Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

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

Leica M Sees Spots

(news)

I’d heard of a problem with an early M9 a while back, but recently there have been several fora across the Internet where users were reporting that they were seeing abnormal areas in their images when taken at small apertures. Most often, these areas appear as white, the opposite as does dust or oil spots. Leica uses Schott glass containing the IR block over the sensor on the recent M cameras, and it now appears that the filter layer on the glass may be getting damaged on some cameras, possibly even by sensor cleaning. The reason the spots appear as white is probably because the underlying sensor is sensitive to near IR, so once the block is removed over an area, the sensor is collecting far more light than usual. 

Leica has identified the problem, which occurred on M9, M9-P, M Monochrom and M-E cameras (it does not affect the M Type 240), and is working on a permanent solution. In the meantime, Leica will apparently offer a free replacement of the sensor cover glass for any cameras that exhibit the issue. They also offer to check your camera for the problem, though you need to do this by appointment through your local distributor or Leica Customer Care. Should you be considering an upgrade to the Type 240, Leica will also be willing to examine your current M and make you a trade-in offer. Finally, anyone that’s been charged for this sort of repair in the past is eligible for a refund from Leica. Leica’s offers are regardless of whether the camera is still in warranty or not.

As a side note, most IR/AA filtration these days uses Lithium Niobate or another similar crystal type. When it degrades, you can often start to see the crystal structure imposed in your pixels. There were a few Nikon DSLRs I’ve seen over the years where the filter degraded and needed to be replaced.

Leica Repair Web Site

The Economics Problem

(commentary)

Mirrorless continues to be relatively flat in shipments for the first 10 months of this year over the past two years:

bythom cipaoct14 2

Since a few folk have a short memory, I’ll repeat: these numbers are from CIPA and represent all Japanese camera shipments worldwide, in units. From time to time, I analyze other aspects of the CIPA data (e.g. average selling price). But the primary trend that’s impacting the camera market is in volume of sales (units). Shipments are not sales, but you can’t sell what you don’t ship, either ;~). 


That graph is actually good news given the decline in shipments of almost every other category of camera. 

Still, mirrorless is struggling to knock off DSLRs. My recent review of the Sony A6000 was a good example of why: to really get all the performance you can out of the A6000 you need to move beyond the kit lens. And that brings us to the economic dilemma: A6000+16-70mm f/4 is US$1446, while a D7100 with the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 is US$997, or 31% less expensive. 

Okay, I can see all of you Sony fans putting your hands on the keyboard getting ready to fire off the latest “Thom is an idiot” missive on some forum. So I’d better do some explaining. Yes, the A6000 with the 16-50mm kit lens is only US$598, which looks like a 40% discount to the D7100 combo. My problem, and I think that it’s a problem that repeats itself across the mirrorless world with a number of products at the moment, is that the 16-50mm is an underperforming lens for the sensor it sits in front of. The Nikkor 18-105mm is no such slouch on the 24mp DX sensors. If I’m buying a camera for performance, which is why I’d buy an A6000, I’d be buying a different lens than the kit lens. That’s not to say that the 16-50mm kit lens isn’t good. Overall it’s good, but not very good or excellent. Frankly, it’s a bargain at the implied price, but a sophisticated buyer will also quickly figure out that they can get better results out of the camera with a different lens. And thus they start comparing the “fully burdened” price of an all-in Sony to a DSLR. 

Funny thing is, I’ve already gotten numerous emails after my A6000 review stating just that: when they consider the price of the lens that they’d really want on that camera, the economics start to skew on them away from mirrorless and back towards the DSLR. That’s despite Nikon doing a terrible job building the DX lenses that these people really want.

We buy interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) because we can use different lenses on them. In general, the ILC customer is buying on the idea of “best possible quality” and not “good enough quality.” Yet at the same time these folk are a bit confused. One thing that is tough to understand is why the low-end mirrorless cameras all pretty much failed to gain any momentum (e.g. Fujifilm X-A/M, Nikon J series, Olympus E-PL/M series, Panasonic GF series, Sony NEX-3). Technically, these were price/performance bargains, especially at sale prices. They clearly performed better than compact cameras, plus they could use lenses other than the ones that came with them. Yet they failed in the market. Probably because the ILC buyer thinks they need to buy “best” over “good enough.” 

