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.

Understanding Numbers, Japan Edition


Each year, BCN in Japan reports year-end market shares for various categories of computer, consumer electronics, and camera retail sales in Japan. Generally, the mirrorless camera component of BCN’s yearly pronouncement has been interpreted this way: “Sony gains market share, Olympus loses market share.” Yes, that’s true:

  • 2014: Sony 34.3%, Olympus 22.3%
  • 2013: Olympus 28.9%, Sony 26.5%

So you might say that Sony picked up about 8 points of market share and Olympus lost about 6 points. Single digit numbers. Not terribly big numbers. Obviously, not good for Olympus and good for Sony, but this doesn’t look like big news, it just looks like a modest shift.

However, it’s important to look at more than one isolated set of data. Let’s look at just two data points, 2012 and 2014, and with two sets of numbers, BCN’s retail sales and CIPA’s shipments to the Japanese market. While it’s not a perfectly aligned set of data, we’re going to multiply the BCN observed market share each year with the CIPA actual shipments of mirrorless cameras into Japan to come up with approximately how many cameras were actually sold: 

  • 2012: Olympus 244k units, Sony 162k units
  • 2014: Olympus 159k units, Sony 246k units

Uh oh. That shows a very different picture than just a single digit gain or slide of market share, doesn’t it? In just two years, Olympus and Sony have completely reversed positions in Japan in terms of mirrorless camera sales. And remember, Japan is one of the strongest markets for mirrorless cameras, so a big reversal like this is meaningful.

Adding in Panasonic to make this a m4/3 mount versus E/FE mount comparison gives us this:

  • 2012: m4/3 434k units, E/FE 162k units
  • 2014: m4/3 248k units, E/FE 246k units

This actually makes things look worse. In 2012 m4/3 was trouncing the E mount 2.7 to 1. Two years later, the mounts are in near parity.  

Meanwhile, a lot of folk keep saying that Japan is an indication that the DSLR companies are in trouble. Well, maybe not as much as you think. In Japan—and again, this is the market with one of the highest mirrorless camera penetrations so far—the CIPA numbers say 1.1m DSLRs shipped into Japan in 2014, while only 725k mirrorless were. That’s 60% DSLRs, 40% mirrorless. But BCN’s numbers show that Canon has a 54.7% market share and Nikon a 39.1% market share in DSLRs. So let’s put the full set of calculated unit shipment numbers for Japan in context:

Updated: market shares in earlier version were calculated incorrectly; I’ve also added Fujifilm and Ricoh/Pentax to the numbers:

  • Canon*: 670k ILC units sold in Japan in 2014, 37% overall ILC market share
  • Nikon*: 460k ILC units, 25% ILC market share
  • Sony*: 265k ILC units, 14.5% ILC market share
  • Olympus: 159k ILC units, 8.7% ILC market share
  • Pentax*: 106k ILC units, 5.7% ILC market share
  • Panasonic: 89k ILC units, 4.9% ILC market share
  • Fujifilm: 76k ILC units, 4.1% ILC market share 

    *Includes both mirrorless and DSLR shipments

Certainly Canon and Nikon aren’t as dominant in Japan as they are in, say, the US, but they’re still pretty clearly the #1 and #2 players, even in one of the most mirrorless-centric markets out there, and they still hold half the interchangeable lens camera market in Japan. Canon’s recent EOS M3 release in Japan, with its aggressive pricing, looks like a salvo across Sony’s bow and an attempt to grow market share again in the home market. In a year, we’ll know how that played out ;~).   

Road Maps and Blank Spots

(news & commentary)

CP+ is one of those times when we get updated lens road maps from camera companies. I’ve updated the main page for each brand of lens in the lens database with any new knowledge about upcoming lenses (e.g. Fujifilm). 

