Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

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

Mirrorless Market Shares

It comes up all the time, and there’s no perfect answer to the question, however I would say with pretty reasonable confidence that the market share in mirrorless in 2015 went like this:

  1. Sony 
  2. Olympus
  3. Canon

Putting actual numbers on that is a bit tougher. We know that Olympus shipped 550k units in their last fiscal year (though that will slip to 460k in the current year according to their estimates). We had Sony at about 12% of the overall ILC market last year, which put their mirrorless number somewhere around 1.4m. And from Canon’s recently stated numbers, we’d have to guess that they were somewhere above 300k units for mirrorless last year, and are now growing significantly. 

It’s tough to assess the precise positions in mid-year—especially with this year’s quake affecting most makers, but not Canon—but I’d say those three positions are still pretty much a safe bet at the moment, though the order is changing. Canon will almost certainly pass Olympus this year and move into the number two spot. Olympus isn’t seeing sales of the current lineup improve, and seems likely to only have the new EM-1II in short supply after launch, and at their usual high-at-announcement pricing, which means it won’t move the Olympus numbers positively. Meanwhile, Canon’s numbers have been going up, plus it looks like we have two new EOS M models about to pop. 

The real “loser” at the moment is Nikon. Overall in ILC (DSLR plus mirrorless), Canon is a clear #1 with mid-40% market share, Nikon is #2 with mid-to-high 20% market share, and Sony third with a bit less than half of Nikon’s market share. Overall, these three easily take over 80% of all interchangeable lens camera sales, and perhaps as much as 85% (model introductions and things like the quake are moving numbers a bit more significantly this year than previous years). 

But Nikon might not even be #4 in mirrorless, and that’s got to be troublesome, as mirrorless shipments are staying relatively flat while DSLR shipments—where Nikon is #2—are declining. 

Of course none of this speaks to which camera you should buy. Not a single one of the Japanese camera makers is likely to step away from selling cameras, despite the collapse of the market. So don’t read anything into this article other than the fact that two brands—Sony and Canon—have healthy mirrorless businesses at the moment, and are more than likely to dominate the news cycles in the near future. 


How Do You Know When Your System is Discontinued?

We have three mirrorless camera players who seem to have gone inert:

  • Pentax Q — Last updated August 2014
  • Samsung NX — Last updated February 2015
  • Nikon 1 — Last updated April 2015

Rumors of new mirrorless products in these lines have basically dried up much like the Savute Channel in Botswana. 

Meanwhile, Canon is full of EOS M rumors, Fujifilm is clearly active, Olympus and Panasonic are about to introduce new mirrorless products, and Sony seems only in a minor delay due to the earthquake. Even Sigma has managed to quietly ship the sd Quattro while the three players listed up front have been silent. 

At this point it seems clear that Samsung has thrown in the towel. They aren’t exhibiting at Photokina, and even big dealers like B&H only list one NX camera still available (the NX3000 with kit lens at US$299, obviously a closeout price). Rumors flew fast and furious last year about what was going on, with the most interesting of these being that Samsung stepped back due to a potential intellectual property problem. I find that a little difficult to believe, as IP rights hasn’t stopped Samsung from stepping on toes before. Still, one has to wonder whether it all became a “sum of all problems” decision for Samsung with no end to any of those problems in sight. 

Meanwhile, Pentax’s Q system was apparently deemed a disappointment to Pentax itself way back in 2012. With a compact camera-sized sensor of only 12mp, the Q was—using the previous analogy I used with Olympus and 4/3 when it appeared—really only bringing a pea shooter to a gun fight. Yes, the Q is small and has remarkably good enthusiast controls, but it just never managed to gain much of a following outside of Japan, and even in Japan it was sold mostly on size and price. 

Like many things Pentax, here it is five years after the Q’s first appearance and, despite several updates, it still seems behind the times. With the camera market collapsing as it has been, being behind the times with products just doesn’t provide any product momentum at all, and the Q’s momentum is basically that of sea-going vessel locked down on a trailer and parked in Denver. 

