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.

Current Standings in the Full Frame Battle

People keep asking me to compare the various full frame mirrorless systems now that the three major camera companies all have one. It's important to understand where we're at, plus where we will be going in the near future if you're going to make an intelligent decision. 

Sony, of course, has a large head start, as they're now on their third generation of product and have filled out their lens line pretty fully. Here's what that looks like against the new Canon and Nikon entries (lenses in parentheses are known to be coming in the next year or so, either through leaks or through published or stated road maps): 

Full Frame Mirrorless

Canon Nikon Sony

 30mp R

24mp Z6
45mp Z7

12mp A7Sm2
24mp A7m3
24mp A9
42mp A7Rm3

24-105mm f/4
28-70mm f/2
35mm f/1.8 macro
50mm f/1.2
(16-35mm f/2.8)
(24-70mm f/2.8)
(70-200mm f/2.8)

24-70mm f/4
35mm f/1.8
50mm f/1.8
(14-24mm f/2.8)
(14-30mm f/4)
(20mm f/1.8)
(24mm f/1.8)
(24-70mm f/2.8)
(50mm f/1.2)
(58mm f/0.95)
(70-200mm f/2.8)
(85mm f/1.8)

12-24mm f/4
16-35mm f/2.8
16-35mm f/4
24-70mm f/2.8
24-70mm f/4
24-105mm f/4
24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
28mm f/2
28-70mm f/3.5-5.6
28-135mm f/4
35mm f/1.4
35mm f/2.8
50mm f/1.4
50mm f/1.8
50mm f/2.8 macro
55mm f/1.8
70-200mm f/2.8
70-200mm f/4
85mm f/1.4
85mm f/1.8
90mm f/2.8 macro
100mm f/2.8
100-400mm f/4
400mm f/2.8
(24mm f1.4)
(135mm f/1.8)
Significant Third-Party

    18mm f/2.8 Z
21mm f/2.8 Z
24mm f/2.8 S
25mm f/2 Z
25mm f/2.4 Z
28-75mm f/2.8 T
35mm f/2 Z
35mm f/2.8 S
50mm f/1.4 S
50mm f/2 Z
85mm f/1.8 Z
85mm f/2.4 Z
135mm f/2.8 Z
(40mm f/2 Z)
 Maker DSLR-mirrorless Adapters  EOS EF
 Nikon F
 Sony A

S = Samyang, T=Tamron, Z=Zeiss (for the moment I've ignored Sigma, for reasons I'll get to in a moment)

So that's basically what you can count on at the moment in the three systems.

The next question that's asked is what's likely to happen next? Here are my thoughts:

  • Canon — Canon will introduce at least one more body in the next six months to a year, probably beneath the current R, and likely more akin to the 6Dm2. They'll also start talking more about future RF lens plans (in Tokyo, they've already discussed having an f/2.8 zoom trio soon, which is why that's in parentheses in the table, above). I think it also likely that we'll see third-party lens support pop up fairly quickly, too. Sigma can easily do the same thing for RF they did for FE, which is to take the Art lenses and add a tube with the right bayonet at the back. Beyond that, everything is hazy still. EOS M doesn't play nicely with EOS R. EOS Cinema is still EF. So it's a little tough to understand how R fits into the overall Canon plan.
  • Nikon — Surprisingly, Nikon did give us a road map for lenses for a change, with nine lenses identified and eight more without definitions yet. That would be a very fast ramp and reduce most of the disparity with Sony you see in the table within a couple of years, even with Sony producing more lenses. Where things are hazy in the Nikon realm is what happens next with bodies. Where DX (crop sensor) fits in no one knows. Why the mirrorless Z bodies were pushed somewhat more consumer than the equivalent DSLRs also brings up questions. Still, Nikon's start looks more "system-like" than Canon's so far. It will be important for Nikon to continue to push that thought in consumer minds.
  • Sony — We haven't seen the A7Sm3 yet, and it most certainly is brewing in the R&D garage. Everyone expects an A9m2 next year, too. So the constant iteration on the bodies should continue. The question is whether Sony correctly now understands their ergonomic and UI liabilities and is addressing them in future bodies. I continue to hear about lenses to fill out the FE line, too, though I think we'll see things slow a bit there in terms of pace. 

As I've written in comments on other sites, the real question is this: have Canon and Nikon done enough to stop the sampling, leaking, and switching I've been writing about for some time now? And if they have, then the next questions are: (1) how fast will the DSLR to mirrorless transition at each occur? and (2) where do new users for a mount come from?

So let me address those questions with some early guesses at the answers.

Canon (barely) did enough to stop the sampling, leaking, and switching. One body won't hold serve, though. Nikon did do enough to stop the sampling, leaking, and switching at the full frame level, and they could shore that up easily by substantive firmware updates and/or quick iteration. But note that both Canon (EOS M) and Nikon (nothing) have done something in full frame mirrorless that calls their crop sensor mirrorless strategy into question now. You not only want a strong product line at the top, but you need a strong feeder line below it.

Sony, of course, has a very strong product line at the top, but they, too, seem to not have things fully fleshed out in the crop sensor line that should feed it. For now, they're relying on discounts on older models to give them a crop sensor line, and they've been ignoring the lens demands for some time now (buzz, buzz ;~). 

That's all part of question #2, above: where do the new users come from?

At the height of the sampling, leaking, switching, I could identify about a 5% overall market share impact away from Canon/Nikon and towards Fujifilm/Olympus/Panasonic/Sony. Because of their smaller market shares in the first place, that alone was a significant source of new users for what I used to call the Seven Dwarves (Fujifilm, Leica, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax are really the only five left). But as I note in my answer to the first question, I think Canon and Nikon probably have staunched the leaks in the digital dike, so the sampling/leaking/switching source of new users will start drying up for the remaining Dwarves (and for Sony, who's now sort of in between the Dwarves and the Giants). 

Frankly, the same thing I've been writing about for over a decade now is still true for the foreseeable future: camera sales will continue to contract until cameras are so redefined that it forces a whole new replacement cycle for everyone. 

