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What Would Thom Do (2019 Ed.)?

From time to time I post articles about camera product management from both my perspective as an analyst of the camera market and as a former product manager. DSLRs are at a critical stage right now as we transition to mirrorless. Planners in Tokyo have been dealing with this for a few years now, and I'm sure that both Canon and Nikon have clear ideas on how they move forward.

But let's assume that I was in charge back when those decisions were being contemplated (and that I have the additional benefit of seeing where we are today ;~). What would I be doing with DSLR products? Is that different than what's happening or will happen?

For Nikon, it's simple, and we have precedents that can be used to help the Nikon DSLR user understand what's happening. In particular, I refer to the "s" nomenclature and the transition from SLR to DSLR. The s addition to a model name has historically meant at Nikon that it's the same camera with some tweaks, and this often was done to extend model life. Also, Nikon replicated the SLR line with DSLR models, and as they did so mostly stopped the SLR updates.

You're probably racing ahead, so yes, I think that the future Nikon DSLRs I'd be thinking about would be mostly tweaks, not complete model redo's. Let's look at the lineup and what that means:

  • D6 — This is a bit controversial to some, but it seems like a done deal to me. We typically get new pro generations every four years, and we're nearing that four-year boundary. Personally, I believe that Nikon must update their primary pro DSLR to a new model. It needs to be a state-of-the-art 24mp tuned for performance. Live View has to be like using a Z6 without an EVF, worst case. Maybe we can tweak the mirror and shutter a bit more, maybe we can get even better performance out of the autofocus system (and perhaps even some new options there). I believe Nikon would have started the R&D—including sensor work—on this model prior to making the commitment to move to mirrorless, so I'm sure all the work has been going on for some time. Thus, I want Nikon to finish it. As do all the other D5-using pros out there. Next generation after the D6, sure, make a Z9 that does everything we want. This generation? Make a D6. (See end of article for more)
  • D850s — This is mostly about using firmware and very small additions in function to keep a top DSLR as current as possible. The changes wouldn't be enough to get a D850 user to upgrade, but there are still D800 and D810 users (and others) that haven't made the switch, plus there's the issue of what happens if you total your current D850 and want to get a new one; you'd like it to be as up-to-date as possible. There's declining demand here (due to the excellent Z7), so you don't invest in new sensor or other critical components. You simply round off some rough edges and make small boosts in performance or features where you can.
  • D750s — Here's an instance instead of  "s" where Nikon could add meaningful things and create a new, updated model (e.g. D760).  Just put the Z6 sensor in the D750 body. That makes Live View the same as an EVF-less Z6, a big win over the current situation. It also provides instant upgrades in video and other things. I'd be tempted to call this a D760, but I think that sends the wrong signal, and with all the other "s"s people will think a D760s might appear. I'll stick with "s" naming and make a D750s. Nikon most likely wouldn't, and if we get a new model here, it will be a D760.
  • D500s — Frankly, Nikon's asleep at the wheel here. Either this should have already been done, or a D550 should have appeared, or a Z50 (e.g. a DX Z) should have appeared by now. Once again the D### APS-C bodies are getting short shrift. It's true that the D500 hasn't sold anywhere near as well as most people think it has, but its still a seminal body for Nikon's high enthusiast, and Nikon's own actions have hurt the D500 demand (buzz, buzz, among other things). My guess is that Nikon won't even consider this option, or if they do, it will be so watered down so as to be not meaningly different than a D500. Sad. (If you believe a DX Z50 is coming, the most likely time for it to come would be coincident with a Z9. In other words, the D3/D300, D5/D500 trick all over again. Nikon is anything if not repetitive, particularly on things "that worked".)
  • D7500s — Nikon has one big trick they could pull off here that justifies an "s": simply put the D500 focus system into the D7500. Nikon being who they are, they wouldn't do that unless the D500 "followup" is a Z50, or the D500 goes away. Yeah, I could live with that. Just as the D7200 held serve for the missing D400, a D7500s would be the final serve for the missing D500 followup.
  • D3500 and D5600 — These models, despite being large volume sellers, have to go away and be replaced by what we're transitioning to (e.g. mirrorless). 
  • D610 — Because of the price pressure on entry full frame, the DSLR version would go away and be replaced by a Z5 or some other lower number mirrorless camera.
  • Df — Much like the FM3a, this was a small niche product with a strong internal advocate. The advocate is gone, the niche would be much smaller today, thus this should be a dead end product.

So, as Nikon's newly appointed VP of Product Line Management I'm happy to announce: (1) we'll create the D5 DSLR followup our top pros want; (2) we'll significantly upgrade the D750 and D7500 DSLRs to "s" models by using parts from other, newer products, plus we'll make some small changes to keep the D850 DSLR current, as well; (3) we'll start transitioning DX to mirrorless now by replacing the D3500 and D500 with mirrorless models. I believe these changes give you the best of both worlds: those enthusiasts and pros that want to stay with DSLR will have strong choices in the D7500s, D750s, D850s, and D6; those of you who want to transition to mirrorless have great choices in the the new Z30 and Z50 DX models, plus our existing Z6 and Z7 full frame models (which themselves are being constantly upgraded in ability and performance via firmware).

That's the camera side. How about lenses? We're still missing a few F-mount Nikkors we would be expecting had mirrorless not come along. Thus, I'd announce this: today we're committed to release one new F-mount lens a year for the next five years. We'll select which one based upon user demand for missing or replacement models as well as new technologies and optical formulae we're developing. The first of those will be the new 12-24mm f/2.8E, which will take the well-regarded but aging 14-24mm into new territory. All existing PC-E, AF-S, and AF-P lenses will continue to be offered, and given our history, you know that could be for a very long time. DSLR owners will thus have 48 existing and 5 new lenses to choose from for as long as we can foresee the future. 

In ten paragraphs I've outlined a roadmap for Nikon users (you also have to know what's currently available to understand how it all "fits"). And in two press release type paragraphs I've summarized it. Stay DSLR. Transition to mirrorless. Your choice. The only place where I'd have Nikon forcing the transition to mirrorless as the only option is at the low-end consumer product (e.g. where the D3500/D5600 lived). With fewer parts and alignment procedures, Nikon should be able to make low cost mirrorless consumer models that outperform the DSLRs, so it's a win-win situation at the bottom of the lineup. 

So let's for a moment examine the two scenarios on either side of mine: (a) Nikon runs with DSLRs as they have for as long as they can; and (b) Nikon runs from DSLRs as fast as they can, similar to what they did with film SLRs. The scenario I'd do, outlined above, is in the middle and we'll call Scenario (c).

Scenario (b) is the historic one. Once the D1h/D1x/D100 set the DSLR off and running for Nikon, the only thing they did for film SLRs at that point was to iterate a final pro SLR (F6) and final low consumer SLR (N75). Coincident with the D1h/D1x was the FM3a release. If Nikon were to repeat that transition, we'd probably get a D6 (final pro DSLR) and a D5700 (final low consumer DSLR), and nothing more. 

In Scenario (a) we've got a number of Nikon DSLRs that would get updates on historically predictable boundaries: D6 in August to January, D760 soon, D860 within the year, D3600, D5700, D7600, and perhaps even D620 and D510 also in the coming 12-month to 24-month window.

To summarize:

  • Nikon Scenario (a) — D6, D860, D760, D7600, D5700, D3600, maybe even a D510 and D620. Plus whatever they roll out on the mirrorless side.
  • Nikon Scenario (b) (historical prediction) — D6, D5700; everything else goes mirrorless.
  • Thom Scenario (c) — D6, D850s, D750s, D7500s; everything else goes mirrorless. 

This actually brings up one of the reasons to write this kind of article: Nikon is a creature of habit and one that tends to be extremely anal and cautious in planning. Most of us who have a long history with Nikon watching would bet on them choosing Scenario (b). That's because not only is that what they've done in the past, it's the most cautious approach that keeps them in the "main" game while playing the new one. 

Following Scenario (a) would indicate that Nikon didn't really see the fork in the road, that they just stuck some Z's there just in case the trail went that direction. 

Let me warn you, though. I think it's highly possible that we'll get at least one false clue, and that's centered around the D750. That camera would have been well into upgrade status in developmentland when Nikon decided to green light the Z's. I suspect we could get a D6, D760, and D5700 as the final new DSLRs, therefore. that's something between Scenario (b) and (c).

More than that and we're probably in Scenario (a). Which means that either Nikon sees that there's money that they'd leave on the table by not doing additional updates, or that they're going to continue blindly updating in some way until the market says Full Stop. 

I think now you can see why I propose Scenario (c): there is some money that could get left on the table and you never want to do that if the cost of scooping it up is low, which is why I suggest the "s" type changes for a few models. Moreover, you're giving your customers clear choice and clear warning in my scenario. They'll vote with their pocketbook, and then you know the final answer. It's easy enough to back quickly out of the (c) Scenario if the data says to do so.

Now, on to Canon, which is more complicated, even if things seem a little more obvious at first glance. As I noted in another article on the full frame choices, Canon at the moment seems to be just replicating the full frame DSLR line with mirrorless: 

  • 6Dm2 = RP
  • 5DmIV = R
  • 5DS = future RS
  • 1DXm2 = future RX.

Here's the slide that Canon management keeps showing; see if it makes sense to you:

bythom canon corporate

I believe that Canon didn't do their full frame introductions in the right order (RP should have been first, R second [and better thought through]). But I'm pretty sure an RS will be next and an RX last. So call this the "slow roll to mirrorless" scenario. Start with the low end and work your way up. Of course, as I've pointed out, they botched this with the known R lens set, which has way too much emphasis on what an RS and RX would need to stand out. 

