News/Views

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.

Nikon J4 Announced (but not for US)

(news & commentary)

j4.jpg

Nikon announced the latest update to their basic mirrorless camera, the J4. Fourth in the series, the primary changes are the addition of the 18.4mp sensor and touchscreen from the V3, which also gives the J4 1080P/60 video capability. No AA filter is over the sensor, and the camera comes with built-in WiFi that works with Nikon’s iOS and Android apps. 

I was particularly amused by the “a square design that reflects the minimalistic concept behind Nikon 1 cameras” line in the press release. First, it’s a rectangle, not a square. Second, apparently Nikon is now using “minimalistic” as a marketing defense against the complaints concerning the Nikon 1 user interface. Note to Nikon: “minimalistic” doesn’t connote good or bad, it simply suggests that the camera isn’t complex. You can have good complex systems and bad minimalistic ones, and vice versa, so it’s not much of a marketing defense. 

Unfortunately the J4 won’t be available in all regions: it isn’t offered in the US, for instance. Care to guess why? Well, here’s a portion of today’s page on the NikonUSA site:

nikon1onnikonusa.jpg

Let’s see, the least expensive J camera is…wait for it…the J3. The most expensive is the J2, with the J1 in between. Really? Does that make any sense to anyone? Oh, you wanted an answer to the question I posed: the J4 isn’t offered in the US because NikonUSA still has J1 and J2 and J3 models it needs to sell. Only someone seems to be pricing them so that only the J3 model will sell. 

Even more curious was the simultaneous announcement of new accessories for the J4: a WP-N3 underwater housing and SB-N10 underwater Speedlight. Okay, I can understand the Speedlight, as with an accessory cable it can link to the AW1. But the housing? Apparently Nikon wants to compete with itself. 

Sony A7S Surprise at NAB

(news & commentary)

Sony didn’t come to the National Association of Broadcasters convention empty-handed. One of the surprise announcements at the biggest trade show for video and broadcast users was the Sony A7s. This new camera is the third in the A7 mirrorless series, this time with a full frame 12mp sensor that’s optimized for low light and video. 

a7s.jpg

Sony didn’t announce a price for the camera, though the rumors are that it will be much more expensive than the A7r, as it’s expected to be a low volume product requiring a unique sensor. Curiously, the sensor is a tiny bit smaller than the other A7 full frame sensors, and it certainly has a different data transfer mechanism, as it is capable of pulling the entire sensor data off at 30 fps. Video capabilities are 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24 fps for 1080P work, with a high of 50 Mbps bitrate in the AVCHD compression. At 720P, 120 fps is also supported. 

While touted as a 4K camera, the A7s is actually a UHD camera (3840x2160 pixel), as the output is cropped on the HDMI port where it is output (the camera can’t record 4K internally). Early demonstrations of the camera also show that the sensor uses a rolling shutter, which is a bit of a disappointment.

Almost as interesting is the ISO range of the camera, which tops out at 409,600, same as the Nikon D4. 

The good news here is that Sony seems to be getting a better handle on its lineup, at least at the top end. The three A7 cameras all have the same basic design and feature set, and are differentiated primarily by the sensor and what that implies. This makes it easy to carry different camera bodies for different needs. Sony needs to still do some additional work here, though. The A7r really needs true 14-bit raw files, not the compressed ones it currently creates. Otherwise, we don’t really get everything the 36mp sensor can deliver. If you’re going to differentiate by sensor, you really need to make sure that the sensor is delivering everything it is capable of.

The “missing A7” is an action camera: one with a high fps shooting stills with a fast focus system. So clearly there is room for more iteration of the A7 lineup. 

Why are three A7 models good news? Because it implies that the FE lens lineup is for real: the FE lenses will have multiple models they are optimized to work on. The more bodies Sony iterates here, the more lenses they’ll need to get to market to satisfy the customer base.

Meanwhile, the A7 series coupled with the “NEX updates” also seems to suggest that Sony is using the DSLR-like style for the full frame cameras, while the crop sensor cameras are styling towards rangefinder or compact shapes (the A3000/A3500 being a strange exception). 

The A7 series has been a modest success for Sony in a sea of mostly disappointment. This is putting them in an interesting conundrum. The Minolta/Sony A mount DSLR customers still want updates, but the new-to-Sony customer is likely to tend towards the E/FE cameras. The former NEX user is splitting, with some opting for FE over E. This is spreading Sony's resources over a lot of lineups, and makes for a lot of SKUs in a time of market contraction.


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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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "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. 
  • Nikon Makoto Kimura talking to Bloomberg 7/8/2013: compact market shrinks 12% in 2013, interchangeable gains 8% in 2013. So far he's very wrong on both numbers, which look more like they'll be -35% and -10%+. 
  • 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: 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.

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