When I bought my first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera in 2010, a Sony NEX-5, I knew instinctively that mirrorless was the future of photography. I optimistically forecasted the demise of DSLRs years ahead of time. Today, nine years later, it’s finally happening. DSLRs aren’t dead yet, but I think everyone agrees that mirrorless is the future. Even Canon and Nikon have begrudgingly acknowledged this.
All the major players now have worthy mirrorless cameras, but each uses a different strategy. There are four full frame mirrorless systems, from Sony, Nikon, Canon and now Panasonic. Panasonic has the micro 4/3 format, along with Olympus. Fujifilm is going forward with APS-C, larger than micro 4/3 but smaller than full frame.
This past weekend was Precision Camera’s biannual Sales Expo where I sampled all the wares from the majors. After touching, fondling, shooting, and analyzing, I have solid opinions about all the players.
Sony is the king of mirrorless full frame and the other three players have not threatened their position, it appears. They have the most lenses, the maturity, and they’re on their third generation. Technologically and specs wise, their cameras beat the competition. I saw a lot of confidence at the Sony booth. In terms of ergonomics, user interface and their color, they are not my favorite, however.
Canon released two cameras the EOS R and the EOS RP. A mid-level model and an entry level model with a premium RF lens lineup. So far, their introduction has been disjointed and their products are confusing. They retain excellent compatibility with their DSLR EF and EF-S lenses. That’s the high point and it’s all downhill from there. Not including in body image stabilization was a lost opportunity.
Panasonic had surprise entries into full frame with their S1 and S1R models. I got to see them for the first time last weekend. The camera bodies are so dense and large that they can pound nails or split rocks. The smug Panasonic Rep bragged that they took inspiration from the Nikon D850. I smiled, nodded and thought, “having a body as large as a D850 is not a feature”. There’s more to mirrorless than small size, and I know having a robust body has some advantages, but is this thing too big? I’m definitely not the target market for the S1. With a dearth of native or adaptable lenses, they have an uphill battle. Perhaps video will be their savior.
That leaves Nikon with their Z6 and Z7, their two mid-level cameras. They have good compatibility with a good many of their DSLR lens, though not as comprehensive as Canon. Nikon also released rational new mirrorless Z lenses. Their ergonomics are my favorite out of the full frame bunch. If I were going to buy a full frame mirrorless, clean slate, I would pick the Nikon Z6.
APS-C and Micro 4/3
In addition to their very formidable full frame line, Sony also has an APS-C lineup. For years, Sony threw darts at every conceivable camera niche to see what sticks. Unlike full frame, their APS-C mirrorless was never the breakout hit. Consequently, their APS-C line languishes, especially their lenses. They do update their cameras and they have class leading focusing. The Sony Rep told me that, this year, they will put more effort into APS-C lenses. That said, I would be wary of their commitment. Though luckily, you can use full frame FE lenses on the APS-C line and vice versa.
Canon has the EOS M APS-C line with is completely incompatible with their new EOS R line. Their mirrorless approach seems disastrous. I would really be wary of buying into EOS M cameras.
Panasonic has a thriving micro 4/3 camera and lens lineup. Their strength is in video. They are part of the micro 4/3 consortium along with Olympus. I’m wondering how Panasonic will allocate resources between micro 4/3 and their new full frame S line. They are committed to both, but you know that one will have to win out, eventually.
Olympus remains fully committed to micro 4/3. Having the smallest sensor format has advantage and disadvantages. They make for smaller cameras and lenses with higher performance and the best image stabilization. Image quality, especially at high ISOs is reduced compared to the larger sensors. As you know, my current mirrorless cameras of choice is Olympus. With my interest in travel and street photography, the smaller system best suits my needs.
Fujifilm has a unified and impressive lineup of APS-C mirrorless cameras and lenses. They have the most consistent and rational line of camera bodies and a remarkably rich set of lenses. They have traditional camera controls with a loyal following. If I didn’t shoot Olympus, I would be shooting Fujifilm. Their compact prime lens lineup works wonderfully for the type of photography I love. Their one big downside is the lack of in-body image stabilization.
The camera industry continues to go through a prolonged contraction. The capability and popularity of smartphones have decimated the compact camera market and continues to reverberate up the chain to premium cameras. Are one or more of these players going to exit the market? Where is Pentax? Are the nearly dead? It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens over the next several years.
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