Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

News and commentary about the mirrorless camera world (latest on top). Hover or tap on News/Views in the menu bar above to see the full list of recent articles as well as folders containing all older ones dating back to 2011.

Panasonic Hints at Changes in Camera Group

Update: Panasonic issued a brief statement about the Nikkei report I refer to below: the company now indicates a change in internal organizational structure, essentially moving consumer cameras into the PanasonicAppliances Company to "further deepen our relationships with customers." The only aspect ofthe Nikkei article that Panasonic seems to object to though is the use of the word "dismantling." I'm still pretty sure that we'll see the digital camera group scaled back in some fashion when the actual reorganization is announced in April. Further reports out of Japan say that everything Lumix will be moved to the Appliances group, while all the Varicam and broadcastgear will stay in a renamed group.

We need to talk about the elephant in the room. Especially since we keep getting more elephants in the same sized room.

Panasonic began telling Japanese business press late last week about their plans to continue restructuring their businesses. A few years back I noted that Panasonic's CEO issued an ultimatum for all the sub-businesses in the sprawling conglomerate: hit a minimum 5% ROI or risk elimination. Digital cameras was one of those businesses he targeted.

The Nikkei Asian Review is now reporting that Panasonic's camera businesswill be scaled back. Actually, they use the term "dismantled," which seems more draconian.

While no numbers were broken out for digital cameras, cameras were lumped together with five other Panasonic businesses that in total lost 46 billion yen on 380 billion yen of sales. That's not good. 5% ROI is not even on the horizon for those folk, it's a long trek across parched territory before they can even see it, let alone reach it.

This information is coming out just as Panasonic works on wrapping up their accounting for their full fiscal year that ends this week. Panasonic will likely report full restructuring plans along with their fiscal year results in the last week of April.

Does this mean that Panasonic is getting out of the camera business? No. I had to struggle with working through a couple of Japanese-language documents for more information, but it appears that digital cameras will have a headcount reduction, a management/operations realignment, and future product plans will be more focused and modest.

Frankly, I'm still a little puzzled. Cameras like the ones we discuss on this site were brought within the Visual and Imaging group at the last Panasonic reorganization, which puts them in with broadcast video gear. In the information we have so far, it's not clear whether Tsuga-san, the CEO, means that this entire group is floundering, or just the still cameras within the group. The latter is my guess, but then it seems strange to suggest that they'll move digital cameras to "other operations," as there really isn't a better fit within Panasonic, and products such as the GH5 are a strong cross-over between the consumer and professional gear.

So what's this mean in terms of future Panasonic m4/3 products? Good question. But we've already gone through a couple of cycles with apparently the same result. Panasonic had one of the largest model spreads and fastest iteration processes in mirrorless. They've produced 26 different m4/3 models since 2008 (Olympus had 19, Sony had 23).

If you look at the period after Tsuga-san's original ultimatum, you see a distinct slowdown in Panasonic model proliferation that peaked—or is that plunged?—in 2014, but then started to pick up again in 2015/2016. I think we're going to go back to a slowdown. Panasonic's going to need to pick the products it thinks will carry the day for them in any downsizing. The GH5 certainly is one of those, but what are the others?

Looking at B&H, I see 15 current Panasonic cameras:

  • Small sensor Compacts: FZ80, FZ300, TS30, ZS50, ZS60
  • 1" Compacts: FZ1000, FZ2500, LX10, ZS100
  • m4/3: GH5, G85, G85, GX850, GX8, LX100

Panasonic's own site also lists the GH4 and G7. (Aside: did you know that Panasonic offers a 10% discount to students?)

If I had to guess, that first bullet line will likely completely disappear. The question that's unanswered is how many of the others would join them? The problem really has to do with dealers and selling products to consumers. If you look at the authorized dealer list, you see an awful lot of big retail/internet sources (and ironically, some photo stores that have closed, such as Keeble & Schucat and Showcase Photo). Those big retailers aren't going to be selling GH5's. And if you take Best Buy, BJ's, Costco, et.al. out of the list, you don't have a very deep dealer set here in the US.

So let's talk about the elephants and the room.

The overall ILC room is getting smaller. The mirrorless sub-room has been relatively the same size for awhile now; it's the DSLR sub-room that's shrinking.

Within the mirrorless sub-room, we have the following that has happened:

  • Canon has wandered into the room with a credible small DSLR type product.
  • Fujifilm has been taking up more and more space in the room with its onslaught of products (they had four new models in 2016, more than anyone else, and have the biggest camera in the room).
  • Nikon seems to be over in the corner contemplating their navel.
  • Olympus, despite all their product churn, still sells about the same number of product as they did before.
  • Samsung left the room.
  • Sony did a massive amount of churning until 2015 and was a fast-growing elephant in the room, but then hit the brakes and went further upscale in 2015 and 2016 instead of trying to grow.

