Another pleasant surprise was Panasonic’s announcement that they were also going to introduce full-frame mirrorless cameras (the 24MP S1 and 47MP S1R, both using the existing Leica L-Mount, thus accepting all L-Mount lenses from Leica, Panasonic and Sigma) in early 2019. Panasonic engineers, who introduced the first mirrorless camera (the 12MP Micro Four Thirds Panasonic G1) back in 2008, must derive a high level of satisfaction that their vision of how mirrorless would one day eventually displace and replace DSLRs are finally coming to fruition. However, they had introduced mirrorless to compete directly with DLSs and so it is understandable that they may be experiencing a certain amount of trepidation as they watch the two 400-pound market gorillas enter the mirrorless market just as pro photographers start switching from DSLRs to mirrorless.
More Than Full-frame: APS-C and MFT, too
As of this writing, neither Fujifilm (APS-C X Series mirrorless) nor Olympus (Micro Four Thirds E-M Series mirrorless) have indicated that they will offer a full-frame mirrorless model. Why? One main reason they give is the size and weight advantage of an APS-C or MFT (Micro Four Thirds) mirrorless camera/lens combo compared to the equivalent full-frame mirrorless camera/lens combo.
Remember that, though a full-frame mirrorless camera can be lighter and smaller than its competing full-frame DSLR equivalent, the fact that both cameras use a full-frame sensor means that their lenses will be more or less the same size and weight, so when tele and super telephoto lenses are attached, the size and weight differences of the camera/lens combo may not be that great. However, with APS-C and especially with Micro Four Thirds sensors, the lenses can be much smaller and lighter and give a definitive size and weight advantage to APS-C mirrorless cameras from Fujifilm and especially to Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras from Panasonic and Olympus.
Olympus has indicated that it intends to go head-to-head against full-frame mirrorless cameras by providing similar high image quality in a smaller and lighter mirrorless camera/lens package for those who require (even demand) a smaller and lighter form factor.
The New Mirrorless Landscape
For those of us who feverishly read up and compare specs, it is wise to step back from time to time and view the forest from the trees. Some have bemoaned the fact that the Nikon Z 7, Z 6 and Canon EOS R are not flagship models that can dethrone current flagship DSLRs or even the existing top of the line mirrorless models. But take a step back and view the mirrorless landscape: Isn’t it a beautiful landscape, with serious mirrorless camera models from all the major camera manufacturers?
The Nikon Z 7, Z 6 and Canon EOS R are DSLRs at last freed from being tied to a mirror system that is redundant in the age of high resolution and fast refresh electronic viewfinders and displays. As first-gen models, these cameras have some kinks to work out, but are still impressive cameras capable of producing stunning high-quality images. Give Nikon and Canon engineers time to work out the kinks, put all their resources to play and unleash their creative genius onto subsequent mirrorless models.
All the major camera manufacturers are now represented in the mirrorless camera market, seriously competing with one another — which is welcomed good news for consumers. Take Nikon’s and Canon’s entry into the full-frame mirrorless market for what they really are: a research and development shift from DSLRs to mirrorless. The former will decline; the latter will rise. As if that was what they were waiting for, more and more photographers are suddenly finding it easier to justify switching from their trusty DSLRs to mirrorless.
The year 2019 promises to be an exciting year as far as mirrorless camera development is concerned.
Top Mirrorless Cameras
Since the first mirrorless camera was first introduced 10 years ago by Panasonic, mirrorless technology has matured to the point that it now pretty much matches and even surpasses DSLR technology. We see that at play in the Sony A7 III, Sony A7R III, Sony A9; the Fujifilm X-H1, Fujifilm GFX 50S; the Olympus E-M1 Mark II; the Panasonic GH5, Panasonic G9. And now in the enthusiast Nikon Z 7, Z 6 and Canon EOS R. (The Nikon Z 7 and Canon EOS R are not Nikon’s and Canon’s respective flagship mirrorless cameras; the Nikon D5-level and Canon 1DX-level mirrorless cameras are still in development.)
What About DSLRs?
In announcing their full-frame mirrorless cameras, Nikon and Canon were careful to reassure their current DSLR users that they can look to the continued development of DSLR cameras and lenses. So, yes, for a while longer, Nikon and Canon will need to continue to support their current DSLR user base while they introduce their new flagship mirrorless models. Some of the decision makers at Nikon (and perhaps especially at Canon) still need to be fully convinced of the correctness of switching their full research, development and production from DSLRs to mirrorless. But, from now on, like it or not, DSLRs are in the rear-view mirror; ahead, through the windshield, are the new mirrorless cameras.
The Future of Medium Frame, APS-C and MFT
The other mirrorless camera manufacturers will not sit still. We can expect Fujifilm (Medium Frame, APS-C), Olympus (MFT), Leica (Full Frame) and Hasselblad (Medium Frame) to improve their mirrorless cameras and add quality lenses in the focal lengths and aperture combinations photographers demand.
What about APS-C and MFT mirrorless cameras? For entry-level and enthusiast photographers, APS-C and MFT mirrorless cameras are ideal formats and can (should) get even smaller and lighter. Competition is fierce and all models are basically so good and similar to one another in features and prices. Those who introduce beautiful retro-looking models will probably differentiate themselves and do well. It is not enough to appeal to features and price with these buyers: You’ve got to pull at their heart string.
