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.

Nikon Z Discounts Extended

NikonUSA had fall discounts that were supposedly available only for a few days last week, but now they've decided to extend them through November 27th. 

In the interest of helping you keep track, here are the current Z offers (all links are to this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H):

  • Z50 Dual Lens Kit — US$150 savings. Seems odd that a product that hasn't shipped yet would have a discount like this, but there it is. Nikon's giving you strong encouragement to buy both lenses if you're going to get a Z50. I think you shouldn't overlook this discount (my money is where my pen is, by the way). 
  • Z6 Body only, Z6+24-70mm f/4, Z6 Filmmaker's Kit —all net you US$300 savings. The Z6 continues to be the least expensive of the 24mp Sony sensor bodies at the moment. It's a strong performer, and as I noted yesterday, probably as much camera as most people need. The FTZ is still part of the US$1700 "body kit" that B&H sells. 
  • Z7 Body only, Z7+24-70mm f/4 — both net you US$700 savings. That puts the Z7 with the FTZ down to US$2700, an excellent discount for an excellent camera.
  • 35mm f/1.8 S — US$150 savings. This may seem like a high price for a 35mm optic, but it's arguably the best 35mm lens Nikon has made. I'm not a big fan of the focal length, but many consider this to be an essential focal length.
  • 50mm f/1.8 S — US$100 savings. Again, this may seem like a high price for a 50mm "normal" lens, but this lens is anything but normal. The results I get from it are up there in Zeiss Otus country: really, really good. If you're only going to buy one of the f/1.8 S lenses based upon optical performance, so far it should be this one, or perhaps the 85mm f/1.8 S.
  • 14-30mm f/4 S — US$200 savings. The discount puts this lens at about the correct price, in my opinion. It's good but not great. The problem here is that I've seen a fair amount of sample variability; some 14-30mm's seem to have some element off-centering. That said, one built as it should be (e.g. centered) performs quite well, and if you need really wide angle, it's your only dedicated autofocus choice at the moment.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 S — US$300 savings. I've not found a better mid-range zoom than this on any platform. This lens just shines, even wide open. The question I keep getting is "should I get the f/2.8 instead of the f/4?" That's actually not easy to answer, as the f/4 is compact and light and quite a good performer in its own right. Most people will be well served by it. But if you're venturing into low light and need that f/2.8 and don't mind the extra weight and bulk, you're going to be very happy with the 24-70mm f/2.8 S. That said, it's not the lens I'd pick for travel; the f/4 is what most people should be using for that.
  • FTZ — Basically it's still free with the Z6 and Z7 purchases, and gets a US$150 discount (making it US$100) when bought with the Z50. 

I've reviewed all these products except for the not-yet-released Z50, so check out Cameras/Mirrorless Camera Reviews/Nikon Z Reviews for the bodies, and Lenses/Lens Reviews/Lenses for Nikon Z. If you need to know more about the Z50, check out my Reader Questions page for that camera.

Where Are We? (End of 2019)

Amazingly, we still have a straggler or two in terms of mirrorless camera announcements before year's end (I'm looking at you SL2). Still, for the most part things are well established for the coming holiday season from most makers, so it's an appropriate time for some year-end commentary on where the mirrorless camera market actually stands.

  • Canon — Canon is mostly attacking the low end of mirrorless and is doing so with price. The M200 and M6 m2 are the crop-sensor cameras they want to sell you in the US$500-1000 range; the full frame RP has hit US$1000 with rebates, and the R is US$500 off its list price as I write this. True high-end models don't exist in either the M or RF line yet, though I'm sure they're coming. So for the time being, Canon is starting low and being aggressive with price.

    My problem with Canon's strategy is this: the M mount seems to be a dead-end mount with very little good lens support. The M6 m2's new 32mp sensor shows just how poor many of those few M lenses really are. Meanwhile, the RF mount has some really impressive lenses in it—with the 70-200mm f/2.8 being the latest addition—but these lenses all cry out for a better RF body than we've gotten so far. 

    So, I have a hard time recommending Canon except to the price conscious who aren't seeking exceptional results (e.g. buy an M with the three good lenses in the mount, or buy the RP with the 24-240mm lens, as that's a good kit at low price). 

    I suspect Canon will sell a lot of M's and RF's this holiday, but mostly to unsuspecting customers buying through Big Box and other non-specialized channels who are price sensitive. I think a lot of the Canon EF faithful are still waiting to see what's next. The top-quality RF lenses are, I hope, a good indication.

  • Fujifilm — Fujifilm has a very nice, complete, and excellent performing XF line that runs X-A7, X-100, X-T30, X-T3, X-Pro3; plus they have the X-H1 and X-E3 holdovers, as well. Fujifilm's XF lens lineup is good-to-excellent optically, broad, and deep for the most part, with only the long telephoto side still needed work. Fujifilm tends to be aggressive in pricing in spurts, with instant rebate sales popping up often.

    Thing is, as good as everything might be in the XF lineup, I still have a hard time recommending any XF body other than the deeply-discounted X-H1. At the current US$999 price (with extra batteries and grip), the X-H1 and its sensor-based IS just seems to be a better choice than the more expensive X-T3 or X-Pro3. At the current X-H1 price a potential X-T30 customer likely should stretch for the X-H1, too (unless they're going solely for small/light). 

    Of course Fujifilm also has the GFX medium format system, too, where bodies currently range in price from a 50mp rangefinder design at US$4000 to the 100mp big body GFX I recently tested at US$10,000. I have to say, there's real appeal in the GFX lineup if you're someone who can really make use of the pixels, but you're in pricey territory if that's you. 

  • Nikon — And now we have Nikon's initial mirrorless work fully revealed: "we'll start in the middle." As I've noted, the Z6 and Z7 slot in the middle of Nikon's full frame camera lineup, and now the just-introduced Z50 slots in the middle of Nikon's DX camera lineup. 

    I think Nikon correctly identified their strongest core user base: serious long-term photographers, but not necessarily the very top-end prosumers, let alone pros. The cameras are good enough to appeal upwards, though; I find myself using my Z7 as much as my D850 now, simply picking the camera that (slightly) better fits what I'm shooting. I suspect that same thing is going to happen now between the Z50 and D7500 (yes, I still shoot sometimes with the D7500, for reasons that have to do with size of kit). 

    Nikon's been aggressive with pricing with mirrorless, as well they can be, as they've automated factories and reduced parts in these new mirrorless cameras compared to their DSLRs. I expect them to stay aggressive as they try to bring their long-term shooters over to mirrorless. I can pretty much recommend all the Z models to the folk that fit in the D70 to D700 realm.

    While the Z FX lens lineup is starting to shape up decently and every lens Nikon has made so far pretty much gets the label "best x focal length Nikon has ever made...", my concern with Z DX is the same as it was with DSLR DX: where are the lenses? The two kit zooms make a very nice, very small, 24-375mm equivalent kit, smaller and better than the D3500 two lens kit, but we need a lot more than that to drive Z50 (and later Z DX) body sales. Even Canon's dead-end M series has more (poorly performing ;~) lens choice. Oops. I think I should buzz, buzz ;~).

  • Olympus — Olympus started strong with mirrorless, being one of the first to market and putting a lot of interesting engineering and design effort into their early products. They iterated quickly and constantly, too. But...

    Today the iteration feels very small and unambitious. Key technologies are now lagging (e.g. no BSI sensor, focus performance not as good as competitors, etc.). Like Nikon, the fact that Olympus is not a true consumer-oriented company but rather a business-to-business one is starting to have impact on whether Olympus can stay on top of and ahead of consumer desires and trends. 

    Don't get me wrong. The E-M5 m3 is a nice, mild update to the E-M5 m2, which makes it a pretty desirable small camera. But it's overpriced for its performance, and there's nothing in this latest model that makes me think Olympus engineers have actually been listening to consumers and finding new problems to solve. Even the E-M1X feels more like "old tech" than "new tech" to me. It's just a different distribution and iteration of that tech than the E-M1 m2. 

    Thus, Olympus models are starting to feel a little stale to me. That disappoints me quite a bit as Olympus was the mirrorless camera system I began supplementing my DSLR kit with ten years ago because they were pushing the limits. Now? Not so much. With only the E-M10 and whatever the current E-PL is in your country being the only easily affordable cameras in the lineup, it feels like the mirrorless camera market is passing Olympus by now. I find better choices in other company's lineups now.

  • Panasonic — I guess I hadn't really understood how much Panasonic is still trying until I saw all 12 (!) of the current mirrorless cameras they're still selling together at once. It's an impressively broad lineup, but I'm confused by it, and you probably are, too.

    Let's start with the easy part: the full frame cameras. We have an S1 and S1R that match up well in features and performance against the Nikon Z6/Z7 and Sony A7/A7R. What they don't match up well on is price. In fact, they match up very badly on price. As I write this, the S1 is US$2500 body only, the Z6 is US$1700, and the Sony A7 m3 is US$2000. An argument can be made that these are relatively close products that don't justify that much price differential. It makes me say this: Panasonic isn't going to sell many unless they adjust their pricing.

    The full frame S1H and the m4/3 GH5/GH5s are what I think of as the highlights of the Panasonic line, the thing that Panasonic is doing better than everyone else. And that's making a camera that performs exceptionally well for video while performing very well for stills. Most of the other makers do that the other way around (exceptionally well for stills, very well for video). The GH5 at its current US$1400 price is a no-brainer to recommend to  a student graduating out of one of my broadcast school alma maters (Murrow School of Broadcasting at WSU or The Media School at IU). You can shoot pro quality video with a small, affordable, expandable kit in a way that's harder to do with anything else, and currently at a price that's tough to beat.

