Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

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

Hasselblad Announces Mirrorless Medium Format

bythom hasselblad x1d

Hasselblad today announced the X1D, the first “mirrorless medium format camera.” At 725g this is a very small and light camera for the large sensor size. That’s only about 100g more than the Sony A7rII. Without lens, the X1D is US$8995. 

The X1D uses the Sony 50mp CMOS sensor and is 4:3 in format. The camera supports ISO values from 100 to 25600 (plus Auto). Video is supported at 1080P at up to 30 fps (25 fps in Europe). Out back there’s the usual 3” LCD, but with Hasselblad’s new touchscreen menuing/settings system (similar to some recent Leicas). The EVF is XGA sized (2.4m dot) and refreshes at 60 fps. 

Hasselblad claims 14-stop dynamic range stored in 16-bits, and supports JPEG, TIFF, and 3FR raw files. Surprisingly, the camera has both Wi-Fi and GPS built in, as well as USB 3.0 for tethering purposes. Hasselblad is also claiming dust and weather proof, though there are no specific claims as to what that means (no IP ratings). 

Of course, we have to ask what “medium format” actually means these days. The 50mp sensor in the Hasselblad (and Pentax 645D, lower end PhaseOne backs, etc.) is 44x33mm. “Traditional digital” medium format has tended to be 54x40mm. Film 6x4.5 was 56x42mm. Thus, we’ve got a focal multiplier to deal with. This, of course, starts to shift lens selection. (All these numbers are rounded to nearest mm.)

bythom hasselblad xcd lenses

Hasselblad will initially produce a 45mm f/3.5 and a 90mm f/4.5 lens for the system, with the promise at least another to be announced at Photokina. The 45mm lens is US$2295, the 90mm is US$2695, so just getting a functioning camera with one prime is going to set you back well over 10k. These lenses have leaf shutters in them that support flash sync to 1/2000 second. But more interestingly, Hasselblad claims that the hot shoe up top is Nikon-compatible. You can use Hasselblad H series lenses with an optional lens adapter. 

If you’re wondering about what 45mm or 90mm covers on the smaller-than-645 sensor, these two lenses are basically 35mm and 70mm equivalent (multiply the focal length by 0.79x). The next lens to be introduced at Photokina will be about a 24mm equivalent, I believe, based upon comments made by Hasselblad at the launch.

The camera will show up in demo locations in July, with shipments to begin in August. The camera is built in Sweden. 

So what to make of all this? 

Clearly Hasselblad took a long look at what the market wants and what else is available. Smaller size, better sensor, simpler ergonomics/UI, keep the price as affordable as possible. Those are all present here in X1D. Indeed, even at more than double the price, Sony has to be worried a bit about the impact on their A7rII sales. The X1D is cleaner and leaner in design, has no big feature lapse (at least for still shooters), is not a lot bigger, and has that huge sensor with plenty of pixels going for it. As usual for any new mirrorless format, lens selection is sparse and relies a lot on adapted lenses initially, but that will change over time.

Suddenly in medium format the Pentax 645D has a competitor in price, and one that is smaller and lighter. Suddenly full frame shooters are wondering whether they want a bigger sensor. Hasselblad has managed to make a high-end body that is desirable, at least at this early stage before anyone really has had a chance to shoot with it and discover its liabilities, if any.

This is a long way from the Lunar and other rebranding experiments that Hasselblad was doing just a few years ago. Like Leica, Hasselblad seems to be rediscovering itself and getting back on the track it was once on: high performance, high quality, handmade cameras that pack a visual punch. 

The X1D is great for the mirrorless market, as it extends that type of camera into performance regions at the top of the camera heap. Welcome, Hasselblad. We look forward to testing your new offerings.

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A Better Quarter, Sort of

Mirrorless camera shipments were up 13.9% in the first quarter of 2016 versus last year. DSLR shipments were down 5.1% for the same reporting period. Mirrorless volume was 36% that of DSLR volume during the quarter.

The first calendar quarter also ends most of the Japanese companies’ fiscal year (all but Canon), so we’re getting closer snapshots of how things went.

Let’s start with Olympus, who basically repeated their pattern of the last five years: predict a break-even or profitable year, then at the last minute, report losses. Overall, Olympus lost 2.1b yen on cameras for their fiscal year, a smaller loss than before, but their net sales are tumbling. Once again they’re predicting a break-even year ahead. Once again one has to doubt their optimism. 

