The future is mirrorless

There, I said it. The future of interchangeable lens cameras is mirrorless.

Olympus E-P1 camera

Let’s see why.

The SLR design date back from the film days. A design that allow precise framing using through the lens viewfinder, but that has a somewhat complex mechanical design, increasing cost and size. Today, the film being replaced by an electronic sensor, an instant image can be obtained through the lens. An electronic viewfinder will also be through the lens, with all the advantage of the SLR design, and more. Without the need for that complex and bulky mirror box, the camera can be designed to be more compact.

There are a few reasons why DLSR exists and are still somewhat the de-facto design: trade offs.

The first trade off is that you have to change the lens mount to benefit from a more compact design. This made moving from the older film camera to the digital one is not as easy unless you threw away your investments in glass. This was a perfectly valid point in the last decade, and since the move has happened, the problem persists, even for those that started with a DSLR.

The second trade off is the performance of the autofocus system. DSLR use a phase detection system with sensor located in the mirror box. Something that appear to be problematic on a mirrorless camera, and phase detection AF is more performant than the contrast detection system commonly used by mirrorless cameras. Manufacturers have worked out technology to improve the situation a lot. A small category of users that needs it really needs it still, but we are getting there.

But it is time to make the jump.

The market

Currently only 4 vendors still offer DSLR. Canon, Nikon, Ricoh-Pentax and Leica. Sony hasn’t released a DSLR in a while and given their α lineup (mirrorless), I don’t think they will, Olympus has made the switch to M4/3 a while ago already, Panasonic has been mirrorless only as well also with the M4/3 system, Leica is mostly betting on mirrorless and Fujifilm has been kicking it with the X- series, improving at each generation and the GFX medium format.

In August Canon announced the EOS R, their full frame mirrorless system, while they have a EOS M series that feature an APS-C sensor. They just announced new lenses for that system, so it might stay for a little while. And it is much more affordable as well.

Weeks prior to that, Nikon had just announced the Nikon Z, their full frame mirrorless system, after discontinuing the Nikon 1 which wasn’t really a sensible proposal with its miniature sensor.

As for Ricoh-Pentax life is tough. The Pentax K 01 wasn’t really a success, nor was the Pentax Q that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. And now that it is Photokina, it doesn’t seem that Ricoh had anything to announce in that product line.

If anything, the growth on the market for Sony as proven that mirrorless full frame can be a viable option. Sony is clearly the market leader for full frame and Canon, Nikon and Panasonic wants to try to catch up.

Is full frame the future? I don’t think it will be the only but it will be dominant. Panasonic just announced a full frame mirrorless, sharing the lens mount with the Leica SL, while still continuing with the M4/3, and Sigma who barely has presence in the camera body market has announced they were developing a body for the L-mount. I’m confident that Fujifilm can continue with the X-series without moving away from APS-C, with a more compact system that nails the image quality including in low light, at a price lower than the current full frame lineup. Sony will probably keep some of their APS-C mirrorless until they can bring down the price of the α series down enough.

The medium format has a future too for demanding users, but the price is steep. For example, the Fujifilm GFX 50, a “medium” format sensor mirrorless starts at about US$5,000.

The future

I predict that within 5 years, neither Canon nor Nikon will be pushing DSLR, except maybe in a few niche segments like top of the line sports. The Leica S might survive as Leica just announced the S3 just 10 years after the previous iteration but this camera is already in a very niche segment given it’s price. And some of the manufacturers won’t be left unscathed.

Sigma & L-mount

As previously stated, Sigma is part of the L-mount initiative. Not only as a lens vendor. In a press release, Sigma state they’ll develop an L-mount camera:

All future interchangeable-lens camera systems developed by SIGMA will feature the L-mount. SIGMA does not plan to develop new cameras equipped with an SA-mount.

Whether they’ll use the Foveon sensor technology or not is a question that is not answered there. I think they make the right choice here to not create their own mount.

Fujifilm GFX 50R, GFX 100 and f/1.0 lens

Also at Photokina, Fujifilm announced a new camera in their GFX series: the GFX 50R. The GFX 50R is to the GFX 50S what the X-E1 was to the X-Pro1: a more compact version of the 50 megapixel medium format mirrorless, in what they call a “rangefinder style” body (it is not a rangefinder camera). The GFX 50R also has a dual SD card slot. Available in November (2018) for US$4,500. DPReview has the details.

And to double it up, the announcement included news of the development of the GFX 100, a 100 Megapixel successor of the GFX 50S, to be released sometime in 2019, featuring phase detect auto-focus and in-body image stabilisation, as well as 4K video ! But will they solve the problems with such a large sensor? The price is speculated to be around US$10,000.

Hohenzollern bridge, Cologne, Germany.

One more thing. According to The Verge, Fujifilm showed a XF 33mm f/1.0 R lens. F ONE POINT ZERO ! Coming in 2020.

(Updated 2018/09/26: added links to specifications)

Three’s company: Panasonic Lumix S

Right now, Photokina is happening in Cologne.

Detail of the Cologne Cathedral.

Panasonic, as rumoured, announced the Lumix S, a full frame mirrorless camera using the “L-Mount”. L-mount is the mount from the Leica mirrorless Leica SL (not the M rangefinder) and is the result an alliance between Panasonic, Sigma and Leica.

Petapixel dubs it “the mirrorless wars”

This is not Panasonic abandoning the M4/3 format.

What DPReview knows so far which is not that much:

Panasonic has announced it is developing two full frame mirrorless cameras: the 47MP S1R and the 24MP S1. Both will be built around Leica’s L mount, allowing their use with existing Leica lenses as well as lenses promised by both Panasonic and Sigma.

For the lenses:

Alongside the two cameras, Panasonic has announced it will introduce three lenses: a 50mm F1.4, a 24-105mm zoom and a 70-200mm 2.8. It has also said it will introduce more than ten lenses before the end of 2020.

These, in addition to the existing (expensive) Leica lenses available for the Leica SL.

Unlike the GH5, the S1 and S1R cameras don’t have a flip out screen. It does video in 4K60P with no indication whether it is cropped or not, in body image stabilisation, two card slots (one XQD, one SD). Currently the performance and image quality is unknown.

The camera is definitely aimed at the professional market as Panasonic introduce “pro-level service” for the cameras.

Availability is scheduled to be early 2019, with no pricing disclosed yet.

Will Olympus be joining the game later?

Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4

In all the buzz around the Canon EOS R full frame mirrorless, almost unnoticed, Canon announced the EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens for the EOS M:

Aimed at entry- and enthusiast-level photographers, the EF-M 32mm F/1.4 STM is a small (1.99in/50.5mm long) and light (8.29oz/235g) lens that’s the 35mm-equivalent of a 51mm lens, which provides an angle-of-view that’s similar to the human eye.

It is the fastest lens for the system, an almost equivalent to the 50mm f/1.4 found on the EOS line. If I had an EOS-M, I’d probably get it to supplement the 22mm f/2 (pancake).

But will that system live in parallel from the EOS-R? For how long?