You see variations of that all over the ILC realm. The Nikon consumer DSLRs do pretty well, for example, because they’re all 24mp. 24mp is perceived as “best” in consumer cameras at the moment. I get people asking me all the time whether the 16mp in the Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic cameras is “enough.” Sure it is, but it isn’t 24, and 24 sure looks like it’s 50% better, doesn’t it? (It’s not even close, but that’s another story for another day.)

In other words, what’s happening is a combination of knowledge and naiveté. It’s the old adage: customers are just smart enough to be dangerous. That makes them susceptible to faux assertions (24mp is better than 16mp) and more likely to support the status quo solution (DSLRs).

No matter how I cut it, though, I keep coming back to this: to get a seriously good, high performance mirrorless solution, I’m paying well into the middle of the DSLR cost realm. I happen to like the Fujifilm X-T1, the Olympus E-M1, the Sony A6000/A7, and so on. They’re seriously good cameras. They’re nearing or equaling prosumer DSLR levels of features and DSLR levels of performance in most, if not all, areas. But economically speaking, if you’ve already put money into DSLRs and lenses for them, to get a new mirrorless system back to parity with what you’re currently using is costly. Sometimes more costly than a really serious DSLR kit or just upgrading your current DSLR kit in some way. So what the mirrorless vendors have left to sell is “smaller/lighter” and maybe “weatherproof.” And they generally don’t have the dealer base in the US (other than Sony) for most of you to be able to easily see and experience that in person.

So mirrorless is in this economic doldrums zone. No one is buying the low end of mirrorless. Those that buy the high end of mirrorless are paying DSLR-like prices when all is said and done. And so we get sales that are stalled. Unfortunately, those sales are stalled at a level lower than the end of the film SLR era in the late 90’s, and with as many players grappling for market share. 

It’s not a “win” for Sony to be #1 in mirrorless and have the DSLR market just collapse so that mirrorless is all that’s left. It’s definitely not good for the mirrorless players if Canon and Nikon figure out a way to continue their DSLR dominance as they transition to new mirrorless systems. 

Back when I started this site three years ago, I thought that mirrorless would grow faster than it has. In one way it has: there are more products and more players stuffed into the mirrorless market than I thought it could support, even with strong growth. But right now the growth isn’t really there. Mirrorless makers that are growing are stealing share from someone else. 

So let’s all hope for an even more exciting and a much better year for mirrorless in 2015.  


Why Announce a Camera You Can’t Get?

Updated

First, the original words...

A common question last week was “why did Sony announce the A7II only in Japan?” 

Short answer: FUD. 

Long answer: it’s Christmas buying season, and Nikon is out there with a ton of FX camera bodies, including the very low-priced D610, trying to get you to step up from DX or crosswise from another vendor. Sony doesn’t want you to buy one of those, they want you to wait to see how good the A7II is instead, or maybe even wait for their intentionally leaked A9 to appear. They want you to fear (F) that you might make a bad choice in buying a camera now, be uncertain (U) that you’re making the right choice, and doubt (D) your decision making. 30% faster autofocus! 1.5x tracking autofocus! Everything stabilized! Who wouldn’t want those things?

Of course, the A7II won’t show up in the US until the end of January or early February, which is right when the next round of significant new product announcements will be commencing from their competitors (and yes, Sony too). Sony better get the US/European pre-orders for the A7II locked in soon ;~). 

Personally, I hate the FUD game. To me, it implies weakness, not strength. One has to wonder what this early announcement does to Sony’s A7 sales during this critical buying season. Right now that camera is sitting at US$1500 for the body, or US$100 less than the camera they don’t want you to buy (D610). But announcing the A7II at a Japanese price that equates to US$1500 US means that if you buy an A7 today, you’re giving up all those great new things Sony is trumpeting in the A7II just to have a camera for Christmas. I suspect that Sony just stepped on their US/Europe A7 dealer sales this holiday and will have to lower the price of that body further to get rid of remaining stock at dealers.

