News/Views

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This page of the site contains the latest 10 articles to appear on bythom, followed by links to the archives.

Fewer Cameras, More Options

I'm not sure if the component supply issues are driving this, or whether the camera makers simply are scrambling for rock holds, but a trend is developing that should be noted: most new cameras are slotting new product announcements into unique positions (both for the overall market as well as the camera vendor). In a little over a half year, this is the full list of newly announced cameras:

  • Canon R7, R10 — Opens a new APS-C DSLR-like category for them
  • Canon R5C — Takes an existing camera more into the video realm
  • Fujifilm X-H2S — Attempts to compete with the full frame flagships, but with an APS-C sensor
  • Leica M11 — 60mp, simplified UX, yeah that's unique
  • Nikon Z30 — Nikon goes vlogger hunting
  • OMDS OM-1 — Hey, a real existing camera update
  • Panasonic GH6 — Another real update, though in an already unique niche

The grumbling has already started ("where's my Z6 III, A7R Mark V, X-T5?" etc.). It grows louder every day.

In the golden days of digital, iterations went like this:

  • Consumer DSLRs — 12 to 18 month cycles
  • Enthusiast DSLRs — 24 month cycles
  • Pro Flagships — 48 month cycles

Here in the "can we still sell 4m units" world, things are going to be different. Of course, we haven't gotten to that world yet. The pandemic-triggered supply chain issues have cameras selling under current potential demand. Were the supply chain suddenly able to provide every needed part, we'd likely have a sudden influx of camera updates and line extensions, and ILC sales would almost certainly breach 6m units again if that were to happen. Temporarily. 

4-5m units is the ILC reality in the foreseeable future, at least until the Next Big Thing triggers a whole new round of transitioning. And at that lowish buying level, I'll bet that we see something more akin to 36 month cycles on a lot of key products. Plus, of course, the true consumer products will tend to disappear (there's no way they survive with 24+ month cycles, and you can't afford to iterate them faster with unit volume so low). 

I keep hearing from Nikon users that more Z models are needed. I keep hearing from Fujifilm and Sony users that more models need to iterate faster. I keep hearing from Canon users "what are they doing?" ;~)

I'm not sure any of that's true (or in Canon's case unanswered). I'm not really feeling like my six year old cameras are really past their prime photographically. That's even more true of my two year old cameras. Is there a model missing that would completely solve a problem that I'm having with the existing choices? No, not really. Many of the requests I hear from readers are FOMO- or Dream-driven, and completely unrealistic to the way the market is working right now. I own six cameras. Collectively they're capable of anything I need them to do. I could probably cut that down to three and say the same thing. Pragmatically, I'm using two most of the time, and I'm not complaining about something I can't do. 

The tech world goes through cycles that consumers don't always realize. Marketing masks the reality. For instance, most people using a computer are basically using it for Web browsing, email, and some Office-type content production. Those of you reading this would add "basic image processing." All that's a very low bar that was long ago passed by the computer makers. In order to get you buy a new computer they have to convince you that you might be missing out on something (FOMO). Apple right now is promoting computers (e.g. Studio and high-end MacBook Pro models) that easily surpass the existing high-performance workstations being used for data intensive analysis, 3D design, and much more complex tasks almost none of us do. The majority of people would be fine with even the base MacBook, Mac Mini, or iMac models, but those don't bring in the dollars the higher end product does, even at Apple pricing. 

It's clear to me what the next cycle is that the tech companies want to promote (virtual/augmented reality), but it's not clear to me that this will be the one that drives the products that most customers buy. Many are still trying to digest the tech they've already purchased, putting a clear friction on moving to something new.

It's also clear to me—and has been for 15 years (!)—that cameras need to move into the 21st century. That means full connectivity to your home, your car, your office, your cloud (and that includes social networking). Unfortunately, the camera companies aren't seeing that. ("But Thom," they say, "we added Bluetooth and a crude mobile app.")

So instead we're getting slower cycles of iteration of the products we already use, coupled with fitful jabs at crevices in between existing product categories. Fewer new cameras, but more platform options, basically. I'm pretty sure that's not what you want. 

Random Rant #87

Time for another random rant. I'll stick to my main theme, though: camera designers don't use cameras

The other day I came across a forum post by someone who wanted to rant about Nikon's lens hoods. That poster believed that all lens hoods should have a lock mechanism on them. One of the responses down the thread ranted the opposite: that he "hated" Nikon's hood locks. 

Both viewpoints are valid, but they're both missing the point. 

The point is that Nikon's designers and engineers can't possibly be using their products in the field, otherwise neither of those users would be complaining. Some Nikon lens hoods don't lock and are easily dislodged or fall off in the heat of photographic battle. Others have a lock that is disguised in the same black as the hood, not easily found, is fiddly to use, and in a few cases, easy to break. Heck, Nikon's been using the same screw lock on their exotic lens hoods for decades despite having to fix and replace many of them, and the continued anger from users who find them problematic (some of these locks even tilt the hood awkwardly when tightened down). And let's not get started with what you have to do if you have a polarizing filter in place with the hood not allowing you to access it.

