AI is already in your smart phone and mirrorless cmeras, helping your camera to keep tracking focus on humans, pets, birds and other objects (mirrorless cameras), as well as helping nail exposure and cleaning up unwanted subjects in your photos (smartphone cameras). But they should become ubiquitous in all aspects of photography, from determining the optimum exposure to determining the preferred composition to applying the right filter for the desired effect. And, at last, the iconic 1888 advertising slogan from Kodak, “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest,” will finally really come true 136 years after it was first coined by George Eastman.
Is this good or bad news? Will your camera capture what it sees in front of it — or will it combine it with existing images and effects in its internal (or Internet) database to create a “better” picture? Could it even adjust the composition for you, moving the scene to the right or to the left, up or down, so the main subject is positioned properly based on some accepted rules of composition? Will it automatically adjust exposure to expose for the right and then apply an algorithm to bring out the details in the shadows? Will it shoot a number of pictures in quick succession at different exposures and then smooth out the noise… without you asking it to do so? Shoot a number of pictures in quick succession at different focal lengths and then stack them to produce a macro photo which is sharp from front to back? Shoot a number of pictures in quick succession even before you have depressed the shutter button to capture the right moment, which the camera will decide based on the type of subject? Adjust the light to “blue hour” because its internal clock tells it you are shooting at twilight? Some of these features are already available in some cameras, but you have to consciously and manually select it. A fully AI-enabled camera will mean that the camera will make that selection without your input, awareness or even consent. You’ll just wonder at how great the picture you just took came out.
Is it a scary thing if AI is incorporated right into the image processing engine? So, who cares if, in the picture you took of your son or daughter, the background was really cluttered (by strangers or unsightly wires), but the AI in your camera automatically removed the offending clutter and replaced it with a beautiful background (or an appropriate bokeh effect)? Would you feel guilty? Would you feel better if your camera took a “true” picture and you then downloaded it at home into an image editing software and selected the clutter and removed it and substituted it yourself with something else — spending a couple of hours working on it? We do that all the time, right? And then we’re so proud to show how good we are with image editing. We print and frame the resulting manipulated image and everyone is happy. So, why not let the AI in your camera do that in-camera? And perhaps keep both the augmented version and the original “unretouched” version (so that some of you may be able to apply even more effects in your desktop image editing software).
AI is a game-changer because of how good it has become. Yes, currently, if you peek close enough, you may be able to spot pixel shift and other digital image artifacts and so call a picture out as an AI-generated picture. But, give it a couple of years, and soon you will not be able to tell the difference. You will all think you are great photographers.
It sounds all too good to be true because then anyone will be able to take a great picture. You can tell the AI that you want the person you are shooting to look younger, have narrower hips, smoother skin, longer legs, fairer skin, whiter teeth, and no blemishes. Piece of cake! Sounds great?
There are consequences to the indiscriminate use of AI in photography. Pictures and videos will not be admissible in a court of law as irrefutable proofs anymore unless the industry sets stringent rules and standards that will allow us to differentiate a “true” picture from an “AI-enhanced” picture. AI can put you in a scene (stills or video) you never were, paste your face on a body that does not belong to you, put an expression on your face that was never there.
Wait a minute. Are we panicking for no reason with all this doom and gloom? Having studied AI when it was still in its infancy (when we were still using LISP to teach it to understand human language), I thought so, too. It’s all hype, I told myself. People just do not understand how complicated it all is, I insisted. Then, I downloaded ChatGPT and tried it out. I was floored. Not only was it able to understand complex queries, it could also generate error-free code, grade an English paper, write a flawless resumé, and find answers in just a few minutes instead of the hours it would have taken me to do the exhaustive search myself in Google, click on all the links, read all the papers, and summarize them myself. And this is still considered as the early years of AI. And, have you seen what AI is doing in image editing software? Amazing! And, it’s only the beginning. AI has come a long way since it first attempted language recognition: now, we talk to our smartphone to send a text message while we are driving, ask questions to Alexa and Google, and it’s all done fast, efficiently and effortlessly.
