Obviously, I’m not a clairvoyant person. Had I been, I would have not said “I don’t see Sony releasing a full frame mirrorless camera this year” in my Mirrorless Industry roundup in May. Obviously, I was quite wrong about that. However, I don’t feel I’m wrong on this: Full frame mirrorless will not kill the smaller formats.
Over the past month or so, I’ve seen every type of trolling post on message boards as well as several articles from different sources that have proclaimed that the coming of the Sony A7 and A7R spells the end of APS-C and smaller mirrorless format. Micro 4/3 is doomed and even APS-C cameras are dead now.
No, they’re not.
Listen, I’m not saying all the systems will survive the next 5 to 10 years. I’m sure some will fade into oblivion. It’s possible Micro 4/3 will go away, it’s possible some of the APS-C makers will go away, but I feel very confident in saying that many will still be here for the long run. Why? Simply look to the past. When Canon released the original 5D, the first full-frame camera that was priced in reach of enthusiasts in August of 2005, there were many at the time who thought this spelled the end of APS-C DSLRs. Well, guess what…they’re still here, and they still sell far more than Full Frame cameras. Why? Price. Even though full-frame bodies have come down over the years, they still are more expensive than similarly featured APS-C DSLRs, and due to the larger sensor and the tougher corners, the lenses required to really take advantage of the larger sensor tend to be the expensive pro-grade lenses as well. To build a full-frame DSLR kit with lenses that will make it an obvious step up from an APS-C kit with good lenses, you’re going to spend quite a bit more money.
With mirrorless, there are TWO reasons, not just one. Price, of course, and SIZE. The big attraction to mirrorless is smaller size vs. a DSLR. On the price front, the cheapest full-frame mirrorless camera is $1,700. The cheapest current APS-C one is about $400 and the cheapest current Micro 4/3 camera is around $350 (not counting those with the older 12MP sensors). Not to mention Sony has priced even slow primes in the stratosphere (though the optical quality is outstanding). Regardless of any advancement, building a solid full-frame kit will continue to be more expensive. A Sony A7 with 35mm, 55mm, 28-70 and 70-200 is going to run you over $5,000. A similar Fuji X-E2 kit with 18-55, 23mm, 35mm and 55-200mm lenses runs around $3500 and a similar Micro 4/3 kit with 12-50, 17mm, 25mm and 35-100mm costs about the same, though going to slower lenses and getting an E-PL5 with 14-42, 17mm, 20mm and 40-150mm costs about $1600.
In the size department, no matter what you do, a larger sensor is going to equal larger lenses. I’m not talking about trying to match full frame depth of field. If you want an 85mm f/1.2 look on full frame, get a full frame camera with an 85mm f/1.2…I’m talking about building a kit that provides great image quality and capabilities.
Because a larger format requires longer focal length lenses for the same field of view, the larger you go, the larger the lenses are. My Fuji kit is larger than my Micro 4/3 kit, but it’s still small enough to be very portable. Once you go beyond about 85mm on full frame, the lenses get large quite quickly, and you’re not going to have a particularly small kit, aside from the camera.
Combine these two things and there will always be a market for smaller sensor cameras, regardless of the market segment.
The End of Mirrorless?
There have also been reports coming out recently spelling the end of mirrorless completely. This I don’t buy for a second. The mistake these analysts are making is they are assuming that the point of mirrorless was to tempt point and shooting casual snappers to upgrade to them instead of DSLRs. If the mirrorless makers are expecting this and budgeting accordingly, then I agree: they’ve made a big mistake.
Mirrorless cameras, like DSLRs, are experiencing a market correction. When digital SLRs first came out for the masses around 10 years ago, there was a huge influx to get them because they provided an absolutely enormous leap in image quality. This growth wasn’t sustainable, and as smartphone cameras have improved in image quality and provided connectivity options, the average person isn’t bothered any more to lug the bigger gear. If they won’t carry a DSLR, they’re not going to carry a compact camera or mirrorless camera either. This low end of the market is lost to cell phones, and it’s not coming back.
However, there will ALWAYS be a market for SLRs and other high quality imaging solutions for enthusiasts and professionals, and in this segment, mirrorless cameras are becoming more and more popular. Read any photography publication, go to any major photography forum, listen to major photography podcasts and you will see pros and enthusiasts alike adding mirrorless cameras to their kits regularly, with many switching entirely. The mirrorless market is never going to be as big as the DSLR market was in, say, 2008, but NO interchangeable lens camera system is likely to be that popular again. The market is correcting itself, and I predict that most enthusiasts and many pros will transition to mirrorless cameras of all kinds over the next 10-15 years. DSLRs will still have a place for many pros and for many kinds of work for quite some time, but as EVFs improve and on-sensor autofocus improves, there will be fewer and fewer reasons to hold onto the old reflex mirror.
Some Final Thoughts
Another year has gone by, and I wanted to discuss two things. First, thanks to all of you who come here to read my articles and reviews. I started this site two years ago, and 2013 has seen a major growth in readership. Admiring Light has had nearly 1.2 million page views this year…more than double what we had in 2012, and I thank you for continuing to return.
Finally, as a gear reviewer, I get a chance to use a lot of different cameras and lenses. In the past two years, I’ve gotten to try out dozens of cameras and lenses to write my reviews for your consumption. At the beginning, I got this big rush every time a new camera or lens came in for review. I know many people get excited when waiting for a new lens or a new camera….it’s exciting! However, once you’ve been doing this for a while, the excitement of delivery fades a bit. Now the excitement comes when I find gear that really gels with how I shoot. It’s rare that I’m truly pumped for a review unit to arrive, but it’s often that I get really excited by using it and regret having to send it back at the end of my review period. This yields one major insight:
The gear that is the best is the gear that works best FOR YOU. I’ve used cameras that were technologically amazing, but that I don’t really want to rush out and buy, either because the improvements over what I have are minimal, but more often because it just doesn’t fit how I think when operating a camera. Likewise, I’ve reviewed some amazing lenses that just don’t work for me because of something else. For instance, the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 for Fuji and NEX. It’s a brilliant lens. Sharp, contrasty, colorful, well built…everything you could want in an ultra-wide. And I LOVE ultra-wide lenses. So, why didn’t I run out and grab one for myself after I reviewed it? The front and hood are too big and it sticks in my camera bag and makes changing lenses difficult. It may sound like a stupid reason, but it really affected how I shoot. This added size made it much harder and more cumbersome to handle in the field. I know if I bought it, it would sit on my shelf 90% of the time in favor of the smaller Fuji 14mm.
My point is that photographers need to concentrate more on what works for them as shooters and less on the small differences between brands, sensor size, megapixel count, etc. Find something that fits YOUR style of shooting, YOUR needs in ergonomics and interface, YOUR requirements in aperture size and such. Take that and run with it, and don’t let anyone else tell you you’re wrong. If it works for you, it’s the perfect tool for you.
With that, have a happy new year and enjoy 2014!