Panasonic's best-known product in the room is mostly valued as a video camera (GH4/GH5). Other than that they're worse off than Olympus (e.g. Panasonic is losing market share).

Look at the DSLR sub-room. It really has two players left in it: Canon and Nikon. And we seem to be returning there to the world of the 90's when Canon was outselling Nikon nearly 2:1. So call that room 60%/30%.

I think that long-term the mirrorless sub-room is likely to see something similar happen, with only two or three players dominating. Right now we have Sony, m4/3, and Canon having the biggest market shares in that room. But: Sony and Olympus are flat, Panasonic is down, Canon is surging, and we also have a surging Fujifilm, though they started late and from zero. Nikon can't ignore this room, so they'll be back.

More so than any other any other part of the camera business, mirrorless is the room that's going to be fought over. That's good news in one respect: we're getting more and faster iteration and innovation in mirrorless than in DSLRs or compacts. We're getting more choice. But I suspect these things are going to both change for the worse. Sooner rather than later. As Panasonic is showing, continuing to try to grab a room when you're losing money probably means you're not the dominant elephant. Time to find a corner you can do well in and let the big Matriarchs battle it out for the rest of the room.

The elephants to watch most closely are Canon and Sony. The two scariest elephants in the room are Fujifilm and Nikon, one because of its rapid growth and excellent word of mouth, the other because it will likely storm back into the room very aggressively.

Looked at a different way, Fujifilm and Sony are the two elephants that have decided this is their room and walk around as if they own it. A small Canon elephant wandered in and decided that they liked it, and may soon bring more of the herd with them. Nikon sent a tiny, under-sized elephant into the room, it pranced around for awhile, but everyone mostly ignored it. Olympus and Panasonic are scratching their heads saying "wait, we invented this room."

Next on the National Geographic Channel, The Battle of the Mirrorless Elephants.
The mirrorless elephant, photography's most charismatic and intriguing product, today faces market forces driving its value ever downward. This groundbreaking National Geographic special goes undercover to expose the photographers that are buying or not buying these devices. It also demonstrates how the mirrorless elephant is far more complex than ever imagined.

cue music...

Where Are the New Mirrorless Cameras?

Availability of most current mirrorless camera models(I'm just going to use B&H as an example here, but similar things are happening elsewhere in the retailer chain; data current as of March 18, 2017).:

  • Canon EOS M5 — body in stock, basic kit (15-45mm) back-ordered
  • Canon EOS M6 — not yet available
  • Fujifilm GFX — back-ordered
  • Fujifilm XT-2 — back-ordered
  • Fujifilm XT-20 — not yet available
  • Fujifilm X-A3 — available
  • Fujifilm X-Pro2 — available
  • Hasselblad X1D — not yet available
  • Leica M10 — not yet available
  • Leica SL — available
  • Leica TL — available
  • Nikon J5 — available (mostly; one kit back-ordered)
  • Nikon V3 — available
  • Olympus E-M1 Mark II — back-ordered
  • Olympus Pen-F — available
  • Olympus E-M10 Mark II — available
  • Olympus E-M5 Mark II — available
  • Olympus E-PL8 — available
  • Panasonic GH5 — not yet available
  • Panasonic G85 — body available, kit back-ordered
  • Panasonic G7 — available
  • Panasonic GX85 — available
  • Panasonic GX850 — not yet available
  • Sony A7rII — available
  • Sony A7sII — available
  • Sony A7II — available
  • Sony A6500 — available, dual lens kit back-ordered
  • Sony A6300 — available
  • Sony A6000 — available
  • Sony A5000 — available

Note: B&H often uses "New Item - Coming Soon" even for products where they've managed to ship some units to their wait list. Generally that means they haven't cleared their prepurchased list yet.

The question is what to make of this. Out of 30 "current" cameras we have almost a third (9) not yet available and over a third (12) that have some form of back-order to certain forms or kits. When I look at other sources, I see basically the same thing: about a third of those 30 models I list are not currently in stock.

Some caveats before we begin: (1) I'm using US-biased data; (2) we don't know what the volume level is yet.

I see two trends in the overall data I'm looking at (which includes more than just B&H):

  1. The newest high-end mirrorless gear is either in stronger demand than anticipated, or being shipped to the US in lower quantities than current demand.
  2. Kits are tending towards back-orders for some reason. That could be that people are new to that mount and need lenses in addition to a camera, which indicates sampling and leaking from other mounts (it's far less likely that it's due to absolutely new customers entering the market given the shrinking overall market).