Short version:

  • Canon — Nothing new to talk about.
  • Fujifilm — A 35mm f/2 R and 120mm f/2.8 Macro lens were added to the known road map.
  • Nikon — Nothing new to talk about.
  • Olympus — An 8mm f/1.8 Pro fisheye  was added to the road map. 300mm f/4 seems to have been delayed a bit.
  • Panasonic — 30mm f/2.8 Macro was shown in prototype.
  • Pentax — Added a ~90mm (equivalent) macro lens to their road map.
  • Sony — The Sony 24-240mm, 28mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, and 90mm f/2.8 almost showed up, though Sony seems to have slipped back on the actual delivery schedule and no new lenses were announced.

It’s possible that conferences, executives, and booth discussions may disclose more information about future lenses during the show, and I’ll add them to this page as I discover them.

First Warning on "Splash Proof"

(news & commentary)

Olympus published a PDF on O-MD E-M1 weather resistance. I take this as an indication that Olympus has seen enough damage on products coming back for warranty work that they’re trying to establish guidelines they can point to in order to decline repairs. 

In particular, Olympus seems confident about the basic sealing of the body parts and controls, but not so confident about places where there are electrical connections under doors/covers (hot shoe, battery chamber, vertical grip connection, PC sync connector, and the cable connections on the side). I’m pretty sure that they are now looking for corrosion in those places, and probably denying repair if they find it. 

Olympus’ advice is common sense, really. But the fact that they had to create a separate document and distribute it seems to me to indicate that they’re encountering folk who aren’t using common sense. Note the one line “Do not rinse the camera or lens under running water…” How many videos have you seen on the Internet that show people doing just that, bragging about how weatherproof their cameras are? 

I also think their admonition regarding sand is a good one: letting sand get any chance to sneak into cracks, crevices, or connection areas is definitely not a good thing. It’s the number one problem I have with gear in Africa, actually. Even being careful, I tend to need lenses and sometimes cameras fully inspected and cleaned after my big trips there. Letting sand get into lens cams and not getting it out is a great way to ruin a lens long term (or at least guarantee it will need an expensive tear down and cam replacement). 

So take Olympus’ advice, folks. Moreover, I’d pick up an extra PC sync cap and hot shoe caps and keep them with me on big trips just in case.

Canon Introduces EOS M3

(news & commentary)

bythom eosm3

Canon continues to work at polishing their mirrorless camera option, with the EOS M3 being the latest version. New to this generation are a 24mp APS sensor, pop-up flash, multiple control dials (Mode, exposure compensation, front/back command), a tilting rear LCD that can be used for selfies, a bit more hand grip on the right side, and an optional EVF (EVF-DC1). Overall, the M3 is still recognizable as evolved from the original M, retaining but refining the original soap bar style while adding a more significant right hand grip.

The optional EVF is the same one used for the PowerShot G1 X, featuring a 2.36m dot tilting display that mounts to the camera’s hot shoe. While we’ve got new dedicated controls, the others remain very compact-camera style, with the usual emphasis on the Direction pad overload to provide “more buttons.” Unfortunately, we get a new battery with the camera, and it has grown slightly in size and weight from the EOS M1/2. 

The question everyone will be asking is: is it there yet? Canon still seems to be stepping gingerly into mirrorless. While supporting existing EOS DSLR customers with an adapter, Canon seemed reluctant with the original M and the M2 to get too close to DSLR features, controls, and performance. That continues with the M3, what with the optional EVF and still recognizably compact-style design. The camera has moved upscale, though. In essence, where before the M was competing with the bottom of Olympus’ m4/3 line, now it’s closer to the middle. Of course, Olympus themselves has a difficult time selling that range of cameras.

Those hoping that Canon would move the bar significantly for mirrorless cameras will be surprised that Canon didn’t really move any bar at all. An APS-sized mirrorless camera with mostly compact controls, an external EVF, and a tilting LCD happened quite some time ago (both Olympus and Sony being the leaders in that). So the EOS M3 seems like a pretty conservative step for Canon.

Plus there’s this: Canon won’t be bringing the EOS M3 to the United States.

