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.

Sony Introduces the A6400

After over a two-year break, Sony has finally got back to putting out a new APS-C sensor mirrorless camera, this time the A6400. More on it in a bit.

Previous to this, we had this progression in APS-C:

  • Feb 2014 — A6000
  • Aug 2014 — A5100
  • Feb 2016 — A6300
  • Dec 2016 — A6500

I always found that progression a bit strange, as the A6500 came so fast on the heels of the A6300. Because the main changes were the addition of the touchscreen and sensor-based stabilization, it almost looked like the A6500 was the real A6xxx update and the A6300 was more a placeholder. 

Sony continued selling all three A6xxx models, which gave them a crop-sensor "lineup", though one that seems a little confusing. 

Today Sony confused things a bit more with the introduction of the A6400. 

But let's start with the good news: Sony seems to be rededicating themselves to getting the lower-end crop sensor lineup back running now that the full frame models have matured nicely and held serve. Besides the A6400, there's the fairly substantiated rumor of the A7000 coming soon, which is really a D500 and 7Dm2 targeted camera (basically the A9 with an APS-C sensor instead). 

bythom bcn 2018 mirrorless

Sony's been up and down with mirrorless sales, as the above graph from Japan market sales might suggest (Sony is the red line, Canon blue, Olympus green, Panasonic yellow; left axis is market share [e.g. .3 is 30%]). Note the last time Sony took the lead in mirrorless sales in Japan, it was with the A5100/A6000, coupled with the A7S, plus the A7m2 sneaking a few additional units in at the end of the year. It seems to me that Sony's positioning themselves for another overall push now that they're winning the full frame mirrorless race.

The A6400 itself seems to me to be an A6300 update, though Sony went out of their way not to say so. Same basic price point, mostly same features. The primary difference appears to be how 4K video is created (no longer cropped, and with full sensor oversampling), plus a number of things that Sony has done in firmware (better autofocus features and performance, interval shooting, HLG support, plus a slight cut in list price (at US$900 for the body now, instead of US$1000)).

Personally, I like Sony's engineering aggression. They're continuing to push a lot of horsepower into small forms and of the Big Three camera makers, they're arguable the one that is iterating the strongest now, despite what I'd consider a lukewarm A6400. 

What I'm less convinced of is whether Sony is getting the UX (user experience) right. From the original NEX models back in 2011 we've had a long progression of tinkering with the UI and controls, but I still find them sub-optimal and bit too gimmicky as opposed to pragmatic. The A9 remains the most accessible of the bunch from a serious shooter's perspective, but it, too, has the sprawling menus and tiny button syndrome that plagues the entire A lineup now. The A6400 doesn't seem to do anything to address the UX problems.

The good news for Sony is that Canon has been fiddling with UX, too. The EOS M and EOS R have lots of differences to the well-established Canon DSLR UI, and the R in particular feels unfocused to me in handling while shooting. The bad news is that Nikon pretty much nailed things with the Z6/Z7 UX—though with some simplifications from the DSLRs—and if Nikon starts rolling more mirrorless models that are as well considered as their first two on the UX side, that will eventually pose a threat to Sony's eight-year head start.

So, the A6400 looks like a solid product that puts a bit of new energy into the APS-C mirrorless realm again. If the A7000 soon follows, that's a pretty potent punch that's going to give Canon some headaches trying to match. If I'm right about what a Nikon Z5 will end up as (basically a mirrorless D500), Nikon will end up the company Sony has to pay attention to. Canon can't really match what Sony's doing in APS-C with the EOS M line the way Canon's defined M. Canon's attacking too low, and with no compatibility with their higher R product.

Some are going to read what I just wrote as predicting the ILC race going to Sony, with Nikon in second and Canon declining to third. Nope. The DSLR/mirrorless mix still favors Canikon for the next two to three years no matter how well anyone executes in mirrorless. That's enough time for both Canon and Nikon to start delivering some real mirrorless salvos that Sony needs to brace for. 

Sony's been using aggressive discount pricing on older models to try to vacuum up as many users as possible before the two Battleships fully turn and start firing directly at them. I don't see that stopping any time soon, so Sony also has to watch out that it doesn't establish consumer price expectations that limit their upside profit margins. So far, so good. But I've already noticed that there's been a change of perception by many potential camera buyers: they now think that entry full frame should be priced at US$1000-1300. (I'll have more to say about price when I do my yearly analysis article after the CIPA year-end reports are available. Suffice it to say that the ILC ships are sailing against the wind, and it's a wind that's not much talked about.) 

As an aside: Sony continues to troll Canon/Nikon announcements. For example, Nikon used CES to talk very briefly about Eye-AF coming in a fall firmware update, but Sony one-upped Nikon by pre-announcing Animal Eye AF and other AF improvements for the Sony A7Rm3, A7m3, and A9 and did so with far more detail and clarity. (The Sony firmware updates will arrive in April; Nikon's "by fall".) I've said it before: Nikon really needs to up their marketing game. It's like watching a freshly-minted MBA graduate try to punch against a Fortune 500 company that has its act together.  

Nikon News from CES

bythom nikon z6filmmaker

Nikon today announced the 14-30mm f/4 S lens, to be available in Spring for US$1300. The big news here is that this is a rather small, light lens that allows 82mm filters up front. Nikon claims it is the first full frame 14mm lens to allow filters.

In addition, Nikon announced a new Filmmaker's Kit, this time with the Z6, the 24-70mm f/4 lens, an FTZ adapter, an Atomos Ninja V external recorder, a Rode VideoMic Pro+, a MOZA Air 2 gimbal, a 12-month Vimeo Pro subscription, and a few other extras at US$4000. This is the first time I'd say that Nikon actually has a reasonable thoughtful filmmaker's kit, though it is revealing that Nikon didn't include their own microphone but went with a better Rode selection.

In related news, Atomos and Nikon announced that they've come up with a way to record ProRes Raw from the Z6 and Z7 on the Atomos Ninja V external recorder. Nikon also said that CFexpress card support is coming soon, and that they're developing an Eye AF mode for the Z6 and Z7, as well.

Panasonic News From CES

I'm going to do this short-hand, as there's a lot coming down the pike today, and Panasonic didn't really say much new.

  • The S series will become available at the end of March 2019.
  • The sensor shift still photo mode is a series of eight images, which implies a half-pixel shift for each. Sony's version is four images.
  • HLG seems to be the latest gimcrack buzzterm this year. HLG stands for Hybrid Log Gamma, and is essentially "capture/play in Log, color grade in real time." And yes, the S series cameras has an HLG mode. The good news is HLG is free of royalties, so perhaps it really will catch on.

