There is No Best

2016 will be the first year that I don’t proclaim any “best of year” awards for mirrorless cameras. 

Why? Well, in doing my year-end research I became convinced that virtually every product introduced in 2016 was getting a “best of year” award from someone. Obviously, the word “best” has no meaning when the environment in which it is used anoints everything with the “best” monicker. 

Seriously. In one day alone I found that the top 50 photography Web sites I follow had given an award of some kind connoting best-of-year to 14 different competing products. You can only conclude that 13 Web sites are wrong—maybe 14 ;~)—or that such awards no longer have any useful meaning.

I like to produce things that have meaning. So this year I’m going to do something different. For each mirrorless mount I’m going to call out the product introduced during the year that I felt made the biggest difference in moving users of that mount forward. 

  • Canon EOS M — This one is easy: the EOS M5. First, there weren’t a lot of introductions from Canon to contemplate. Second, the M5 steps the EOS M forward in many useful ways: built-in EVF, solid autofocus performance, and a well-thought out control system that puts most things you want to change into a direct control. What we now have from Canon is a cut-down version of one of their DSLRs, making it a camera that is highly competitive in the current mirrorless world. One small problem: the M5 is overpriced when compared to Canon's low-end DSLRs, meaning you’re really paying for smaller/lighter.
  • Fujifilm X — Another relatively easy one: the X-T2. The X-Pro2 would likely get a few folk’s vote, but the X-T2 is clearly Fujifilm’s best all-around camera and the one that pushed the mount bar the furthest. However, before everyone gets all excited, I’d also point out that my feeling is that the X-T2 is mostly a broad incremental change, not a substantive change. Yes, we get 24mp instead of 16mp. Yes, the focus system seems improved as do the ways to control it. Yes, there are other small changes that make the X-T2 better than an X-T1. Yes, we’ve finally gotten usable video. But all of this really only simply makes a good camera (X-T1) better. Quite a few writers are gushing over the X-T2 as if it leaped over tall buildings with a single bound. As my upcoming review of the camera will point out, Fujifilm still has quite a few odds and ends that still need iteration; Superman’s wardrobe still has some button problems. But yes, the bar moved forward, and the X-T2 is the Fujifilm product that pushed the bar the furthest this year.
  • Leica M, TL/SL — Nothing. For a home game Photokina year, Leica seemed a little subdued. I would say that no new camera or lens moved the bar for them in 2016 (yes, they did introduce some, including a new TL and a new SL lens).
  • Nikon 1 (CX) — Nothing. As in “big fat goose-egg.” In fact, had the DLs shipped, I would have written that the bar moved backwards for Nikon in 2016, as there’s nothing a J5 can do that a DL can’t other than take interchangeable lenses, and there are many things a DL can do that the J5 can’t. So half of this year’s “Sat on Their Butts” award will go to Nikon, cheeks down. (Oh, and by the way, Leica’s Andreas Kaufmann calling out Nikon at Photokina for becoming irrelevant and headed for doom: he gets my “Call Out Someone Else So You Don’t Look So Lame” award for 2016.) 
  • Olympus m4/3 — This was by far the most difficult mount for which to call out one product over another. We have the Pen-F and E-M1 Mark II as significant new cameras, plus the 12-100mm f/4, 25mm f/1.2, and 300mm f/4 PRO as significant new lenses to put on them. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to turn in this paper incomplete, as I’ve not yet shot with the E-M1 Mark II or 12-100mm f/4 due to their very late-in-the-year shipments. I suspect those are the two products that really moved Olympus forward. Which one wins I don’t know yet.
  • Panasonic m4/3 — While there are three new “8G” bodies to consider for 2016, I really didn’t feel any of these cameras moved the mount forward. All are nice cameras in their own way, but all are also mildish iterations to existing products. I can’t say that any of them moved the mount forward much, and certainly not as much as the E-M1 Mark II did. So that leaves the 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens. To me, this really became the travel-friendly long telephoto to carry for m4/3, and it’s a very nice addition to the already considerable lens set Olympus and Panasonic have produced. 
  • Ricoh/Pentax — Not in the house. Not in the city. Not in the county. Not in the state. Not in the country. Not on the planet. So nothing moved them forward in mirrorless this year. Instead, they share the “Sat on Their Butts” award with Nikon.
  • Sony E — I’m separating the two variations of Sony mirrorless, because what moves each sensor size forward is different this year. The A6500 is the clear shaker and mover for 2016 in the APS size for Sony, with the A6300 getting an honorable mention. But I fear that next year there will be no movement at all. Let’s hope I’m wrong and that some new E lenses show up.
  • Sony FE — In the full frame version the mount moved primarily with the addition of the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. Unfortunately, that also moved FE to basically the same size/weight lenses as the DSLRs, leaving only the smaller-than-DSLR A7 bodies to net you any substantive gain. Doh!

If you’re keeping track, basically the crop sensor mirrorless cameras were what moved forward overall (Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Sony). It was a crop sensor year, apparently. With the two MF mirrorless cameras actually pushed to 2017 delivery and Sony’s curious FE body inactivity in 2016, I suspect it will be big sensor cameras that move forward the most in 2017. 

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