But what does all this mean to the DSLRs? I'd say that other than the 1DXm3 that's likely to show up in the next six to nine months, Canon may be done with mirrors in full frame. Partly because of sensor re-use, partly because of pricing, partly because Canon is overextended with the number of camera models in a contracting market, I just don't see where they'd likely create a brand new 6Dm3 or 5Dm5. Those models would need sensor work to move forward, and that's expensive. Too expensive for a dying market where you're competing with yourself on price (current 6Dm2 price is US$1500, current RP price is US$1300; see what I mean?).

I suppose you could withhold a new sensor for the RPm2 and put that new one in a 6Dm3 first, but that doesn't feel to me like the right thing to do at this point, as it sends the wrong signal to the mirrorless side. Canon's already considered behind on several aspects centered around the image sensor (IBIS, dynamic range, 4K rendering, etc.), so why would you withhold anything from the camera you want to be your best seller (RP) while giving it to a camera that's declining in sales (6D)? 

Things are further complicated by the crop sensor cameras. Really complicated. On the DSLR side the mount is the same (EF, EF-S) and your lenses still work. On the mirrorless side this is not true (M, RF). Unfortunately, the true consumer buying into the Canon lineup with an M model probably doesn't understand that, and that's going to bite Canon on their rear side some day. Here's the labyrinth Canon has created:

  • EF can use EF-S lenses but not RF lenses (DSLR user)
  • RF can use EF/EF-S lenses but not M lenses (Mirrorless full frame user)
  • M can use EF/EF-S lenses but not RF lenses (Mirrorless crop sensor user)

You see what I mean by simple but complicated? 

Personally, I think Canon needs to send an "all-in" message for RF over DSLR at the full frame level. Canon needs more acceleration in full frame mirrorless to push Sony back down. Iterating full frame DSLRs sends a very wrong message (other than the 1DX). 

Crop sensor DSLRs are a confusing story at Canon as it is. We currently have (as of CanonUSA's site the day I write this) APS-C camera/lens kits at US$400, US$450, US$550, US$600, US$700, US$800, US$900, and US$1200, plus the body-only 77D at US$800, 80D at US$1000, and 7Dm2 at US$1400/1800 (yes, even Canon's own site reflects contradictory info due to bundle rebates). Wow, that's a lot of confusing options in the area where Canon is contracting the most in ILC volume. 

As a former product manager, I know why we've got all these up-sell options, but I also believe there simply isn't enough market left to sustain that broad an approach to a lineup. Moreover, Canon's competing with themselves because: US$450, US$600, US$650, US$700, US$800, US$1000. What are those? Why, those would be mirrorless crop sensor models with kit lenses.

Let's put the two together and you'll see why I cringe as a product manager (bold is DSLR, non-bold is mirrorless):

US$400, US$450, US$450, US$550, US$600, US$600, US$650, US$700, US$700, US$800, US$800 US$900, US$1000, and US$1200.

That's just crop sensor camera/lens kits, and doesn't include body only options. If I'm one of the remaining camera stores, I'm looking at that and going "what the hell? You want me to stock 14 crop sensor camera/lens kits that I have to rationalize to my customers?" And which, by the way, tend to have a moving set of instant rebates the dealers can't always keep up with (a common situation is that a Canon dealer ends up getting less money from the customer than they sent to Canon for the box; theoretically, the dealer gets their profit in the future, but Canon keeps slow rolling them and puts them in paperwork hell).

In case you didn't notice, Canon is all-in on crop sensor mirrorless: six models currently available here in the US. The build-up of older models still in inventory completely distorts the DSLR side: twelve models available. Realistically, there are basically five "current" mirrorless crop sensor Canon's, and eight "current" crop sensor DSLRs. Still out of balance for reality, in my opinion.

Canon, therefore, is in my mind due for a complete house cleaning. Here's where my product line management background thinks they should be today, or at least soon:

  • Crop sensor mirrorless: M100, M50, M5, missing M7 (near 7Dm2 replacement)
  • Crop sensor DSLR: update to create SL3, T7i, update to create 80Dm2
  • Full frame mirrorless: RP, R, missing RS (near 5DS replacement), missing RX (missing 1Dxm3 supplement)
  • Full frame DSLR: 6Dm2, 5Dm4, 5DSR, update to create 1DXm3

But, of course, that's only if I think the M/RF lens mount dichotomy works on the mirrorless side, which I'm on record as saying I don't think does. Thus, move that M7 to the RF mount, move the M5m2 to the RF mount. Given that the M50 and M100 are more compact camera styles, only with interchangeable lenses, maybe M then becomes Compact-style ILC and becomes more G-like, while RF becomes SLR-style ILC.

Yeah, that feels icky to me, too. But that's the box Canon has themselves in at the moment. I used the word labyrinth above, and that's what the Canon marketing team currently finds themselves in: a twisting maze of passages. Or it is a maze of twisting passages? [Yes, a Colossal Cave reference]

Meanwhile, Canon lenses are a problem, too. Canon is getting quite promiscuous with mounts: EF, EF-S, M, RF, PL. Given what I've written about cameras, I wouldn't make another EF-S lens, and depending upon how much I moved crop sensor mirrorless to RF, I might not make another M lens (though I might update some). 

EF has to continue, as it's the common denominator between DSLR full frame, mirrorless, and Cinema cameras. RF is pivotal to mirrorless, so it has to continue and evolve fast. 

So who's shoes would I rather be in? 

Nikon's. They allowed themselves to contract and began the reduction of available models before Canon. While there are several options they can pursue in terms of what new models Nikon can iterate, these are all pretty straightforward: begin to de-emphasize DSLRs, while emphasizing mirrorless. 

Canon's problem is that they're all over the map and a smart consumer can see that. It's much more difficult to predict how Canon will work themselves through the labyrinth they've built. None of their product line options are optimal. The potential for contraction in market share is clear, and Canon's not going to like any path that might take them below a 45% ILC share, if even for a short time. 

Unfortunately, that's sort of what caused the current problem: Canon's used price, model proliferation, channel pressure, marketing, and more to try to keep at or near a 50% market share. It's as if the battleship is trying to turn but keep all its guns focused on a fixed target. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way in real life: at some point during a battleship turn, some of your guns can't be aimed at the target.

If I had to bet, Canon is going to lose some ILC market share. They'll continue to push pricing to try to avoid that. Whether they can walk that plank successfully is a question we'll be able to answer in a year or two. Right now, I'd say that Canon's lineup feels dated and confused. That's when I'd tend to order a full on goal reevaluation and restatement, and then rebuild my product strategies and tactics based upon that. 

What strikes me is that Sony has managed to get to a clear one-mount strategy: the E mount serves Sony's crop-sensor (E), full frame (FE), and video (FS) cameras. The A mount is dead. This gives Sony clarity of what to do. Canon doesn't have that clarity. What Canon has is a huge installed base and market recognition. 

Recently, a top Canon executive went on record as saying digital camera volume will drop another 50%. Meanwhile a Fujifilm top executive is saying no, it will grow. Who's right?

Neither, at least if you're talking about ILC (DSLR and mirrorless). We're down to about the 10m unit a year mark for ILC. That's going to drop another 20%, almost certainly (i.e. to 8m units). But not to 50%, nor to 110%. (And interestingly, Sony's Imaging head seems to agree with me, predicting a 20% drop in ILC.)

Assuming I'm right and the Canikony trio attempts to keep their market shares relatively intact, that means something like this breakout is in the near future:

  • Canon 4m units
  • Nikon 1.6m units
  • Sony 1.3 or 1.4m units

That leaves 1m units for the Fujiolysonicax quartet, almost all of which would be mirrorless.

Here are the real things you should be thinking about rather than who has the best cameras and best product strategy: how many camera stores do you need worldwide to sell 8m units? Answer: fewer than we currently have. How much customer support will we get with only 8m units split among seven companies? Answer: less than we get today. Will the repair and warranty situation get worse? Answer: yes. 

Bonus round: About the same time I was finishing up editing this article last week, NikonRumors posted a "what should the D6 be" list. Since people then started asking me, here's my take:

