|Canon executives (L-R) Yoshiyuki Mizoguchi, Go Tokura, and Naoya Kaneda. Will Canon announce a full-frame mirrorless camera this year? The signs are looking increasingly positive. Read the full interview|
At DPReview, we’re in touch with the companies that make your favorite cameras and lenses all year-round. Our best opportunity to really tap into how the leaders of those companies are thinking though comes once a year, at the CP+ show in Yokohama Japan.
Senior executives from all of the major camera and lens manufacturers are present at CP+ and we try our best to speak to as many of them as possible. This year we sat down with leaders from (in alphabetical order) Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Ricoh, Sigma, Sony and Tamron to learn more about how they see the market, and to get an indication of what might be coming down the road.
Full-frame mirrorless will become the norm, and it will happen pretty soon
This year, almost all the executives we spoke to seemed to agree on one thing: full-frame mirrorless will become the norm, and it will happen pretty soon. Kenji Tanaka of Sony even put a date on it, saying that in his opinion, Canon and Nikon would join Sony in the full-frame mirrorless space within a year. Executives from Sigma and Tamron were similarly confident, and even Go Tokura of Canon dropped a couple of fairly heavy hints that the move to mirrorless is imminent.
|Kenji Tanaka of Sony thinks that it won’t be long before Sony has some company in the full-frame mirrorless market, but must be hoping that products like the A7 III will increase his company’s share of the full-frame market in the meantime. Read the full interview|
It certainly makes sense, and honestly, I’m surprised that it’s even taken this long. For quite a while now, I’ve had the feeling that DPReview has been reporting on two camera markets. One is the mirrorless market: new, energetic, and increasingly packed with advanced autofocus systems and high-end video features. And the other is the DSLR market, dominated by increasingly non-essential iterative updates at the low-end, solid money-makers in the middle, and tough but conventional flagships at the top. There are some exciting and innovative DSLRs still being released, no doubt, but they’re starting to look less and less like products of the technology’s continuing evolution and more like its ultimate expression.
At a certain point, the mirror and prism will become barriers to further innovation
It’s hard to imagine, for example, how much more advanced Nikon’s DSLR platform can get, following the release of the D5 and D850. At a certain point, the mirror and prism will become barriers to further innovation, and if we haven’t already reached that point already, surely we must be getting close?
We spent some time at CP+ talking with senior executives from Fujifilm about the runaway success of the GFX system, and how the company is moving into video.
Canon already has a mirrorless lineup, albeit one that up to now has been primarily aimed at entry-level customers. They’ve been quietly laying the groundwork for high-end mirrorless for a while now though, with key technologies like Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus and a small system of compact EF-M lenses that are optimized for the short flange-back of the M-mount. As Mr. Tokura and his fellow executives told us when we spoke to them in Japan, ‘we have the technology’ – they just need to put it all together. Nikon’s 1 System (it’s not dead, it’s just sleeping…) likewise introduced some important technologies that Nikon could presumably incorporate into a larger-format system when it feels the time is right.
When we spoke to the head of Olympus’s imaging business unit, Shigemi Sugimoto, he told us that he hopes to grow his company’s market share after “a painful period”.
I think that the time is close at hand. It’s hard to argue with Mr. Tanaka of Sony that “if cameras are going to develop […] manufacturers have to develop mirrorless technologies”. Consider features like face / eye-detection AF, full-frame autofocus coverage and 4K video – not to mention the various clever computational tricks that we’re seeing in today’s smartphones. All work best without a mirror in the way, even when it might not technically be a prerequisite.
With a lens like its new 28-75mm, Tamron is not just betting on Sony, but on full-frame mirrorless in general
Sigma and Tamron both announced full-frame Sony E-mount lenses at CP+, and appear committed to further development in the future. Takashi Sawao of Tamron confirmed something that we already suspected – lenses like its upcoming 28-75mm F2.8 for Sony have the potential to be adapted relatively easily for future – new – mirrorless mounts. The not-so-subtle message here is that with a lens like the 28-75mm, his company is betting not just on Sony, but on full-frame mirrorless in general. Sigma isn’t quite there yet (although Sigma has several native FE lenses on the market, they’re based on existing DSLR designs) but CEO Mr. Yamaki told us that his company’s announcement of E-mount versions of some Art-series lenses is ‘just the beginning’.
|Among the topics covered in our conversation with Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki were his determination to make more native Sony E-Mount lenses for mirrorless cameras. Read the full interview|
Technically speaking, there are plenty of advantages to making lenses for full-frame mirrorless systems from scratch. Mr. Yamaki explained that for wideangle optics especially, the lenses can be made substantially smaller. They can also take advantage of in-camera optical corrections. If and when Canon and Nikon fully commit to full-frame mirrorless, I predict a flood of new lenses, as well as cameras. Nobody is expecting a return to the salad days of the early and mid-2000s, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more competition in a market with a few more new products in it? I’m asking for a friend…
Our conversation with Tamron executives covered various topics, including the move to new native mirrorless designs and the decline in DSLR lens sales.
