Sunday 5 July 2020

A Few More Thoughts on the State of the Industry

Three Seasons
A7 II, Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S

Well, it looks like we're headed into the season of major camera announcements.

Olympus just updated their roadmap with a neat new 8-25mm f4 Pro to add to the list of new lenses that have been announced but nobody actually expects to ship anymore, along with the 150-400 f4.5 and 100-400, plus a couple new placeholders for lenses that they can announce but never ship (yes, I'm a little skeptical of Olympus announcements).

Panasonic announced a neat little VLogger-oriented G100 that continues the evolution of their m43 stuff into a primarily video-oriented line as the G line joins the GH line as video-primary bodies, leaving only the GX's as primarily stills-oriented.

Canon has a major event scheduled for July 9th, with 2 new R bodies and a boatload of lenses coming.

Nikon has an expected announcement in late July with at least one Z body and a few lenses expected.

Sony has announced that they're going to announce the long-awaited A7SII replacement sometime soon.

Fuji is rumoured to have two new mid-range X bodies coming, although what those actually end up being is anybody's guess, remember the X lineup includes Fuji's large-sensor P&S models as well as X mount and the X100 line. I'm betting an X-T30 or X-E3 update and a large-sensor P&S.

Pentax actually published a lens roadmap, which has a FF 21mm Limited and a 16-50 update, along with what looks like a super-tele zoom of some sort, all coming in 2020 or later.

So where does that leave us.

For Olympus, some folks expect a new body, I'm one of them. the new body will assuredly be the OMD E-M10IV and it will either be an E-M5III in an E-M10III body (most likely), or a Pen E-PL10 in an E-M10III body (less likely). I think they'll be trying to get down to one sensor across the line, which is why I'm betting on the E-M5III being the basis for the E-M10IV, making the 20MP sensor common across the OM-D line, with the last PEN standing being the only outlier. They need to ship some of the lenses they've announced, but I'm not betting on that as I suspect that they simply won't have the income stream to support production of these new lenses.

For Panasonic, I'm expecting a GH update at some point, but the real news would be a compact L body to go with the brilliant little 20-60 zoom they just announced. A 70-300 for L mount would be great from either Sigma or Panasonic. The 20-60 just doesn't make sense without a compact body to mount it. An off the wall possibility would be an L mount GH body, using an APS-C sensor. All this is speculation though, as nothing has hit the rumour mill yet.

Canon is making its play now to become as dominant in FF mirrorless as it is in crop (yes, EF-M is actually the best-selling crop system as it sells a lot of low-end bodies). The R5 and R6 look to be major winners if they can deliver the promise of their spec sheet. And there's a ton of lens accessories coming, including TC's and new super telephotos. Given that EF lenses adapted to R mount deliver basically native performance, this will put Canon in the drivers seat in a lot of ways unless Sony has an october Surprise waiting. Canon's answer to how to get amateurs on a limited budget to buy FF seems to be 'sell them the RP and cheap & slow lenses', which in a lot of ways is the right answer. The R is expected to drop in price to $1599US list, meaning it will almost assuredly be a $1200 body on sale this fall. This is IMHO the right play for Canon. They're getting aggressive on price, accelerating lens releases and using their installed base well via the adapters, including some unique features (like filters on the top-end adapter) to grab back the EF shooters who have been adapting to Sony FE bodies. They just needed a better fleshed out lens line and competitive bodies and July 9 seems to be on track to deliver both.

Nikon's expected announcements are much smaller. Then again, so is Z mounts relative success. Honestly Nikon delivered a better pair of bodies than Canon did, and a better thought out lens line, but got hauled over the coals for idiotic decontenting (no vertical grips, single card slots), a lack of useful fast lenses (and the f1.8 S lenses were expensive and large), a card format choice at odds with what the market wanted (XQD on the Z6 instead of UHS-II SD) and pricing higher than the comparable F mount body. Unsurprisingly Z hasn't been a sales success, and the Z50 just added to that, as it didn't even have a real lens line to go with it, and was too expensive compared to the X-T200 and A6100 it competes with  (it's just not quite enough body to compete with the X-T30 and A6400). So we're getting what appears to be a Z5, which is rumoured to be basically a Z6 with dual SD cards and some light decontenting, plus a few lenses, most notably a 50/1.2 and a 24-50 zoom, with the latter likely being a ultra-compact zoom. This will need to be priced at or below the EOS R's new pricepoint to move, so Nikon will actually have to be competitive on price for once. Nikon reportedly has a Z30 in the pipeline, but again, that's going to have to be D3500 money to move. Nikon needs to get aggressive and is showing few signs of it, they can't rest on their name and the F mount installed base, especially when the adaptation of F mount lenses is such a crapshoot, the reality is that screwdriver AF lenses are basically as usable on any other mirrorless system as they are on Z, and that's still the majority of AF Nikkors out there.

Sony needs to get the A7SIII out the door. They also need to get an A7IV out the door, and frankly that needs to have more significant updates than the A9II or A7RIV got, or Sony will find itself in the same boat both Canon and Nikon did when Sony dropped the A7III, where their new body is competing against older, cheaper bodies in spec. Sony also needs an A7000, or to go all-in on consumer FE mount and start moving the top end of their APS-C market to FF more aggressively (the rumoured A6 could do that if it's basically an A7III in an A6600 body). The latter requires some FE zooms though. Sony really needs a plan on their lens releases, rather than the current semi-random releases. They're filling gaps, but they keep releasing less needed lenses instead of more important ones, for example they need an FE 70-300 for a reasonable price to go alongside the FE 28-70, and it could easily have replaced the E 70-350 which while a brilliant lens, is not something the lineup actually needed (the 70-300 G covered the need for an overpriced 70-3xx lens well enough). Basically Sony needs to honor the threat from Canon and also start  acting like they have a plan for the system, not their current spaghetti model of releases where they throw lenses at a wall and see what sticks.

As to Fuji, they're in a good place overall. Olympus's slow walk out of the market has left Fuji as the only real option for the serious crop stills shooter. That said, they need to respect the stills market a little more. The X-T4 is a great body, but it pissed off a lot of stills shooters who feel with good reason that it gives up stills-oriented handling for better video capability. Combine that with the mixed reception that the X-Pro3 got and they really do need to communicate their dedication to the stills shooters. Additionally they need to start updating older lenses with faster and quieter AF motors and aperture mechanisms and weather sealing. They also need to bring weather sealing to the lower-end bodies. Frankly, Fuji has a real chance here to replace Olympus as the go-to bodies for poor condition shooting and should jump on it. Fuji also needs to release some telephotos. The XF 70-300 is a start, but Fuji's real weak point right now is their single current lens over 230mm long. Crop gives them a pixel density advantage to start with, and they have solid AF, they just need glass to match.

Pentax? What Pentax? They have lenses coming, they have 3 solid bodies, they have almost no userbase left. Frankly Pentax's one ray of hope is the fact that they're in a position to outlast Nikon as the other DSLR system alongside Canon as all Pentax needs to do is not lose too much money to annoy Ricoh, Nikon actually depends on its camera division to keep the company afloat.

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