    I know there are a lot of folk out there that like the other G's (m4/3) cameras in Panasonic's currently extended lineup, but I'm not a big fan. I think there are better choices available elsewhere now, and I find many of the G's just too big (a small sensor should equate to a very small overall kit first and foremost, not a DSLR-sized body). It doesn't help that Panasonic's DFD autofocus just doesn't hold its own against state-of-the-art phase detect focus in competitor's products for any moving object, either.

    That said, Panasonic has a broad, deep line of both cameras and lenses that you can't ignore. Just make sure it's the right choice for you.

  • Sony — Now that Sony has come back and shown (a little) love to APS-C, there probably isn't another mirrorless maker that's got as solid a "current" mirrorless camera lineup as Sony: A6100, A6400, A6600, A7 m3, A7R m4, A7S m2, and A9 m2. Three solid and differentiated APS-C cameras, four solid and even better differentiated full frame cameras. Add in the fact that Sony will sell you pretty much any of their older mirrorless cameras at strong discounts, and I'd guess that there has to be something in there at the right price for anyone reading this.

    Moreover, six years of full frame lens introductions and nine years of crop-sensor lens introductions have produced a pretty broad set of lenses that almost rival what the Canon/Nikon duopoly was able to do with SLRs/DSLRs over several decades. 

    Sony today pretty much sits in the cat-bird seat for mirrorless because of this, though I don't think it will be long before Canon and Nikon are matching or exceeding Sony. Sony is using their position in an interesting manner: not being particularly aggressive about pricing of the most recent models, but leaving older models on the market at very aggressive prices. This, I think, is going to hurt them long-term. While the latest generation of cameras is addressing (most) handling issues, those older models have a lot of pain points in them, so Sony is attracting customers that will discover those issues and not be happy with them. Be careful that you know what you're really getting and can live with it if you shop outside the current Sony lineup.

On a more high-level view of the mirrorless world, you have three basic choices:

  • Full Frame — (1) 12mp, (2) 24/26/30mp, (3) 45/47mp, (4) 60mp, the middle two from multiple players (and likely #4 from multiple players soon). #1 and #4 are really specialty cameras, in my opinion, and you really should make sure you need their specialness before committing the money to them. Most folk will do quite fine with #2. That's enough for the largest print you can get out of a desktop inkjet printer (13x19") and there's really not a dud in that group (though there is a difference in feature sets). Full frame has made it all the way down to US$1000 (#2 from Canon, old #2 from Sony), so it's within the reach of most serious photographers now.
  • APS-C — With Nikon's entry, we now have Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony all playing in the APS-C crop sensor game with very competent products (20 to 32mp, similar to #2 in full frame). You give up a stop or so of ISO performance for something smaller and lighter, and sometimes very small and very light. While Fujifilm is trying to push APS-C all the way up to the US$2000 price point (X-Pro3), realistically the price range is at most US$500-1500, and obviously anything above US$1000 needs to have performance/feature capabilities that the US$1000 full frame cameras don't. APS-C can make for a small, light, and excellent quality travel camera kit. When I make my holiday buying recommendations soon, you'll see a lot of APS-C in the small, light category. 
  • m4/3 — The first (well, technically the extremely low-volume Epson R-D1 was first) of the mirrorless entrants is now the smallest. Smallest in sensor size, smallest in ILC sales volume. These cameras can be smallest in travel kit size, too, with the right camera and lens choices. As smartphone camera quality keeps creeping up, the products at the small sensor end of the camera world keep getting marginalized. That used to be 1/2.3" sensors, now it's starting to be 1" sensors, and I can now see Apple and Google may eventually begin nibbling at m4/3 in the future, too. So it's feature set, performance, lens choice, coupled with manageable size that will keep m4/3 in the running, and that's where you should spend your time investigating whether an Olympus or Panasonic m4/3 camera is for you. 

I've written the following before, but it also should be considered now that all the camera makers have mirrorless options: if you've been shooting a particular brand, you probably ought to stay with that brand if you decide to transition from DSLR to mirrorless.

That's particularly true for Nikon, as Nikon has managed to make their mirrorless cameras so similar to their DSLRs in handling, menus, and performance. It's somewhat less true for Canon as they've taken to more experimentation. 

Finally, at PhotoPlus I had a discussion with someone that went something like this: mirrorless may be causing the contraction in camera sales. The reason? People can now clearly see how the future of ILC is mirrorless, not DSLR, but they can also now see exactly what they're likely to get for what price. Many see the DSLR they already own as being fine. The cost of selling off the DSLR gear and buying new mirrorless gear that performs similarly is very high. In other words, the benefits are not outweighing the costs for a lot of people, so they're just staying put. Ironically, having more options to upgrade to is causing fewer people to upgrade.

Meanwhile, as I've pointed out many times before, the camera makers are still not making sharing of images as quick and easy as they could, and that puts off the potential new young buyers of dedicated cameras. They don't want to give up the ease of sharing to carry another piece of gear that, sure, might give them some new capabilities, but is too complex and disconnected for them. 

Put these two things together and you have this:

  1. To get existing ILC owners to update or upgrade their gear—particularly those at the upper end of the camera spectrum—you need to give them much more useful features, far better performance, while not costing them an arm and a leg to get those benefits.
  2. To get new ILC owners to grow the market—particularly those that might buy a lower end or simpler camera—you need to make image sharing easy and not slap on confusing user interfaces they have to take a lot of time to learn.

Camera makers aren't exactly doing either. And thus, the mirrorless may be causing the contraction in camera sales, as mirrorless is the newest thing that should be attracting both those customers.

Fujifilm X-Pro3 Announcement

bythom fujifilm xpro3

Fujifilm today officially announced the X-Pro3 after teasing it last month in Japan. For the most part it's what you'd expect: an update of the X-Pro2 to current technologies. That includes using the 26mp X-Trans sensor, incorporating the latest X-Processor 4, as well as updating the displays.

While the Fujifilm press release leads with some down-in-the-weeds things, the big news here is really those displays. 

The EVF portion of the hybrid viewfinder has been updated to a 3.69m dot OLED that covers 97% of the sRGB Color Space. Moreover, at high speed it runs at either 100 fps or 200 fps (with a unique black frame signal to make for visual smoothness frame to frame). The overlay for the OVF side of the viewfinder has been updated, as well.

On the back of the camera, the tilting and touchscreen rear LCD actually lives mostly with its face to the camera. That's because there's an additional "Memory LCD" on its back side to provide settings information full time. The main 1.6m dot LCD folds down from the back now, and flips to an 180° position max.

The X-Pro has always been a unique camera in the market, given its hybrid viewfinder. Personally, I've always found the X-Pro a bit on the gimmicky and clumsy side. I'd be curious as to the actual statistics of how people are using those early X-Pros. In other words, how much of the time they're in optical viewfinder mode versus how much they're in electronic viewfinder mode. I suspect that people aren't switching as much as Fujifilm thinks between the alternatives.

But more to the point, there's another issue that now comes up because of the way Fujifilm is handling the rear LCD. It appears that Fujifilm has a clear design bias in the X-Pro series toward folk who used old rangefinder cameras and don't want to spend time in the menus or even reviewing images on the camera. That audience is, at this point, getting old. Fujifilm also seems to be saying that this same audience isn't all that interested in one of the primary advantages that kicked the digital camera adoption into high gear, that big rear LCD. 

Each big "breakthrough" in camera tech that generated a growth spurt in ILC solved a clear user problem. Automatic metering solved the user problem of setting the right exposure. Autofocus solved the user problem of putting focus in the right spot. DSLRs solved the problem of not seeing your results instantly so that you could understand what you might still need to change.

The hypothesis behind the X-Pro design is that there is a group of photographers who know exactly what they're doing and don't need or want to see results most of the time. Call them the Totally Secure-in-What-I'm-Doing Shooters. Okay, maybe, but how many of those folk are there actually? And are they really that secure? Are they not chimping at all? To me, the change in rear display adds another clumsiness to an already somewhat awkward camera.

This is all a long-winded way of saying: what user problem is Fujifilm trying to solve with the X-Pro3? I'm not sure what that is, and I'm pretty sure it isn't for me if I don't know what the user problem was.

Because of that, the X-Pro3 feels a bit more like an experimental playground for some high-end Fujifilm engineers more than as a camera specifically targeted to win over new customers. There's other evidence of that, as well, including the titanium exterior, the spec to 10°C usage, and more. The US$2000 price for an APS-C camera also puts the X-Pro3 in a crowd by itself. 

The bulk of the XF buying is still going to be the X-A7, the X-100, the X-T30, and X-T3. Nothing changes in that because of the introduction of the X-Pro3. To me, the X-Pro3 is a little more targeted to catering to the Leica crowd than the general photographer. 

Of course, the proof is always in the actual camera use. Given that much of the X-T3 inside migrates to the X-Pro3, it should be a very capable shooter. The question is whether all the exotic add-ons add enough for us to consider it for daily shooting over the X-T3. 

Update: after handling the X-Pro3 for a short time, I like it better than I thought I would. That said, I still have two concerns about this camera: (1) the optical viewfinder has been downgraded in several ways, so I'm now less likely to use it, which makes me wonder why I need it and have to spend more for it; and (2) having a touch interface on a rear LCD that isn't accessible in the preferred shooting configuration is another downgrade; if the camera is completely configured exactly how you need it, great, but the minute you have to drop into the menus and use that rear LCD, it's sub-optimal compared to even the X-A7. So I still think this is a camera for a very specific type of shooter. That shooter is not me.