  • 24mp — This is the correct bump in the D# generation sensor pixel counts. Those that use this camera don't really need more than that, but sensor tech has probably moved just enough to get slightly better results with slightly more pixels, and for a camera that has to last you a long time to justify, bumping to 24mp is the correct decision.
  • Live View is Z-like — Here's a tricky one: put a PD set on the sensor for Live View and silent camera use. Equal or beat the Z6 Live View performance.
  • Flip-out LCD — The above means that we need to see the LCD at all angles. That means a tilt/pivot mechanism. And while we're on the LCD, provide all the additional touchscreen capability that we got on the newer DSLRs, too.
  • Communication improvements — Most of you probably don't know that the D5 runs a small, separate Linux OS to power the Ethernet FTP capability. I'd love to see Nikon expand the capabilities of that second OS, and to extend it to run an optional LTE device, indeed, to give us at least a complete NDI (network device interface; and don't forget to completely document this), though some of the newer IP protocols would be better. We have this ability on a lot of pro video cameras now; it's time that we had it on a still camera.
  • WR support built-in — Enough with the dongles. They just make a bulky camera a little more clumsy. Radio wireless support for release and flash should be built in. If we're going to get a plastic area on the body to accommodate the antennas, maybe WT-6 Wi-Fi should be built in, too.
  • Better video — N-log with 10-bit with Atomos enabling is a start, but there are other aspects of the D5 video capabilities that could use some improvement, too. Nikon is slowly getting video right, so make the D5 the statement that it's all there now.
  • Consolidate bank switching — Been on my list for a long time, along with named saved configurations on the card. Given that we can program a button to do PHOTO SHOOTING menu bank switches, why don't we have the ability to even do something as simple as Front Command dial is PHOTO SHOOTING menu banks, Rear Command dial is CSM menu banks. Better would be full bank consolidation (and more banks), and save/restore to named file on card.
  • A rethink of the workflow savers (IPTC data entry, rating, etc.). Right now it's do some before you shoot, some after you shoot, never together. If I shot an image and have a pre-defined IPTC template, I want to review the image and apply Copyright, IPTC, rating, and more together as I'm going through them, not make sure I pre-assigned an IPTC template to what will be shot, and do ratings later. 
  • I'm sure some of you think that more fps or higher shutter speeds are necessary. I don't think so. I'd rather just have faster card support (e.g. CFexpress Type B at 1GBps or 2GBps).
  • Which leaves us with the elephant in the body to finish up: autofocus. Nikon did a great job with the D5. Even today as I write this I'd say the D5 has the most reliable autofocus system with the highest hit rate among all ILCs (assuming a knowledgeable user). Moreover, it's one of the most configurable and controllable systems. More control over AF Fine Tune would be nice (zoom settings). Even more sophistication to the 3D Tracking seems like the place where most users would like work to be done. Could 3D Tracking be better if we simply told the camera ahead of time that we were shooting sports, birds, or events? Finally, getting rid of the line sensors and going all cross point would be useful. Basically, anything new in autofocus has to be an addition in capability, in customization, or in performance, not a redesign.
  • Don't change the body, don't change control positions, don't change batteries, don't change the eyepiece, etc. There's way too much stuff on a D5 that isn't broken. Don't break it.
  • Don't try to reach for 8K video. 
  • Do add all the little touches that were added to the D850 and Z series (things like focus stacking, Diffraction compensation, new Picture Control bits and pieces, added white balance ability (natural light), additional G# CSM settings, etc.

There's not a single thing on my list that couldn't have been done in the near four year interval between the D5 and D6. Would it be a better camera? Yes. Would it be a perfect camera? No. 

Chasing Gains

My article about whether ISO is fake or not brought up a lot of discussion points. But there's one in particular I want to talk about today, because it plays into many of those discussions.

Are you chasing marginal gains?
Are you sure those gains are real?

Numerical gain conversations appear all the time now:

  • DxOMark numbers
  • Photonstophotos numbers
  • 14-bit versus 12-bit
  • 45mp versus 42mp (or 47mp, or even 36mp; any resolution number)
  • Dual gain versus Single gain
  • Low pass filter versus no filter
  • MTF line pairs values
  • Deep shadow banding
  • IS/VR actual capability (e.g. 4 stops CIPA versus 6 stops CIPA)

Now, my mantra has been and will continue to be: capture optimal data. To me that's the definition of the best practice of photography in the field. Optimal light, optimal composition, optimal exposure, optimal lens, optimal camera settings, optimal technique, optimal support, optimal composition, optimal everything (including me being awake! ;~).

That would make me a photophile. Much like audiophiles chased small and obscure gains so that they could hear the lute better over the bagpipes—that's a PDQ Bach reference, by the way—much of the discussion about "better" on the Internet now is about chasing very small gains

I mentioned whether or not you knew whether those gains were real or not. They might not be. Individual sensors can vary. Testing isn't perfect. Reporting of tests is often confusing or masking some assumption you didn't realize. 

One example of that I encounter all the time is the use of Imatest to produce MTF numbers. The actual number you get from a slant test—the one most of us use—is going to actually be dependent upon your test chart and the camera you use. 

If your test chart is a personally printed one on matte paper, that's going to produce different numbers than one of Imatest's expensive professionally produced charts. I happen to have three different-sized charts I can use with Imatest, and they all produce different numbers from the same camera and lens at the same settings. 

Thus, one thing I'd warn you about: do not attempt to compare numeric results from one site with another. You're going down a rabbit hole and will have an Alice in Wonderland experience if you do.

I'm not even sure you can compare MTF results within one site. Because those numbers often use different cameras, charts, and software for new tests than they did for older tests. You'll note that I periodically (about once a year), go through my posted lens reviews and update a few comments (and recommendations) when I start seeing that my previous results are no longer applicable to state of the art cameras, for instance.

Next, there's no precision in most discussions. One discussion that prompted me to write this article had a comment "clearly pulls ahead..." in it. Going back to the data that prompted that comment, the numbers were less than a third of a stop apart (and that's if you believed them to be accurate). Tell me how exactly are you going to use that less than a third of a stop gain when you're setting exposure in third-stop increments? ;~)

So many folk are buying now based upon fear of missing out (the FOMO acronym you might see on the Internet from time to time and wonder what it means). Welcome to paranoia if that's what's driving you. 

Here's a far better way to think about things: what's my budget for upgrading my optimal capture each year? And where is the best place to apply that budget (e.g. bang for the buck)? 

I'd argue that one place where we've gotten some clear useful change in the past five years is in lenses, not sensors. I'm seeing lenses these days that we would have killed for 10 years ago. Sensors? Not nearly so much. The last truly big and clearly useful changes in sensors occurred a bit more recently than a decade, say five to seven years ago depending upon type of camera.

Some of you may remember my words from 2003: "If you aren't getting good prints at the maximum size a desktop inkjet printer can produce, it isn't the camera." 

I recently was looking at some D100 images I took in that period—6mp DX crop camera—and they're pretty darned good. In fact, the primary things I wish were different in those images have nothing to do with more megapixels, better dynamic range, better lens, etc. (The dynamic range difference between the old D100 and the new D7500 at base ISO is almost three stops, by the way.) Nope, the primary thing I notice as I look back at old images like that is this: I wish my technique and composition were a little bit better. 

Maybe I missed exposure by a bit. Maybe I didn't see something in the composition I should have. Maybe I got the horizon line slightly off. Maybe I should have waited for the wind to die down a bit more. Maybe my timing was a little off. But it's rarely: gee, I wish I had another quarter stop of dynamic range or another 500 LW/PH increase in the lens MTF. 

I'm going to try to put this into some perspective soon. I've been fiddling with a series of very short videos showing how I approach processing an image. The image I chose to use? It comes from a 24mp camera/lens kit that currently sells for US$500. Shot in less than ideal conditions. And yet...the final results from that image can be pretty darned impressive. 

Just for my amusement, I went to photonstophotos to see how that camera stacked up against my Z7. Oh dear, at the shooting conditions I used the US$500 camera was about a half stop worse in dynamic range. Next, I went to a couple (of different ;~) Web sites to check on the MTF numbers: 2469 lines in the center on the US$500 camera versus 3280 in the center for the lens on my Z7. Oh dear, my photo is ruined! ;~)

Yeah. No. 

I once wrote about what to improve and upgrade first. It's time to revisit a simplified version of that. Violate this at your own expense. In order:

  1. Improve the photographer (e.g. your exposure, technique, and compositional skills)
  2. Improve your support (amazing how keeping the camera/lens steady improves results)
  3. Improve your lens (yes, many modern lenses can outperform older ones)
  4. Improve your camera

But I'm sure you want numbers, because that's what you continue to relentlessly pursue. So how about this: in the past 10 years I believe I've improved by two stops. Not the camera. Not the lens. Me. 

Chew on that stat for awhile. 

The State of Camera Sales

It's that time of year again. The Japanese camera companies are all wrapping up their fiscal years (other than Canon, who's in their first fiscal quarter), and CIPA has published their deeper look at the industry numbers for 2018 as well as their forecast for 2019. 

First, the CIPA January shipment numbers are also out, and as other sites have noted, they don't look good. 

bythom cipa 2019 jan

ILC January shipment numbers worldwide: blue is 2017, black is 2018, orange is 2019. In numeric form, if 2017 is 100%, then 2018 was 80.6% of that, and 2019 was 80.9% of 2018. The killer number, though, is that the 2019 value (sales dollars) for mirrorless was 112% of 2018, while DSLR was 61.3%. 

The problem with the way everyone is analyzing those results is problematic, though. Shipment numbers tend to be moved by new products, not older products. There were no DSLRs introduced in the last quarter of 2018 or the first month of 2019. Looking backwards, we have the D3500 in August, and the Pentax K1m2, Canon Rebel T7 and 4000D in March. Not exactly a prolific year for DSLRs, thus it's completely understandable that their numbers are down. Moreover, virtually all of the new DSLRs in 2018 were entry models, which means value (sales dollars) would go down.

Meanwhile, in the mirrorless world, a different thing was happening: in the last four months of 2018 we had five new mirrorless camera introductions, but the lowest of them was the Fujifilm X-T3 (the others were the Nikon Z6 and Z7, the Canon R, and the Fujifilm GFX50R, all relatively expensive cameras). This shows in the numbers: shipment volume down, shipment value up. 

I'm often amused at CIPA's statistical summaries. For instance, in page 7 of their year end analysis they claim that the market size value for cameras has more than doubled since the film peak in 1991 (it went up 120% to be more precise). Unfortunately, inflation alone would produce an 86% increase. Which means that over the course of 27 years, market value has really only averaged a small single digit of growth a year (though there was a huge spike in the middle, when digital went supernova). 

On that same chart, they also don't call out that since that spike around 2008, the camera market size has shrunk by more than half ;~). Again, not counting for inflation. 

The more telling chart is the next one, though:

bythom cipa average

Remember what I wrote above about the January numbers that look so bad: mirrorless volume was down, but value was up. That might be distorted a bit in the coming months by the introduction of the Canon RP, but we also have plenty of higher end mirrorless gear that was introduced recently, too (Olympus E-M1X, Panasonic S1 and S1R), so we may continue to see it tick up. 