Know Thy Camera

Over the holidays I spent a fair amount of time responding to detailed requests that came in over email during the past month or two. I can't always spend a lot of time answering emails, so often my answers are brief. But what I discovered in making more detailed responses during this holiday period was simple: I was answering the same question, even though it was being expressed differently.

My answer always boils down to this: know thy camera.

My friend, talented sports photographer, and Sony Ambassador Patrick Racey-Murphy and I had an email exchange about where we are with cameras recently, and it's really, really simple: we'd have died for the cameras we have today as little as 10 years ago. We live now with a plethora of products that produce phenomenal photos. We take pictures in the dark, we capture brief moments that were previously unnoticed, we produce work that can be blown up to visually stunning sizes; the list goes on and on. We're in gear heaven.

So why is it I keep getting email and after email complaining that Camera X can't do Y? 

One of the most obvious of those is with the Nikon Z models. Quite obviously I've been getting dead-on focus with subjects that are moving erratically and fast (wildlife and sports). Yet I get plenty of "it doesn't focus" missives. Likewise, for almost all cameras I get lots of "my image is noisy, I thought this camera was good in low light" complaints. 

In working through everyone's problems, the answer is always the same: know thy camera. The answer to focus is typically that the user is not understanding something about how the way that brand's/model's focus system actually works. The answer to noisy images is often that the exposure and expectation are wrong in the first place. Sometimes it has to do with terrible camera setting choices, too, like using Vivid, Contrast boost, Saturation boost, and Active D-Lighting all together thinking that these are magic things that make an image look better, so why not use all of them?.

Since we just finished the big camera buying season, I'll let you in on a nasty little secret: your new camera isn't likely to solve your problems. Your next one won't, either.

It's a rare occurrence when someone approaches me with a problem and we discover in working through it that they've actually maxed out the capability of their existing equipment, and thus really do need to buy something new. And nine times out of ten, that's not a camera, it's a lens.  

The camera companies are in a tough place. On the one hand, they really do want to make their products better and better, because otherwise they'd never get those of us who are dedicated users buying something new from them again. On the other hand, the complexity of the current gear is really broad and really deep, so if the camera makers don't simplify and add and promote "automatic magic" they'll never attract new customers. 

I'd argue that the camera companies are failing at that latter bit. While what I call leaking—selling off an owned brand to completely switch to another—is on the decline, while sampling—trying out new gear that has some over-hyped feature—is on the rise. People are looking for something and not finding it. 

That's because it's already there (other than the communication connections and workflow features we all want), but it requires a commitment of time and practice to master. As the new camera monsters keep appearing, because they're even more complex, you need more time and practice to master them. 

Another data point that comes into play is that I'm working through my Z6 and Z7 book (I also have an upcoming Sony book, too), and I'm struck by how many small things Nikon has changed compared to the D850, which formed the logical base of the features and firmware of their new mirrorless cameras. It's not 10 things that changed, it's not 100 things, it's thousands of things that got changed in the transition.

Now many of the smaller changes don't really impact your shooting much, if at all. (While I'm picking on Nikon here, Canon, Sony, and the others are equally guilty of this problem.) For example, in Focus Stack Shooting, the D850 allows exposure smoothing, while in the Z series they only allow exposure locking. That's probably not going to trip you up, particularly since you have to go to a complex menu setup to enable Focus Stack Shooting, and the difference should be obvious in the settings you can make. But in other areas, things changed that will impact you. A lot. For instance, Dynamic Area AF is quite different between a D4, a D850, and a Z7. Same name, but different performance, different area, different strengths and weaknesses. 

The only way you truly get what the sophisticated camera can do for you these days is to learn everything you can about it and master it: know thy camera. 

So, as you get time to play with your holiday purchase or gift, I say this: take your time. Study everything you can find about it. Experiment with it. Practice with it. Ask others for help with it. Don't start complaining about the new purchase or gift until you're absolutely sure that you've done everything you can to know it completely.

Know thy camera. It's your new mantra for the new year.

The Sound of Silence

I’ve read in several places now about calls that mirror-slapping DSLRs should be banned from events. We already have the “never before ball is struck ban” in golf, but I keep hearing people saying that only silent cameras should be used to shoot press conferences and other public events.

Be careful what you wish for. 

If you’re a politician, for instance, hearing a shutter go off tells you when you’re being photographed, and reminds you that you are being photographed. Silent shutters? Nope, you won’t know when photos are being taken. Indeed, there are street photography tactics that can be used where you might not think the camera is even active yet while you’re being photographed; the old shoot-from-the-hip strategy. 

Silent shutters start to be a privacy issue of sorts. 

We have laws about notification when recording in place. For instance, if you’re going to record a telephone conversation, the recording device must beep to remind the participants that a recording is being made. So I wouldn’t be surprised if someone proposed that a light flash every time you take a photo. That seems like it could be as annoying as mirror slaps. 

Where Mirrorless is Headed in 2019

We've come to the end of another year—an important year for mirrorless—and as we kick off the new year it's a good time for some reflection on the market. 

I've previously written quite a bit about where we are now that all the big players are seriously in the mirrorless game. This time I thought I'd use my year-end musings to write about what I think each company will/should be doing in the coming year+. Technology is relentless, so unless a company has clear plans that match up with ongoing customer needs and expectations, it's easy to make a misstep. 

I’m tackling this topic in two articles. This article is more detailed and deals with the technology/specifications side (i.e. product) more thoroughly. My other article today is more about what the photography user needs to be seeing and hearing from each company (i.e. more marketing and positioning). That other article is a more concise list of the biggest issues each company needs to fix, whereas this article is more a general discussion. 

In other words, if you want the long explanation, read this article. If you want the shorthand, read the other article.

As usual on my sites, we'll tackle the companies in alphabetical order:

Canon
Canon's biggest problem is that EOS M and EOS R don't look very compatible, and Canon still has a huge base of EOS EF and EF-S DSLR folk to migrate to mirrorless. 

I've written before that EOS M now seems dead-endish: you can't use M lenses on R, EF, or EF-S bodies even with an adapter, so there's no migration path for folks buying into M. It appears that Canon is thinking somewhat backwards here (migrate EF/EF-S users to mirrorless): we've now got a patent that shows that Canon has been tinkering with a so-called Speedbooster converter to allow EF lenses on the EF-M mount. 

Speedboosters are a type of inverse teleconverter. Instead of adding focal length and reducing the effective aperture, a booster converter does the opposite: decreases focal length and boosts the effective aperture. The goal of such a converter for EOS M would be: make full frame EF lenses work on EOS M as well or better than on a DSLR. The exact patent would make a 50mm f/1.4 EF lens effectively a 40mm f/1.2 M lens. 