Not that Nikon did much better. Like Pentax, Nikon seemingly attacked the small-as-a-compact-camera side for its mirrorless models, only unlike Pentax, Nikon priced theirs higher than DSLRs. I wrote that this was a mistake the day the J1/V1 were announced, and I don’t think anything has proved me wrong since. The Nikon 1 models are overpriced for what they do, under-equipped in the ergonomics for serious work, and suffer from a lens set that’s decidedly bi-polar (kit lenses abound, but the only other lenses available are an odd lot of very expensive high-end ones). 

None of these systems managed to gain substantive market share in the flat sales of the mirrorless market in recent years. Nikon at one time—during heavy discounting to drain inventory—managed to break the 10% market share for awhile, but all of these systems are really single-digit market share head scratchers. As in “what were they thinking?” 

I’ll answer that question this way (yes, the snarky Thom is back):

  • Samsung was thinking they could blindly copy Sony (NX versus NEX) and win. But they didn’t expect to be spending so much R&D money in a market that was about to collapse.
  • Pentax didn’t really pay much attention to what the world actually wanted and produced a miniature DSLR that only produced consumer-camera results.
  • Nikon got cocky and arrogant and thought they could sell consumer-oriented ILCs at higher-than-consumer DSLR prices. 

 So let’s get back to the question of the day: how do we know these systems are dead? 

First, there’s the fact that none of these systems are iterating while the other mirrorless and DSLRs still seem to be on very regular schedules. Still, only the Pentax Q is fully outside the window of expected iteration at the moment, though the others are getting close. Note though that the iteration cycles for all these systems I mention suddenly changed from regular to not-at-all, a typical sign of at least rethinking what should be done, if not dropping them entirely.

Samsung’s the most curious of the lot. Right up through the very excellent NX1 Samsung seemed to be pushing the envelope in virtually every area, and was becoming a very solid camera company. Their equivalent lenses were almost all better than Sony’s, their imaging sensors not only caught up to Sony Exmor, but in some ways passed them, and the ergonomics were always good and getting better with each model. And then “poof” and ads disappeared, no new models came, and virtually no word came out of Samsung about what was going on. The silent treatment like that is almost always a sign that they’ve moved on. 

To a large degree, Samsung’s real camera competitor is Apple. Apple’s now moving into multi sensor smartphones, and Samsung is going to have to match that to stay competitive. It’s likely that R&D budgets really tripped Samsung up in the long run: spending more and more on ILC sensor development in a collapsing market versus having to spend more to keep up with Apple, et.al., in the smartphone market probably provoked a management decision at some point. Dedicated cameras never made money for Samsung. Someone finally wised up and realized that this might continue for a long time, if not forever. 

Personally, I believe the Samsung NX system is now dead. I don’t expect any additional products to appear. I’d be happy to be proved wrong, but all the signs point to a complete shutdown of NX. 

Pentax is likely still in the game, but one wonders what game that is and how they’ll play it. Most likely scenario: the Q morphs a third time and changes sensor size again. That would change the size of the body a bit, and it will probably change the lens mount and certainly forces new lenses to appear. But given Pentax’s “just keep iterating, even if we’re slowest to market” mantra, that seems to make a 1” sensor Q-type product something that’s very likely. But it won’t be exactly a Q, will it? So the Q as we know it is probably dead.

Moreover, the large plethora and choice of 1” compact cameras now (Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony) makes a 1” ILC something that doesn’t really have any traction, either, so Pentax would once again be in the too-little-too-late category if they switch Q to 1”. 

Nikon themselves have proven that point with their DL series, which just on lens alone beats any of the Nikon 1 model kits. Indeed, buying a DL18-50 f/1.8-2.8, a DL24-85 f/1.8-2.8, and a DL24-500mm f/2.8-5.6 together is arguably a better choice than buying a Nikon J5 with a 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6, 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, and 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6. You end up with one to two stops advantage just at the lens through much of the range, you have more range, you have an EVF where you need it (telephoto), and you really aren’t taking up all that much more room than you do with individual lenses. 

Which brings me to why the Nikon 1 line has to change or it is dead. The DLs—whenever they actually appear—are better than any current Nikon 1 specification in virtually every way. Ergonomically they’re better. They support Nikon’s regular CLS flash, not use proprietary-to-Nikon-1-flash. They’re priced more reasonably for what they are (and again, they’re better than the Nikon 1 models, virtually all of which have been overpriced for what they are). They’re SnapBridge compatible out of the box. Plus as noted those lens specs beat the basic Nikon 1 lens set. 

