Does Anyone Have an APS-C Plan?

Before we get started, we need to recap where we are with APS-C mirrorless:

  • Canon — Basically re-iterated the bottom of their previous Kiss/Rebel idea, plus a topper camera (R7).
  • Fujifilm — All in on APS-C, but now with a proliferation of “different” cameras and similar primes.
  • Nikon — Had triplets and then stopped birthing anything.
  • Sony — The NEX to A6### story is one of decline. 

Full frame is not an issue for anyone: the entry, mid-range, and top cameras are there for all brands that participate—though Sony uses older models for low-end entry pricing—well defined, and now multiply iterated. One would conclude from examining Canon, Nikon, and Sony full frame mirrorless lineups that each has a plan, knows what they’re doing, and is deep in iteration of that. Panasonic has a mini-plan ;~).

Not so for APS-C. I’ve heard so many varying and confused explanations from Japanese executives about their crop sensor lineup now that I’ve come to the conclusion that they simple don’t know what to do. 

Fujifilm is probably in the best position with APS-C mirrorless, mostly because they skipped full frame and rely on APS-C for the bulk of their sales. But even with Fujifilm I get puzzling explanations of why their models are what they are, how they differentiate them and why, plus what they think a “complete” lineup actually looks like. 

To me, it seems like there are too many pet projects at Fujifilm, as well as some too-strongly held beliefs. I’m not sure why they think they need to make the X-T50 a 40mp camera, for example, or why a new X-TPro needs to be developed. It’s really difficult to say what the entry point is for the Fujifilm lineup (probably X-S20), and the top end in the X-H2S has virtually no sales energy in the market, meaning it was a swing and a miss.

On the lens side, we have a full range of Fujifilm primes that seem to be going through regeneration, while the X-H2S isn’t getting much of the lens support it really needed. There’s simply no clear hand guiding the Fujifilm offerings in a way that someone who doesn’t already follow Fujifilm would understand, which inhibits their growth. 

That said, Fujifilm looks like the gem in APS-C mirrorless world compared to the others. 

Dropping over to the other long-term player in APS-C mirrorless, Sony, we also find large potential for user confusion. The wide, deep, and quickly iterated days of NEX models are long gone now. The A6000, A6300, A6500 trio looked like a strong start to the post-NEX days, but things have been limping since, and are now confused with the ZV-E10 evolution. 

The A6100, A6400, and A6600 showed up as modest iterations five years ago, and since then, we’ve only seen the A6700 add to the iteration, so generations are taking longer, and no longer appear synced. 

We did see Sony produce a few more E-mount lenses, but mostly centered around the uses that ZV-E10 users would appreciate. 

What it feels like to me looking back at the Sony APS-C mirrorless history is that they started with great energy and excitement and quick responses, slowed some as they introduced full frame, and now are completely distracted with “other things.” 

Canon and Nikon, the late entrants, have taken different paths. Canon, for instance, seems to have taken their decontented model Kiss/Rebel idea even further in the mirrorless world, with the R100 being so basic even Canon doesn’t ever talk about it in positive terms. The R10 and R7 at the top of the lineup have had more success, but “success” in this instance doesn’t mean “strong seller.” 

Now it appears that Canon is ceding RF-S lenses to the third parties (Sigma has announced six lenses for Canon APS-C, Tamron one). Meanwhile Canon has just a total of four kit zooms, and hasn’t bothered to bring other M-mount lenses over to RF-S. Parental neglect, for sure.

Nikon is the worst of the bunch so far, having a five year old camera that they “iterated” by giving it cosmetic surgery to create a new body, twice. Somehow, the optical side of the company managed to give those three near-identical cameras five lenses, which is one more than Canon managed. Still, it’s a pretty limited, small scale offering from Nikon, with no clear indication what the future may bring.

One thing I see in all four APS-C players is that their engineering teams aren’t really giving their marketing teams a story, just a few random options to try to figure out how to explain to customers. Which the pathetic marketing teams in Tokyo can’t manage to do. 

/Sarcasm ON

Canon: We Made the Kiss/Rebel worse.

Fujifilm: Don’t Try to Use Two of Our Bodies Simultaneously.

Nikon: Choose a Body Style for Your Five-Year-Old Camera.

Sony: Sorry, but We’re Running Out of Gas.

/Sarcasm OFF

To a large degree, the Japanese companies see APS-C as the last defense line against smartphones. All retreated from 1/2.3” sensors. Most have given up on 1” sensors. So it’s APS-C where the line between smartphone image quality and dedicated camera image quality is being drawn. 

And the line is being drawn poorly. Heck, is it even a line? More like a dotted line in faint gray. If I squint I can almost see it. 