This is a trend the Japanese companies hope will continue, but I don't think will. Certainly not on the rising curve seen in the above graph, as it's unsustainable. The current high-end mirrorless cameras are all so good that they encourage Last Camera Syndrome from the user base (i.e. no incentive to upgrade once they have a really capable camera). 

There are two groups that aren't being fully catered to in mirrorless at the moment: the 1DXm2 and D5 users (super high end, but very few in number), and the entry full frame (the D610 and 6Dm2 users, though the RP now addresses the latter). Picking up those users is going to be important to Canon and Nikon, the two industry leaders.

CIPA tries to make the claim that users want new lenses more than they used to ("almost triple" [the unit volume] from the film peak in 1990 to 2018). Unfortunately, their very next slide kills that idea: the number of lenses sold per camera body has remained pretty consistently around 1.6x during the digital era. What has happened, though, is that the average selling prices of lenses has gone up, and particularly for full frame.

The question is whether we have a chicken or an egg or a manipulated fowl market. Is it really because users want more expensive mirrorless cameras and full frame lenses that that's what we're getting? Or is it because the Japanese companies saw a way to push revenue and gross profit margin with some clever marketing that induced a modest buying boost? It's probably both things in combination, but with more push than pull. (Push is company marketing, pull is user demand.)

A bit further down we see another set of charts that illustrate this. 62% of ILC volume is DSLR, 38% is mirrorless. 52% of ILC sales value was DSLR, 48% was mirrorless. In Asia, mirrorless now outsells DSLR. Europe and the Americas are the laggards still getting DSLRs.

CIPA's report comes out right after they've polled their members on likely future shipments (e.g. what will happen in 2019). Those numbers are: 20.7% fewer compact cameras, 7.4% fewer ILC, and 8.3% fewer lenses in 2019. To put numbers on those: 6.9m compacts, 10m ILC, 16.5m lenses. 

The ponds are getting smaller, and everyone is now in the pond that's likely to be the primary one (mirrorless). 

I'm personally more pessimistic. The camera makers are going to be hard-pressed to make those forecast numbers without discounting. Tangible discounting hurts the products that are already the weakest (e.g. crop cameras), which compounds the problem. Companies like Nikon are also being pressed to make their already existing cameras (Z6 and Z7) better through firmware changes, rather than introducing new ones. 

I still believe we're going to go down to at least 8m ILC in the near future. Whether that's 2020 or 2021 or 2022, I'm not sure. The Japanese companies can and do game the system at times using pricing and other techniques such as keeping older models on the market longer, channel stuffing, and attempts at getting growth from countries like India and the other BRICs. They're trying to micromanage what has to be a terrible environment for them. I'm on record as saying that some companies are getting this wrong (e.g. Olympus with the E-M1X, which runs counter to the marketing message that got them established and which led to their 4% market share base). 

Canon wants 50% of the pond. The pond is getting smaller. Nikon wants at least 20% of the deeper end of the pond. Sony wants more of the pond. Those three companies account for 85-90% of the entire pond, yet the pond keeps on shrinking. 

This is usually where I say "there will be sales." Yes, I believe so, and festering world economy issues will potentially increase that likelihood. But the camera companies are going to do everything they can to resist those sales. The sales might be briefer, they might rotate through models rather than being across the board, or they might be more of the bundle variety (e.g. Nikon's get a vertical grip for free type). With the continued contraction of the camera market, every dollar retained is going to be important for the long-term viability of the Japanese camera companies. 

The CP+/WPPI Roundup

Note that I also consider anything released in the two weeks prior to CP+ as being CP+ related. 

While the mirrorless products were front and center at the two recent shows (WPPI and CP+), that didn't mean there weren't things happening of interest to DSLR users. 

  • Canon RAISE—Given the all upper case, RAISE obviously is an acronym for something, but we only know what the AI part refers to (hint: AI ;~). Adobe Stock has for some time now had the auto-sorting and tagging features Canon just introduced in RAISE. Canon is going to provide a Lightroom plug-in, too, so there's a huge duplication here to what's already been done. To what end? It's unclear how I share images usefully out of RAISE, or what Canon's really up to here. Some have speculated that by working on auto-tagging like this, Canon learns more about what the camera should be (or is) doing ("Canon may collect information about the images you upload, including EXIF data..."). That could inform future camera intelligence (e.g. auto tagging in camera). The problem is that I see the clear value to Canon for RAISE, but I don't see the immediate value for me. This is one of the fundamental problems with Web 3.0 thinking: it wants the masses to be free providers of work and information that a company then profits off of without compensating you. No thanks. I don't work for free. Note: RAISE is a CanonUSA initiative, not apparently a corporate one (yet). Oh, and because of the AI aspect of it, RAISE runs afoul of privacy laws in three states.
  • CFexpress—The next generation of CFexpress—2.0—standards have already been announced, and CP+ was the coming out party. That despite the fact we don't have any 1.0 cards or devices on the market yet. Ironically, the chairman of the association behind the standards is from Canon, which doesn't currently use XQD (the CFexpress predecessor). So it was kind of strange to hear a Canon executive announce the future of what Nikon has already committed to. There was interesting news in the announcement, too: current XQD is what will become CFexpress Type B. Type A will be a form of the card standard in a smaller package (look out SD). Type C will be a much larger package with new state-of-the-art hard drive type specs (up to 4GBps performance). Don't get confused by all the announcements regarding CFexpress. We're about to get CFexpress 1.0 cards, though it appears they will all be labeled as Type B, which is from the 2.0 standard. Those cards are the direct descendent of XQD, using two-lane Gen 3 PCIe as the interface. The primary difference between the cards we'll be getting soon (1.0) and the next generation (2.0) of Type B cards is that the software stack will move from NVM Express 1.2 to 1.3. Otherwise the broad specifications are the same. Put another way, Type B cards should have broad backwards compatibility if the device creators are paying attention and updating their firmware appropriately.
  • Nikon CFexpress—A firmware development announcement for the D500, D850, and D5 that they'll update these cameras so that they can use CFExpress cards as well as XQD ones. Didn't I ask that question of Nikon back in April 2018 and didn't they promise to get back to me about it? (answers: yes, and no)
  • Nikon Firmware—Nikon updated the D600, D610, and D750 firmware, but mostly for bug fixes.
  • Nikon WR-A10 and WR-10—Once again we get a temporary suspension of production on these key wireless elements. Nikon's claim is that they're rebuilding the production system for them and are having trouble procuring parts. New production won't occur until July 2019, at the earliest. Couple this with the problem that the WR system was poorly designed (the WR-A10 has a tendency to break and is needed on the DSLRs to use the WR-10) and you have the usual Nikon Can't Do Accessories complaint I've had for years. I'll say it again: if you're going to go it alone building an ecosystem, you have to build the whole ecosystem and do it well, not just build cameras. Frankly, this is incompetence. 
  • Pentax KP Custom—Well, if you aren't going to sell many, you might as well call it a Limited Edition ;~). What this is, who knows, as Pentax only presented a vague announcement and model to look at. We do know it will have a wooden grip, a different coating on the lens mount, and a new top plate, though, which suggests that there won't be much if any change inside. No price, available only in Japan initially, no other details. No interest.
  • Pentax 85mm f/1.4—Another development announcement, despite the fact that this full frame lens has been on the lens roadmap since, I believe, 2017. Time keeps of slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future...
bythom pentax 11-18mm


  • Pentax 11-18mm f/2.8—Announced in fall of 2017, this lens still hasn't seen the light of day. Well, okay, what appears to be a production lens finally saw the light of the CP+ display hall (after a press release re-announcement at the end of January). US$1400, and available "soon." But...time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future...
  • Pentax Lens Road MapThe fisheye zoom is gone, a new crop sensor standard zoom lens was added. But...time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future...
  • ProGrade CFexpressput out a press release looking for development partners who wanted to test two new lines of CFexpress cards, Cobalt (1.6GBps with 1.4MBps write burst speed) and Gold (with write burst speeds from 600MBps to 1GBps). Capacities will start at 120GB and go to 1TB. In addition, they apparently have a USB 3.1 CFexpress reader coming, as well.
bythom rokinon 10mm


  • Samyang 10mm f/3.5—a rectilinear, manual focus, wide angle lens, with a claimed level of zero linear distortion. Canon EF and Nikon F, available "spring", with Canon first, Nikon second. While a lot of you are probably thinking about a lens like this on something like a D850, what struck me was that it might be a really good choice for APS-C/DX, in other words, a D7500/D500 type user. The MTF charts published for the lens look quite good, too. Definitely a lens to keep on your watch list, and one that I intend to test. (Rokinon version shown above. Available for pre-order.)
  • Samyang 35mm f/1.2—A fast moderate wide angle lens for Canon EF. Part of Samyang's "spring collection."
  • Sony CFexpress—Sony announced development of both a 1.7MBps CFexpress 128GB card and MRW-G1 card reader. This is a "tough" design, able to withstand additional force. Includes card condition and file rescue utility software. 256GB and 512GB cards are coming in the future. Nikon has cameras that will be able to use CFexpress cards in the future (D500, D850, D5), but it's unclear if they'll be able to take advantage of the extra speed. Available summer 2019.
  • Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD—a development announcement for a future fast, mid-wide angle DSLR lens for full frame cameras. Canon EF and Nikon F, available mid-2019. Tamron already has a very good 35mm f/1.8 lens, so I'm wondering what we'll be getting here that's worth looking at.
  • Tamron 35-150mm f/2.8-4 Di VC OSD—a development announcement for a potentially unique all-in-one lens for full frame cameras. While it doesn't go far into the wide angle, it goes further into the telephoto range than the 24-120mm type lenses. It's reasonably fast in aperture, but uses a variable aperture to stay smaller. The interesting thing is that a lot of APS-C/DX users—particularly Americans who don't like to get close to things ;~)—were using a 24-120mm f/4 on their crop sensor bodies. What's that in FX terms? 36-180mm. Hmm. Tamron calls it a "portrait zoom," but I don't think that's really how it will be used. EF-S and DX users are going to look at this lens as the "missing 70-200mm," too, as it's 53-225mm on a Nikon DX body (more like 60-255mm on Canon EF-S bodies). Curiously, Tamron doesn't seem to be mentioning that. Canon EF and Nikon F, available mid-2019.
  • Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 Opera—Not quite the 17-35mm replacement many have been hoping for, as it doesn't have filter threads. Moreover, I'm not sure what "Opera" actually means now that they've used the term for very high quality primes and a much lower cost (US$699) zoom. This looks much like a refresh of an earlier Tokina lens to me, complete with the focus clutch arrangement. Canon EF and Nikon F, available March.

