Last year has been an especially tough year for the camera industry. We witnessed one major camera company being sold off and a number of plant closings. Faced with three straight years of losses, the Olympus Imaging Division was sold to JIP, an investment firm with no background in camera development. It is today, on January 1st, that Olympus Imaging Division fully transitions to JIP under the OM Digital Solutions name. Last year also saw the closing of either camera offices or camera production factories around the globe.
Last year, we predicted that mirrorless technology would come into its own in 2020 and that mirrorless cameras would make a grand appearance at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. We wrote that you could expect to see “a steep decline of DSLR use among the general population and a gradual decline among the professional photographers.”
Well, mirrorless cameras did shine during 2020, elbowing DSLRs aside in the news. Canon made a splash with their full-frame EOS R5 and R6. Nikon updated their full-frame mirrorless models with the Z 6 II and Z 7 II. Fujifilm added the APS-C X-T4, X-T200 and introduced a brand new line, the X-S10. Panasonic added the compact full-frame S5 that is even smaller than the Micro Four Thirds GH5. Olympus updated their mirrorless models with the E-M1 III, E-M10 IV and E-M10 IIIs. Sony updated the full-frame A7S III, and added a new full-frame compact line, the A7C. Not bad for a difficult year.
However, COVID-19 negatively impacted many production timelines as well as prevented large gatherings. As a result, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, along with dozens of other industry events, were cancelled, postponed or went virtual. And so the flagship mirrorless cameras we wanted to see in the hands of pros during the Summer Olympics failed to materialize.
So, what can we expect for the camera industry in 2021? Here are my predictions, though the crystal ball looks a bit cloudy.
Though we would all wish it, unfortunately, we do not see a bright year. Unless enough people wise up and wear masks and get their vaccinations (hopefully effective and safe, seeing there are now variants of the virus appearing), COVID-19 will stay with us for a couple of years more. The world economy will therefore continue to feel the negative effect of all the closures, job losses and retail decline. This means even less cameras being sold, more factories closing, more camera companies deciding they cannot afford to lose money anymore in imaging. One or more camera companies may close in 2021, or may announce their impending closure end 2021, beginning 2022.
Olympus cameras are now in the hands of JIP under the OM Digital Solutions name.Though you might still see the Olympus brand on OM-D mirrorless cameras for some time, any future products from OM Digital Solutions will most probably not be Olympus-branded, but cameras will be OM-D branded and lenses will be ZUIKO-branded. Best image stabilization out there, best waterproofing, practical and useable Live View modes (Live ND, Live Composite, Live Bulb and Live Time), Focus Bracketing/Stacking, all in a compact camera body and lens combo. You should be able to get great deals on current Olympus OM-D cameras and lenses, and I would not hesitate to recommend them.
It is still too early to say whether JIP will continue to invest in leading-edge mirrorless camera development and production. But if we look at some past examples, we find that they would most probably try to get the maximum brand recognition out of the OM-D and ZUIKO labels by slapping them onto generic products developed by third-party manufacturers. It is also interesting that JIP chose to call the new company OM Digital Solutions as opposed to OM Imaging Solutions. They are leaving themselves the door open to use the OM brand on other non-imaging digital products.
Sony should continue to push the boundaries of full-frame mirrorless technology. Back in November 2018, Sony said it was not worried about Canon and Nikon getting serious about mirrorless. Of course, back then, neither Canon or Nikon looked like real competitors. But that’s changed real quick with the introduction of the Canon EOS R5 and R6.
Sony is not going to let Canon get away with their EOS R5 and R6 stealing its thunder. Its A9 III (probably to be announced January 11 @ 5:00 p.m. at its press event during CES 2021) will go head-to-head with the Canon EOS R5, both offering 8K video. Where Canon suffered an embarassing marketing mishap with its overheating 8K video issue, Sony is going to make sure the A9 III is realistically positioned. The A7 IV will take the EOS R6 head-on.
Sony will continue to stay top-of-mind simply because you see Sony mirrorless cameras everywhere. I mean look at all the Sony A7s in the hands of enthusiast photographers on social media already. It’s about the only camera I see on TikTok (of course, it depends on your FYP feed). The Chinese TV drama series I watch (having unfortunately become addicted to them during the various lock-downs) almost all use the Sony A7 when a camera needs to be shown in the hands of an actor (whether the A7 just looks cool or it’s an actual product placement). Sometimes I stil see the odd Canon DSLR, but it’s rare.
So Sony has not only climbed to the top but will continue to lead, though facing tough competition from Canon, Nikon and, to a lesser extent, from the other camera companies. Sony is also pushing hard in the video cinema line and is entering the drone business.
It is amazing how Canon has achieved to rankle Sony with their EOS R5 and R6 full-frame mirrorless cameras that leap frogged above Sony’s models in one big jump. After starting timidly with the EOS R and RP, Canon surprised everyone with the R5 and R6. The video overheating issue aside, the R5 is probably the best full-frame mirrorless camera today. With the R5, Canon is squarely aiming at winning over pro photographers for that is where the battle of the mind will eventually be fought and won: Which mirrorless cameras will you be seeing in the hands of pro photographers at the various major events? Canon wants to own this professional space, as it does today with its DSLRs.
