The extinction event. Goodbye D700?
About ten years ago I predicted that we would see the end of DSLR cameras as EVF technology improved and mirrorless concepts matured. The logic was simple; people didn't really understand the basic principles of the photographic process but seeing the image in real time, on a screen, would enable them to make corrections by eye and obviate the need for training. An even more compelling argument (and one I made at the time...) is that the two most expensive things in a traditional DSLR camera, after the imaging sensor, are the semi-silvered pentaprism that makes a DSLR a "reflex" camera and the moving mirror construction which requires many more mechanical parts and must be very well calibrated in order to work. So, more parts, more expensive parts and more delicate parts created the writing on the wall that prophesied the approaching demise of traditional cameras.
The camera makers have done a magnificent job of convincing most consumers that the much-cheaper-to-make mirrorless cameras are worth large sums of money even though the costs to camera makers have been reduced, overall, by 40-50% (manufacturing being only part of the cost; there is still marketing and distribution to cover). That Sony A7Riii is most likely 40-50% cheaper to create than the Nikon D850 but, if the end results are the same, so what? Sony pockets more profit per camera and dumps more cash into marketing their product, creating a narrative about it's prowess that is partly true.
So, now that the conversion from DSLR to mirrorless has reached its tipping point we can pretty much agree that camera makers will now move from cameras with flippy mirrors to cameras with.....less stuff. The ardent fans of mirrorless (in some camps) misinterpret the move to mirrorless as being motivated by a size and weight reduction but they are, of course, wrong. Mostly. Serious photographers and working pros are still more interested in the results from cameras rather than a scramble to own "dainty" cameras. But with stodgy Nikon and glacially slow Canon joining in the evolution to a new camera ethos, and Panasonic reportedly waiting in the wings, I think it's safe to say that mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras will be the primary choice of the demographic ready to spend thousands of dollars on gear, and ready to spend similar thousands, year after year, to upgrade and acquire more.
And that begs the question: Who's going to win?
And I firmly believe that Canon will trounce everyone else for a few simple reasons. First, the smart engineers at Canon created a lens mount in the EOS series that was fully electronic and amply sized for future work. Even though the R series has a new lens mount the fully electronic nature of the previous mount should mean that all those wonderful Canon lenses, made from the late 1980's through now will work flawlessly, not just partially, with a Canon supplied adapter in conjunction with the new R mount. That's huge. They can make the new R lenses a premium line but still have fast to focus and very sharp lenses from their entire EOS legacy catalog available. Win-win.
It's a different equation for Nikon whose long line of pre-G lenses will be only partially capable with adapters on their new Z cameras. Nikon will sell a bunch of Z cameras to the faithful but not because of a flawless backwards compatibility; more of the sales will come from a regard for the color science and handling, and, to a certain extent, a very usable video implementation.
Canon will either kill Sony's momentum or force them to come to grips with their engineering mistakes (see: lens mount dwarfism...) and the shot across the bow, from Canon to Sony, is the initial Canon introduction of the 28-70mm f2.0 lens. That's fast. And no one other than Sigma has done an f2.0 constant aperture zoom for full frame before. This is shorthand for: look what we can do with a wide mount diameter. Match this nex guys. Nikon can do it too.
While Sony has been on a tear recently one has to understand that Canon has many times more current users, many of whom have been loyal for decades. They might all want to be mirrorless owners but sales and statistics have shown that they were willing to wait till Canon came out with the product they ultimately wanted.
But wait! What about Panasonic. It's been rumored that they'll be unleashing their full frame camera in the first quarter of next year. The smart money is betting that it will be a Panasonic branded Leica SL body which as gotten very, very good reviews as both a still photography camera and a video camera. If a meteor took out my entire studio and I was starting from scratch that system (the Panasonic version) would be at the top of my list. Right now I'm making videos that are so vastly superior to that which I was getting from Sony's top cameras just a year ago that I am stunned by how far ahead Panasonic is in video from everyone else in the multi-use camera market.
But sadly, they will not blunt Canon's momentum. Why? Because most people who buy consumer cameras are still buying them to make still photographs. Yes, they like the ability to push a button and make and Instagram video of their kid blowing out birthday cake candles but they really never do the deep dive into high end, high sweat video that would show off the difference between implementations in Nikon, Canon and Sony.
The ardent researchers/fans/pro-users/dedicated hobbyists make the mistake of believing what the camera marketers have been trying to sell in this camera space; that every camera hitting the market from now until the end of time must achieve exact parity with all the other companies in all aspect of performance and across the entire list of features. But it's not true.
Canon may not have state of the art, full frame, 4K video but the cameras will still sell like hotcakes to all the Canon fans and loyalist who want to use their cameras to shoot the things they've always shot. Things like kids playing soccer, family vacations, fun events, recitals, casual portraits. These are all things that Canon cameras can do as well of better than other brands. That's the big market.
Some will argue that Canon failed miserably because they did not put image stabilization into the newly introduced R body. But there is always the argument to be made that image stabilization in a lens can be better because it's customized exactly for that lens and the focal lengths involved whereas in body image stabilization is, from an engineering point of view, a compromise. If I were a consumer looking at the new Canon the one lens I'd be buying first (and for most families, the onliest) would be the 24-105mm lens which I believe is stabilized and is a focal length range that has a long and excellent history in the Canon lens family. I bet they got this one just right. And in today's photo circles it's pretty much the all around lens that ticks all the crucial boxes.
Panasonic will make a better camera (especially for video) but they will market it as a niche product for people who need killer video as well as great a great photo tool. Canon will always sell millions more bodies.
Nikon will have more desirable features (in the short run) and pull ahead of Canon on their video implementation but Canon will out market Nikon and actually point out things like their lens prowess and ease of use. They will continue to gain on Nikon. I love the idea of the Nikon products but if starting from scratch I'd still feel some pull from Canon.
Sony will be the net loser on this one. They had a good run with the A7 series and they've done some innovative things but the lens mount will eventually strangle them and they will launch a secondary system down the road. That'll piss off the faithful. I'm betting that Sony sees things more as consumer products (individual products) rather than being long term systems which need to be backwardly compatible and cross functional. Their A7 series video codecs are already starting to look dated. They are better video cameras than the current Canon but Canon can change that whole paradigm in one product cycle. And, as I've stated above, I'm not sure small differences in video performance matters to the vast majority of buyers. In fact, I'm almost certain of it.
If you are a current Canon professional user who shoots mostly stills but has the routine requirement of shooting some video for clients in 1080p the R camera will be a no-brainer for you because, with one adapter you'll be able to use, without limitations, that 70-200mm f2.8 that is best in class, the 24-70mm f2.8 that is so well established and any number of other lenses that you already have in your bag.
How will both Canon and Nikon prevail over Sony? It's very simple, you just have to try each camera in person, in your own hand. The handling differences are tremendous skewed in favor of the established players. The small, incremental differences in handling and feature sets will pale next to the realities of good, livable industrial design. Count on it.
Canon > Nikon > Sony > Fuji > Panasonic > Olympus. Everyone else can go home now and we'll get ready for the next round of musical chairs.
Me? After I take a call with a client on the east coast I'm tossing a fresh battery into the D700, sliding on the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art and heading out to take a nice walk with a beautiful, historic camera. I feel kinda like a guy with a 1964 Corvette Stingray in the garage. You know it's an ancient car but it's still incredibly fun to drive and gets you to the same destination as quickly as your new, aerodynamic jellybean lookalike car. Yeah.
Fact for today: Cameras can be too small and too light to be optimally effective. The way a hand tool feels is as important as the way it works.