No, mirrorless is not a "whole new replacement" cycle. It's closer to an improved iteration cycle than it is a replacement. I still believe that the camera makers are missing the boat by not adopting full programmability and connectivity: even the very best implementation of a dedicated camera today results in kludgy, awkward workflow and poor performance when it comes to connecting into the modern computerized world. 

Coupled with how good the image quality already is, there's no urgency for people to replace their cameras to keep up. There is a potentially decent path to some moderate benefits by moving from a DSLR to mirrorless (silent shooting, smaller/lighter equivalents, WYSIWIG viewfinder). There are also some drawbacks (battery life, new UIs for many, and cost of transitioning). 

Which brings us to question #1: how fast will the transition be going from DSLR to mirrorless? I published the following chart the other day:

bythom trend

That implies that DSLRs will just continue to get fewer people biting for new models and updates, while mirrorless tries to hold onto the size of the market it has. I'm still predicting that it isn't until 2021 that DSLR and mirrorless camera volume becomes the same:

bythom mirrorless as percent of DSLR

Percent mirrorless ILC volume versus DSLR (100% would be parity)

So the answer is this: DSLRs still have a fair amount of life in them even at the new sales level. Moreover, a Nikon D850 and a decent set of F-mount lenses could probably suit someone like me just fine from now until I can no longer spend much time out shooting (e.g. another 10 years or so), and I think that applies to a lot of other DSLR users.

The bottom line is that we have some incredible DSLRs currently available, and we now have mirrorless cameras that fairly close approach the DSLR level of performance also currently available. We live in a time of plenty: plenty of choice, plenty of performance, plenty of pixels. 

The challenge for all photographers, obviously, is making the right choice for themselves. 

Final thought: if you are a full frame shooter and you've been pondering switching between the three largest camera companies for some reason, now is probably the time to stop the thinking and figure out how you're going to act. You've got enough information already to see where each brand is headed and that all three companies are completely dedicated to producing a full set of products in full frame mirrorless form. Canon, Nikon, and Sony will all have complete full frame systems in the future, with the only difference being what date you consider they each reach "complete." Nikon appears to be particularly aggressive at the moment, but I think Canon is probably just as aggressive behind the scenes; they're tempering their statements a bit because they're juggling a lot of horses they want to keep running (EF-M, EF-S, EF, Cinema). 

Those that need a full frame mirrorless system can now make a decision (yes, that means that I'm discounting Leica and Panasonic somewhat; those companies have slightly different targets than the main three do, and I'll bet you already know if you're in their target space or not [hint: status or video, respectively]). Those that are considering their next camera as a full frame mirrorless instead of a DSLR can today make a decision which way they'll head and start planning how their transition will likely work both time-wise and financially.

Put another way: five years out Canon, Nikon, and Sony (KonicaMinolta) are going to be about where they were five years into the DSLR era: all with complete systems and lens sets. Sony today has a slight advantage still if your need is urgent to switch to mirrorless. But that advantage will go away over time. We're going to be back where we were with film and DSLRs: three strong systems to choose from.

Who Wins The Mirrorless Wars?

Short answer: we all do. 

It seems that paranoia reigns everywhere on the Internet. Sony fan boys have angst now that Canikon has appeared alongside them in the full frame market. Canon users are still worried about how good an R is versus the competition ("what, no IBIS?") and what happens with EOS M ("what, no adapter?"). Nikon users are trying to figure out what's happening with lenses, as Z is markedly different than F, and that has implications for the future. Plus they still don't know what's happening with crop sensor Nikons.

It seems to me that we have people who've already pre-bought a camera they've never handled (pre-orders) arguing with people who will never buy it (brand loyalists).

But you know, it really doesn't matter how you feel. It matters what's happening in the market with product. 

Quite simply, the products are getting better, more refined, adding features and performance, and getting better handling and battery use. If you started with an E-PL1, you can get a better m4/3 camera today. If you started with the NEX, you can get a better Alpha camera today. If you were a Canon or Nikon user, you can finally get solid mirrorless choices that are familiar. No matter what your brand bias, you have more and better choices today in mirrorless cameras than you ever did before. 

So why the angst? 

bythom trend

Data is 12-month trailing shipment volume (so 2018 is August 2017 to July 2018, and the other years are accordingly matched). 

That chart tells you why the camera makers might have angst. Overall ILC volume is continuing to go down overall. So what's happening from a camera maker point of view is that they're all—other than Pentax—trying to squeeze into that blue line at the bottom (and hopefully grow it). 

So where we're at today—and will be for a few years, I believe—is that we have a highly competitive market in mirrorless. Sony isn't going to slow down their iterations and technology pushes. Fujifilm obviously isn't slowing down, either. Canon and Nikon are now trying to muscle customers at the top end, and coming in with first generation cameras that are highly refined already and only going to get better.

Here's what I'd say about the sub-markets within mirrorless:

  • Medium Format (44mm) — we still don't have anyone pursuing the larger medium format size, but the smaller one has two strong mirrorless entrants that are adding features, performance, and lenses. Given the small size of this market, that we have a real, strong competition going on is an excellent sign. Even though it is still pricey, Medium format has never been so accessible. Rejoice.
  • Full Frame (36mm)it's now a pile-on of competition, with Canon, Leica, Nikon, and Sony all present with strong competitors now, and this will actually heat up even more in the coming year(s) as more and updated models launch. The initial lens choices from Canon RF and Nikon Z promise things optically we haven't seen before, too. If you can't find a full frame mirrorless camera you like, you don't need a full frame camera, or you don't need a mirrorless camera. Rejoice.
  • APS-C (24mm) — Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony are the significant players here, with Fujifilm being the most active at the moment. This is turning out to be a tricky format, as it really should serve as a feeder to a higher format, and thus should be highly price sensitive. Sony's A6xxx line is closing in on full frame pricing and pushing technology over form/function, I believe. Where are the refined A5xxx models? Canon's EOS M line seems like an odd step child now after the RF announcement, as it doesn't play into the new mount at all. But the M line is in the right price/feature range for a smaller format. Fujifilm relies on the X line for the bulk of their sales, and it shows in how competitive they're being. That the X-T3 came out at a lower price than the X-T2 despite all the new tech inside tells you something about that pricing model that has to apply for APS-C with full frame sitting at US$2000. Still, this format is probably the area where there's less direct competition between those offering options than there is in the other segments, and that's a bit surprising to me. Rejoice if you're a Fujifilm user. You've got some questions if you aren't.
  • m4/3 (17mm)Both Olympus and Panasonic have long been in coopetition in this format, and it's a mature format with plenty of camera and lens choices. m4/3 is really where mirrorless kicked off, as Olympus in particular was looking for a niche that it could "own" away from the duopoly (Canikon). That niche was small, light, portable, functional, and modest to medium priced. Over time, both Olympus and Panasonic have tried to take the format up-market (E-M1 and GH series), and that's problematic now as it puts them in a price category against larger sensor models, plus both Olympus and Panasonic have moved away from the small, light, portable notion in many of their bodies. And now the duopoly that they were trying to avoid is right on the shelves with them. That said, these are mature products with deep feature/performance sets, so if you've already in the m4/3 realm, you can still Rejoice (with some reservations).

