Where Are We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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