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Olympus E-M5 Mark III Announcement

bythom olympus em5m3wlens

Today Olympus announced the long-leaked and long-wished-for E-M5 update, the Mark III. Not a particularly exciting announcement, but it does bring quite a few significant updates to the model. 

For instance, the sensor has been upgraded from the old 16mp version to the 20mp sensor in the E-M1m2 and E-M1X. The EVF, though it has dropped slightly in size, is now OLED, so better in terms of presenting a less cheap TV-like appearance. The sensor stabilization now improves to 6.5 stops (CIPA) with lens IS, 5.5 without, from 5. The camera also gets better weather sealing with an IPX rating of 1 ("protects against 10-minute sustained dripping"), even though the body has been made slightly lighter.

4K video can be captured at up to 30 fps, and Cinema 4K (DCI 17:9) can be shot at 24 fps with a high bitrate. 1080P video has 120 fps slow motion capabilities.

As usual, the EM-5m3 has all the features you'd expect from Olympus: live composite, live bulb, pro capture (pre capture), focus bracketing, and focus stacking. Olympus shooters were wondering whether the high-res shot mode would be included. Yes, you can shoot 50mp high resolution images with eight sequential shots, but it does not support handheld shooting, as many had hoped.

The camera uses the BLS-50 battery and can be charged by USB. Unfortunately, that's USB 2.0. The single SD card slot is UHS-II. 

The E-M5m3 will sell for US$1200 body only, or US$1800 with the 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II kit lens. Units should be available in November. 

Along with the E-M5m3, Olympus also introduced the updated E-PL, now at E-PL10. Not much seems to have changed: and we have some minor changes to some Art Filters, some new colors, some minor updating. No price has been set, though availability is listed as late November. Update: The E-PL10 is currently only going to the Japanese and Asian markets.

All in all, the E-M5m3 seems to be a miniature E-M1m2 at a lower cost. There are very few compromises in picking it over its more expensive brother. Which now makes the E-M1m2 the camera that needs significant updating in the Olympus lineup, as it sits in small window between the E-M5m3 and the E-M1X.

All the reasons I liked the E-M1m2 for backpacking into the back country have now migrated to the E-M5m3, making for an even smaller and lighter kit (at least if you do a good job of choosing appropriate lenses). To that end, I applaud Olympus. Still, I have to wonder if the E-M5m3 and E-M1m2 are too close together in specs and capability. We've long had leap-frogging in these two Olympus models. The E-M5m3 doesn't really leapfrog this time, it mostly lands on the butt of the frog ahead of it. I worry about that because it's difficult for a camera company to sell cameras that are close together in capability these days.

Olympus has been in volume contraction for some time, a problem all the camera companies have been facing recently. Olympus management tries to place much of last year's decline on "reorganization of production bases..." Funny thing is, this year's sales forecast is about the same as last year's (+2.7% isn't really a change, and the first quarter's results say that it hasn't shown up yet, so the E-M5m3 is probably the key driver of that prediction).

Here's the progression that's important: 550k, 450k, 420k, 340k. That's the unit volume of m4/3 cameras that Olympus shipped over the past four fiscal years. Also, 29% of m4/3 sales for Olympus is in the home market itself, Japan. 

Olympus is forecasting 330k units in the current fiscal year, though I'd be remiss if I didn't note that they've missed every such forecast they've made since 2012 (last year they overestimated by about 15%). The problem Olympus now has is that Canon and Nikon are also in their market space, while Olympus hasn't had a camera that resonates in any way with the overall market since 2016. 

The E-M5m2 is now over four years old, so it's somewhat likely that there's potential for reasonable upgrading to the E-M5m3 among customers to happen (though I suspect a number of those potential upgraders went to the E-M1m2 or left m4/3). But here's the thing: Olympus needs more than one new model to resonate in order to stop contracting, and that resonation has to be for more than just existing current owners to upgrade. Put a different way: the E-M5m3 is not going to make a significant change in the economic dynamics of the Imaging group at Olympus. 

Nor do I think the also announced E-PL10 is the answer. Yes, it will help to update that entry model, particularly in Japan, but I'm not sure that it, too, will generate enough upside to make a real change to Olympus' volume.

Basically, Olympus makes m4/3 bodies and Tough compacts these days. The latest Tough compact is 12mp, same as an iPhone 11 Pro, which is also waterproof. The Tough is 25-100mm f/2-4.9 as opposed to the iPhone's 13-50mm f/2.4-2 (yes, that's correct; the ultra wide is the most limited aperture, the wide is actually f/1.8, and the telephoto is f/2). Leaving aside the sensor equivalency issues for a moment, to customers those specs seem similar, not dissimilar. I kayak from time to time, and last time I did so I used a Tough, mostly for its waterproofing and raw file support. Next time? Probably the iPhone 11 Pro based upon my initial evaluation of that phone (yes, it too has raw file support, at least in the camera apps I use).

So erosion is likely not just in the m4/3 side of things for Olympus Imaging, it's happening in compact camera sales, too (down 20% last year for Olympus). 

This, of course, brings up the age old question: is the continued decline enough so that Olympus will give up its camera business? No, not likely. But not because they'll manage to make the group recover in volume or make it significantly profitable ever again. Mostly they'll keep producing cameras because the parent company can cover the losses easily, and you simply don't close down businesses in Japan due to both cultural and legal issues. 

So I believe we're left with "more of the same" for Olympus. And indeed, the E-M5m3 and E-PL10 feel a lot like "more of the same." Olympus is a small fish getting smaller in a pool that's also getting smaller. They probably won't breed (produce new and upgrade existing models) as often as before, and they likely won't evolve much (pioneer completely new features). Frankly, I see them as a three-model ILC company (entry, enthusiast, prosumer/pro). They'd be more successful making sure those three models were dead-on perfect than they would proliferating models and updating models that overlap too much. 

Which brings us to image sensors. When you sign up to use a sensor with Sony Semiconductor, your pricing is variable based on your volume commitment level. Because large sensors—1" and bigger, which includes m4/3—are generally the highest cost part in a camera, everyone commits to higher volumes to bring the cost down. Olympus made a number of strategic errors in Imaging. One was that they didn't create a compact camera (and these days that would be a Tough model) that used that m4/3 sensor. The XA equivalent with a 4/3 sensor never appeared.

Yes, that would have sent their compact cameras up-market (higher cost), but that's exactly what Olympus needs to do across the line: minimum number of models, all upscale from competition, sold at a small premium. Of course, now the problem is whether a camera with a 20mp m4/3 sensor can actually be seen as premium. Fujifilm and Canon are selling low cost APS-C cameras now that outperform the 20mp m4/3 sensor in a number of ways. Nikon just entered the crop sensor market below the E-M5m3 price point.

That's why I wrote "Olympus made..." strategic mistakes. The problem is that if you make mistakes in tech you generally don't get a re-do. You can't just reverse your decision, because the world around you has moved by the time you do. 

Here's the world as it will be soon: serious cameras bought by well-heeled customers only. Full frame is going to sit in the US$1000-2000 pocket for entry level, and that entry level is remarkably sophisticated and performance-oriented. APS-C is going to sit mostly in the <US$1000 position, and it, too, is turning out to be sophisticated and performance-oriented. There's literally no traction point for a US$3000 m4/3 camera (E-M1X). The traction point for the E-M1m2 (and eventual m3) is also probably now down to US$1000, certainly not anywhere near the list price of US$1700 (current sale offer is US$1500, still on the high side). 

So what I expect from Olympus is more "withering." Much like Pentax, Olympus will continue to make cameras. Updates will get farther apart with fewer new features, model availability will drop, and the whole market for Olympus will become "how many current owners can we get to upgrade?" 

When that happens—your market changes from new and existing customers to just existing customers—your sales and distribution should probably change, too. Too bad Olympus doesn't really know who their still active owners are. (They're not alone in that: camera companies are notoriously poor compared to other tech companies at getting customer registration and then engaging that customer well enough to understand and delight them. You might note, for example, that any Apple product you buy pretty much requires an Apple ID to be fully functional, so Apple knows who you are and if you're active; even though Apple isn't aggressive about using that data by promoting back at you they have a wealth of statistics they can aggregate anonymously that help them understand their customer.)

Finally, there's this question: why doesn't Olympus just make a full frame camera? 

Again, I wrote that Olympus made a number of strategic mistakes. Not making an OM4-like full frame camera with small primes was probably one of those. The problem with full frame mirrorless is this: you could easily predict that the Big Three that dominate ILC sales (80%+ market share) would go there. For all three it was just "slide over from DSLR to mirrorless." Sony did it first, and now Canon and Nikon in are in full swing with that. Note that Canon took the full frame entry price all the way down to US$1300, which is US$700 below where Nikon and Sony really want it to be. (And we're going to have some massive sales coming up this holiday season, which will pressure all price points.)

m4/3 and full frame would have been a natural fit for Olympus: m4/3 for price and size advantage, full frame for high-end practitioners still looking for something smallish. Those sensors, all else equal, are two stops apart (as opposed to the one-stop apart of APS-C and full frame, which leads to a lot of "which should I buy questions"). 

