Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

News and commentary about the mirrorless camera world (latest on top). Hover or tap on News/Views in the menu bar above to see the full list of recent articles as well as folders containing all older ones dating back to 2011.

Leica Goes Retro to the Future

bythom leica m10d

Leica today announced yet another M model, the M10-D, but it's a very interesting one, as that image of its back should show. 

Basically, this is an M10-P, but with the rear LCD removed and total emphasis put on detailed control of the camera and review of the images on the FOTOS app (Android, iOS) via Wi-Fi connection. You get the same 24mp CMOS sensor and quiet shutter of the M10-P. You just don't get a rear LCD.

On the shooting side the camera is pure retro in the sense you're virtually back in the film world, with only a few camera controls—there's a shutter speed dial and an exposure compensation dial, and apertures are controlled by the lens—and a rangefinder to look through to compose the scene. 

Internally, the camera has 2GB of dedicated RAM for storing images (it also has an SD card slot buried in the removable bottom). Plus it has a full Wi-Fi connection. That's where the FOTOS app comes in: it can control all aspects of the camera you used to control via menus, as well as grab images to work on or send. In other words, on the workflow side the camera is totally modern, relying upon your smartphone to do a lot of heavy lifting. 

It's an interesting dichotomy. And expensive at US$7995. 

How well does it work? I don't know, as I haven't had a chance to use one. But I believe Leica's on the right track here. No matter how its done, our cameras need to be able to talk to the outside modern world. The days of download-to-computer really need to come to an end (well, okay, we still want that to save and archive our images and perhaps throw more horsepower at processing them).

Support this site by purchasing from the following advertiser:

Where Are We?

With Photokina out of the way, it's time to assess where the camera makers now fall in terms of mirrorless cameras:

  • Canon — two apparently incompatible systems, EOS M for APS-C and EOS RF for full frame. This seems wrong to me, as the smaller system is not a feeder for the larger system.
  • Fujifilm — two systems, XF for APS-C and GF for small medium format. Fujifilm has adapted a "two-stop apart" standard, which makes for a clear difference in image quality if you step up, and by using APS-C as their main system, keeps overall system size down.
  • Leica — two systems using the same lens mount (L-mount), one APS-C (CL/TL) and one full frame (SL), plus the long continuation of the old M series in full frame (M mount). It's clear, however, that Leica's new engineering is going into the L mount; nothing seriously new is happening in the M mount.
  • Nikon — abandoned their small 1" system (Nikon 1) to concentrate on a large system (full frame Z series). No smaller iteration in sight at present.
  • Olympus — completely sticking with their original small sensor (4/3"). 
  • Panasonic — two systems, G for m4/3 and S for full frame. Panasonic has also adapted a "two-stop apart" standard, which again makes for a clear difference in image quality if you step up. By using m4/3 as their small system, they keep that system size down.
  • Pentax/Ricoh — complete no show. Technically the Q is still available in Japan, but it hasn't been updated in ages and is no longer available globally. 
  • Sony — two systems, E for APS-C and FE for full frame, both using the same mount (also dedicated video cameras using this mount). 

Put another way (via sensor size, each about one stop apart in overall performance, all else equal):

  • 1/2.3" — abandoned
  • 1" — abandoned
  • m4/3 — Olympus, Panasonic (generally 20mp)
  • APS-C — Canon, Fujifilm, Leica, Sony (generally 24mp, one 26mp)
  • full frame — Canon, Leica, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony (12, 24, 42, 45mp)
  • small MF — Fujifilm, Hasselblad (50mp)

You can see from that the reason why some folk are wondering about m4/3's future. With Panasonic picking a second format and the formats just smaller than m4/3 now having been abandoned, the question is how you keep m4/3 up with the image quality push upwards, and pixel count is now starting to lag (made up for some by the pixel shift in some high-end m4/3 cameras). Olympus now seems isolated having chosen m4/3 and not supplementing that with a larger format. 

The true bottom edge of the market seems to currently be 24mp APS-C. Frankly, such cameras are quite excellent, even in low light, and provide more than enough pixels for most uses. Even just five years ago we were struggling to get that level of image quality in any reasonably priced camera, but as I write this, you can find US$500 camera bodies that achieve it. 

The bottom edge has been on a constant move upwards in both size and pixel count over time, with the primary exception being specialty cameras, such as the Panasonic GH5s and the Sony A7Sm2. The real question is whether that edge will continue to move up. 

Short answer: yes. The camera companies need to sell you something, thus they have to push something new or something "more," preferably both. APS-C is now the entry point, and full frame 42mp+ is now the target "quality" point.