All of which means that to continue as a series, the Nikon 1 would have to: improve ergonomics, support CLS, support SnapBridge, get faster lenses, and a host of other changes just to keep up with the DLs. Oh, and the prices would have to come down. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Like Pentax and the Q, I’d guess that the only real move that could sustain the Nikon 1 lineup is a sensor switch. The CX mount can support nearly an APS-C lens imaging circle. Nearly. So something between 1.7x and 2x crop factor seems possible (currently it’s 2.7x). Still, I don’t see how this “saves” the Nikon 1, whatever we call the sensor switch version. Basically we get to something akin to m4/3 in sensor, but we once again require a complete new lens set, something Nikon has proven poor at providing for anything other than FX cameras. Moreover, a bigger sensor means bigger lenses, so the original Nikon 1 advantage of small size goes away, plus we’re now more closely competing with the DX DSLRs. 

As I predicted several years ago what we have are a lot of companies trying to build line extensions and multiple models into a smaller and smaller space. Right now that space is 1” (2.7x) to full frame (1x). That’s really just three stops apart. Is there really enough design space to put four product lines into three stops? I don’t think so. That won’t stop some camera makers from trying. Indeed, the situation we have today is 1” (2.7x), m4/3 (2x), APS (1.5x or 1.6x) and full frame (1x), plus a small assortment making medium format about another stop further up. 

Thing is, sensor size = price. A 1” sensor is ridiculously cheaper than a full frame sensor, and even if you can further reduce full frame sensor prices, the 1” sensor gets even cheaper, all else equal. Thus, the volume customer—read: consumer—is likely to always be found buying cameras with smaller sensors, and every camera company wants volume (and especially Nikon, whose #2 market share is currently slipping). 

So what happens is that—even though the Pentax Q and Nikon 1 seem currently doomed—both companies don’t want them to die. Instead, they want to reposition them. 

Thus, my current belief is this: Samsung NX is dead and gone. Pentax Q and Nikon 1 are dead as we know them, but both have some likelihood of morphing into something else, most likely growing a sensor size along the way. Just don’t expect a beautiful butterfly to emerge from the cocoon. More like a larger worm. 


Fujifilm Updates the X-A Model to 3

bythom fujifilm x-a3 back

We’re now on the third iteration of Fujifilm’s low-end mirrorless camera, the just announced X-A3. Like it’s A predecessors, the X-A3 is not an X-Trans camera, but a traditional Bayer sensor. One designed along compact camera style lines (e.g. no EVF). 

Most specs remain the same from the previous model with the exception of a new 24mp sensor instead of 16mp, the addition of a touchscreen, and some modest tweaks to the contrast detect focus system, along with the new Film Simulation modes Fujifilm added recently (Pro Neg.Hi, Pro Neg.Std, and Classic Chrome). 

Price for the new camera is US$599 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, and you have your choice of colors of brown, pink, or silver. 

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Some Sansmirror Additions, Cleanup

Every year at this time I try to take a pass at cleaning up missing information, updating the things that search engines look for, and sometimes adding something I think is useful. 

In the addition category we have this:

a1.jpg

Many of you still seem to not be aware that every menu or menu item on this site is active and leads to a page of information. That means if you tap/click on Cameras—as opposed to using the interactive Cameras menu—you’ll be taken to a master page of data for cameras, which now includes the above chart. Each of the manufacturer pages now has its own subset of that chart. For instance, here’s the chart that you’ll find on the Cameras/Camera Database/Nikon 1 Cameras page:

bythom nikon mirrorless

The reason why I called out these particular charts is this: you can see the overall sense that a lot happened in mirrorless cameras in 2012-2014. After that, activity at most firms tapered off, and in the case of Nikon tapered off to nothing announced in over a year. 

Many mirrorless companies were on an update-a-year practice, but you’ll see that settled down and many cameras seem to be on a more normal update-every-two-years schedule now.

Some of you may not be aware I’ve added Hasselblad and Sigma to the camera databases. I’ve also split the lens database into sections for lenses from camera makers versus third-party lens makers, as we’re getting quite a bit of new additions in both lately.