I have no doubt that this will change greatly as we move into the summer months and further away from the announcement dates of these products (though I should point out that some of those "not yet available" were announced now six months ago). Sony's relative complete availability would tend to tell me that the sensor shortage is behind us, too.

If you look at the CIPA data you see that shipments to the Americas were only 82.3% in volume for 2016 what they were for 2015. That despite the fact that total shipments worldwide were 94.4%. So it may be that demand for mirrorless is picking up some in the US, but the Japanese haven't yet really responded to that. Then again, for January 2017 mirrorless shipments to the Americas were 208.5% compared to January 2016, so maybe the Japanese have noticed a change in American attitude towards mirrorless.

Still, in January the Japanese companies sent as many mirrorless cameras to Japan as they did to the Americas. By comparison, they sent over twice as many DSLRs to the Americas as they did to Japan.

More Thoughts on the State of Mirrorless

My views are changing a bit about mirrorless as time progresses.

Back when I started using mirrorless cameras, it was as a supplement to my DSLRs. In particular, I began by using m4/3 cameras for the wide to moderate telephoto range while I was on safari, leaving my two DSLRs both with telephoto lenses (typically 70-200mm and 400mm at full frame focal lengths).

The other thing that I was using mirrorless for was to reduce my pack weight when I was traipsing off deep into the wilds, well away from the front country.

In both cases I tended to not be worried about low light. The safari work at the very edges of the day was about the only time I moved off of base ISO with those early mirrorless cameras, and even then I didn't move far.

No matter how you slice it, with all other things equal a smaller sensor definitely propagates random photon noise more than a larger sensor. One way we tended to try to mitigate that with m4/3 was to use faster lenses. Of course, now some of those faster lenses are getting fairly big, and we find we're back into the dynamics of size/weight balanced against results.

To put that in context, an Olympus EM-1 Mark II with the 12-40mm f/2.8 clocks in at 825g (29.1 ounces) while a Sony A7rII with the 24-70mm f/4 clocks in at 1055g (37.2 ounces). The Sony will have more pixels (in normal shooting) and almost a stop better capability—despite the slower lens aperture—for not much change in weight. Meanwhile, a Sony A6500 with the 16-70mm f/4 would be reasonably equivalent to the Olympus and lighter at 761g (26.8 ounces). I don't think I ever expected m4/3 to get bracketed like that, and it's definitely affected my thinking.

Whereas early on in the mirrorless era there was a distinct difference between a highish-end mirrorless and any medium-to-high DSLR, what's happening now is that the lower end DSLRs are shedding weight while the mirrorless competitors are all fuzzing up comparisons by offering new and interesting choices. Our ILC choices are getting more confusing, not less.

As a result my commitment to m4/3 hasn't been unwavering. I'll say this: I still love the OM-D bodies and the Olympus glass (with a bit of Panasonic glass mixed in). Olympus is making very high precision and performance gear, and because of the smaller sensor size, that tends to be reasonably compact and not heavy. The biggest pain of the Olympus system has been getting (and keeping) the camera set up the way I want it, coupled with prices that aren't exactly low. I also don't like the way Olympus leap-frogged models. For awhile, the E-M5 was a better camera than the E-M1, but now we're back to the inverse, but that will probably change again in the future.

Meanwhile, we've had three other mirrorless competitors considerably up their game. As I noted in my recent review of the Canon EOS M5, that camera is basically a very small Canon DSLR in terms of function and performance. If I were a Canon DSLR shooter on safari, it would be a no brainer to use an M5 the way I've been using the Olympus OM-Ds, even given the lack of EOS M lens choice at the moment.

Fujifilm has slowly built the X system into something that has to be considered, too. While a lot of sites and fans write about Fujifilm's (Kaizen) continuous improvement, I'm on record as saying it was necessary. The X-Pro1 lacked a lot of DSLR-like features and performance. To Fujifilm's credit, they've been back-filling the firmware of their X models ever since, but I see that more as necessary catch-up than something exceptional beyond what the established players already have. At this point, a Fujifilm X-T2 (review coming shortly) is a lot like a DSLR in features, controls, and performance. But it took Fujifilm a few years to get to that level. And then this year they began shipping the same thing in the largest sensor you'll find in a mirrorless camera (GFX).

And then there's Sony with the E/FE siblings. Sony hasn't been trying to imitate DSLR controls and function. They seem to be trying to stick the technical kitchen sink into every new product, pushing boundaries on things that haven't been pushed before. Along the way, they slowly sidled into a menu/control/ergonomics that's some merger of old compact camera and new-age DSLR.