With the bayonet lens hoods that are most common these days, three variations seem to exist: (1) lock in place with a release button required to remove; (2) snap into place with a click; or (3) rotate until it stops and assume it's on. #3 variations tend to fall off or get askew very easily. #2 variations come in a variety of "snaps," with some engaging clearly, others far less so. And #1 versions vary in how well the release button can be found and used (and some locks are easily broken).

Also on my list regarding the lens hoods are the markings. Often they make no sense or are very difficult to see. In some cases, there are no alignment dots, or they're not painted. And if you're going to put an O marking on the hood, is it so difficult to make that an O> so that the user can see which way it unlocks? Not every camera user is using their camera every day like some of us pros, so they just might not have that "clockwise off" thing in their muscle memory.

And then there's this: yesterday I got the message that the lens I acquired eight months ago finally now has an available lens hood that has shipped and in stock (18-140mm f/3.5-6.3's HB-101). Apparently Nikon is fine with me getting less than optimal results for eight months while they figure out how to make a poor piece of plastic.

I should point out that the supplied lens hood for the Nikon 28-75mm f/2.8 doesn't have any of these faults I'm writing about, though the little white alignment dots can be difficult to see, and the O should be an O>. It snaps into place with certainty and doesn't dislodge, and it does have white markings I can see. Thus, it's clear that Nikon can make a decent lens hood and have it available day one when they want to, it's just that they don't want to most of the time.

Nikon isn't alone in this "didn't really put any effort into the lens hood" problem. A Laowa lens I'm reviewing comes with a lens hood. It's a #3 variation, and the hood has misaligned and fallen off multiple times in my testing. Something that even rudimentary testing should have told them would happen.

It's not like there's rocket science involved here. You'd think that if you can get it right once, you'd just get it right all the time. But, no, that's not what happens at all. Some Junior engineer given the task of creating two cents worth of plastic seems to think that their duty is to save a fraction of a cent, try something different, not check with users to see what works and what doesn't, and then doesn't get their assignment done in time to ship with the lens. Too much time at the Sake bar, I guess. 

I'm going to state it bluntly: if you want me to care about your brand, you need to care about my use of your product

Over the course of more than a decade (!), I've pointed out that Nikon camera owners were sampling, leaking, and switching to competitor brands. I've even measured that. In Nikon's case, their loss of unit volume easily exceeds 5% due to these three customer actions, and it partially explains why their market share has dropped from second to third in interchangeable lens cameras. The good news for Nikon is that their competitors manage to not get things completely right, either, otherwise Nikon would have lost even more customers.

And I'm just writing about lens hoods here! Heaven knows how long this rant would be if I extended it to all of the things that are similarly poor in our current cameras and lenses. The list would be endless, and I'd still be typing when I die...

So, camera makers listen up: many of the things you're getting wrong are so easily fixed that I have to believe that you just don't care. And if you don't care about those things, I have to wonder what else you don't care about. That doesn't make me a loyal customer. It makes me a paranoid customer with little allegiance. The Japanese companies are getting what they deserve: little loyalty and no urgent feeling that customers need to upgrade to discover what new things got botched or what old things weren't fixed. 

I have to think that if the folk designing and engineering camera products were actually using them, they wouldn't tolerate these simple and clear failures. 

_______________________

Bonus: did anyone ever figure out in Japan that we don't need a different hood for every lens made? Apparently not. There's an unspoken implication that the hood that comes with a lens is the "best possible" hood in terms of shading the front element properly. I haven't actually found that to be true. What seems to be happening is that the designers simply run some sort of long-used generic calculation to come up with petal/barrel, and how much. Worse still, we have differing bayonets and bayonet sizes, so even if you could use hood #1 with lens #2, you can't. And the thought of an adjustable lens hood? Oh my, why would a user want that?

Okay, I'm foaming at the mouth now and need a break. /RANT OFF

4K Is The Current Sweet Spot

You probably think I'm going to add to the headline the appendage "for video." 

Nope. 

4K is the sweet spot for still photography. 

Just as a reminder, 4K is 3840 x 2160 pixels (at the 16:9 video ratio). If we normalize that out to the 3:2 aspect ratio, we get essentially 4000 x 2640, or 10.5mp. The 12mp Nikon D3—which will come up again in this discussion—is 12mp, or 4256 x 2832 pixels. Yes, the D3 is still in the sweet spot for photography.

You might have noticed that we blew past 10-12mp quite some time ago with our dedicated cameras. In the past decade we first snuck up on 24mp (10, 12, 16, 24), then just kept going (36, 45, 61). We left the sweet spot behind quite some time ago.

Why do I say the sweet spot is 4K? Because we went from printing images to viewing images. It's the result of what happened with social networking. No longer do we look at 4x6 prints from a photo lab when sharing images with friends, we instead look at them on our smartphones. 

The maximum resolution of an iPhone (Max model) is 2778 x 1284, or 3.5mp. A current iPad Pro is 2732 x 2048, or 5.6mp. Your TV is likely 3840 x 2160 pixels (8.3mp), but not a lot of you are viewing your images on TVs. You might be looking at them on a TV-like monitor when you edit your images; a 5K iMac is 5120 x 2880, or 14.7mp, though once you add your software's windowing and controls, you're probably looking at the actual image being observed back down near 4K. 

