Brand (dis)loyalty, mirrorless and why it’s good for everybody

Switching camps has never been easier: with the increasing number of companies going mirrorless, photographers can now have their cake and eat it – at least in theory. With the whole premise of mirrorless being smaller, mechanically simpler and cheaper, there are several key implications for every company: firstly, new mounts and optics are needed to at least attempt to keep to the brief. Secondly, the form factors are going to land up much the same: EVF in the centre position (or off to the left); thin body with large mount since the final element has to be very close to the sensor and therefore large to avoid extreme ray angles and all of the things this implies; some sort of decent handgrip both to house the substantial battery to power an always-on sensor and display; not quite enough body real estate to place the buttons for all of the features demanded by today’s buyers; and lastly – a bonus feature. Basically: make it as attractive as possible to the buyer to adopt, but remembering that as a company, you are also going to have to convince your existing brand loyalists to reinvest heavily, too. I’m opening with fighting words, but there is a point to all of this especially with the last two big holdouts joining the game.

At the core of it, almost all of the modern mirrorless cameras – I think we can call them safely second generation, with the first generation being characterised as still feeling compromised vis a vis a traditional DSLR – follow the same format. Flange distances are around the 20mm mark, with very large throats; bodies are small-paperback-with-a-grip in shape; the rest is as small as they can make it, and with a control paradigm that follows as many previous ‘house’ rules as possible (and often to the detriment of actually achieving a better user experience). It’s conservative to the point that we are still for the most part sticking our noses into the obligatory touch screens and suffering from bad AF selection systems (I’m looking at you, Nikon) dating from the early days of live view. We’re even still stuck with either a mass of information overlaid and obstructing the composition (everybody) or stuffed into a pseudo-DSLR style readout at the bottom of the screen, with wasted letterboxing around elsewhere (Olympus). Very few manufacturers seem to get that information should also rotate when you shoot in portrait orientation (kudos, Fuji) or that we don’t need all information all the time (Hasselblad). What I think of as the third generation will probably sort this out: the user experience will actually complement the operational requirements.

The bottom line is that in trying to keep the experience familiar, manufacturers are also shooting themselves in the foot.

As a camera maker, you need to do two things to survive: make a product that’s a sufficient improvement over its predecessors and competition that people want to buy it, and then convince people they need it. Almost all manufacturers fail at both: small incremental changes do not justify what is a significant cash outlay, especially in today’s economy. Those purely performance or technical changes are no longer enough simply because the arms race at the low end of the market has now made it such that even the cheapest entry level camera of today is better than the pro DSLR of maybe five to ten years ago, in every way that counts. And we were making great images back then, marvelling at how much more capability we now had since the early days of digital, let alone film. At the pointy end of the market now, does 10 vs 11fps really make a difference? Or ISO 51200 vs ISO 102,400, both of which are probably marginal anyway? 300 vs 400 AF points? For all practical purposes, no. The hardware is and has been for a long time, meat-limited. What makes the difference is the operational experience, the haptic-tactile experience, and just how much the damn camera makes you want to go out and take pictures with it.

What the camera makers have done is inadvertently reset the playing field entirely: by forcing a sea change in form factor due to lack of imagination/innovation in DSLR design, everybody has to make the choice of stay or reinvest – and that reinvestment isn’t obviously in the same system, because the whole concept of ‘system’ itself has changed. Yes, you could buy a Nikon Z6/Z7 and use your existing lenses, but the whole thing is so unwieldy and imbalanced it would defeat the point – the weight savings on the camera side would be negated by the ergonomic disadvantages; you might as well save your money and stick with your D850 or whatever. The result is to get maximum performance (both optics and size/compactness) – the reality is you’re going to have to rebuy everything, regardless of brand. You can use your existing lenses in a pinch, but it won’t be great – and certainly not as good as you’re used to. Here’s Great Equaliser Number One: all mirrorless systems are going to have much shorter flange distances than their DLSR cousins, which for all practical purposes means you can adapt anything to anything with the right coupling and electronics (and sometimes even without the electronics). All of your existing lenses will work, to some degree or other – even if you’re going up a format in some cases, as X1D users have found. Thought the experience is likely to be better than plain old manual focus and adaptors on a DSLR, it’s probably not going to work if you’re in a hurry – regardless of focusing aids.

The same is true if you want to buy into one of these systems and expect to use/shoot them the same way as a DSLR: you can’t, and that’s largely down to the laws of optics and limits of ergonomic designer imagination. A top-flight 24-70/2.8 to cover full frame cannot get smaller since it still has to have the same (probably higher) resolving power and corrections (more elements); a large motor for speed; and the same physical iris size. It won’t be smaller than the SLR version, and you can bet it won’t balance as well on the mirrorless body. Small primes, however, make a lot of sense – especially wides. But not everybody shoots this way: which brings us to the obvious conclusion that mirrorless is not for everybody, at least not in the current generation. People are likely to switch out of boredom or desire for something different, or in the mistaken belief that this cross-adaptability will actually be used in the field (even for me, often with very specific needs, it’s rare at best: the native lenses just work so much better) then lose interest when they realise it’s starting all over again with marginal benefits (if any). And that’s a lot of money to spend and realise that things didn’t really get better; the Emperor merely has new clothes.

