Last year I noted that I thought the notion that Full Frame mirrorless would kill the smaller formats was crazy, and I do still feel that way. However, I think, at least in terms of Sony, it’s possible that we may see a shift in their focus away from the APS-C format, at least in development of new and exciting lenses. Sony didn’t announce much of anything for the APS-C format in terms of higher end lenses. The good news is that the APS-C offerings can still use the FE lenses, which may still make sense for the smaller primes and the telephoto zooms.
Fuji doesn’t seem primed at all for Full Frame, and I’m personally just fine with that. They’ve built an incredible APS-C lens lineup and there’s not much more to ask for in that department. The few gaps remaining will almost all be filled by the end of next year, though the new lenses appear to be quite bulky, which might affect how popular some of these lenses are.
Micro 4/3 is honestly nearing the point where they are a truly mature system, with nearly every base covered in both the consumer lens lineup and the enthusiast lineup. The addition of the Olympus 300mm f/4 will finally add that pro-grade telephoto prime to the system. I’d still like to see a 200mm f/2.8 and perhaps a 100mm f/2 added to the lineup, but we’ll see where that’s headed as the coming year progresses. I am very curious to see which mirrorless system will be the first to release tilt-shift lenses.
Shifts in the industry
As I noted at the beginning of the article, the photography industry as a whole is on a decline. To be honest, this isn’t surprising to me in the least. Before the digital revolution, there was a steady supply of serious photographers who bought SLRs and then there was the casual crowd who had film compacts or used those lovely one-time-use disposable cameras. When digital came along, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon. Once DSLRs came down in price enough to be affordable, a HUGE array of people bought them, seeking ‘professional quality’ results. This led to a huge boom in sales and profits for the camera companies (especially Canon and Nikon). That wasn’t sustainable for two reasons. First, a lot of those people who bought them didn’t like the bulk of the system and many didn’t have the skill or patience to learn how to properly use the cameras, leading to sub-par results. Second, those who were happy with their cameras but aren’t enthusiasts don’t feel any need to upgrade. In a world where cell phone photos are the norm, a solid APS-C 10 megapixel sensor is still really impressive to most people.
As DSLR sales drop and compact digital sales fall off a cliff in favor of ever increasingly good cell phone cameras, mirrorless sales have stayed constant, or even slightly risen. Why? The mirrorless space is where the innovation is occurring. EVFs are getting to be incredibly good, surpassing OVFs for lower light work and getting fairly close to a good OVF for outdoor shooting. They’ll only continue to improve. Mirrorless makers jumped on the WiFi bandwagon early, enabling a host of very useful features that the majority of DSLRs don’t have. WiFi is just now starting to make it into serious DSLRs, and even then it’s usually crippled. This innovation, combined with a smaller overall kit with similar (or in some cases better) quality than competing DSLRs is driving more and more photographers to mirrorless. A large portion of working pros have added mirrorless kits to their stash of gear, and more and more are finding that they leave their DSLRs at home for most everything except the most demanding paid gigs.
I think the DSLR will exist in some form for at least another decade, and it’s evident that not all mirrorless kits will be chosen for their size, but rather their capabilities. There are still several things that DSLRs do a bit better than mirrorless cameras, but that list of advantages is dwindling every year, and the pros and cons between each is fairly balanced and tipping towards mirrorless. I would wager that the majority of serious shooters will be shooting mirrorless within 5-7 years. Nikon and Canon are lagging badly in this space, but don’t expect that to last much longer. Nikon is rumored to be releasing a full frame mirrorless system this coming year, and Canon had better not be far behind with a competent system if they don’t want to be left behind. Of course, due to the huge amount of great glass with those systems, I’m sure any new system will work well with the existing DSLR glass, as it should.
In all, it’s clear to me that mirrorless is the future. I don’t think the shift will come overnight, and there will be many shooters who need DSLRs for the time being (until large, capable mirrorless cameras are created to leverage the large glass many shooters need), but it’ll come. And some will be small, and some will probably be the size of a 1DX or D4s, but I don’t think the mirror has much longer to go.
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