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.

End of Year Mirrorless Status

We’re in the end-of-year buying season, so perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on what happened this year in mirrorless and where we are:

  • Samsung left the market. Any NX camera you happen upon is an orphan left behind by its parent. Adopt at your own risk.
  • Nikon sure seems to have left the market. The only thing that’s new for 2016 is, well, nothing. The J5 appeared in Spring 2015. Nikon’s still giving minor lip service to Nikon 1, but the line is feeling like the parents left them. Again, adopt at your own risk.
  • Leica essentially updated a camera by adding an L to its name. I suspect Leica will have a lot more going on in 2017, but for this year it was all about bug squashing, getting promised lenses to market, and a most lame update from T to TL.
  • Sony apparently was winded and took an A7 breather.  The good news, though, is that we got the A6300 and A6500, both highly competent APS-sensor mirrorless cameras. A7 updates will have to wait until 2017. 

We did have a few more active camera makers in mirrorless:

  • Canon showed up in the active column with the EOS M5. Coupled with now global support for the EOS M lenses and cameras, it seems that Canon is now entirely serious about mirrorless. Adding the EVF and a top APS-sensor to the EOS M line certainly caused the other competitors to sit up and notice as Canon raced to the number two market share in mirrorless.
  • Fujifilm pushed to 24mp. The X-Pro2 and X-T2 are high-end updates to already well-received cameras. Lots to talk about here, lots of excellent product to consider. We even got an X-E2s—again, a camera update that consists mostly of a letter—an X-A3, and soon an X-A10. So plenty of choices for a Fujifilm user looking to upgrade or supplement. And don’t forget the big surprise though-not-yet-shipping medium format addition in the GXF. Very active year for Fujifilm.
  • Olympus also pushed, but to 20mp. While the P-late (PL-8) was a disappointment, the Pen-F and OM-D E-M1 Mark II are both exciting cameras in different ways. And Olympus seems all-in on seriously good lenses.
  • Panasonic was more active than I expected, with the GX80/85, G80/85, and the announced-but-not-shipping GH5. It seems that Panasonic is back to thinking they need a full line of mirrorless body choices again. There was a time in 2015 where they looked to be backing away from that. Better still, Panasonic is embracing in-body stabilization now and seems to be back to thinking about new lenses.

The year has also seen some key new entrants:

  • Sigma surprised by launching and shipping the sd Quattro, though they only announced the still-missing sd Quattro H. Perhaps to make up for Samsung, here we have a new mount entrant (Sigma) in the mirrorless race, though a bit of an odd duck in terms of camera.
  • Hasselblad jumped into the market, too, with another medium format entry, the X1D-50C. That addition, by the way, gave mirrorless users an incredible array of sensor sizes to consider: 1”, m4/3, APS-C, full frame, and now small Medium Format. That’s compared to DSLRs, where we really only have APS and full frame (plus the Leica S and Pentax 645 in small MF).

So what’s the big takeaway from the year? Iteration is pushing the active players’ cameras higher and higher in capability. The bar is getting raised and arguably closer to DSLRs. But medium format as a new mirrorless format is probably the big surprise and most important takeaway this year. In essence, all new ILC designs are mirrorless cameras now. In the Canikon DSLR world everything’s just an update.

As we close out the year, here are my choices for various categories of photography using mirrorless cameras:

  1. Best Quality Travel Kit — Sony A7r Mark II with the f/4 zoom set. This is a reasonable compromise between size and quality. The full frame 42mp state-of-the-art sensor pushes the quality one way (higher) and the f/4 zooms pull it back some the other (lower). But the result is exceedingly good overall, enough for most people seeking quality. Supplement with a prime or two if you wish, but don’t get carried away, as full frame lenses are just going to be bigger than smaller sensor counterparts, and for true travel kits, smaller and lighter is better.
  2. Small Travel Kit — Still pretty much the same as I suggested months ago. A few small changes have occurred: the Fujifilm and Panasonic lenses are currently on sale, which impacts the pricing a bit; Sony introduced an A6500 that pushes their solution a bit higher in performance. But that A6500 is more money, too. Thus, I’m going to stick by what I wrote. 
  3. Highest Possible Quality — The new Medium Format options (Hasselblad and Fujifilm) are just starting to become available, and they set a really high bar at the pixel level. You’re not going to have much in the way of lens options, though. The Sony A7r Mark II with various Zeiss lenses (Zeiss/Sony, Batis, Loxia) isn’t a bad alternative choice instead. Nothing else gets up to that same level.
  4. Best JPEG Shooters — This is a contentious category, because you first have to say what it is you value in JPEG image quality. The usual answers are Fujifilm X and Olympus m4/3, pretty much any model. But both companies do a lot of pixel manipulation in their JPEGs. Hue shifts, contrast boosts, saturation changes, and more. I’ll say this, Fujifilm’s JPEGs look somewhat like their films did: pleasing but exaggerated. There’s something that Fujifilm sees that worked with a large number of people, and they’re still designing to that in the digital age. Olympus also is in this same category, but falls slightly behind Fujifilm for one reason: sensor size and how that pushes Olympus to block up the darks slightly and add noise reduction that takes away a bit of acuity. Honorable mention: Leica SL, and the old Ricoh GXR. 
  5. Best Sports Shooters — [buckles on helmet, buttons up Kevlar vest] All the gushing in the world over the Fujifilm X-T2 and Sony A6500 doesn’t make them the match of a Nikon D500 (or Canon 7DII), let alone the full frame pro models. As you get into the telephoto focal length range, the differences do start to show up, and clearly. That said, the X-T2 and A6500 are the two best mirrorless cameras for continuous focus performance to date. With the right lenses and subjects, yes, they seem a bit like DSLRs. (disclosure: the Olympus E-M1 Mark II hasn’t been made available to me yet.) 