Moving up or down a format size or two on the other hand will bring a tangible difference, especially if you’re coming from a generation behind: you may well find current M4/3 isn’t far off your earlier FF DSLR, but with enormous size and weight savings; even if you’ve got a current generation DSLR, there are good reasons for M4/3 since the size alone may be compelling. Similarly, mirrorless MF might be one sensor generation (for the moment) behind DSLRs or FF mirrorless, but the image quality is still perceivably a step up. That gap will only increase with the next generation of MF cameras and sensors. There’s no weight reduction, but native mirrorless MF lenses are about the same size as FF lenses, and the bodies are similar or smaller – so it’s a wash, but with a step up in image quality that’s deployable over a wider range of the envelope.

I personally believe the bottom line is that we’re going into a lean period for the industry: it’ll be sink or swim and the buoyant companies will be determined by how fast they realise that merely a different form factor or single feature are going to be make or break for adoption, but that a whole different shooting experience is required. We already have the technical ‘good enough’. What we don’t have yet anywhere is a real focus on intangibles (difficult for accountants and engineers) or operational feel/ user experience (difficult for marketing people) as a primary design goal; it’ll eventually have to come. In the meantime: choice and competition are good for everybody – and the playing field is wide open again. MT

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Comments

  1. Curtis Polk says:

    For those of us not invested in DSLR’s, the Z series is a godsend. It’s image quality is approximately identical to the D850, which, while not state of the art, is so good that it will handle almost any professional assignment. It shoots professional-quality video, and it makes possible a whole new line of lenses based on contemporary designs and technology, while providing temporary backwards compatibility. This is exactly what Apple did with the Mac. When OSX came out, they supported a work-around for older software for a few years, then it was Game Over.
    Regarding innovation: the big two have been dragged into this move by Sony. It’s simply too risky for them to innovate a la Steve Jobs. The market for expensive cameras is fixed, and requires frequent hardware upgrades. And, the entry cost for this kind of complex product is too high for a true innovator.
    As for the UI, as an old Hasselbladsman that loved the waist-level finder, any camera held up to the eye is a little awkward. With the adjustable screen on mirrorless cameras, I can enjoy the best of both worlds, waist-level for things, and eye level for people.
    For me, this is the most exciting time for gear in a lifetime, and I have been around a long time.

    • Actually…even the D3500’s image quality will handle the vast majority of professional assignments. Raw image quality (assuming suitable shot discipline and lighting control) hasn’t been an issue for a very long time.

      But yes, the backwards compatibility is where mirrorless makes one massively convincing argument to switch: everything works, and often with the bonus of stabilisation and peaking.

      UI: Less is still more! 🙂 One day, and I hope soon, more companies will realise that image-making isn’t helped buy button overload…

  2. Now that Canon and Nikon have committed to a full-on adventure in mirrorless, I have to ask this question: can they remain financially viable considering they now have to produce 2 distinct lines of professional lenses that essentially mimic each other (except for their mounts)? Yes, mirrorless lens designers now have fewer stunts to perform in getting that initial large aperture and other performance enhancements, but have the long-term costs to both manufacturer and consumer been calculated?

  3. So, is HBlad dropping an 100MP X2D soon, or are we going for the Fuji instead?

    • The question every prospective buyer should really be asking is: Would 100MP improve your work?

      • Derrick Pang says:

        more reliability will definitely improve my hit rate though! haha

      • Steve Gombosi says:

        Probably not in my case, given my technique deficiencies, but faster readout -> a faster ES scan speed would certainly improve my hit rate under some circumstances 😉 I’ve not had any reliability issues with the X1D.

        While the X1D isn’t perfect, I’m far more interested in expanding my lens lineup than acquiring a new body at this point.

      • I wondered that before I tried the 100MP Phase One and the answer, I found, was a resounding YES. It really did.

        Are you saying there will be no 100MP X2D?

        • Surely you can understand I’m not able to say anything at this point, for obvious reasons…

          • I can indeed. But I’ve been waiting an age for it and I’m not very good at suspense. My powers of deduction, however, are starting to worry me…

            • Can’t you just tel them to hurry up or something? 😛

            • Actually, two years is a very short product cycle at this price point. I don’t think people who just invested would be happy at a replacement either…nor is the market large enough to support this rate of churn. So, those factors have to be taken into account when planning product…

              • Well if the X1D was right I would be buying it now. So there is that. And I’m guessing there are quite a lot like me ready for something. So, those factors would also have to be taken into account when planning product I would think and hope.

              • I’m not certain of the feasibility of this Ming, but if the concern is providing new product too quickly (as an owner I am not entirely convinced of this) how about an upgrade? Would it be feasible to send back the X1D and have a redesigned core/sensor replace the original one so I can get an updated X1D? (e.g. one that focusses continuously and quickly or whatever the USP of the ‘upgrade’ is?). Happy to pay a proper four figured price to get this! Would this ever work or be considered?

                • Definitely, and that’s how MF has operated in the past – internal components are updatable in the backs. It’s much harder once you start condensing the physical size though as everything has to be designed in synchrony. Not impossible, but not easy either.