I'm not sure that addresses the problem I see with EOS M, which is simple: if I buy into EOS M, there's no way for me to keep some of the system I buy if I decide to later upgrade to EOS R. The M lenses don't transition at all. I suppose if I'm using EF-S and EF lenses on a Speedbooster adapter for M that I can continue to use them with yet-another-adapter with R. But that just doesn't seem like the right approach to me. Even if the number of people who would migrate from M to R is small, it's a clear negative positioning point versus the competition. Sony can simply market "buy our consumer APS-C camera and you can eventually grow into anything we make; your lenses don't become paperweights." Canon product management and marketing is generally smarter than this, not building things that the competition can easily take down with a well-targeted message.

So what's the real solution? Canon says they'll continue to introduce M lenses if customers want them (not sure how they're monitoring that). That still really says M is a end of its own, though: you don't migrate away from it. Realistically, we need an APS-C R camera, and I'm betting that we'll eventually get one, probably at the higher end than the lower end (e.g. 7D or 80D level).

Meanwhile, the R is sort of in no-man's land at the moment. It's priced and speced a bit between the A7/Z6 and the A7R/Z7, and it's missing a few bits (like sensor IS). It really needs companions, call them the 1/2R and the 2R ;~). The 1/2R would be the entry consumer full frame mirrorless (24mp or less, US$2000 or less). The 2R would be the A7R/Z7 competitor (lots of pixels, US$3300+). 

My guess is that these new R's are well under way and will appear in 2019, probably at least one in the first quarter of 2019. My question is this: which UI will they have? I've already written that the current R feels more like an experiment in UX (user experience) than a refined statement of how the future works in Canon cameras. The R has a strange mix of buttons/controls/locations that don't really match anything previous, nor do they feel to me like the answer for the future. If the 1/2R and 2R come out with the same UI/UX as the R, I'd expect some pushback from users.

What seems clear is that we're going to get more R lenses from Canon in 2019. Unlike the rest of the competition, Canon seems reluctant to say what lenses. Even the never-before-have-we-provided-a-road-map Nikon acquiesced on this, but Canon seems to think it's an advantage to keep potential customers in the dark. It isn't an advantage, and coupled with the M mistake, this is the first time I've seen Canon product management and marketing completely out of sorts. Canon's mirrorless messaging right now is poor. That has to have an impact on sales.

Fujifilm
Chug, chug, chug... 

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Chug, chug, chug...

Okay, my tongue's in cheek again (yes, sometimes the inside of my cheeks gets sore from all the tongue action ;~). Somewhere in Fujifilm a plan was made, it's been executed, it's being executed, it will continue to be executed. 

That plan was push APS-C for the masses, but compete with the full frame entities by dangling medium format (albeit at market-limiting prices). Unfortunately, the APS-C side now has a clear price ceiling, as the US$2000 full frame cameras aren't exactly strippers. That's already caused Fujifilm to lower pricing on the X-T line to look more competitive. 

Still, Fujifilm is the only one in mirrorless cameras we can say has a full APS-C line: X-A5, X-T100, X-T20, X-E3, X-T3, X-H1, plus all the older models still in inventory. The trick for Fujifilm is to better rationalize that line and remove that inventory backlog. The X-H1 seems an oddity now with the X-T3 improvements. Does the X-E3 really generate demand that isn't taken away from the neighboring cameras in the line? Are the buyers of older models doing anything more than sampling? (i.e. if you buy an X-T2 today at clearance prices, are you really going to stay a Fujifilm regular over time?)

Given Fujifilm's chugging along, it's not to difficult to predict that an X-E4 and X-T30—or some variations on them—are the next trains out of the station. It's still too early for an X-Pro3 or X-H2, I think, and those two cameras really need some rethink as to what they're trying to achieve in the lineup. X-T100, X-T20, X-T3 I understand (even though these are obviously somewhat different generations of designs in the same product line). X-Pro2, X-H1, X-T3 I don't understand, and I don't think the Fujifilm faithful really do, either.

In the Medium Format realm, Fujifilm has relatively clear sailing, with only Hasselblad to elbow aside (but don't count Hassy out now that they've partnered with DJI). Sony Semiconductor has already shown the sensor roadmap we'll see in that sensor size, and Fujifilm has given plenty of warning about 100 and 150mp medium format cameras coming. I suspect we'll see them in 2019. Chug, chug, chug...

Nikon
Despite a far less than perfect and sometimes rocky marketing launch, the new Nikon Z system is alive and well. Nikon didn't do much to focus (pardon the pun) and control the messaging during launch, and it hurt them short term. Longer term, things look more rosy. That's because the cameras and lenses they shipped actually are quite good. Good enough to hold serve and staunch any sustained flow to Sony from Nikon loyalists. 

It's now time to hunker down and get the iterations/additions/changes right. A healthy round of firmware additions would go a long way to fixing the initial messaging, particularly if they addressed some of the continuous autofocus issues that have arisen. This is not Nikon's forte, though: other than the D5 type camera, Nikon really hasn't been known for major firmware update changes in the past. It's time they changed that, and I hope 2019 shows that they figured this out.

That's because the Z6 and Z7 have to stay relevant for a couple of years to recover R&D costs. Those two cameras need to keep selling through to 2021, and the best way to do that is to have a message that says "they keep getting better" (e.g. substantive firmware upgrades). It wouldn't take a lot to create that message, but it will take more than the bug fix updates we've seen so far.

Nikon has already given us a roadmap to lenses for 2019, and that looks fine to me. The 14-30mm f/4 is an important lens, as is the 85mm f/1.8. I'm not sure I want the f/2.8 zooms myself, but knowing that they're right on the horizon line is still comforting information. 

Unfortunately, the next lens out will be the manual focus 58mm f/0.95 NOCT, which is more of of an arrogant, ego-boosting, design-masturbation statement than anything useful to more than a few customers. Frankly, Nikon needs to tell me why I care about this lens. And no, it's not because the "mount allows it." 

What's missing in Nikon's Z lens lineup—even past 2019—is conspicuous: any telephoto zoom above f/2.8. Whether that's a 70-200mm f/4 or a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 or something else, we can debate. But basically the message Nikon is sending is "for telephoto use, you're going to be mounting a big DSLR lens on the FTZ adapter." Good thing the 300mm f/4 and 500mm f/5.6 PF lenses are entirely appropriate for that (as is the bargain 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P). But where is the Nikon marketing messaging saying that to customers? I've now said that message more times than anyone at Nikon HQ apparently has. Hello? Bueller? 