Canon M3 data page

Olympus Mirrorless Sales

(news & commentary)

For the first time in a long time, Olympus published their quarterly unit sales numbers for digital cameras and broke it out by model type in their official financial publications. So, how many m4/3 cameras is Olympus selling?

  • Previous Fiscal Year: 510,000 units
  • Current Fiscal Year: 520,000 units (estimated)

To meet that estimate, they’ll have to increase their sales in the current quarter over last year, by the way. In terms of the overall camera market, we can now calculate exact market shares against CIPA numbers, just as we do for Nikon. For 2014 that number would be:

  • 15.2% market share of mirrorless cameras
  • 3.6% market share of interchangeable lens cameras

For their full fiscal year ending March 31st, Olympus expects to lose 7.5b yen selling cameras (possibly higher due to the way they mask SG&A expenses). The good news is that’s down from a 9.2b yen loss the previous year, but sales are down 6%, too ;~). The startling figure in Olympus’ announcements was that camera inventories still appear to be at 4.7 months worth of product. 

Another tidbit gleaned from their financial reports, Q&A, and interviews about their business is that camera sales for them are Japan/Euro centric at the moment. Asia is a smaller piece of their imaging sales than Europe, for instance, and North America is half the size in sales of even the Japan home market. 

Samsung Introduces the NX500

(news & commentary)

bythom samsungnx500.jpg

Take all the sensor/imaging goodness from the recent NX1 flagship and stick it into the rangefinder body (e.g. NX3000 type) and you have the Samsung NX500, introduced today.

The big news here is the 28mp APS sensor with phase detect autofocus and 4K video capability. In terms of the body itself, it’s pretty much the same body Samsung has been iterating at the lower end for awhile now, and relies on the rear LCD for composing instead of an EVF. Fortunately, that’s a SuperAMOLED display that’s usable in daylight, and now with 1.04m dots. The display is tilting (and can do selfies). 

The other interesting news is that this is a US$799 camera, complete with the compact 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens. 

Of course, the design itself is mostly consumerish. No extra controls and dials other than a Mode dial the usual compact camera buttons in and around the Direction pad.

The camera will be available in March.

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Olympus OM-D E-M5II Camera Announced

(news & commentary)

bythom olyem5ii

Olympus today announced the OM-D E-M5II camera, a curious update of the E-M5 that in some ways leapfrogs the E-M1, in other ways doesn’t. 

The big news here is that the camera uses an electronic shutter and its sensor IS system to move the sensor for tripod-based static images that generate more megapixels. The camera manages a whopping 64mp (9216 x 6912) in 12-bit ORF files, or a somewhat smaller 40mp (7296 x 5472) when shooting JPEGs in this mode. Essentially the E-M5II takes eight shots and combines them in this mode: one with the sensor aligned to each of the four Bayer positions (i.e. full pixel shift), and four more in the corners between the Bayer positions (i.e. half pixel shift). As a result, every color is sampled at every pixel location. Because this is a mechanical system producing the extra information, I’ll be curious to see how precise and repeatable its capabilities are. I have this suspicion that artifacts will be commonly encountered, as will noise (the system also uses the electronic shutter of the sensor, thus the noise increase). Note also that this mode is limited to ISO 100 to 1600. 

One thing to note: no raw converter is yet available to handle the 64mp version of the sensor shift files. Olympus is working with Adobe and others to make such conversion available in the near future. Update: RPP on the Mac can handle the files. Also, I’m told that the shift is done via underexposed shots. In other words, the overall exposure is not 8x the shutter speed. 

Olympus started with the basic E-M5 body, gave it a few E-M1 inspired control changes, added a fully pivoting 3” rear LCD, upgraded the EVF to the E-M1’s, and upped the mechanical shutter to 1/8000 (and 1/250 flash sync with some flashes). Those are the big changes. Smaller changes abound, too. The video has been upgraded to perform 1080P/60 at 52Mbps, a standard mini-jack for microphones has been added (as well as a headphone jack if you use the optional grip), the separate mini-flash has been upgraded with a higher GN (9.1m at ISO 100), while continuous frame rate rises slightly to 10 fps (but without continuous autofocus or IS). Weight of the camera is up slightly, though size is not. 