              • whimsicalmike says:

                2 years may be a short cycle but as a new category they need to address the issues of the first gen. I put the Blad on hold untill i see the next gen so i, and i suspect many others, am waiting to see the upgrade. For me there were, and still are, too many niggling problems that need addressing.
                With the huge huge discounts on offer it suggests a new version is near or the sales have dried up and stock is getting dumped, i lean towards the new version is imminent. Fuji has version 2 coming so blad is forced to release or have more new users move to Fuji, which i dont want to do.
                I understand the advantages of the leaf shutter but in this day and age the FP shutter is the norm and with all the talk of lens adaptability of mirrorless the FP is an advantage. Having both would have been a bold move by HB but not one to bother me but i feel others gravitate to the Fuji due to the shutter being another item in the Con column. Blad needs to minimise the cons if they are to survive against the boys with big backing.
                The arrival of the Nikon mirrorless adds more alternatives to the conundrum of selection

                • Believe me, I’ve told the management all of that already…

                  • Having read most of the comments and you trying to make communication between the company and customers , your job seems a lot harder than I thought. Im pretty sure we wont see x2d until the end of 2019 or at the start of 2020. Im hoping Hasselblad took its(this) time and perfect the operation speed. Design wise the x1d is a masterpiece. The only thing this camera lacks is general speed(which is mostly limited to technology) and maybe a higher resolution evf. I wouldn’t mind to wait because there is nothing like x1d in any format. Thank you Ming for efforts in the industry.

                    • I’m glad at least one person sees this is a largely thankless job 🙂

                    • whimsicalmike says:

                      i certainly agree Mings position is not all roses and its not helped by being a very lonely voice ih the HB world. A few more ambassadors would help lighten his load.
                      I would put money on seeing the body before end of 2019, probably early or before 2019. There were 5 lenses promised for this year and only one has arrived and there is only 3 months left. I would think failure on this promise will move many towards Fuji or the new FFML. I am hoping photokina has some good announcements for those that are interested or invested.

                    • There are constraints on both sides: engineers and marketers who don’t understand photography, and photographers who don’t understand engineering. It feels as though my job is mostly about trying to negotiate or explain compromises…

                    • whimsicalmike says:

                      Here we call that being the meat in the sandwich
                      Not usually a fun position, been there done that.

                  • If ever you need a Product Owner for the X1D, I’d love to have that conversation.

      • If it’s square format, then most certainly! 🙂

  4. Get a K1 with the new 50mm and forget about the rest.

  5. John Walton says:

    Nice article, Ming.

    To my mind, the race in technical specifications passed my needs (or interest) some time ago. My photography has been “meat limited” for some time!

    Speaking purely personally, photography for me is about framing (where do you put your camera), ISO control, aperture, shutter speed and focus. Anything which makes that direct, simple and accurate is worth considering, and anything else a needless distraction. If the camera feels nice, looks nice and is a pleasure to use, then that will affect my purchase choice.

    Commitment to lenses ultimately determines the choice, and does carry with it some brand loyalty. I couldn’t agree more about not reading gear reviews. I would add avoiding forums – they have cost me a fortune in gear I didn’t realise I needed …

    • We are all meat limited, both in imagination and equipment aspirations 😉

      ‘Nice to use’ is both the simplest and most complex parameter: it’s different things for different people but universally expensive because it implies/requires a material and quality level that hasn’t been seen commonly for some time…

      • John Walton says:

        Some chose for colour, some for haptics, others for brand perception – I guess I’m an outlier for my “less is more” approach!

  6. You are absolutely correct that we have reached a plateau of diminishing returns. As a full time commercial photographer I select my tools for the job. For myself, I select the cameras that make the event a joy.

  7. I hope someone in a position to do something at Hasselblad reads your blog 😉

    While a 100MP X1D may be important to maintain competitiveness, I think more money would be made with a revision that a) remains affordable but b) makes the UI/haptics and internal capabilities more competitive with Fuji (or Sony or…). If the X1D performed as well as it looked, Hasselblad would have a tough time keeping them in stock.

  8. I may be overly simplistic, but in my case, the choice comes down to whether I want an EVF or not. I have several now, and in strong light they are a definite problem. They’re great for tweaking exposure, but if I can hardly see the image, what good is that?
    The FF mirrorless, with a decent lens attached, doesn’t seem to be much, if any, lighter or smaller than the DSLR.
    So, almost the same weight and size, a viewfinder that’s not too good in strong or weak light, less battery life and an expensive changeover.
    Am I missing something?
    Another thought-provoking article Ming.

    • If you like to work with wide-angle and standard primes, mirrorless systems are lighter. Also, they ‘should’ allow to use lower shutter speed. (no vibration from the mirror). They are more silent. And EVF are vastly superior in very low light.
      In my view, mirrorless cameras are adequate for the same photographers that were using Leica M in the pre-digital world.
      If you are using a lot tele-lenses, forget it, stick with DSLRs.

      • Compact slower tele + IBIS + accurate MF/AF is a combination that’s still lacking in the DSLR world…

        • Yes, good point, very frustrating… we have typically the choice between a heavy 200/2.8, a monstruous 300/2.8, or a crappy 70-210/4.0-5.6. Or like I do, use old MF lenses on Pentax or Nikon DSLR, with the associate problems: risk of buying a defective used lens, inadequate viewfinder for manual focusing. I miss the 135/2.8, 200/4.0 and 300/4.0 of the last century.