As far as I know, all the camera firmware listings should be up to date, and I’ve taken a crack at updating a few articles along the way, too. The object of this site is to both keep the historical as well as the present “sense” of mirrorless. So if you notice anything missing or incorrect, by all means let me know and I’ll try to add/fix those things in the next big pass on the site.

Believe it or not, there are now well over a thousand pages of information contained in this site. Keeping it organized and accurate as well as useful is my number one goal. I appreciate those of you who’ve elected to help support this site either by using one of the advertising links for exclusive site advertiser B&H or the Support this Site button that leads to Amazon affiliate links that appears in the right column (or below the main text if you’re reading on a small screen device).

Fujifilm Launches X-T2

Why launch today? 7/7 baby. Lucky numbers for sure.

bythom fujifilm xt2

Fujifilm today launched the much leaked and long rumored X-T2. In many ways, the new camera incorporates the changes Fujifilm made with the X-Pro2 over the X-Pro1, but in the X-T1 package. Still, there are a lot of subtle and deeper changes.

The big news is the use of the 24mp X-Trans sensor first found in the X-Pro2 (the X-T1 and most previous Fujifilm cameras were 16mp). Fujifilm is once again touting the X-Trans aspect of their APS crop sensor as providing similar or better image quality to the FX/full frame sensors of some DSLRs (“…produces image quality comparable to that of cameras equipped with a larger sensor with a higher pixel count”). Of course there’s no simple way of directly comparing X-Trans and Bayer cameras due to the functional changes required to interpreting the data, but in my experience, I wouldn’t put too much credibility into that claim. Moreover, it’s a qualified claim because it references the in-camera image processor. In point of fact, Fujifilm is apparently claiming that their in-camera X-T2 JPEGs are better than say, a D810’s in-camera JPEGs. 

Indeed, Fujifilm spent most of their time in their announcement and in their press materials about “Fujifilm’s proprietary color reproduction technology”, the film simulations, and of course the X-Trans impacts compared to Bayer. Out of camera JPEGs are one of Fujifilm’s claims to differentiation over the competitors, and the X-T2 launch didn’t change that one iota.

Probably more important in terms of sensor changes are the ones made for video. The X-T2 is the first Fujifilm camera to support 4K (2160P), and does so at 24, 25, and 30 fps. But only for a maximum of 10 minutes recording time. Similarly, 1080P has been reworked, but only records to 15 minutes. Fujifilm is also providing a new F-Log profile for recording video and a remote microphone socket, as well. (If you want a headphone jack, you have to get the vertical grip option.)

The X-T2 body grows a bit over the X-T1, partly to accommodate the 3” dual-pivot LCD. The LCD itself is now only 1.04m dots, though it has tempered glass over it. Unlike tilting and swivel LCDs, Fujifilm introduces a unique dual pivoting technique on the X-T2: tilt the LCD, then rotate it, or rotate the LCD then tilt it. Some of the controls have changed slightly in character, mostly refinements, but there’s one big addition: a thumbtack to control the active autofocus sensor. The EVF in the X-T2 gains a 100 fps mode (though this slows maximum frame rate to 5 fps in continuous shooting) that has lower frame blackout and produces less of the slide show effect often seen in the mirrorless cameras.

Both SD slots in the X-T2 are now UHS-II capable (only one slot was in the X-T1, and only one of the two slots of the X-Pro2 was UHS-II); you’ll need a UHS-II Class 3 card to record 4K video. Built-in Wi-Fi is present, but Fujifilm also added USB 3.0 support for faster tethered shooting.

The autofocus system has had a lot of rework, making it even more DSLR-like (also with modifiable tracking functions for continuous shooting). Only about 40% of the central area of the frame uses phase detect autofocus, though, and while contrast detect areas have been expanded, the X-T2 does not have edge to edge focus ability as some mirrorless cameras do.