The good news, of course, is that Olympus rapidly increased their health via the…well, health side. The company basically prints money with their Medical group. But I note that their presentation pretty much ignored all the potential liabilities stacking up in how they’ve achieved that. I only saw brief and passing mention of “compliance” in their materials and presentation in the risk section, yet here in the US Olympus has all kinds of compliance and client issues pending. You had to dig into the detailed financial tables to see any talk of compliance issues, and even that seemed downplayed, as if the issues and exposure is all known.

Olympus has reduced their compact sales relative to mirrorless somewhat, but compacts are still more than a quarter of the camera sales. Overall, Olympus sold 550,000 mirrorless cameras in the fiscal year, up from 510,000 in the previous year (if you’re interested, I track this on the header page for Olympus cameras, see bottom of that page). 

For the coming year, Olympus is estimating 500,000 mirrorless cameras. Note the CIPA numbers: Olympus is losing market share in mirrorless.

Sony, meanwhile, was profitable for the year in Imaging, though it’s difficult to say how much of that is contributed by video gear versus still. The Imaging Products group at Sony posted slightly lower sales (-1.7%) but a very healthy profit (up 30.4b yen and hitting about 10% of sales).

In terms of unit volume, digital cameras at Sony dropped from 8.5m units to 6.1m units year-to-year. That’s mostly compact camera sales that dried up. Sony won’t say exactly how that shift is working other than to say “improvement in the product mix of digital cameras.” In other words, they suggest that by getting rid of compact camera volume and emphasizing high priced ILC units they are getting a better profit margin. But Sony’s presentation materials are opaque as to details. 

Fujifilm has a hobby camera business. Digital cameras are about 2.5% of the company’s overall revenue stream. That they give us any insight into how that business is working is actually a bit surprising. Sales for digital cameras were down 8.2% year-to-year and profits aren’t broken out in a way that you can tell whether the camera business is profitable or not. 

Indeed, Fujifilm uses terms like “strong” but avoids any indication of what that means in numbers. The also talk about “profitability” in a broad sense, as in “profitability improved,” but you should note that in Japan they use that term to indicate less of a loss, too. And while the entire group’s next fiscal year is forecast as growth in sales, Fujifilm specifically declined to say that any of that growth would be due to digital cameras (it’s driven by instant cameras and printing of images). 

Panasonic is a warren of sub-divisions within divisions, and they rarely break out the data that would allow us to examine what’s happening with cameras. The sub-group they’re in posted a 3% sales gain for the year and anticipates a slightly lower gain for the next year. The only talk of contributors to future sales/profit increase was 4K video components (whether cameras or other gear).

Canon had flat ILC camera sales for their first quarter (they’re on a different fiscal year), which was a bit surprising. Given the decline in DSLR sales overall Canon’s flat ILC volume must have been due to an increase in mirrorless (e.g. EOS M3 and M10). I’ll have more to say about Canon when Nikon reports their numbers later this month.

Overall, mirrorless is the healthiest of the camera sales groups at the moment. Compact cameras are still in a steep dive and it’s starting to look like they might not even survive, at least for the non-prosumer, non-waterproof models. DSLRs continue to slowly drift downwards in volume. But there’s a caveat: most of the mirrorless volume increase was targeted at Asia. The worldwide distribution is shifting for mirrorless (and it was already heavily Asian-weighted). I don’t see any indication that mirrorless sales are picking up in Asia, though. It could be inventory dump into the most likely market where you can eventually sell it. 

You can read this one of two ways. (1) The mirrorless boat got just a bit bigger and the lake smaller; or (2) boating as a pastime is slowly going away. It’s a quasi-glass-half-full scenario. 

Meanwhile, the cameras get better and the lens options increase. So enjoy this while it continues.

Olympus Camera Care Tour

Somehow I didn’t catch it when Olympus first announced this, probably because I was traveling that day, but Olympus has a nationwide camera care tour going on here in the US. Here are the remaining dates:

  • April 27 & 28 — Dodd Camera, OH (Cincinnati/Austin Landing)
  • May 7 — Mike’s Camera, CO (Boulder)
  • May 14 — Nelson Photo, CA (San Diego)
  • May 21 — Hunt’s Photo, MA (Melrose)
  • June 10 & 11 — Cardinal Camera, PA (Lansdale)
  • June 18 — Milford Photo, CT (Milford)
  • October 20-22 — Photoplus, NY (Jacob Javits Ctr in NY)
  • December 2 & 3 — Keeble & Shuchat, CA (Palo Alto)
  • December 9 & 10 — Kenmore Camera, WA (Kenmore)

Interestingly, I’ve been to at least five of those stores, and they’re all good. You need to pre-register, but if you do you’ll get an exterior cleaning, any needed firmware upgrade, plus checks of the focus, sensor, optics, image stabilizer, and basic function of your Olympus body.  I suspect the PhotoPlus Expo station in October will be popular, so if you’re interested in that you ought to register soon.