As smartphones nibble away at convenience and basic image quality from the bottom, the ILC market is moving mostly towards mirrorless, and it's the L portion of that acronym that's probably most important (e.g. Lenses). 

It's really the range of lenses that are available and useful that defines ILC now, and particularly mirrorless. Look how that's shaped up:

  • Medium Format — slow roll of basic lenses. Hasselblad has five with three coming, plus some ability to use older Hasselblad lenses. Fujifilm has seven with one coming, and again has the ability to use some older Hasselblad lenses via adapter. Medium format was never the format with the best lens choice, and that's continuing in the mirrorless era. Rejoice if you're a medium format user.
  • Full Frame — Sony's up over 25 native FE lenses with plenty of third party support. Canon and Nikon both appear to be starting with four native lenses. But in both cases, it also appears that most of Canon's and Nikon's broad and deep DSLR lens lineups can be used without any real penalty other than needing the adapter. Rejoice (with minor reservations in the Canon/Nikon case).
  • APS-C — Canon has eight lenses plus the EF adapter. Fujifilm has 30 lenses with three more coming. Sony has seventeen lenses (plus the FE ones). Rejoice.
  • m4/3 — Olympus has 28 lenses, Panasonic has 36 lenses. I've lost track of how many third party lenses there are. Rejoice.

So. We have multiple choices of boxes (cameras) with multiple choices of sensor sizes to capture our light. We have a plethora of lens choices.

Simply put, if you can't find a strong solution for your photographic needs in mirrorless now, I'd like to know why not. Lose the angst. We're in peak times for mirrorless, and it's going to stay that way for a while as the makers compete for your money. 

Fujifilm Pops Up Again Under the Full Framers

bythom fujifilm xt3 back

Fujifilm today announced the X-T3 update of their DSLR-like mirrorless camera. The interesting news is, that despite lots of specification advances, the X-T3 is priced at US$1499 (body only). That's a bit on the aggressive side for a crop sensor camera given all the full frame activity only US$500 above it, but Fujifilm is hoping that the additions and changes will make people consider this new camera, as well.

The big news here is mostly internal, with a number of specification changes that put the X-T3 at the forefront of the crop sensor cameras: 

  • 26.1mp BSI sensor (X-Trans). A few more pixels, but some important other changes, as well, including 2.16 million phase detect points embedded across the entire sensor, an increase of 4x. Rolling shutter impacts have been reduced by about half due to speed increases. Native ISO drops to 160 from 200.
  • X-Processor 4 ISP. The new digital engine of the camera features four cores, and is claimed to be three times faster than previous models.
  • Focus changes. Besides the additional focus sensor sites, low light focus performance has been extended from -1EV to -3EV. Face detection is improved in "performance", and other modes also get speed boosts.
  • Black-out Free Viewfinder. This comes with a catch: you'll be shooting 16.6mp (further 1.25x crop) images using only the electronic shutter. But like the Sony A9, the viewfinder refresh is fast and continuous, with no blackout, when you shoot this way.
  • Video changes. Fujifilm joins the 10-bit crowd (both internally with 4:2:0 and externally with 4:2:2), but also adds 2106P/60 (4K video at 60 fps). Hybrid Log Gamma will be supported with a firmware update.

Elsewhere, the changes are fewer and more subtle. We do get touch on the rear LCD, and the EVF does get a boost to 3.69m dots, both nice touches that should be appreciated. Overall, Fujifilm made a number of substantive changes while dropping the body price US$100 from its predecessor. 

The strange thing about the X-T3 is that, on paper, it now obsoletes the X-H1. About the only thing the X-H1 has that people might consider significant is on-sensor image stabilization (the X-T3 does not have that). 

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Canon Adds a Full Frame Mirrorless

Canon today announced a new full frame mirrorless camera system, the EOS R camera and RF lenses (they also introduced a new 32mm f/1.4 EOS-M lens). 

bythom canon 4

The new Canon system takes aim directly at the space where the Sony A7 and Nikon Z6 sit: the US$2000 full frame mirrorless body (the Canon R's price is US$2299). From enjoying a monopoly at that specification and price point five years ago, Sony now finds itself with both of the duopoly players shoulder-to-shoulder. Let the games begin. 

The interesting thing is that each company took a slightly different path. Sony abandoned the SLR/DSLR crowd and went with an upscale modification of their original mirrorless idea and lens mount from the NEX: small, light, squarish, tech-laden, and a still-not-yet-rationalized UI/menu. Nikon completely abandoned their lens mount, but kept much of the rest of their DSLR DNA intact to keep the ergonomics intact. Now Canon does something no one quite imagined: they've added yet another lens mount specification to their growing list (EF, EF-M, EF-S, now RF) and three adapters that allow you to use EF lenses on the new camera (the extra adapters have tricks up their sleeve, which I'll get to later).

So, Canon comes across mostly traditional, Nikon takes a flyer on the optics side, and Sony has been out there playing tech wars while abandoning ideas (technically, the original Alphas and the original NEXes). It's quite a spectacle, really. 