The real 2019 need from Nikon is something completely different, though: what I call DX-M, or I guess would be called something like Z-DX by Nikon. I now know that Nikon more than fiddled with potential crop sensor mirrorless designs: they got to the stage where they had to make a build/cancel/postpone decision. Indeed, the messaging I get from sources within and around Nikon says they went from build to postpone to redesign. 

So if we're in a redesign phase with crop sensor mirrorless, what is that and when does it appear? It's intriguing that we have 8 blank lens listings for Z mount in 2021. Could any of those be Z-DX? Or is the current Nikon lens road map for Z are all full frame and they'd come out with another road map for crop sensor? If you can answer that question, then you might be able to better predict when we'll see a DX Z. 

Olympus
The E-M1X is next and imminent, apparently, and it seems to be a bit of a repeat of what Olympus did with their swan song for 4/3, the E-5: throw the kitchen sink in, promote it as pro, grab as much money as they can. Add some more fast pro lenses like a liberal sprinkling of salt trying to make the meal taste better. 

Olympus is in a tough place. After rushing into early m4/3 success, it's been tough treading lately. The goal a few years back was to hit 600k units a year. Didn't hit it. Didn't hit it. Didn't hit it. Won't hit it. Indeed, are they even at 500k units a year still? Certainly not without substantial sales at the low end of discounted older models.

The problem for Olympus now is sensors. All that custom work is being done on low volume on a small sensor, while everyone else is doing similar levels of work on large sensors with low volume. It's hard to eek out an advantage because of the sensor size difference, so Olympus appears now to be completely playing to the m4/3 converted. Yet they're still maxing out their sensor costs with far smaller volume. 

That m4/3 customer wanting smaller/lighter product used to be me, but lately Olympus is losing me. The full frame bodies have come way down in size, and I'm now starting to find lenses that make for a really small kit. Smaller than my m4/3 kit in some cases, with more and better pixels. Olympus is trying to deliver more pixels through the pixel shift arrangement, which helps for totally static subjects, but not for everything. They're truly in a defensive game here, and they're no longer fielding a full team. 

I can't see how this ends any way other than constrained niche for Olympus. The question is whether that niche is big enough to be sustainable. Maybe. The jury is out on that. 

2019 is the year Olympus needs to tell us what the future is really like for them. Their partner Panasonic has already taken that step (e.g. adding full frame). And I'm going to argue that the E-M1x is not an answer to that question. 

Olympus is now in the back of the pack with Pentax: interesting products, but not mainstream and not producing volume in sales. 

Panasonic
I just mentioned that Panasonic has taken a step towards the future. That step is full frame. 

Personally I think they got a little anxious and dropped the big announcement too early, at Photokina 2018. They still seemed to be in the design refinement stage on the body, and early prototype stage with lenses. There's a lot that can still go wrong for them that would push actual delivery out more than currently expected. Panasonic's latest statement on release is “spring 2019” (previously it was "early 2019” so we’re starting to hear the already vague date slide). I'm betting that Panasonic's definition of spring and mine don't match, but I'll be happy if I'm proven wrong.

The S1 bodies (and lenses) seem to be a little on the chubby side to me (and the existing L lenses are also not exactly svelte). This puts more emphasis on features, performance, and pricing, and that last one is likely to be "above the competition," which puts even more emphasis on the first two.

Panasonic's got a lot to prove with the actual S1 launch. Canon, Nikon, and Sony will all have plenty of actual users by the time Panny's cameras hit the market. There's a risk the Big Three suctioned up almost the entire full frame user base. Any perception of "not delivering" will relegate Panasonic into a distant fourth position in an already small market. Still, this is far better than having nothing in the space, which is where Olympus and Pentax are. 

The S1 also puts pressure on the m4/3 offerings. If the S1 is 4K 60P, why do I want it instead of a GH5/GH5s? Positioning is starting to become everything in the still contracting camera market. With two lines two stops apart—much like Fujifilm—Panasonic needs to have clear messaging telling customers where they should be purchasing and why. 

Many are predicting that Panasonic just left the m4/3 world (i.e. won't be doing a lot there in the future and eventually winding it completely down). I don't think so. Not at all. Like most of the other players (Canon with APS-C and full frame, Fujifilm with APS-C and medium format, Nikon with APS-C and full frame, and Sony with APS-C and full frame), Panasonic looks to be moving to a two-line approach. 

Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it would be what I'd do if I were running product management for any of the Japanese companies. What Panasonic needs to do in 2019 though is begin to rationalize the two lines and communicate who should buy what and why. I didn't see that in the Photokina press messaging. I still don’t see it in the subsequent messaging. Indeed, just the opposite (they suggested that the G9, GH5, and GH5s "gained a solid reputation among professionals and amateurs..."; so why do those pros need an S1/S1R? And if they do need an S1/S1R, what's that say about the G9, GH5, and GH5s?). 

Nothing wrong with Panasonic's product development. Their success in 2019, however, is almost completely dependent upon their marketing and messaging.

Pentax
Incomplete. Hasn't showed up to class since 2014, and then only to turn in a revised homework assignment that didn't change their grade at all.

I'm wondering if Pentax is still a student. Should I put in a missing person's report? 

Less work for me with Pentax absent, I suppose, which is fine.

Sony
Sony is all-in with mirrorless, and has been for some time now. In the full frame arena Sony is now updating/iterating on a regular schedule (basically two year cycles). The A7s is due for its third cycle, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sony penciled in an A9 update in late 2019 given the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. It's also possible that the A7r gets a late 2019 update, as well, and if it does, it'll surely get a pixel boost. 

In terms of lenses for full frame, Sony's in pretty good shape in the wide to short telephoto range, with only a 20mm prime being the glaring hole. Personally, I'd really like to see them bring the f/1.8 primes into the wide realm, too, but frankly, Sony has pretty full coverage from 12-85mm in ways I'm completely satisfied with at the moment. It's above that where we need to see more from them, and I hope that 2019 brings us new optics at the long end. I'm betting on a 200-500mm type of zoom, a fast 200mm or 300mm. Given how good the EF and F lenses are via adapter on the Canon and Nikon full frame mirrorless cameras, Sony needs to plug the telephoto lens gap, ASAP.

It's the APS-C side of things where Sony seems to have completely stalled. We originally started with NEX-3 and NEX-5 offerings, basically a low and mid consumer product. Those iterated rapidly and many times. That was expanded to include a NEX-6/7 higher-end offering. It looked like that would roll over into A5xxx, A6xxx, and A7xxx models, but after the initial 5xxx and 6xxx offerings, we've really only gotten another iteration of the 6xxx. 

The A6500 dates back to 2016, the A5100 is a 2014 model. That's a long time for consumer-pointed models to rot on shelves. 