          • There are more 70-200/4 choices, but they’re not small either; a necessary evil of most zooms. There are good 300/4s now too (the Nikon 300PF comes to mind). The others…sadly not so much. I keep being reminded of how ‘far’ we’ve come when I look at the Voigtlander 180/4 APO: smaller than the 60/2.8 macros, very few elements, but extremely well corrected and monstrously sharp. Wither intelligent design?

            • I finally got the chance to get a Voigtlander 180/4.0 SL Apo. It looks mint, but has a little bit of haze / dusts inside.
              Test photos, at a distance of ~100 ft, taken with an Olympus Pen-F, are a little bit disappointing. They didn’t look very sharp, just okay. But I was amazed to see details appearing when cranking up in pp the contrast and sharpness.
              Is this a low contrast / high resolution lens, or should I get it cleaned? (I don’t know where)

              • It’s moderate contrast, high micro contrast, high resolution. Haze/fungus would definitely affect resolving power. I’ve yet to use a camera with pixel density that really taxes its limits – it’s not even breaking a sweat with the X1D in the corners. I’m not aware of wide sample variation (everybody I know who has one has reported results consistent with mine) but it’s of course possible…

                • John Van Atta says:

                  I did a little test shooting with my newly acquired 180/4 on an EM1.2, and I believe it’s entirely up to the demands of m43 pixel density. No haze, a little dust, graded EX by KEH. My initial reaction is that it’s in the same tier as the best m43 lenses, such as the Oly 75/1.8, 150/2, and 300/4. I can’t wait to see what it can do on a Z7.

                  I agree with your remark about ‘progress’…how was this lens made 15 years ago, for less than $1000 USD MSRP? Has the endless pursuit of f/1.4 denied us more such treasures?

                  • I blame the marketeers, forums and ignorant sensationalist ‘reviewers’: never mind if you need it, or know how to use it, we’ll make you want it! 😉

                    But yes, it was an amazing piece of glass then, and still is. Moreso when we remember what it cost new. I suspect though being manual focus and having very few elements didn’t do any harm, though.

                    • About small number of elements… one of the best lenses I ever used is the Leica R 90/2.8. It has only 4 elements.

                  • I found out that my 180/4 was dirty on the back lens, that is difficult to access. Don’t know what dirt was on it, but it took me more than one hour and maybe 10 Zeiss tissues with a cleaning solution to get rid of it.
                    Seems to be very clear now. Would you know something stronger than the Zeiss solution to clean lenses? (if I have to do it again with another lens)

                    • The new tests I made with the Voigtlander 180/4.0 on an Olympus Pen-F show ordinary results, except for absence of C.A. (it is really Apochromatic) at f/4.0 but exceptionally good results at f/5.6. It seems too that f/4.0 is slightly optimistic, it is more like f/4.5 (most lenses are like that). The Leica 180/3.4 Apo beats it in terms of sharpness, at a long distance, at f/4.0 but not at f/5.6.
                      The Leica is really f/3.4, meaning that it is more or less 2/3 of an aperture wider, slightly sharper below f/5.6 (my lenses…) at long distances, but it is a lot heavier (approx. +50%) and the minimum distance is 2.5 meters instead of 1.2 meters.

    • It can’t be – there are laws of physics and marketing which prevent that. Physics says you need to limit the desired performance of the lens, and marketing says you need the 16-300/1.4. But moderate primes – say 24/28, 35, 50, 85 f1.8-2.8 or so – would be tiny. But nobody makes them because they’re not sexy…yet this would probably be what sells in reality because the whole system completes the argument for mirrorless.

    • stanislaw zolczynski says:

      Yes , you are missing something. Just compare Nikon 850 with 14-24 with Sony 7IIIR with 12-24

  9. stanislaw zolczynski says:

    Why mirrorless FF Canon or Nikon? Just have a look at reporters from Viet war. Most of the had Leica M with wide lens in the hand and Nikon F with tele on shoulder. Does it says something?

    • Actually, it says several things:
      1. that most of the SLRs had teles on them because the RFs were (and still are) useless for that;
      2. that close in action is generally shot with a wide on the RF
      3. that the person photographing the photographer had to be close enough to see them and see the action, which suggests they too were using a wide and also in close proximity
      4. that it was the wrong situation for both of them to be using a tele (probably).

      Or maybe they just liked carrying too much equipment into a hazardous combat situation…

      • stanislaw zolczynski says:

        Wide was for them a handgun, tele kind of sniper rifle. Somebody said , if the photo is not good enough, you were not close enough but there were situations where getting close meant injury or death. All in all I mean it is easier to carry lighter mirrorless all time in the hand then heavier DSLR with heavier wide.

  10. We are before Photokina with Fuji R Fuji 100 mp New Leica’s 100 mp Hasselblad? Full frame Panasonic’s?The comments 10 days from now will be different

    • Maybe from the fanboys, but if you can’t make a good image now, you’re not going to make a better one with more pixels – that requires higher shot discipline and higher clarity of though in the details, not less…

  11. Ming
    As usual you have brought together a complex range of issues quite concisely, thanks.
    Both the two large companies seemed to be practicing duopoly rather than system development, perhaps that is what they know best. It was quite disappointing that both companies appeared to engage in dog whistling to insinuate that their product is fundamentally better than Sony, which the online rant squads all picked up and amplified, though not necessarily in favour of the two big companies. That’s what happens when you crowd source your marketing to the internet!