Sony and Fujifilm both told us that they would welcome Canon and Nikon’s eventual contributions to the high-end mirrorless marketplace, and I believe them – although Sony’s rapid release cycle of full-frame a7 and a9 bodies in the past 18 months certainly looks like an attempt to grab as much market share as possible in the meantime.
Olympus’ Shigemi Sugimoto seems to be looking forward to some growth, after “a painful period” which saw his company’s imaging products lineup shrink. He’s new to his job, but appears confident that his company’s high-performance Micro Four Thirds cameras can compete thanks to their attractive combination of small size and market-leading image stabilization.
Meanwhile, Panasonic also hinted at further development of its stills-focused ILCs, after a period when the company has seemed more focused on meeting the needs of professional and enthusiast videographers. For its part, Fujifilm has made a bold move in the other direction with its new flagship X-H1, explicitly courting video creators for the first time.
Panasonic executives told us that the company is hoping to ‘re-brand’ its stills photography offerings, after a period of investment in video users. Read the full interview
The only manufacturer we spoke to in Japan that appeared uninterested in talking about mirrorless development was Ricoh. I suspect that this is partly strategic and partly also driven by necessity. The R&D resources required to tool up and launch a new system into (presumably, before too long) a crowded market may simply be prohibitive – especially given that the company has only recently started to dip its toes into full-frame digital.
At least for now, it looks as if we can expect little more from Ricoh than consolidation of the existing K-series DSLR lineup and probably a GR II successor of some kind, at some point in the future. A proportion of die-hard Pentax fans will be disappointed by this, but I expect that many simply won’t care. The K-1 II and the imminent arrival of a new 50mm F1.4 represent (at least) a continued investment in the company’s core user-base, and that’s probably enough to keep the loyalists happy for now.
Takashi Arai of Ricoh told us that we can expect new K-series products and possibly also a GR II successor soon, but it seems unlikely that we’ll see any Pentax-branded mirrorless cameras in the near future.
So what’s coming around the corner? If you’ll indulge some informed guesswork, I’m expecting the announcement of 4K-capable full-frame mirrorless cameras from at least one if not both of the major DSLR manufacturers by late summer, ahead of Photokina in September. This would fit the historical pattern of major product launches from both manufacturers.
As for what these new mounts will look like, that’s harder to guess. Canon has a slightly easier task ahead of it, since the EF mount was designed from the beginning to be fully automatic, and to support very wide-aperture lenses. As such, it could presumably make a relatively simple adapter to allow continued use of legacy EF lenses for as long as necessary. Nikon’s transition to mirrorless will probably be trickier. It’s worth remembering though that the Sony E-mount is an open standard – Nikon already has a relationship with Sony, could it adopt the company’s lens-mount? It’s an intriguing thought…
Either way, I don’t think that either Canon or Nikon will attack the professional market straight out of the gate – instead, it’s probably more likely they’ll kick things off with EOS 6D / D600-type products.
I expect flagship professional mirrorless ILCs to be launched ahead of Tokyo 2020 from Canon, Nikon and Sony
A slow build-up of core native-mirrorless lenses (alongside the necessary mount adapters for legacy EF and F lenses) will naturally follow, and development will ramp up as we get close to the Olympic Games in 2020. We know from speaking to executives at CP+ that Tokyo 2020 is going to be a big deal for Canon, and I’d expect it also to be used as a showcase for flagship professional mirrorless ILCs from the other two manufacturers in the ‘big three’ – Nikon and Sony.
By then, it would make sense for both Canon and Nikon to have replicated their most important tele primes and wide-aperture zoom lenses in their respective new native mirrorless mounts, and for Sigma and Tamron to be offering their own lower-cost alternatives. I don’t want to guess at exactly what those alternatives will look like, but it’s a safe bet that Sigma’s will be larger.
What do you think? Will Fujifilm or Panasonic be competing with the big three in the photographers stands at Tokyo 2020? Will Ricoh ever make another mirrorless ILC? Will Canon’s concept cameras transform how we think about capturing images?
Have your say in the comments.