Moreover, Olympus could have probably targeted size with full frame, too, had they gotten there early enough. An OM-4 was 139 x 87 x 50mm and 540g. While that's very near where Sony ended up with the A7, there's a lot Olympus could have done to bring that size down some more (the 139mm width was mostly dictated by getting film flat between the two reels, for example). And the real Olympus advantage in the film SLR world was small, discrete primes. The 35mm f/2 was 240g and only 42mm in length, for example (still shorter than the Sony 35mm f/1.8 FE even if we add the additional mirror box dimension). 

Now, of course, not only is Sony there with smallish full frame bodies, so is Nikon. Third party lens makers, such as Samyang, are also bringing compact primes to market, as well. So entering the market last with full frame mirrorless Olympus' original SLR size advantages wouldn't actually have a lot of traction now: they'd be competing fairly closely with the Big Three, and they won't win that game.

You'll notice I keep using the word "traction." To avoid contraction, you must have traction. Sony clearly has traction in the mirrorless market at the moment. They believe size/weight and technology are their traction points, though I don't think those will hold up to time for Sony.

To get re-established and reverse decline in the ILC market, you have to have something new that starts a new traction engagement, not just iterate old models with existing sensors. And that's Olympus's problem: they're currently only iterating older models with existing sensors. No real traction. 

Even with iterating Olympus gets it wrong. The E-M1X shouldn't exist. Just add the extra processor and create an E-M1m3, not a new model (let alone try to charge US$1200 more for it). 

Thus, I don't have a lot positive to say about Olympus' position in the market these days. Sure, the E-M5m3 looks like the upgrade it needed to be, but it's likely to seriously cut into E-M1m2 sales if people are rational. Plus it's not a model that feels as competitive these days as it once did. Olympus will get a small, temporary blip from postponed upgraders, and I think that's about it. After that blip goes away, it's back to the contraction game for Olympus I fear.

Corrected the IS and E-PL10 information.

The Full Frame Lens Situation

One thing that gets overlooked in many discussions about mirrorless lenses is where everyone is in their actual cycle. Sony introduced the A7 and A7R and FE lenses in 2013, Canon and Nikon introduced the RF and Z lens mount cameras and lenses in 2018. Sony thus had five years head start on Canon and Nikon, so they'd damn sure better have more lenses at this point ;~). The current count is 30 for Sony, 8 for Canon, 8 for Nikon. 

But where did Sony stand three years in? Because that's what we should compare with now that Nikon has announced their lens road map through 2021. Canon doesn't have a road map, though there are enough leaks to give us an idea of what they're up to. Let's take a look, shall we?

Canon RF Nikon Z FX
Sony FE
Primes 24mm f/1.4 L
35mm f/1.4 L
50mm f/1.4 L
85mm f/1.2 L
105mm f/1.4 L
135mm f/1.4 L
20mm f/1.8 S
24mm f/1.8 S
28mm ?
35mm f/1.8 S
40mm ?
50mm f/1.2 S
50mm f/1.8 S
58mm f/0.95 S
85mm f/1.8 S
28mm f/2
35mm f/1.4
35mm f/2.8
50mm f/1.8
55mm f/1.8 ZA
85mm f/1.4 GM
Zooms 15-35mm f/2.8 L
24-70mm f/2.8 L
24-105mm f/4 L
24-240mm f/4-6.3
28-70mm f/2 L
70-200mm f/2.8 L
14-24mm f/2.8 S
14-30mm f/4 S
24-70mm f/2.8 S
24-70mm f/4 S
24-105mm ? S
24-200mm ?
70-200mm f/2.8 S
100-400mm ? S
200-600mm ?
16-35mm f/4
24-70mm f/2.8 GM
24-70mm f/4 ZA
24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
70-200mm f/2.8 GM
70-200mm f/4 G
70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G
Specialty 35mm f/1.8 Macro
90mm f/2.8 Macro
60mm Macro
105mm Macro S
28-135mm f/4 G
50mm f/2.8 Macro
90mm f/2.8 Macro

Total 8 produced

5 rumored

13 total (likely to be higher)
8 produced

12 known

20 total
16 produced

16 total

Update: I had originally left the 14-24mm f/2.8 out of the table. It's been added.

In the case of Canon, I've had to use clear rumored and hinted at lenses to fill in the table through the end of 2021. I suspect there will be at least two or three additional lenses that I haven't caught. Which would put them on par with Sony's first three years in the FE mount. 

The more interesting thing is how the initial lens choices for the new mount differ between the three companies. Nikon is executing a full series of f/1.8 primes and a broader zoom range then Sony originally produced. Nikon also seems to emphasizing higher quality lenses than Sony originally did (thirteen S-Line Nikkors versus six G or GM Sonys). Canon's lens list sure looks like there's a higher end camera coming soon, otherwise it makes little sense.

Canon and Nikon are, of course, are both relying upon their established DSLR lens base to tide them over until they can get to parity with Sony. The Canon and Nikon mount adapters have been included with just about every sale, and both do an excellent job of making DSLR lenses useful on their mirrorless systems. Thus, existing Canon and Nikon users probably now seem like viable full frame systems with no need to switch. 

Of course, there's this: if you were buying from scratch today, Sony's in a better position, simply due to that head start. 

Update: I've been getting a lot of feedback on this article. A good portion of it is seems to ignore that last line ("if you were buying from scratch today..."). 

So why do this article? For the same reason I was trying to moderate knee-jerk opinions back in 2014 and 2015 with the Sony FE mount! A lot of people forget that Sony pretty much abandoned the A-mount to fully pursue mirrorless. Meanwhile, their initial FE mount lens choices seemed a bit anemic. The 28-70mm was really poor, the 24-70mm f/4 Zeiss was poor in the edges and corners of the frame, though the 70-200mm f/4 was pretty decent. Sony also initially seemed to keep executing 28/35mm and 50/55mm primes for some reason.

Canon and Nikon both will end up with a trio of high-quality, pro-level f/2.8 zooms faster than Sony did. To me, this bodes well: both companies understand that they have a long way to go to get to absolute lens parity, but they're putting emphasis on key optics in a way that shows to me that they're very serious about this market and will do what it takes to eventually satisfy users.

So I look at the present scene for Canon and Nikon DSLR shooters much like I looked at the scene for Sony A-mount back one and two years into the FE bodies: Canon and Nikon are moving faster, and it's far easier to see where they're headed from the initial road maps. People don't remember that Sony A-mount users were leaving Sony in 2014 and 2015 for Canon and Nikon DSLRs, and both the apparent abandonment of the A-mount and the strange mix of initial FE lenses was part of the reason.

For Canon and Nikon DSLR users now in the same position, they have a choice: switch to Sony FE or transition to Canon RF or Nikon Z. I'm going to call this one: those Canon and Nikon users have more and better information than the Sony A-mount users did at the same point in Sony's transition. 

Finally, a lot of folk think the race is over and Sony has won. They apparently haven't paid a lot of attention to history or understand the dynamics of a company like Canon (Nikon's more quirky, as cameras are the only real consumer business they have; everything else at Nikon is pretty much business-to-business). 

Sony's right to be highly aggressive right now. It's their last chance before the battleship (Canon) and cruiser (Nikon) lock onto them with their full battery. But here's the thing: this is exactly what we as customers want to happen. Strong competition between Canon, Nikon, and Sony will keep all three on their toes and improving their products and fleshing out their lineups. If you just want Sony to win and Canon and Nikon to fade to oblivion, you're asking for mediocrity down the line. No need for all that R&D investment if you don't have competition.

My View on the Nikon Announcements

As often happens, Nikon was a bit all over the board with their latest announcement, putting a lot of grist in the mill to contemplate all at once. Realistically, this was mainly just a camera-plus-kit-lens announcement, but the bundle of all the other stuff into their press releases makes it seem like more. Let's deal with that other stuff first. 

  • The MB-N10 battery grip for the Z6/Z7. Yeah, you can see why they buried it with other announcements. It's very late, under-developed, and over-priced (at US$199). As expected, you pull the EN-EL15b out of the Z6/Z7 camera body, pull off the battery compartment door, and mount this thing up through the resulting hole, locking it via the usual tripod mount wheel. It's a tiny bit more than that just two-batteries-in-plastic-case, though. You do get a USB-C socket to charge the batteries from (must be EN-EL15b). You also get visible battery indicators on the grip itself. Hot-swapping of one battery is possible, and the design is said to retain and extend the weather sealing of the Z6/Z7 bodies. 

    Blah, blah, blah. The MB-N10 is not the right solution to any problem. If it's more power you need—the one job the MB-N10 does—Nikon should have just made the Z6/Z7 capable of shooting when powered via the USB-C connector on the camera. If it's a vertical grip you want, well, you got a grip without any controls, which makes it useless.

    Sadly, serious time-lapse shooters will probably have to buy this battery grip.

  • The ML-L7 Bluetooth Remote Control. Nikon finally snuck this thing onto the market recently after it lingered in manufacturing limbo for awhile. And guess what? The preferred remote control for the Z50 is...wait for it...the ML-L7. I've been waiting for a camera to test it with, and finally, here's something other than a Coolpix Lens Monster that uses it. 