The camera comes in panda (silver/black) or black variations, sells for US$1099, and will be available later this month. 

Okay, time for a rant. What the heck is Olympus thinking? We now have three “current” DSLR-like cameras from them and we have different batteries (EM-10), different control placements (all three), and extremely similar specifications except for something they hold unique for each one (E-M1 phase detect, E-M5II sensor shift megapixel gain, E-M10 very small size). Throw in the original E-M5 and we have a fourth variation of control placements.

Personally, I can’t move from one OM-D to another without thinking about which one I have in my hand. Which is it, Olympus? Mode dial on the left or right? Viewfinder/LCD switch next to the viewfinder or on the top of the camera? HDR button on the left top or right top? Menu button below the Direction pad or above? 

What we have in the Olympus cameras is designer laziness and a total ignoring of customer. Does Olympus really want to build brand loyalty? Do they really want someone to build an Olympus system? Because it sure doesn’t look like that to me. I can’t exactly use a combo of EM-5II and EM-1 as my main and backup bodies because of the cognitive dissonances in designs. 

Olympus iterated the E-M5 with the sensor shift rather than making an E-M2 with sensor shift why? Because it was easy from an engineering standpoint. Work on the E-M5II could start before the E-M1 was complete and in customer hands. 

I happen to like a lot of things that Olympus has done with their DSLR-like m4/3 cameras. What I don’t like is how customer unfriendly the sequence has been, and how the primary thing that every Olympus user tends to complain about—the menus—still hasn’t been addressed in five years of producing m4/3 cameras. 

Yes, we know you’re great engineers when you’re playing with technology at its primal level (e.g. the sensor shift trick, the five-way stabilization, etc.). What’s problematic to me is that things that should have been addressed and realigned from the customer point of view just aren’t happening. Instead we continue to get controls that shift around between models, even more density and confusion in the menus, eyepieces that still fall off in use, and much more. Things that would make the Olympus cameras more compelling to use on a day-to-day basis just aren’t happening. I know far too many folk who sampled an Olympus m4/3 camera only to give up on it because it wasn’t as approachable and learnable as something else. And Olympus wonders why they can’t sell more than 500k units a year. 

This iteration for iteration sake, controls can be moved anywhere between models, and who cares if anyone can understand our menus attitude has got to stop. The E-M5II should have been an E-M2. Same controls in the same place, an iterative feature that moves the model line forward. Oh, but wait, says Olympus off the record, there will be an E-M2, and it will have the sensor shift and another new piece of tech. Right, and controls will move again and the menus not addressed, and I’ll be on my tenth eyecup. 

Design for customers and you’ll have customers. Design for marketing claims and you’ll have a busy marketing department. /RANT

Phew. Glad that’s off my chest. Because there’s a lot to like about the E-M5DII, and if the sensor stitch trick works well, it totally blasts through the 16mp wall Olympus has been stuck at, albeit only for static subjects. Plus the full swivel LCD is a very welcome touch, and it looks as if Olympus finally stepped up to the plate and fleshed out the video side, as well. 

The Olympus shooting community seems a bit mixed in reaction to the E-M5II on initial impression. On the one hand I see some that are excited about the extra pixels for static shots. On the flip side, I see quite a few that are dubious about how they would use that and wonder why they’d give up their E-M1 for the E-M5II. After all, the E-M5II doesn’t have phase detect autofocus, and basically only matches the E-M1 on most other things. 

Meanwhile, the news on the lens front from Olympus was a little less exciting than I’d hoped. Olympus announced the development of a new 8mm f/1.8 Pro fisheye lens, while the 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro and 300mm f/4 Pro lenses remain only on the horizon for later this year. The 14-150 variable aperture lens got an upgrade that improves its flare and weather performance, but that’s not exactly a great match for the high-end, DSLR-like OM-Ds that the company is cranking out. It’s those Pro lenses that will define whether Olympus’ high end m4/3 strategy is going to work, and with it, their entire m4/3 strategy. The fisheye is less important than the 7-14mm or 300mm in that respect. 