    It kind of reinforces the attitude that the announced products are more about dealing with the current *Sony problem* than actually presenting a viable alternative new systems that are full of potential. The lack of discussion about adapting lenses outside the respective ecosystems is very odd; either the commentators have agreed to tow the party lines, forgotten all about m mount, or, the generous liquid catering at press events did the intended job. In addition no information for allowing third party lens manufactures like the Zeiss mirrorless ranges is a missed opportunity to release cameras with what could be a complete set of native mount lenses for some people.

    Canon Nikon and Sony have come under a fair amount of criticism for the neglect of their respective cropped systems over the last five years or longer, basically through the non-development of lenses to complete their systems or optimise for current camera imaging quality. My take from this is that unless you are going to pay top dollar for incomplete expensive only lenses systems, then avoid the three largest players in the market until things settle, or buy second hand.

    If the aim of the current marketing efforts by Canon and Nikon is to kill my GAS they have done an excellent job.
    Regards Noel

    • That is unfortunately the way most of Japan works: secret cabals and ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ to keep everybody employed and not destroy each other in the competition. It has resulted in stagnation and small incremental steps when they are capable of so much more.

      Let’s not even start about the internet and troll behaviour/ “social marketing” – it has nothing whatsoever to do with facts and everything to do with hype. He who screams loudest must be the best, right?

      My advice always remains the same: figure out what you want/need to do first, then pick a sensor size/format, and then buy whichever hardware feels best and most intuitive to you. Then stop reading gear reviews or fanboy pages and get on with the meat-limited creative part 🙂

  12. Great article Ming. I agree with your conclusion of the current lack of “intangibles and operational feel/user experience”. I understand that this is probably what the market wants in the latest and greatest when spending on something that an IPhone X can probably do almost as well 60% of the time. Personally, I gave up on my OM D EM1 Mk 2 after upgrading from an EM 5 which I really liked (bad decision) mainly because it was just too complicated and sterile in the intangibles. Great pro level camera of course but that instantaneous feel to just shoot and tactile feedback lacked for me. Which is why I took the plunge (at 64!) and bought the Apple of camera design: a Leica

    • I’ve been through the E-M5, E-M1 (shutter shock issues meant no real use of this), E-M1.2 (agreed, too much faff but fantastic as a handheld video platform and what I still use it for now), E-M5.2 (same drawbacks as the E-M1.2, without the superb video) – and circled back to the PEN-F, which I originally hated. I’ve come to like its usefulness for quick run and gun grabs, though. The Hasselblads serve everything else ‘serious’; the Nikon for work where I need huge throughput (but as competent as it is, I really don’t enjoy using it much).

  13. Mark Devereux says:

    You make a lot of good points. I’ve used a Fuji XT-1 for the past 4 years (and, for my shooting style, I don’t have the urge to upgrade anytime soon, irrespective of the occasional GAS over new options like the XT-3) and I’ve realized that the main reason I’ve stuck to the brand is the user experience. In particular, the ability to see my choices in the exposure triangle before I ever turn on the camera is something I’ve come to value. I suppose it’s a factor of starting my serious photographic journey as a 14 year old with a Pentax Spotmatic F and, with film, being selective in when I pressed the shutter. Am enjoying your writing…as well as you horological endeavours!

    • It’s *the* main reason Fuji was able to claim so much of the market, so quickly – they actually bothered to rethink the UX to a large extent with the X-Pro (if not the UI, which is still a mess). I think the main problem with Fuji’s UI is choice: there’s simply too many options and configurations and too many ways of getting there. Options are good, but we need a way to turn off what we don’t need to avoid accidental changes in the heat of the moment…

      • Mark Devereux says:

        That is definitely a challenge but, I suspect, more hypothetical than reality if a photographer tends to focus (no pun intended) on generally similar work most of the time. For example, in my world, it’s generally portraiture or landscape or portrait in a landscape. I, rarely, need to go into the UI to tweak the settings – except for turning off “preview exposure in manual mode” when I need to use strobes. In other words, my exposure (must avoid these puns) to the UI is rarely in situations that would be considered heat of the moment as I would have anticipated those changes in advance of whatever shoot I was undertaking. My heat of the moment is usually twirling of the the ISO/Aperture/Shutter Speed dials whilst in manual mode. Then again, I’m usually trying to get the exposure “mostly” right so that the latitude I have in the RAW file is within the range of adjustment to achieve my needs.

        • It’s not so much that as I found I was accidentally hitting a lot of the non-programmable/ non-cancellable buttons that changed the display modes or disabled EVF/LCD etc; they’re necessary but at least put them somewhere you’re not likely to push them when grabbing the camera in a hurry (or design in such aw ay this is impossible)…

          • Yes! I had to disable the right button on the back of my X-T20, I was touching it unintentionally all the time.
            Also, I was attracted by the ‘5 wheels’ of that camera. I do like a lot the shutter speed and exposure compensation wheels, but as most Fuji X lenses have an aperture ring, the front and back wheels are an over kill. One for ISO would have been enough. And many buttons are too small / in a bad location.
            Sometimes I wonder if engineers making cameras ever take photos themselves?

