BIG CHANGES

Camera - - WHAT’S NEW - Paul Bur­rows, Edi­tor.

THEY SAY A WEEK IS A LONG TIME IN POL­I­TICS

– and there’s a string of Aus­tralian PMs who can at­test to that – but a month can be a very long time in­deed in the cam­era in­dus­try. From when Nikon an­nounced its Z mount mir­ror­less sys­tem in late Au­gust to the start of Pho­tok­ina 2018 (by which time both Canon and Pana­sonic had joined the fray), ev­ery­thing changed quite dra­mat­i­cally. The D-SLR’s fate was sealed. Sony sud­denly had a whole lot more com­pe­ti­tion than it prob­a­bly had bar­gained for. And ques­tions have to be asked about Mi­cro Four Thirds now that Pana­sonic has big­ger fish to fry.

Firstly, D-SLRs. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight, but the D-SLR’s day looks to be done be­cause we just don’t need the re­flex mir­ror any more. It’s not so much that con­sumers will sud­denly stop buy­ing D-SLRs (new mod­els will still come in the near fu­ture), but that de­vel­op­ment is go­ing to slow as Canon and Nikon – the main pro­tag­o­nists for the last few years – put more of their ef­fort and re­sources into their mir­ror­less sys­tems. Canon, of course, has two – EOS M and EOS R – but it’s clear Nikon’s Z sys­tem can go down-mar­ket as well as up. There will be more af­ford­able non-S Line Z mount lenses and there’s no rea­son why there can’t be ‘APS-C’ for­mat Z bod­ies (although it’ll be a waste of that big mount).

It’s telling that both the Canon and Nikon first­born full-35mm mir­ror­less cam­eras are es­sen­tially repack­aged ver­sions of each’s best-sell­ing D-SLRs – Z 7 and D850, Z 6 and D750, and EOS R and EOS 5D Mark IV. But while the specs and fea­tures may be sim­i­lar, the ex­ter­nal di­men­sions are very dif­fer­ent and dra­mat­i­cally il­lus­trate the key ben­e­fit of delet­ing the mir­ror box and op­ti­cal viewfinder. The D750 – which we’ve al­ways thought of as a com­pact full-35mm D-SLR – looks truly mas­sive along­side the Z 7 or Z 6. The greater lens choices will keep D-SLR sales tick­ing along for now, but both the Z and R mount adapters work so well, chang­ing bod­ies is made less chal­leng­ing. I al­ready know of a few pho­tog­ra­phers who, for ex­am­ple, are buy­ing the Z 7 or Z 6 in the body-only kits with the FTZ con­verter to use ex­clu­sively with their F mount lenses… ac­quir­ing any Z mount lenses can wait for a lit­tle while.

Should Sony be wor­ried? In a word, yes. It’s done bril­liantly up un­til now and the cur­rent line-up of A7 III, A7R III and A9 is for­mi­da­ble, but the badges on the front don’t say either Canon or Nikon. For most dyed-in-the-wool devo­tees of these ‘tra­di­tional’ photo brands that’s very im­por­tant. If Sony hadn’t made con­verts of them be­fore now, it isn’t go­ing to now, even if it’s of­fer­ing su­pe­rior prod­ucts. Just know­ing that a com­pet­i­tive mir­ror­less op­tion is avail­able will be enough to keep the brand loy­al­ists firmly in the fold, even if they don’t dump their D-SLR bod­ies right away. Sony is now go­ing to have to work a whole lot harder to ac­quire any more mar­ket share in ILCs.

What are the im­pli­ca­tions of Pana­sonic’s de­ci­sion to launch a full-35mm mir­ror­less sys­tem as well? Phew! This is pos­si­bly big­ger than either the Canon or Nikon con­ver­sions. It changes the dy­nam­ics of the mir­ror­less cam­era mar­ket quite dra­mat­i­cally, cre­at­ing a very pow­er­ful ‘big sen­sor’ cam­era group­ing of Canon, Le­ica, Nikon, Pana­sonic and Sony (plus Sigma as a signed-up mem­ber of the ‘L Mount Al­liance’)… ver­sus ev­ery­body else. Fu­ji­film prob­a­bly also gets to play in this space be­cause of its dig­i­tal medium for­mat mir­ror­less sys­tem (now ex­panded with the highly-de­sir­able GFX 50R model), but where all this leaves Olym­pus isn’t im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous, and what might Ri­coh be plan­ning for Pen­tax?

Like Nikon, Pen­tax be­lieved the mir­ror­less cam­era mar­ket was go­ing to be all about much smaller sen­sors – and for a while it was – but now the em­pha­sis is back on the 35mm for­mat and this could mean that even ‘APS-C’ won’t cut it in the fu­ture. OK, so both M43 and ‘APS-C’ have proved that size isn’t ev­ery­thing, but in the end, the physics of imag­ing sen­sors means it sort of is… es­pe­cially if you want res­o­lu­tions of 30 megapix­els and be­yond while main­tain­ing rea­son­able sen­si­tiv­ity and sig­nal-to-noise ra­tios.

Some big de­ci­sions will need to be made by many pho­tog­ra­phers when they next come to up­grad­ing their cam­era bod­ies. Global cam­era sales have been slow­ing be­cause, es­sen­tially, many of us are quite sat­is­fied with what we’ve got right now, and small up­dates to either specs or fea­tures haven’t re­ally been enough to war­rant mak­ing a change even if they’ve looked at­trac­tive. Soon there will be plenty of com­pelling rea­sons to make some big changes, in­clud­ing in­vest­ing more in a cam­era sys­tem than you’ve ever done be­fore.

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