You might ask "why so many DSLR lenses if DSLRs are dead?" 

This confuses current and future camera sales with installed base. At some point in the future, DSLR body sales are mostly dead, for sure. Right now, though, the biggest installed base of users is, you guessed it DSLR users, and DSLR bodies still sell decently. Lenses extend the useful life of a DSLR. After all, we've had really competent DSLRs for quite some time now, cameras that exceed the quality requirements of the majority of photographers.

So the answer to the question is simple: late-cycle wallet sniping. It's late in the DSLR cycle, and the makers are trying to pull a few last dollars out of your wallet.

Winner:

  • Tamron—They continue to put higher-end lenses into the queue, and they don't always duplicate what's already available, so kudos. 

Losers:

  • Everyone—As I noted above, it's late cycle now for the DSLR products. We'll continue to see DSLR sales drift downward. Thus, when you compare the amount of new product activity written about in this article with how much was in the mirrorless side, you can see that we're already into the transition period from DSLR to mirrorless. We'll continue to see some new bodies and lenses, but we may be entering the last cycle of significant new offerings from all the entities. Some are simply going to move on, as Fujifilm, Olympus, and Sony already have. 
  • Pentax—Pretty lame. A vague development announcement of something that appears to just be some cosmetic changes to an existing model. And a development announcement for a lens that's been on the roadmap for two years. Time is moving very slowly at Pentax, it appears. I almost expect the Pentax team to show up some day in the not too distant future, look around the room, and wonder "where'd the DSLR guys go?" 

Did The Camera Makers Follow the Trends?

At this point you can find the basic claim I first made back in 2007/8 all over the place in the media: smartphones are cannibalizing the camera market. Or have cannibalized the dedicated camera market. Or continue to cannibalize the camera market. Basically, smartphones are cannibals, apparently.

Of course, when I first began writing that, the data was slim to support my contention, and I was actually putting out a straw man thesis partly based upon personal experience I had in Africa in 2007 with an iPhone and what I knew was going on in Silicon Valley at the time (e.g. future mobile products, both hardware and software).

Today, the numbers don't lie. Only, the numbers are correlational, not necessarily causal. All the statisticians among you know what I mean by that. Just because the smartphone market has climbed to the billions of units while the camera market has contracted to just less than 20 million units a year doesn't mean that smartphones are the cause of the camera contraction.

Aside: anyone looking for a PhD thesis should consider looking at household penetration rates for cameras versus new camera sales, and how those have completely changed in the last 20 years. It's a data point about new household penetration rates that provoked today's new straw man article.

In any consumer business, you have to pay very close attention to trend lines. In fashion, for instance, things like styles, materials, and colors change all the time. If you don't correctly anticipate what mood the consumer is in and how their predilections are changing, you'll end up with a lot of inventory you have to fire sale to get rid of (and that's the best case scenario ;~).

In the auto industry, the contradiction between gas prices and convenience has been making it tough for the auto makers to rationalize consumer trends perfectly. Here in the US, everyone wants big SUVs and trucks, but when gas prices skyrocket, the demand for more compact vehicles goes back up (another interesting thesis project). 

So what are the full set of trends that have been impacting dedicated cameras? Actually, quite a few:

  • Size/weight — A whole bunch of sub-factors enter into this basic trend. First, we have the aging of the interchangeable lens camera owner. As they get older and older, the idea of carrying a five pound necklace around all day starts to become a big factor in decisions about new gear. Even two pounds is pushing it now for the 60+ crowd. Yet those are the ones with the time and disposable income to buy a top end camera and use it regularly. The airlines haven't helped things for the camera makers. There was a time when my carry-on camera backpack tended to weigh 40 pounds on most trips. The basic International weight limit for a carry-on these days has dropped to 15-22 pounds (7-10kg). That's almost the weight of my D5 and 400mm f/2.8G when you throw in an extra battery and a couple other goodies. Then there's what the camera makers have done to themselves: why should I carry a heavy 24-70mm lens around for my DSLR when a Sony RX100 that fits in my shirt pocket can hold its own much of the time and for many photographic purposes? 
  • How images are shared — This trend was clearly evident before the turn of the century. Amazingly, it was visible first in Japan, where the initial camera-enabled phones appeared and the carriers had to figure out how to deal with data and where users put their images. The camera companies didn't catch onto this trend then, they didn't catch onto it when the iPhone appeared, they started to think about it when all the Silicon Valley companies began to roll out cloud image storage and social networking took off. The Japanese camera companies eventually and begrudgingly put older, slow communications chips into their cameras to give lip service to the idea that an image might somehow be communicated rather than printed. Realistically, the camera companies are well over a decade behind the trend.
  • Reliance on displays — Related to how images are shared is how they're displayed. Today, images are increasingly being displayed on electronic displays, not on paper. That's becoming true for even large forms, such as billboards. Those displays are not 4:3 (sorry m4/3 users), nor are they 3:2 (sorry 35mm SLR and DSLR users). They're 16:9 in the most common form, and I'm starting to see even wider ones now. It amazes me how few cameras have the ability to shoot stills directly into the 16:9 aspect ratio. It really should be the default, not the option. Then there's the issue of how your image gets from the camera to the display itself. Yes, I know I can now hook an HDMI cable between my camera and display. But cables? That's so 20th Century. Has any camera maker even considered something like Apple AirPlay? Apple certainly has considered it: with AirPlay 2 we now have four major television set manufacturers (LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio) who allow Apple devices to wirelessly connect for display, which, of course, includes iPhones. 
  • Sontag's thesis — If you haven't read Susan Sontag's On Photography, you should. Whether you agree with her ideas or not, they'll provoke a great deal of thought on your part (or should). At the risk of greatly over-simplifying and slightly changing one of her message: we all stand on the shoulders of what came before us in photography. It's no longer good enough to just take a picture of Half Dome in Yosemite from the valley floor as millions have done. It's important for us to build on that and show our own experience/feeling/thoughts. One of the ways we can do that is if our photographic gear evolves to allow that (my thought, not Susan's). One interesting thing that emerged in the last decade is the selfie: an image of you in the place rather than just the place, with you becoming more important than the place. The camera makers have only partly acquiesced to that (e.g. selfie-capable rear LCD viewing), but one wonders how many other things that are photographic trends exist that the camera makers are slow to pick up on. Curiously, both Apple and Nikon have tried to do the opposite, and give us something new, as with that Harry Potter-esque still and motion together idea, but we didn't embrace it. But we need to encourage that sort of experimentation and insist that the camera companies catch on to the things we actually do with our cameras faster, too.
  • Moore's LawThe number of transistors doubles every two years. The things that are affected by that are: pricing, memory capacity, speed, and more. While the basic unit of the image sensor—the photo diode—doesn't really gain from semiconductor size decrease, the supporting electronics certainly do. The problem for camera makers is that in order to keep up with Moore's Law, you need market size. Otherwise the increases in R&D, test, and manufacturing costs go up in ways you can't recover. Thus, if you look at the current A12 Bionic chip Apple uses in the iPhones you find virtually every advancement you'd expect from Moore's Law. It's a fast 64-bit 6-core CPU, with an 8-core neural network, with a 4-core GPU, while being very low in power use. There's not a dedicated camera that comes close to that with their SOC (System on Chip). As we move further into computational photography, the chip at the heart of the device becomes more and more important to be state-of-the-art. And it's not just at the core of the system that the camera makers have been lagging. They're still using older and slower interface systems. There's not a camera out there that can write to a card as fast as the fastest card can handle, for instance. And don't get me started about Wi-Fi and USB speeds.
  • Longevity of product — Cameras have always been relatively rugged and reliable. There's long been the notion of the "serious camera in the closet." In other words, you bought one once, and it comes out for some special occasions, events, vacations, but otherwise it sits somewhere not actually in use. You keep it, because it's good enough and reliable enough, and probably all you'll have to do is recharge the batteries and remember how to use it (;~). For that crowd to want a new camera they have to be convinced that there's something they need photographically that they can't do with the camera-in-the-closet. What the camera makers never figured out is how to sell you anything other than an additional lens for that camera in the closet. Even something as simple as a real, tangible, paid firmware update seems to escape their ability. Heaven help them if they had considered more modularity than a lens mount.
  • Need to customize — We're all programmers today. No, not nerd coders that are running around deep in some arcane programming language, but rather we are customizing all our products to our specific needs more today than ever before. Sometimes it's just vanity and pride, such as putting a different background image on your screen. But more and more often, it's pruning out things you don't use, and elevating the things that you do use to primary position. Quick, which apps are on your mobile device's home page, and why? Camera makers have enabled a fair amount of customization over the years, but it's not necessarily the customization the user wants. Why is it, for instance, that bracketing is a dedicated thing specific to only a few items and choices? Why can't I bracket noise reduction, for instance, and do so at a near continuous set of levels? Or bracket in-camera lens corrections? The reason is that the Japanese companies all design paternally: they know best what you need. Or so they think. Nikon owners these days are asking why the D850 allows AF-Area mode to be changed automatically with a button press (AF-On, thumb stick, etc.) while the Z7 doesn't. That's paternalism at work. Z7 owners don't need that, says Nikon. Unfortunately, that's the opposite of the trend. The trend is that we customers want more customization and control, not carefully selected customization and control determined by salarymen sitting in offices in Tokyo.
  • Simplification of building — Tech products inevitably want to get rid of mechanical parts and reduce the overall parts count via semiconductor consolidation. They also want to get rid of alignment procedures and screws. Most DSLRs had on the order of 2500 parts, many of them screws, and multiple complex alignment procedures. It was inevitable that the camera companies would want to get rid of parts and alignments simply from a cost standpoint. That's exactly what the shift from DSLR to mirrorless is all about, actually. You could build a DSLR that does everything the best mirrorless camera does today, but it would actually take more parts than are in the current DSLRs to do it. You wouldn't get rid of manufacturing complexities, you'd add to them. Not the trend that the Japanese would want to follow. In the best of all worlds, cameras would get down to one display, one sensor, and one SoC (System on Chip). Of course, we won't get that far, but that's the trend line the companies want to pursue with camera designs: reduce complexity and parts.