(I said Sarcasm OFF!)

This is a real problem. APS-C is the entry point for dedicated cameras now. But it’s not much of an entry point, and I don’t see any of the Japanese camera companies getting marketing messages out that are clear, direct, and define the expectations. 

As I’m wont to point out, all of the APS-C cameras still have issues with getting images to where the user wants them. I’ll give Fujifilm some credit for getting their camera-to-smartphone software closer to what is needed, but in general it appears that the Japanese companies are so afraid of smartphones that they don’t want to mention them, ever, let alone integrate with them. 

The sum of the parts (smartphone, camera) should be greater than the sum of the parts. Instead, trying to use them together today is a lesson in subtraction, not addition. 

Getting APS-C right should be a critical strategy at every camera company. None seem to be seeing it the same way that I do, so I’m predicting more customer erosion, not a growing customer base.

Catching Up For The Month I Was Away

Here are the mirrorless news bits that happened while I was off the Internet:

  • 4/9 — Nikon Z30 and Z50 firmware updates. The Z30 firmware is now at version 1.11, the Z50 version at 2.51. The only published change has to do with encryption keys and passwords associated with the wireless connection.
  • 4/9 — Sony A6700 firmware update. The A6700 is now up to version 1.03, with the most recent update adding bug fixes, stability, and performance changes.
  • 4/11 — 7Artisans 50mm f/1.8 announced. 7Artisans announced their first full frame autofocus lens for the Z System (the lens had been previously available on the Sony FE mount). 
  • 4/11 — 7Artisans 27mm f/2.8 announced. This new autofocus lens is E mount (APS-C).
  • 4/12 — OMDS updated firmware for the OM-1 and OM-5 models. Not a big deal, just some stability improvements and some new smartphone security options
  • NAB — Sony 16-25mm f/2.8G announced. It seems a bit focal length challenged (not much range), but it does line up with the 24-50mm f/2.8G to produce 16-50mm in two lenses, if that's your thing.
  • NAB — Viltrox 16mm f/1.8 Z-mount announced.
  • NAB — Viltrox 135mm f/1.8 LAB announced.
  • NAB — New cards appear. A number of new storage cards have appeared, including Lexar’s new Armor series of SD cards (basically their version of Sony Tough). SanDisk, meanwhile, introduced a 4TB Extreme Pro UHS-I card, which pushes the SD capacity bar up one. OWC expanded their CFexpress 4.00 card series to Type A (not important to Nikon Z-mount users, but does show OWC’s full support for the latest CFe standards). ProGrade is also showing off both Type A and Type B CFexpress 4.0 cards with maximum and sustained speeds well above what the Z8 and Z9 require (and are rated VPG 400 for video). These new Type B cards are named Iridium and come in 400GB, 800GB, and 1.6TB sizes. Meanwhile, a new Gold 256GB card also is available with CFe 4.0 support. Exascend and Nextorage introduced Type A cards, as well.
  • NAB — Canon announced the upcoming termination of the free 10GB Image.Canon service, once again showing that the Japanese camera companies aren’t understanding the online/social networking connection necessary for cameras in the 21st century. Not that the service was all that useful to a Canon user, as it was effectively just “cloud storage.” If you’re using, you’ll need to download your images prior to October 31st, 2024. After that, Canon will be deleting them.
  • NAB — Video options proliferate. If you're into mirrorless video (as opposed to stills), Blackmagic Design, Freely, and Kinefinity all introduced updated products, including the new 17K URSA camera. Yes, 17K video, which is just a bit more than 8K video ;~). If you think pixel count/resolution increases will slow, you're wrong.
  • 4/17 — Z5 firmware updated to 1.43. The only changes apply to Nikon’s updated security keys for wireless communication.
  • 4/19 — TTartisan released the 56mm f/1.8 lens for Fujifilm XF and Sony E APS-C cameras. We're starting to get a log jam of APS-C prime lenses at the 23mm, 33mm, and 56mm focal lengths.
  • 4/19 — 7Artisans introduced a 50mm f/1.4 tilt lens. Again for Fujifilm XF and Sony E APS-C cameras, as well as m4/3.
  • 4/23 — Z8 firmware updated to 2.01. The new version applies Nikon’s new security changes for wireless communication, as well as five fixes.
  • 4/25 — Viltrox introduced the 40mm f/2.5 autofocus lens, 7artisans introduced the 50mm f/1.8 autofocus lens for the Z-mount, and Kate introduced the 200mm f/5.6 manual focus mirror lens. 7Artisans also launched a low cost 27mm f/2.8 autofocus lens for the Sony E mount.
  • 4/29 — Zf firmware was updated to versions 1.20. This update forces automatic white balance to remain the same for each image in a pixel-shift sequence, makes the security key changes of the other updates, and fixes three bugs.