The rumors, of course, say we'll get an A7000 that's a mini-A9 next for Sony's APS-C mirrorless line, probably in early 2019. In other words, high-end crop sensor. That still leaves a big chunk of consumers looking mostly at Canon and Fujifilm cameras, which seems like a mistake to me. Curiouser still, the last E (APS-C) lens we got from Sony this year was the very consumer (18-135mm f/3.5-5.6), not at all high-end. Prior to that, Sony had gone into a crop-sensor lens hibernation much like Canikon's EF-S/DX. I had to go all the way back to 2013 to find the previous E lens launch. So launching an A7000 without high-end APS-C lens support seems like it has high potential for not hitting the target.

Whether we'll get anything other than an A7000 in APS-C from Sony this year is questionable, I'd say. It appears that Sony is perfectly happy in selling older A6xxx bodies as long as they can get away with it. Plus Sony now has the Nikon DX disease: just use full frame lenses. 

Overall
Mirrorless had a big year in 2018, with many full frame entrants (4, or 10% of all cameras introduced), plus some good energy on either side of that size from Fujifilm. Lenses came in droves for mirrorless this year. I count 27 significant mirrorless-only lenses introduced this year (plus things like the Sigma Art series in FE mount adds quite a few more). 2019 is likely to be more of the same: lots of new lenses now that Canon and Nikon have to get their mirrorless foundries up-to-speed to match Sony. 

Clearly, all the camera makers—other than Pentax, who's still wandering around in the woods somewhere seeing if trees make noises when they fall—are going to be executing significantly in the mirrorless realm in the future. We're now clearly into the DSLR-to-mirrorless transition period. How long that transition will take depends upon how fast the camera makers move. 

So on that note:

  • Canon doesn't want to move fast. They've still got one very large foot completely stuck in the DSLR mud, and don't want to pull that out any time soon for fear of losing a shoe. Their marketing department keeps noting that they'll continue iterating DSLR products, and I expect to see them do just that in 2019.
  • Fujifilm has already made the move and wants people to move from DSLR as fast as possible. That's part of their chug-chug-chug product iteration strategy. Jump on the train, folks, it's moving from the station as we speak...
  • Nikon doesn't want to move too fast. They seem clearly unprepared to do consumer mirrorless (e.g. crop sensor). And like Canon, they're trumpeting the fact that they'll have more DSLR product iterations soon. That said, I'll bet that Nikon makes the all-mirrorless move before Canon. It just isn't going to happen any time in the very near future.
  • Olympus was one of the early movers, but at this point they've been clearly passed by Canon and Sony, and probably will be passed by everyone the way things are going. Which will put them right back where they ended in the film era, and where they ended with their DSLRs. What did Einstein supposedly say about repetition?
  • Panasonic seems to want to move fast, but they're still be playing catch up in the full frame arena, and it's unclear what's next for them in m4/3. 2019 is a year when we learn a lot more about how well Panasonic can execute in the declining market.
  • Sony now seems to be easing off the accelerator a bit. They want full frame to continue to move at a regular pace. That means they have two bodies to iterate this coming year, and two the following year, and two the following year, and so on. Significant innovation on two-year cycles is getting tougher for them to do. The lens side seems to be moving at a fast pace, though, which helps. But APS-C? I have no idea how Sony wants to move and how fast. Right now it looks like they're as stuck in the mud with the A5xxx/A6xxx/A7xxx as Canon and Nikon are with EF-S and DX DSLRs. 

The 2019 Mirrorless To Do List

In my other article today I outline many of my thoughts about what the camera companies are likely to do in 2019. You'd think with all the press and hype and new mirrorless products of 2018 that all the camera companies would be basking in their successes. Thing is, every last camera company has serious challenges in the coming year. 

To put that into perspective, I also put together a succinct To Do list for each company of things I believe they need to do, demonstrate, improve, fix, state, or solidify in the coming year. 

Canon

  • Rationalize M versus EF-S versus EF versus R for the consumer. Too many dead ends in the lineup, too many overlapping models, too much confusion. The Canon marketing message is so confused at this point that when I talk to Canon personnel they can't actually make sense of it themselves. There's a 70's GM-like bloat happening in the Canon lines (and I didn't mention the Cinema stuff, which is EF in what will become an R world). 
  • Add EOS M lenses. Canon and Nikon made the "few lenses" mistake with EF-S and DX, basically opting for just some consumer zooms. Sony's now decided to follow suit by mostly ignoring E. This has enabled a new competitor (Fujifilm), and is making previously loyal users grumpy at best, angry at worst. Your best possible future customer is your current one. Screw the current customer and you lose a future one. 
  • Rationalize RF lenses. We currently have four very different lenses targeted to three different customer sets. The only clearly hinted at lenses (f/2.8 zoom set) and the 28-70mm f/2 and 50mm f/1.2 all cater to a higher end customer than the R body is likely to attract, in my opinion. Is high-end, high-performance, high-price lenses the reason for R, then? This gets me back to my first point. 
  • Find the IBIS. Nikon has it. Panasonic will have it. Sony has it. Canon? Where's the IBIS? The fact that two high end RF lenses don't have IS is telling: sensor IS must be coming. But that implies a higher-end body. We keep coming back to that first bullet. So the low-end R doesn't have IBIS and most of the lenses don't, either? How's that competitive?
  • Technology catch up. Canon's behind on more than IBIS. They're also behind on full frame 4K video, they still haven't completely closed the dynamic range gap, they're not really ready for faster cards...the list goes on.

The good news is that Canon seems to have slowly been awoken. For awhile there it was looking like we'd get to Rebel Mark 10's before we saw Canon start to free themselves from DSLR boundaries. The bad news is that Canon's pivot is turning out to be somewhat clumsy and confusing. That's okay as long as they start removing the clumsy bits and begin limiting the confusion. 2019 is the year they need to show us that they get that and are engaged in doing it.

Fujifilm

  • We could use some model rationalization. In particular, I don't understand the X-H1 versus X-T3. Which one am I supposed to buy, and why? The full frame onslaught is putting pressure on the high-end APS-C line, and Fujifilm has three models that feel that pressure (X-Pro2, X-H1, and X-T3). Perhaps the answer is that you throw out a marketing line such as "you could buy a stripper full frame camera or choose between three top-of-the-line APS-C models from us." But to do that you need to rationalize who buys what and why. 
  • Fill a few more prime gaps. In particular, we've got a gap between 90mm f/2 and 200mm f/2. Seems like a 105mm and 135mm should fit in there. It also feels like we could use a couple of additional f/2.8 (small and light) primes, most notably at 16mm and 20mm (and I wouldn't mind a 70mm pancake, too). Fujifilm needs to market against up (full frame) and down (m4/3). Fast lenses help with the up, pancakes help with the down, particularly on bodies like the X-T100. 
  • Are we going exotic? We have the 200mm f/2 (300mm f/2.8 equivalent). And it's another fat boy like the Nikon variation. Are we going further? Will there be a 300mm f/2.8 (450mm f/4 equivalent)? A 135mm f/1.4 (200mm f/2 equivalent)? 

