MIRRORLESS CAMERAS: PHOTOGRAPHY’S FALSE MESSIAH?
Figures don’t lie: the camera industry is bleeding and there’re no signs of it stopping. It’s widely-known that smartphones are taking the fight to point-and-shoots, and judging from the recent dismal sales figures it seems that smartphones are winning.
96 million point-and-shoots were manufactured in 2009, and within four years that figure has dropped to less than half, at only 44 million for the year 2013.
But what’s surprising is that mirrorless system cameras are also experiencing the pinch. When mirrorless system cameras first came onto the scene, many were hopeful that the new category would help revive the flagging camera industry. With the camera industry shrinking, camera manufacturers looked to push mirrorless system cameras as alternatives to both digital compacts as well as DSLR cameras. Initially mirrorless system cameras were meant to occupy their own segment, separate from the digital pointand-shoots and the larger DSLR cameras.
They offered substantially better image quality compared to smartphones and compact cameras, while still being generally smaller and lighter than DSLR cameras. Small and compact models such as the Panasonic Lumix GM1 offered smartphone shooters more incentive to upgrade as opposed to a standard compact, while the more powerful models such as the Sony A7R rivalled DSLR cameras in terms of specifications.
Unfortunately the mirrorless system camera category isn’t the silver bullet solution the camera industry thought it was. While it has seen some growth (from 4% market share in 2012 to 5% in 2013), the mirrorless system segment only accounts for a small portion of the pie with the camera industry still very much dependent on compact cameras and DSLRs. Surprisingly from 2012 to 2013, DSLR cameras have shown the most growth among the three camera categories, with the category jumping from 16% market share to 21%.
In fact you could say that the major DSLR camera manufacturers have been hard at work. Canon released the EOS 100D, which is a DSLR that’s as small as they come, while Nikon’s D800 is veering into medium format territory.
But even then, most of the advancements in camera technology and design the last couple of years have revolved around the mirrorless system camera, which has resulted in many models to suit various tastes and requirements. Take Olympus’ OM-D series for example: it comes with good image quality in an attractive, weather-sealed design that’s coupled with its acclaimed 5-axis image stabilization. Or how about the Panasonic Lumix GX7, which offers good image quality with an easy-to-use interface? If you want something more powerful you could always opt for the Sony A7R, which has a massive full-frame sensor (36 megapixels by the way), while still being relatively compact compared to a DSLR camera.
So why hasn’t the mirrorless system camera caught on? One of the main reasons seems to be the lack of knowledge about this particular category. It doesn’t help that camera industry itself can’t seem to settle on a standardized name for the product segment! While the Japanese have been pretty enthusiastic about adopting this new interchangeable lens standard, Europe and the American market has been less than warm about it. In fact, mirrorless system cameras only constitute 10.5% of the market in these regions. The U.S. in particular, remains a stronghold for the DSLR camera since image quality is commonly associated with the size of the camera.
And with a generation obsessed with selfies and Instagram, connectivity is valued much higher than picture quality. This puts a dent in the ambitions of many a mirrorless system camera maker. With the camera industry getting blindsided earlier on by the rise in smartphone photography, it’s a no-brainer that many manufacturers are scaling back on their point-and-shoot models. But with many major camera manufacturers sporting at least one mirrorless system camera in their stable, we can probably say that the many of these companies’ fortunes are tied with the mirrorless system camera’s success.
The problem is many users aren’t clamouring for improved image quality, but how they can upload images from their camera directly onto social media like Facebook and Instagram. This issue continues to plague mirrorless system camera manufacturers and with many of them in the red, the mirrorless system camera might be going the way of the dodo if a solution or a compromise isn’t found soon.
"The problem is many users aren’t clamouring for improved image quality, but how they can upload images from their camera directly onto social media like Facebook and Instagram.”