  • New Lens Road Map. Nikon added eleven lenses to their Z mount lens road map (the two DX lenses announced with the Z50 should be in that count, but others aren't counting them ;~). Other than the three DX convenience zooms, these new lenses fall into four categories:

    1. Compact primes. Finally. Nikon has decided that small might be beautiful after all. We get 28mm and 40mm lenses, which kind of straddles the DX/FX focal length needs. Still both are going to prove to be immensely popular on all the Z cameras, even though they're not S-Line. So much so that someone at Nikon is going to go "Doh!" and slap themselves in the forehead. Maybe the entire management team. Problem is, Samyang is probably going to beat Nikon to compact primes as they move their FE mount work to the Z mount, and Samyang has more focal length choices. So there's another possible "Doh!" and head-slapping moment for Nikon: they get there too late with too little.

    2. Micro-Nikkors. Oh, Nikon. Once again we get the 60mm and 105mm focal lengths. Apparently there are lot of folk doing copy stand work still under employment at Nikon (e.g. the 60mm is a derivative of the original 55mm Micro-Nikkors, which with their short working distance were really designed to copy large format flat artwork on a big copy stand). The first two Z macros should have been 105mm and 200mm, in my opinion. But at least we'll finally get some native macro lenses that work with the Focus Stacking feature of the Z6/Z7. Note that only the 105mm is an S-Line lens, so that just makes it even more of a head scratcher why Nikon thought a 60mm model was necessary.

    3. FX Convenience zooms. We get an S-Line 24-105mm and a non-S-Line 24-200mm. That sounds about right. The success of both will depend upon their apertures and pricing. What's missing is the convenience telephoto zoom, so the 70-300mm AF-P on an FTZ adapter is going to have to hold that position for awhile longer.

    4. Telephoto zooms. Here come some serious telephotos, finally. We get a 100-400mm S-Line and a 200-600mm that isn't. These seem to be the 80-400mm and 200-500mm equivalent for the mirrorless side. 

    The thing that's missing from the new road map is exotics. The recent 120-300mm f/2.8, 180-400mm f/4, and 500mm f4 PF seem to indicate that Nikon's still targeting F-mount for the big statement lenses I call the exotics. I don't have a problem with that. All those lenses seem to work fine on the FTZ adapter, and I don't see the point of cutting off those who are fully committed in the F-mount at this point for an extra piece of integrated plastic instead of an FTZ adapter. It does suggest that a Z9-type camera isn't coming in 2020, though. The F-mount D6 will have to hold serve in the wildlife/sports/PJ markets for the time being. 

    One thing I'm already hearing from Nikon users is reinforcement of what I've been saying for over a decade now ("publish a roadmap"): the roadmap is full and well-considered enough that many of the Z-mount skeptics are now more seriously planning if and when they'll make the switch. Funny how that works. Let your customers into your basic plans and strategy, and they stop complaining and start making their own plans on how they'll get to your new products. Some industries (autos, mobile phones) do this by having yearly new models, with some hinting and foreshadowing of might be changed. The camera industry? Until mirrorless, they just thought consumers were mindless soles that would just buy whatever they put out. Nikon was last to mirrorless. Nikon was last to roadmaps. See, it wasn't so difficult, was it, Nikon?

  • The NOCT. I've already written my say on the NOCT, and nothing's changed since getting a closer look at it. I will point out that this is likely going to be a lens you find at rental shops. The videographers tend to rent expensive gear rather than buy it, and if the NOCT really produces a look as dreamy as suggested, it will be a popular rental with some video users.

Which brings us to the Z50. 

Simple version: Nikon got it mostly right. This is going to be a broadly appealing camera, and it's at a good price point.

That's not to say that they got everything right. I'm not sure why we need the Scene exposure modes when we already got the extension of the Picture Controls with the Creative Picture Controls on the Z6/Z7 and now Z50. Nikon needs to pick a lane here. 

Nikon's marketing seems to indicate that they're pushing this camera towards consumers, even though they say it's an Enthusiast camera. I think consumers are not who will buy it. It's clearly an enthusiast's camera when you look at it carefully, and it's going to provide a low-cost sampling point for the serious D300/D500/D7xxx/D600/D7xx/D8xx user to try the new Z mount. Indeed, I'd suggest that they do, as the Z50 with the primary kit lens is an excellent choice as a small walk around, travel camera that you keep with you all the time.

Moreover, this is another magnesium chassis with decent weather sealing, much like the Z6/Z7. Nikon avoided the plastic-feel build that a lot of its competitors use. 

Enthusiasts are going to be griping about a few things, though:

  • No thumb stick, and no touchpad control of focus points while looking through the EVF. This means we're back to the Direction pad to move focus (or your eye is away from the viewfinder). And the Direction pad isn't well positioned or built for this, as Nikon knows full well from the early DSLR era. 
  • No Wireless Commander mode for the built-in flash. The camera supports Wireless, but only via infrared and only with a Commander-capable flash in the hot shoe.
  • The lack of a remote port that supports the DM-MC2 type remotes and accessories (including the radio wireless WR-R10). The Bluetooth better work right on this camera.
  • The change in battery. Yep, a new battery and charger. Just when we were getting fully standardized in our travel bags, here comes another wrinkle to deal with.
  • No enthusiast DX lenses. Once again you have to look to the FX lenses for "more" than the consumer convenience zooms, and then the lack of on-sensor VR and the size of those lenses starts to detract from the pleasant, small usefulness of the Z50.

That said, Nikon has just proven that Sony still needs to do some work on making those small Alpha cameras fully ergonomic. The Z50 basically feels like a near perfectly downsized DSLR. Nikon's excellent ergonomics have been scaled quite well, and the body is instantly familiar to any long-time Nikon user. Here's the sentence that caught my eye in Nikon's press materials, which shows that they understand this: "Premium construction in an ergonomically compact camera." 

Almost certainly a Z30 is coming (I know it was prototyped). Personally, I'm not sure it should be Nikon's next priority. Stripping down the Z50 to hit a Z30-type price point is going to start impacting many of the things that the Z50, Z6, and Z7 have done right, I suspect. I'd say leave that market to Canon to pursue with their dead-end M200 type cameras and do something else that appeals to those that have a long history with Nikon.

And that would be a Z70/Z90 type of camera. Something that adds to the solid foundation that the Z50 provides us. Look at that griping list above, and you start to see how such a camera would shape up.

Update: Nikon may be more clever than we gave them credit for. After thinking about it, consider this lineup:

  • DX entry: Z30 (a Z50 without the EVF, a few other simplifications)
  • DX enthusiast low: Z50
  • DX enthusiast high: Z70 (in the Z6/Z7 body and adds the things that come with that: on-sensor VR, top LCD, better rear LCD, better EVF, XQD/CFexpress)
  • FX entry: Z5 (in the Z50 body with a full frame sensor [yes, that works]). Because of the Z50 simplifications, it can be cheaper than the Z6 and compete with the RP.
  • FX enthusiast low: Z6
  • FX enthusiast high: Z7

Add a pro Z9 and you have a full range of bodies with lots of parts/manufacturing overlap. Then as you iterate, you push the Z6 to 36mp, the Z7 to 60mp and you have more differentiation from the entry FX body. Likewise, you can roll a new, higher pixel count sensor in the Z70 to add differentiation, too. 

Nikon's re-thinking the mirrorless re-entry certainly put more than an extra year into the wait before we got to see what they were up to, but they may have used that year wisely and gotten a great deal of lineup rationalization all ready to roll. (Now watch Nikon mess this up! ;~)

The 58mm f/0.95 NOCT Finally Appears

Nikon today officially announced the 58mm f/0.95 NOCT lens for the Z mount cameras. This lens seems to trigger a lot of bimodal discussion, and that started with the original development announcement. It’s time to put a few things in context. 

bythom nikon noct

First, let me describe the lens. It's a big beast, weighing in at 70.6 ounces (2000g). Yes, over four pounds. It's really designed as a showcase piece, with Nikon trumpeting edge to edge sharpness, even wide open. Typically, lenses at f/1.4 and faster tend to be weak at their maximum aperture, with lower contrast and other compromises made. This is a no-compromise design, inside and out. Like the original NOCT, the new lens also controls coma and spherical aberration in ways you don't see in other lenses.

We get a new Nikon optical technology, Arneo coating. This is an anti-reflective coating that works with Nano coating to further reduce ghosting and flare. Nano coating removes ghosting from light coming in diagonally, Arneo removes it from light coming in perpendicularly. 

Bundled with the lens is a Pelican-style carrying case.

That all sounds interesting until we get to the price: US$8000. 

Now, let’s get to the arguments. 

One big complaint has been “why were engineers wasting time on the NOCT when we needed Nikon to produce other lenses that would be of more use to us?” 

First, while Nikon has been marketing this lens as a statement of possibilities that the new Z mount opens up for optical designs, it actually doesn’t push design anywhere near as far as it could. If Nikon wanted to test the limits of the mount optics as far as they could, we’d be down around f/0.5, which is a place we’ve never really been before.

Nikon appears to have chosen an option here that has a somewhat better balance between possible and useful, though there’s plenty of argument on the Internet about that usefulness. So let’s delve into that. 

At 58mm, f/1.2, and 5 feet we have about a quarter of an inch depth of field on a 45mp camera printed to 20". I use that as an example because f/1.2 seems to be what people are asking for—we’ll get a Nikon 50mm f/1.2 Z mount prime in 2020—and it’s already illustrative of a point. You need a lens motor that can move a lot of glass fast and very, very precisely to achieve correct focus with such small DOF. We’re already talking about a distance offset equal to focusing on the retina of a subject versus their eyebrow at f/1.2. At f/0.95 precision focus gets even tougher with even narrower DOFs while moving big chunks of glass. 

58mm NOCT cutawayx

Note how big and dense the glass is in the NOCT.