Sadly, the rest of the camera isn't getting the same loving tech push as the sensor is. Even the ISP's—Bionz, Digic, Expeed—are falling behind the capability you have in your smartphone. More importantly, the wired and wireless connections are still sub-optimal and using older, outdated parts to save money rather than pushing the technology. But the camera industry doesn't know how to sell those things. Their (mostly inept) marketing departments can barely make clear messages about sensor size and pixel counts and what that actually means to a customer. 

Ecosystems versus Alliances

"You're only as good as your weakest link in the ecosystem." —Jimmy Iovine

I found several instances of people posting comments recently about the state of cameras similar to the following: "you have to be in an alliance or you'll die." 

Not at all true. 

An alliance is merely corporate cooperation that attempts to create a viable ecosystem which the individual companies don't think they can do by themselves. As with most multi-corporation entities, that generally isn't the most efficient way to do something. Ecosystems can often be more easily created and flourish when produced by a single company (witness Apple). Indeed, that often is the best way, as there is only one chef in the main kitchen dictating the overall cuisine.

Now, if you look up the word ecosystem in the dictionary—or use DuckDuckGo, or an unnamed search engine that likes to invade your privacy while you search the Internet—you'll find the long existing definition, which is basically "a community of organisms and how their relationship to the environment around them works."

In the high tech world, we took that nature-driven term and bastardized it to mean "all the additional products and services that support a core product (or product line)." The first time I recall using the word ecosystem with tech was when I wrote about the Apple II and the world of products that surrounded it (disclosure: I was involved with and produced some of those products). 

At Osborne Computer, my whole domain was basically growing the ecosystem: I managed the hardware products, the software (BIOS, OS, applications), the third-party software program, all documentation, the magazine, the user group relationships, and worked with the training department. My goal was very simple: to make the sum of the parts bigger than the sum of the parts. 

What's that mean? 

Well, if you just sell a product, you're defined only by how good the product is. Make a great product and you'll have better sales than if you make a fair or poor product, all else equal. But if you make the great product the center of solving the widest possible range of user needs and help grow other products around it to hit all specialties and possibilities, you'll sell more. 

Apple has long been the master of ecosystem. They had virtually no control or influence on it with the Apple II, but the Macintosh was where they started to master the ecosystem. My friend Guy Kawasaki was one of Apple's first "evangelists," and his role was very much like mine was at Osborne (other than the internal bits of product and software management): expand the system around the main product to make a big and vibrant ecosystem that supported it.

The Japanese camera companies all have two strikes against them when it comes to ecosystems, and both tend to be defined by cultural tendencies. First, there's a long history of "proprietary" in Japan consumer electronics. It's the reason why they're not leaders in personal computers, for example, as the Windows ecosystem in particular basically defeated all the Japanese proprietary ones. It was easy to enforce proprietary within Japan, particularly because of the keyboard/language issues, but none of that played well outside Japan. And ultimately, the Japanese needed to integrate their own computer needs with the rest of the world. Voila, dead proprietary computer systems.

The second is the "coopetition" aspect of Japanese culture. It's Japan against the world most of the time. The Japanese have a tendency to pair up with themselves rather than in global alliances. (While it's interesting that Leica is the center of the L-mount alliance, the Germans long ago learned to act like and work with Japanese companies after the Japanese companies took their optical market away. Leica and Zeiss, to a large degree, act Japanese when in Japan.) 

Which brings me to this: American companies often just look like misbehaving bullies when they come into the Japanese market looking for cooperation and/or sales. That doesn't go down well at all. Adobe came into Japan like gangbusters with expensive Photoshop licenses when the Japanese needed software to go with the early digital scanners that were being produced, dictating terms that, to this day, are still disliked and remembered negatively by several key photography-related companies. 

Why's that important?

Because a camera is just one component at the center of a photography ecosystem. If you want to sell lots of cameras, you'd better have a thriving ecosystem supporting it. For interchangeable lens cameras that means lenses, of course. But it also means flashes, video recorders, batteries, remotes, grips, protective covers/sleeves/bags, mounting gear, and much more. 

You may recognize a lot of that. For instance, Canon and Nikon both make lenses, flashes, batteries options, remotes, grips, and even some of the other stuff from time to time for their proprietary systems. So they kind of have an ecosystem they control by themselves. Not that they do a good job of that. Nikon, for example, is notorious for not having accessories in stock, overpricing them, and then doing completely stupid things like making an MB grip for the Z7 that doesn't have user controls on it: it's just a battery holder that bolts to the bottom of the camera.

We also sometimes we get silly decisions that have a wide, negative impact with customers trying to live in the ecosystem. The (as yet unverified) story behind CFast is that Canon wanted something different than what appeared to be a growing Sony/Nikon alliance in XQD. The original parties to XQD were SanDisk, Sony, and Nikon. Notice which company isn't in that group? 

