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Mirrorless tipping point looms

The new wave of full-frame mirrorless camera systems from Canon and Nikon; and the L-mount Alliance trio of Panasonic, Leica and Sigma; (and yes, ok, Zeiss), should see mirrorless interchangeables overtake DSLRs as the most shipped camera format for professionals and serious enthusiasts some time in 2019 – and perhaps even by the end of the first half. (You read it here first, folks!)

Not too shabby: Falling DSLR shipments have dragged down the interchangeable lens category, but nonetheless it’s not too far off 2017 performance. The spike in late 2016 was a result of catch-up production following the Kumamato earthquake, which knocked out Sony’s sensor manufacturing plant.

Mirrorless cameras are steadily taking more share of the interchangeable lens cameras segment in a contracting market. The CIPA (Japanese camera manufacturers) figures from January to October show mirrorless interchangeable camera shipments at the same levels they were over the same 10 months in 2017, although the average price has increased by almost 20 percent. DSLR shipments have fallen by just over 10 percent – almost 700K cameras – in the same period. Given that Sony was the only meaningful player in the high-end mirrorless full-frame market over this period, and there were few releases from any camera manufacturers to stimulate demand, this probably points to the success of 2017-release Sony Alpha cameras against competing full-frame DSLRs (and even high-end APS-C models) from Nikon and Canon.

In raw numbers, there were around 5.7 million DSLRs shipped until end of October this year (6.4 million in 2017, Jan-Oct) and 3.5 million mirrorless interchangeables. There are approximately 3 million cameras still to be shipped from now until the end of the year.

This image, purporting to be of the rumoured Olympus E-M1X, shows an uncharacteristically large M43 camera with a chunky-looking, built-in battery grip.

Until Photokina, 2018 was a particularly miserable year for new camera releases – probably the most lacklustre in the past decade. There has been a particular dearth of DSLR announcements – just one or two new ho-hum iterations of budget APS-C format models from Canon and Nikon. Outside of bumping up the pixel count, it’s hard to see where innovation might come in future DSLR technology – it seems like the manufacturers have taken the hybrid digital camera/optical viewfinder/pentaprism combination just about as far as it can go.

In the meantime, hard up against the Christmas 2018 selling season, we are in something of an innovation hiatus. The new mirrorless Nikons and Canons are all above the $4k mark and so will have limited unit sales, while almost all other mirrorless and DSLR cameras have been in the market since 2017 or earlier.

But there’s a lot of promise that 2019 will be a great year for affordable new mirrorless cameras. My next camera will definitely be mirrorless – how about you? The great unknown for manufacturers and retailers as we pass ‘Peak DSLR’ is how quickly demand falls away – no-one wants to be seen to be buying last year’s tech – especially at RRP! There are still plenty of new DSLR releases in the development pipeline from Canon and Nikon.

A quick (and very much unconfirmed) overview of early 2019 new camera releases, harvested from the various camera rumour websites, points  to a re-energised camera market:

Canon: EOS 90D to replace 80D; new entry level APS-C mirrorless replacements for M5 andM6); updates for Powershot G7 and G9 ranges; high res (60-70MP?), IBIS-enabled EOS R model around mid-year – possible replacement for EOS 5DS, 5DS R.
Fujifilm: mid-range X-T30 around mid-year; XH-2 a lesser possibility.
Nikon: ‘In development’ announcement of high res (60MP, 8K) Nikon D5S or D6 in January; D5700 in 1st quarter; Z9 in second quarter; possible D760 mid-year; D610 to be discontinued
Olympus: New, ($4000+) flagship E-M1X announced in January for release 1st Quarter.
Panasonic: Previously announced L-Mount SR and SR 1 full-frame mirrorless probably in 1st Quarter. CES announcements scheduled.
Pentax: Loose talk of a full-frame mirrorless; Speculation that the Pentax 1ooth anniversary next year will see some surprise new announcements.
Sigma: another attempt to break into camera market with full-frame L-Mount model
Sony: Pro-level APS-C A6700/a7000, A7S III to follow. CES announcements scheduled.

Give us a lens
On the other hand 2018 was a great year for photographers looking for more lens options at a lower price. and the bounty should continue in 2019. Even though ILC shipments have dropped slightly below 2017 levels, lens shipments are steady, with almost 10 percent growth in 35mm (full frame) lenses and a corresponding drop off in M43 and APS-C compatible optics.

Full frame lens shipments are up by 10 percent, smaller format lenses down by about the same amount.

Sigma and Tamron and the new wave of Korean and Chinese lens-makers are making the camera manufacturers glass look decidedly expensive. These lens-makers are disrupting the camera manufacturers’ previous monopoly on premium performance lenses by delivering equivalent performance at about half the price.

More strength to them!
– Keith Shipton








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