  14. Hi Ming: “Switching camps has never been easier” – true enough! But where corporate profits are concerned, I’d be more worried about new entrants and current brand faithfuls. How many of those will continue to invest in Canon’s and Nikon’s bread and butter SLR products now that both companies have effectively signaled to the market that the future is mirrorless..? I think the king, whilst not quite dead, is officially terminal now.

    P.S. ‘compliment’ (end of 2nd paragraph) ‘complement’

  15. Marius Loch says:

    I wonder when ‘computational photography’ as found in smartphones will find its way into proper cameras. A lot of pros and purists might scoff at the notion, but thinking for example of HDR images I sometimes believe my iPhone might give me similar DR to my big camera due to the good HDR implementation. Or something like live photos or very advanced automatic modes. And there will be more and more sophisticated processing.
    So when is there going to be a camera which handles like a smartphone (easy UI, great automatic mode, lots of processing power and smarts), but with big sensor and optics?

    • Frans Richard says:

      I’m afraid not anytime soon if that has to come from the existing camera companies. Mirrorless is not a prerequisite for smart, so no reason they couldn’t have done it already. Sony could have done it when they bought Minolta and aggressively worked on increasing their share of the market, but they didn’t. Such a camera would have to come from a company that dares to think outside the box, a startup or an Apple like company. Biggest hurdle would be lenses. Existing brands have a huge amount of (proprietary) lenses protecting them. Perhaps if this new camera could use the m4/3 mount it would stand a chance?

    • There’s one catch here: most of the smartphones use specialized/ powerful chips that are purpose built and not available off the shelf. Development costs can be amortised across a lot of units and there’s scale in production; the reality is we aren’t going to see this on big sensor cameras, and the available processors don’t have the horsepower.

  16. If only all the companies would listen to this article. Many people bash apple for being expensive with the same hardware (both laptops and phones) but what they miss is just how nice it is to use an apple product and Yes nobody likes to spend 1000 on phone or 2000 on a laptop to just do their simple day to day things. It is specially more pronounced in camera industry. It is astonishing how nice it is to interact with leica SL or leica M or x1d. A camera phone is good enough for me , but if I want to enjoy the process there is nothing like X1D.

    • Frans Richard says:

      Well, I don’t mind spending a 1000, although I agree that is a lot of money, on a smartphone that I use every day and mostly replaces a phone, addresbook, calendar, alarm clock, navigator, music player, camera and more. A ‘real’ camera with a set of lenses and accessories can easily cost more and get less use than a smartphone. But then, I’m not a professional photographer.

      I do agree camera companies should pay attention to articles like these and focus more on user experience. An OM-D that works like an iPhone would get me replacing my current EM-10. For now, I’ll just wait for it to break, which will probably take a long time, because IQ is sufficient for me and I’m still learning to master every little option of the thing.

    • I do try to tell them, most don’t listen, some listen to a small extent, and well…we have what we have 🙂

      It’s even more annoying to spend that kind of money on something and then find that it’s unreliable and needs to be replaced after just a year or two…ahem, Apple, I’m looking at you.

  17. Meat-limited. Dear God, I hope that is original. If so it earns you an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary once its use is widely adopted.

    On the issue of cameras, form, and innovation permit me to flog this dead horse one more time. The Mavic 2 Pro lens/sensor capsule opens the way for a major revision in the physical form of cameras. It’s nowhere near complete, but a door has opened.

    It may be a door to the future routed through the past. Bear with me. Google the term “Nikon Coolpix 950”. Look at the odd duck which stands revealed. Now, do the same for “Sharp Viewcam”. Notice a trend? These two turn of the century products represent an approach to camera and camcorder design which simply throws out the established form — slr/rangefinder camera with lens centered on a rectangle and the linear lens/body configuration of camcorders — and opts for something different.

    Each puts the lens and sensor on a swivel element attached to a body which holds the electronics, battery, and related bits and bobs.
    Both have a view screen on the body. Thanks to the swivel mount for the lens the view screen on each can be held overhead or at ground level while the lens points in the desired direction. (No swivel to the side or flip around for selfie shots, but that could easily be incorporated.)

    Both of these products were based on the time-honored concept of form-follows-function. Both withered in the grasp of conservative, conventional thinking: “That doesn’t look like a camera…what is it?” Too few people got to the “what is it?” part. Both products sank out of sight.

    I could rattle on about the advantages of each, but that would be an argument long since lost. The point is that enough time has passed for a new camera shape to emerge, one perhaps not based on the old body/lens swivel design but at least inspired by it. Original thinking would be a good place to start.

    You’ve seen the video shot by the Italian guy walking around with his Mavic 2 pro lashed to a gimbal. Someone will put these two things together in usable form. It might as well be you, DJI, and Hasselblad.

    • Haha, I haven’t seen it before, but it was certainly inspired by Futurama/ Bender’s ‘meatbags’. 🙂

      Form factors: I fully agree. We’re sort of getting there already, but it’s not often used even though most manufacturers offer it already in the form of smartphone apps. Your camera can stay wherever you want it to, and you have full control and live view from your phone or tablet (and a much larger screen).

      As for the guy attaching the Mavic to the gimbal – I haven’t seen it, but you don’t actually need to do that. The aircraft gimbal remains usable on the ground even if not flying; just hold the thing directly.