Sony is currently saying that they didn’t announce the A7II in the US and Europe because they didn’t have time to prepare dealers. I’d guess that the real reasons they didn’t announce the A7II in the US and Europe is because (1) they don’t have any real inventory yet because they just started building it; (2) the dealers in the US would have screamed bloody murder (“what do you mean that you have a new camera I can’t sell for Christmas?”); (3) the sluggish sales of mirrorless in the US; and (4) FUD. 

But there’s an even more interesting friction in the A7II pre-announcement: Sony has three A7 cameras. They all need the features introduced in the A7 Mark II. I’m a little less likely to buy an A7s or A7r today because I now expect Mark II versions of those cameras with the same new features. That’s the problem with compelling features: once introduced, anything you’re selling that doesn’t have them suddenly doesn’t look so hot. You in essence discount your current products when introducing a future product as Sony just did. 

The marketing wars are heating up. But it’s a whole ‘nother thing to set yourself on fire. Unfortunately, the net impact of a pre-announcement like the A7II is that Sony will likely increase their SG&A expenses on their previous cameras, making it harder to make the numbers stay on the profitable side of the ledger. 

My take is that the camera makers still haven’t mastered selling what they have. They are addicted to iteration being their savior, and have recently gotten hooked on pre-ordering. But in a declining market, any friction that slows current product sales really should be avoided whenever possible. Selling an A7II in Japan only for one month is not really going to help Sony make their financial projections. So why do it? They could have marketed the A7 heavily for Christmas, then announced the A7II in January at CES. 

I was one of the principals at the company that is most often cited for pre announcement of a product leading to failure (Google “Osborne Effect”; but be aware that even The Osborne Myth section on Wikipedia is not totally accurate; I’m surprised that no one has edited that to pick up my quotes and comments on what really happened). The Osborne Effect is indeed a friction. A significant friction. It won’t kill a company on its own, though. It just makes you less efficient in sales. Wait, aren’t sales the one thing that camera companies need most at the moment?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Japanese camera companies are weak at marketing, especially on a global scope. They really don’t know how to sell their current product efficiently, and this is a time period where they absolutely need to do better at that. That Sony is announcing a product that most of you can’t get at a time of year when most people are in a buying mood is counter productive at best. 

I suspect that Sony, like the other Japanese camera companies, just doesn’t understand the Internet. They think that they can do a one-market announcement (Japan) and both tailor and keep the news confined in that market. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Within minutes I found dozens of “I wonder if this will ever appear in the US” kinds of posts on the Internet (the tailoring problem), and within hours I found hundreds of Web sites reporting the launch of the camera (including this one). By not saying at the Japan announcement that the product would be available later in all markets, Sony added yet another friction to the friction they were creating. In essence, they FUDed themselves! 

Couple all this with the ubiquitous leaking coming out of Sony on future products, and all they’re doing is making their eventual marketing jobs harder. Creating buzz that’s not for the product you’re actually selling  is another of those counter productive things.

Suggestion to Sony: tighten the ship against leaks and get better at selling what you have. 

And before people jump on me about this article, yes, I have called Nikon to task on the same thing (it happened first with the D70 back in December 2003). And no, I’m not trying to say that the A7II isn’t a good product. 

Okay, now the update

Okay, it seems I was wrong. I’m still not sure this was the right way to announce the A7II, though.

The A7II now will be available in the US and other markets on December 9th, and the original A7 has received a US$400 discount, putting it at a very aggressive US$1299 price for the body only. So it seems that my original FUD comments were wrong, Sony is clearly trying to be aggressive in moving A7 bodies (both old and new). The new price, by the way, is below the original dealer price for the camera, which means that Sony has had to price protect dealers to sell at this price. That type of cost tends to show up in SG&A lines on financial statements so that the product itself still looks profitable, and gross profit margins on products look intact. 

