Sunday, 16 August 2015

Less camera sales, fewer camera models?

A lot has been said recently about the decline in the camera market: The number of sold camera units have decreased dramatically in the recent years. This is mostly due to mobile phones having good enough cameras, and, perhaps even more importantly, that mobile phones are connected, making it easier to share images and videos on social media.

This decline in sales mostly affects the low end of the market, meaning basic compact cameras. These are most easily replaced by the camera phones.

System cameras, with interchangeable lenses, still sell fairly well, even if their numbers also drop. Among these, we see a small increase in the ratio of mirrorless cameras sold. But DSLR cameras still hold a major part of the market.

With this new reality, what should the camera maker's response be? They can try to make even better cameras, to capture a larger share of the cameras actually sold, or they can try to scale down and only produce the kind of models which people buy the most of. So are there fewer camera announcements now?



To answer this, I have compiled this timeline of announcement dates for mirrorless cameras from five major makers:


Based on this exhibit, it does look like there is some less camera announcements, especially from Fujifilm, which appears to have abandoned the lower end (Fujifilm X-A1 and Fujifilm X-M1). Also, Olympus have slightly lower frequency of announcements. On the other hand, Sony is more active than ever. It's hardly like there is a consistent, dramatic drop of camera models announced.

Panasonic


Panasonic had a slump in 2014, with fewer cameras launched. But after all, they do have a very impressive lineup, covering both the lower end with Lumix GF7, to the very high end video machine Lumix GH4. They have a total of 4 models with built in EVF, out of which one is super small, the Lumix GM5. This gives the serious enthusiast a lot of choices.

Camera
Verdict
Good ergonomy, best for video use
Highest resolution sensor yet, functional retro design
Lots of features in a small, ergonomic camera
Ultra compact with EVF
Cheapest, for those who don't use the EVF
4K videoYesYesYesNoNo
EVFYesYesYesYesNo
PDAFNoNoNoNoNo
Weather protectionYesYesNoNoNo
Articulated rear screenYesYesYesNoYes

I guess that the next camera coming from Panasonic will be the Lumix GH5. Probably to be announced late autumn or early next year. It will have 4k video recording from the whole sensor (not just a crop like the GH4), better autofocus performance in 4k mode, and probably even a higher framerate for 4k video, but that is uncertain, since no sensor announced can do this to my knowledge.

Olympus


Olympus has made some changes to its lineup: It realized that enthusiasts were no longer happy to pay the premium price for the EVF-less E-P PEN-line (e.g., the Olympus E-P5), and has retired the whole line. Those who want a camera without EVF can instead buy the more basic the Olympus E-PL7. Not that it is a big loss: The E-PL7 is functionally and image quality wise similar to the E-P5 anyway.

The slightly retro-esque OM-D cameras have become very popular, with the classic SLR looks. And for Olympus, this is good news, as they still ask a premium price for these models.

Camera
Verdict
Compatible with older 4/3 lenses, very good ergonomy
Entry level camera with EVF
Good compact camera
4K video
No
No
No
No
EVF
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
PDAF
Yes
No
No
No
Weather protection
Yes
Yes
No
No
Articulated rear screen
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

An Olympus OM-D E-M10 II is coming quite soon.

I expect the next camera to be updated is the Olympus E-M1. The Mark II version will probably get the higher resolution 20MP sensor. This camera will be announced within six months, is my guess.

Sony


Sony seems to be the most restless of the camera makers. They have tried out pretty much every camera technology, including basic DSLRs, DSLRs with a fixed, semi-translucent mirror, and, now, mirrorless.

They started off with the "NEX" series of APS-C sensor based mirrorless cameras, and the first were, to be frank, quite odd. Later, they have dropped the "NEX" brand, and made the cameras more mainstream.

Since announcing the Sony a7-series of full frame cameras, they have been pretty open about focusing mainly on full frame mirrorless cameras going forward.

Their best APS-C mirrorless camera, the Sony a6000, has a very successful PDAF implementation for good autofocus capabilities with moving objects. This camera is due for a replacement quite soon.

The APS-C sensor cameras are plagued with a not very good kit lens, though. The Sony 16-50mm power zoom has only so-so performance, in my experience. See my test here. In general, there is also a lack of lenses for this line.