So where we are now is with a mirrorless market that has an incredible array of choices. Sensors of the primary choices range from m4/3 to APS to full frame to small medium format. And from 20mp to 50mp. Focus performance is no longer lethargic and unusable for moving subjects. Frame rates are DSLR-like or better. Lens choices have expanded in three of the systems to be reasonably full and diverse. We're near maturity of these mirrorless products, basically.

So what do I think about each of the most talked about choices these days? Here's my thinking about the main contenders in a nutshell:

  • Canon EOS M — With the M5 Canon now has an answer for its DSLR users: you want a smaller, lighter version of what you've got with very little performance difference? Get an M5. The scenario where I started into mirrorless—cover the mid-range on safari with something small so I didn't have to change lenses on the DSLRs—is now adequately covered for a Canon shooter. Do you venture into Canon EOS M from scratch as your sole camera choice? Probably not. The lens set just isn't there. Do you venture into EOS M if you're a Canon DSLR user? Sure, as there's no real downside to that if you're looking at the EOS M as a take-everywhere supplement to what you've got.
  • Fujifilm XF — The APS-sensor Fujifilm cameras still have that irritant that has bothered me from the beginning: getting great low level color detail out the X-Trans sensor requires changes to your workflow. Using Lightroom for everything is not the best of choices for a Fujifilm XF user as you're leaving some image quality on the table. And that undermines a lot of what there is to like about cameras such as the X-T2. Certainly if you like the out of camera JPEGs, no worries. And if you don't need fast telephoto choices beyond the 50-140mm f/2.8, ditto. The all-prime shooter tends to love the Fujifilm lens offerings, and they match up very well with the cameras and their capabilities. Fujifilm is a good choice for sole camera system as long as you're fine with X-Trans and aren't heavy into long telephoto use.
  • Olympus/Panasonic m4/3 — Very mature products with a mature lens set. I'd have to say that both companies are now close to extracting all we're going to get out of the m4/3 sensor short of there being a major technology breakthrough in sensors (which, of course, would benefit other systems, too; something like spillover electron count is going to be necessary to extract more dynamic range in m4/3, for instance). And that's really my one big issue with m4/3: it has limits. Limits that I do hit in my regular work. You may not. You can mitigate those limits somewhat by picking fast lenses, but then you're paying more and in many cases starting to pile on some of the weight you lost by picking m4/3. Still, m4/3 is very viable as a sole camera system as long as you don't need to press extremely high into the upper ISO values. If you can live in the base to ISO 1600 range, no worries at all. The further you press above that, the more you need to closely examine what the results will be before committing to m4/3.
  • Sony E — These small cameras are now gee-whiz miracles. Sony has been throwing everything they know about technology into them while keeping the original smallness of the NEX system. But Sony is also not really fixing ergonomic issues or coming up with a fuller, better lens set. Pity. Because the E system is starting to become a head-scratcher, and for similar reasons that the crop sensor DSLRs did: neglect of the entire system, particularly a full and appropriate lens set. I'd say to someone contemplating Sony E: pay close attention to the lens set and make sure you can live with what exists today.
  • Sony FE — The A7 models definitely changed the dynamics in the mirrorless market. There isn't a better low-light mirrorless camera than the A7sII (especially if you also do video), nor a better high pixel count camera than the A7rII (the A7II is the jack of all trades in the middle). Unlike E, Sony has been filling out the FE line, and with some exceptionally good glass. We're still missing some really wide primes and the long telephoto exotics, but in the 24-200mm range Sony's offerings pretty much cover everything. But here's the thing: a full frame 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for the A7 series is the same size and weight as one for the Canon or Nikon full frame DSLRs. Note what I wrote about not fixing the ergonomic issues with Sony E: something similar is happening with the FE cameras, too. Too much emphasis on the gee-whiz stuff and not enough on the pedestrian how-you-handle-it stuff. Thus, I don't see the point of buying into the A7 models with the f/2.8 lenses over just getting a DSLR and its f/2.8 lenses: you'll get better handling and won't be noticeably bigger and heavier with the DSLR. I find myself using the A7rII with the f/4 zooms, which means I'm putting a bit of a compromise in front of an uncompromised sensor in order to keep the package smaller and lighter.

So what's the conclusion? I can see some people gravitating towards any of those five systems, though the Canon EOS M, Fujifilm X, and Sony FE are the ones that seem to be growing fastest. The m4/3 owners seem to have already identified themselves, but don't seem to be growing much. Indeed, Olympus themselves admitted that most of the E-M1 Mark II sales were going to previous E-M users. That's not to underplay m4/3, but note what I wrote about limits, above. We're getting back towards where we were with early DSLRs, when Olympus 4/3 DSLRs were nice, but faded fast in competitiveness due mostly to smaller sensor choice.