At yet, at the heart, all three cameras from the major players have (1) full frame; (2) 24-30mp; (3) high video capabilities; and (4) ~US$2000 price point target. So before I get to more details on the new Canon R, let me say this: Sony got many switchers in the 2015-2017 time frame by being very different. Starting today—or at least when the Canon and Nikon ship later this year—I think the amount of switching that goes on slows, maybe even stops. Those legacy lens mounts are still supported well by both Canon and Nikon (via well-done adapters), so the 200 million F and EF lenses out in the wild become a giant gravitational force that holds a lot of people in the Canikon sphere. 

bythom canon r back

So what is the Canon R? 

Inside we have a new 30.3mp sensor with dual-pixel autofocus capabilities. Two things that might be disappointing: no on-sensor image stabilization and the inclusion of an AA filter. Canon is touting a -6EV autofocus capability with 5655 selectable points, both of which would be industry leading (but that -6EV is with an f/1.2 lens and single shot mode; always look for the footnotes ;~). Wi-Fi (b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.1) are built-in, but not GPS. All this is wrapped up in a dust and drip-proof magnesium body. Overall size is close to that of the Nikon Z cameras, with the Canon's weight being a little less. The Sony A7 bodies still are the smallest of the bunch, but only by a modest margin. 

Of the big three, Canon's R arguably looks more like a DSLR than the others when all is said and done. Nikon and Sony are using a slightly more edgy and distinct styling, while the R retains a lot of the complex curves and slopes of their DSLRs. But let there be little doubt: all three companies have a core body—which houses the connectors, sensor, shutter, electronics—that's now very thin compared to DSLRs. They differ quite a bit on how the hand grip is designed, though.

bythom canon r top

Out back we have an articulating (not tilt) 2.1m dot touchscreen LCD, while internally we have a 3.69m dot EVF. Also like Nikon, Canon has gone to a top LCD using new technology that's easier to see in the dark. 

The R uses the existing LP-E6N battery and gets 350 shots per charge (CIPA) using the EVF without low power operation in effect. There's also an optional BG-E22 battery grip available. Like Nikon, Canon is carrying over most of their DSLR accessories, such as flash unit compatibility (though they did also announce a new small Speedlite). 

Funny thing is that the Nikon Z series was hotly debated over its use of a single XQD slot ("what, only one slot? Not for pros!"). Here we have Canon giving us a single slot, but with an older technology (SD UHS-II). Will we see the same Internet Angst? 

What I'm already seeing is serious Specification Scrutiny. A has X! B has Y! C has Z! X is better than Z! No, Y is better than X and Z! Doesn't matter, C is better than A. Let me just say this: if you're buying a camera based on hours upon hours of comparison crunching, I'd hate to see how you buy cars and houses. The notion that any of these full frame cameras is incompetent at producing great photos seems on its face just dead wrong.

Believe it or not, there is a whole sub-category involving Marketing Complexity that's being taught these days at the B-schools. Some of it involves how people's brains work. When the data inputs (specifications and marketing messages) overwhelm the brain's analytic ability, it's actually easier to steer decision making, or so social psychologists say. For decades there's been a game played by companies at the retail level: make the decision become overwhelming due to details and complexity and then use various in-store strategies to steer the decision to the most optimal dollar intake (or away from a competitor). 

You may remember that Best Buy used to have placards under every product that listed a whole set of features and details. In most cases, you couldn't directly compare one placard against another, and that was intentional. What this makes you do is call over a "sales specialist" to help make sense of things. A great and impartial salesperson could probably indeed help you figure out what's best for your needs. Unfortunately, those folk didn't typically exist in that environment. Manufacturers gave out spiffs, retailers had sales goals to meet, and basically you were (and still are in many cases) being spun right over to what they wanted to sell you. 

I've written for over a decade that any current DSLR can produce excellent photos up to the size you can generate from a desktop inkjet printer. Still true. Indeed, it very well may be that almost any camera can do that now. But it would certainly be true of all full frame mirrorless cameras we now have at the near US$2000 price point. My response to those asking the "which brand, which camera" question has long been "the one that feels right." That's not facetious. 

If you've been using the Nikon UI for decades, switching to Sony/Canon will drive you nuts. All the cheese will have moved and been renamed; some was lost in translation. If you've been using the Canon UI for decades, the same thing happens if you try a Nikon or Sony. Sony users, however, have been having major cheese shifts, moving, and hiding going on for quite some time, so I'm not sure how to advise them ;~).

That said, Canon has made a few UI (cheese) changes on the R that might cause some stumbling. The usual line of buttons up top is now an arc, the EOS M5's programmable dial reappears, and we get a new control on the back instead of the vertical dial. But the overloaded button+dial interface remains, and the dial behind the shutter release is still vertical, not horizontal.

The thing is that most people don't use their dedicated cameras often enough so that they can overcome cognitive dissonance in a new system or master more than the top level of controls. Thus, more important than deep level spec analysis is what things seem like when you pick up a camera in question and try using it for a bit. It either feels basically right or you're lost. Don't buy the one that makes you feel lost.

But you can probably already see the "I wanted dual slots," "I wanted faster cards," "I wanted IBIS," "I wanted articulating LCD," "I wanted more/different lenses," "I wanted time-lapse," "I wanted a joystick," "I wanted full touch control," "I wanted fill_in_the_blank" arguments that are already proliferating due to the differences in the the Canon, Nikon, and Sony full frame mirrorless offerings. Ignore those. Buy what feels right, and that probably is the brand you're already using.

In this respect, Canon and Nikon both did (mostly) the right thing with their new entries. You're not going to feel lost. (I'm predicting tons of A7m3 versus Z6 versus R "shootouts" that have disturbingly different conclusions hitting the net later this year ;~)

Meanwhile, Canon also introduced its first RF lenses: 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS, 50mm f/1.2 L, 24-105mm f/4 L IS, and 28-70mm f/2 L. Like Nikon, Canon is sticking close to the mainstream (24-105mm) in focal length, while trying to show off some new design (f/2 zoom). Like Nikon, Canon is relying on their existing lenses to fill the gaps until they can produce additional optics in the new mount form. 