So how many pixels do you need? ;~)

This is usually where the "but I crop a lot" discussion comes up. I'm going to set that aside for this article and assume that you're using the right lens with your feet in the right place for your subject; you're using all the pixels in your camera. Here's the number of pixels you need:

  • If you're mostly social sharing you need 4mp, maybe 6mp max.
  • If you're showing images in presentations on screens, you need 8mp, maybe 12mp max.

Which makes that 12mp D3 and D3s look pretty darned good 15 years later, doesn't it? Remember, that camera opened up new territory in low light, had an excellent focus system, featured an all-day battery life, and it could photograph at 11 fps. Do you really need more pixels and more camera today? 

Apparently not, because I still see some pros using their D3s bodies. A D3s still matches up pretty well with a D6 when normalized for output size. And if your output size is social media or even journalism (newspaper, magazine, etc.), 12mp works out to be just fine.

So how many pixels do you need?

I'm going to temper things a little bit and make you feel a little better about buying that 45mp camera. The Bayer mosaic that is in virtually all of our cameras really needs about 1.5x the pixels to account for the interpolation that it has to do to get RGB values for each position. For a 4K display output that would be...wait for it...12.5mp. Dang, there's that D3 again. 

Some believe that you really should have 4x the pixels (the binners) to really pull out everything you can out of a Bayer-based camera. That puts us at 33mp, but I'd say that's it's a rare person that could see any significant difference between a 33mp and 12mp image at 4K output resolution. 33mp is also 8K (;~), which maybe buys you some future proofing for on-screen viewing, though I think we're still quite a ways from 8K screens being affordable, let alone prevalent. (It will happen; never bet against tech's relentless downsizing.)

So how many pixels do you need?

For me, the answer has long been 24mp. Far more than I absolutely need for images that end up on screens, but still capable of making an excellent 13x19" print on a desktop inkjet printer, such as the common Canon and Epson photo printer models. 24mp on a full frame sensor also has some auxiliary benefits over chasing higher pixel counts: mirrorless autofocus in low light benefits from the larger pixel sizes, and I have to worry far less about diffraction impacting my results (and potential acuity gains). Couple that with smaller file sizes (than 45mp), and it's a win, win, win. 

But note what I wrote about the binners and the eventual 8K presence: there's a reason why the Sony A7 Mark IV is 33mp (or the recently announced 33mp Canon R7, for that matter). Coupled with allowing more liberal cropping in the near term, 33mp is probably the new 24mp, because it's 8K friendly. But frankly, I'd be perfectly happy with either 24mp or 33mp right now.

"Okay then, Thom, why are you using a 45mp Z9 and 50mp A1?" Not because of the pixels. It's more because the overall camera is simply better for what I need. That's true of the autofocus systems, frame rates, buffers, and more. All those extra pixels? It worries me that I'll get lazy and start cropping instead of trying to get it right in the camera. That has an impact on perspective. If I'm lazy and don't get closer to the animals/athletes, I'm not getting the perspective that's made my best work, well, my best work. No one ever wants to talk about perspective, but I'm pretty sure that all the images you think are great were driven in some way by perspective choice (or happenstance of perspective in some cases). Perspective is also the reason why I didn't opt to buy an 800mm lens, by the way. I don't like the perspective I'd be using it at (and then there's the issue of heat waves, too; more distance between you and the subject means more heat waves that can influence the results).

All of which brings us to two last subjects regarding how many pixels you actually need.

First, why are the camera makers pursuing more pixels, more pixels, and even more pixels? Iteration, basically. It's what they know how to do. 100mp on a full frame sensor looks a lot different (better) at the micro level than 100mp on a smartphone sensor, too, so the camera companies believe that this is an advantage. The problem, of course, is that this is putting the camera companies further and further away from the primary photography needs of most people, which is sharing images with others. 

Nikon, for instance, realized this when they came up with SnapBridge. Sure, your expensive 45mp camera can talk to your phone. But guess what? By default SnapBridge sends that phone a 2mp image! Exactly what did you need all those extra pixels for? Unfortunately, Nikon hasn't budged from that 2mp marker since the D500 first appeared using it, yet the smartphone resolution has gone up since then. Note what I said was the correct number for social sharing, above (4mp, maybe 6mp). Can't set that using SnapBridge. If the iPad I'm showing my photos on needs 5.6mp and I'm sending it 2mp, just how good do those images actually look? Back when the D500 came out, sure, the best smartphones were typically 1334 x 750 pixels, or 1mp), but that has rapidly moved upscale. Is there anyone in Tokyo that has a clue? Apparently not.

In essence, the camera makers are simply doing what they've always done. We had pixel pushing before smartphones took over the photo market. We went from 2.7mp (D1) to 6mp to 11mp (1Ds) pretty darned fast. Long before the smartphones really took over we were at 12mp. Bigger numbers are easy marketing ("now with twice the pixels!"). And cramming more on a semiconductor is what tech is all about in the first place, so win, win, right? 