That said, in my personal order of preference at the moment, I tend towards:

  1. Sony FE
  2. Olympus m4/3
  3. Canon EOS M
  4. Fujifilm XF
  5. Sony E

The FE preference is all about the sensor/lens combinations and very little about the camera, which I tolerate. XF falls lower than you might have guessed because I just have issues with the workflow in getting everything I can out of the raw data. Moreover the Fujifilm raw data has some things baked into it I don't like. (Dispute that? Try reading this article on Fujifilm X-Trans versus Bayer; and that article doesn't speak to the workflow issues.)

But I could be happy with any of these five if that's all I was able to shoot with.

Some of you are wondering about the mirrorless systems I didn't mention, so in fairness, I'll give you my summary for them, too:

  • Fujifilm GFX — A game changer for a few. All the goodness of the Fujifilm XF system with a small medium format Bayer-patten sensor. Thing is, the lens set is going to define this as a mid-range camera for some time, basically 24-90mm equivalent. If that's where all your shooting is, then you pretty much have to look at the GFX, even comparing it to DSLRs shooting in that range. The buy-in is expensive, though, basically in Leica territory (see below). But bravo to Fujifilm for showing that mirrorless can be much more than just a smaller DSLR replacement.
  • Hasselblad XCD — The jury is still out here. I haven't had much more than the chance to hold one and point it at random things for a few minutes so far, so can't really speak to how good it may or may not be. Like the Fujifilm GFX, it does make you think harder about the Leica offerings (see next).
  • Leica M — The new M10 certainly chips away at a few shortcomings of the M system, but you're still playing in a fairly narrow field if you opt for an M. Basically the M performs best in the 24-85mm range due to the way the viewfinder works. You're paying a high price for a good product, but the product has limits. With the advent of Fujifilm GFX, the M now has an interesting competitor playing in the same game. Good thing Leica decided to shave some size off the M.
  • Leica TL — Like a small, distant star going nova. There was a small, bright flash as the T (then TL) came onto the market, then it seems to have disappeared. I liked what Leica was trying to do with this camera, but I don't think it ever fully delivered. I still get bug reports from people who have one, and the lens set hasn't exactly flourished. One has to wonder if Leica is trying to juggle too many balls.
  • Leica SL — This is a system I don't get. I guess it's supposed to take the place of the R series for digital, but I'm not sure why I'd want it. Beyond being expensive, your choices turn out just huge. With just the 50mm f/1.4 mounted on the camera you're almost four ounces above four pounds (1912g), yet you've only got a 24mp full frame camera with a normal lens. You've also paid over US$10,000 for the privilege. Seems to me that you're not getting anything significant—other than a collectible camera—beyond what you can get with a Sony A7II and a decent 50mm lens for it. And again, the Fujifilm GFX puts a whole 'nother play into this realm: for less money you'd get twice the pixels in a larger sensor and at less weight overall.
  • Nikon 1 — An interesting option early on in its history, as it had performance and features not found elsewhere in mirrorless. But Nikon has apparently abandoned the system as we're coming up on two years with no new products. The premise of small sensor size, and thus small camera didn't really go anywhere, and I'd say that's mostly Nikon's fault. They got pretty much everything wrong with the Nikon 1 rollout, and didn't fix that quickly or consistently. These days we have compact cameras with the same sensor and basic performance specs (e.g. RX100 Mark V) that have a better built-in lens than Nikon delivered in the interchangeable lens kits. I don't see how you buy a Nikon 1 system these days. There's no there currently there, and no no there about to be there that I can tell.
  • Sigma sd — I'd say this: the only reason you buy a Sigma sd is because of the Foveon three-layer sensor. Which means that you're almost always shooting at base ISO and you don't mind a camera that's sluggish at best case. You also don't mind terrible software in your workflow if you're shooting raw (and you should be shooting raw if you want the best out of this sensor). Personally, I find Foveon image data to be a bit on the contrasty side, but at base ISO you certainly can't complain about edge acuity: it's clearly better than an equivalent Bayer-type sensor.

Sadly, it seems we've lost Ricoh/Pentax and Samsung in the mirrorless market, so those systems appear to be dead-ends and you absolutely need to be happy with what is available on the used market (and again, the Nikon 1 is trending that way).

I'll continue to cover the full range of mirrorless products, but I felt that you needed to know some of my own personal thoughts on these systems and which I feel are truly usable/desirable at the moment. More reviews are coming soon, though I doubt I'll ever manage to keep up with the full onslaught of model proliferation.

m4/3 Catches Canon and Nikon Lens Catalogs

bythom m43lenses

Four-thirds.org today published a catalog of available lenses for the m4/3 mount, with full specifications for nearly 70 lenses, plus a lot of marketing material and photo eye candy.