One thing about the new RF lenses: they have an extra (customizable) control ring. So the prime lenses have two rings now, and the zooms three (Nikon also is working on the extra customizable ring premise with future Z lenses).

mount angles

Inner angle is Sony FE, outer is Nikon Z, middle is Canon R (close to scale). In theory, Nikon has the most design flexibility, Sony the least. 

The new RF mount has a flange distance of 20mm with a throat of 54mm. Nikon's Z mount is the "big boy" now, flipping the advantage of the EF over the F mount that reigned through the film SLR and DSLR era. Whether that shows up in any real advantages to users remains to be seen, but Nikon does have more optical design space available to them than Canon and Sony.

The 24-105mm f/4 is the lens most people will likely buy. It sheds about a quarter pound (100g) off the weight from its EF counterpart, and a bit of bulk. The 28-70mm f/2 lens is heavier, longer, and a wider diameter at front (95mm filters), and to me looks a bit unbalanced on the camera (need to try that out for extended shooting, though).

So why would Canon change to this new RF mount, and what about those extra adapters? 

Excellent question, and I believe it is driven by what every camera company can now see they need next: faster mount communications, and perhaps additional mount communications. Bandwidth is not something to ever bet against increasing, and it's happening both internally within the cameras (particularly at the sensor to ISP—DIGIC for Canon—but also in the EVF), but also going to be necessary to keep up externally as well. As sensors work faster, so too will the lens response have to work faster to match that in the future. 

In addition, the angles formed by the new flange/throat openings open up some new optical territory, and I'm pretty sure we'll see Canon and Nikon head right there (Sony is a bit of a disadvantage here). 

The three adapters are: (1) a basic tube that allows mounting an EF lens on the R body; (2) a tube that does the same but has an outer ring that can be programmed for various control functions; and (3) an adapter that has a drop-in slot for polarizers and ND filters.

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In Retrospect, What Did Sony Get Right and Wrong?

Now that we've got cameras to handle, if not yet shoot with, it's starting to become more obvious where Sony's strengths and weaknesses are on the A7 series.

First, let me again point out that Sony is on their third generation of full frame mirrorless cameras and have had five years to work the kinks out of their cameras. Anything they got wrong is on them, as they've had time to correct it. 

Let's start with the "wrong" list.

What strikes me most is buttons and controls. Canon and Nikon seem to be bringing over bigger and easier find-by-touch, DSLR-like controls. Those controls are also in very natural places (particularly on the Nikon Z's). I've long argued that the Sony A7/A9 buttons just don't hack it, particularly when the camera gets a little slippery (misty, humid, snow conditions) or when you try to shoot in winter with gloves. The AF-On button is particularly problematic in this respect with the Sony. Why Sony didn't fix this over three generations of cameras, I don't know. It doesn't seem like rocket science, or all that difficult to do. Instead, they mostly moved around the red record video button and made it easier to find. Well, we can see the priorities, right?

Sony's menu system continues to be one in flux. I'm still baffled by things like why the Focus Assist menu page is separated away from the Focus 1, Focus 2, etc., pages. Icons that aren't obvious, abbreviations and acronyms that are unclear or strange. Organization that is sometimes clear, sometimes not. Help off by default. The list gets quite endless, which means that we're now waiting for Mark IV models to solve that menu mess.

Now that Canon and Nikon have introduced new, big mounts, Sony's choice for FE seems like it may be limiting. Nikon went from being in the limiting position (in film/DSLR) to now being the mount with the most design flexibility in it. Sony didn't seem to get the message, but that's not entirely surprising, as electronics, not optics, is their tour de force. Still, one wonders if Sony will be able to match what Canon and Nikon will do with the RF and Z mounts in terms of interesting and new lens designs. 

Note also that Sony also doesn't have any DO/PF lenses, either, or tilt/shift. While Sony rushed to get to a pretty full lens set in the 12-200mm range, they've yet to show any clear use of new optics technologies or things that appeal to certain niches. Did they not expect these optical changes that are occurring, or did they just not think them important? Are they not interesting in the niches?

Conversely, we should talk about what Sony did right.

First off, Sony decided to go full frame first. Someone at Sony was seeing early and correctly that Canon and Nikon would probably want to come in at full frame mirrorless at some point, so getting there first (other than Leica, whose prices pretty much put them out of the consumer game) was going to give them some time to get that right and establish a base. 

I think the three body choice (A7, A7R, A7S) was very smart. Same basic body/features, but with different sensor emphasis to pick up niche users (though lenses are trailing behind this). Indeed, you could say the A9 is just an extension of that (another type of niche user). Sony is covering a lot of bases with a lot of common design and technology in the cameras, while making changes that make the individual models unique and desirable. Moreover, Sony is reusing chassis design and lots of parts across all models, saving them (and eventually us) money. Bravo. 

Likewise, Sony is the only company that can truly say that their still and video platforms are relatively the same. Same underlying technologies, same lens mount, same feature sets (obviously slightly different in the pro video gear, though), same naming and menu conventions (but see above about menus). Canon might be able to make a similar claim, but it seems that they're much more reluctant to put the pro video features in their consumer still cameras. Sony doesn't seem to care if pros pick an A7Sm2 or an FS5m2. Canon seems to want to force video pros to the C line only. 

Sony pushed more than 25 lenses into FE realm in a few short years. They absolutely needed to do this, as with a new mount and a much smaller installed legacy base, they needed to show as much parity as possible before the big boys came over and directly competed with their big lens sets. Sony also opened up licenses to their mount to help speed up the lens population process. Unfortunately, that's given us more overlap than filling in holes, but still, choice is something you absolutely have between 12-200mm, zoom or prime. Outside that focal range, Sony needs to keep working, though.

I happen to think Sony has also done remarkably well with the optical capabilities of their own lenses—at least since the early 24-70mm f/4 problem child—and this reflects quite well on them. Sony's still a bit behind on truly fast optics and longer telephoto options, though, and they're going to need to keep the FE lens onslaught coming to survive, I think.

Note that all those FE lenses didn't come without a penalty: E lenses were pretty much abandoned, which puts pressure on Sony's APS-C mirrorless entries. 

But I think the thing that Sony did the best is not actually the products themselves, but something more important: Sony has engaged their customers. Fully. Constantly. Playfully. At all levels. 