Nikon went to manual focus on the NOCT partly for that reason: moving that much glass fast and that precisely would have really bulked up the lens and made it unusable. You'd also either have to put up with hunting or inaccuracy, as even static human subjects might be moving in and out of the narrow focus plane at f/0.95. Who actually would want such a lens? 

As it turns out, videographers and filmmakers. And they won’t want fly-by-wire focusing, they want highly precision manual focus. Which is exactly what the NOCT provides. (Though Nikon totally missed something here by not putting a gear ring on this lens.)

It seems to me that Nikon had a tough choice here. If they went all-in for what was possible in the new Z mount, we’d be getting a even more mammoth lens that nobody would want to use. If they didn’t do something beyond the usual state-of-the-art primes, they wouldn’t have anything they could point to that illustrated what is possible down the pike. 

What they choose was a lens that’s in between those two points, one that yes, is big and heavy and has manual focusing, but one that actually might find a small user base, particularly in the video world. I’m doubting the NOCT will have a big impact on the still photography world, though as always with “new stuff” you’re going to find some top pros trying to figure out how to use the NOCT to do some work that helps them stand out from the pack.

So exactly how does such a lens stand out? Well, obviously I haven’t tested it yet, but given Nikon’s claims, examination of shots from the Nikon Ambassadors, and the likely impacts: (1) nice bokeh that doesn’t degrade elliptically into the corners; (2) a really gentle and smooth transition from focus plane to out-of-focus; (3) acuity well out towards the corners, even wide open; plus (4) higher contrast than we’ve gotten from any f/0.95 lenses shot wide open before. Oh, and zero coma in the corners, which is one reason why Nikon highlighted its use for astrophotography.

When they launched their full frame mirrorless line, Canon quietly gave a presentation to subsidiaries, some press, and a few partners about what the RF lens mount provides in optical design that the old EF mount didn’t. In Canon’s case, the primary mount change is that they’ve reduced the flange distance (the throat opening doesn’t really change; remember, Nikon’s Z mount has an even shorter flange distance and a bigger throat opening, so everything Canon says applies even more so to Nikon’s new mount.)

The big takeaway from Canon’s presentation is what happens at the rear of the lens, and how light rays bend less with certain optical designs. You end up not doing as much ray correction, particularly near the back of the lens, and lens elements can be bigger there (which has an impact on size of lens elements up front). Canon is using those differences to also do what I’d call more demonstration lenses than practical ones (e.g. the 28-70mm f/2). You also clearly see this new design focus in the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 S, which has very large rear elements with modest light bend, and a modern front optical design.

But clearly the word from both Canon and Nikon is the same: the relaxed constraints of the new lens mounts allows their designers to use new and interesting optical formulae that produce lenses of size, quality, and ability that we haven’t seen before. 

So we’re back to the complaints about the NOCT: is it practical? 

Simple answer, no, not for most people who’d buy the Z cameras. But I don’t see that as much different than the Nikkor 19mm f/4 PC-E in the F-mount, actually. That tilt/shift lens is stellar, so much so that I had one architectural photographer write me saying that the acuity was so high that it produces images that look fake and more like line renderings (we’re just not used to that level of acuity in photographic imagery).  

Personally, I’m happy that Nikon pursued the NOCT. In doing so, they almost certainly were learning aspects of how their new mount works and how they might optimize for that in future lenses. Will I buy it? Nope. It's not a lens that really comes into play for the photography I tend to do (I should note I already have an original NOCT and the 58mm f/1.4 in F-mount). Will you buy it? Probably not, for the same reasons. I’d put the new NOCT in what I call the “exotic” list (high-priced, high-performance, special-interest lenses). In fact, it really belongs in the "highly exotic" list, a very short list that includes such lenses as the Nikon 6mm f/5.6 fisheye, and maybe the 8mm f/2.8 fisheye that is most noted for being the eye of HAL 9000 in 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Is it insane that Nikon produced the NOCT? Not at all. It gives us a better understanding that the new mount has promise for future lenses. Not that we really need that. The 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 S lenses are the best lenses Nikon has ever produced at those focal lengths, and arguably are in the discussion of best 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm you can buy. The 24-70mm f/4 kit lens also turned out to be about as good as the best 24-70mm f/2.8 pro lenses at f/4, which is also saying a lot, and the 24-70mm f/2.8 turned out even better. 

So the NOCT, now announced and soon to fall into two or three shooters’ hands, is welcome, but not for most of us. It’s a halo product, and a pretty dramatic halo at that. 

All that said, I think this is another miss by Nikon. The Z mount is capable of a lens down to at least f/0.55, possibly more. If you're going to produce a lens that's a halo product showing everything that's possible in the new mount, then you should go all in. Nikon didn't. For some reason they went part-way. 

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Nikon Z50 Announcement

Nikon today announced the Z50, their first APS-C mirrorless camera, as well as two Z-mount DX lenses for it. 

bythom nikon dx

The Z50 uses the D500/D7500 sensor with phase detect autofocus cells added, meaning this is a 20mp camera using a very well-established and high-performing sensor.

Nikon's using the term "insanely small, amazingly bold" in at least some of its marketing material. Indeed, the Z50 is smaller than the Z6 and Z7: a bit (0.3") smaller in width, depth, and height. But I wouldn't call that insanely small, even with the remarkably small kit lens (see below). Ultimately, the Z50 will be regarded as "smaller" if customers perceive the entire system they pack as taking up less space, which I think Nikon succeeds at here. 

From a pragmatic standpoint, Nikon is also using the term DX still, so this is the start of the Z DX system. More on that in a bit, too.

The design looks like a Nikon 1 V2 mated with a Canon EOS M and adopted some genetic material from the Nikon D5000. By that I mean it's a squat little DSLR-like body with a big EVF/flash that hangs off the front and back of a slim body, and which uses the old D5000 tilt down 180° rear LCD idea that has failed over and over again in practice to truly excite anyone. 

I think the idea is that this allows handheld selfies (there's a lot of Instagram references in the marketing materials). But think about it for a moment, the lens has to focus to about a foot-and-a-half to make that work at all, and you're going to see a lot of arm in your shot at 24mm equivalent when you do. For vlogging, the problem is worse. Most serious vloggers are going to want to put the camera on a gimbal or stick, and that restricts the usefulness of the tilting LCD. Nikon did make it so that most buttons and camera controls are disabled in the 180° flip, so that you don't accidentally miss-set something while handling the camera that way. The touch screen is still active, though.

That flip down LCD seems like a slightly lame nod to the Instagram crowd to me. In practice, I'll bet we see few using it, and I'll bet that the folk that buy this camera are going to complain about the lack of fully adaptable tilt (e.g. up/down).

Some people are liking the overall body design (other than the flip down LCD), some seem to think it's a little too busy and frumpy. My take is that the Z6/Z7 seemed that same way to many when photos of it first appeared, but in practice, most people seem to think the Z6/Z7 design is decent once they handle the camera. I suspect the same will prove true for the Z50.

The Z50 features Nikon's dual Command dial ergonomics and a significant hand grip, which is good news for all those complaining about the soap bar designs of many of the small cameras. Likewise, Nikon's kept a wide array of their usual buttons (including two front Fn buttons) and paired that with a new on-screen set of quick task touch areas that function as buttons. Unfortunately, quite a bit of cheese (buttons) is moved on the Z50 from the Z6/Z7, which is disappointing. 

(I would have voted for the DISP and i button to move to the LCD panel while leaving everything else the same. Unfortunately, sometimes new designs have trickle-down effects: the button on the left of the EVF became the Flash Release, so now you have a button starting to migrate. When it migrated to where the Playback and Delete buttons were, then the complete cheese shuffling began. I think Nikon does themselves a disservice every time they think that "consumer" = different customer, and that moving stuff like that is okay.)

There's a bit of simplification from the Z6/Z7: we lose the Drive Mode plus the dedicated zoom buttons, which move to the LCD touch panel; no top LCD panel; we lose one Custom U# position and gain new EFCT (Effects) and SCN (Scene) positions, which is consistent with the consumer cameras; there's no thumb stick. We do gain the ML-L7 Bluetooth remote control, though, which I think is going to be more important than the flipping LCD.

This isn't really a stripper, entry-level camera like the D3xxx DSLRs were, and probably sits somewhere between the D5xxx and D7xxx lines in terms of capabilities and handling. Nikon's even brought back the pop-up flash over the viewfinder.

In terms of technical specs, the camera will shoot 11 fps, the EVF is 2.36m dot, which is down from the Z6/Z7's 3.7m dot one and has about .7x magnification (Nikon's marketing is starting to do the CIPA cheat, claiming 1.02x magnification and ignoring the crop), the rear LCD goes back to the lower cost 1.04m dot one, and the mechanical shutter is only good to 1/4000 (and 1/200 flash sync). Some of those specs are downgrades from the Z6/Z7, but I think appropriate for the price point and market of the Z50.

At US$860 for the body only or US$1000 with a 16-50mm kit lens (keep reading), the Z50 is priced just a bit over the old, and I mean old, D5xxx price point. That price basically puts the Z50 up against the Canon M6m2, the Fujifilm X-T30, and the Sony A6400. When looked at that way, the new Nikon body looks pretty competitive. The camera and lenses will be available "in November."