But there's a more important part of a photography ecosystem that's currently broken, and that's in part because those Japanese cultural tendencies are now positioned against those brash Western companies. 

Photography today has a strong workflow that isn't controlled (or even mastered) by the Japanese. This was one of the things pioneered by Silicon Valley and driven by the iPhone. Ironically, that was all triggered by Phillipe Kahn's use of a Japanese cell phone to send immediate photos to others in the valley of the birth of his daughter back in the late 90's. 

Meanwhile, camera companies seem to have never heard of card readers (while providing terrible throughput when using the camera as a card reader), they barely give lip service to ingest programs, they have terrible connectivity issues because they use old parts and have very little decent software, they don't play well with the Internet, and the cloud may be something that they think they understand and have tried to do (e.g. Nikon Image Space), but really don't get at all. 

In essence, the Japanese companies are pretty good at mastering the part of the ecosystem that you hold in your hand (camera, lens, flash). Beyond that? They're not doing the things that are necessary to make a complete ecosystem thrive. And that's particularly true at the global level. 

Of course, even within that hardware bundle that's in your hands there are now signs of problems. It's a dirty secret that a lot of the internals of BIONZ, DIGIC, and EXPEED are licensed from others.  But consider this: Apple is now running six 64-bit cores and matching GPU at about 2.5Ghz, along with running their imaging routines in hardware. By contrast, Nikon is running two 32-bit (and older design) cores at a slower clock speed in EXPEED. 

So even within the part of the ecosystem that the Japanese companies control, they're falling dangerously behind. Apple is able to run their real-time HDR, stitching, and 3D light-shaping effects because they're running state of the art electronics inside. The camera companies will have a difficult time matching that without seriously upping their game when it comes to the smarts inside the camera.

So, does an alliance of three companies (e.g. the L-mount alliance) mean that the two big duopolists (Canon/Nikon) will die? No. It's basically "more of the same" in the Japanese camera world as far as I can see. 

Do Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, or Sony each have a person in charge of building a growing, thriving, abundant ecosystem (and able to influence product decisions internally)? Nope. To a large degree, that's why the overall camera market ecosystem is still contracting. 

When I made my Communicating, Programmable, Modular camera proposal over ten years ago, all elements of that were targeted to expose and allow the creation and expansion of a vibrant ecosystem. It isn't just lenses that define how healthy an ecosystem is. If it were, the m4/3 ecosystem would be dominating the mirrorless world and growing like weeds.

A Curious Observation

Prior to the Canon R and Nikon Z announcements, the Internet (and my In Box) was filled with "Sony is Invincible" messages. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean if you read any of the mirrorless/DSLR fora messages prior to August. Sony was on a roll. Only Sony has the technologies needed. Only Sony will survive. Doom and gloom for everyone else.

Well, that settled out pretty differently. I suspect Nikon will have one of their best quarters ever this quarter. Canon users seem happy with the R. 

It now seems we have Canon fora talking reasonably intelligently about the R, Nikon fora talking reasonably intelligently about the Z, and Sony fora talking reasonably intelligently about the A7/A9. Just as it should be. The Fan Boy anti-Canikon marketing campaign seems to have disappeared and been replaced with reasonable discussions for the time being. That makes you wonder whether some of those older anti-Canikon messages were Sony-fed FUD via anonymous posters. 

Unfortunately, there's a new victim starting to emerge.

The new "you are doomed" format is m4/3. 

I do have some concerns about m4/3: I don't know how you can continue to sell US$2000 m4/3 cameras that are as large as a full frame camera that sells for the same amount, for example. But that's a little different than "you are doomed." It really means that Olympus and Panasonic will need to double down on the things that make m4/3 unique. It'll be tough to stay close with pixel count or dynamic range when compared with full frame, for example. So size once again is what they need to pay closer attention to. 

And that's a tricky area to master. The Canon EOS M5 is a pretty small camera, after all, with a bigger sensor and access to a lot of legacy lenses. 

To me, a good m4/3 mirrorless camera really now needs to sit about where I've always wanted a compact travel camera to sit. I keep looking at the E-M10m3 and the Panasonic GX line (what happened to the GM?) as where I want something a bit more capable than what we currently have available. A "perfect" E-M10 matched with the trio of f/1.8 Olympus primes would be nearly jacket pocketable (obviously, both pockets), yet more capable than any compact I've wandered around with. 

I'm also struck by the fact that there still isn't a perfect vlogger ILC that's supremely portable, and Panasonic's emphasis on video means they ought to be tackling that, and m4/3 seems perfect for that.

Ignore the "m4/3 is doomed" messages. Instead, tell Olympus and Panasonic what you really want in the format. Maybe they'll listen.