As most of you know, I'm not a fan of X-Trans (other than for monochrome work). It complicates the demosaic in ways that just sometimes get in the way. The X-A5 and X-T100 use straight Bayer in their sensors, and I get the same "Fujifilm color" without the pixel-peeping angst. Does X-Trans really gain us much over Bayer? Well, we can now do some relatively apples-to-apples comparisons, and I'd say it's a bit less than a third of a stop (unfortunately, that only apples-to-apples comparison only applies up to the dual gain boost point, as the X-Trans sensors use dual gain, the Bayer sensors don't). Still, that's enough of a data set to make the conclusion from.

So I wonder why Fujifilm is still continuing with the X-Trans complication. It makes their sensor costs higher, it's difficult to market, and you'll note that they didn't use X-Trans on the Medium Format cameras ;~). 

Things like X-Trans make Fujifilm a little more "eccentric" than the other camera makers. Perhaps that's a marketing plus when you're a small player in the game, but I'd tend to argue that it's one of the things that holds Fujifilm back, too.  

Nikon

  • Where's the crop sensor? Let's state it simply: so many more people buy crop sensor cameras even today that the total revenue from a good crop sensor model tops the best full frame sensor model (e.g. the D3500 DSLR brings in more dollars for Nikon than the popular D850 DSLR). Put another way, Nikon needs a mirrorless option that is far less than US$2000 in list price. The longer they don't have that, the more Fujifilm just takes the serious crop-sensor customers out from under them, and the more Canon's dead-end M manages to stay alive.
  • Where's the firmware? Nikon needs to give up on the "fixing and adding features goes into new models only" mantra they had in everything other than the D5 type models on the DSLR side. We won't see Z6 and Z7 Mark II models until late 2020, but there are things that need improving today to stay competitive. That means firmware upgrades with not just bug fixes, but clear performance and feature enhancements. I listed quite a few of those in my Z7 review, but if Nikon needs a longer list, I'd be happy to provide one.
  • How fast are the lenses popping? Good on Nikon to give us a Road Map for Z lenses. That alone was one of the more positive signs of life at Nikon corporate that I've seen in a long time. There's an understanding in Tokyo that Z lives or dies by lenses in many customer minds. Now we need to see the delivery schedule. If what we get is the NOCT in early 2019 and the 14-30mm in late spring, that's not a fast enough schedule. We've got six Z lenses scheduled for 2019: we need to see urgency in getting them out. And the order in which they come out is important, too. The order should be 14-30mm f/4, 85mm f/1.8, 20mm f/1.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8. With the NOCT not being a meaningful lens to most Z users it could come at any time in that sequence, but we really don't want to see it push anything else back.
  • Where's the knowledge? I've written about how Nikon has come up short on describing how the Z autofocus system works, but that's not the only thing. It turns out that highlight-weighted metering works differently on the Z's than it does on the DSLRs, too, and as I keep drilling down, I keep finding more. Why am I finding these things and not reading about those differences from Nikon? Simple solution: assign each changed system to an Ambassador, have that Ambassador go to Tokyo and meet with the engineers that know what's really going on, then have the Ambassador promote that knowledge to the shooting community. That's not rocket science folks. 

I've never had issues with Nikon engineers. They make good decisions, they execute well, though sometimes more slowly than I would hope for. It's everything that happens above the lens/camera designers that tends to be Nikon's problem, because the bean counters run the shop looking for every penny they can find, and literally nothing escapes them. They don't care if what they cut might lose a customer if it keeps the overall gross profit margin (GPM) on target.

But every now and again, the engineers win and manage to convince upper management to run around blowing horns. That's happened with the Z system. I'll bet that Nikon corporate thinks they overspent on the Z launch (they did for what they achieved). I'd argue they could have spent a bit more and they certainly could have gotten better results. Still, unlike Canon's big battleship-like attempt at a turn, Nikon is looking more like a modern cruiser and turning very nicely. They just need more ships (lenses, APS-C mirrorless, etc.).  

Olympus

  • Do more than an E-M1x. Making a bigger, more advanced, more expensive E-M1 may very well make a small handful of dedicated m4/3 pros happy, but it fundamentally fails to address Olympus' biggest problem: market share. Their declining m4/3 volume in an advancing mirrorless market is putting them back into a familiar position. One they ended up in during the film era, and one they ended up in during the DSLR era. In essence, they keep declining into unprofitable and unsustainable states. More than anyone else, Olympus needs a "wow" camera in 2019, and as much as the E-1Mx might wow some, it's not the camera that will wow the consumers Olympus needs in order to right the ship.
  • Embrace and market small. E-PL1: 115mm wide, 10.4 ounces. E-PL9: 117mm wide, 13.4 ounces. In seven generations, one of the smaller cameras grew a bit of a beer belly. The Pen F is basically bigger (125mm wide, 13.2 ounces). The E-M10m3 is 121mm wide and 12.8 ounces. Hmm. We have three models at nearly the same size, and none are trimming down at all. Now, that size is indeed smaller compared to full frame, but not a lot smaller (Sony A7m3 is 127mm wide). It's mostly in weight that the m4/3 cameras do better now (the Sony is 23 ounces, or ~2x). Small and light is the Olympus heritage. Just for the heck of it, I went to the Olympus product pages to see how they pushed that. Nope, small and light is not a ubiquitous and strong message. It's the third marketing message ("unparalleled excellence," "sharp in all areas" being the first two). But even in the "perfect size, perfect shot" messaging Olympus is behind the times: they're marketing against DSLRs still. And the small and light message is mostly just a vague statement, not a specific set of measures. Basically Olympus is missing the most basic of marketing forms: feature/benefit clarity. 
  • Fix the menus. This was on my To Do list for them in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and now 2019 (I note that dpreview is now doing To Do lists, too, and this is on their Olympus To Do list, too ;~). Making menus prettier, changing fonts, and changing colors is not "fixing," it's slapping a coat of paint on a pig and calling it pretty. Long ago I wrote "every time I have to configure a new Olympus my head ends up hurting." Still true, and I'm not the only person who thinks that. I'm a pretty geeky guy, but the product manager in me says someone needs to help those engineers speak "customer." Note that I'm not arguing about taking features or options out. I'm simply talking about making things easily findable, totally understandable, and well organized. 

