APS-C Gets Some Love (but not marketing)

Just before my month-long break I caught up with the mirrorless market by putting out three reviews of various Fujifilm APS-C cameras (X-T30, X-T3, X-H1). When I posted those and ran off into the bit-less wilds for a much needed break, I knew it wouldn't be long before the APS-C wars began heating up.

Sure enough, just about coincident with returning from Africa, here came Canon with the M6 Mark II announcement, and Sony with the A6100/A6600 and two new APS-C lens announcements. Fujifilm, meanwhile, is lurking in the wings with another camera announcement, and I don't expect it will be long before Nikon pops up with APS-C mirrorless, too.

So we're back to talking about whether or not APS-C is still relevant in the collapsing photography market. Short answer: yes, it absolutely is, but the camera companies don't seem to know how to market it.

Case in point, at Sony's presentation of the A6100 and A6600 Mark Weir made the point that Sony was creating APS-C cameras with the same five attributes they've been promoting in their full frame cameras (speed, compactness, image quality, battery life, lens). Really? If they're the same, how do people distinguish what to buy? Just price? Then everyone would buy the least expensive option, wouldn't they?

Aside: why is the A6xxx naming different than the A7 naming? The A6100 really should be the A6000 Mark II, the A6400 should be the A6300 Mark II, and the A6600 the A6500 Mark II. This kind of intentional confusion is clearly aimed at the embarrassing problem of still having to sell the older cameras alongside the new ones. Plus we only have A6200 and A6700+ now left as possible future names.

Let me help with that marketing message: APS-C should be even more compact, less expensive, and emphasize all-automatic abilities over full frame. APS-C is for the masses, who don't want to spend a lot, carry a lot, or set a lot. What do you give up by going APS-C over full frame? Low light image quality, maximum pixel count, and perhaps handling attributes due to the smaller size camera.

One problem is that APS-C and full frame are only a stop apart (theoretically). That doesn't seem like a lot of performance to give up (all else equal), yet it also seems like it might be important at times (particularly with kit lenses). Sony seems to have stopped at 24mp in APS-C—which, by the way, I fully support, as more pixels produce very little gain, and almost no useful gain—which gives them something to point to with full frame now that the A7R is 60mp. 

Canon, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have gotten that message. The M6 Mark II's 32.5mp on APS-C simply isn't going to look different than 24mp. 6960 pixels across the horizontal axis versus 6000 is not enough linear resolution gain to be visible, and we're pushing diffraction impacts to the point where they take most of what you gained away. But certainly 32.5 is a bigger number than 24, so Canon's marketing will be playing that up big time, I'm sure. Does Canon have a significant selection of EOS M mount lenses that are up to 32.5mp sensors? Not really. Oops, product marketing own goal.

Moreover, everyone's been waiting for Canon to introduce some truly new sensor tech. They apparently did with the M6m2 (and DSLR companion 90D), but I'm having a difficult time seeing any details other than the ubiquitous "it's 32.5mp!" Funny thing is, the new sensor appears to have better dynamic range than the lower pixel count one it replaces in the images I've analyzed, plus very little rolling shutter. I'm not seeing that described in Canon marketing. Seems like another miss to me.

Let's face it, smartphones have turned out to be the carry-everywhere camera. The competent-enough-for-most-purposes choice, with a lot of workflow help/reduction in getting images shared. 

Dedicated cameras have to offer something more than that to survive, but they also have to be properly positioned and marketed, too. Particularly at the low end, where APS-C is almost the new low threshold.

APS-C offers far more image quality than smartphones, and almost as much as larger cameras. APS-C offers far more lens choice (except you, Canon). APS-C packs a lot of quality into small packages that are nearly pocketable (except you, Fujifilm X-H1, et.al.). APS-C should have pricing advantages over full frame (how true is that of the Sony A6600?). A properly designed APS-C camera is going to be more compact than full frame, and rely a bit more on useful automation than constant user control.

But more than anything else, APS-C should be more approachable to the masses and more able to share photos without a lot of extra work. I'm not sure anyone's got that "approachable" bit right, and I know no one's got the "easy sharing" bit right. 

None of these new APS-C options pass the "mom test." Worse still, they don't even come close to passing the "marketing to mom test." If the camera market only consists of older men with disposable income who like to brag about the size of their major asset, then the camera market is doomed. 

APS-C has a place in photography, at least for the time being. I sometimes wonder if the camera makers have any idea what that place is and whether they'll ever discover that place before it disappears. 

I've seen this problem before in tech: too much pursuit of the technical often makes you lose sight of the usefulness (to a potential purchaser). I'm not convinced that any of the camera companies are going to get their APS-C message across to the audience that they should be hitting. But it's nice to see that APS-C development is still on-going ;~).

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