Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

News and commentary about the mirrorless camera world (latest on top). Click on News/Views in the gray menu bar above to see the full list of recent articles and folders containing older ones.

State of the Mirrorless DSLR

With Photokina behind us, I thought it might be fun to look at the current state of the market. In particular, mirrorless camera systems that someone might select instead of a DSLR:

Mirrorless DSLR Replacements
System Max Pixels
"DSLR" Types
Fast Zooms
Nikon 1
 18mp V3
28, 50, 85  
m4/3  16mp E-M10, E-M1, GM5, GH4
24, 28, 30, 35, 40, 50, 85, 90, 120, 150 14-28, 24-70, 24-80, 70-200, 80-300
Fujifilm X
 16mp X-Pro1, X-T1, X-E2
21, 28, 35, 40, 50, 85, 90 15-35, 28-85, 75-210 
Leica T
 16mp T (with EVF)
Samsung NX
 28mp NX-1, NX-5
24, 30, 45, 90, 130
24-75, 75-225
Sony E
 24mp A6000
24, 30, 35, 45, 50, 75
15-28, 24-105, 28-155
Sony FE
 36mp A7, A7r, A7s
35, 50
16-35, 24-70, 28-135, 70-200

By way of comparison, here are the primary DSLR options at the moment listed the same way:

DSLR Options
System Max Pixels
"DSLR" Types
Fast Zooms
Nikon DX
 24mp D3300, D5300, D7100
50, 60, 130, +FX primes at 1.5x
18-35, 28-80
Nikon FX
 36mp D4s, Df, D610, D750, D810
14, 20, 24, 28, 35, 45, 50, 58, 60, 85, 105, 135, 180, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800
14-24, 16-35, 17-35, 24-70, 24-120, 70-200, 200-400
Canon EF-S
 20mp SL1, T3i, T5i, 60D, 70D, 7DII
40, 100, +EF primes at 1.6x
Canon EF
 21mp 6D, 5DIII, 1DX
14, 20, 24, 28, 35, 40, 50, 65, 85, 100, 135, 180, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800
8-15, 16-35, 17-40, 24-70, 24-105, 70-200, 200-400
Sony APS
 24mp A58, A77M2
50, +A FF primes at 1.5x
Sony Full Frame
 24mp A99
20, 24, 30, 35, 50, 85, 100, 135, 300, 500
16-35m, 24-70, 28-75, 70-200
Pentax APS
 24mp K-3, K-5, K-50, XG-1
22, 30, 45, 50, 60, 75, 105, 150, 300, 450, 840
18-35, 28-105, 30-60, 75-210, 90-375

Basically, DSLR owners considering mirrorless has six clear mount choices at the moment, two from Sony and one each from Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Samsung. A couple of notes about the charts:

  • I’ve listed only the current generation of cameras that apply, and only those that can be used at the eye (EVF). Many of these mounts have previous generations you could pick up on fire sale or used, or more compact-style cameras.
  • I’ve only listed lens options from the camera makers themselves. Third party lenses add quite a bit to the m4/3, X, and E/FE mount offerings (and all the DSLR offerings). At the moment third parties don’t add anything useful to Nikon CX or Leica T mounts except through adapters.
  • I’ve left off some speciality type lenses, such as fisheyes and tilt/shift. 
  • All focal lengths listed are in 35mm equivalents to allow for more direct comparison. Many values have been rounded a bit.
  • By “Fast Zoom” I mean any zoom that doesn’t stretch beyond f/4 at the telephoto end. That includes constant aperture f/2.8 and f/4 zooms, as well as a few zooms that have specs such as f/2.8-4 maximum aperture.
  • The Pentax DSLR lens lineup will look a bit strange to their user base as I’ve had to apply APS crop to all the lenses to get equivalents (they only offer APS crop bodies at the moment, even though many of the lenses were designed for full frame). 

The reason why we keep hearing about leaks of users from DSLRs to Fujifilm, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony mirrorless systems should be clear from these tables: those three mirrorless mounts have a pretty strong set of choices in place. You can already get more primes in m4/3, X, NX, and E mounts than Nikon has produced DX primes or Canon EF-S. The same is true of fast zooms, too. 

m4/3 continues to be the most “built-out” alternative, with four current DSLRish bodies, 10 primes, and 5 zooms in place. With Olympus and Panasonic working together, they’ve managed to fill out the m4/3 system fast. Fujifilm and Sony are also moving quickly with their systems, though they lean on third party lens makers to help. 