In introducing full-frame models, Panasonic has also been careful to reassure their current Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) mirrorless camera users that they have not abandoned MFT. Sony also announced that they will not abandon APS-C mirrorless, with plans to introduce new APS-C mirrorless cameras and lenses in the new year.
But What Will Pros Choose?
MFT, APS-C, Full-frame or even Medium format? With some of the full-frame mirrorless cameras having similar dimensions and weight as mirrorless cameras using the smaller APS-C and MFT image sensors, it won’t surprise anyone if pros lean toward cameras with the bigger full-frame sensor. However, with better sensor technology, APS-C and MFT mirrorless cameras should continue to command a lot of respect from pros who prefer smaller and lighter gear. So, even though most pros will probably select full-frame mirrorless models, some will find that there are APS-C and MFT models that deliver similar image quality and performance as full-frame models and that suit their size/weight needs better.
What About Lenses?
We believe that to differentiate themselves one from the other, the mirrorless camera manufacturers need to introduce fast super telephoto lenses that enable pros to shoot commercial sports and wildlife. For some pros, that will be the deciding factor in selecting a mirrorless system. That’s when the cameras and lenses you see at major sports events will be mirrorless: say, timidly at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (though Panasonic has already staked a claim to showcase the S1R and S1 full-frame mirrorless cameras and lenses at that event); a little more visibly at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing; and ruling the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Which Mirrorless Cameras Will Do Well in 2019
Mirrorless camera manufacturers have been busy perfecting AF, improving low-light capabilities, bettering video capabilities, and introducing ever more practical features in their models so as to rise up above the competition. But, so far, they have kind of forgotten why people buy cameras.
People don’t buy cameras to compare features and show off to friends and colleagues (though some do). Mostly, we buy cameras for a specific purpose: Pros use their cameras as their day-to-day tools of the trade, and these cameras must perform to the highest standards; parents want to take great pictures of their kids in the house, at birthday parties, in the park, on the soccer field, and these cameras must be point-and-shoot easy to use; some of us love nature and want close-ups of flowers, insects, butterflies; others want to capture the Milky Way galaxy, shoot underwater, make great videos, take product photos, time-lapse night photos, even photos of the Sun, Moon and planets. Probably one camera and lens won’t be able to satisfy all these disparate requirements, but there are not too many mirrorless camera manufacturers that are specifically targeting each of those needs.
Sure, there are portrait lenses. Some are too expensive, others are simply not good enough. The same can be said for macro lenses, wide-angle lenses and super telephoto lenses.
Introduce the best affordably-priced prime portrait lens with great bokeh — and portrait photographers will gravitate toward your brand. Introduce the best affordably-priced macro (or zoom macro) lens, and photographers who shoot close-up and products will gravitate toward your brand. Introduce the sharpest affordably-priced prime landscape lens and landscape photographers will gravitate toward your brand. Introduce the best low-light mirrorless camera/zoom lens combo and photographers who shoot clubs, concerts, theatres — and all parents with newborn babies — will flock toward your brand.
It’s pretty simple Marketing 101, isn’t it? Give people what they want. Not marketing promises, just results. For example, we have read for far too long now how this camera or that camera is a great low-light camera simply because it can shoot at a very high ISO. So many parents have been disappointed by this false promise. Just because a camera can shoot high ISOs does not a good low-light camera make. Some of these advertised cameras could not even lock focus in low-light, never mind capturing a perfectly exposed, non-blurred picture. Technologically, we are at the point where promises can become reality, so let’s do that. Let’s build great mirrorless cameras. Some consumers require their camera to take control and make it easy, unconsciously error-proof, logically simple to take great pictures — others want you to open all the features and capabilities of the camera to their complete control.
Redo the menus, already! Hierarchical lists are great for classifications, but there is nothing more frustrating than drilling down long lists of classes to find the one function you use often.
Now Is The Time To Switch
If you are a pro Nikon or Canon DSLR shooter and have been holding out switching to mirrorless all that time, well, your reasons have ran out. The Nikon Z 7 and Z 6, and the Canon EOS R are the mirrorless cameras that you have been waiting for. You may not want to get rid of your trusty DSLRs yet, but now is the time to get the Z 7 (or Z 6) or EOS R and immerse yourself into mirrorless shooting and workflow. When your perfect Nikon or Canon mirrorless camera does come along, you’ll be ready to make a complete switch and the transition will be smooth for both yourself and your clients. (Don’t repeat the mistake that film SLR users made waiting out too long for the time when DSLRs would catch up to film SLRs.)
At the end of 2017, we suggested that “it will probably take at least five years before mirrorless attains full maturity in the important areas that still need improvement.” And we listed three areas of 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.
Two years are gone, three more to go.
We thank you — our readers, camera manufacturers and PR firms — for your support during 2018! With your continued support, we will bring you the articles, tutorials, news and reviews of the best Interchangeable Lens Cameras (mirrorless, and the odd DSLRs) in 2019.
We wish you and your family a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year 2019!
Bonne et heureuse année 2019 !
It should be an exciting year! And remember: No matter which camera you purchase and use, Enjoy your photography!
Read our Mirrorless Camera Buyer’s Guide
– Photoxels Editors