Meanwhile, we get two Z DX lenses: the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and the 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR. Yeah, no sensor stabilization in the Z50. It appears that Nikon will put that into the Z DX lenses they produce instead, much like they did with DSLRs. These two kit lenses are collapsible, further emphasizing the small/light nature of the Z50 for travel. The f/6.3 long end apertures are a bit disappointing, but given how compact a Z6 with the 24-70mm f/4 already is, I can see exactly why Nikon went for making the Z DX system much more compact by compromising a few things like aperture.

Indeed, the 16-50mm is smaller than many "compact" primes. In its collapsed position it barely sticks out at all. How Nikon managed to get VR into such a small space is probably an interesting technology bit we'll eventually learn about. The 16-50mm is claimed to be 4.5 stops CIPA, the 50-250mm is 5 stops.

The Nikon crowd (and the competitor's fan boys) are talking a lot about the Z50 already. The camera is being pre-judged by almost every one of those forum posts you see. Just like the Z6 and Z7 were. So let's do a better evaluation of the pluses and minuses:

What Nikon Got Right

  • APS-C finally makes it to Nikon mirrorless. I've been writing for some time that this had to happen. You need a lower-priced feeder system, and DX DSLRs don't feed full frame mirrorless particularly well. But let's be clear, Nikon got to APS-C mirrorless seven years after Canon and Fujifilm, and nine years after Sony. That's a huge head start to give competitors. 
  • The kit lens goes to 24mm equivalent at the wide end. After producing 18-xx lenses for the DX-sized sensor almost forever (in digital camera years)—which is a 28mm wide equivalent—Nikon has finally given us something that can be truly said to go wide angle. 
  • The frame rate wasn't stifled. At 11 fps, the Z50 is out of D3xxx/D5xxx territory and into D500 territory. The sensor tech Nikon is using enables fast offload of the data, and for a change they didn't limit a lower end model arbitrarily. At least not in frame rate.
  • The ergonomics look better than the Sony A6400, while the specs and price look similar. It's too early to tell without doing extended shooting, but on first handling it appears that Nikon didn't sacrifice ergonomics for size. Like the full frame Z's, Nikon's claim to fame continues to be making good handling cameras that put controls where the photographer needs/wants them. Sony has started cleaning up the controls/grip on the A7 series, but still has menu and naming confusion to deal with. 
  • Nikon didn't use up the single digit names. I know that single-digit Z# for full frame and double-digit Z## for crop sensor seems wrong to a lot of people, but I think this is the right choice. It provides for fairly extensive (1-9, and 10-90) model potential. Not that I think we need nine full frame and nine APS-C cameras. Probably three or four of each is more than adequate. But with a single digit used for both, that would leave no room for shoe-horning in another model if the market could sustain it. Coupled with Mark II type nomenclature, this naming system should work fine for the number of cameras Nikon is likely to produce, and it clearly differentiates the lines (where D500 and D850 don't, for example). 
  • It's ready for 2019 holiday shopping (barely). It's going to be interesting to see how Nikon positions this new entry against all the Nikon DSLRs they need to need to still sell. But the real point here is that Nikon can finally begin to stop the last big leak (which was DX shooters moving to Canon, Fujifilm, or Sony mirrorless APS-C). 

What Nikon Got Wrong

  • At launch, really wide angle support is lacking. 21mm full frame equivalent is currently as wide as we get in the Z lens lineup at the moment (with the full frame 14-30mm f/4 S). That's something that will need to be corrected quickly. Yes, you could stick one of the DX wide angle zooms on an extra cost FTZ Adapter, but that sort of misses the point of APS-C versus full frame in mirrorless. APS-C absolutely needs to provide true system compactness and simplicity. 
  • The lack of in-body VR is a bit of a problem. Note that recently I wrote about solving user problems, not adding features/performance. Thing is, in-body VR really does solve a problem for a number of users who simply can't hold a camera steady enough in all situations (and that goes double for video). Especially on a small, light camera. Of course, in-body VR is a big expensive part, as well as something that adds weight, bulk, and battery consumption. In all likelihood this is a bean counter decision. I hate bean counter decisions as they tend to compromise what would be a better product. The problem is doubly concerning because virtually all of the existing and known future Z mount full frame Nikkors you might use on this camera lack VR. Those amazing 50mm and 85mm primes? Not stabilized on a Z50, right where most people would want and need it. The only good news here is that the direct competition doesn't have sensor-based IS at this price point. If product marketing had won instead of the bean counters, it would have been because the right camera at this price point with IBIS would be perceived by customers as better and therefore be an easier sell.
  • The new battery seems like a mistake. Sticking the SD slot in the smaller grip's battery compartment meant that the EN-EL15 was out of the question. Nikon has a long history of issues supplying new camera accessories quickly to market demand, which includes batteries and chargers, unfortunately. We'll see how fast we can get extra batteries for the new camera, but history doesn't predict well for Nikon here. That the new EN-25 battery also has a lower Watt Hour rating than the EN-EL15 isn't encouraging, either. And, now we need a new charger, too: MH-32.
  • The product number may be wrong. If indeed the Z50 is supposed to slot in at the D7500 equivalent spot as Nikon seems to want to imply, Nikon marketing messed up. The name should be Z70 so that people understand the line this new product sits at the end of. The D70 DSLR was one of Nikon's best-ever selling products, and that group of users has been one of the more diligent about upgrading (though many have no upgraded to full frame). Meanwhile, the D50 DSLR wasn't so venerable or well liked (and the eventual D5xxx were generally overlooked by serious shooters because of its compromises). You just don't want people thinking this is the mirrorless version of that. Silly mistake, though Nikon might be thinking that they will iterate multiple models above the Z50. Still, that would have left Z80 and Z90, so exactly how many models was Nikon planning for? The entry camera should be the Z30, this camera should be the Z70, and if Nikon gets around to a D500-type of camera to match their flagship full frame, that should be the Z90 (which would match the likely Z9). 

Not a Big Deal

  • 20mp sensor instead of 24mp. We're talking about 5568 versus 6000 pixels across the long axis. You can't see a 7% increase in resolution. Truly. Given that Nikon is using a current and proven photosite technology, I'm fine with the sensor decision. 
  • f/6.3 versus f/5.6 on the long end of the lenses. Yes, this is a third of a stop, and no one wants to lose light with smaller sensors. But it's also only a third of a stop. I watch people make exposure errors greater than that all the time. In terms of focus performance, mirrorless isn't like DSLRs, where f/6.3 starts to be a focus performance problem.

Overall, the Z50 looks less like a D7500 done mirrorless than a dead-on Sony A6400 competitor. I think that's a bit of a mistake, but it's not a fatal one: Sony is indeed the one competitor that Nikon needs to match or exceed, and Sony's engineers have mostly been mailing in their A6xxx updates, in my opinion. 

Spec by spec, the Z50 matches up decently against the A6400. Not perfectly, and certainly not clearly exceeding the A6400, which is pretty much the same thing that Nikon did with the Z6 versus the A7 and Z7 versus the A7R. I personally don't like the fact that Nikon didn't exceed Sony on any of these cameras (other than ergonomics). Perhaps that wasn't possible on the development schedule once Nikon made the all-in push to mirrorless. 

Long term, Nikon will need to start showing where they're better than Sony, not equal to them. That's as much a marketing problem as it is a technical one. For example, I and many others believe that the Z6 sensor produces easier to post process raws than the same sensor in the A7m3. The A7m3 has bigger files, bigger gaps in the raw data, and the compressed version of Sony files can produce clear artifacts on high contrast edges, for example. Marketing that difference would be tough to do for a good marketing organization; it's impossible for Nikon's.

Finally, we have to talk about lenses (buzz, buzz ;~). In DSLRs, none of the major players created a full lens lineup for their crop sensor cameras. Canon, Nikon, and Sony all stuck pretty much to consumer spec zooms with DSLRs. In the mirrorless world, that won't work so well, primarily because one-and-a-half of the competition already has a full lens lineup. (The one is Fujifilm, the half is Sony.) Moreover, another crop sensor competitor, m4/3, has a fuller lens lineup. 

Along with the camera introduction, Nikon released a new lens road map for the Z mount. That includes one additional DX lens (18-140mm) and raises the question of whether or not Nikon is once again seeing crop sensor as "just consumer."

On the other hand, Nikon did add a 28mm and 40mm compact prime lens to their Z lens schedule (full frame lenses that could be used on Z DX). So maybe they're trying to play the game a little trickier this time.

As far as I'm concerned, Nikon now needs a full set of Z lenses for APS-C. Above and beyond what Nikon has announced they're working on, at a minimum I'd put that at:

  • 14mm f/2.8 (~20mm equivalent)
  • 16mm f/2.8 (24mm equivalent)
  • 23mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent)
  • 35mm f/2.8 (50mm equivalent)
  • 10-20mm f/2.8-4 (15-30mm equivalent)
  • 16-50mm f/2.8-4 (24-75mm equivalent)
  • 50-135mm f/2.8-4 (75-200mm equivalent)

Note I'm being relatively relaxed on aperture here, which some of you may object to. There's a reason for that: the APS-C Z's have to live in a system size world that's clearly smaller than the full frame Z's. I would argue for smaller lenses over faster lenses. Moreover we have 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 S lenses that can provide faster aperture if that's what you really want.

I worry that Nikon will once again make some fundamental mistakes with crop sensor: (1) that crop sensor is only about consumer convenience zooms; (2) that serious shooters only want full frame; and (3) that full frame f/1.8 lenses can suffice for crop sensor, too (e.g., they don't need that 35mm f/2.8 because they already have a 35mm f/1.8 S; at 50mm and above, that's possibly true, but below that, no). 