Does the Lens Mount Matter?

First, let's put blame where it belongs: the marketing departments of Canon and Nikon. When you make a claim—our new mount is better—it's up to you to prove it. Worse still, Canon and Nikon have both opted to point to lenses that don't really effectively speak to the claim (Canon 28-70mm f/2, Nikkor 58mm f/0.95). 

So let's back up a minute. 

For optical design purposes, there are two factors that are important in a lens mount for lens design: (1) how close it is to the focal plane (flange distance); and (2) how wide the opening is (throat; measured at smallest non-obstructed point). 

In the film/DSLR era, we had the following:

  • Canon EF: 44mm flange, 50.6mm throat
  • Nikon F: 46.5mm flange, 44mm throat
  • Minolta/Sony Alpha: 43.5mm flange, 42mm throat

The common myth is that the throat diameter is what determines how fast a lens you can put on the mount. For years, this was expressed by (incorrect) statements like "Canon can make f/1.2 prime lenses and Nikon can't." Yes, there is a bit of a relationship between aperture and throat, but it's not a direct "larger throat means faster lenses" relationship. 

So the marketing fumble started long, long ago. 

Today, we have the following situation in mirrorless:

  • Canon RF: 20mm flange, 50.6mm throat
  • Nikon Z: 16mm flange, 52mm throat
  • Sony FE: 18mm flange, 43.6mm throat

Nikon went from having the most restrictive mount—in terms of allowing optical design options—to having the least restrictive one. 

So what does that mean: least restrictive? Consider the following illustration of an off-axis light path (from Bill Claff's excellent site that lets you play with patented optical designs).

bythom offaxis

The lens mount is going to be generally in that gap between the last element and the focal plane (labeled FL in this Nikon 35mm f/1.8 Z lens patent). (I used the word "generally" because technically you can have a lens element that is beyond the mount in mirrorless designs, but the ray angles then would start to get extreme and the filter over the sensor starts to come into play.) A less restrictive lens mount simply gives you optical design options you wouldn't have with a more restrictive mount. 

So, the real problem is this: neither Canon nor Nikon have actually demonstrated the difference the new mount gives them in optical design. Their marketing departments point to a pair of lenses, but they actually don't show how those lenses couldn't have existed in their previous mount. And they're not very specific about what's different.

And there's the rub. If Canon and Nikon did go out of their way to show how the new mount is better, then by definition the old mount they're still selling is worse! Neither company really wants to deprecate their existing DSLR lineup (and both have DSLR mounts that are effectively more restrictive than their mirrorless mounts). Thus, the two companies marketing folk talk in generalities, and even in futures ("...will allow us to..."). 

Ironically, Sigma's CEO, Katuto Yamaki, was able to do a bit better than either Canon's or Nikon's marketing in one response to a question from dpreview: "I’ve been very impressed by Canon’s new lenses for RF. The 50mm F1.2 and 28-70mm F2. Very impressed - and a little jealous! They’re possible due to the wide diameter and short flange back. Otherwise such lenses would be very difficult or impossible. Having the larger elements at the rear of the optical system makes it easier to achieve good performance at large apertures."

Yep: "makes it easier to achieve good performance at large apertures." Not that it can't be done, but that it opens up optical decisions that are easier to create in the manufacturing plant.

So let's make the Sony fanboys both happy and unhappy ;~). I mention them in particular because they're the ones running around screaming that the mount doesn't make a difference all over the Internet. 

Okay: start with unhappy Sony fanboys. The mount does make a difference. Canon and Nikon engineers now have room to explore many new optical designs, including moving the entrance pupil far forward of its usual position and not having to use expensive and complex aspherical elements to move light radically. Optical designs at the rear of the lens can involve larger elements. Sony, not so much. 

Okay: let's create happy Sony fanboys. Nikon happily existed and made excellent lenses for over 50 years in their old most restrictive lens mount. Sony will, too. 

And that's the bottom line here: it isn't that you can't design a good lens with a restrictive mount. You can, but your design choices are more limited, you may have to resort to trickier glass choices, and there are light ray paths you can't contemplate or use. At present, we don't know just how far Canon and Nikon will go in exploring the limits of their new mounts. It very may well turn out like it did for film SLRs and DSLRs: that most of the common lens choices users want are adequately done with all the existing mounts. 

As it stands, I'm not sure I want to give up 24mm and carry a three pound weight off the front of my mirrorless camera body (Canon 28-70mm f/2). And I know I'm not much interested in a manual focus 58mm f/0.95 lens. I consider these to be more design explorations by Canon and Nikon than truly practical lenses we're all going to want in our gear kit. That's not to say that those companies might not at some point come up with something interesting that couldn't be done before and is a practical lens. Just that they haven't yet. 

