Where Are We, Really?

At least once every year I try to come up with a state-of-the-market article. I don't stick to one boilerplate when doing this. Each year I try to vary the way I write about the market so that you get a fresher angle to consider. Here's my latest thoughts.

You might have noticed that I recently split the "current" camera database from the "older" camera database on this site. While some will beef with where I've made the cutoff, the cameras in the latter category either are no longer being made, or are only being made until parts supply is exhausted; a new model has replaced them. 

This means that the "current" APS-C sensor cameras are:

  • Canon M5 (likely to be retired soon)
  • Canon M50 (likely to get a Mark II update soon)
  • Canon M6 Mark II
  • Canon M200
  • Fujifilm X-Pro3
  • Fujifilm X-T4
  • Fujifilm X-T30 (likely to get an update soon)
  • Fujifilm X-T200
  • Nikon Z50
  • Sony A5100 (likely to be retired soon)
  • Sony A6100
  • Sony A6400
  • Sony A6600

Fujifilm still has the X-E3 and X-A7 for sale, but I think both will go away soon.

The range here is from 20mp (Z50) to 32.5mp (Canon M6 Mark II), with everything else falling in between. As I noted over 15 years ago now, 24mp is a good choice for APS-C, as mathematically it ends up in a spot where you aren't dealing with diffraction or lens resolution all the time. Put another way, APS-C is quite mature. It's likely to take some new sensor technology breakthrough for me to want a different sensor than the ones we've already got, which are all really good.

Moreover, many of these cameras are quite small (M6, X-T200, Z50) and most of the rest are not particularly large. This is a travel-friendly category as long as the lenses you desire are available for what you want to do (not at all certain in the Canon and Nikon mounts). For casual to serious shooting outside of some photography niches, I'd be happy with almost all of these, though I'd grumble about ergonomics and feature set availability on a few.

The "current" full frame cameras are:

  • Canon RP (likely to be replaced with an R7 or R8)
  • Canon R (likely to be retired soon)
  • Canon R6
  • Canon R5
  • Nikon Z5
  • Nikon Z6 (about to be replaced with the Z6 II)
  • Nikon Z7 (about to be replaced with the Z7 II)
  • Panasonic S5
  • Panasonic S1 (how does this really fit long-term with the S5 in the lineup?)
  • Panasonic S1R
  • Panasonic S1H (mostly interesting to video users)
  • Sony A7C (mostly interesting to video users)
  • Sony A7 Mark III (likely to be updated in 2021)
  • Sony A7R Mark IV
  • Sony A7S Mark III (mostly interesting to video users)
  • Sony A9 Mark II (likely to be updated in 2021)

You'll notice that there are now more full frame options than APS-C options in my "current" list. As Canon and Nikon continue to build out their lines, I'm pretty sure that trend will continue.

Finally, we have the "medium format" cameras:

  • Fujifilm 50S
  • Fujifilm 50R
  • Fujifilm 100
  • Hasselblad X1D Mark II

Don't get confused by the models that still linger on shelves but have technically been replaced. The above is pretty much the state of the current mirrorless market. There's really not a dud among the bunch (disclaimer: I haven't tested the Hasselblad). Certainly, there are better cameras than the others overall, and some are better options at specific price points (something I'll write about more once the holiday discount season is upon us). 

You might have noticed a few models in bold in the lists. Those are cameras I think you need to pay close attention to. They are excellent for their price/feature set, and tend to represent very unique points in the current camera market. (I'm not going to try to make that assessment with the video-heavy cameras, as I don't push video hard enough to make the same conclusions yet).

You probably also noticed I didn't make a 4/3 sensor list. Best case, m4/3 next year is going to be 50-66% of the market size it is this year, and it's already gotten to what I'd call the "small, niche" size. It's unclear which of the current cameras are really going to survive the coming m4/3 contraction—remember, that contraction actually means that the rest of the mirrorless market is growing—and at least two of the m4/3 models are "mostly interesting to video users." Both Olympus and Panasonic started making larger models when one of the great perceived benefits of m4/3 was "smaller size." With larger-sensor cameras such as the Nikon Z50 now showing up in the "smaller size" category, I have to ask myself "what's the benefit of m4/3?" 

So, about 40 mirrorless cameras basically need to produce something over US$2.5 billion in annual sales to the Japanese camera companies right now. That seems to be holding true for the moment, but there's not a lot of beef left on the bone, and little margin for error now. When I talk to the executives at any of the camera companies, they're all worried about the future. They're starting to realize that there are too many fish in the pond, or at least too many of the wrong fish in the pond.

Yet, from a consumer's viewpoint, it's a buyer's market right now. You've got plenty of excellent options to consider. Moreover, you do have some older cameras that are still desirable to consider, as well, and they're often on deep discount (or will be in the coming holidays). 

As often happens in niche markets, customers are getting pickier and pickier. The whole "must have two slots" notion, for instance, would seem to imply that we had cameras that were failures for the last 50 years. Yes, dual slots is a nice-to-have option, but it's not the thing that would make for more sales in the market. I see a lot of the "complaints" about current mirrorless cameras more just coming up with a justification for not buying one. 

So let me put it a different way. Force me to just use mirrorless cameras from only one maker in the Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony set, and I'll be fine. The gear that I'd end up with might not be perfect, but neither were my previous DSLRs. Meanwhile, the lenses in the mirrorless world are better (particularly true of Nikon, and becoming true of Canon).

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