Another thing emphasized continuously in Fujifilm’s announcement was size and weight (“…compact and lightweight”). This apparently also includes some change of heart about lenses on Fujifilm’s part. The already previewed 120mm f/2.8 macro lens “has been replaced with the 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR to satisfy the user needs for compact and lightweight lenses.” Indeed, the new Fujifilm lens roadmap only shows the 23mm f/2, 50mm f/2, and 80mm f/2.8 lenses coming in the next two years, and those are all small, compact lenses. That would put the X lens lineup at 23 lenses, 14 of which are primes, and many of those what people would consider compact.  

Overall, the X-T2 appears to be the expected update to the X-T1: moving to the new copper-clad 24mp sensor over the older 16mp one, attention to improving the controls and layout, improving the autofocus, as well as improving the continuous shooting experience. It should be a very well-received camera, despite the US$300 price increase of the X-T2 body over its predecessor. 

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The Shaking News from Japan

CIPA just posted the May results for camera shipments out of Japan, and it’s as bad as all the statements about the impact of the quake from various camera makers implied. 

bythom cipa may16

Both mirrorless and DSLR shipments took a dive from both the previous month and the previous year. Moreover, it looks like the only place that had any growth at all was Asia, which implies gray market. 

Probably a more telling chart is this one:

bythom cipa may16 5mo

That’s what the first five months of shipments look like for each of the last five years. Mirrorless drifting ever so slightly downward, DSLRs falling fast.

Curiously, Sony made a statement last week about their overall ILC market share and also stated that they were #1 in mirrorless market share. Coupled with the CIPA data, we can now actually try to account for how much of the mirrorless marketplace Sony actual owns. In other words, get fairly accurate volume numbers and very close to exact market share.

Sony’s ILC 12% market share statement implies a number of 1.6m ILC units for 2015. Of course, not all of Sony’s ILC sales were mirrorless. I still have them running a near middle single digit percentage in DSLR sales. So backing that out, we end up with 1.1m mirrorless units for Sony. That gives Sony 33% of the mirrorless market, basically. (All these numbers are rounded, as I don’t want to imply specificity when we don’t have an exact DSLR market share; I’m basing my Sony DSLR numbers on data I do have from Japan, the US, and Europe, but I’m missing Asia and Other.)

The numbers I just cited aren’t perfectly aligned on the calendar, either. Sony gave fiscal year numbers, which are off by a quarter with CIPA data. Still, I think it’s close enough to give us a pretty good indicator of the mirrorless market: two-thirds of the market is being fought over by six other vendors, while Sony controls the other third. Just as dislodging Canikon from DSLR dominance proved tough, it will be a dogfight to dislodge Sony in mirrorless, though Sony’s starting from a substantively lower position of leadership in mirrorless than Canon has been in DSLRs. But as Canon and Nikon find they can’t rely on DSLR volumes moving upward again they’re going to use every trick they can think of to try to take down Sony in mirrorless.

From Sony Semiconductor’s statements, we know that the primary sensor fab for everyone except Canon won’t be fully back online until August. That implies that we’re going to see CIPA numbers that are very weak for another three months of data. Fiscal Q1 for most of the camera companies is going to be one they want to forget and put behind them forever. 

But that same quarter is fiscal Q2 for Canon and apparently they’ve not been as affected by the quake as the others. Thus, we could see Canon push new mirrorless offerings just prior to Photokina and actually be able to deliver them quickly while others still struggle to get volume production going.

Then again, the Japanese camera companies don’t always do what seems logical, and Canon’s not known for being a fast mover. The Japanese designers get stuck in these long range planning systems that don’t necessarily consider what the customer actually wants and needs. Nikon’s misfire with SnapBridge is a good example: right idea, wrong execution, and wrong initial target customer. 

So we’re officially in the doldrums, camera wise. 

Yes, Fujifilm will announce another camera Real Soon Now, but Fujifilm is still a relatively low volume producer, so they don’t need a lot of sensors to launch the X-T2. Indeed, I’d bet that they have a small supply they can steal from the X-Pro2, which isn’t exactly flying off the shelves worldwide. 

Still, Fujifilm is likely to be more the exception than the rule this month. Enjoy the lack of wind and calm seas. Coming out of August and into September we’re likely to see a lot of jockeying for position with new product as companies try to win shares from each other coming out of the quake-imposed downturn.

2016 News/View


2015 News/Views


2014 News/Views


2013 News/Views

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