Meanwhile, as my reviews indicate, Sony and Zeiss have been creating perfectly fine lenses for that "most restrictive" FE mount. 

So, if someone tells you that you have to choose a camera based upon lens mount efficiencies, I'd say balderdash. Nope. Plenty of useful lenses will be available for all the mounts. 

Meanwhile, I—and the rest of the world—are waiting for Canon and Nikon to actually prove that a less limiting mount truly makes a real difference. It's possible that they will. But they haven't so far, and I see no sign that they will any time soon.

Photokina Observations

Photokina is a great place to observe, even though I often have to do that from afar. The press conferences, the press releases, the order of announcements, who's involved, small details that some gloss over, they all tell a story beyond just "Company X announced Y."

So some observations from this Photokina:

  • Nikon brought the heavy-hitters. I don't remember the top executives being front and center at the last few Photokinas. I saw Gokyo-san at Photokina 2014 standing away from the booth observing, but he wasn't available to talk to anyone but a few top press, and otherwise invisible. This year, Nikon's press conference featured the CEO, Ushida-san, and the head of the Imaging group up front and center (Gokyo). Of course, they were only repeating the road show they've been doing since the Z series launch, but you could see that they were finally not so awkward in rolling out the PR-lines. (Actually, everyone seemed to bring their heavy hitters, including Sony.) But...
  • Nikon's top PR line doesn't make sense. The Mirrorless Reinvented header just doesn't fly. The three attributes that make that up (new optical performance, superior image quality, and future proof) do all add up to an overall message: Nikon Cameras Reinvented. Of course, they found they couldn't say that, because it would essentially say that DSLRs are over, wouldn't it? It isn't so much that Nikon reinvented mirrorless cameras, they reinvented themselves.  New mount, new optical design freedom, faster communications, fewer parts, more automated production, and so on.
  • Looking more and more like the D500 followup is a Z5. Jordi Brinkman, Product Manager at Nikon Europe, seems to give some credence to this notion in his interviews at Photokina. Coupled with the rumors that Nikon prototyped such a camera and those three un-identified lenses in the 2020 portion of the Nikon lens roadmap, and we have further clues. The current 35mm f/1.8 Z could serve as the normal lens, the 14-30mm f/4 Z would still be a wide angle (to normal) zoom for a crop sensor camera, which means that really Nikon only would need a solid mid-range zoom (e.g. 16-70mm f/4 Z-DX) to get DX off the ground in mirrorless at the high end. Of course, that still leaves unanswered what Nikon will do about the D3500 and D5600 followups. 
  • Panasonic and Nikon are the ergonomic winners so far in full frame. I like what Panasonic has done with most of their controls. The cluster of four controls your thumb might want to control are easily distinguishable by feel, despite being close together. I'm not as pleased about the line of three buttons behind the shutter release, or the on/off switch, which looks like it could get accidentally flipped too easily. My first response? Whoever designed the back should be given a shot at redesigning the top. Still, I can see me using the S1 cameras in winter, where I can't see myself using my Sony A7Rm3 in winter. Nikon, of course, mostly cribbed from their own notes and came up with something that's very D850-like with some modest simplifications. Given the target user, that's appropriate, I think, and Nikon didn't "break" anything of importance. Canon, meanwhile, seems to be off exploring random thoughts. We have the DSLR shutter/top dial, the EOS M5 configurable dial, no rear thumb dial, but a new touchbar that's going to need palm rejection. The on/off switch is now a dial for some reason and in a different place. Both the line of top buttons and the thumb grip buttons seem wrongly positioned. It just felt awkward in my hand. Controlling focus and focus position means moving my thumb quite a distance, as there's no joystick next to the AF-On button (and that button has moved too far to the right). In total, the Canon R feels under-developed to me. 
  • Sony was in damage control. Sony's press conference headed by Tanaka-san was interesting, because it was all FUD. Twelve more lenses we can't tell you anything about. We're going to make Eye AF work for animals, too, via AI algorithms. A series of additional statements that extended their technology platforms and their stated goal of Citius, Altius, Fortius, or whatever their multi-pronged sensor-driven improvements would work out to be in Latin. What they didn't talk about was UI/ergonomics. That would have been classic FUD that had some resonance. There are quite a few people out there that think the primary thing holding Sony from hitting a true grand slam—four full frame cameras, remember?—isn't the tech side, it's how we humans interact with all that tech.
  • Sony had a point Canon needs to deal with. Tanaka-san also said that all of Sony's activity revolves around a single mount (APS-C, full frame, video). That appears to be the announcement of the death of the original A-mount, folks. But more importantly, Canon is in a weird place right now, with different and somewhat incompatible mounts for those three basic cameras (EF-M and RF, in particular). I leave Nikon out of this point because I'm pretty sure they'll just use Z for crop sensor in mirrorless, and thus are in a transition similar to the one Sony made. Note also that the L-mount already has APS-C lenses and cameras (Leica CL and TL). So it's really Canon that has the confused mount situation at the moment.
  • XQD adds another player. Panasonic has done with the new S1 cameras what Nikon did with the D500/D850: XQD plus SD card slots. Let people transition with what they have, but if they're really interested in all that data moving fast, you need XQD and its future CFExpress lane. Given that Panasonic was one of the originals who defined SD, this should tell you something about card futures. We're going to see more of XQD/CFExpress moving forward. You have to wonder, for example, what Fujifilm is going to stick in that 100mp medium format camera. 