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Service Advisory for 10-30mm Nikon 1 Lens


Nikon today issued a service advisory for the original 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (the one with the button you have to press to extend the lens for shooting). Over time this lens has a tendency to lose communication with the camera, resulting in an error message being displayed. This can occur with any Nikon 1 body.

Nikon will provide free shipping, inspect the lens, and repair the lens if necessary, also for free. Lenses that have already been serviced have a black dot in the slot for the camera pin that engages the lens when mounted (see below). 


Anyone who previously paid for such a repair should contact Nikon directly. 

Interpreting Data Reveals Biases


BCN published their 2014 summary of mirrorless camera sales in Japan by month (numbers are market share):


From top to bottom that’s Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Canon, Ricoh, Nikon, and Fujifilm. And one thing to remember about BCN is that it does not track all retail sales in Japan, only a large subset of them. 

As usual, various Web sites are interpreting this data differently, as in “Olympus gains market share,” or “Canon still struggling.” 

Okay, we’re talking about the Japanese market, so what does CIPA say about that? Through November 2014, the year-to-year mirrorless shipments to Japan were 87% what they were the previous year. So put those “we’re the best” claims in perspective: the market declined ;~). You’re the king of a smaller hill. Oh, and last year? Olympus had the top market share in Japan, so exactly how is it that “gains market share” can result in dropping a peg to number two?

Individual data slices aren’t as revealing as multiple slices. For example, using BCN’s yearly numbers (Disclaimer: BCN changed the way they counted in 2014, going to a straight brand share instead of top 20 products determining share), we can see that Panasonic slid from nearly a 40% market share in Japan in 2010 to about 13% in 2014. That’s significant. Especially when you realize that such sales themselves peaked in the middle of that timeframe. Sony started strong in mirrorless in Japan, lost steam, then regained it. Nikon started modestly and has lost momentum. Canon started even more modestly and gained a bit of momentum. 

One thing that’s becoming clearer and clearer is that regional preferences for cameras are steering the industry in interesting ways. Ricoh’s oddball and very small Q series is doing better than Nikon 1 in Japan. Of course, over here in the US, big DSLRs just clobber mirrorless sales, and the mirrorless cameras that do sell tend to be larger and more DSLR-like (e.g. EM-1, XT-1, etc.). 

Many years ago the Japanese auto makers started opening design centers in the US. Why? Because US customer preferences were different than Japanese preferences. Camera makers may need to do something similar. 

Indeed, there’s a sub-component at play: software. By keeping their design centers so unabashedly Japanese, I think camera makers aren’t seeing software, user interface, and Internet trends correctly. There’s a bad lag before what’s actually happening on those fronts gets back into the camera companies, and another lag before that translates into changes in designs. That’s just one of the reasons why the camera companies are not competitive with even what a smartphone can do with its camera. 


Samsung Updates NX1 Firmware


Samsung issued firmware version 1.2 for the recent NX1 camera, and the list of changes are quite substantial:

  • Video: can adjust audio and ISO levels while recording, 23.98 and 24 frame rates are choosable, additional Pro quality mode in 1080P, additional display options while recording including safe area markers, time code support over HDMI, new C and D gamma curves added as well as a Master Black level and Luminance limiting level, speed control over autofocus, and new tools for frame grabs from the video.
  • UI: several button pairs can be swapped (WiFi/REC, AF-On/AEL), command dial directions can be reversed, autofocus lock for video as well as AF/MF toggling, ISO and exposure control can now be done via command dial directly, additional buttons are customizable, new Trap Shot feature, and the Auto ISO items have all been grouped in the menu system.
  • Other: remote release via Bluetooth, thumbnail transfer to smartphones while shooting, multiple device support enabled, ability to update over WiFi, new Remote Studio software for tethered shooting.

Samsung firmware update site

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