Weatherproof Claims


The missing claim of “weatherproof" on the Olympus Pen-F has brought up a bit of angst among the faithful: is Olympus stepping back from this feature in their camera line?

Simple answer: no. 

Olympus appears to be trying to micro-manage nuanced differences between a lot of very similar cameras. It’s an old Japanese consumer electronics maker tactic, and confusion and complexity is part of the marketing game. If you don’t know how the consumer brain works, complexity and conflicting messages allow sales people to more easily steer customer buying decisions to whatever they need to sell today.

But I’m already off point and I just finished the second paragraph ;~). 

What is my point? 

The camera makers make boasts about weather sealing and water resistance, but they actually don’t pony up to the bar and state, let alone honor, IP ratings. IP stands for “ingress protection,” and defines a standard used throughout all products to tell the user what the actual level of protection is.

Most people don’t know that there are solid (e.g. body parts down to dust) and liquid (e.g. water) IP ratings. These ratings look like this: IP13 or IP04. The first digit is the rating for solids, the second for liquids. Almost no camera maker actually states an IP rating, partly because it leads to potential future liability. The Nikon AW1 is an exception. It has a rating of IP68, though Nikon splits that into separate dust and water IP ratings in their manual. Moreover, Nikon hedges their bets by using the phrase “in-house tests have demonstrated…” instead of actually claiming independent testing to the standard. 

Why all the hedging and non-specificity? Probably because the camera companies can’t distinguish between actual failure and user failure. Most tend to claim “user damage” when you submit a “weatherproof”, “dustproof”, or “shockproof” camera for repair. Nikon, for example, will tend to imply that you left a door unsealed or didn’t lubricate your o-rings properly if you send a flooded AW1 in for repair. 

I actually have a fair amount of experience with AW1s in the water. In my Galapagos workshops I’ve now seen about a dozen AW1s used in snorkeling. I’ve seen multiple instances where the camera was properly handled and sealed where displays have clouded, and one where there was clear ingress of water. On the good side, this last trip we had one AW1 get banged against lava by a wave—remember, Nikon also claims the camera is shockproof to MIL-STD-810F Method 516.5 levels—that badly dented the front of the lens and destroyed the seal around the front element allowing water into the lens, yet the camera was not flooded despite being under water when this happened (and afterward, at least until we could get it to the boat). 

Still, the point I’m making is that I hear from quite a few people who submit what they thought was a “protected” camera for repair, and the repair is denied due to user abuse. 

Which brings me to this: if a manufacturer says they’ve done something to prevent dust or water ingress (“weather sealing” or “weather resistant”), they’re not likely to back that up with repair action on their part. All it means is that they’ve put more attention into the seals that keep external elements out than in a model without those claims. 

The problem, of course, is that these are interchangeable lens cameras. Change lenses, and all bets are off. Indeed, I’d say the most common problem I’ve seen with moisture getting into cameras isn’t mist or light rain, it’s condensation due to mishandling the product when going between cold/hot and dry/humid environs. 

So a technique you need to learn: if you have to move between cold/hot and dry/humid conditions, you’re going to need to remove the air. Not completely, of course—though that would be wonderful if we could—but as much as you can. 

Condensation is a critical mass thing. The more air you have with moisture in and around something, the more likely that moisture becomes a problem. The proper thing to do is to bag you camera when moving between those differing conditions and to remove as much air out of the bag as you can. Then let the camera stabilize in temperature before opening the bag. 

You can find zipper lock bags big enough these days that can hold a Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, so there’s no excuse for condensation being troublesome. Every photographer moving between indoors and outdoors should have a few of these bags in their backpack and be using them. 

That’s still not going to help you with the camera makers’ repair departments. You can do all the right things and still get repairs refused on gear that should have withstood the ingress. 

Thus, the other thing you need to do is make sure you carry emergency rain covers for your gear and use them. You don’t need anything fancy. The low-cost plastic cinch-bag type work fine for mist and light rain if you use them correctly. And yes, I believe you should use them on cameras that are supposedly weatherproof. Moreover, you have to still think about potential condensation as you move out of the wet environment back into the dry indoors (see above). 