Within the a7 fullframe lineup, there are several cameras for different needs:

Sony a7 II: The least expensive camera. Features in-body image stabilization (IBIS), and PDAF for better and faster focusing.

Sony a7S: Low resolution, high sensitivity.

Sony a7R II: High resolution with 42MP. Features in-body image stabilization (IBIS), and PDAF for better and faster focusing. The most expensive camera yet.


Expect Sony to launch further fullframe E-mount lenses in the coming years, to make this system more attractive to pros and serious amateurs.

Nikon 1


The Nikon 1 system, in general, does not have what a serious enthusasist expects. There are no fast zoom lenses, and not many fast prime lenses beyond the Nikkor 32mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

I would say the Nikon 1 system is only for those with very special needs. For example, with the extremely long and compact zoom lens Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, it is the best system for bird photography when you want a very compact and light combo.

Also, the cameras have an impressively fast framerate, up to 60fps including full RAW capture. This makes it useful for sports and other types of specialized photography.

Beyond this, I would not recommend Nikon 1 for general use. The most recent Nikon 1 J5 is starting to look interesting, though, as the sensor is finally up to what you would expect today in terms of high ISO performance. If you want the smallest possible capable system camera, the Nikon 1 J5 should be on your list.


I would expect Nikon to launch a Nikon 1 V4 model within about a year. It should have an EVF, better buffer, and the sensor seen in the Nikon 1 J5 now. Again, it will be popular for bird and wildlife photographers travelling light, with the Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 800mmm equivalent tele zoom lens.

Fujifilm


If you are a traditionalist, you will probably feel most at home with Fujifilm. Their cameras look like they could have been made 40 years ago, and they have spent the last years refining their lens lineup with some very nice, classic, fast prime lenses.

In terms of cameras, they are a bit of a one trick pony, with only one current camera for the serious enthusiast, the Fujifilm X-T1. But this is a very nice and capable camera, so why not. I would add the extra handgrip for better ergonomy, though.


Fujifilm have expressed that they will not start using fullframe sensors. They say that APS-C is sufficient for quality photography, and I agree with that.

I would expect Fujifilm to launch an updated X-T1 in about a year, with a higher resolution sensor. They are now at 16MP, which is starting to look low in this market.

Conclusion


Even if there has been a serious slump in camera sales, the manufacturers still believe in the future of mirrorless camera systems, and have released more premium camera models. The rate of announcements is perhaps slightly slower than before, though.

With a very wide range of good cameras available, and a very impressive lens lineup, I think that Panasonic has the best system for the serious enthusiast.

However, if you are a traditionalist, you will probably want the Fujifilm X-T1, and if you absolutely must have fullframe, it is hard to miss the Sony a7 cameras.



4 comments:

  1. Canon and Nikon dominate DSLR sales. But sales are declining for both of them, in part due to smartphones, but also because they have moved slowly to innovate. In the case of Nikon, they have cut down on manufacturing costs to the bone and have pushed FX, meaning that their numbers look a bit better on paper than they actually are. Pentax are basically a hobby business and barely figure in the market. Olympus are innovative but are still in the red. Sony doesn't realy on camera sales for profit alone, so theyt are overall in a good position, but their market share is nowhere near the Canon/Nikon duopoly. Nikon's real problem is that most of their profits come from camera sales.

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    1. Thanks for your comments!

      I agree that Nikon is pushing the FX cameras and lenses. These are probably higher margin objects, and still give Nikon an advantage, real or imagined, to mirrorless cameras.

      But for the consumer, I cannot see that FX will give them a better experience. I think a well designed APS-C lens lineup will be a better choice for most users.

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  2. I'm a M43 shooter since 2010 myself, and while I can understand not even mentioning Pentax Q & Canon EOS-M, why leave out Samsung NX? You covered them in your June system breakdown.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I can agree with you that leaving out Samsung NX was unfair. But I did it to keep the material more compact, and because Samsung NX is not so big in European and American markets.

      Samsung NX has come a long way in terms of making a sensible system now, but they fail to get a serious market penetration outside of South Korea.

      Delete