Do I think it's problematic that Olympus isn't doing full frame? No, not at all. While physics are against you in smaller sensor use versus larger, that didn't stop smartphones. The real issue for Olympus is "solving user problems." Real user problems. A small, light, highly competent system (e.g. m4/3) has a place in the market. But you absolutely have to make sure you're solving the real user problems and that you market in ways that the potential customers understand this. The E-M1x is not solving the right user problem. And it's likely to be marketed wrong if the past is any indication. 

Some of Olympus' problems are also tied to sensor. Not size, but the fact that in order to get pricing right on the sensor, they're hanging onto old sensor technology far too long now. I still don't get why we don't have a Tough camera with an m4/3 sensor. Or an LX100 (and RX100) competitor from Olympus that's m4/3. They don't have enough well thought out model spread to reuse sensors wisely, IMHO, and that's hurting them.

Panasonic

  • Answer the question “why?" Panasonic's marketing team has the biggest challenge of 2019. They're late to the game (full frame mirrorless), and they're coming from a different sport (m4/3). They really need to explain why we should pay any attention. The L lens decision was a good start, as an alliance of lens makers is something that Canon and Nikon can't claim. But my initial impression from Photokina was "late, large, and pricey." I believe many others share that view. So Panasonic marketing has its work cut out for it to change initial perceptions. It doesn't help that in a country like the US, Panasonic doesn't really have the dealer base that could help them with that. So Panasonic is going to have to do it through events, advertising, ambassadors, and more. 
  • Answer the lens challenge. 48.8/19 versus 52/16. The lens throat is smaller (first number) and the flange distance is longer (second number) than the most flexible mount (currently Nikon Z). This puts more constraints on optical design. And we've already seen that the Z lenses are very good for their price points. So not only do we need a road map from Panasonic on lenses, we also need to see how those lenses are going to stack up size-, price-, and performance-wise. I'm not saying Panasonic can't compete, I'm saying that they have to tell us how they compete. 

I've always felt that Panasonic had some of the most photography-centric engineering teams in Japan. I keep meeting Panasonic engineers who actually are photographers. It shows in their products. 

The L alliance is another bold move for Panasonic (the m4/3 alliance and the original Leica alliance being others). The problem is that it isn't clear that these have paid off as well as you'd think they should. m4/3 had the issue of launching right at the tail end of the digital photography growth period, which didn't help. Now they're the last into full frame mirrorless (okay, Pentax will be in actual last place, if they ever get to the starting line). Timing hasn't helped Panasonic. Still, it's nice to have another competitor, and a photo-centric one, at that (yes, they're video-centric, too, which earns them two gold stars).  

Pentax

  • Fast forward 10 years or more. Each time they were acquired, they fell further behind the competition. They'll be last to a significant mirrorless offering, which is pretty amazing given that even Sigma managed to move from DSLRs with their cameras. Had Pentax done at Photokina 2018 what Panasonic did, we'd all be marveling about how "Pentax is back." Instead, we got nothing, and the mirrorless hole still exists at Pentax. (Don't tell me about the Q. B&H, who carries everything, no longer has the Q available. Moreover, the Q was always a bit of a novelty, using a compact camera sensor but having a couple of interchangeable lenses, some of which were labeled "toy".) The brand name still has value, but the product line mostly doesn't. And in mirrorless, there is no product line.
  • Is it Ricoh or Pentax? I can't believe that we're still in a world where Ricoh-labeled cameras and Pentax-labeled cameras still exist from the same company. This tells you how little corporate management cares about the photography bit—and it is a very small bit in relation to the overall company—of the business: they never rationalized the two groups and the branding. Makes you wonder why Ricoh bought Pentax.

Being acquired never goes the way you think it should. New management, new policies, new procedures, new...well, just about everything, including the big one: priorities. Pentax has had to go through this ritual twice, once as Hoya stripped out all the "good pieces" that they wanted (mostly medical), then as Ricoh came in to keep a brand alive and jobs in Japan. 

The problem is that word I used in the last paragraph: priorities. What are Pentax's priorities now? There's no outward sign of what those might be other than to slowly iterate things they've already got. Meanwhile, the camera market has gone through one transition (growth-to-contraction) and has entered another (DSLR-to-mirrorless). 

Sony

  • Resurrect the APS-C (E) side of mirrorless. Right now, Sony is just using old generation bodies to do the heavy lifting. Sure, an A6000 kit at US$500 looks kind of reasonable until you realize you're buying a four-and-a-half-old camera. The recent dearth of E lenses is the Canon/Nikon mistake all over again, too. The strongest rumors are about a new top-end, an A7000 that's a crop-sensor A9, and that's a fine product to have. But it doesn't solve the problem of having the older generation A6xxx's holding serve. Sony needs entry, mid-level, and high-end crop sensor cameras that are not boxes that have collected dust on shelves. And they need more APS-C lens options.
  • Get the A7Sm3 right. This is trickier than it seems. The A7m3 is a perfectly fine video camera, so any change to more than 12mp means there has to be a lot more in the A7Sm3 than pixel changes or EVF change. I know Sony knows this, but it's still a fairly narrow plank they're walking with this model. They don't want to lose those that bought into the "low light wonder" or confuse those trying to figure out where they should be in the A7 lineup. 
  • Start retiring things. Yes, I know an original A7 or even A7m2 for under US$1000 looks like a sweet way to sample full frame. But frankly, the game has moved a lot since the A7. The risk of keeping old models in the lineup is twofold: the purchaser is disappointed in autofocus and other performance, or the purchaser is perfectly happy with it and goes into Last Camera Syndrome on Sony after paying Sony next to nothing. Money eventually gets left on the table either way. But here's the other problem: the fact that those older models are still available across almost all dealers indicates an inventory pile-up at retail. As Nikon discovered, it gets more difficult to make your numbers on the latest and greatest camera when you're dangling discounts on older ones that are "almost as good." Inventory overhang is inventory overhang no matter where it occurs in the chain. 

Sony made a strong pivot that started with the NEX models. That pivot actually rationalized everything in the Imaging group, from pro video gear all the way down to consumer still cameras. As Sony often does, it has thrown leading-edge technology at their problems, as well. 

The results show. They're now a very credible third major camera company, and the Canon and Nikon pivots that are now in progress were triggered by Sony's re-emergence. Thing is, now that the real battle is on, making further gains is going to be tougher and tougher for Sony. The Z7 shut down much of my own A7Rm3 use, for instance (because of the lenses I own versus what I'd have to buy). I've also seen the number of "I'm leaking/sampling/switching" comments from others go way down, which means the days of Sony gaining by easily stealing Canon/Nikon customers is coming to an end.