The sheer quantity of lenses for m4/3 now puts that mount an near equilibrium with the number of lenses that Canon currently produces for the EOS EF mount or Nikon for their F mount. True, there are speciality lenses still missing in the m4/3 realm, plus a lot of duplication and overlap in terms of what is available given all the competing makers within the group, but still, the days of only Canon and Nikon being able to have the big, slick, lens catalogs for a single mount are history.

Canon can, of course, point to the fact that all of their lenses can be mounted and used on their mirrorless camera entry, so they still have a strong case. Worse case, you get a 1.6x crop.

Nikon, on the other hand, has an apparently dead in the water mirrorless product line with such a severe 2.7x crop that it essentially makes everything in their regular catalog a normal or telephoto lens when you use an adapter for them on a Nikon 1. Plus abilities go down and a lot of lenses are completely blocked when mounted on the most recent cameras. Way to go Nikon. If Nikon management is wondering what to call that, it's referred to as "enabling a competitor" in business school. That's also not something top managers should do.

It's worth downloading the m4/3 lens brochure and perusing it if for no other reason than to show just how far a new system can come in less than 10 years.

Update: an earlier version of this article referred to only the Japanese version of the brochure.

Leica is Healthy, But There's a Surprise

It turns out that Leica's basic financial information is available in some reasonable level of detail with a bit of a delay, even though Leica is a privately held German company. With a little help from a friend in Germany, some dusting off of my college German, and some time in airline clubs with not a lot else to do while waiting for rescheduled flights, I took a look at several of their most recent financial statements to understand what my friend was reporting to me.

Overall, Leica is profitable, and growing modestly (latest report showed 11% year over year overall revenue growth, with a 6.1% growth in their main business, cameras). What's really interesting is that the mix of camera products they've been doing shows why Leica probably does so much model thrash.

Clearly, a lot of their success is in releasing something that resonates with enough people at launch that it makes up for the smallish audience their high-end products tend to have. For example, in the most recently posted year sales of the M line—including lenses if I'm reading things correctly—declined by about one-fifth in value. In glancing through some earlier reports I can see small upticks when major M revisions launched, but very quick decline to lower volume. The latest M10 is likely to reverse the M decline again during the coming year, but one wonders how often Leica can pull off that trick.

Meanwhile, the T decreased in sales by about three quarters in value while the SL increased in that same time period. There also seems to be a strong trend for full frame among Leica purchasers, which explains why cameras like the X-Vario and X-U seemed to disappear from mention so fast. But the T is an interesting case: a one year blip upward in sales, followed by a strong drop downward.

But the really interesting tidbit in looking through the Leica financial postings is that their overall compact camera sales of Panasonic-derived models declined by something less than the CIPA numbers would suggest for the period, though still significantly down. But another compact camera, the Q, is what clearly made Leica's last reported year and caused them to slightly beat their own expectations for that year. More than half of Leica's compact camera sales for that year appeared to have been the Q, and when you throw that into the mix, Leica turns out to bucking the trend: their compact camera business has grown, and grown with a US$4000+ camera.

Of course, the Q is a pretty big compact camera, and I'm using the CIPA definition here of "digital camera with built-in lens." It's hard to argue that a camera that weighs well more than a pound is a "compact." Still, Leica seems to understand where their bread is buttered, and has been managing that area with most of their product development lately.

A few other tidbits that I noted while wandering around the Leica financial documents: North America isn't exactly their hotspot for sales (18% of sales; while Germany alone is something like 13%). The West Hollywood Leica store does seem popular, though ;~). Overall, Europe is the biggest sales region for Leica, with Asia right behind.

When I get a chance I'll take a deeper dive into the Leica reports to see if I can find anything else of interest. But as much as some folk like to claim that Leica is a relic of the past clinging for life, that simply isn't true. It's a profitable, healthy, growing company, though of modest size.

Fujifilm Surprises

To kick off the CP+ show in Japan Fujifilm managed to still have a couple of surprises, despite their big official announcement earlier.

The first surprise is the new lens roadmap (and it contains the other surprise). Fujifilm has three X (and 2 Sony E mount!) lenses scheduled for 2017. But now the roadmap has been extended to 2018 and we see a new ultra wide angle zoom lens and a long telephoto prime lens. The best guess is that these are an 8-16mm f/2.8 and a fast 200mm.

bythom fujifilm roadmap

But the roadmap also reveals the other surprise: video-specific lenses for both the Fujifilm X and the Sony E mount: 18-55mm t/2.9 and 50-135mm t/2.9.

bythom fujifilm 18-55
bythom fujifilm 50-135

Yep, those are definitely video lenses. Both feature three geared rings with identical placements for easy rigging, have minimal focal length breathing and optical shift during focus operators, and both are marked as videographers prefer, with clear, focus-puller oriented markings. Matte box placement would be identical for both lenses.