Panasonic Holiday Deals

As I’ve done with Nikon products on dslrbodies.com, I’m going to start trying to do similar things with mirrorless products when I can. Panasonic has just listed their November rebates. Here’s my take.

First, the rebates:

  • Up to US$600 off on Panasonic GH4 kits
  • US$200 off on Panasonic GX8 kits
  • US$100 off on Panasonic GX85 kits
  • Up to US$300 off on Panasonic G7 kits
  • $150 off on the LX100 camera
  • US$30 off on the 14mm f/2.5 lens
  • US$50 off on the Leica 15mm lens 
  • US$30 off on the 20mm lens
  • US$100 off on the 30mm macro lens
  • US$200 off on the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens
  • US$50 off on the 42.5mm f/1.7 lens
  • US$100 off on the 7-14mm lens
  • US$300 off on the 12-35mm X lens 
  • US$150 off on the 14-140mm lens 
  • US$400 off on the 35-100mm X lens
  • US$100 off on the compact 35-100mm lens
  • US$50 off on the 100-300mm lens 

I’m not going to comment on the camera bodies much. The GH4 is nearing end-of-life. If you’re deep into 4K video with some still shooting, the new price is very tempting. You’re not going to find another 4K video camera that’s as competent at this price. And the upcoming GH5 is going to be nearly twice the price when it arrives.

While the rest of the bodies represent nice discounts—especially the previous generation G7 ones—I’m not a huge fan of any of them for various reasons (mostly because I think there’s a better option elsewhere). They’re all competent cameras, I just think there are better options for the price.

The LX-100 at US$650 is an interesting choice. The LX-100 has been my carry-everywhere camera pretty much since it came out. I wish it were more than 12.8mp, but I’ve come to love it’s photographer-centric controls, a good EVF, and lens competence in a nice, coat-pocket-sized package. It really could use a sensor upgrade at this point, but that seems like it won’t come until some time later in 2017, if then. 

On to the lenses. Here are the ones I think you should be looking closely at if you’re an m4/3 user:

  • 7-14mm f/4 — not as good as the faster Olympus wide-angle zoom, but far less expensive, and very usable for the landscape photographer looking for some flexibility.
  • 12-35mm f/2.8 G X — As with many of the choices here, Olympus’ equivalent or near equivalent is better, but more expensive (and also often larger). This lens has some things that aren’t perfect, but I appreciate it for having a fast mid-range zoom in a compact size. That’s why you buy it: you need a fast mid-range zoom in a compact size. At the new price, it’s starting to tip into bargain territory. See my full review.
  • 30mm f/2.8 Macro — I’m not a huge fan of near-normal macros because the working distance to the front element is so small. That said, this is almost 30% off a very good close up lens. Very good. I’m not sure you’ll use it at 1:1 because of the working distance, but at 2:1 it’s very convenient.
  • 35-100mm f/2.8 G X — See what I wrote about the 12-35mm f/2.8, because it mostly applies here, too. It’s closer to the Olympus near-equivalent, smaller, and at the highly discounted price, also tipping towards bargain.
  • 42.5mm f/1.2 — very pricey, but very good, too. The Olympus 45mm remains the bargain here, but Panasonic/Leica have pushed things right up to the limit with this expensive lens.
  • 100-300mm f/4-5.6 — Not much of a discount, but this lens is already fairly priced. It’s the go-to lens for long reach on m4/3 bodies at a truly affordable price. 

The rest of the lenses I’m less thrilled with. They all cater a bit more to the consumer than the critical enthusiast. By all means take a look at them, but my own personal opinion of m4/3 is that you really want top-quality glass on the small sensor. I can vouch for the lenses above

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Olympus Goes Pro

Olympus has announced a new service for professional photographers that will cost US$99 a year, Olympus Pro Advantage. The service includes expedited repairs with free overnight shipping both ways, two free clean and check services, a six month warranty extension on camera bodies, a 15% discount on out-of-warranty repairs, and loaner equipment if repairs will take more than three days.