If it’s hard to buy a “bad” mirrorless camera today, then can you imagine the cameras of the future that is powered by an AI image engine? It’s already happening, but the limitations are the size of the internal database, the speed of the processor, and the quality of the AI engine used. Yes, let’s dial down the hype, but be prepared for different, AI-powered cameras in the near future. Why the near future? Because you can barely differentiate the different mirrorless cameras today and AI (not image sensor or AF) will be the future differentiator. The first question is: Who will be the first to put out an AI-enabled mirrorless camera? The second (and most important) question is: Who will be the first to get it right — put an AI-enabled mirrorless camera that the public falls in love with? (First-mover advantage is not always a good thing.)
HOW DID OUR 2023 PREDICTIONS FARE?
Let’s go back to last year and our predictions.
Canon is still hard at work on its flagship EOS R1 full-frame mirrorless camera. There’s no hint of an EOS R2 (more compact version of the EOS R1) and EOS R4 (more compact version of the EOS R3).
We thought that Nikon needed to put out a more compact flagship to be able to compete with Sony, and it did: as predicted, Nikon chopped off the vertical handgrip of the Z 9 to introduce a more compact (but still quite large) Z 8.
Last year, we thought that the OM System PEN Series may well be retired, and it looked like it has. No new PEN cameras came out in 2023 and there are no hints or rumors that OM System is working on a new one. Otherwise, all is quiet on the OM System front.
Panasonic is making their full-frame mirrorless hybrids more affordable and competitive with PDAF.
Fujifilm updated the 2020 X-S10 with the X-S20. It did not introduce any updates to the 2019 X-Pro3, the 2021 X-T30 II and 2020 X-T200.
As expected, Sony continues to innovate, especially with the A9 III, the first full-frame mirrorless with a global shutter, making it the best camera for professional sports and action shooting.
Before we take a closer look at each camera manufacturer and tell you our predictions, let’s look at some of the models announced during 2023:
|S5IIX / S5II
Here’s what we predict 2024 will bring us, and what we hope the major players are working on.
OM System executives indicate that they will continue focusing on Micro Four Thirds mirrorless technology to leverage the size and weight advantages by designing compact and lightweight mirrorless cameras and especially telephoto lenses. Their focus is to provide the cameras and lenses for photographers who concentrate on nature, landscape, wildlife and bird photography, and macro photography. These photographers demand a portable system that is also high performing (image quality, weather-proof, image stabilization). As far as AI is concerned, it is currently being used for subject detection, but they would like to expand its application by using machine learning and deep learning algorithms to enhance the user experience, viz. automatic scene recognition, customizing RAW image processing and other scenarios.
We believe that OM System’s use of the smaller Four Thirds sensor currently gives it only one major advantage over its competitors that use the bigger APS-C and full-frame sensors: lighter and more compact long telephoto lenses. That is a powerful marketing advantage for its market segment of adventure photography. However, with advances in lens design and technology, its competitors may well design and provide similar lighter weight long telephoto lenses.
What OM System is not leveraging is smaller and lighter cameras, period. It should come up with innovative designs (for which the Olympus brand was famous for) for new compact and light MFT mirrorless cameras that target specific vertical market segments such as vloggers, street photographers, all-in-one super zoom for soccer moms, and underwater cameras. Market research in what consumers want is one thing, but I will repeat what I said last year: I believe there is an untapped market for beautiful retro-designed mirrorless cameras that are compact, light and affordable — and the best in its vertical segment.
We hope that OM System will pioneer the first intelligent MFT cameras where “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.” By adding AI to let the camera make smart exposure, composition and in-camera image processing decision, the general consumers may flock to these cameras that allow them to take perfect images every time, in-camera.
In 2024, we are expecting a ZV-E20 and A7S IV.
Yes, Sony now has serious competition in the full-frame mirrorless segment from Canon and Nikon, but Canon and Nikon are coming five years after Sony put out the A9 (2017) and A7 III (2018) with their sticky Eye Detect AF. And Canon and Nikon have yet to miniaturize their technology to fit into a compact mirrorless body like the Sony A1. While its competitors busy themselves in miniaturization, Sony is free to incorporate AI into its image processing engine. Done well, AI has the potential to revolutionize the way we take pictures.