  • Better mounts seem to have stalled the curved sensor idea. Or maybe curved sensors just aren't practical yet from a cost standpoint. But it's interesting that as we've moved to full frame mirrorless the notion of curved sensors being the next big optical improvement seems to have diminished in the industry. Canon and Nikon are touting large elements placed close to the sensor with different optical designs up front that change the ray bending to minimize some of the problems of projecting the world onto a flat surface. In terms of interchangeable lens cameras, a curved sensor would imply all new lenses. Everyone's currently in a rush to do new lenses for the new mounts that have already appeared for flat sensors. No one really wants to introduce yet another new mount.
  • When you have to publicly claim you're still relevant, you're not. At their press conference, Olympus' Europe CEO Stefan Kaufmann made the statement that "Micro Four Thirds will remain highly relevant..." The fact that you have to make such a statement means that you see that the messaging in the market already says you're not. But if you're going to claim you're still relevant, you need to do more than just claim you are, you need to demonstrate and prove it. Olympus did not. Coupled with Olympus always defending being in the camera business because their camera R&D also drives into their medical business, this should raise people's eyebrows in question. Olympus is completely in a defensive market posture at the moment. For a division that hasn't produced growth and continues to have problems making a profit. All the lights on the dashboard have gone yellow for Olympus, warning that there's a problem. The Check Engine light is on, folks. Olympus needs to check their engine and fix their issues.
  • Are compact cars still relevant? Continuing with Olympus' statements, Kaufmann compared camera sensor size to automobile engine size. Interesting. Has he talked to Ford lately? Here in the US, car sales—not just compact car sales—have tanked against the onslaught of SUV and truck sales. To the point where Ford is discontinuing most of their car production in the US, leaving only the Mustang in the lineup soon. This brings up the actual problem for Olympus: compact cars and their small engines succeeded for reasons beyond being "the best car." Markets demanded them for fuel savings (gas prices) and for space savings (parking in congested cities), not because they were the best transportation. There are markets where compactness of camera is indeed still relevant. But is Olympus designing and catering to those markets? 
  • Marketing Departments Have No Idea How Optics Work. Sony's press conference made a point about how you could create an f/0.95 lens in the FE mount. This, is, of course, a response to Nikon's saying "look at this NOCT that wasn't possible before." Everyone in marketing at Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony needs to go take a crash course in optics. Taught by someone who can explain things in more layman terms. The simplest point is this: the larger the opening the more optical design choices you have; the closer to the sensor you can place (larger) optics (and still protect them), the more optical design choices you have using current technologies. Sony knows that. It's what they do with the RX cameras! (No mount, close to the sensor rear elements.) Personally, I think Nikon made a mistake putting so much marketing time into the NOCT. It's not a practical lens. From a customer standpoint, we want to know what those mount changes mean in practical lenses. The fact that the 35mm f/1.8 S-line appears to be better optically than the 35mm f/1.8G F-mount tells us something much more important, I think. 
  • Zeiss understands the workflow/connectivity we want. The upcoming ZX1 camera from Zeiss is, in one way, just a giant smartphone without the phone. That's because it can connect into the cloud and upload images as you shoot. If that isn't enough, Lightroom CC is fully integrated into the camera, allowing you make raw file corrections in the camera that are applied up into your CC account. Like a smartphone's camera, the ZX1 is just a fixed wide angle lens in front of a sensor with mostly a touchscreen interface for using the camera and working with images (though that's an f/2 Zeiss optic sitting in front of a 37.4mp full frame sensor, not a small thimble of a sensor). You do have direct aperture, shutter speed, and ISO controls, but most everything else happens through the rear touchscreen. The question is how well all this will work in practice. But when I asked for a Communicating, Programmable, Modular camera over ten years ago, apparently someone else at least thought about the "communicating" part similar to the way I did. 
  • FUD is everywhere. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, which is a marketing tactic you use where you don't yet have a product response to a competitor, but when you want to keep potential customers from making decisions today that might not go your way and cut into your later sales. A better way of looking at Photokina is this: what can you buy this Christmas? A Nikon Z6/Z7 and three lenses. A Canon R and maybe three lenses. A Fujifilm X-T3 and its existing lens set. A Fujifilm GFX 50R and the existing lenses. One new Sony FE lens. Maybe, just maybe, some of those other lenses that were introduced (e.g. Hasselblad XCD, Sigma, etc.). What you can't buy is a Panasonic S1/S1R and anything other than the current Leica SL lenses for it in anticipation, any new Panasonic or Sigma L mount lenses, any new Leica L primes, a Leica S3, a Panasonic 10-25mm f/1.7 for m4/3, a Ricoh GRIII, a Fujifilm GFX 100S, a Nikon NOCT, a Sigma sd full frame camera, the new Zeiss camera, and anything new from Olympus or Pentax. If I were Sony (or Fujifilm), I'd just put everything on sale at good discounts this Christmas with a marketing tag along the lines of "buy everything you need today, at prices the others can't match anyway."
  • Self Doubt. And speaking of uncertainty, it seems that the Internet world is filled with doubt about its choices these days. "Should I wait for...?" "Is Brand X going to die?" "What's the best...?" Look, we've been through market transformation before (manual focus to autofocus, SLR to DSLR, crop sensor to full frame, etc.). The big players have stayed big, the smaller players move around a bit in position, but pretty much everyone's still here (though Pentax is conspicuously without a mirrorless camera at the moment). The thing(s) that you like about the brand you selected are still probably intact. Certainly the Nikon D850 didn't become a less capable and interesting camera. Sure, different companies are moving at different speeds, and there's always going to be a feature on "the other brand" that you wish your choice had, but have some esteem, folks. I've shot with pretty much everything in the past 20 years. I'm always worried much more about what I'm doing than what the camera and lens are doing. We've had extremely capable cameras for a long, long time now. Chase photos not technology. 

