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.

Fujifilm Adds a Prime

(news & commentary)

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Fujifilm today announced the long-awaited 16mm f/1.4 lens for their XF mount cameras. This gives Fujifilm mirrorless camera users a much needed fast 24mm equivalent prime, and one that’s reasonably compact, at that (hey Nikon, are you paying attention?). Much like their 14mm, this new lens features a pull-to-manual focus ring that reveals a DOF scale. 

The lens is dust and weather resistant, has the usual aperture ring, is Nano coated to reduce reflections, and has a very short 6” (0.15m) minimum focus distance. 

Introduction of the 16mm basically ticks the “fast prime set” check box for the Fujifilm mirrorless system. We now have fast 16mm, 23mm, 35mm, and 56mm primes, which in 35mm equivalent terms is 24mm, 35mm, 53mm, and 85mm. Coupled with the 16-50mm f/2.8 and 50-140mm f/2.8, Fujifilm becomes the second mirrorless camera company to flesh out their lens set to what I would call the basic minimum for serious shooters. The entire lens set now encompasses 19 lenses, with 4 more know to be coming.


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Finally

(commentary)

Ordered 7/11/2014, shipped 4/14/2015. 

What product took so long to appear? A US$50 Nikon TR-N100 tripod mount for the 70-300mm CX lens. During that entire time, this part was out of stock at pretty much every US dealer I talked to. 

Nikon has a long history of producing accessories slowly and not keeping them in stock. Makes you wonder why they’re even in that business. If accessories are such a headache to keep stocked correctly, license that stuff out to a third party who knows how to get it right, simple as that.

Moral of the story: order the minute an accessory becomes available if you want it. Don’t dally. 

Nikon Announces J5 Camera

(news & commentary)

bythom nikonj5

“I am the beauty of speed” has been updated to “I am commanding speed.” Gotta love those marketing departments.

The new Nikon 1 J5 camera is yet another update of Nikon’s midrange mirrorless camera. This time around we get the following changes:

  • 20.8mp BSI sensor instead of 18.4mp; no AA filter on the J5
  • EXPEED5A instead of EXPEED4A
  • WiFi with NFC instead of plain WiFi (Android use only)
  • Tilting touch LCD instead of fixed touch LCD
  • EN-EL24 instead of EN-EL22 (and a drop from 300 shots CIPA to 250)
  • A control dial has been added around the Record video button
  • A slight hand grip has been added
  • Interval Timer has been added
  • 15 fps 4K “video” has been added
  • A programmable function button has been added to the front of the camera

Overall, the camera is pretty much the same size, though it has grown in depth to accommodate the slight hand grip and tilting LCD. Gone are the garish color options, with only white, silver, and black now available. 

One unanswered question concerns the sensor. The specs on the sensor match Sony’s 1” sensor, not Aptina’s. Aptina sold last year to a company that isn’t really interested in camera sensors (they are interested in automotive use of imaging sensors), so I doubt that this is an update to an Aptina-produced sensor, but rather a switch to Sony's. If so, that implies about a third of a stop change in ISO response and a clear improvement in dynamic range at base ISO, which will help with shadow noise. That said, those expecting a large change because of the BSI (back side illumination) aspect of the sensor are probably going to be disappointed. If this is the Sony sensor in the J5, then it’s a clear step forward in image quality, but a modest step. 

Things that serious photographers might find still missing are no hot shoe, no EVF option, no bracketing, no CLS flash control, a not-very-usable 4K video mode, plus the continued use of the microSD slot. The change in batteries has to bother some loyal Nikon 1 users, too. Still, overall one can’t ignore the fact that the J1 to J5 progression has slowly rid and hidden the camera of low-end, totally automatic features and pulled more and more serious shooter features to the front and center. The J5 is much more like the camera the J1 should have been in the first place. Interestingly, so is the price: US$500 with kit lens seems much more like the right starting price for a competent, small mirrorless camera.

But we still really don’t have a full set of lenses for the Nikon 1. No new lenses were announced, nor was a road map announced by Nikon. I do note that many of Nikon’s sample photos were taken with the 18mm and 32mm primes. Maybe they have finally figured out that there’s an advantage to putting a really good lens on the front of these Nikon 1 cameras. We still need a couple of better fast wide angle primes, and even something like a fixed f/3.5 or f/4 zoom or two would help (though most would want an f/2.8 zoom).

So here we are four years and eleven cameras into the Nikon 1 experiment, and things are finally starting to make a bit of sense. The price/performance/features matrix actually looks reasonable for a change. Could it be? Could making a decent, straight-forward camera with decent performance at the right price really be a better option than gimmicks? Nah. That can’t be right.

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Fujifilm Updates XT-1 Firmware

(news)

Fujifilm updated the X-T1 software to version 3.10. Most of the changes are associated with the tethered and WiFi shooting options. 