Canon is also aiming at enthusiats and those wishing for lighter camera and lens combos with more affordable small-aperture long telephoto lenses, trying to gather all the lost Olympus users over to its fold (small-aperture lenses mean their camera and lens combos can comptete with Olympus’s size and weight advantages).
Canon seems to want to flood the market with full-frame (and APS-C) mirrorless models that cover all the categories, from entry-level to professional, all using the same RF mount all throughout (so, it’s probably bye bye for the EOS M line). They want to get you at the very beginning and keep you as you improve your photography skills and advance to higher camera models and lenses, all the while staying faithful to Canon. That sounds like a plan.
Will Canon also introduce its flagship full-frame mirrorless camera in 2021? Maybe, but seeing all the economic trouble the whole world is in, it may also just decide to show off a prototype and/or tease it.
Nikon updated the Z 6 and Z 7 with their Mark II versions, and introduced an APS-C Z 50 as well as an entry-level full-frame Z 5. Even though Nikon has remained mostly quiet, it should continue to keep pace with the competition. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I expect Nikon to introduce a couple of new models in 2021.
Today, Nikon ceases business operations in Malaysia. Also, after 70 years of uninterrupted camera production in Japan, the Nikon Sendai camera production plant is shifting all camera production to its Thailand plant by the end of 2021. Hopefully, that last piece of news does not portend more unfortunate news to be announced during 2021.
Like Canon, Nikon may probably not introduce its flagship full-frame mirrorless camera in 2021, though it may also show off a prototype and/or tease it.
Fujifilm continues to make great APS-C and medium-frame mirroless cameras. You can’t make a mistake by buying a Fujifilm mirrorless camera because they are so good and such a pleasure to use. The X-T and the GFX series (as well as the X100 series) are favorites among enthusiast and pro photographers. Its new X-S10 line has also been very well received, and the X-S10 is probably trying to woo Olympus users over with a compact mirrorless camera with DSLR controls (as opposed to Fujifilm’s dedicated analog-style controls).
Fujifilm has to be careful at how the X-S10 line is positioned or it risks cannibalizing sales from its popular and award-winning X-T line. Without a full-frame mirrorless model, Fujifilm also risks Canon and Sony progressively encroaching into its territory with small and compact full-frame or APS-C offerings. Fujifilm should seriously consider porting the X-H series to full-frame; there is no point in having three different APS-C lines. Seeing how well Fujifilm makes cameras, a full-frame X-H2 will undoubtedly be very well-received.
Yes, Fujifilm execs have indicated there is no full-frame plans, but they said the same about medium frame back in 2014 and we know what happened 4 years later in 2018. So, don’t be surprised if they change their minds about full-frame in 2021.
Panasonic makes some of the best mirrorless cameras there is. Together with Olympus, they pioneered the mirrorless revolution with the Micro Four Thirds Panasonic DMC-G1. They injected excitement into the camera industry and dared to challenge the DSLR hegemony. Their compact and lighter Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras and lenses meant that photographers did not have to carry cumbersome and heavy DSLRs anymore. However, now full-frame cameras are smaller than MFT cameras. To its credit, Panasonic has jumped into full-frame in a big way and has been immediately recompensed with enthusiastic response from photographers. Its S series full-frame L-mount mirrorless cameras get high marks and are setting video standards that the other camera companies are judged against.
As for its Micro Four Thirds offerings, I hope it shrinks them into smaller bodies and offers beautiful retro designs at beginnner-friendly prices. Now that they have a compact video-centric full-frame S series camera, does it still make sense to come up with a video-centric APS-C GH6? Whatever Panasonic decides, one thing it needs to do is to upgrade its AF technology from Contrast Detect only to hybrid Contrast Detect/Phase Detect to ever be able to match that of Sony’s and Canon’s. We hope Panasonic will continue to innovate with new technology and design.
Should You Buy A Camera in 2021?
Today’s mirrorless cameras take superb pictures, and all the camera companies I mentioned above make great mirrorless cameras (including current Olympus OM-D series cameras). Whichever brand you buy, you will end up with a great mirrorless camera. So, even if one of these camera companies should close, you would still be in possession of a great camera that should last you a lifetime with appropriate care.
The way to avoid this virus is childishly simple: wear a mask, avoid being an unwitting host, and let the virus run its course (and get the vaccinations).
As we close 2020 and step into 2021, we thank you, our readers, for your continued support during 2020. Every visit and every purchase you make through the links on our site help us continue to publish.
We also thank the camera companies, their PR firms, and our affiliate partners.
We hope you can all spend time with family and loved ones, and take a few days off to rest and recharge.
Remember: No matter which camera you purchase and use, Enjoy your photography.
We wish y’all a Happy (and safe) New Year 2021!
Meilleurs voeux de santé et sécurité pour l’année 2021 !
– Photoxels Editors