Sigma's L-Mount Plans

Sigma has checked in with an outline of their plans for their part of the L-mount alliance. And yes, another full frame mirrorless camera is coming in 2019. 

Sigma is discontinuing development of SA mount cameras (the sd Quattro series) and going all in with a Foveon sensor in full frame size, to be introduced sometime in 2019, along with at least one new native L-mount lens. along with 14 prime Art lenses ranging from the 14mm 2.8 to the 135mm f/1.8, and including the 70mm f/2.8 macro.

You may remember that Sigma made a big deal about mount conversion services when they made their big Art, Contemporary, and Sports changeover. Well, you can change those lenses from their current mount to the L-mount if you want, apparently at the end of 2019. 

In addition, Sigma plans adapters for both SA and EF lenses for the L-mount (much like their current EF to Sony FE adapter). 

The Foveacs have to be checking their bank accounts and planning for the future now. Full frame Foveon? Check? Open lens mount with many options? Check. Adapters? Check. 

Meanwhile, if you didn't notice, Sigma introduced three lenses for the Sony E mount: 28mm f/1.4 Art, 40mm f/1.4 Art, and the 56mm f/1.4 DN (APS-C crop). You'll find my data pages for the first two over on dslrbodies.com in the third party lens section. The 56mm f/1.4 data page is here.

Boo Nikon!

If you click on NikonUSA's Web site and go to the Nikkor Z System Lenses page, you now get all the currently available F-mount lenses as well as the Z-mount ones. This is exceedingly deceptive.

I understand what Nikon's trying to do: they're trying to promote that fact that their DSLR lenses work pretty darned well on the Z cameras. There's only one problem. All those F-mount listings just go to the Nikon F-mount database page for the lens, and none of them actually mention the actual compatibility with the Z cameras using the FTZ adapter. 

People are going to think that, say, the 14mm f/2.8D autofocus lens is a great companion for the Z cameras. Nope. Bzzzt. Nada. Won't autofocus on the Z's. 

Now, if Nikon had made that page F-mount lenses that are "fully compatible with the Z cameras using the FTZ adapter", I wouldn't be chiding them on this. But the reality is that, of the 108 lenses on that page, 23 (plus the PC-Es) have limitations on the Z cameras that people would want to know about. About one quarter. What are the odds that some naive customer is going to get sucked into this lack of information vortex? 

This is not the way to treat potential customers. Seriously bad form on Nikon's part, and potentially deceptive enough to catch the FTC's attention.

The Full Frame Lens Race

Well, at least I'm not going to write buzz, buzz about mirrorless full frame cameras. ;~)

Wait, what's that mean? For those just checking in, for almost 10 years now I've been razzing the crop sensor camera makers for not producing a full line of lenses, particularly Nikon DX (buzz, buzz). But this also applies to Canon EF-S and Sony E, as well. Basically, every time a lens maker has not been doing its photography-oriented customers justice with lens lineups, I've added a parenthetical buzz, buzz to my comments, as I did earlier this paragraph.