So what if we put all these trends into one? Hmm, we'd have the Communicating, Programmable, Modular camera I outlined back in 2007. 

But to be specific, we need:

  1. Something smaller, lighter, and more convenient to carry.
  2. Something that ties directly into our social networking, email, and home computers, and offers a more convenient and automated workflow.
  3. Something whose on-camera display can be completely mimicked on any display we wish to plug into or wirelessly communicate with.
  4. Something that lasts a long time, but can be "updated" either by firmware and/or modular components (beyond lenses). 
  5. Something that we can customize to our use and workflow, both in shooting and sharing.
  6. Something that's simple to manufacture and thus reliable.

Of those, note that smartphones score big on #1, #2, and #6. #4 and #5 are part scores for smartphones. Cameras?

  1. We're seeing some reduction in weight and size for the equivalent camera. Lenses, however, are turning out to be a problem (other than things like the PF lenses).
  2. The camera makers have all now basically got a camera-to-smartphone connection that works. Slowly. Pulling the phone off the Wi-Fi connection it had. Without much in the way of helpful automation for sharing.
  3. HDMI cable is all you get for the most part.
  4. This one is difficult to judge at the moment. The transition to mirrorless has everyone scrambling to get their firmware up to snuff, so we do get substantive firmware updates from some. But I fear that's a temporary thing that's mostly just the software side catching up with the already released hardware. And, of course, no one makes money from that, so there's no incentive to do it. Catch-22.
  5. Just being able to assign any function to any button was a start (and still not met by some companies), but it's only a start, unfortunately. There's almost nothing to help us with workflow, and the attempts to let us simplify (e.g. MyMenu or Quick Menus) are actually additions that add some complexity, not remove it. True customization would mean that our cameras do just what we want them to, the way we want them to, and everything else that they could do disappears under the covers (we still want to get down there and do things under the covers sometimes, but we don't want 100+ items clogging our menus all the time).
  6. Bingo. The camera makers actually are on this trend like a chicken bone. That's because there are cost savings to be had in doing it, not because we customers wanted it.

I've written for over a decade that ILC volume will continue downward and won't go back up into growth territory until the camera makers embrace something, anything, and preferably everything that would make most of the closet-camera owners believe that they needed to replace their existing gear. Mirrorless isn't quite that thing, though the what-you-see-is-what-you-get EVF is enough for some, so we're getting a little blip there. 

It still seems clear to me, now 12 years later, that that thing that causes people to buy a new dedicated camera is how the image gets from the scene in front of you to the display in front of your audience. I don't know how to express that thought any simpler. I just had someone yesterday complain to me about how terrible it is to process a bunch of NEFs in Lightroom. That despite the fact that Lightroom has some of the best batch processing capabilities around (process one image, apply to all from a session, tidy up the few that still aren't right).  

The ball is still in the camera maker's court (and has been for over a decade). I have to assume that they are fine with market contraction, because I really don't see them pursuing the things that would reverse the market. 

Time to Step on the GAS?

GAS stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Over the years, photographers have been on and off again with their gear buying patterns. Sometimes the foot is on the GAS pedal, sometimes it's on the credit card brakes.

With Nikon DSLRs, for instance, there was a big surge early on with the D1 generation that was then turned into a flood with the appearance of the affordable D70. Nikon GAS tended to turn off with the D2 generation cameras (D2h, D2x, D200, some low-end consumer DSLRs). There was a perception during that four year period that Nikon wasn't matching what Canon was doing (though I believe that perception was an overstatement). 

Then the D3, D3x, D300, and D700 hit in quick succession, and Nikon GAS was back on for a few years, this time mostly in full frame. But later a lukewarm D300s update and a rapid succession of consumer bodies turned off the prosumer GAS for awhile, while the 2011 quake and flood slowed Nikon's release pattern and completely turned off the GAS for a bit when Nikon mostly started pushing Nikon 1's out of China instead. 

I'm not going to get into the gory details of every on/off mood the Nikon-buying crowd has gone through, nor am I going to document the same thing for the Canon side, which has had similar ups and downs. I just call attention to those swings so as to point something out: we're in another buying market again, at least for full frame cameras.

On the Nikon side, the D850 kicked this off, but the Z6 and Z7 have now added to the excitement. Truly, these are incredible cameras, and the Z's are getting some excellent lenses to match. Indeed, pretty much every FX lens Nikon has put out in the last few years has been an extra-base hit if not an outright home run. If you don't have Nikon full frame GAS right now, you'll never have it. 

On the Canon side, the execution has been more even in DSLR, so we didn't get as wide a full frame GAS swing from the red-hatted crowd. Still, the 6Dm2, 5Dm4, and 5Ds/r must have seriously interested the Canon full frame crowd, and now the R and RP are pushing the buy button again for many. And those RF lenses look every bit as mouth-watering as the Nikon Z lenses in terms of performance.

We also now know what Panasonic and Sony are doing in the full frame ILC market, and both have really nicely defined products to consider. 

So this is a good time to make a decision: are you in or are you out? (Of full frame cameras, that is.) Because if you're in, you need to send a signal to the camera makers that you're still in their corner. As camera and lens sales volume continues to decline, the camera makers are making winnowing decisions, as in "hmm, not as many bought X as Y, so let's drop X and concentrate on Y." Moreover, as the camera makers winnow, we'll start losing other important elements we count on, like camera dealers and accessory makers.

Some of you are saying, "but if I buy now I might miss out on the next thing." True. But everything you can buy in full frame today is excellent, so do you really need some esoteric feature or a few more pixels? If you're waiting for perfection, you'll be waiting for a long time. Moreover, we can pretty easily predict what's going to happen next in full frame across the board:

  • Canon EF: a top-of-the-line 1DXm3 is certainly coming before the 2020 Olympics. Some more EF lenses will still come, and that's partly because the Cinema cameras use the same mount. So really the only folks that should be waiting here are the 1DXm2 owners.
  • Canon R: an entry model (just introduced RP) and a top high-megapixel model (later) are coming. We finally have a bit of an RF lens road map from Canon, plus the patents and executive commentary so far are pretty suggestive of what's coming, and it all sounds good to me. 
  • Nikon F: Nikon surely must have a D750 replacement coming. Everything's in place for that now, and that camera still sells decently despite being four years old. The tricky part is price point. A D760 would sell differently at US$1600 than it would at US$2000, given all the competition now. A D6 is also almost certain before the 2020 Olympics. The new lens pipeline seems to be plugged at the moment, but what we have is really, really good.
  • Nikon Z: Probably no new full frame mirrorless camera coming until after DSLR updates, and none is necessary: firmware upgrades can keep the Z6 and Z7 fresh. The lens road map is well-known and looks good to me. Would have been nice to get early third-party lens support, but well, that's one of the things we give up being Nikon users.
  • Panasonic: That's the camera line up folks: S1 and S1R. Given their volume, I can't imagine them doing another any time in the foreseeable future. The lens road map is now published, and the Leica and Sigma lens offerings will supplement that nicely, I think.
  • Sony: Come on now, you can't figure out what happens next? We're missing an A7Sm3, and then we'd be expecting an A7Rm4 at some point next year. The A9 looks like it will get better just through firmware for the time being, and some of that will roll into the A7m3 and A7Rm3 to give them legs. Sony continues to roll new lenses at a regular pace, so it's now getting difficult to point out a gap (hint: 135 to 300mm primes).

So what is it you don't know that's stopping you from buying?

As I wrote earlier, it's time to make a decision: are you in for full frame or not? If you are, then the choice on the market is wide and excellent right now. Nothing you can buy today can take bad photos unless you make it do so. And everything on the list should be a camera that lasts you years, not months. 

Time to step on the GAS. Or not. Your choice.


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The DSLR Decline

Canon and Nikon have both now reported their sales for the holiday quarter (calendar Q4, 2018). As I've been noting a lot lately, we're in a transition period, and that transition is definitely showing up on the bottom line of both companies. 

In Nikon's case, consider this chart:

bythom 807


Green is interchangeable lens camera volume quarter by quarter, while blue is compact camera volume. The two red lines show the trend over the last three holiday periods (top one is ILC, bottom one is compacts). Not a good trend.

But Nikon specifically called something out in this quarter's presentations in Tokyo that's interesting: the high-end ILC volume is not changing, it's going as they planned and they're not changing any of their forecasts in that area. While Nikon doesn't specifically call out what cameras are in that group, I'd assume that it's the Z6, Z7, D850, and D5. Maybe the D500 and D750. Here's what they say about entry and mid-range cameras: "down 150k units." 