Not if it doesn't solve a user problem.

Our last subject about how many pixels you might require is "but I need to print big." 

Hmm. I question the word "need" in that sentence, but let's assume you do. The other word that's important is "big." If both words are true for you, why aren't you using a 100mp GFX or better? ;~)

The current 45/50mp cameras net you a 28" print (300 dpi), and if you use my rule of thumb about how far you can push your pixels in print, you should be able to easily top 40" with a good looking print. Do you really need bigger? And again, there's that "need" word. 

I'm sure there are folk that would still say, yes, this is what they do and what they need (print big). Thing is, those folks are in the minority—really, how many of you made 28" print or larger last year?—and shouldn't really be dictating the mainstream of what's happening in the primary camera market. What's important is that the sweet spot cameras are well designed and perfectly optimized.

So, the final current sweet spots as I currently see them:

  • Screen output: 4K max (8.3mp)
  • Print output: 6K for desktop printers (24mp)
  • Camera input: 6K to 8K max (24mp to 33mp)

Bonus credit: Did you know that the Z6 can take 4K still images at 30 fps with autofocus? (Page 691 of my Z6/Z7 Guide.) 

Just to be complete and clear: more sampling is always better than less sampling. Sampling, as in how many digital pixels per fixed unit of analog size. So technically, higher pixel counts are always better than lower pixel counts. The problem with more sampling, though, is the diminishing returns it brings due to things like diffraction, shot noise, and more. It's almost like an exponential drag we're encountering these days as we increase pixel counts beyond our presentation needs. I eventually sold my 61mp Sony A7R Mark IV because I just didn't see the real world benefit it provided over my 45mp D850, Z7 II, Z9, and 50mp A1. Was there a benefit? Maybe, but it was smaller than expected, wasn't tangible to my work, and probably not to yours, either. 


Where Do You Start?

Second in a series of Post Processing 2022 articles.

Two weeks ago I wrote about converting your raw images specifically, not generically. The first question I usually get next is the “where should I start” question. That’s actually not actually the right question to ask. The proper question is “why am I post processing?”

Today’s software offers an overwhelming number of sliders, controls, brushes, and other options. So many, in fact, that most of us with 30+ years of processing experience will tell you that there are multiple ways of doing anything in Photoshop. Literally. (An article for another day: why you’d use method A over method B over method C.)

Most people get hung up on that overwhelming complexity, but the way you break through it is knowing what it is you’re trying to do in the first place.

  • Flat-looking areas? Probably needs contrast adjustment.
  • Dark-looking areas? Probably needs exposure-type adjustments.
  • Wrong color areas? Probably needs white balance adjustment.

In other words, the thing(s) you want to change drives the “where do I start” question, because there’s something specific you notice you need to do. The three I just listed are simple and easy to understand, thus have simple directions as how to proceed. It’s when you get into the more complex statements that things get more muddled.

  • Doesn’t pop? Probably micro contrast, saturation, and the need for specific, attention-drawing elements.
  • Looks like it was taken with a camera? Did you tilt up or down, because often this impact is caused by geometric/perspective elements we personally don’t notice without the camera. 
  • Doesn’t hold you in? Probably not enough vignetting ;~). Seriously. I can describe a whole series of things our eyes do when taking in an image, but if people’s eyes are going away from where you want them to and out to the edge of the frame, vignetting is one of the tools you can use to fix that. Ditto burning and dodging. Ditto a lot of things. 

What’s micro contrast? Long-lived and divisive Internet arguments have thrived for years about this, but I have a simple view of the contrast world: I use the same ideas I learned in MBA school about macro economics versus micro economics. Macro is the big picture, basically the overall categories the Fed and the Government react to and control, and how the economy works in general. Micro is what you and I do as individual consumers or business owners, or how the economy works at the piece by piece level. 

Thus, macro contrast is the general impression of the overall image, while micro contrast is what’s happening down in the individual pixels. So yes, you can have high macro/low micro, low macro/high micro, and all the other possible combinations happening in the pixels of your image. Sometimes I play with that intentionally, but generally I want what I decide is the proper contrast at both macro and micro levels.

Thus, answering the question about why you think you need to perform post processing is a very good thing to do before you actually try to start doing so. I will sometimes go so far as to print—or leave up on my desktop—an image without post processing so that I can stare it for awhile. What I’m doing is trying to figure out what the image needs. What’s wrong with it that I might be able to correct? (There’s very little I can’t correct for these days, but your mileage may vary, particularly if you’re just starting to explore post processing.) 

So let’s look at a before and after scenario for a moment (warning: I’ve gone to 11 on the post processing here):

bythom preandpostprocessing

The left image is at it was recorded in the camera (out of camera JPEG). It’s flat and lacks color for a bunch of reasons, the biggest one being that the window on the plane severely reduced contrast, as did some atmospheric haze. 

