State of the Mirrorless Market

Here at the start of 2024 we now have a full set of players, and a fairly full set of product from each. That started to become true in 2023, but now it's a reality. It's important to understand a few things if you're just entering the mirrorless world (and probably even if you're already in it). 

First up, is that the various makers have some divergent strategies now:

  • Canon — Canon is highly focused on market share, much as they were in DSLRs. Canon's financial fundamentals start to become problematic—owning, maintaining, and updating their own sensor fab, for instance—without that 50% market share they seek. 
  • Fujifilm — Fujifilm is mostly focused continuing their slow gain in market share in the APS-C arena, while keeping their GFX (medium format) cameras a tempting option for high pixel full frame users.
  • Leica — Leica continues the M, Q, SL iterations and tweaks that appeal to their high-end customers.
  • Nikon — Nikon is focused on bringing the highly acclaimed and successful Z9 technology downward in their FX lineup at the moment, and have had three hits in a row now doing that. The question everyone is asking is whether any of this will make it to DX lineup, too, and if so, when.
  • OMDS — OM Digital Solutions is the one company I don't have a good read on. They've tolerated a significant ILC market share decline while mostly rebranding the original Olympus gear they inherited. 
  • Panasonic — Panasonic has surprisingly resurrected their m4/3 line, bringing back products that had appeared to go off market. Meanwhile, their L-mount lineup seems to be chasing the same pot of gold at the end of the mid-level full frame as before. I've always felt that they needed more integration with the Pro Video side of the company, and now that these divisions have finally been merged, perhaps we'll see it.
  • Sigma — The Foveon sensor seems to be lost in fab space, leaving Sigma with just its oddball fp models. But let's face it, Sigma has always been an oddball with their cameras. They simply march to a different rap beat.
  • Sony — If you haven't already detected it, the video side of the Sony Imaging group is fully driving the car now. Alpha models seem more like "mailed in" efforts lately, but the video side keeps expanding and exploring. This has to be strategic: Sony is seeing video as more important in the future than still photography. 

Second is my usual proclamation: if you've been using Brand X in the film and DSLR era, there's really no clear reason to move to another brand in the mirrorless era. Canon and Nikon, in particular, have been relatively faithful in moving their long-established UX (user experience) into mirrorless. 

That said, the place where that logic starts to break down is with crop sensor cameras. Nikon has fumbled their DX lineup. Sony seems to suffer from a lack of imagination (and energy) in theirs. OMDS seems intent on saying "m4/3 is for the birds" (small, light, and lots of reach). Only Canon is continuing to be the rebel and powering on much as they did with DSLRs (see what I did there?) When Fujifilm re-entered the interchangeable lens market after a long DSLR hiatus, they did so pretty much targeting crop sensor, so they're not surprisingly the ones with the fullest, most interesting crop sensor lineup now. 

(Disclosure: I currently perform my professional work with Nikon FX cameras, the Z8 and Z9. When I want a smaller, lighter, casual approach to fool around with, I use a Fujifilm X-S20 at the moment. Why did I pick those cameras? For the reasons stated above: the full frame Nikons because that's the UX I know best, and the Fujifilm for APS-C because, well, Fujifilm seems to be the only one trying to build out fully competitive products, including lenses, in this space.) 

Way back in 2006 I wrote "if you can't create a good looking image at the maximum size the top desktop photo printer can produce, it isn't the camera that's the problem." Even though that maximum size has increased a bit—was 11x17" when I wrote that, now it's basically 13x19"—the same thing is even more true today. That's why understanding and mastering the UX for a camera is so important. You can take great photos with pretty much any mirrorless camera on the market today, but to do so means you have to understand how it works and make it work. 

It's easy to get caught up in the specifications. This site has hundreds of pages of camera and lens specifications. But I believe all those numbers and factoids are mostly meaningless now, except for specific tasks or requirements. If you have those specific needs, the camera that will cater to them will isolate out of the noise pretty darned fast with just a bit of looking.

Someone, somewhere is going to tell you that dynamic range or focus ability matters. Not really on any current camera. As I've proven before, they can pretty much all focus just fine once you master them, and it's going to be rare that you find a dynamic range that stops you from doing something (assuming, of course, that you know how to set exposure properly). I don't obsess about those things now. Well, okay, I do obsess about them, because I obsess about everything in my own work. But I mean in terms of recommending one camera over another to others, no, it's rare that specifications and performance issues come into play. 

We're probably at or near Peak Mirrorless here in 2024. Not necessarily peak in sales volume, but more in terms of breadth and depth of options available on the market. If there's something I want to do photographically, I'm pretty sure there's a mirrorless camera available today that will let me do that. That's a pretty remarkable statement, if you think about it. 

For me, 2024 will be more about extending my personal abilities, not finding a camera with more abilities. 

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