Still, Sony is FUDing themselves with the A7II: given the sudden price drop on the A7 and the appearance of the A7II at the old price point, why would you want to buy an A7s or A7r right now? You have to believe that Sony will pull the same game on those models in coming months. Moreover, Sony is being more aggressive than most camera makers in cycling products. The A7 barely makes it more than a year before it gets the usual ~25% end of life price drop. That kind of thing used to be done only in consumer DSLRs and compact cameras, and that too rapid iteration in a declining market is what flooded the shelves with multiple generations of products simultaneously. It’s looking like the rapid iteration of the RX100 and the old NEX models is now sneaking across Sony’s entire lineup, to where one year life spans for cameras are becoming more and more the norm at every level. This, too, will tend to make people hesitate once they realize that, because Mark II and Mark III and Mark IV are all coming. Soon. 

Personally, I’m not going to update to an A7II any time soon. While I like the changes Sony made to the new version, I haven’t gotten my money’s worth out of the old version yet. Moreover, one of the things I really want doesn’t seem to be in the new camera (uncompressed raw; though it was mentioned by someone in Japan, the brochures and literature all have the same ARW 2.3 format information, and thus still claim 16-bit raw when the camera actually doesn’t produce that).  

That said, at the new price the A7 is a full frame bargain, one of the better deals so far this holiday season. It’s a highly competent and pleasing camera, and its few drawbacks weren’t deal killers at the old price, so a 24% price drop makes it quite interesting for someone contemplating full frame. It’s possible that Sony will push out the remaining A7 models fast at this price. Still, I get the feeling of lots of last minute decisions being made here. Sony USA seemed to be scrambling to keep up. This wasn’t the most efficient announcement Sony has made, by a long shot. It appears to me that the camera makers are just scrambling to keep high profiles as sales continue to slide. 

As I’ve noted before, Sony is sort of on a “release a month” type of schedule these days, trying to keep their PR and marketing engines constantly active and producing buzz. Not a terrible thing to do, but I have to wonder what the eventual costs of this are going to be. By pushing the price down so aggressively so fast on full frame A7’s, Sony now has the E-mount and RX lines bottled up in price right under that. It appears that Sony, like Nikon, really wants to upsell you now. Take advantage of that while it lasts, because with declining volume you can’t dive to the bottom on prices for very long before you just run out of airspace and hit the ground. 

Fujifilm Updates

Fujifilm made multiple announcements today associated with their mirrorless product line. 

bythom fujifilm mcex16

First, two new products appeared: the MCEX-11 (11mm) and MCEX-16 (16mm, pictured above) extension tubes for macro photography work. These tubes will be available in mid-December, and give Fujifilm mirrorless users some additional close up capabilities with XF lenses. Both tubes have full electronic information passing, so autofocus and EXIF data is fully supported.

Curiously, the tubes still don’t get us to 1:1 with most lenses, even with the 60mm macro lens. The 16mm tube does net you 1:1 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 and 18mm f/2, though. No prices were announced. 

Extension tubes are nice for close up work in that they don’t add additional optical elements to an existing lens, thus preserving the original lens’ abilities fully. Note that you lose infinity focus with a tube attached, though. I’m actually pleased that Fujifilm continues to build options such as these tubes that are photographically useful rather waiting for third parties to create them. They also address one aspect of the Fujifilm lenses that is a bit sub-optimal: very little close up ability other than the macro lens.

Another new product is HS-V5 (Windows only), which is Fujifilm’s tethered shooting solution for the X-T1. Unlike Olympus, it appears that Fujifilm will be charging for this program, though the price is currently not known. Tethering is done via USB cable only, and to get image viewing, analysis, and organization facilities, you’ll need Hyper-Utility3 installed. HS-V5 will be available in January 2015. 

