What's Still Hot?

Here we are post holiday shopping and waiting for the next round of new and exciting camera products to drop. This is the perfect time to discuss what's still hot, and what has cooled considerably. And then discuss what "hot" actually means.

No doubt, there are two cameras that are still red hot: the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R3. The Nikon is six months old, the Sony three, so they're relatively new cameras, both are still high in demand at stores, both still get plenty of Internet chatter about how good they are, and I can attest that both are cameras at or near the top of the game. Any game. 

Beyond those models, though, things are much more mixed. The Nikon D500 certainly still gets a fair amount of buzz, as a really competent action shooter at often bargain prices should. The D7500 doesn't get much mention anywhere, probably because in price and features it just doesn't make for a logical sell down point from the D500. Too high a price with too much feature reduction.

Sony can still claim some buzz happening around the RX10 Mark IV and A9 models, though the former is a very niche product and the latter had a lot of its hotness clipped by the A7R3 (disclosure: I decided to return the A9 and keep the A7R3). The RX0 certainly gets lots of talk, but no one seems to know what it is or what it's really for. 

Fujifilm is still getting hot buzz from the GFX 50S, if not sales, and the X100F still gets a lot of solid talk after a year on the market (compare that the more recent Canon G1 X Mark III, below, which has the same size sensor). The rest of their lineup seems to have tamed considerably in terms of attraction to the gear-consumed Internet poster not already a Fujifilm convert. (That's not to say that the Fujifilm faithful still aren't touting their choices; it's that new adherents and recently converted are harder to find, a sign of things going more lukewarm than hot.) 

Canon doesn't have any "Internet Hot" cameras, though they have plenty that are selling decently. The closest they had to a truly "hot" camera in 2017 was the G1 X Mark III, which brought their excellent 24mp APS-C sensor to a compact camera body and lens (24-72mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6). Closer examination shows that the lens is a little slow and weak, there's no 4K video, and the battery life is as minimal as it gets. Those disappointments make the US$1300 price untenable for most, and thus the camera fell rapidly off most people's hot list.

Leica had a good year (CL, TL2, M10), but it's difficult to claim that anything from that high-end brand really heats up the Internet since it is so pricey. New models certainly heat up the Leica Lovers, though. Within that small, self-selecting crowd, I'd say that Leica has made themselves as hot as they dare get. Too many new expensive, desirable cameras and they could bankrupt the more affluent citizens of small countries, after all.

Is the Olympus E-M1 Mark II still hot? Did the E-M10 Mark III achieve hotness? I'd say no to both. Like Fujifilm, Olympus seems to be in a lukewarm category for the moment. Olympus fans are happy, but I don't see the fervent proselytizing chatter from them trying to convert the non m4/3 users that I used to. The "E-M1 Mark II is better than a D500" chatter is now non-existent (and it was always on the false side).

Panasonic pulled a quick one. They took a hot (mostly video-oriented) camera (GH5) and made a hotter variation of it (GH5S). Nice job. The debate is so hot that they've even got recent GH5 purchasers and considerers actively arguing about whether they should really be opting for the GH5S. That's almost the definition of "hot" on the Internet. 

Sadly, the very excellent G9 has already lost all but the m4/3 user's interest, despite its near GH5-ness and its should-be-hot 80mp multishot capability. 

Okay, you may or may not agree with me on all that. Your definition of "hot" probably is a bit different than mine, but I'll stick by my basic rankings (from hot to not):

  1. D850, A7R3III, GH5/S
  2. D500, A9, GFX 50S, X100F
  3. RX10M4, maybe G1X M3, the Leica stuff
  4. Most anything else Fujifilm, E-M1 M2, G9
  5. Everything else

More important questions to ask are these: (1) how does something get "hot"?; and (2) how does something stay hot?

You may note that "hot" cameras tend to be more the top end products these days. Either really top end (D850, A7R3III, A9, etc.) or top end of a category (X100F, RX10M4, etc.). To be "hot" you need to be defining the category, and you need a clear marketable aspect that stands out against the competition.

Look at the Nikon D7500: not hot. It doesn't really define the category (Nikon's own D500 out defines it), nor is there any clear marketable aspect to the camera other than to say "same sensor as the industry-leading D500, but a lot of stuff removed." Oops. Really tough to get someone to come into a store and say "I want the camera with a bunch of good stuff removed." Even if that removes US$600 worth of price (but not always, the D500 goes on sale a lot). 

In terms of staying hot, you really need the user base to continue talking about those defining features (or performance), and for as long as possible after they've begun using those cameras. 

That's where things get interesting. Sony spends a lot of time and money trying to drive that continuing conversation via the mainstream press. 

You may have noticed this past few weeks that all the auto magazines and Web sites have been writing about the new Jeep Wrangler. And for some reason all the images are of those new Jeep Wranglers are in New Zealand. That's because Jeep had what we in the media call a press junket: invite all the key press influencers on a free trip to New Zealand where they get to try out the new vehicle and talk to key execs and engineers about it in a marketing-controlled environment. 

Sony uses variations on press junkets for all its important camera announcements. While free trips aren't always involved, there's almost always free access to a special sponsored event—such as the fake track and field meet with the A9 launch—and under a marketing controlled environment. Lots of gear to play with. Lots of execs and engineers to talk with about it. Lots of marketing messages deployed, which then tend to be repeated by the junketeers. 

The reason I mention this is that the big CP+ show in Japan is coming up on March 1st, and we'll have plenty of Japanese camera companies using that opportunity to corral the visiting photography press into some mini-junkets (factory tours, HQ exec interview sessions, and more), because they're going to be introducing some important products they want to go hot. 

Personally, camera products are "hot" to me because they perform. Period. 

Actually, they out perform. The reason why I still write that the D850 is the best all-around high-end camera you can buy is because it is. The pixels from it when used with the best lenses and with good shot discipline are spectacular, and into what we used to consider solely medium format territory. Nikon has taken a camera model that has been hot since 2012—the D800—iterated it twice and kept it hot. The D800 had the best pixel-level data in an ILC (other than true medium format) in 2012. The D810 managed to up the ante some in 2014, and the D850 did it again in 2017. Meanwhile the metering and focus systems have improved visibly, too, and are at the top of the game. That's a true "hot." 

I have to say that I'm impressed with Sony, too. They seem to be on the same page as Nikon is with their best efforts: build the best darned product, iterate it to keep it hot, not just to iterate it into something they can call new. The A7R line has been doing a close imitation of the D8xx line almost in lockstep with Nikon. Bravo. The A7R3 is what I'd call the second best all-around high-end camera you can buy, and again, because after using it extensively, it lives up to that in terms of performance. Again, "true hot."

Within the next month or so we're going to hear about new products. They'll be plenty of "Internet hot" chatter as the marketing engines all engage. The real interesting thing will be whether any of those temporarily hot products stay hot after users get their hands on them and start talking about how good (or not) they are.

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