Were I to also graph the “consumerish” side of the mirrorless mounts, a few other things would definitely stand out:

  • Nikon is making DSLR-like primes and consumerish zooms for the Nikon 1 system, which is yet another of those design dissonances I keep writing about. Someone at Nikon really needs to figure out which thing they’re doing, or they need to step things up and deliver both consumer and prosumer in more consistent form.
  • Leica T is mostly consumerish! Odd for a high-price maker, but I’ll have more to say on that when my review of the T appears shortly. 
  • Fujifilm isn’t overly focused on the consumer side. I suspect they’d rather sell consumers the X30. 
  • Samsung started on the consumer side, but most of their more recent offerings seem to be focused on the higher end DSLR-type user. 

So what’s my takeaway? In terms of DSLR or DSLR-like cameras with a broad non-consumer lens set you can choose: Canon EF, Fujifilm X, Nikon FX, Olympus/Panasonic m4/3, Pentax K, or Sony E/FE. Canon EF-S and Nikon DX also come into play because they can use those companies’ full frame lenses, though that tends to make them a bit telephoto-heavy and wide angle light. And that last bit is just one reason why Canon/Nikon DSLR users are leaking to the mirrorless systems: to stay small and light, the Canikon crop DSLRs are forcing lens compromises on customers. 

What I haven’t discussed here is the sensor size issue. This is a bit tricky as it really depends upon what your output intentions are. Frankly, up through about what the desktop ink jets can produce (e.g. 13x19” prints), I’m not sure there’s enough differential in capability in the ISO range up to about 1600 to make that a primary consideration. Sure, if you’re primarily a low light shooter or have some specific low light needs, then bigger sensor is better, all else equal. But frankly, these days I don’t think much about the difference in sensor size between APS (DX) and full frame (FX). I do think about it a bit with m4/3, though I should note that m4/3 has a lot of fast lenses that help those cameras in low light. About the only system that I consider mostly a “good light” system and problematic in low light is the Nikon 1. 

Update: added full frame primes to the crop sensor boxes for DSLRs. However, note that the larger image circle for full frame primes tends to make them bigger than they’d have to be for a crop sensor camera up through about 100mm.

Nikon 1 Lenses

I’ve posted two reviews of Nikon 1 (CX) lenses (18.5mm, 70-300mm) today. But in thinking about those lenses I’ve also realized that Nikon needs a slightly better lens plan than it has produced so far. 


Right now we have a paucity of primes:

  • 10mm f/2.8
  • 18.5mm f/1.8
  • 32mm f/1.2

Nikon appears to be hoping that covers the 28mm/50mm/85mm equivalent prime requests. Well, it does, but oddly. 

The middle of the group—18.5mm, or “normal” prime—pretty much is right where I think it should be (read my review). Small, competent, affordable. The other two are odd in different ways. The 32mm (85mm equivalent) is wicked fast and really good, but that also makes it big and expensive. I keep finding myself having to write about “design dissonances” in the Nikon 1 lineup, and the 32mm is a good example: the Nikon 1 really should be a small, competent, affordable system (especially when you consider that Nikon thinks they should be selling more S2’s and J4’s than V3’s). The telephoto prime probably ought to be a smaller and more affordable 32mm f/1.8. (Don’t misquote me here: the 32mm f/1.2 is a remarkably good lens, maybe the best Nikon makes for the Nikon 1 series. It’s just a bit out of place on anything other than a V series camera, and even then it just keeps pushing the costs of a Nikon 1 system into DSLR territory.)

Meanwhile, the 10mm is a 28mm equivalent that’s on the slow side. It’s small, but it’s also not as competent as the other primes Nikon has made. Nikon’s initial prime lineup probably should have been:

  • 13mm f/1.8
  • 18.5mm f/1.8
  • 32mm f/1.8

In the zooms, we get all convenience zooms (with some overlap at the kit position):

  • 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-100mm f/4-5.6
  • 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6

The problem with these lenses is that f/5.6 aperture at the long end. As I point out in my 70-300mm review, that makes them "Sunny 16 lenses” given the small size of the sensor in the Nikon 1 bodies. In sunlight, f/5.6 at base ISO generally nets you 1/800 or slower, depending upon actual light conditions. That’s not terrible for the wide angle and mid-range zooms, but all the telephoto ones start reaching levels where when the light goes down, you’ll be leaning on the VR or else getting noisier results as you bump ISO to keep shutter speeds up (and remember, Auto ISO is missing some useful values, which makes things worse, yet another design dissonance). 