Let's put that in perspective, that's a 150k unit decline on a grand total of 2,250k units (and that decline year to year was already 370k units the previous year). Put another way, the lower end of ILC—which I assume to mean D3500, D5600, D7500, and D610—is reducing Nikon's ILC volume almost 10%. This is despite a planned average selling price decline of 10% overall. Yikes.

Based upon Nikon's statements, it doesn't seem like there will be a new camera body coming this quarter. Nikon is managing the Imaging Products Business through the end of their fiscal year as a controlled descent. 

Nikon is basically hurting at the entry level, not the top level. That's been a pattern with them before: introduce high, do well, add consumer products, and eventually the consumer products go bust and they return to prosumer/pro high-end as their foundation. 

If we could have a magic wand right now and wave it to produce the products Nikon needs to stop contracting, they would be:

  • Z8 to contend with the A9 crowd
  • Many more Z lenses, and more PF and innovative lenses
  • A solid new DX mirrorless lineup, call them the Z2 (D3500 level) and Z3 and Z5 (D500 level)
  • The Z6 sensor and Live View goodies in a D750 update
  • A proper D6 prior to the Tokyo Olympics

Note I didn't write "start growing," but instead wrote "stop contracting." Growth will take something much more dramatic than fixing their entry and mid-level cameras and rationalizing their camera lineup.

Meanwhile Canon—whose fiscal year is the calendar year and thus they've just reported their final 2018 results—doesn't look a lot better, just bigger. Image System sales dropped 11.3% year to year, and profit dropped 32.6%. They predict another 3.9% drop in sales and 12.8% drop in profits for 2019. We get a decline in ILC units of 9%, and for compact cameras of 22%, with another 7% decline in ILC units expected in 2019. The now almost boilerplate verbiage: "improve profitability" though expanding the high-end (full frame models and higher-end lenses).

So let's look at both Canon and Nikon, the duopolists in ILC, and see how they're both doing when plotted together:

bythom canon-nikon ilc


Blue is Canon ILC unit volume for each quarter, green is Nikon ILC unit volume. The red lines again are the holiday season trend line. 

Unfortunately, Sony doesn't report unit volume numbers other than as an aggregate for all still cameras (compact and ILC together). But it's pretty clear that all three companies expect to duke it out in full frame mirrorless as a point where they can return reasonable profits on lower volumes. 

The real question in my mind is where does the ILC decline flatten out? And what is the mix of models that are being sold when that happens? Those things are still unknown, as we're in a transition period still. But I'd say for interchangeable lens cameras, you really don't want to have too many models, you want to have the right models. 

New Nikkor Lens Rebates

Nikon's latest lens rebates are now active. As I always do, I try to give you a perspective on whether you should be thinking about any of these lenses at these prices:

  • 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E Fisheye (US$150 discount)—I haven't published my review of this lens yet, but it's a real winner in the fisheye category, and fairly flexible, at that. It's a really good lens, and I'm now using it on the Z bodies, too. The only question is whether you need 180° full frame or circular (it does both, and both on DX and FX). If you do, this is a good price and you shouldn't hesitate to purchase this lens. It's a lot more versatile than just having the 16mm fisheye in your bag.
  • 14-24mm f/2.8G (US$200 discount)—A workhorse lens, now at a fairly reasonable price. Other than field curvature, this lens really is about as good as it gets in this focal range. It's long been the go-to wide angle zoom for the Nikon pros, and it's the one f/2.8 zoom that none of us were ever thinking there needed to be a replacement for. That said, this lens now has clear competition in the Tamron 15-30mm and Sigma 14-24mm. I would have hoped for a bit more discount from Nikon here to make it a clear choice.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8G (US$100 discount)—This older lens design is somehow still hanging onto the shelves in the warehouse. Either Nikon overproduced it or they've just decided to keep producing it to keep a lower-priced option in the market. I'm not a big fan of this lens. No VR and some optical weaknesses make it less compelling these days, considering the alternatives.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8E VR (US$200 discount)—At this new price it isn't exactly low cost, but it's still the top choice for DSLR users in this range, I think. My only real problem with the lens is its size. It's big, heavy, and takes larger filters than usual (82mm). If you're looking at lenses in this category, you should take Nikon up on the periodic discounts they offer (e.g. don't buy it at full price).
  • 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (US$70 discount)—Everyone keeps telling me this is the perfect travel lens, but I still regard it as far from perfect. That 300mm, for instance: there's a ton of focal length breathing in this lens, so if you really thinking you're getting 300mm at normal shooting distances, you're going to be very surprised. Optically, it's not terrible, but it has a lot of rough edges that just don't appeal to me. This discounted price is closer to the right retail price for the lens, by the way.
  • 35mm f/1.4G (US$150 discount)—Personally, I'm more a fan of the f/1.8G lenses than the f/1.4G ones. You pay a lot more for a little more by choosing f/1.4. I'd say that you have to really need that little more to justify the cost differential.
  • 50mm f/1.4G (US$70 discount)—Avoid. This is not a lens that even Nikon recommends on a D850, which should tell you something.
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E FL VR (US$300 discount)—The discount doesn't really bring the price down enough for some, but this is the best 70-200mm f/2.8 out there; any discount is worth paying attention to. A great lens.
  • 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR (US$200 discount)—It's interesting how fast some lenses seem to age, while others don't. This is one of those "it aged too fast" lenses. The 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF-P lens shows us what we really wanted for a versatile-but-slower telephoto zoom. It would nice to have a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P to replace this discounted lens, but I don't think we're going to get one. If you need a zoom to 400mm, you really don't have a lot of choices in the Nikkor world, and this lens is probably the best of those choices. A slight bit weak optically at 400mm, but it's very solid and sharp at 80-320mm. 
  • 85mm f/1.4G (US$100 discount)—Again, I'm more a fan of the f/1.8G lenses than the f/1.4G ones. You pay a lot more for a little more by choosing f/1.4. I'd say that you have to really need that little more to justify the cost differential. Still, a very good lens, and if you don't have this or the 85mm f/1.8G in your kit, you're missing something.
  • 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor (US$75 discount)—One of Nikon's staple lenses, with no real faults and plenty of upside. Any discount is always welcome, and this puts a true macro into a price range that's tough for you non-macro owners to ignore.

Overall, this is a better choice of lenses with discounts than we usually get from Nikon. Arguably, all but the 28-300mm are pro caliber lenses, and most are just fine on the D850 with all its megapixels. 

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The Canon Doomsday Proclamation

I swore to myself I wasn't going to write any more about the business of photography until the CP+ show, which is about the point in the year where we have enough data to fully understand the past year. 

Unfortunately, an article published in Nikkei with comments from Canon's president Fujio Mitarai is raising a firestorm among the photography community. The typical headline that's producing all the hysteria is "the camera market will shrink by 50% over the next two years." 

The camera market is a many-pieced thing. At one time in the digital era, the bulk of the market was compact cameras. We also have action cameras and video cameras to consider as part of the "camera market." 

We've been losing about 30% or more volume (and dollars) each year in the compact market for quite a while now. Nothing seems to be changing there. 2018 will likely show the same decline from 2017 as 2017 did from 2016. And I see nothing that's going to stop the same decline in 2019, either. But it's not Coolpix and Powershot and Cybershot users that are getting all riled up on the Internet about Canon's statement, it's the DSLR and mirrorless users (ILC). 

Here are the trailing 12-month numbers for ILC volume out of Japan for the past eight years, in millions of units: 11.5, 11.4, 11.4, 11.3, 11.2, 11.0, 10.9, 10.8. A clear decline, but a gradual one. Mostly caused by DSLR sales going down. Fortunately, mirrorless sales have been relatively stable over that same period. What we're seeing is a slow transition from DSLR to mirrorless in ILC, with a gradual decline overall ILC volume

Not all is well with that last statement. In my more specific data I see several things that don't bode strongly for ILC in the next few years: (1) a lot of the mirrorless purchasing was sampling by DSLR users trying to see if "mirrorless was there yet"; (2) there's significant hangover in the inventory chain; and (3) the camera companies have been using pricing aggressively, to the point where their margins on the lower-end products have eroded.

My personal prediction for ILC is that we're going to see another 10% decline in volume in the next two years. Dollars are more difficult to predict, as we've got two opposing forces at play: (a) upscale cameras being produced to retrieve margin; and (b) existing cameras being discounted to produce volume and clear out things like sensor commitments.

My take on the Nikkei article is this: the company with half the consumer camera market doesn't think we're out of the decline period yet. And I 100% agree. I see no signal that anything really has changed, other than perhaps a faster shift from full frame DSLR to mirrorless than some imagined. Which in turn will likely trigger Canon and Nikon to do more to make the same transition in crop-sensor. 

Back in 2012, when it was clear that we'd reached peak ILC, I was interviewed on national radio and asked about how far the volume would fall. My answer was three-pronged: (1) yes, it would fall to an unknown floor; (2) the floor could be as low as late film SLR (roughly 6m+ units a year) factored for population and global growth; and (3) was likely to be around 8m units as far as I could tell. (As a reminder, I predicted in 2003 that we would hit peak ILC in 2011, and was off by perhaps about six months.)

I haven't really changed my answer since 2012. We're down to 10.8m units (from 16.2m in 2012). A decline to 8m units is another 26% decline, and that's not difficult to imagine now. Think back to my points about things I don't consider boding strongly for ILC in the next few years: (1) as more people transition from DSLR to mirrorless, there are fewer people sampling over and over to see if "it's ready yet"; (2) that hangover in the inventory chain can't persist forever (e.g. an original Sony A7 isn't really viable much longer at any price); and (3) the closer we get to bottom, the more the manufacturers want to hold or improve their gross profit margin.

