Mirrorless Notes

Some random notes about mirrorless at the moment.

Strategy. At the A7Rm4 introduction, Sony did their usual data-less graph showing that Sony was number one in full frame market share (units) and sales (dollars) in the US from October 2018 to May 2019. That's for both DSLR and mirrorless together (e.g. all full frame cameras).

When I say data-less, there's no scale on the graph. You could be #1 and have 34%, another competitor 33%, and the third competitor 32%, after all. Indeed, the situation seems to be something closely akin to that, at least here in the US. 

But this got me to thinking about strategy. Nikon clearly is operating on a different strategy than Canon and Sony. Nikon has for some time now been trying to manage contraction. Their clear goal seems to be to try to keep as many dollars and as much margin as possible while letting go of their previous market share strategy. 

I made an analogy a few years back that Nikon was still on the accelerator despite the fact they were entering a hairpin curve at the end of the straightaway. Well, they somehow managed the turn, but now they're not really trying to accelerate again as they're afraid of the turns ahead. 

At this point, it appears that Nikon has sold over 100k mirrorless full frame cameras, and I can see from my book sales that this has been a relatively constant demand (e.g. no big spikes, no big dips over the entire period). D850 sales seem to be doing okay, but on a slow decline. D610 and D750 sales have softened considerably. Overall, Nikon seems to be taking in only slightly less money than last year, and at good margin. In other words, they probably believe their strategy is working.

Sony has always had aspirations to beat Canon. That first showed up in statements from executives when Sony bought the Konica/Minolta assets back in 2006. But for a long time, Sony didn't have a cohesive strategy of how to get there. Give Sony full credit for figuring it out and iterating their way to where they are today. At least for full frame. 

Canon, frankly, seems in a bit of a panic. There's a disorganization to their efforts that's clear when you analyze their product line management. I've outlined this before (M doesn't lead to R, R cameras and lenses mismatch, and much more). 

What surveys are showing me is this: a lot of folk are still waiting. They wonder when Canon's strategy will become clearer, or Nikon will extend beyond two models. Or they're waiting to see some perceived problem fixed (e.g. Canon dynamic range and lack of IBIS, or Nikon 3D Tracking AF). 

The problem with both Canon's rushed strategy to hold Sony off and Nikon's strategy to just micromanage their contraction is that neither helps those folk still waiting to make decisions. In the absence of that, the only clear strategy at the moment is Sony's, and that's continuing to give Sony solid short-term success. 

Thing is, short-term success has a tendency to turn into long-term success. So Canon has to worry that Sony might stay ahead of them in full frame sales, and Nikon has to worry that they might get relegated to third place in a three company race (the three combine for almost three-fourths of all cameras made, and an even higher percentage in full frame). 

Lenses. Hmm, I just looked at my calendar. Five months left in the year. Four promised Nikon Z lenses left to be delivered in the year. Does this mean we get one big dump or a lens-of-the-month drop? 

Canon R is much the same way. Four more lenses promised for 2019, and five months to do it. Going back to strategy, these are all high-end lenses for the two lower-end cameras Canon has produced to date. So the mismatch seems like it will extend for awhile unless there's a high-end body that comes out this year (I'm not betting on it; early 2020 seems more likely).

Timing. Let's face it, most people don't use their cameras all the time, and the majority of people generally buy cameras only at certain times of the year. 

In terms of shooting, it's generally events that drive buying. The big event at the moment, of course, is "summer vacation." 

This year I've been hearing from a lot of people about missed opportunities. One place that's easy to see is with the Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF lens (yes, a DSLR lens, but it also works fine on the mirrorless cameras). We're just about to get to the point where supply is high enough for that lens that you'd be able to find it (somewhere) in stock pretty much on demand. The backorder list has cleared at many dealers. 

The problem, of course, is that here in the US we don't do the European thing (where August is vacation month). In the US vacations spread out between Memorial Day (end of May) and Labor Day (start of September). That means that a lot of folk that wanted a 500mm for their vacation couldn't get it in time. Guess what's going to happen with demand? ;~)

This isn't the only "miss." To some degree, the A7Rm4 is another miss, as it doesn't appear until after the vacation season. The net effect of announcing it in the vacation period is FUD (e.g. people won't buy another high-megapixel camera until they see what that Sony one does). 

