in my opinion.
  • Sony ZV-E10 or A6400. While the A6600 nets you sensor stabilization, the US$500 differential puts it close to the Canon R7, and frankly, Canon's now made a better high-end APS-C camera than Sony. The ZV-E10 with the right lens is a solid videographer's pocket tool. 

You may have also noted, that with perhaps the exception of Sony, the one common denominator in Mirrorless APS-C 2022 is that all the mounts need many more lenses to complement the cameras that we now have. Canon, Fujifilm, and Nikon all have clear lens needs that aren't currently satisfied and might influence your decision. To some degree, you can mitigate this with third-party lenses, though the autofocus offerings are still reasonably slim pickings in the off-brand lenses. 

Still, this is an exciting summer for APS-C compared to the last two: new choices have popped up, the crop sensor world is becoming more competitive (which only bodes well for customers), and we're getting new ideas and options after a period of "first let's catch up to the DSLRs." 

Full Frame (Canon RF, Leica/Panasonic L, Nikon Z FX, Sony FE)

As the camera makers all started to take mirrorless offerings upscale, the full frame arena is where we saw much of the effort. Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony all started with a megapixel pairing in the same body and then started to diversify. Canon started with two oddball choices before delivering their two megapixel choices in a common body. 

The big competition is in the lower megapixel count cameras that fall in the US$2000 to US$2500 range. That arena now offers Canon R6, Nikon Z6 II, Panasonic S5, and Sony A7 Mark IV as current options. All are excellent cameras, but with different personalities. The second biggest competition is in the high pixel count camera, where we have the Canon R5, Nikon Z7 II, Panasonic S1R, and Sony A7R Mark IV. Again, all are excellent but different. Thing is, none of those are new-for-2022 cameras. The Sony A7 Mark IV was the most recently updated (late 2021), so has a brief period where it pushes a little further than the others.

What's a bit new for summer 2022 is that the Canon R3 and Nikon Z9 now compete with the Sony A1 at the flagship level (though Canon will likely have an R1 true flagship eventually). All were introduced in 2021 (two very late in 2021 and still hard to get). All are superb cameras, but again with their different brand personalities.

Here's what I'd say: four cameras—R3, Z9, A1, A7 Mark IV—are the arguably "hot" full frame products at the moment, and only the Sonys seem to be easily buyable off-the-shelf right now. But all the rest I've mentioned are "warm" products still, and reasonable choices.

Lenses are a different story this past year: everyone produced some full frame offerings. In the last 12 months:

  • Canon 6
  • Nikon 8
  • Panasonic 2 (plus Sigma 4)
  • Sony 3 (plus Sigma 4, Tamron 3)

Thus, if you haven't looked at lens offerings recently, you really should take another peak, as this is an area of constant change at the moment.

In terms of what I'd consider as being a camera I'd consider picking up this summer (for each brand I'll again go low to high in price):

  • Canon R6, R5, or R3. These are the modern, on-going designs. We're still waiting for replacements for the RP and R, and I wouldn't consider them because they need to catch up to where Canon's design team is today.
  • Nikon Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, or Z9. Four full frame bodies, two category wins and two solid placements. 
  • Panasonic S5, maybe S1R. Panasonic's best camera is the all-arounder at 24mp. The 47mp S1R is feeling a little long in the tooth, and really needs more lens support.
  • A7 Mark IV, A7R Mark IV, A7S Mark III, A9 Mark II, or A1. Plenty of goodness now shows up in the Sony lineup, plus you might consider the A7C if you're more into video than stills. However, let me say this: A7 Mark IV and A1. That's all most would need, and in my opinion Sony's two finest efforts for photographers. I don't see much benefit of the A7R Mark IV over the A1 for pixels, believe it or not. The others are specialty cameras. 

The fact that Sony has been in mirrorless full frame since 2013 shows. Sony started in a decent place, and have iterated a full, broad lineup that's attractive. That said, if you've been a long-time user of a brand, all four brand choices now are highly refined mirrorless implementations of that brand identity and UX. It's probably not worth it to be a switcher any more. 

Final Thoughts

If you're not brand loyal and were just starting out with interchangeable lens cameras, we're currently about where we got to a decade ago with DSLRs: solid crop sensor and full frame choices across multiple brands. Take your pick. 

Personally, I'd be buying based upon lenses over camera if starting from scratch. Fujifilm's lens set for APS-C is the most extensive, though still needs work in the telephoto range. Sony's lens set for full frame is extensive, particularly when you add in the Samyang, Sigma, and Tamron autofocus lenses for the mount. Yet Sony, too, needs more work in the telephoto range. However, if lens choice is high on your list, Fujifilm and Sony are your clear choices for APS-C at the moment.

That leaves four full frame mounts to discuss in terms of lenses:

  • Canon RF — A lot of odd choices, and many of them aperture constrained or aperture relaxed. The middle needs a lot of work for full frame. We have 27 lenses currently, but take a closer look and actually count the ones that you might really get; the number you're interested in may be far less.
  • Nikon Z FX — Nikon pumped up the volume, and now has an arguably strong lineup, with the telephoto side starting to stand out as a strength. That provides us 24 lenses now, with quite a few being best in class. 
  • Panasonic L — Long ago I wrote an article about what lenses every mount needs as a minimum. Panasonic seems to be following that article. 16-300mm covered in seven zooms, 24, 35, 50, and 85mm covered in four fastish primes. Those 11 lenses basically cover the minimum I noted in my article.   
  • Sony FE — I give Sony full marks for not just filling out their lineup, but pushing it forward. Like Nikon, Sony has quite a few best in class lenses now. The total is currently 42 lenses, but there's a lot of focal length duplication going on (even more if you count the Samyang/Sigma/Tamron offerings). If you count near neighbors, Sony has produced seven "normal" primes. Three or four would have sufficed. In zoom lenses that cover the mid-range, we get eight. Four or five would have been fine. Choice is good, but Sony still has clear gaps in the full frame lineup, so I'd rather have those filled than lens duplication. 
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