Fujifilm X-T1 update site

The Sony/Olympus Connection

(news & commentary)

Since I’ve covered this story from its beginnings in the fraud that crippled Olympus a few years back, I suppose it only fair that I continue to cover it. 

In case you forgot, Olympus was found to be hiding huge investment losses from the 1990’s in various illegal ways, and this was exposed when they hired Michael Woodford to be CEO and he couldn’t reconcile over US$1.5b in accounting. Woodford was fired as members of the Olympus board desperately tried to hide what had really happened. When all was said and done and correct and better audited financials finally were posted, Olympus turned out to be very undercapitalized. 

Which is where Sony stepped in and bought 10% of Olympus for a huge infusion of cash. 

Today Sony announced that they were selling half that stake to JPMorgan Chase. It appears that Sony made a significant profit in the slightly over two years it held the stock (they might have also received dividend payments), as they bought the entire stake for US$642m and sold half for US$632m at current market prices. 

This is all you need to know about the sale: it speaks more to Sony’s needs than Olympus’s. Sony gets a fair chunk of cash back that it can use to shore up its remaining businesses. Olympus still has the same number of stockholders, but Sony is no longer the largest holder of their stock.

In slightly related news, Olympus officials apparently are priming the Japanese business press for some bad numbers from the Imaging division: whisper numbers at quarter’s end have the yearly loss in the group increasing. 

The Canikon Fallacy

(commentary)

I’ve seen a lot of reporting that goes something like this: Canon and Nikon have been ignoring the mirrorless market and that’s why their DSLR duopoly is in trouble. Trouble, apparently, is defined by those sources as “retaining market share in ILC products during an overall decline in camera sales.” 

That’s right, Canon and Nikon are still sitting on the same market shares for ILC products—DSLR and mirrorless combined = interchangeable lens cameras, or ILC—as they have had for some time now. Canon has been at 40-45%, Nikon has been at 30-35%. If one goes up, the other tends to go down the same amount. 

Moreover, while the two now control nearly 95% of the DSLR market, they both have mirrorless camera entries, as well. True, they’re a long way from dominating mirrorless cameras, but the combination of stronger DSLR sales and weak mirrorless sales has kept their positions relatively intact overall. 

If DSLR sales continue to slip and mirrorless continues to run at the slightly over 3m a year mark, yes, Canon and Nikon will slowly see erosion in their dominance, mostly towards Sony. But Canon and Nikon have really only been “tinkering” in mirrorless so far. It’s difficult to regard the EOS M and the Nikon 1 as anything other than “toes in water.” 

What we’re seeing from Canikon is the traditional behavior of the #1 and #2 in a market that is under stress or that is splitting into two. They’ll tend to be slow to act, letting all the other competitors spend R&D money to show them where the sweet spot is.

I think it pretty clear that the sweet spot isn’t a Pen (e.g. small, compact-style mirrorless without EVF). The sweet spot is DSLR-replacement (e.g. X-T1, E-M1, GH4, NX-1, A7). Which means that as long as DSLRs can be marketed as “better” than mirrorless, Canon and Nikon will continue to do so. At the point where mirrorless really is regarded equally to DSLRs, I think you’ll see both Canon and Nikon suddenly appear with competitive mirrorless products. And there’s no doubt in my mind that they can do so.

The doubt is over whether any of the camera makers actually understand what the decline in sales is all about. People are taking more images than ever before, so you’d think that quality image tools would still be selling. Yet it’s clear they’re not. 

You’ll notice that the pace at which new cameras are introduced, including mirrorless ones, has suddenly cooled.

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Mirrorless camera introductions, 2009-2014

More interesting to me were the Q4 shipments of mirrorless cameras the past three years: they’ve dramatically declined (1.4m, 1.1m, 898k), despite the fact that this should be a time when the stores are being stuffed for Christmas sales. DSLR shipments during the same period had the same trend (3.9m, 3.7m, 2.8m). It seems that even Christmas isn’t having the pull on sales that it used to for ILCs, and that’s really bad news, as that’s the biggest selling season for such cameras. 

Right now, mirrorless cameras that are resonating with users tend to have a unique gimmick that can be marketed (e.g. EM-5II high resolution mode, GH4 4K video, NX-1 wicked fast frame rates and 4K video, A7 models full frame choice). But none of that is building overall mirrorless sales, let alone something we could call solid growth.

So the current state of the market is this: DSLRs are declining, mirrorless are static. At some point the decline in DSLRs will force Canon and Nikon to get serious about mirrorless and all heck will break loose in the mirrorless market. Prices are going to go down if competition goes up. That’s good for us users, at least temporarily, but it also means that finding profits in the camera market will get more elusive to the camera makers and put them under even more stress than they are. 

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