Several years ago, when mirrorless cameras made their appearance, en masse, it was unclear who would buy them. Would low-end, point and shoot users move up to a better camera or would it be DSLR owners opting for a lighter system? In the beginning, most manufactures tended to play the middle but skewed towards entry-level. Turned out, they guessed wrong.
Now the successful mirrorless companies have steadily moved to the higher end. All cater to either DSLR owners scaling down or getting a second, lighter system. Let’s look at the mirrorless companies garnering the most attention, Olympus, Fujifilm and Sony.
Olympus started with the lower cost and smaller Pen cameras but they found greater success with the premium OM-D line. Starting with the E-M5 but breaking through with the E-M1, Olympus has steadily brought higher-end mirrorless cameras to market. The same goes for lenses. With the low to mid-level lenses covered, Olympus is busy filling out their Pro line, weather-sealed, constant f2.8 zooms.
Fujifilm has built a noteworthy lineup of X cameras, starting with the unexpected success of the X100. They quickly moved into interchangeable mirrorless cameras with matching premium lenses. And while they have some entry-level X-M1 and X-A1 cameras, they don’t seem to garner much press. The top end X-T1 gets all the love.
Sony started with the low to mid-level NEX 3 and 5 and moved up the ladder, over the years. While they make the highly regarded Alpha a6000 (and lower end models) it’s the full frame Alpha 7 line that attracts the attention. Along with their partnership with Zeiss, I expect Sony to fill the gaps in their lens lineup with nicer glass.
I almost consider Panasonic more of a video player these days, rather than for still photography. They too get the most attention with their top of the line GH3 and GH4 cameras. Their solid, smaller cameras never seem to gain any notable traction.
Pentax is the odd duck. Their Q system is the least expensive but has a surprisingly satisfying line of lenses. While I’m sure they will always remain a niche player, their small camera is designed for serious photographers. It’s odd. It has a compact sensor but features that are clearly aimed for the experienced. There is a passionate following that have discovered this jewel of a system, including myself.
The two big guys, Canon and Nikon appear to be lost. Clearly their mirrorless offerings where created deliberately to not compete with their DSLR line. They were hoping to cater to the point and shoot move up crowed. As we saw, this was a mistake. Canon’s EOS M was dead on arrival. The Nikon 1 system is better and has potential, but unfortunately doesn’t have the lens selection to attract the serious move down DSLR crowd. Both companies have stated that they are now taking mirrorless seriously with new models on the way. But are they truly willing to release premium cameras and risk cannibalizing their DSLR sales?
So how about the future? I expect more of the same. Olympus, Fuji and Sony will continue to build on their strengths and plug their weaknesses to take on Canon and Nikon via mirrorless. They don’t have a choice since their DSLRs never broke through the Canon and Nikon hegemony. Most of the point and shoot crowd will, if they haven’t already, move to smartphones. The few wanting to move to a better camera will opt for the large sensor compacts like the successful Sony RX100.
I’ve been predicting the slowdown of DSLRs for years but it finally appears to be happening. Perhaps that’s why Canon and Nikon are starting to take mirrorless seriously. While Canon and Nikon are the most recognized in the camera world, will their brand be strong enough to overcome their mirrorless deficits?
The others have a big head start in lens selection. And I would argue for the serious shooters — the kind that would replace their DSLRs — they need a strong selection of quality lenses. Legacy Nikon and Canon glass may work, but are you getting the benefit of a mirrorless system? No, not really. Adapting old DSLR lenses to mirrorless is just a stop-gap. The big question for the big two will be, are people willing to accept this stop-gap as a viable solution? We’ll see.
Please support this blog by clicking on my Amazon Link before buying anything.