  • 4/23 — Canon opened the RF-S lens mount to third party makers. Sigma announced six RF-S lenses starting with the 18-50mm f/2.8 Contemporary. This will be followed by the 10-18mm f/2.8, 16mm f/1.4, 23mm f/1.4, 30mm f/1.4, and 56mm f/1.4 Contemporary lenses (all previously available on other mounts). Tamron also announced that they will produce their 11-20mm f/2.8 for RF-S. 
  • 4/25 — 7Artisans launced an autofocus 27mm f/2.8 lens for the Sony E mount.
  • 5/7 — Viltrox announced the 16mm f/1.8 lens for the Z-mount. This lens is now one of two wide angle full frame autofocus lens prime lens available for the Z-mount that go beyond where Nikon has gone.
  • 5/7 — Hasselblad announced the 25mm f/2.5 ultra wide lens. A relatively fast 20mm equivalent lens for the XCD series that features a leaf shutter good to 1/4000. 
  • 5/8 — Megadap announced new Canon EF to Nikon Z adapter that supports autofocus. The EFTZ21 is now available for US$300.
  • 5/9 — Nikon announced fiscal year results. As expected, Nikon beat the last forecast it made for the complete year ended March 31, 2024, and that was true of the Imaging unit, as well. Sales were up 52.6% and profits up 4.3% year to year. ILC market share finished at 12.9%. The forecast for the coming year is an increase in sales of 7.2% in revenue and an increase in market share by about 1%, but a decline of 5.5% in profit. That decline in profit is partially attributed to the acquisition of RED, for which Nikon paid about US$85m. Be careful of the sites citing the RED purchase as "the deal of the century," as the actual sales, profit, assets, and liabilities of RED are still unknown, and you'd need to know those numbers to make a proper assessment. It's more likely that there was some distress within RED, which resulted in the lowish acquisition price. One likely problem, particularly given the interviews that have been given since the deal was announced, is that the investment cost of future silicon options at RED was starting to exceed their resources. Nikon provides deep pockets and shared tech that would help with that. For what it's worth, Nikon's Imaging forecast seems a bit unusual to me, with a strong year to year increase in sales for the first half of the fiscal year, but a modest increase in sales with a significant hit to profit in the second half. This would indicate a new camera (or more) before October, but some sort of big R&D cost after that. But also note that Nikon, like a number of other camera companies, shows a significant increase in inventory that's built up, too. To Nikon corporate's chagrin, Imaging is still the biggest pipeline of sales and profit at the company (39% of sales, and greater profit than the company overall). I say that because corporate just keeps saying "just sustain the Imaging business" while growing other businesses, with the Precision unit is still "expected" to be far bigger by 2026 (it won't be). R&D is forecast to go up for Imaging and down for Precision next year. Oops. Finally, it's been hypothesized by other sites that Nikon didn't need to release a new camera in Q1 of 2024 because sales were great, so they could delay any new camera. That's not evident in the data: while Q1/2024 sales were above last year, they were weakest quarter of the year, and below those of years where Nikon was said to be "in trouble." The reason Nikon didn't introduce a camera so far this year is that no new ones are ready to release yet. Nikon isn't alone in this; I've now gotten confirmation from three different companies that there is are still parts shortages that are forcing them to choose between producing existing models or new models. Given in Nikon's case that almost any new model they'd introduce this year is going to cost less than a Z8 or Z9, those parts are better used in the higher priced camera, even if you discount them some.
  • 5/9 — Fujifilm released year-end financial statements. The digital camera bits are up 20% year to year. However, I'd like to point out that as much as the Fujifilm fan clubs like to think they've caught Nikon, Nikon sold 279.7b yen worth of product to Fujifilm's 172.1b yen, or 62% more revenue. Both Nikon and Fujifilm have a ways to go reach Canon's 544.6b yen recent year number. That said, Canon hit their number with a near 50% market share, while Nikon did half that with a 13% market share. Which company do you think has a higher gross profit margin right now? (Fujifilm doesn't report profit or market share specifically for their ILC cameras.) By the way Petapixel, "Fujifilm's Camera Profits Soar..." is a headline not supported by the company's financial release; are you clairvoyant? 

Meanwhile, I found a number of rumors in my InBox that had a common theme: everyone is catching on that a "pro compact" camera—witness the Fujifilm X100VI—might sell and now has one in R&D. First out of the gate likely will be Panasonic (and with a companion Leica model). But if I'm to believe anonymous messages in my InBox (I don't always), three other companies will join in sometime in the next 12 months. 

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