I’m not so thrilled about HS-V5 as I am about the tubes. First, there’s the Windows-only and Hyper-Utility3 requirements. That just rules out a huge subset of the potential users, and Hyper-Utility is amongst one of the most confused programs I’ve encountered over the years. Fujifilm has proven over and over that they’re not really a great software company. The fact that it only supports the X-T1 is another bit of strangeness. But the biggest problem really is the use of USB 2.0. Tethering is something you want performance from, and USB 2.0 is going to be sluggish given the large file sizes the X-T1 creates. 

Finally, another “future” announcement: firmware updates. Ironically, the headline in the press release is “Firmware updates now available…” Now appears to be December 18th, so apparently I fell asleep for a few weeks. Sorry about that. I’ll go back and see if there’s anything I missed writing about…oh, wait, the headline is wrong about “now.” 

The X-T1 3.0 update is substantive, and there are a lot of interesting additions that camera user is going to like:

  • Silent shooting from 1 second to 1/32000 of a second via an all-electronic shutter mode.
  • The addition of the Classic Chrome film simulation.
  • Natural Live View allows you to deselect the real-time rendering in the EVF and see something more akin to what an optical viewfinder sees. Unfortunately, Fujifilm still hasn’t learned that this needs to be button-assignable.
  • The hue settings for the Rear LCD and EVF are separately settable.
  • Autofocus area selection can now be done directly from the Direction pad without having to first press the Fn button.
  • The AE-L/AF-L button is programmable.
  • The AF-L button changes focus area size during Manual focus.
  • Macro mode can be turned on or off without menu diving.
  • You can customize the Quick Access menu.
  • Support for 50P/25P/24P frame rates is now enabled.
  • Manual exposure control during video is supported.
  • Instant AF now uses phase detection, which should make “instant” more “instant.”
  • Spot metering can now follow focus area.
  • Program shift now extends to 4 seconds (was 1/4 second max).
  • Support for direct output to Fujifilm instax mini printers.
  • Buttons and dials can be software locked.
  • Custom white balance now supports as many as three user-created settings.
  • A new AF+MF mode enables manual override of autofocus.
  • Tethered shooting is possible (via HS-V5 software).

The X-E1 (3.0), X-E2 (3.4), and X-Pro1 (2.4) get simpler firmware updates, adding Classic Chrome simulation, Interval timer shooting, better WiFi functionality with the Fujifilm iOS/Android apps, and the AF+MF focus mode. 

Sony Updates the A7 Camera

bythom sony a7ii back

Sony today announced the Mark II version of the A7 camera. 

What’s new? Not a lot in terms of features, but most are substantive changes:

  • The sensor gets five-axis sensor-shift image stabilization, ala the Olympus E-M1. This new IS works in conjunction with OSS lenses, and apparently works together with the in-lens stabilization when it is present (i.e. in-lens or on-sensor stabilization isn’t deactivated; both are used). 
  • The focus system is the same, but Sony claims a 30% improvement in speed to acquire focus and a strangely worded “1.5x better tracking.” 
  • Video adds the XAVC S codec at 50Mbps. This not only gives better compression, but gets rid of the horrible BluRay folder mess. Sony also added S-Log2 as a choice to the in-camera picture settings. These log-type settings don’t look very good out of the camera, but they push all the dynamic range into data that can be later color graded far easier. Clean HDMI, including the ability to embed time code, has also been added.
  • The grip got bigger. As part of this the front dial and shutter release have moved to slightly better positions, as well. This also opened up another position on the top of the camera for another customizable button.
bythom sony a7ii grip
  • The front of the camera is now magnesium instead of plastic, and the lens mount has been reinforced.

The curious aspect of the A7II is that it was announced only in Japan, and appears to be going to ship for that market on December 5th. No other markets have been announced for the product. My guess is that there is still plenty of A7 inventory in the US and Europe and that the initial A7II production just started and  is barely enough for the smaller Japanese market at the moment. Still, it’s strange, as the net effect will be that A7 models will likely have to be discounted more now to get them out of the pipeline. I’m not sure what the positive impact of announcing the A7II now in Japan would really be, as that country is not in a buying mood at the moment (economy is in recession).  

