Two conclusions emerged from the recently concluded Photokina 2012 in Cologne.
One, that Smart phones are here to stay and with falling prices, are going to take away market share from lower end digital cameras. Second, mirrorless cameras (or ILCCs as they are known in some quarters) are here to stay and are perhaps the most exciting innovation to hit the imaging industry after the advent of digital. All the major players (bar CASIO) are now into mirrorless; the strategy of each player, however, is different.
Let us start with Panasonic, the first Company to enter the mirrorless field in 2008 with the Lumix G1. Panasonic used the Four Thirds sensor originally used by Olympus and introduced the Micro Four Thirds mount. The Micro Four Thirds sensor was smaller than the APS-C sensor and represented a good compromise between quality and size/weight. Panasonic’s mirrorless cameras, the G, GH, GF and GX-series are much smaller and lighter than D-SLRs – the smaller sensor enables the production of smaller sized lenses as well. The body and the lens are therefore properly balanced. Just look at Panasonic’s two new professional lenses, the 12-35mm (24-70mm)/f2.8 IS and the 35-100mm (70-200mm)/f2.8 IS. They are half the sizes of their D-SLR counterparts and still produce outstanding quality. Panasonic now has over 16 lenses with the Micro Four Thirds mount and has the potential to be the market leader providing it backs up the products with marketing muscle.
Olympus had almost lost its way with digital SLRs till the Micro Four Thirds Standard appeared. Taking full advantage of iconic names from the past, Olympus launched new products by resurrecting the PEN and OM-D names. It now has a decent collection of Micro Four Thirds lenses. The recent acquisition of a stake in Olympus by Sony could mean that Sony is also moving into the Micro Four Thirds camp. In that event, the combination of Panasonic and Sony would be formidable in the market place. Lenses for the Micro Four Thirds mount are being made currently by Sigma, Tokina, Zeiss, Voightlander and very soon, Tamron.
Sony, Samsung and Canon have backed the APS-C camp, each one with their own unique mounts. The problem with APS-C sized sensors is that the lenses are far larger than the bodies they are teamed up with – in some cases, the combination looks weird. Both Sony and Samsung, however, are formidable marketing companies. Additionally, Sony owns a stake in Tamron. Getting the independent, Japanese lens manufacturers to produce lenses for Samsung’s NX range may prove a tad difficult. Sony also has to consider whether to move its entire D-SLR range to full frame in order to avoid product cannibalisation.
Canon was the last to enter the mirrorless market with the EF-M. Even now, the product supply is merely a trickle. The EF-M is a good design albeit without a built in flashgun and with only two specially designed lenses. Canon will have to rapidly accelerate with its EF-M lenses and other accessories if it is to make an early impression in this market.
As the lone survivor from the film ‘holocaust’, Fujifilm has chosen the retro route with its mirrorless cameras. Fixed focal length lenses and APS-C sized sensors are the other features. High pricing may make Fujifilm’s mirrorless cameras a niche player. Its own unique mount may also limit success.
What about almighty Nikon? After all, they have launched three stunning D-SLRs this year. Sadly, the Nikon 1 series is not in the same league. The Nikon brand name will certainly stimulate sales; the very small sensor and the restricted features will restrict them. Strategy-wise, however, Nikon has clearly limited mirrorless cameras to the ‘fun’ market, thus safeguarding its SLRs.
A similar fate lies in stone for Pentax; the K-O1 has not really taken off and the ‘Q’ is cute, but poses no threat to the rest.
To those who still think that mirrorless cameras are a passing fad, just look at the following statistics – Worldwide volume growth of mirrorless cameras in the first half of 2012 was 69% in units and 82% in value. We rest our case.
H. S. Billimoria