At times I'm not even sure anyone at Nikon ever wants to talk to a customer, let alone engage with them. Meanwhile, Sony sees customer engagement as a strong leg of their marketing and sales program. I agree with Sony's approach, and Nikon's approach just sucks. (I note that Luminous Landscape (LL) just publicly wrote a complaint about Nikon's marketing no longer talking to them. Curiously, LL and I were both encouraged by Sony to come to Kando. We both did extensive pieces on that.)

Overall, Sony got a lot right, but they still have some obvious work to do. 

Nikon Versus Canon Mirrorless

Lots of discussion about "which is better?" So here's the last of my spec comparison charts

Let's see if I can try to get the feature advantages/disadvantages right. I'm going to try to stay away from as many subjective things as possible for the moment, and stick mostly to verifiable differences.

First for the EOS R versus Nikon Z6:

  • Canon Advantage: more pixels (30.3 versus 24.5)
  • Canon Advantage: better EVF eyepoint (23mm versus 21mm)
  • Canon Advantage: more focus points (5655 versus 273)
  • Canon Advantage: articulating LCD instead of tilting
  • Canon Advantage: -6 EV focus (though rated with f/1.2 lens, single shot)
  • Canon Advantage: higher bit rate on 4K recorded internally  (480Mbps versus 144)
  • Canon Advantage: C-RAW sizes
  • Canon Advantage: larger buffer
  • Canon Advantage: higher CIPA shots/charge (350 versus 310 at same test)
  • Canon Advantage: available BG-E22 vertical grip

  • Nikon Advantage: slightly larger mount opening (55/16mm versus 54/20mm)
  • Nikon Advantage: IBIS in camera instead of IS on lenses
  • Nikon Advantage: faster 1080P frame rate (120 versus 60 fps)
  • Nikon Advantage: slightly higher ISO range (51,200 versus 40,000 without boost)
  • Nikon Advantage: XQD cards (faster buffer clearing)
  • Nikon Advantage: higher EVF magnification (.8 versus .76)
  • Nikon Advantage: max 12 fps (versus 8 fps)(also faster with focus)
  • Nikon Advantage: price
  • Nikon Advantage: no 4K crop
  • Nikon Advantage: 200k shutter cycles versus 150k
  • Nikon Advantage: focus stacking support

As I get deeper into the comparisons, I'll add/correct this list. But as of the date below, it's as accurate as I can produce at the moment.

Sony Versus Canon Mirrorless

I did it for Nikon versus Sony, so it's only fair I do the same thing for Canon versus Sony (and maybe Canon versus Nikon?) Lots of discussion about "which is better?" 

Let's see if I can try to get the feature advantages/disadvantages right. I'm going to try to stay away from as many subjective things as possible for the moment, and stick mostly to verifiable differences.

First for the EOS R versus A7m3:

  • Canon Advantage: more pixels (30.2 versus 24.2)
  • Canon Advantage: better EVF eyepoint (23mm versus 18.5mm)
  • Canon Advantage: better LCD (2.1m dot versus 921k, 3.15" versus 3")
  • Canon Advantage: fuller touchscreen implementation
  • Canon Advantage: more focus points (5655 versus 693)
  • Canon Advantage: -6 EV focus (though rated with f/1.2 lens, single shot)
  • Canon Advantage: higher bit rate on 4K recorded internally  (480Mbps versus 100)
  • Canon Advantage: external battery charger included
  • Canon Advantage: better grip/controls (yes subjective, but I believe true)
  • Canon Advantage: top LCD for status
  • Canon Advantage: larger mount opening
  • Canon Advantage: cleaner hot pixel correction algorithms (no star eater)
  • Canon Advantage: more raw format choice (C-RAW sizes, etc.)

  • Sony Advantage: two slots (one is slower, though)
  • Sony Advantage: more native lenses currently available (25+ versus 3)
  • Sony Advantage: existing third-party lens support
  • Sony Advantage: higher CIPA shots per charge rate
  • Sony Advantage: IBIS in camera instead of IS on lenses
  • Sony Advantage: slightly smaller/lighter
  • Sony Advantage: dedicated exposure compensation dial
  • Sony Advantage: powered flash hot shoe connector
  • Sony Advantage: larger buffer
  • Sony Advantage: free CaptureOne (Sony limited version)
  • Sony Advantage: 8 fps live view continuous versus 5 fps
  • Sony Advantage: faster 1080P frame rate (120 versus 60 fps)
  • Sony Advantage: higher EVF refresh rate possible (120Hz versus 60Hz)
  • Sony Advantage: slightly higher ISO range (51,200 versus 40,000 without boost)
  • Sony Advantage: no 4K crop
  • Sony Advantage: lower price
  • Sony Advantage: 1/250 flash sync
  • Sony Advantage: Eye detect focus in more focus modes 

As I get deeper into the comparisons, I'll add/correct this list. But as of the date below, it's as accurate as I can produce at the moment.

Another Elephant Joins Full Frame Mirrorless

Sony had the full frame mirrorless space pretty much to themselves for five years, with only a few Leica children to shove aside. The Sony family now counts four strong siblings. Then last month Nikon joined the fray and created a tsunami of Internet traffic with their twins. Today, Canon joins with a surprise birth of one, the Canon EOS R, and we're getting another wave of Internet excitement (and paranoia).

But wait, there's more. Panasonic is apparently next, with a development announcement at Photokina likely (currently being previewed under NDA in back rooms at some other important European trade shows) and a 2019 delivery. That would leave Fujifilm straddling the full frame fence with APS-C (Xs) and medium format (GFs), and Olympus and Pentax as the no shows (Sigma has a camera with a sensor between APS-C and full frame size; I doubt we'll see a change there). 

Given that Canon, Nikon, and Sony are all putting highly competent full frame mirrorless cameras into the market at around the US$2000 price point, this is the equivalent to an elephant herd in the camera shop. That's a clear prosumer price point with a lot of buying activity lately. But it now means it will be tougher to sell a US$2000 m4/3 camera now, and it's going to be tougher to sell even a US$1500 APS-C mirrorless camera now. 2018 is shaping up as the Year of the Full Frame Mirrorless Intervention.