  18. Sometimes it’s not the main event that makes you change. I ditched a whole stack of pro Nikon gear for X1D and M4/3 gear. I love the X1D but still miss my D4+85f1.4 sometimes because of the sheer speed and accuracy of the pair, and as per your article Ming, the orientation capability. Looking at the new mirrorless kit from Canikon it is actually the 28-70 f2.0 from Canon that has most grabbed my attention. Maybe this is where the new line-ups will start to take us somewhere new – pushing the boundaries of the glass?

    • Certainly they have to offer something we don’t already have – whether it’s new combinations of FL/aperture or size or AF accuracy with very fast lenses (or even application of existing glass on new formats) – otherwise size alone usually isn’t compelling enough to switch given the ergonomic compromises and especially when you consider the overall system. I doubt the mirrorless Canon + 28-70/2.0 will be lighter than a 5DIV and 24-70/2.8 (probably heavier, and more expensive) – but you’re right in that it now offers something we did not have before…

  19. Jack Tingle says:

    Very nice analysis. As an experienced amateur, I opted to get out of DSLRs some years ago. My usual camera is a Canon SX720 superzoom. Mounted on an old “travel” monopod that barely handled a DSLR’s weight, I have a light, stable, versatile platform. As you point out, the technical details have been compressing like mad over the last decade. There are some compromises in control, like quick manual focus. This points up your observation that the next place the manufacturers need to work is in the human interface.
    One reason I’m following mirrorless is rhe hope they’ll improve in that area.

    • “There are some compromises in control, like quick manual focus.”
      But other tradeoffs/bonuses too; for instance the smaller sensor is much less sensitive to critical focus and beyond a certain point, it’s all in focus anyway 🙂

      UI/UX seems to be the last frontier for most manufacturers: the simple truth is most of the people working on the product don’t use it, and management/ marketing is arrogant enough to believe they know best.

  20. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I guess the (total) transition to mirrorless is only a question of time.

    Once camera makers offer large enough selections of mirrorless bodies, I can see no _technical_ reasons why at least some shouldn’t offer the same balance and ergonomics with SLR-lens adapter as previous DSLR models.
    That would make the transition much easier for pros (and for those amateurs who use several lenses).
    – – –

    I think this is a time when all this i-net hype and all those fanboy comments might be a good thing for (us) serious photographers.
    It will increase GAS and sales, and so help finance the development costs while we can wait for the next generation… 🙂
    – – –

    A bonus would be if some new sensor generation could be less dependent on lens telecentricity. Then lens design could really take advantage of the shorter flange distances.
    ( Also developments in (nano) Fresnel optics might give us shorter and lighter lenses.)

    • I’m not sure about that. There’s still a lot to be said about optical finders that even the best EVFs can’t match; and you’re still going to be staring at a lightbulb which isn’t great in low light. You’re right though in that it probably isn’t so much a size thing – it’s taken most people and companies far too long to realise that smaller isn’t always better, and the compromises are often really poor.

      Telecentricity: I think you’re thinking about microlens arrays (independent from the sensors) rather than the sensor architecture itself; all the sensor does is gather light. The microlenses redirect it precisely where it should go.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        You are right, of course.

        But I was thinking further ahead, future sensors might work with lower pixel walls and so be less dependent on micro lenses and/or telecentricity. And there might be a time when photons are counted as they arrive on a totally flat sensor.

        And there is, of course, a lot of development ahead for AF and especially for EVFs.
        Like, as you said, some way to better low light usability. Perhaps automatically changing their output with a choice of adapting functions.

        • Actually, the BSI sensors are getting there – by obstructing less of the photosensitive area, the wells can be shallower and this leads to better QE. However, the tradeoff is crosstalk – sensors need to read out faster to avoid this, and we go around in circles again…

          EVFs: OLEDs can show true black, but color accuracy has some way to go.

  21. Per Kylberg says:

    My “default” advice to anyone considering changing system would be DON’T. Current DSLR system are in general great and not an obstacle to make beautiful images.
    Change may be interesting in itself, but a system switch is very expensive. What is the real gain? Better IQ, user experience or business case? My Nikon D800 fell, together with me, in open sea. Being down a lens and a camera already, now was the time to consider a system switch. Helped by my fair insurance company I went Sony. (Many have a predjudist stance vs Sony that I, after a few years with the system, definitely do not share. I must admit that I sometimes miss that D800 feel in handling. Never miss the weight though…..)
    Lens adapters? To me it seems that optimal IQ is possible only if lens design is dedicated to work with one type of sensor. An adapted lens may be interesting for some use cases, but in general a non-optimal alternative.

    • That’s pretty much the gist of it. If you’re currently enjoying a modern DSLR system, upgrading to a new equivalent form factor mirrorless system is something that should only be considered if it offers significant benefits. As it stands, for me as a Nikon FX shooter, the new Z6/Z7 don’t really offer anything much to tempt me unless I drop my body and at least two or three of my more expensive lenses down a well…

      What *could* have made the decision to stick with DSLR much harder for me personally?

      1. Compact primes – give me a compact 24mm 2.8 or 35mm 2.8 or 50mm 1.8 to go with the smaller body. Why would I upgrade to a “smaller” system when something like a D750 and a 35mm f/2.0D is as compact or even more compact than the equivalent Nikon Z6 + 35mm setup?