The ergonomic changes are highly welcome, and I hope they roll through the entire A7 lineup. Other than that, the primary changes in this camera will mostly excite videographers, which has me scratching my head. The A7s is the videographer’s A7. 

Sony’s lead on the A7II has been the 5-axis image stabilization, apparently the long-expected cross license from Olympus. “5-axis” seems wrong, as I noted when the E-M1 came out. What the system really does is correct five types of destabilizations using three axes ;~): left/right shift, up/down shift, roll, pitch, and yaw. 

While on-sensor IS is a nice feature to have, I find it turn it off quite often on my E-M1. Why? Because it’s a little sub-optimal at certain shutter speeds. I’ll also be very curious to see how the 5-axis system works with the OSS lenses, too. One of the side effects of IS that I dislike the most is how it sometimes distorts out of focus areas in unusual ways. 

Still, it’s nice to have every lens optimized. Even legacy manual focus lenses mounted via adapter.

The Japanese price for the camera implies that the A7II body will probably sell for the same price as the A7 in the US and Europe. In other words, about US$1700 (Update: confirmed; availability for order to start in early December). Technically, the current exchange rate would put it at US$1600, but I’d be surprised if Sony dropped the price for the Mark II immediately on introduction. 

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Panasonic GH4, Olympus E-M1 Firmware Updates

The Panasonic GH4 will soon iterate to version 2.1 of its firmware, with embedded time code and control signals enabled on the HDMI output. You can also change the HDMI stream to 60P/50P while recording in-camera at 30P/25P. It may also include a new V-LOG picture profile that’s being tested. As part of the updates, the DMW-YAGH Interface Unit will also need an update to version 1.1. 

The Panasonic updates have been announced, but won’t be available to download until early December.

The Olympus E-M1 gets a firmware update to version 2.2 today, which helps deal with the bright spot problems some users reported. Note that updating to this version will reset everything in the camera other than the AF focus adjustments. 

Olympus Discounts

It’s that time of year. Couple the Christmas shopping season with a strong dollar against the yen and Olympus not hitting their unit volume numbers for the year so far, and it’s created a bit of a opportunity for those interested in getting into m4/3. 

First off, the E-M5 is now on the discontinued list and being highly discounted (to the point where it’s less than the newer, but lesser E-M10). That said, it’s a fine body that matches the image quality of Olympus’ best to date. You should get the E-M1 if you really need to use 4/3 lenses on your body, otherwise the E-M5 is a better deal that comes close to matching the E-M1 in most things. What do you lose by picking a E-M5 at discount over an E-M1? 1/8000 top shutter speed with 1/320 flash sync, regular microphone socket, PC Sync socket, WiFi, viewfinder previewed HDR blending, some corrections with the TruePic VII processor, and of course the phase detect autofocus with 4/3 lenses. 

But look at the price: body only is now US$600.

Coupled with this you can bundle Olympus lenses with the E-M5 body (or any current Olympus m4/3 body) to get further discounts. In particular, the excellent 12mm f/2 at US$600, the more-than-excellent 45mm f/1.8 at US$300, the phenomenal 75mm f/1.8 at US$800, and the strong fast 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom at US$800, are all very nice lenses with the E-M5.  



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Olympus Updates Camera Firmware

Olympus today released firmware updates for most of their m4/3 bodies. The only listed change is improved accuracy for autofocus when using the new 40-150mm f/2.8. 

  • E-M1 version 2.1
  • E-M5 version 2.1
  • E-M10 version 1.2
  • E-P3 version 1.6
  • E-P5 version 1.5
  • E-PL3 version 1.5
  • E-PL5 version 1.3
  • E-PL6 version 1.1
  • E-PL7 version 1.1
  • E-PM1 version 1.5
  • E-PM2 version 1.3

I’ve updated the Olympus camera database section with the new current firmware numbers.

State of the Mirrorless DSLR

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikon 1 Lenses

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

nikkor18.jpg

Right now we have a paucity of primes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikkor10-100mm.jpg
  • 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-100mm f/4-5.6
  • 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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