Sony is doing all the right things, and designing all the right cameras — except that it needs to refine them a bit. Take the A7C II, for example. What better example of Sony superior technology than a compact and light full-frame mirrorless camera smaller than some of the APS-C and even MFT models! But Sony must not be afraid to equip a future A7C III with ALL the lastest top notch technology: from sensor, IBS, EVF, LCD, Video, etc. It won’t cannibalize its A7 and A7R series because the compact and light form factor is best for travel photography and photography with lighter lenses whereas the bigger and heavier A7 and A7R are better with longer and heavier lenses. It’s two different markets. For example, I will never buy an A7 IV because it is still too big and heavy for me. But I sure will buy an A7C II. The problem is the A7C II does not have a top notch EVF and LCD, two items that are an absolutely must for a camera used to see and take pictures. So, Sony is getting closer and closer to becoming the undisputed leader but it keeps holding back and letting its competitors catch up.
Another area of improvement is the actual design of the cameras. It’s mostly form follows function, and that’s great. But there is a little something missing in Sony’s design: personality. Their cameras are not instantly recognizable. You have to peer twice, and sometimes zoom in to know what brand or model the camera is. The same goes for their lenses: is that white lens a Sony or Canon? Is that black lens a Sony or Nikon or…? In coming up with a personality, Sony should be very careful and perhaps get inspiration from their once partner, Leica. See how Leica can even remove its iconic red dot and still be instantly recognizable as a Leica. This is what Sony has to aim for.
I hear people say that the A7C II looks boring, and I get what they mean. But, in fact, the design of the A7C II is pretty good: There is nothing extra, useless, and the proportion is good, the amount of silver just right,… but still I get it that personality is lacking. There is a missing “J’ne sais quoi…” Hire yourself a Jony Ive, Sony!
In 2024, Canon is expected to at last introduce its flagship full-frame EOS R1 mirrorless camera.
Here’s hoping that it will follow Nikon’s example and also introduce more compact versions of the EOS R3 (EOS R4?) and EOS R1 (EOS R2?) to compete with Sony’s compact full-frame models. We are also expecting an EOS R5 II and EOS R5 C II. If Canon should ever be in the mood of introducing a retro-styled camera, please let it not be modeled after the AE-1, easily the ugliest SLR ever produced (though the most sold one, thanks to its auto everything ease-of-use, not pretty design).
2024 should see updated versions of the Z 6III and Z 7III, and hopefully Nikon brings these two full-frame mirrorless cameras fully up-to-date with the best of its latest technologies.
More and more young photographers are seeking out retro cameras where they can fully experience the thrill of capturing an image. They want to compose on a large viewfinder. They want to choose an aperture, select a shutter speed, dial in an ISO or exposure compensation. They want to experiment in full manual mode. They want a camera that is F-U-N to use, weather-proof, indestrutible, that will last a lifetime. Only a Fujifilm analog-style mirrorless camera can give them this experience. Make it available at a budget-friendly price and you may have an iconic product that will sell like hot cakes.
However, Fujifilm needs to improve its Tracking AF further to catch up with its competitors.
Fujifilm is also getting confused about its DNA: is it an analog or mode dial operated camera? It has basically reverted back to mode dial operation in all of its models except the X-T series which continues the analog control dials. This is confusing to its original base of supporters.
Fujifilm also continues to insist that it does not need a full-frame model, mistakenly believing that its medium-frame models will win photographers over from full-frame models. Only a very narrow vertical segment needs medium-frame, and all its APS-C cameras will never be featured in any comparisons with full-frame models. The battle that everyone is watching and reporting on is in the full-frame arena; if you are not there, your brand is simply not represented.
Panasonic introduced the S5II/S5IIX full-frame and the MFT G9II — and suddenyly MFT rocks again! A Panasonic engineer who didn’t get the memo took all the great video features of the video-centric GH6 and put it into the G9II (but shhh don’t tell anyone because the G9II is supposed to be a photo-centric camera).
The G9II also gets PDAF and much improved Tracking AF — and suddenly Panasonic MFT becomes a really interesting option again, especially if you shoot with long telephotos and hate huge and cumbersome and back-breaking heavy lenses.