Interestingly, the E mount versions of the lenses will come first, with the 18-55mm available next month and the 50-135mm this summer. Note that these lenses cover APS and Super35 sized sensors, not full frame. X mount versions will come after the E mount versions.

Canon EOS M5 Gets a Smaller Brother

bythom canon eosm6

Canon replaced the EOS M3 today with the EOS M6. This new US$780 camera (body only) is basically the same as the EOS M5 in most ways, except it does not feature a built-in EVF. Instead, you use the rear LCD or add the new optional EVF-DC2 electronic viewfinder via the hot shoe.

There are a few simplifications from the EOS M5 model—no ISO/WB button/dial combo up top, for instance—but the primary thing you’re giving up by picking the M6 over the M5 is the built-in EVF. This means that you have a pretty clear option of picking the slightly smaller and less expensive EVF-less option, or the slightly larger and more expensive mini-DSLR style.

The optional EVF-DC2 is similar to the older one Canon had for earlier EOS M models, but does not tilt. This new EVF is US$250 and works on the EOS M3, EOS M6,PowerShot G1 X Mark II, and PowerShot G3 X.

Support this site by purchasing from the following advertiser:

Leica Launches M10 Camera

Leica today officially announced the M10, it's fourth digital generation of the venerable rangefinder style camera it's most famous for.

bythom leica m10 baclk

At first glance, the M10 is obviously a Leica rangefinder. Leica hasn't abandoned the large soap bar shape or viewfinder at edge-of-camera style that has distinguished the line for almost its entire decades-long history.

Most of the changes are subtle, but important. There's now an ISO dial at the top of the camera on the viewfinder side. The On/Off switch no longer contains an overloaded shooting method function. Up top, the centered flash hot shoe is now the type found in the TL, which means that the M10 can also use the TL's EVF. On the front, the Frame Selecter switch has returned.

The back is where the most obvious external changes show up, though (note how simple it looks in above photo). We now have a 3" LCD. Only three buttons sit next to the LCD instead of the previous six.The subtle thumbrest has been re-engineered and looks a bit more functional than the current model's hump (though there is still no front finger grip).

Somehow in all the changes the camera has dropped a bit of depth (3.8mm thinner than the previous model, which means the lens mount sticks out a bit from the front now). In essence, the M10 is as slim and small as the old film-based M4. Weight is about a pound and a half (660g). Leica is making a big deal about the size of the new camera, but this doesn't come without penalty: the battery is lower capacity (a dismal 210 shots CIPA, though Leica claims most users will see over twice that in "normal" use), and the camera has no physical interface connectors of any kind.

Inside the camera we get a newly tweaked 24mp sensor and the latest Maestro II processing engine. The camera can shoot up to 5 fps. Strangely—for a traditional Leica camera—there's built-in Wi-Fi. But most people will note that Leica has moved away from video in this model: no video of any kind, and no external connectors for things like video, microphones, or earphones.

The rangefinder itself has some changes, with LED framelines now on a 0.72x magnification view (previously 0.68x) and the return of the line preview lever.

Traditional Leica enthusiasts should be happy with this new version of the camera. It tidies up a number of things from the previous model without messing up the Leica-ness that they expect. Other than the battery, there's no real surprise in this update, just a lot of careful and thoughtful refinement.

One reader did point out something I hadn't considered while reviewing the introductory materials: Leica is pulling a bit of an Apple in terms of reductio ad absurdia. If you're a MacBook user you're really going to hate the combo of camera and laptop: there's no way to connect the two physically to get those images off the internal memory (even Wi-Fi is a bit of a problem, as there's no Leica app for macOS to perform the connection; there is for iOS, though).

And in Leica style, you have to remove the baseplate of the camera to even get to the SD card, then you'll need a dongle on your MacBook to get the files. Not exactly user friendly.

Support this site by purchasing from the following advertiser:

Corrections: earlier version of this article said third generation. Also added comment about Apple and image transfer.