Having been through the area on the river and on the plateaus, and even walking down from the rims, I know what the colors really are. Up close there’s a lot of contrast going on in the middle of the day (actually mid-morning here). The answer to the question as I started post processing was simple: I needed to restore contrast, color, detail, and attention to many different things in the image. The plateau, cliffs, and river needed color. The plateau needed macro contrast. The cliffs needed micro contrast (detail). Even in the "finished" example on the right you should still notice something wrong: an imbalance of brightness between the left and right side of the image. When I write about "correct specifics," this is what I mean. An overall brightness adjustment doesn't fix that problem, does it? You have to run a gradient adjustment to do so. 

For what it’s worth, macro contrast was easy to restore on the plateaus, but the micro contrast on the cliffs was much more difficult. Color became a lot of piece by piece work. While there is not much difference shown in the original, I knew there was a lot of nuance that wasn’t showing up. I ended up processing four specific areas on the plateau slightly differently to bring out the color change I knew was there. 

The toughest issue, however, was getting the color of the river right, as I had very little useful highlight information to manipulate, and getting colors right in the brightest region of an image is often the most difficult job you’ll encounter. Even the deep shadow colors are a little easier to lock in (note the clear color in the cliffs). 

I’m working on a couple of videos that show how I attack problems like this, so I’ll eventually help you get down into the details the way I do it. For now, though, the thing I want you to start asking yourself long before you press D (to invoke the Develop module in Lightroom) is "what specific things do I really need to change in this image?" Make a list of how you think individual components in the image fail. That list will determine what you need to do. Very few of those things will be a slider moved for the entire image (such as Exposure, Highlights, Shadows). In the above example, the one slider I did move for the full image was the Dehaze filter, for obvious reasons: the plane window took out contrast across the entire image. From there, I addressed specific needs, not general needs.

Even sharpening (and its cousin noise reduction) should generally be thought of as a specific area correction. Yes, I still subscribe to Fraser's multi-step sharpening philosophy, but that initial sharpening is solely to remove the anti-aliasing the digital process generated in the pixels. In the above image, the cliffs are where I did most of my sharpening, and some areas farthest from the camera are where I didn't sharpen but used a bit of noise reduction. Remember, our eyes think soft is a depth cue for something far away.

So with all that said (actually: written) I need to circle back to the “where do I start” question the headline asks. I just answered that: make a list. I’ll bet that list isn’t one overall item, but many specific ones. Which means that another article in this series will have to address the “in what order do I do things?”

A copy of this article has been posted in Technique/Post Processing 2022. Please link to that version. 

Technology Versus the Customer

We're in a period with cameras where two things are in conflict: technology and customer.

Let me explain what's happening.

First, technology. We have a constant and relentless march in a number of areas. Moore's Law might have slowed a bit, but despite rumors to its imminent demise, we clearly have many years where the number of transistors in a given space will increase. The first new chip with state-of-the-art capability you create is astonishing in how much it costs. Once you're building millions of them, not so much. Meanwhile, automating processes—both in manufacturing and in use—keeps getting better, and machine learning keeps getting better, too. 

In the 1980's through the end of century one of my jobs at most of the companies I started or worked for was to try understand the five to ten year forward horizon in terms of what would be possible. It typically takes two or more years for a full scale complete product development of an advanced tech hardware product. Sometimes it takes more for a software product because you need the hardware first. If you don't see clearly what's coming down the pike in technology capabilities, you can find yourself introducing a product that's not competitive or antiquated by the time you finish development. I've seen many tech companies have to kill what they were developing and then put in a rush cycle to deal with what they didn't see correctly.

Nothing's changed since I was dealing with this look-ahead-and-predict problem. If anything, the problem has been exacerbated. Beyond silicon, I see more and more aspects of hardware products that were taken mostly for granted that are succumbing to very rapid technical developments that can trip you up: metallurgy, batteries, assembly process, packaging, and more. 

So, on the technology side, what's possible five years from now isn't possible today, but that's your design goal. Moreover, costs change in that period, too. You can make something new, more sophisticated, capable of much more, and get it to a customer for less cost. I'd argue that the camera makers are at the trailing edge of this constantly-moving forward pattern: they simply haven't kept up with the pace that could have been made in their products. 

For the camera makers, unfortunately, not only is the technology constantly moving, but now their customers are, too. 

There was a time when the most likely point at which someone would buy a sophisticated interchangeable lens camera (ILC) was at a significant life event: graduation, wedding, first baby. As you might note, those are all things that tend to happen in someone's twenties, maybe into their thirties. 

While life events still do trigger some buying, they don't do so in the quantity that they used to. Partly because the reason you wanted a camera around those events was to share your accomplishments with others. These days, sharing is done virtually, via social media, and the smartphone is the primary capture/modification/sharing device you'd want for that. Because today's ILCs are cumbersome at sharing and you don't need the quality they're capable of, the motivation to buy one at an early life event has disintegrated. 

The camera companies instead went after the upgrade market (cater to people who already had bought an ILC, convincing them that they needed "newer, better, faster"). DSLRs had a wild upward sales burst for 10 years because they solved problems that had relegated the film SLR to those user's closet. But inherent in the focus-on-upgrade customers is this: your target customer ages over time. 