All said, Nikon's finally made it fully to the mirrorless party. They still have their work cut out for them—additional camera models, more lenses, new flash/accessories—but we can now see the shape of things to come. Nikon's targeting reasonably sophisticated users with solid first generation products and promising more. 

I suspect the Z50 will sell better than most people predict. Being last to the APS-C mirrorless market gave Nikon a chance to dial in their design so that their first iteration stands up strong against everyone else's fourth through eighth generation. At US$1000 for the basic kit, the Z50 is actually priced a little bit competitively for Nikon. 

Final comment: Nikon's left broad room at both ends of the DX camera spectrum. Their original strategy plan for DX mirrorless was two entry cameras. They've instead come to market with one in the middle. I have no doubt we'll see a low-end model appear under the Z50 to eventually replace the D3600. And I suspect we'll see a higher end model to replace either the D7500/D500 or to be the new D300/D500 pro-camera-in-DX form (I vote for the latter). But as with F-mount DX, I think that Nikon needs to pay more attention to the lens selection they produce. Two consumer convenience zooms aren't going to cut it (buzz, buzz). 

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My View on the Sony A9 Mark II

It really seems like the Sony fan view of the world has just experienced a large disturbance in the Force. 

a9 v a9ii

Personally, I thought the changes to the original A9 that Sony made with the Mark II are well considered, and useful for the type of photographer that would really need such a fast/sports-oriented camera. I look forward to testing out that hypothesis. So many of the things I was complaining about at Kando 2.0 in 2018 have been dealt with it almost feels like Tanaka-san and company actually listened to me. 

The Sony forums across the Internet, though, are filled with disappointment (or more) about the A9m2. Here's my response: not every camera that is released is the one for you. If it was, then you'd be switching cameras every two weeks ;~).

Sony clearly wanted a camera that would match up well against the Canon 1DXm2 and Nikon D5. Moreover, a camera that would show off the benefits of mirrorless over the old DSLR way. That camera was the A9, launched in 2017, and originally targeted at making a big impact at the Korean Winter Olympics. 

The A9 had almost no role at those winter games. Why? Because some of the things that were important or useful to the pros shooting those games just weren't there yet. I'm not just talking about available lenses (the 400mm f/2.8 was only in prototype then). The FTP on the original A9 had issues that made it not work with some of the agency servers. The camera didn't report serial numbers in the EXIF data, which is how a lot of the agencies track their shooters. And more. Quite a few of these little "gotchas" showed up in February 2018, and most of the action images you saw from those games were again shot on the pro Canon and Nikon bodies. 

To Sony's credit, they've released firmware updates to deal with most of those bits and pieces that involved software—we're now on firmware 6.0—and if we were all headed to PyeongChang right now, the A9 would do a lot better than it did in 2018. I'd still have a tough time finding the AF-ON button with gloves on, though ;~).

The A9m2 now fixes a lot of the hardware issues that came to light since the original model first appeared, including that AF-ON button. So things bode better for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics for Sony. As I noted, I look forward to trying out the new voice-to-text capability, as that could be something that takes the traditional sports camera a step further. 

In my opinion, Sony has done the right thing: they've taken the second best sports camera on the market—I still regard the Nikon D5 as the best—and improved it in many of the things that the shooter that truly cares about this type of camera should embrace. Of course, we still don't know what the Nikon D6 and Canon 1DXm3 are going to look like, and both will appear before the next Olympics, so there may still be catch-up that Sony has to do. 

But catching up, they are. As I've written before, if I were coming out of college today and wanting to specialize in sports photography, the likely best choice for me today that doesn't bust the starting-out budget would be a Sony A9 (original model, not the Mark II). The next best alternative would be a Nikon D500.

So I don't get all the negativity on the various Sony fora across the Internet. Let me directly address the primary complaints:

  • The A9m2 should have been 36mp. This nonsense comes out of pure fandom about sensor tech and rumor mill click-baiting. "Move the bar!" they chant. (Okay, they yell in all caps. ;~) The problem is that sports photographers don't want or need that particular bar moved. Just the opposite, actually. You might note that the Canon and Nikon pro sports cameras lag the consumer/prosumer cameras in pixel count. There's a reason for that: our deadlines are amazingly tight, and every extra pixel we have to move slows us down. Moreover, the clients using our work aren't demanding more pixels, as the primary uses actually all will have them downsizing what we do send them.
  • The A9m2 is terrible news for wildlife shooters. Uh, why? Because it isn't 36mp? ;~) Sports and wildlife photography have many similarities, but also several differences. Many want more pixels on their wildlife cameras because they aren't getting close enough to the animals or don't have the right lens. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy at shooting wildlife with 24mp full frame (see today's article on dslrbodies). But a more curious fact lies in the way of this complaint: no camera maker is really making a wildlife-oriented camera. Wildlife shooters are using either sports cameras or general purpose cameras for their work, and dealing with the compromises/consequences that derive from that. I'm not sure the camera companies actually hear the wildlife photographer clearly, and that includes Canon and Nikon as well as Sony. 
  • The A9m2 should have had the A7Rm4 EVF. Uh, maybe? I'm not sure that you can drive the higher resolution EVF the same way the A9 EVF is run, and it's important that you retain that low lag, blackout-free feature in any update to the A9. There's a limit to how fast you can move the technology bar without pushing price way, way up. The EVF is one of those places.
  • The A9m2 needed better video. No, not really. Thing is, if you're shooting NCAA or pro sports, you're likely highly restricted in shooting video due to licensing rights. Moreover, the places you'd use such video don't need anything better than what the A9 can do today. Sony sells a full line of video gear, and has other models in the A7 lineup that have more emphasis on video.
  • The A9m2 is a terrible upgrade for A9 users. Really? You're spending US$4500 on a new camera every two years? You either have an infinite bank account or you're not amortizing gear very well for your business (and you'd have bought an A9 over the A7m3 because you had a business need, IMHO). I've written this for well over a decade: in the digital age: skip every other generation of camera upgrade. You'll do just fine, trust me. Your A9 didn't stop working (and the firmware upgrades make it a far better camera than it was when you bought it). You replace your camera when you need to, not because the camera maker is at the corner again with the latest batch of the drug you're addicted to.  

The primary complaints seem to center around (1) Sony didn't do enough; and (2) This isn't the camera for me. 

Yeah, that last one: if you're complaining, the A9m2 isn't the camera for you. Simple as that. For some of us, though, Sony was clearly paying attention to our complaints and took a decent-sized step in addressing them. 

Here's the real reason why you're hearing so much dissatisfaction about the A9m2, A7Rm4, A6100, and A6400 updates: Anonymous Sony fan boys are having a difficult time finding some supposedly compelling tech to rally behind and shout their claim that "Sony is the Bestest." 

Next thing you know, they'll be asking for the coach to be fired. 

Seems to me the Sony team is doing just fine. 

Sony A9 Mark II Announced

Sony today surprised everyone with a press release type announcement of the A9 Mark II model. Frankly, I'm surprised, particularly given what changed with the camera, which really needs demonstration to show off.

bythom sony a9ii

Let's talk about what didn't change: still the same 24mp sensor with 20 fps electronic shutter, and with the same 693-point phase detect autofocus system as before. Sony mentions some tweaks and refinements that play into the sensor, exposure, and focus systems, but none of these really rise to the level of what I'd call interesting. Put another way, those changes wouldn't compel me to move from the original A9 model.

Physically, the camera gets a few noticeable changes. The weather sealing has been improved, particularly on the bottom of the camera. The grip has been subtly improved again, more matching the A7Rm4 changes. Indeed, we get the "better" AF-On button, thumb stick, and exposure compensation lock button first seen on the A7Rm4. Having been using the A7Rm4 for awhile now, I can say that Sony seems to be finally getting a handle on the...well...handling of their cameras. 

To me, there are two changes that attract my attention.

First, the mechanical shutter has been improved and will do 10 fps and with less vibration. The new shutter is tested to 500k cycles, which is sort of the pro standard that Canon and Nikon established. One thing that I found in shooting with the A9 with a lot of sports was that I didn't use 20 fps (all electronic shutter) for various reasons. So the improvement on the mechanical shutter side was one that I asked for, and I look forward to testing it out.

The more important change, though, is some interesting workflow bits and pieces. Many will look at the 1000BASE-T Ethernet, 5 GHz Wi-Fi support, and USB 3.2 Gen 1 data transfer mechanisms as workflow improvements, as basically every way you can get an image off the camera wired or wirelessly has been improved. Moreover, both card slots are UHS II, so one slot isn't going to slow all that down (unless, of course, you put a slower UHS I or older card in it ;~). 

More interesting is that the A9 Mark II now has voice memo capability. This is something I've enjoyed on my Nikon DSLRs since the D2h pioneered it over a decade ago. That said, Sony picked up on something I asked for that Nikon never did: automatic voice-to-text translation into the IPTC fields. Yes, it takes Sony's Imaging Edge application to do that, and Sony's description of its optimal use really centers around using the built-in FTP server, but it's a start. Moreover, this links into the new Transfer & Tagging capabilities of the camera, which allow you to embed IPTC data.

All in all, the A9 Mark II looks like a reasonably solid evolutionary update to hardware features. If Sony makes the same commitment to firmware updates over its lifetime that they did to the original A9, I think this will turn out to be a well-rounded camera, and one that appeals to all those agencies sending photographers to the 2020 Olympics. 

Your move Canon, Nikon.

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