Fujifilm Shows Their Backside...

Fujifilm's "just one more thing" announcement at their recent Summit was that a new APS-C image sensor is coming, and that it's a backside illuminated and stacked sensor (still X-Trans). The rumors have long been that Fujifilm would use the X-H2 model to introduce a new sensor and new technologies. Indeed, there are rumors of two X-H2 models, and given this new revelation of sensor, I wonder if we'll get an old sensor/new sensor twinning?

Reading between the lines, it appears that Fujifilm is now going more strongly after the old Nikon D300/D500 crowd: a top-end crop-sensor camera that is fully pro in performance.

Both Canon (7D Mark II) and Nikon (D500) have made the mistake—so far—of not defending a strong product position that they once held uniquely. Both company's urge to push serious users to full frame, and now to full frame mirrorless, left them neglecting those unique cameras, and neglect has resulted in not only Canon and Nikon selling fewer of those models as they age, but has opened opportunities for competitors. 

I'm stunned that Sony didn't jump into this market already. A US$2000-2500 A7000 would have nailed Nikon's DX coffin shut. Of course, at that price, it might have blunted Sony's full frame sales a bit, but I am certain that there's a pro-performance crop-sensor market, and at the moment it's not being served well. Nikon's DSLR D500 is, at five year's old, still the reigning champion and best choice in this space, but it won't be for much longer. 

To keep the crop-sensor performance cameras up with the full frame ones, high bandwidth and more megapixels are going to be needed in the eventual competitors. Fujifilm has now hinted that this is exactly what they're going to do, and have even added a necessary lens to the future fray (road map says 150-600mm).

Windows shut fast in tech markets. While we've heard rumblings that Canon will make a top APS-C RF camera in 2022 and that Nikon has prototyped a Z70/Z90 type camera, one wonders if those are really coming and whether they'll be "enough" if they do come. Canon's already gotten caught flat-footed twice in their mirrorless transition. The M's are old-think and target low with no future compatibility, the first two RF cameras were quickly managed DSLR-conversions. Nikon has no DX strategy for mirrorless that I can tell. Two odd feature-alike-but-style-different cameras and three lenses are not a strategy. 

So, Fujifilm has a shot at the market I say exists but Nikon executives wonder whether it exists. Clearly the target is 30mp+ APS-C, 20/30 fps low/no blackout, high performance autofocus, pro-level features and customization. That level of camera works well for both the sports and wildlife markets, assuming you have the lens set to support it. Maybe it's a US$2000 camera, maybe it's a US$3000 camera in the new lower volume reality, but I'm sure it would sell. 

I'm not sure why Fujifilm pre-announced their intentions here. That seems a bit on the too-confident side unless they know something the rest of us don't. 

I'll take a wild stab at what's going to happen (not a prediction, a guess):

  • Canon will launch first with a top-level RF crop-sensor camera in the first half of 2022. It might not hit all the performance targets necessary to dominate the market, though. 
  • Fujifilm will continue to leak lots of information, and we'll know about the X-H2 second, though it might deliver later than people think (late 2022 or maybe even 2023).
  • Nikon will be third to high-end crop sensor. Will they go straight to higher megapixels and stacked sensor, though? That's the question, and that's the determination of when. 
  • Sony will oddly stay mostly away from this market for the time being, so would probably end up last to launch, which surprises me.

Again, the above is a guess based upon the things I do hear about future crop sensor cameras and where those products are in the current development pipeline. I would caution, however—especially in the case of Nikon and Sony—that sometimes they fiddle with things deep inside their engineering groups and then suddenly have a breakthrough on a key element that then prompts them to push straight to early production. Within both those companies there are lot of products that never saw the light of day because something didn't quite go right during development or they felt they couldn't market the result successfully in the current environment.

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