While everyone points to various "benefits" of mirrorless as their reasons in buying one, I'd argue that underpinning all of those decisions was something else: the aging customer preferred smaller/lighter, and at equivalency, the mirrorless cameras provided that over DSLRs. I've surely noticed it: the kit I pack for Africa these days is more than 10 pounds lighter than what I packed in 2007, but more capable. Since I went from 55 to 70 in age between those two trips, the 10 pounds savings now feels heavier ;~). 

What I'm finding over and over again is that the camera makers are sealing their own fate when it comes to customers. While the technology allows the camera maker to do something new, that new thing might not be what the aging customer actually wants most. It's just as predictable to figure out what customers-in-place (e.g. existing users) will need in five years as it is to predict what semiconductors can do. But what I don't see in the camera business is any company that is getting that customer prediction right. 

Think about that for a moment. Canon just announced the R7 and R10 cameras, which are effectively a DSLR 90D and Rebel in mirrorless form. Five years ago is that what you would have predicted would be the biggest demand from your customer? The biggest need that those customers had? 

Let's look at what Canon's marketing thinks ;~). "More Than An Upgrade." Okay, I'm with you so far, Canon. "[The R10] brings some of the best features from the growing EOS R Series to a sleek, lightweight design." Uh, isn't that just an upgrade in a different form? So what are the key features/benefits of "More Than An Upgrade"? Here's the bullet list from Canon's Web pages:

  • Capture sharp photos and videos
  • Full features, sleek design
  • Capture fast-moving subjects in brilliant detail
  • Smart, speedy autofocus

I'm pretty sure the current Canon DSLR user who Canon wants to buy the R10 gets most of those things already in the camera they have. And I'm pretty sure that the customer that doesn't have an ILC already isn't hearing the things they need to abandon their smartphone. 

The problem with not solving new customer problems and with not seeing what the customer needs five to ten years out is that you just sell a box that's another in a long series of such boxes with little differentiation, and the marketing (push) needed to sell each new iteration gets tougher. The usual response to the sales pressure is to drop price with sales and incentives. What that does to your margins over time is reduce them, making each iteration's payback to development costs lower, so you shoot lower with your "upgrades." 

I'm much more impressed with something like the Fujifilm X-H2S, which does seem to solve some real problems. But even there, has Fujifilm really thought about the customer needs? I don't see the point of a 40 fps camera if you don't have the lenses that justify using a 40 fps camera. That's the IL in ILC, by the way. ;~)

Which brings me to this: you have to develop the I, the L, and the C based upon where both the technology and the customer will be in five to ten years. What I'm finding over and over is that only the future technology in the C is what's being addressed, and even that isn't often as leading edge as it needs to be. 

Tokyo, we have a problem.

Weird NikonUSA Things (Now Corrected)

Hmm. Who's entering the updates on the NikonUSA page now? This weekend we noted:

  • The specifications page for the Z6 II and the Z7 II now show "stacked CMOS sensor" as the Image Sensor Type. That's news to me and all the II series owners. 
  • The D7500 disappeared from the DSLR pages, to be replaced by...wait for it...the D7200. A "see and compare" search now shows the following DX DSLRs: D3400, D3500, D5300, D5500, D5600, D7200, and D500. Really? That's the lineup?

This wouldn't be the first time that the US site had misleading or incorrect information on it. 

Update: Amazing what a bit of reporting does. Both errors have been fixed. 

You're Going to be Buying New Lenses

Short version: you're going to be buying new lenses for awhile (don't ask why).

tl;dr version: 

We've probably had four, maybe five generations of clear lens optical improvements during my career. These have been triggered by advancements such as glass (e.g. ED, aspherical) and design tools (computerized optical analysis). Functions such as autofocus and VR/IS have also triggered changes in capability.

The introduction of mirrorless generated a forced change: a proliferation of new mounts appeared. 4/3 became m4/3. EF became M and RF. F became XF and Z. A became E. About the only company that didn't roll out a new mount was Pentax, who dabbled with an odd mirrorless camera and then decided there were too many sharks in the water and just went back to their DSLR cabana to rest.

Most of you reading this think one of two things:

  1. You don't need new lenses for mirrorless because mount adapters exist.
  2. You only need new lenses for mirrorless because the mount changed.

I've had a ton of experience with all the new mirrorless mounts and the lenses for them, and I'm going to argue that neither of those are the reasons why you should be buying new lenses. Something else changed besides DSLR mounts becoming mirrorless mounts. That something is a different design ethic that resulted in higher quality lenses. 

It took Sony awhile to get on board, but Olympus and Nikon have done this from the beginning of their mirrorless endeavors: simply design better lenses. Far better lenses. Lenses with a near complete lack of negative attributes. Canon, unfortunately, seems to be going to take a while to get fully up to speed with this; much like Sony's early E-mount endeavors I'm seeing a mixed bag so far from our market leader.

Part of the removal of negative attributes has to do with in-camera lens corrections (and out-of-camera lens correction profiles). If you don't have to correct optically for linear distortion and vignetting, for instance, suddenly you can optimize for the other components of the optical formula. 

About the same time as mirrorless started appearing, other things were happening in the lens business: new glass types, new aspherical molding techniques, new coatings, better ability to control and refine polishing methods, better mechanical alignment procedures, and more. 