Conspicuously missing—as in DX recently—are any attempts at fixed aperture zooms. The Nikon 1 series could absolutely use the following two zooms:

  • 9-25mm f/4 (24-70mm equivalent)
  • 25-75mm f/4 (70-200mm equivalent)

Better still, make those f/2.8 lenses, though then they start to be more V-only types of lenses due to size and weight. 

Frankly, I don’t get what Nikon’s optical experts have been up to lately other than maybe in FX. Even in FX it seems that Nikon is not reworking needed lenses, such as the 24-70mm f/2.8, and spending more time on convenience zooms. It appears to me that Nikon got hooked on volume and pursued convenience zooms over everything else. Yet what we’re seeing is a return to niche as unit volumes plummet in camera sales. Only Nikon isn’t exactly returning to niche with lenses. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, any interchangeable lens camera system needs a base set of lenses: three to six fast primes (24/28, 35, 50, 85/105), two fast zooms (24-70, 70-200), and yes, a small sampling of convenience lenses (wide angle zoom, super zoom covering 24-200mm, telephoto zoom). In the case of a small sensor system such as the Nikon 1, you also need a design goal that’s consistent: small, competent, affordable, which will likely dictate some compromises (e.g. f/1.8 instead of f/1.4, f/4 instead of f/2.8). Compromises are not the same as dissonances, by the way.

More and more I’m coming to the cynical view that Nikon mostly wants to sell a boatload of what I call “closet cameras”: cameras that people buy because they think they need them but they end up mostly sitting in the closet unused. The funny thing is that the two lenses I’ve posted reviews for today are the antithesis of that, so it’s not exactly that Nikon can’t do what we want, it’s that they mostly don’t.  

Which Chart is Right?

There’s a Panasonic presentation chart making the rounds at the moment that trumpets mirrorless camera growth. It looks something like this (based on actual CIPA data for the periods; I’m leaving off the 2016 projection since there is no official projection out that far to rely upon):

bythom 13

But there’s another way to look at that same set of data:

bythom 12

While Panasonic is trumpeting the first—mirrorless camera “sales" are growing as a percentage of overall interchangeable lens camera “sales"—the second is much more telling: mirrorless camera “sales" are flat, DSLRs are declining. (“Sales” is in quotes here because it appears that Panasonic is using CIPA shipment numbers, which are not sales to customers, but sales from corporate into distribution.)

If I were at Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, or Sony looking at that data, my immediate response would be: when will Canon and Nikon decide to convert DSLRs to mirrorless and attempt to marginalize us again? Given Canon’s recent projection that 2015 interchangeable lens camera sales will once again grow for them, I’d say “soon.” Real soon, as in January/February 2015 given the camera maker’s typical release schedules. 

Of course, it’s not at all certain that Canon and Nikon can immediately remove their mirrors and push the current (mostly) mirrorless-only players aside, but I think it’s pretty certain that they’ll try. Nikon has already tried once, with limited success once they started discounting. I suspect that just gave them more data on where they need to be with their next iteration (basically US$500-700, DX DSLR-equivalent performance, still F-mount compatible) and what it will cost them in marketing dollars to squeeze in. Canon was more tentative, as if they were really just scouting the territory. 

I’ve written this elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating here: just moving functionality and IQ from DSLR to mirrorless and making the camera somewhat smaller and lighter won’t resurrect the camera business. The pond is drying up for interchangeable lens cameras for a reason, and it doesn’t have to do with whether the camera has a mirror in it or not. In order to restore growth in the camera business, cameras will have to have something disruptive that makes current cameras seem not so interesting any more and worth replacing. The two things I said to target in this respect back in the 00’s were: communicating and programmable (and the two really have to be done together). Just having a WiFi link is not enough. You have to solve the user’s workflow issues from beginning to end, and WiFi is just a transport mechanism, not a solution itself. 

And, of course, you have to effectively market the disruption ;~). 

July-September 2014 News/Views

April through Jun 2014 mirrorless camera news and views:

April-June 2014 News/Views

The news and views for April through June 2014 from sansmirror.com:

January-March 2014 News/Views

The news and views for January through March 2014 from sansmirror.com:

2013 News/Views

The news and views for 2013 by month from sansmirror.com:

2012 News/Views

The monthly news and views for 2012 from sansmirror.com:

2011 News/Views

Sansmirror was started in October 2011 as a spin-out of bythom.com. Here are the 31 News/Views stories from the original three-month period:

Claims to Remember

From time to time, the Japanese companies, those following them, the press, noted photographers, and a few prominent fan boys make claims about future sales or prospects. I like Jon Gruber's way of dealing with this, which he calls Claim Chowder. So I'm going to begin tracking statements that are made and see how they fare against reality.