      2. Better, faster autofocus. Nikon’s releasing an entirely new system and there are questions as to whether it can even *keep up* with the DSLR bodies it’s meant to compete with or even replace? Really? You want $5000 from me, you’d better give me an UPGRADE in the IMHO absolutely most important aspect of the way a camera handles. Giving me even an inkling of the new body’s AF actually being *worse* than the predecessor? Haha no, I’m waiting for something significantly better. Honestly, I would have expected something a tiny bit better than the D850’s system… not quite D5 or Sony a9 level, but better than a downgrade or sidegrade for people using a D750/D810/D850.

      3. Incredibly good implementations of focus peaking and other things that DSLRs *can’t* do. Things like viewfinder exposure preview and focusing aids for adapted manual lenses need to be PERFECTLY polished features to differentiate from DSLRs. To be fair, I haven’t heard very much about focus peaking yet, other than that it’s unusable in all but the strongest intensity setting – but that pretty much leads me to believe that Nikon hasn’t made much of an effort to perfect it. We will see on that last point, but it seems like trying out an established system may be the better option here.

      • A mix of 1 and 3 is probably going to be the tipping point for most people; there are also great lenses that simply won’t work DSLRs due to flange distances. MF isn’t so much of a problem if you’ve got a properly shimmed focusing screen, adjusted mirror and split prism screen, and AF on a DSLR is still over most situations the most consistent and fast. But here’s an interesting thought: lenses that work on three formats, providing different angles of view, but consistent rendering. The Nikon 19 PCE, Leica 50/1.4 ASPH-M, C/Y 85/2.8 and Voigtlander 180/4 APO are an interesting (and very versatile set) that can be mixed and matched with say a Pen-F, Z7 and X1D to give a massive range of options. My X1D and Pen-F already share the 50/1.4 ASPH-M to give both a 35mm-e and 100mm-e…

    • Agreed, and one of the reasons a lot of pros make the MF investment: you do it once, you shoot the same thing for years, it becomes intuitive, and over the long run – the ROI is much better than frequently switching. That, or use the cheapest thing you can get away with – the hardware hasn’t been the limitation for some time.

    • Frans Richard says:

      I agree switching can be expensive and I agree with your “default” advice when considering switching system/brand within the same sensor size.

      I did however switch from DX to m4/3, because I wanted smaller and lighter while maintaining sufficient IQ. I tried an Olympus OM-D EM-10, compared it’s IQ to my Nikon D300 and decided to switch. Yes, it cost me money, but for me it was worth it because it made photography fun again. Now that I don’t have to haul the heavy lenses anymore, I more often go out photographing with a ‘real’ camera. It’s quite amazing how much m4/3 gear fits in a bag that is smaller and lighter than my smallest Nikon bag.

      • I think that’s a slightly different argument, though: we’re talking about a tangible gain from switching systems (which is definitely justified), not so much a lateral move. If anything I find myself adding and holding the lenses rather than dumping and starting again; otherwise eventually the whole circle completes and you’re switching back to where you started…

  22. Great article. Fully agree on all accounts.

    I’m not sure that many people prioritise ergonomics and the emotional pull (to pick it up and shoot) when considering a new camera. Sony for example, is first and foremost an electronics company, and has continued to gain popularity due to its class leading specifications. This is in spite of the fact that many of the features are wants but not needs for the the vast majority of us, and that operating the camera sometimes feels like operating a computer in MS-DOS mode. One would have thought that Sony could have easily drawn inspiration from Minolta. And Canon or Nikon have no excuses, who have both seemingly forgotten about their soulful SLRs from the 50s-70s era. It’s a shame. since their respective mirrorless ‘revolutions’ was a good opportunity to rekindle that spirit.

    It seems that the art of craft is only maintained by a few niche manufacturers these days.

    • I think this is much the world in general. That said, there’s no point sticking to old existing operating paradigms if they don’t make sense because there are new parameters to control. But neither do I think any of the existing designs get it right…some come close, like the X1D, Leica Q; some are a disaster. I guess we’ll see how the Canikon mirrorless FF cameras operate soon enough…

  23. First off there are so many “race to the bottom” situations that it’s painful to think of new races to the bottom. With all our vastly improved technology, production methods, computing, communications and inter-connections, we’ve somehow been increasingly moving to an economy in which nobody can afford anything.
    Perhaps I’m “old school” but I prefer differentiation, value, and quality and am instinctively interested in producing products that command higher prices and are worth those prices. Meanwhile quality goods seem to be becoming extinct as they are replaced everywhere with cheap faux substitutes. In fact there’s one museum that portrays the current generation(s) as the first ones whose quality of life is actually declining compared to prior generations. (How is this possible !?)
    Second, somehow I can see that I’m not ready to dump my D850. I’d probably place investment in drone as slightly higher to mirrorless, and I certainly wouldn’t mind at all having mirrorless on hand as a pleasantly lightweight “mistress” but with introspection I find I’m not ready to quit FF DSLR … and I suspect that situation will last a while longer.

    • I don’t think you’re alone, but I also believe a lot of consumers are going to have to pay the ‘school fees’ to learn before realising more isn’t always better. That said, by that point the good stuff may well have to be priced out of reach simply because the market size is too small. Quality…is actually antithetical to corporate profitability since there’s no built in obsolescence…especially when there aren’t enough improvements that make a tangible difference to the average consumer to encourage repeat purchases, either.

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