That's probably okay for Sony. They've got enough of a user base they can work with to keep the pressure on, and any fumbles by Canikon will tend to go Sony's way (as long as they fix APS-C, otherwise some of those fumbles will go to Fujifilm). 

Final Comments
I mentioned it a few times in the above bullets, but it's probably worth revisiting one of my contentions generally instead of within the individual brands. And that contention is that you shouldn't cripple a consumer line of interchangeable lens cameras with a lack of a reasonably full set of lenses. The camera makers are entirely too eager to up sell you to a completely different camera (full frame) and its entirely different lenses. 

What I've seen this do is open up significant movement to competitor products. Sampling, leaking, and switching all occur when your current customer isn't happy with the options that you've offered them. I've been doing survey measurements on this for awhile now (mostly with Nikon users), and I can see clear mid-single digit volume impacts, drifting higher. By that, I mean 5-10% of folk didn't upgrade in brand, but sampled, leaked, or switched.

I have a ton of business experience in "renewal" markets: newspaper and magazine subscriptions, software updates, refresh of hardware. I've long observed that your retention number is the one most predictive of your future success. At Backpacker, for instance, when I left we had a two-year subscription retention of well over 70%. That means that people who had subscriptions for two years or more were still renewing each year in very high numbers. Even back in 2001 that was an extremely high number (today it would be to die for in the magazine business). 

It doesn't matter whether a customer buys an update for their camera body every year, every two years, every four years, or every eight years. You want to do everything in your power to make sure that when the time comes to buy new, they buy your brand again. Plus they keep buying your lenses. But if you've been sending out signals like "we'll only do consumer zooms for this mount, and then only a few" when your direct competitor is sending out signals like "we're going to keep building a large, wide, and deep lens set," guess how hard it is to retain that customer? 

Internet sites and services also all talk about "customer acquisition costs." It's the number one metric that investors look at to understand your growth ramp. How much did it cost you to get an order from a customer (marketing, advertising, direct solicitation, co-branding, etc.)? The camera companies seem to have no real clue what their customer acquisition costs really are any more (let alone their customer retention costs). Couple that with not being efficient at customer retention, and you have a problem.

I'm not even sure any of them are really tracking customer acquisition and retention all that closely. They need to. 

A Style Note

Nikon's marketing style book says that the Z series cameras are named Z 6 and Z 7 (space in between the letter and number). They're not always consistent about that themselves, and for good reason: Z6 and Z 6 present different search results! 

Publications of all sorts, including this Web site, have their own style sheets. Generally I try to stay consistent with company choices, but not always. I've long used the shorthand m4/3 instead of Micro Four-Thirds. Why? Again, it's partly due to those pesky search engines. 

Z6 and Z7 are what the person looking for information is likely to type into a search engine, and what search engine they're using makes a bit of a difference, too (it looks like some search engines have partially figured out that Z6 and Z 6 should be the same thing, at least as it applies to Nikon's product, but you can't count on that). 

There's also no easy way for me to do "take backs" (i.e. replace all m4/3 instances with Micro Four-Thirds or Z6's with Z 6's). While I can do a global search and replace in my Web publishing system documents, the problem is that this can also trigger appearance issues because it involves a space. That could lead to instances of Z appearing on one line and 6 on the next line. In fact, it's not just "could," it's will, because this site is responsive to the window size you open it in. 

So, I'll continue to use Z6 and Z7 in my documentation for the time being. And m4/3. 

There are deeper issues here, in particular Trademarks. NIkonUSA hasn't updated their trademark list since 2014, so obviously Z isn't on it. The interesting thing about, say, Z6, is that it is granted and registered (for a sighting telescope by Swarovski-Optik, which may have triggered Nikon's decision). Even more curious is that there is an application for the letter Z for game controllers, with a stylized Z that looks very much like the one Nikon uses (dual diagonal lines). Yikes. It's just tough to get clear naming rights these days that you can protect. 

What Nikon's Lens Choices Say About Mirrorless DX (APS-C)

I noted this to myself when Nikon first posted their Road Map for Z lenses: it won't take a lot to fill in some DX (APS-C) lens gaps. 

Let's look at the Z Lens Road Map, but restate all lenses as to what their effective focal length would be on DX. Let's start with the primes:

  • 30mm f/1.8
  • 36mm f/1.8
  • 53mm f/1.8
  • 87mm f/0.95
  • 128mm f/1.8

As with the DSLR line, the missing element here is true wide angle. Add a 12mm f/1.8 DX and 16mm f/1.8 DX and you have a fairly nice prime set. True, size would be a bit of an issue compared to what Fujifilm is doing, but optical quality would not. Indeed, optical quality of the existing Z lenses in the DX frame is superb, totally state-of-the-art. So just fill in two wide mirrorless DX primes and you have an arguably solid lineup. Backfill with smaller f/2.8 primes over time and you can get the size/weight benefit back.

For the zooms:

  • 21-36mm f/2.8
  • 21-45mm f/4
  • 36-105mm f/2.8
  • 36-105mm f/4
  • 105-300mm f/2.8

The only thing many people would complain about here is not having a mid-range zoom option that starts at 24mm (FX equivalent), and maybe not having a superzoom option. Again, two lenses could fill that in: 16-70mm f/2.8-4 DX, and 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 DX. 

So: four new lenses and Z DX has a reasonable base lens set by the end of 2020. And don't forget that we've got the FTZ adapter, so all those AF-P DX zooms come right over from day one, too, as well as the handful of other DX lenses that are still current.

This isn't a perfectly optimal solution, obviously, but it would get the job done for the time being. 

The real question is this: would Z DX be consumer-oriented or prosumer-oriented (or both)? If it's totally consumer-oriented, then the current AF-P DX lenses—10-20mm, 18-55mm, 70-300mm—would need redesign for the Z mount, along with a superzoom (18-200mm minimum). If it's prosumer-oriented, then Z5—Z replacement for the D500—users would really want a dedicated DX lens set that's optimized (e.g. 10-20mm f/4 DX, 16-50mm f/4, 50-135mm f/4 as the base, with f/2.8 options down the pike, plus some DX-only primes). 

This, of course, is just idle speculation on my part. No one yet knows what Nikon has decided to do with DX. I'm pretty sure that Nikon changed its mind on that themselves some time mid last year (e.g. by fall 2017). 

2019 Mirrorless Camera News/Views

Mirrorless camera news and views for 2019. The stories in these folders were front page news on sansmirror during the time periods indicated:


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