  • Olympus Draft Plan May 2012. Claim: 30% increase in sales by March 2017 (1.1 trillion yen). Comment: 30% in five years is less than 6% increase a year. 
  • Pro photographer Trey Ratcliff in Twit Photo Episode 54. Claim "I don't see myself using a giant D800 camera in three to four years [2015 to 2016]." 
  • IDC April 2012. Claims: "DSLRs will increase to 16.76m units sold in 2012." "Mirrorless cameras will increase to 6.43m units sold in 2012." Busted: shipments from manufacturers only hit 3.96m in 2012 for mirrorless (DSLRs came close at 16.2m). 
  • Olympus June 2012 Management Plan. Claims: 149b yen (FY end 2013), 160b yen (FY end 2014), 170b yen (FY end 2015). 180% increase mirrorless unit volume by 2017. 70% increase high-end compact unit volume by 2017. Unit volume of 7.5m total in 2017. "Strive to achieve profitability in FY end 2013." Last part busted! Didn't achieve profitability in FY just ended. Double busted! Didn’t meet FY2014 claims. 
  • Panasonic "Mirrorless Trend" in G5 announcement. 2010=1.4m units, 2011=3.1m units, 2012=6m estimated units, 2013=8.4m estimated units, 2014=10.6m units, 2015=12.2m units and mirrorless overtakes DSLR sales. Busted! Actual number for 2012 was 3.96m units, new estimate for 2013 is 4.9m units.
  • CIPA mirrorless estimate for 2013: 4.9m units.Busted! Actual units were 3.3m. 
  • Canon Re-Forecast of Sales at EOS M announcement: 21m instead of 22m of compact cameras, but still 9.2m interchangeable lens cameras for 2012. 
  • Canon interview in DC Watch: goal to reach 15% of mirrorless market share in Japan by October 2012. (Given the release date of the camera, that actually translates into "we expect an instant 15% market share") Busted! The preliminary number for 2012 in Japan turned out to be 2.1% market share for the EOS M. 
  • Impress Digital Camera magazine prediction for 2013: 75% chance of a Nikon V3. Only a few months off.
  • "I have no hesitation, in my mind and in my business direction, that in the future—whether it’s three years or five years out—that there will be three dominant imaging companies on a global basis and it will be Canon, Nikon, and Pentax/Ricoh." Pentax Executive Vice President Jim Malcolm, in interview with digitalcamerainfo.com.
  • Canon 2012 Annual Report: "The market for interchangeable lens digital cameras is expected to grow around 10% annually for the foreseeable future." Busted. Canon now saying interchangeable lens forecasts are down significantly.
  • 24/7 Wall Street (Yahoo Finance): Olympus will get out of cameras by the end of 2014. 
  • Olympus Ogawa-san to Nikkei.com June 2013: "This fiscal year Olympus aims to boost mirrorless-camera sales by 20% to 730,000 units. The break-even point is sales of 1 million units, and...the goal is to reach that level in the year to March 2015 and restore the company to the black." Busted. new forecast only four months later: 660,000 units, and they will have to increase sales significantly in 2H because they only sold 250,000 in the first half of the year. Last year's sales were 590,000 units, so if Olympus hits their new forecast number, they'd have grown their mirrorless sales by 12%, not the 20% Ogawa-san claimed. Double busted! Final year results were 510,000 units [source Credit Suisse], down from last year. 
  • Nikon Makoto Kimura talking to Bloomberg 7/8/2013: compact market shrinks 12% in 2013, interchangeable gains 8% in 2013. Busted. Compacts down 41%, DSLRs down 15%, mirrorless down 16.5%.
  • Sasa-san at Olympus conference call Q2/2013: Pen series generates steady 200k units per half year (400k year). E-M1 expected to sell 100k units in second half of year. 6051 employees in Imaging. Haven't considered selling the camera business (actual quote "no approaches have been made.").
  • Sasa-san in Bloomberg article in December 2013: 1m m4/3 sales as early as April 14-April 15 fiscal year, 7b in profit for division, 5% market share in interchangeable lens cameras. Busted by Sasa-san himself in another interview with Bloomberg five months later (see below).
  • Sasa-san in Bloomberg article in May 2014: Profitable in cameras in year ending March 2016 (5b yen), but unprofitable in current year ending March 2015 (-3.5b yen). 630k m4/3 units this year, 24% increase; 1m compact cameras this year, 63% decrease.

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