The one problem: the MFT G9II is as big and heavy as a full-frame model. What Panasonic lacks is a compact version of the G9II — something worthy of the MFT vision of smaller and lighter cameras.
In 2024, we are expecting a GH7.
The Future of MFT and APS-C
In the last few years, we have witnessed the emergence of full-frame mirrorless cameras as the de facto standard. We’ve seen Panasonic introduce its full-frame S Series, and both Canon and Nikon have introduced a full stable of full-frame models for every shooting level and price point. Both Canon and Nikon have also standardized on one (full-frame) lens mount size for both their full-frame and APS-C models. Meanwhile Fujifilm offers only APS-C models, and Olympus and Panasonic still offer MFT models.
The burning question is whether, going forward, users will still see any compelling advantages for purchasing a camera with a smaller image sensor size (MFT and APS-C). Are they cheaper? Are they smaller and lighter? Are they faster? If you are paying the same price and getting a camera the same size and weight, and with comparable features, as a competing full-frame model, why would you?
We don’t want to knock Olympus and Fujifilm, but their absence in the full-frame market may well limit their attractiveness to future camera buyers. Their cameras are not smaller, lighter or much more cheaper than their full-frame competitors, so how are they going to convince buyers to purchase a camera with a smaller sensor? I’ve heard all the arguments for and against and, as I said years ago before DSLRs went the way of the dinosaurs despite all the cries that they would never be replaced by mirrorless cameras, here we are. Mirrorless have replaced DSLRs for a simple reason: Common sense tell us that the mirror had become obsolete when faced with increasing technological advances in EVF and LCD development. Likewise, MFT and APS-C will disappear for the simple reason that people won’t buy a camera with a smaller MFT or APS-C sensor when they can get better image quality with a bigger full-frame sensor at the same price. It’s not more complicated than that. Consumers are not sophisticated thinkers: they do not appreciate the technological arguments for a smaller sensor; they look at their bank account, ask which sensor size is better, and plunk their money down for the better sensor.
I mean, look at Samsung. Did they not make the best APS-C mirrorless cameras at the time? Did not their cameras have the easiest and most hassle-free Wi-Fi connectivity? And yet, not selling enough to justify their continued development meant that the plug was yanked under them. The business world is a harsh world.
Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm need to design and build smaller, lighter and especially more affordable MFT and APS-C cameras. Make them retro-looking (like the beautiful Canonet QL 28, a 35mm film rangefinder camera). If all the features are comparable between a MFT or APS-C camera and a full-frame camera except for the sensor size — and the price of the MFT or APS-C camera is about half that of the full-frame model, then I can see a bright future for MFT and APS-C cameras. But if the price difference is only a couple of hundreds dollars, I’m afraid that won’t fly. Make it small, compact, light, pocketable, weather resistant, tough, and affordable — and it’ll sell like hot cakes.
(We have excluded Canon, Nikon and Sony from the above discussion of the future of APS-C simply because their APS-C cameras use the same lens mount as their full-frame cameras, thus limiting, by design, the smallest size (height) possible to that of their smallest full-frame camera.)
There is a saving grace for MFT. Apparently, many advertising agencies are now asking commercial videographers to mimic the look of the vertical videos obtained from a smartphone. They want the quality of a mirrorless but the look of a smartphone. As you know, the image sensor on a smartphone is tiny and so has great depth of field. Now you cannot get that kind of depth of field (where everything is sharp from near to far) from full-frame sensors or even from APS-C sensors even if you use a very small aperture. So, the commercial videographers have moved to using MFT mirrorless cameras to satisfy this particular requirement while still producing very high quality images. But that’s a very narrow vertical segment.
Buying A Camera in 2024
There are now lots of great mirrorless cameras available to suit every need and budget. It’s almost impossible to buy a bad mirrorless camera these days and our Mirrorless Camera Buyer’s Guide has them all.
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Remember: No matter which camera you purchase and use, Enjoy your photography!
Wishing y’all a Happy and Safe New Year 2024!
En vous souhaitant une bonne et heureuse année 2024 !
– Photoxels Editors