Now I'm sure that many will say it was Sony's Mark III models that triggered the elephant stampede, but I'd strongly disagree. It was the Mark II models, which basically was the story of 2015. In particular, it was the A7Rm2 in the middle of that year that seemed to change some of the DSLR buying habits that were well established. You don't do that and not catch the attention of the ILC duopoly (Canon/Nikon). 

Nikon in particular went strangely silent in 2017 with new camera releases. That's about right on Nikon's usual two-year development cycle after Sony's 2015 intros. Nikon clearly looked at what Sony was doing in 2015, stopped, re-evaluated, and made changes. The only two Nikon DSLRs that really survived that process were the D7500 and D850, two highly competent cameras that are key to Nikon's customer base and would have already have been fairly well defined entering the start of their development cycle in 2015. 

That the mirrorless Nikon Z7 comes just a year after the DSLR D850 with much of the same specification shows that a lot of work probably went on in parallel. But again, my point is that Nikon would have to have been changing product strategy in R&D starting in 2015 and certainly 2016 to be able to produce what they did in 2018 for mirrorless. Indeed, in 2015 Nikon was still introducing Nikon 1 models (J5), but you can see now how that line terminated immediately as they started work on the Z system.

With Canon, things aren't so obvious. They're a bigger company with more market share, and thus devote more resources to development than Nikon and Sony. Canon kept iterating pretty much everything as regularly scheduled in the 2016-2018 time frame, but I'd still say that it was the 2015 releases from Sony that probably triggered the full frame mirrorless effort in earnest from them that was just announced. Indeed, it's interesting that Nikon did a D850/Z7 combo move in a year, while Canon seems to be doing a pseudo 5DIV/R move in two years. Both companies want to keep all the DSLR customers they can, but they also want to now start picking up all the mirrorless customers they can and keep Sony full frame at bay, at least at the US$2000+ levels. 

Having all three of the big players in direct competition is highly consequential. It means better products via more competition in the future, it means pricing will probably not hold at the US$2000 level for long, and it means that we have far more choice for high level mirrorless cameras than ever before. 

I just did a quick calculation on interchangeable lens camera (ILC) dollar sales in the US for the last twelve months based on one data set I have available to me. The Canon/Nikon/Sony trio gobbles up basically 92% of the total dollar value. Eek! That's about as high as it's ever been, and all these excellent US$2000+ cameras (Sony A7's, Nikon D750/D850, Canon 5D/6D) were driving a big share of that. The Sony Mark III generation, the Nikon Z series, and the Canon R are going to keep those dollars locked up, I think. 

I've been receiving tons of "is m4/3 viable," "is APS-C viable," "is XYZ viable" emails lately as this swarm of full frame cameras has appeared in the last year (both DSLR and mirrorless). The honest answer? Only at lower prices. Smaller sensor cameras must live in the US$500-1200 range to have any real traction now, I believe. And they need to be really good, too, in order to live successfully above the smartphone and remaining compact cameras (e.g. RX100v6). 

Of course, the usual comeback is that "smaller sensors can create smaller cameras." Yes, true. Look at the Canon EOS M models: they're quite small and light but only drop one sensor size down from full frame. They're in the correct pricing window, too. Canon knows what they're doing. Be careful of underestimating them.

When elephants move, it's best that the small critters get out from under their feet. 

For those of who love elephants, we're getting a fine display of the matriarchs of the herd doing their thing and should just sit back and enjoy the show.

The Nikon Marketing Fail

I've been hard on Nikon's marketing and messaging in the past. Today isn't going to be any different. So let's drop down into a couple of examples and see where the problem lies. 

Digital Camera World did an interview with a Nikon Senior Product Manager. Let's take a quick peek, shall we?

It starts with "Shall we start off with an easy question: If you're a Nikon user, why would you want a new Z-system camera?"

Oh my, that is an easy question. 

Apparently the answer is difficult:

  1. You can use your existing lenses. 
  2. It handles like a DSLR.
  3. If you buy a new lens, you'll get amazing quality.

Oh dear. This is a senior product manager, remember. You'd think that they'd have the marketing messages nailed down. But note how his 3rd point is in basic contradiction to his first point. Use your existing lenses! No, wait, buy new ones! And #1 and #2 basically say "don't buy a Nikon DSLR," which I'm pretty sure they want to keep selling.

Next question, which picks up on that last bit:

"If I've got a D850 why should I switch to the Z7?"

And the answer is: Nikon doesn't expect you to. But they expect you upgrade your D800 or D810 to a Z7. And the reason? Peer pressure. 

Hmm. Wouldn't the best general purpose camera available today—again the Nikon D850 in my opinion—be the thing to have if you want the best so that you can brag to your peers? And what does peer pressure have to do with buying a camera in the first place? Why is that the marketing message, and not: this new camera and lens delivers quality beyond what we've provided in the past.

I do like the line he used about a "soft switch." You'll note that I wrote something similar on dslrbodies.com: DSLRs aren't dead. We're in a transition period. You can decide not to transition, you can transition now, or you can wait to transition. Nikon's got you covered in all three cases. Hmm, that seems like a reasonable marketing message. Haven't heard it from Nikon yet, though. 

But let's cut from our examination of that interview and move on to NikonUSA's launch event in New York last week. That's really backfiring on them big time. Why? Because some of those in attendance just simply wrote about the cameras as if they had explored the full potential in an hour using pre-release samples without finished software in what appears to be a pretty non-optimal environment. NikonUSA also didn't appear to set clear expectations ("these are early firmware models") and apparently also didn't have answers to all the questions that came up. 

If you're going to put on that kind of event, you (1) set expectations; (2) construct and deliver usable and repeatable take-away messages (and that aren't hollow, like Mirrorless Reinvented); and (3) make sure that your staff on hand can deal with all the questions that come up. Based upon a comment from someone who did attend that was made to me, I'm going to guess that NikonUSA actually didn't test the event prior to having it. They should have brought some tough examiners/customers in under NDA with a full test of the event a week before, then analyzed what they heard and prepared responses/changes before they had the real event. Why? This is a big marketing campaign for Nikon, not just a simple product launch. What they did in Tokyo, New York, London, and other cities sets the entire tone for the initial launch period. 

