As we watched the camera landscape unfold, it became increasingly clear from the reports we were receiving from the field that more and more professional photographers were moving to mirrorless.
Early adopters of mirrorless cameras have tended to favor the compactness and lightness of the Panasonic G/GH series and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 series and their lenses. Others have prized the direct controls of the Fujifilm X series.
But in 2016-2017, one camera in particular attracted the attention of professional photographers who were still cautious about transitioning from their DSLRs to mirrorless. The mirrorless camera that made many die-hard DSLR pros stop and look was the full-frame Sony A7R series. Some pros found in it what they needed and switched immediately; others remained cautious and decided to bide their time for they still did not find that mirrorless technology had matured fully enough to support their specific needs.
However, the introduction of the 2017 mirrorless models made it clear to pro photographers (and DSLR camera manufacturers) that mirrorless technology was about ready to leave the DSLR behind, be it in image quality, operational features — or continuous shooting with fast and accurate AF tracking, undoubtedly the last challenge to overcome for professional mirrorless cameras.
In 2017, Sony reprised its hit camera with an upgraded Sony a7R III and introduced a new ground-breaking Sony a9. After upgrading in 2016 its top mirrorless models, the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the Fujifilm X-T2, and introducing its new medium format Fujifilm GFX 50S, in 2017, Fujifilm upgraded the Fujifilm X-T20 and its rangefinder-styled equivalent Fujifilm X-E3 — two mirrorless cameras targeted to advanced shooters. Previously, in 2016, Olympus had upgraded its top-of-the-line Olympus E-M1 Mark II; in 2017, it upgraded the entry-level Olympus E-M10 Mark III. In 2017, Panasonic came out with its flagship Panasonic G9, upgraded the video-centric Panasonic GH5, and the entry-level Panasonic GX850. In 2016, Hasselblad introduced the first medium format mirrorless camera, the Hasselblad X1D, to tremendous acclaim and the interest in its medium format mirrorless continued into 2017.
Another interesting mirrorless company is Leica. We wrote an article back in 2010 about what the successor to the M9 should be. We (and others) waxed eloquently (or not) about the need for Leica to innovate and to embrace digital technology, especially a high resolution, fast refresh EVF and fast and accurate AF. Did Leica listen to us? Of course not: the full-frame Leica M10 came out seven years later (in 2017) — and reverted to using an optical viewfinder and analogue rangefinder. But, they did not completely tune everybody out: while they reverted the famed M series to its legendary analogue roots, they however also boldly stepped fully into the digital era with the minimalist Leica TL2 which favors a touchscreen user interface and the “watch-this-space-another-bold-experiment-in-progress” Leica CL. Though Leica cameras and lenses may be monetarily out of reach for most of us, they nevertheless still embody the best in camera design — and we hope they will continue to uphold that reputation.
Two camera companies — leaders in DSLRs — remained conspicuously absent in 2017, unless you count half-hearted efforts in the Canon EOS M series (the Canon EOS M100 and the Canon EOS M6) and the Nikon 1 series (the Nikon 1 J5 came out in 2015, and rumors have dogged them that the 1 Series is out and they are working on a new mirrorless system). However, we doubt Nikon and Canon will sit out the mirrorless category in 2018. Expect major announcements from these two companies as they launch themselves into serious mirrorless products, undoing the mistake of only playing in the periphery of the mirrorless category for so long. Though they will be coming in late, do not disregard the wealth of experience and technology they will bring to their new flagship mirrorless cameras. Unleashed, Canon and Nikon engineers can surprise us all. Expect a battle at the top.
What about DSLRs? In 2017, Nikon introduced the award-winning full-frame Nikon D850 DSLR — a camera that we absolutely loved shooting with. Expect the requisite upgrades to existing models. So, yes, they will be better, cheaper, maybe even better value for money, especially for entry-level models. I highly doubt that DSLR manufacturers will make the same mistake Kodak made when it introduced the first consumer digital camera only to mothball the whole digital camera effort, bowing to powerful pressures from its film departments, and relegating digital technology to only playing a supporting role to their film business. But DSLR camera manufacturers will need to continue to support their current DSLR user base while they introduce their new flagship mirrorless models.
The year 2018 should be the year mirrorless finally achieves full respectability. Fujifilm, Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, Leica and Hasselblad will continue to improve their cameras and delight their fans. Expect the mirrorless camera manufacturers to continue to add quality lenses in the focal lengths and aperture combinations photographers demand. Watch especially the introduction of fast super telephoto lenses that enable pros to shoot commercial sports and wildlife. That’s when the cameras and lenses you see at major sports events (say, at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris) will be mirrorless. This is the area where a mirrorless camera system can differentiate itself from its competitors, hint, hint.
It will also be interesting to watch whether Fujifilm, Panasonic and Olympus deem it necessary to introduce full-frame models to compete head-on with Sony. For entry-level and enthusiast photographers, micro Four Thirds and APS-C are more than enough to satisfy their needs. But when the many professional photographers who are still shooting DSLRs finally switch to mirrorless, will they choose the full-frame format or consider APS-C and micro Four Thirds sufficient for their needs? Currently, there are three mirrorless strategies at play: Sony is concentrating on full-frame mirrorless cameras; Panasonic and Olympus are banking on their smaller and lighter cameras and lenses to be a determining factor to switching to mirrorless; and Hasselblad and Fujifilm are hoping pros will hop right over full-frame and find their respective medium format mirrorless camera an irresistible choice.
As we humbly suggested last year, it will probably take at least five years before mirrorless attains full maturity in the important areas that still need improvement:
- Accurate and fast Tracking AF in Continuous AF shooting.
- New battery technology (boosting number of frames to the thousands).
- Better (much, much, MUCH better) lenses.
One year is gone, four more to go.
So, stay tuned and, with your continued support, we will bring you the articles, tutorials, news and reviews of the best Interchangeable Lens Cameras (DSLR and mirrorless) in 2018.
We wish you and your family a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year 2018!
Bonne et heureuse année 2018 !
It should be a fun year! And remember, no matter which camera you purchase and use, enjoy your photography!
– Photoxels Editors