So what does this all mean for the ILC camera buyer? 

  1. Fewer ILC products. An 8m unit market can't support 50+ models. We're going to see some model lines go away. Realistically, you need an entry consumer, high consumer, entry prosumer, high prosumer, and a pro product. The days of putting more products in the queue to finesse out a few more marginal sales are long gone. The volume isn't there to support that, and the R&D and sales costs of doing that are too high.
  2. Slower updates. The top models have tended to be on 24-month update cycles. If I were in charge, I'd be looking at 36-month or 48-month update cycles with a mid-term large firmware update. You can't lengthen the cycles too much, or else you risk lowering the volume more, but you want to lengthen the hardware side of the cycle so you're not pushing too much cash each year into physical R&D. You keep the existing model in people's minds by making sure it moves forward with features and performance through firmware updates.
  3. Pricing has to stabilize higher. The problem that Sony made for the market is that they established a <US$1000 full frame camera (original A7 in recent sales). That's super dangerous. If the expectation is that entry full frame is US$1000, that's going to make it difficult to sell cameras profitably in the future. It's really tough to cut costs at the sensor, and the sensor is usually the highest cost component in the camera. If we want better sensors in the future, there has to be cashflow to the camera companies that allows R&D investment. US$1000 full frame cameras are not going to provide that. 
  4. The transition is here. Mirrorless is the future of ILC, though DSLRs will still be around for the foreseeable future. But the fact that the transition is now fully here means something important: old lens mounts are going to see little new activity. If DSLR owners are going to transition to mirrorless (and new buyers start with mirrorless), the lens sale activity is all going to shift to mirrorless. So think RF, L, Z, and FE for the future. Most, if not nearly all, of future lenses are headed for those chunks of metal. (This is one of the reasons why I'm so critical of Canon not rationalizing the EOS M and EOS R systems. That was a product management mistake.)

Thing is, there's not an ILC you can buy today that takes bad photos. That's one of the reasons why this is a slow transition, not a fast one from DSLR to mirrorless. 8-year old DSLRs are still highly viable for most types of shooting (in the Nikon world, that would be a D4 and D800, by the way). So there's no urgency for someone owning one of those products to make the transition; you have to coax them to make the transition by dangling new features and performance. Plus a lot of the ILC crowd is older. While they wouldn't mind lightening their load (smaller, lighter mirrorless over their bigger, heavier DSLR), they also aren't a big fan of change. They don't want to learn something new. 

So, my prediction is this: Canon and Nikon will continue to roll a few DSLRs out, though we'll see models start to combine (or models disappear). We won't see many new DSLR lenses, though Canon is more likely at this than Nikon given that their video cameras use the EF mount still. Price will likely start to be used to eek out as much remaining DSLR volume as possible. The recent discount on the D850 is just the beginning, I think. 

So don't get caught up in the Internet rhetoric over Canon's statement. The ILC world hasn't changed from what it was before the statement, isn't changing because of the statement. We're in a transition that had already begun, and perhaps now will accelerate a bit. 

Do You Buy DSLR Lenses Still?

The latest trend in my In box hasn't been about cameras. It's concern about lenses (again). This time the concern is about full frame lenses (but see comment at end for crop sensor).

In particular, it's looking/rumored that Canon will primarily focus on full frame RF lenses this year, and Nikon is promising six full frame Z lenses in 2019, which would be about their average new lens output for a year. New EF and F mount lenses seem like they're be rare in the coming year. Heck, they've been rare on the Nikon side for a couple of years (4 in 2017, 2 in 2018). Canon did a bit better with 6 in 2017, 4 in 2018. 

But that trend line looks worrisome, doesn't it? 4, 2, ? and 6, 4, ?. That first ? could be 0 or 1, the second could 2. That's not a lot of new DSLR lenses.

Of course, Canon and Nikon both have huge lineups of DSLR lenses already. They're not dropping existing lenses from the lineup (other than ones that got directly replaced). So there are plenty of excellent lenses for a DSLR user—old or new—to choose from.

Yet, there's worry among the faithful that this is the end for new DSLR lenses, so I'm getting the question "is it worth buying a (DSLR lens) still?"

The answer is quite simple, actually. 

Those of you asking the question tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) you're likely sticking with DSLR; or (2) you know you'll transition to mirrorless (either sooner or later). Given the average age of most DSLR users, there are far more people in group #1 than you might think.

Those that answered #1 should know their lens answer: continue to buy the DSLR lenses you want or need. Indeed, the fact that you keep buying those EF and F lenses will keep Canon and Nikon making and supporting them. Bonus: you can stop reading now!

Those of you that answered #2 have a slightly different answer. I wouldn't, for instance, tend to put my money in any of the existing f/2.8 DSLR zooms at the moment, as both Canon and Nikon have indicated that they'll make RF and Z versions soon. While the current 14-24mm/16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm DSLR zooms all work fine on the adapters on the mirrorless bodies, I think you really want to see what Canon and Nikon produce directly for the mirrorless cameras before you invest in those particular lenses if you don't already have them. (Again, I'm talking to group #2 here; don't panic group #1 users if you kept reading!)

Speciality lenses I wouldn't worry too much about buying the DSLR version. It'll take Canon and Nikon time to transition products like the tilt-shift lenses and even most of the big exotics. Moreover, in a number of cases, I'm not sure that it would be worth waiting for, anyway. For example, the two PF lenses (300mm and 500mm) from Nikon work just fine on the FTZ adapter on the Z cameras. I'd doubt that a Z version of either would change much other than dropping the need for the adapter. Not a big deal to me.

Primes are an interesting area. All my Canon and Nikon primes work just fine on the R and Z bodies via adapter. They shoot exactly how I remember them shooting. However, both Canon and Nikon have produced new mirrorless primes that outperform the equivalent DSLR prime (reviews of the Nikon 35mm and 50mm f/1.8 coming shortly). If that trend continues, I'd be tempted to wait on primes, too, if you're in that #2 category. 

A lot of you didn't notice my Nikon Z Lens Set blog entry. I noted a number of DSLR lenses there that I'm using on my Z cameras and I'm not at all thinking that there will be a Z version soon that would make me change my mind. In particular:

  • 8-15mm f/3.5E
  • 19mm f/4 PC-E
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P
  • 300mm f/4E PF
  • 500mm f/5.6E PF

I'm sure I could identify more, but that list is just primarily for my own types of shooting. Use your own judgment for your shooting, with these two things to guide you:

  • f/2.8 zooms are coming, consider waiting to see how they perform and how they're priced
  • Basic primes are looking better in the mirrorless mount, particularly outside the center

Finally, there's a third group: people who've already made the transition. You know who you are: you've already bought an Canon R or Nikon Z6 or Z7. You've already put your existing DSLR lenses on the adapters and seen what they can and can't do. You're actually the reason why Canon and Nikon are going to put out so many RF and Z lenses this year. They're hoping you buy them all ;~). 

Unfortunately, some lenses just don't seem like they're coming soon, so you have to make some DSLR choices. For example, macro lenses (no I don't consider the Canon R 35mm f/1.8 a useful macro lens). We may be waiting a long time before we get >100mm macro lenses in mirrorless, so you're going to be dipping into DSLR lenses to cover that. 

Likewise, strangely we're not seeing consumer-type lenses from Canon or Nikon in their RF and Z announcements or rumors. No 28-200mm (or longer) superzoom, no 70/80-300+mm telephoto zoom, not even a 70-200mm f/4 or 100-400mm f/5.6. You'll be dipping into the DSLR line if you want something like that.

Addendum: I mentioned crop sensor up at the top. If full frame Canon and Nikon DSLR users are confused, imagine the crop sensor users. Canon has a crop sensor mirrorless system, but it's incompatible with RF and requires its own lenses (or adapting EF lenses). Three primes and five consumer zooms make up the entire EOS M lens set. If you're not happy with that, you have to buy a DSLR lens and adapt. 

Nikon users don't even have that choice. For the time being, crop sensor is only DSLR for Nikon. There we have four DX primes, three DX "prosumer" lenses, and 23 consumer zooms (many of which are remakes or no longer made) to choose from. Basically a Nikon crop sensor user buys DX and FX lenses in the F mount, period. 

As I've indicated many times, I believe that Canon and Nikon (and now Sony) are getting crop sensor wrong when it comes to lenses. Sure, build the consumer zooms: entry-level folk prioritize convenience. But don't throttle the lineup. Build up a basic set of crop sensor lenses. In full frame equivalents, I'd argue that you need a minimum of 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes, and 16-35mm, 24-70/105/120mm, and 70-200mm zooms with a reasonable aperture. Add a longer macro, too. If you don't have those things, then the person that came in at entry-level discovers they can't get to the next level with what they have. The price jump to FX is too much for some, so you lose those folk to m4/3 and Fujifilm, both of whom have the lenses you didn't make. 

One question I get when I mention this is this: why don't the third-party lens makers step in, then? To some degree, they have (witness the Sigma f/1.8 crop sensor zooms). But the thing is that the third party lens makers don't have the same motivation that the camera maker does. The camera maker should have the motivation of "retain the customer and collect all their dollars." The third party lens maker has the motivation of "where do I get the most return on my R&D dollar?" Thus, what happens is that the third party lens makers generally see more potential in something other than making a crop sensor lens (which because of the market, is going to have to be consumer priced, remember). Right now, the primary motivation for the third party lens makers is to be faster to a particular mirrorless lens than the camera maker, because that's where they can collect the most cash. The marketing hype is all in mirrorless to start with, so they can ride the marketing wave, too. 


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