So what came out of the event and was amplified over the Internet as "only one slot and no one knows why," "has tracking focus issues," "small buffer," and "not clear why we needed the big new mount." All of those things are fundamental fails of Nikon marketing. As an anonymous attendee indicated on Nikon Rumors, why didn't Nikon just focus on image quality advantages?

In other words, point out that the samples are preproduction, but that you should already see how image quality is remarkably high: better lenses, IS with all lenses including adapted ones, the new Picture Control settings allow much more control over acuity, and so on. Image quality has always been Nikon's strength, yet it seems to be buried or under emphasized in the marketing messages so far. 

I've already pointed out that the teaser site that Nikon had everyone going to for the last month now lies fallow, with just reposts of the videos in that sequence (including the launch video). So Nikon marketing trained everyone to go to a special site, then abandoned it. Back to your regular sites, you Nikoneers!

Too much ineptitude in this launch, I'd say. And I gather that it's already had some impact. After the midnight (US EST) launch, pre-orders were through the roof here in the US. After the NikonUSA followup launch event on Saturday, they're down and there have been a few cancellations. Funny thing is, that actually might help the pre-order situation. I expect the Z cameras to be out of stock day one and not easily available to the general public for several months, at least here in the US. 

Nikon will consider an initial sell-out an indication of the excellence of their marketing messages. I don't. I consider a sell-out as an indication of pent-up demand despite the marketing messages.

I guess I'm going to have to create some better marketing messages for Nikon. However, I won't be doing that until a consumer-release camera is in my hands and I have time to fully test it.

As if to emphasize my article, within an hour of posting it, Nikon marketing managed to make three new mistakes: (1) they sent out an email to those that registered on the teaser site that invited you to dealer presentations of the new cameras, half of which have already occurred; (2) I got an email once again telling me that Nikon wouldn't confirm that they'll do firmware updates for XQD to CFExpress on the DSLR cameras; and Nikon UK managed to turn the over-a-decade-old F6 into a new camera by posting "Coming Soon" on their Web page for it. You can't make these things up. This is an inept marketing organization that can't create and control messages well. 

Conspiracy Theories and the Nikon Z

Can't say I'm getting a lot of sleep lately, as it seems that Nikon managed to hit Viral with their new camera launch, and the Internet is now flinging wild assertions and claims right and left. 

Among all the it does/it doesn't, it is/it isn't posts are plenty of conspiracy theory entries. Let me just say this up front: if there were any real conspiracy going on, you wouldn't know about it until it is far too late, and you wouldn't learn about it on the Internet. True conspirators work in stealth and try not to direct attention to themselves until they've achieved their success. Even then, they tend to remain quiet and just enjoy their riches or the havoc they caused.

So let's take a quick run through some of the conspiracies surrounding Nikon this week:

  • Sony withheld important AF functionality from the sensors they gave Nikon, particularly Eye AF. To believe this, you'd have to believe that focus functions are performed in the image sensor. Nope. The image sensor collects data that is used by focus functions (which are generally inside the system chip; BIONZ in the case of Sony, EXPEED in the case of Nikon, and those are very different parts designed by different engineering organizations using entirely different algorithms). Eye detect, for instance, requires analysis of the data provided by the image sensor. I see nothing different in the data Nikon receives from the image sensor versus Sony. I see differences in what they do with that data. Zero credibility.
  • Nikon intentionally crippled the Z cameras to keep DSLR sales up. No doubt that Nikon carefully manages features and performance in all their products so that they have "choice" in their lineup. Personally, I'm a little surprised at how close the Z7 and D850 are, and think that Nikon made pretty good choices overall in differentiating them. Moreover, I can now see how Nikon could take the Z6 sensor and the things that it and EXPEED6 do and add that into the D750 body to come up with a very reasonable and desirable D760, for those that still want DSLRs. This was very tricky territory to navigate, and given that I believe Nikon was a bit on the rushed side in doing it, I give full marks for what they came up with. Over exaggerated.
  • Nikon just copied Sony. So, the corollary: are these same conspiracy theorists going to claim that Sony copied Nikon when Sony finally implements a full touch-screen interface? Or focus stacking? Or built-in time-lapse, multi exposure? Look, companies in competition with one another absolutely do product teardowns and analysis. They look at what features and what performance characteristics the customers respond to both for their own and competitive products. There's going to be commonality across product over time because of that. Yet, one could also say that Nikon just copied the D750 (for the Z6) and the D850 (for the Z7). There's as much commonality to support that as there is to say they copied the A7 and A7R. Or wait, did the Sony A7 and A7R copy the Nikon D600 and D800? Nonsense.
  • Nikon will die due to low Z sales. Hate to break the news to you, but that's not going to happen (either part of the statement). Pre-orders are already reasonably strong according to my sources, and these are not cameras that were expected to sell in the millions. I'd bet that Nikon really only needs to sell a quarter of a million in the first year to get a huge benefit from the move, and that's not counting what lens sales might provide. Initial information from Nikon is that the Z7 build-out is 20k units a month, which is higher than the D850 (double, I believe). And by my count, the D850 has the third highest dollar volume in the US for ILC in the last 12 months, and it hasn't been out 12 months. So let me make a prediction: Nikon's last calendar quarter this year is going to look really good financially. Lower volume and market share sure, but higher sales and profit. Again, Z sales don't look low. Nikon isn't dead. Zero credibility.
  • Sony will be hurting. Ah, the corollary. Seems really doubtful to me. Sony has a strong product line, plenty of lenses, solid marketing and dealer support, and has already shown a willingness to discount to grab some market share. Sony had full frame mirrorless pretty much to itself. That ends next month with the Z7 shipments, gets another hit in November with the Z6 shipments, and will take another hit when Canon finally launches their product. But I judge Sony to be in a "good place." They have a rationalized still/video lineup that shares lenses, are proving out pro features and lenses, have ramped up their pro support, and were already doing what Nikon is now doing (heading up-market with less emphasis on market share and more emphasis on gross profit margin). There's plenty of room for both Nikon and Sony to succeed, and that's what I expect to happen. Zero credibility.

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