However, the Big thing that happened was this: the realization of the camera companies that (a) they had to provide an adapter to help grease your transition, however (b) you weren't likely to buy lenses in the new mount unless there was a compelling reason to do so. Well, one compelling reason would be "the new lens is just far better." 

These days, that's exactly what I'm finding. Particularly:

  • m4/3 — the Olympus/OMDS PRO glass deserves the three-letter suffix. There's not a dud among them. Moreover, most of the ED labeled lenses are also really good, too. That's over two dozen lenses that are solidly state-of-the-art optically in the m4/3 mount.
  • Z — Nikon said S stands for Superior, though I think they made that up after people kept asking what the S stands for. But "superior" is indeed what they are. Again, not a dud in the bunch, and Nikon's improved themselves from being really good in lenses to being absolutely great. Already we're nearing two dozen such superior lenses.
  • Sony G/GM — the original Zeiss/Sony collaborations weren't nearly as good as one would expect from that first name being involved. But once Sony put their full weight behind G and GM lenses, things changed dramatically. Once again, not a dud in the bunch, and we're over two dozen of such lenses in the full frame mount already (plus half dozen in the APS-C size).  

But it's not just the camera makers that are upping their game. Sigma and Tamron are playing along as well with their mirrorless offerings. Moreover, we now have a handful of Chinese companies that are proving to be nimble and decent competitors nibbling on the fringes (mostly with prime lenses). Laowa, TTArtisans, and Viltrox seem to be doing the most consistent job here, but I can count six other Chinese players that are starting to show clear ability to produce at least DSLR-level lenses, if not better.

What do I mean by DSLR-level lenses?

I have to go back a bit in time to put that fully in perspective. Film cameras originally came with prime lenses, even after we got interchangeable lens mounts. The big design goal for much of the early film SLR period was simply correcting for basic aberrations, with a sub-goal of expanding the available focal lengths. As film SLRs developed and gained in popularity, a number of things started to happen with optics. In particular, autofocus and zoom focal ranges added convenience that drove much of the designs in the 70's, 80's, and 90's. The original Tamron 28-200mm lens in the early 90's also started a trend that was much imitated: "good enough" across a wide range of things. 

Nikon is the first company that I can document making a change to their optical designs because of the (then) future DSLR era. From conversations with Nikon engineers, that also started in the early 90's, with the eventual 17-35mm f/2.8 lens being the first product that Nikon made that tried to deal with some of the issues they expected to encounter with the always flat, telecentric-needy digital image sensors. Much of Nikon's late 90's through teens lens designs were all about dealing with those issues, as well as aperture and element positions in the lens itself vis-a-vis reflections off the image sensor. 

While new DSLR lenses got optically better over the years, I'd argue that most of the design decisions were primarily dealing with unique-to-digital aspects of the optical path. I found a lot of things not being well addressed in the DSLR era: focus shift, field curvature, coma, and so on. Before lens corrections appeared, linear distortion and vignetting absolutely had to be key elements considered in the optical design, which had downstream implications on the other optical design choices. 

When I compare a DSLR-era lens with a well-considered mirrorless-era lens, I tend to see the same things (yes, these are generalizations; some exceptions exist):

  • The DSLR lens is weaker in acuity/contrast in the corner; DSLR lenses can be exceptional in the center but with a lot of falloff as you move outward to the corners
  • The DSLR lens has more field curvature and focus shift (ironically, focus shift was a primary contributor to lower autofocus accuracy)
  • The DSLR lens has less physical vignetting and linear distortion
  • The DSLR lens has more complex and problematic flare issues
  • The DSLR lenses have more sample variation (though that started to go away in the teens)

Something else happened, too. Sigma, for instance, documented that their lens designs benefited when they were able to put high resolution image sensors into their development and alignment processes. 

My contention is this: chosen carefully, the mirrorless lens set you deploy today with any of the high-end mirrorless cameras is far more capable of providing you near optimal data than you we had through most of the DSLR era. This is reflected in my gear closet: almost no DSLR lenses are left. The only ones that are tend to be unique optics that haven't appeared in mirrorless yet (e.g. my 19mm PC-E, the 500mm PF). Lens by lens, when I compare the top-end mirrorless one versus the equivalent top-end DSLR one, the DSLR one has lost. 

Of course, I'm a technical gearhead with a long-stated preference for optimal data. So you might be quick to dismiss my thoughts here. 

Don't be. You might have read all those articles that went viral recently when the head of Sony Semiconductor predicted that smartphones will exceed dedicated camera quality in the next couple of years. Well, here's one reason why he's not right: the smaller you make the lens/sensor system—and smartphones need them to be brutally small—the more you succumb to physics (e.g. diffraction), plus the more difficult it is to make lenses that can resolve what you need. High quality gets more difficult the smaller you try to make the lens.

That's one of the things that's impressive about Olympus's (and now OMDS's) PRO optics: they're dealing with a smaller capture area and far higher tolerance and acuity needs than full frame, but they've created a full lens set that stands up to that. It's also the reason why full frame is the "hot" format: 24x36mm is a big enough capture area that it's easier to design high-end optics for, but not too big that it becomes completely un-economical for consumers. 