Fujifilm Officially Launches GFX, Adds X-T20

Fujifilm unleashed a wide range of products today. One was the official launch of the GFX, which includes pricing and availability information (the product was introduced back at Photokina, though with incomplete specifications). Another was the follow-up to the X-T10, the X-T20.

bythom fujifilm xt20

Since the X-T20 is new, let's start with it: basically the X-T20 is to the X-T10 what the X-T2 is to the X-T1. We get the same bump in sensor to 24mp X-Trans, we get the latest imaging ASIC, we get 4K video and a few other additions. In terms of external body size and controls, the X-T20 is pretty much the same as the X-T10. Body price is US$899, with kit lens options at US$999 and US$1199.

bythom fujifilm 50mm

Fujifilm also announced the 50mm f/2R WR lens for the APS models, a small and lightweight moderate telephoto lens. This new lens means that Fujifilm now has four compact and light lenses for the X series cameras (18mm, 23mm, 35mm, and 50mm; or 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm equivalent), making them the third mirrorless camera lineup to have a manufacturer provide a full, basic, small prime set that goes from moderate wide angle to moderate telephoto (Leica M and m4/3 would be the first two). Kudos to Fujifilm (meanwhile, what the heck is wrong with Canon and Nikon in the crop sensor DSLR world in leaving this elemental lens set unavailable?).

The GFX is now officially priced at US$6500 with availability slated for late February. I've filled in any of the missing specifications on the camera data pages. Fujifilm also announced a lens adapter for the GFX that allows you to use any of nine GX645AF lenses with the GFX camera (though only in manual focus). The GX645AF was basically the same as the old Hasselblad H1—Hasselblad rebadged the Fujifilm version.

bythom fujifilm x100f

If all the above weren't enough, Fujfilm also announced the latest version of the X100, the X100F. Like the other X models, it now gets boosted to 24mp and the latest Fujifilm goodies. The hybrid viewfinder gets some tweaks, ACROS film simulation has been added, and the rear side of the camera has a few redesigns to it. The X100F also gets new wide angle and telephoto lens converters. The X100F will also be available in February, for US$1300.

Overall, Fujifilm enters 2017 with a strong enthusiast and pro lineup that has been almost completely updated (or launched) within the last year (X-Pro2, X-T2, X-T20, X-A3, X-A10, GFX 50S, X100F). It's going to be difficult for the Big Three—Canon, Nikon, and Sony—to continue to ignore Fujifilm, as the X models are now starting to bracket a wide range of products from the triopoly, and with strong feature sets and reasonable pricing.

While it took Fujifilm a long time—and at least two misfires—to get to this point, they now have a serious lineup from large sensor compact to medium format camera that has to be considered by anyone contemplating new gear. The fact that Fujifilm is paying strong attention to lens availability—even on the GFX 50S—tells me that they understand that enthusiasts might not buy every lens they make, but that they understand that having a full line available is part of the buying decision making process for users.

Support this site by purchasing from the following advertiser:

Japanese Market Shares

BCN has released their year-end retail sales rankings for the Japanese market for 2016, and as usual it's provoking a lot of whipped up Internet forum frenzy across the sites that cover mirrorless. A reminder: BCN is an organization that tracks cash register receipts in Japan. Their data is based on actual sales.

Before we get started, here's the full set of data as BCN releases it, for the entire history that they've released it for mirrorless cameras:

bythom bcn 2010-2016 mirrorless

You'll note that I present the data in a different form than BCN. They award first, second, and third place shares, but that disguises a lot of what is really going on.

Back in 2010 Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony were the only mirrorless players in town (literally ;~), and thus held 100% of the mirrorless market share in Japan. The trend over time has been for the top three to hold a smaller portion of the overall market, meaning that the market is getting much more competitive. That trend led to only 63.2% in 2016, which means that the other four players not in that chart are taking about 37% of the market between them. I don't think there's a lot of distance between third place Sony and whoever took fourth place (probably Panasonic). And companies like Fujifilm, Nikon, and Pentax have significant sales, too.

Other trends seem to be in play, as well. Panasonic started strong and has clearly been on the wane in their home market since. Canon has suddenly emerged to quitckly take over the second place market share, which has to scare everyone (other than Canon). Olympus and Sony have strongly fluctuating numbers over time, and I'm pretty sure that's due to pricing of the models that appeal to the Japanese: both companies have had periods where they've emphasized low end models and sales versus other periods where they backed off from that.

Which is the tricky bit of trying to interpret the BCN numbers. BCN used to publish much more data that allowed external parties to better assess what was producing the most sales. During the time that they provided that more detailed information, it became clear that previous generation models on fire sale did quite well in Japan, particularly if they were small cameras physically. The Japanese market is especially price and size sensitive, it seems.

This, of course, disturbs the fan boys, who expect that their maker's flagship—XT-2, EM-1II, GH5, A7rII, etc.—should be mopping up. That's not the way it works. Most of the camera buying action is at a much lower level. It's really the entry-consumer up to the mid-consumer levels that tend to speak to market share.

text and images 2017Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2016 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #sansmirror