Sony this morning held a press conference at Photokina where they outlined new strategic moves they were making. In that presentation they promised 12 additional lenses "soon." That would bring Sony up to 60 lenses across both the E/FE versions of the mount. At the moment, they're at 26 lenses for full frame. Let's give them credit for 2/3rds of those new lenses being added to the lineup by the end of 2021 for full frame. 34 lenses. If we include Zeiss in the mix because of their close alliance with Sony, plus Tamron, who Sony partly owns, we hit 48 lenses.

Nikon has already outlined their 2021 goal: 12 already defined full frame lenses, plus perhaps as many as 11 more if those anonymous lens slots in the road map are full frame. Let's give assume a bit more than half of those are full frame: 18 lenses. Plus 60+ current DSLR lenses that work perfectly via the FTZ adapter. 

Canon hasn't been forthcoming with their ideas for RF, giving us only three defined lenses, and dropping hints in Tokyo about three more in 2019. So if that's a three-a-year pace: 12 lenses. Plus 60+ current DSLR lenses that work perfectly via the three EF adapters.

Here's how the new L-mount alliance plays out as far as we currently know: 6 current and 5 future full frame lenses from Leica, plus 3 "current" and 7 future lenses from Panasonic. Let's give them some credit for each doing something in 2021. Sigma has announced 14 prime lenses that will be in the lineup in 2019, and that brings the alliance up to: 44 lenses, with Sigma zooms being the unknown factor here.

Every one of these companies has mostly concentrated their efforts on the 12-200mm focal range so far (Sony has three telephoto lenses that go beyond that, though). What that's shaping up to mean is that everyone is going to have a solid basic prime set, a solid basic wide/mid/tele zoom set, and in many cases with choices of aperture. 

A number of years back I wrote about what it took for me to consider a lens system to be have the basics covered. Well, it looks like all four full frame mounts will have that done no later than the end of 2020. 

This makes the ease with which someone can consider moving from DSLR to mirrorless far less of a friction, particularly when you consider that Canon and Nikon users can also just continue using virtually all of their existing lenses when they switch (as long as they stay in brand). 

The question is this: will all this new lens development speed up the transition from DSLR to mirrorless? 

If it does, I'd have to say that Canon needs to goose up their RF lens development schedule (at the least the one we know about). 

Moreover, the pace of lens introductions basically seems to imply that no one will have any important advantage in quantity of basic lens choices by the end of 2021. The one exception to that might be if Sony produces a number of >100mm lenses, particularly in the 200-600mm range. But again, it seems clear that the Canon EF and Nikon FX telephoto lenses work just fine on their mirrorless cameras—within the limitations of their tracking autofocus systems—so the only mount that might have missing components above 200mm would be the L-mount.

I'm going to call it: the camera makers—other than Fujifilm XF and Olympus m4/3—are essentially telling serious still photography customers that full frame is where the full choice is. Canon, Leica, Nikon, and Sony don't really want you to buy a crop sensor camera and will likely continue to target consumer convenience zooms as the lens choices there (buzz, buzz ;~). 

Panasonic Joins Full Frame Squad

bythom panasonic s

After the L-mount alliance announcement, Panasonic unveiled two new full frame mirrorless cameras they're working on, and three lenses.

The cameras are the S1 (24mp) and S1R (47mp). The two cameras being developed use the Leica L mount and share a large core of features: a large (larger than Canon R and Nikon Z7) body, on-sensor image stabilization, 4K video at 60 fps, Panasonic's depth by defocus system, 3-axis tilting LCD, weather sealing, and dual XQD and SD card slots. 

Curiously, Panasonic claims that the S1R will be used mostly by still photographers (it also has a 150mp pixel shift mode), while the S1 would be used by still photographers and videographers. 

Beyond this, the specifics are scarce, and the mockups available to hold were non-working.

Along with the cameras—which some reports say are targeted to appear in spring 2019—Panasonic announced that the first lenses would be a 50mm f/1.4, a 24-105mm (I think f/4), and a 70-200mm f/2.8. Panasonic promised a total of more than ten lenses before the end of 2020, essentially a keep-up-with-Nikon type of number, though Panasonic is starting later.

Panasonic will also be introducing Lumix Pro, a service and support program for professional photographers and videographers using Lumix cameras. This program will launch in the US sometime in October.

While I've reorganized the camera and lens sections to deal with the L-mount alliance and the new Panasonic offerings behind the scenes, right now there isn't enough information to bring those databases forward into view. As soon as there is, I'll do so.

text and images © 2018 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2017 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #sansmirror