Having worked in tech for so long, I know that hitting target dates is always troublesome. You often get into "take out features/performance" decisions or you are late and you miss your target date. Couple that with the fact that sometimes building new manufacturing capacity (or changing it) can also put deliveries below where you want them, and you have the reason why product managers get gray hair early. 

I'm going to turn this around, though. You know your buying season. Some of you try to do upgrades before a big vacation—say an African safari—or at certain times of the year (birthday, mother/father's day, graduation, or Christmas). 

The thing you have to do is discount the "coming soon" stuff (ignore the FUD). When you're making buying decisions, you have to make it on what's actually available. That sometimes means that you won't be at the leading edge of tech, but if you haven't figured it out yet, you need to recognize this: tech keeps moving. Incessantly. Relentlessly. Constantly. It is impossible for anyone to buy perfectly on each tech change, and each tech change tends to be incremental, anyway. (Well, okay, if you're in the 1%, maybe you can buy on every change, but you won't stay in the 1% if you constantly churn money that way.)

Moreover, I'd say you need some time before an event or vacation to get to know your new gear before relying upon it. Thus, you shouldn't buy a new lens at the end of June for a vacation starting in early July. And definitely not a new camera.

In a perfect world, the camera companies would be dropping all their new gear in two periods: February to April (for the mother/father's day, graduation, and early vacation crowd), and September/October (for the holiday buying crowd).

Wait, why not August to October? I've written about that before: Europe is on vacation in August and not paying attention to product announcements, and the same is true here in the US through Labor Day; other areas of the world have slightly different timing, but we're talking about nearly two-thirds of the serious camera buying market here.

To some degree, the camera companies do target those periods. They just miss sometimes. That's okay. In two year's time, they'll be another drop that advances technology some more. 

I've long suggested that you upgrade your camera every other iteration (e.g., for the longest continuous line that's easy to describe, that would have been D70, D90, D7100, D7500, but not D80, D7000, or D7200). Obviously, when you're considering moving from DSLR to mirrorless, it isn't quite so easy (though I'd point out it goes D800, D810, D850/Z7 at the top end, so maybe the D810 owner doesn't make the mirrorless switch yet, while it might make full sense for the D800 owner). 

Too many people—and yes even the camera company marketing departments—get all hung up on Latest and Greatest (or most recent announcement). I'd suggest both you and the camera companies do a bit more thinking about the long-term, because the serious photography marketplace that's left and still buying cameras is filled with buyers that have been in the market for decades. You can sometimes make them jump to something new faster, but that comes at the expense of the next new thing.

The Train. I've written before that the camera engineering teams will simply keep iterating forever. There's always something that they can improve. Faster, More, Better. That will continue until the company stops making cameras, basically.

To those that have been updating regularly, that's a bit like a train. You rode through stop one (D1) to stop three (D3) and past stop five (D5) and are still on the train (or perhaps changed trains at the last station so you're now on the mirrorless line.

The question you have to ask yourself is "do I want to keep riding this train?" We don't know how many more stations there are or exactly where it will go. On the DSLR side it seems that there might not be many more stations left, but on the mirrorless side we're pretty much all on the first (or early) stations and seems like that line might go on (seemingly) forever.

Question is, do you want to go where the train is going?

I mention that because I'm seeing a raft of conflicting statements generated by the Sony A7Rm4. For example: "I want Nikon to make a 61mp camera now" versus "I have no desire/reason to go to 61mp."

That Sony sensor train isn't going to stop. I fully expect them to go another 20% further in linear resolution in a couple of years (e.g. somewhere at or above 100mp full frame). What I'm hearing now is that more folk want off the train than before.

Indeed, if you've been paying attention, the train has been getting less crowded over time. Back in the 6mp-12mp days every car was packed and every station platform was packed with more people wanting to board. Today, though, the passenger cars have plenty of seats available and the stations we're passing now don't seem to have a lot of patrons waiting for the train.

Just a few random thoughts in these dog days of summer.  


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