A lot has happened since I posted my Mirrorless Camera Trends report in 2015. With the 2016 Photokina and PhotoPlus Expos completed, we have a good idea about the current state of the camera industry. No surprises. Mirrorless camera introductions continue to dominate the market, and the trends that I talked about last year, continue to accelerate.
It became clear, a couple of year ago, that mirrorless cameras needed to go upmarket — to cater to professionals and enthusiasts. Inexpensive, entry-level mirrorless did not sell. Rather, it was the DSLR owners that were downsizing to smaller systems. This year, there were two big announcements that moved mirrorless beyond full frame sensors.
Hasselblad was up first with their 50MP mirrorless X1D medium format camera. Then, at Photokina, Fujifilm jumped into the fray with their own 50MP GFX mirrorless system. Both companies are featuring entirely new mounts for their respective line of new lenses. Quite a serious investment. These are not sports cameras, so they won’t challenge Canon and Nikon for action, but for portraits and landscapes, it may be an entirely new ballgame.
Sony probably has established themselves as the king of mirrorless, with their full frame A7 line, as well as their Alpha APS-C cameras. While Sony’s APS-C cameras are very good, it’s the full frame A7 cameras that have stolen the show. With the three Mark II cameras joining the original line of three, Sony has six full frame mirrorless cameras, at various price points. Though their lens lineup still is far behind Canon’s and Nikon’s DLSR offerings, they, along with Zeiss are making steady progress.
Fujifilm is truly hitting their stride with mirrorless. While the original Fuji cameras have a passionate following, with great image quality, they were lacking in speed. They’ve had a couple of generations to address their weak points. Now, with the X-Pro2 and the X-T2, and their stellar lineup of lenses, they have a truly compelling system. Add in the medium format GFX on the high-end, as well as the X point and shoots and you have a very deep lineup of high quality, high-end cameras.
Olympus continues to do what they have always done well — create high quality smaller cameras. They’ve been building out their Pro line of weather sealed, large aperture lenses. Their advantage? The best selection of lenses in the mirrorless market, killer 5-axis image stabilization and beautifully crafted, stylish cameras. The recently previewed OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which sports DSLR like speeds, even exceeds in frame rates. Also, early in 2016, they released their beautifully retro PEN-F, which is my personal favorite. I got to use it for a while and I have written an extensive Olympus PEN-F review.
Panasonic has also continued to move upscale, along with the rest of the mirrorless players. Their video centric GH5 will be arriving soon, which features a 6K photo mode. While not as retro and stylish as Olympus, Panasonic makes very capable cameras that excel in hybrid still and video photography. Their no-nonsense bodies with beefier grips are also more ergonomic than Olympus, especially with larger lenses. Panasonic also continues to extend their lens lineup and since Panasonic and Olympus share the same micro 4/3 lens mount, they both benefit.
Pentax, which is now owned by Ricoh, dropped their mirrorless Q line. It’s a real shame because I really enjoy my Q7. And while these cameras did well in Japan, they didn’t sell very well in the U.S. But this is not surprising, since the Q doesn’t fit with the upmarket mirrorless trend that I’ve mentioned.
Canon finally introduced a capable mirrorless camera, the EOS M5. It basically takes all of the features of the EOS 80D DSLR and puts it into a mirrorless form factor. Too bad Canon didn’t release a more cable camera, years ago. While Canon dithered around, everyone else added to their strengths. While the M5 is capable, its features are not exceptional and with a small lens lineup, Canon has an uphill battle. Perhaps their biggest strength is their smooth autofocusing in videos. The touch screen also works well to pull focus between subjects.
Finally, there’s Nikon, which is the biggest puzzle in the mirrorless industry. They’ve had a capable lineup of small 1” sensor mirrorless cameras, for a while, but they never took off. Nikon never built out its lens selection and its feature set did not appeal to the high-end user, except for niche markets like bird photography. There are rumors of the Nikon 1’s demise. The mirrorless future is the most uncertain for Nikon.
With DSLR sales in steady decline, the coming mirrorless takeover continues. DSLRs will always be around. They are capable, especially for action and sports, but their advantage continues to erode. It appears that the established mirrorless players have scoped out their niche and building upon their strengths.
The wild card is Canon and Nikon. While Canon is probably in better shape, both of them are in weak positions. So what’s their strengths? Their extensive collection of DSLR lenses and their DSLR technology. Unfortunately, these strengths don’t help them in the mirrorless market. A classic example of disruption.
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