The service isn’t yet available, but you can sign up now to be notified when it goes active.

For some time (at least ten years) I’ve been saying that the camera companies are doing pro and serious customer service wrong. Canon Priority Service (CPS) and Nikon Priority Service (NPS) have long been similar free services to pros—Canon now has some additional levels you pay for—though they can be difficult to qualify for, particularly NPS. And they don’t necessarily provide you a lot other than faster repairs and sometimes loaner gear.

Like CPS and NPS there is a minimum equipment requirement for the upcoming Olympus Pro Advantage: two bodies (E-M1, E-M5, or Pen-F) and three Pro or Premium lenses minimum. 

But the Apple Care approach would be a far better choice, I think: charge a reasonable price for priority service and better support for a reasonable period, and offer it to all willing to pay. It isn’t that sophisticated and serious users aren’t willing to pay for good service and support, it’s that the level of service and support they currently get—sometimes even with the professional services—is shallow, tough to reach, sometimes slow, and not always helpful. Moreover, if you’re not a working pro, most of the camera companies want little or nothing to do with you, because it costs them money to help you.

Olympus Pro Advantage is a step in the right direction, but the restrictions in it do the same thing that the other pro services do: create dual classes of camera users, one of which is advantaged, the other of which tends to be shunned and relegated to the back of the bus. Not. The. Way. To. Treat. Paying. Customers. 

Sony Adds Two Fast Cameras

bythom sony a6500 wlens

Sony today surprised many by producing an A6500 mirrorless camera, which features several key performance attributes above the current (and remaining in the line up) A6300. This new body will retail for US$1400 and be available in December in the US. It becomes the new top-of-the-APS line body.

While it stays at 24mp (APS), the A6500 adds faster processing with an additional LSI chip, five-axis in-body image stabilization (5 stops CIPA), a touchscreen, and a much bigger buffer (100 raw+JPEG, 300 JPEG). The shutter has been redesigned to withstand 200k cycles and produce less shutter shock. Bluetooth has been added to the connectivity, allowing getting location data from your smartphone.

There’s a redesigned menu system, and a number of other small tweaks, as well. Unfortunately, most of the menu “redesign” consists of two things: a slightly better grouping of related settings with a named header over each page, and color coding on the tabs. Given that the still settings menu alone has a dozen pages, we still have a lot of navigation to do to get to an item, though the touch-sensitive screen will help here if you know which tab you need to be on.

bythom sony a6500

Video gets an interesting twist in that you can select a Slow and Quick mode that allows you to choose eight frame rates between 1 and 120 fps to create speeded up motion or slow motion directly (1080P only). You can also now extract 8mp stills from any 4K footage you take.

The body, while slightly larger than the A6300, uses the same recognizable layout and controls (though we do get a second programmable button on the top plate and some other small touches, such as a soft eyecup and a larger grip). Overall, the camera gains a bit of size in each dimension, and over 100g in weight. Many of the internal specs of the A6500 are otherwise the same as the A6300, though.

bythom sony rx100v

At the same time Sony upped the ante with the A6500 in mirrorless, they also introduced a new version of the compact RX100, the RX100 Mark V (above). This new US$1000 pocket camera adds 315-point phase detect to its autofocus system, plus now shoots 20mp stills at 24 fps for up to 150 frames. That’s with focus and exposure active, and in JPEG or raw.

Sony seems to be very actively pursuing the line that they disclosed a couple of years ago: essentially pressing performance in every dimension (low light, fast capture, follow focus, pixel capacity, etc.). Indeed, in their press conference, a lot of emphasis was put on numbers. Most of the important numbers seem to have gone up, including prices. 

What wasn’t shown were any new E-mount lenses for the APS sensor cameras, which desperately need better versions of the 16mm and 20mm f/2.8 in this 24mp world, and could use a solid, small, mid-range zoom without OSS now its available at the sensor. Perhaps those are coming, but my evaluation of Sony’s APS lens lineup is that there aren’t many at the moment that truly deliver the kinds of performance results you’d want with a camera like the A6500 (probably only the 10-18mm f/4, the 24mm f/1.8 Zeiss, the 35mm f/1.8, and the 50mm f/1.8).

That said, the pressure is now back on Canon, who introduced the EOS M5 with quite a few lower spec abilities just last month, and Nikon, which has nothing that matches the Sony mirrorless line.

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2016 News/View

2015 News/Views

2014 News/Views

2013 News/Views

The news and views for 2013 by month from sansmirror.com:

2012 News/Views

The monthly news and views for 2012 from sansmirror.com:

2011 News/Views

Sansmirror was started in October 2011 as a spin-out of bythom.com. Here are the 31 News/Views stories from the original three-month period:

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