So what are those IP ratings that the camera makers aren’t providing?

For physical objects including dust:

0 — no protection
1 — objects greater than 50mm can’t enter
2 — objects greater than 12.5mm can’t enter
3 — objects greater than 2.5mm can’t enter
4 — objects greater than 1mm can’t enter
5 — dust protected but not prevented
6 — dust tight (no ingress)

For liquids:

0 — no protection
1 — dripping water falling vertically
2 — dripping water at up to 15° off  vertical
3 — spraying water at up to 60° off vertical
4 — splashing water from any direction
5 — water jets (6.3mm nozzle) from any direction
6 — powerful water jets (12.5mm nozzle) from any direction
7 — immersion up to 1m
8 — immersion over 1m

Most of the cameras claiming some sort of weather protection are probably IP53 or IP54. Most other cameras with any sort of seals are probably IP42 or IP43. Cameras without seals are probably IP40. And note that the physical object rating would be with the lens or body cap mounted. 

In short, yes, I’ll take cameras that have additional sealing. But I don’t overvalue that “protection.” I still take precautions to make sure that dust and water aren’t getting where they shouldn’t be. You should, too. 

New Lenses Announced

Today Zeiss announced the third lens in the all-new Batis lineup, the Batis 18mm f/2.8 for the Sony E-mount. Like the others in the Batis lineup, this autofocus lens features an OLED display for focus and depth of field information, and a clean, modern-looking angular design. 

This new Zeiss lens works for both cropped sensor (E) and full frame sensor (FE) models, providing a very wide angle for the latter and a moderate wide angle for the former. As usual, Zeiss published test charts produced from a working copy of the lens—most manufacturers publish only “theoretical” MTF and other charts—which would seem to indicate that this an excellent lens optically. 

As with the other Batis lenses, the 18mm is dust and weather sealed. First shipments should begin in May, and the lens is US$1499. 

bythom meyer-optic 50mm

Meanwhile, Meyer Optik has taken a different approach, introducing an old Trioplan lens in various mounts via Kickstarter. The 50mm f/2.9 will cost US$449 and will be available in Fujifilm X, m4/3, Leica M, and Sony FE-mounts (also in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts).

This is a dirt simple lens: three separated elements (no groups), the classic Cooke Triplet design. The big claim to fame of this design was the so-called “soap bubble” bokeh, where out of focus highlights were near-exact circles with a small bit of rim artifact. A second aspect of the lens was a floating front element that can shift  forward in close up shooting to achieve a 1:4 magnification ratio. That was “near macro” back when the lens was first in production. Today, it’s run-of-the-mill for a basic prime. The design is unique, however, in that this front element shift is not achieved with the focus ring, but independent.

Estimated delivery for the Trioplan 50mm is January 2017.

Panasonic Adds a GX Camera

(news & commentary)

bythom panasonic gx85

Panasonic today announced the GX85 (in the Americas; outside it’s named the GX80). This is a slightly down sized and down specified version of the GX8, using a 16mp sensor without a low pass filter and a tilting touchscreen instead of a completely folding one. At US$800 including the kit lens, the GX85 drops itself into the much crowded entry-level camera level.

To some degree the GX85 illustrates the tension in the market that the camera makers are trying to resolve. Because camera sales are on the decline, every camera maker wants to sell more expensive models (e.g. GX8 instead of GM5), but as prices for cameras drift upwards, the customers’ inclination to buy goes down. So we get cameras trying to backfill at a lower price (e.g. GX85) with slightly lower specifications but enough like the higher priced model to hopefully entice a purchase. 

Still, the GX8 is currently US$1000 for the body only, so US$800 with a lens does have the chance to pick up a few sales the GX8 might not have.

But yes, this type of product development defines a downward spiral. The tension trying to be resolved is to manage the downward part of the spiral to be as minimal as possible. I see no clear evidence that this is working for anyone, frankly.  Here are the total ILC shipments according to CIPA for the first two months of each year from 2012 thru 2016:

bythom cipa ILC jan-feb

While the mirrorless cameras have had a slight wiggle upwards in 2016, at this point in the year it’s too early to say whether that’s just new model introductions or a real buying trend. I’d say the former based upon other data than CIPA (e.g. retail sales data). For a fuller look at the recent CIPA numbers, see the dslrbodies.com site for an article on CIPA Stress.

2016 News/View

2015 News/Views

2014 News/Views

2013 News/Views

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

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