And that brings me to this: the Japanese camera companies know that dedicated cameras have to move upscale, and moving upscale means that they have to do more than just make better cameras, they also have to produce even better optics than before. They have no choice. The "good enough" and "make believe*" smartphone train has a full head of steam behind it and is capturing most of the world's images these days. As I predicted 15 years ago, the camera companies simply have to move upscale and cater to a smaller, but highly demanding, market. 

So yes, if you're still buying cameras, you're going to be buying lenses. I know I am.

_______________________

*What do I mean by "make believe"? I mean that pixel values are guessed at by algorithmic AI. Oh, is that a face, then let's just put some nice facial tone pixels in there. The question that raises is whether or not people can tell a real pixel from a made-up one. We're still in an era where the observant can. Moreover, real pixels scale well, while made-up pixels don't (currently), so that has implications, too.

The Dealer Shelves Are Bare. So Should Yours Be.

Nikon Z9: not in stock

Canon R(many): not in stock, or low in stock

Sony A(all): low in stock

Fujifilm X-H2s: about to be out of stock starting with first shipments in mid-July ;~)

OMDS OM-1: not in stock

Panasonic GH-6: in stock

With one exception, all of the most recently introduced cameras are not available in quantities that allow them to meet demand. Worse still, many slightly-less-recent cameras are in low supply and are drifting in and out of stock. Despite the yen's recent plunge against the dollar, prices aren't going to drop on all these high demand, low supply cameras any time soon, because the camera companies can't make enough of them.

Yet the number two buying season for cameras has just been entered (US Memorial Day kicks off the buying season for summer holidays). I'm getting a lot of "what do I do" questions from people that were anticipating a purchase prior to their upcoming vacations. 

A great deal of the buying angst has to do with bragging rights. My sites have about 1m unique visitors a year, and I'd judge that about 10% of those are "gotta keep up with the Jones's" types, not photographers that have a real need for a new, state-of-the-art model. If I didn't have to "keep up" in order to accurately report what is and isn't possible in photography these days, I'd be perfectly happy with even four- and five-year old cameras. 

While I continue to review the latest-and-greatest offerings—two new cameras and six new lenses sit on my desk at the moment, with several more coming—in terms of my own photography, I'm fairly set now. The Z9 stabilized my Nikon closet, and after paying some attention to exactly which camera(s) and lenses I keep picking up to use, I've taken to cleaning out the majority of gear I owned. 

It really is this simple: if you're not able to take great images with recent cameras and lenses, something's wrong. Yes, I can find marginal differences between my best Canon, Nikon, and Sony gear, but I'm simply not picking up those other items just because of a marginal difference. There's something to be said for mastering a smaller set of really good equipment. 

For instance, just in the Z System, I've now got the choice of 24-70mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 24-120mm f/4, 24-200mm f/4-6.3, and 28-75mm f/2.8. All of these cover the mid-range in a zoom, and every one of these is a better lens than I was using in the F-mount for the same mid-range work. Do I need all five? No. I'm about to narrow that down to two, though I'm a little torn on which two. (If i were deciding today, it would be the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 24-120mm f/4; but the f/2.8 is only in there for some client work. If it were just me doing personal projects in retirement, it would be the 24-70mm f/4 and maybe the 24-200mm f/4-6.3. Thus, my current indecision.)

Let me try to give you a way of thinking about photography gear today: stop sampling and wasting your dollars and instead use your money to purchase the very best you can afford in one system. Don't think that you need every lens in that system. Seriously consider what you would really carry and use regularly, then whittle that down to the very best, too.

In any mirrorless system and one DSLR system available today, I can identify a truly great all-around camera and a very modest quiver of lenses that would do everything I need to do photographically. For example, here is my great all-around camera list at the moment (the X-H2s is provisional):

  • Canon RF — R5 body 
  • Fujifilm RF — X-H2s
  • Fujifilm GF — GFX100s
  • Nikon DSLR — D850
  • Nikon Z — Z9
  • Sony Alpha — A1

Tell me a type of photography you can't do well with any of those cameras. There really isn't one (though, yes, some are better at certain niches than others, and the GFX100s leans heavily in one direction). 

I'll leave the lens choices to you to figure out, but if you start stacking more than four lenses in your kit, I'm going to start tut-tutting you. First, you can't really carry more than two or three at one time, and second it's clear that you've gone down the rabbit hole of chasing marginal returns. (Okay, I just did the test for myself: I determined that there are five lenses I need in my Z kit. But that's because I do a huge range of photography. I don't actually carry five lenses with me at any given time; more typically three or fewer.)

I'm making a wager, though, that most of you reading this don't have just one camera and four lenses. One of yesterday's emails was from someone that had five cameras and almost two dozen lenses. Talk about "focus." 

Of course, it's your hobby (or profession) and you're free to do what you'd like. But maxing out your credit card to try out the latest and greatest probably isn't advancing your photography very fast, is it? What advances your photography fastest is instruction and practice. I take it as a personal point of pride that everyone that comes to one of my workshops leaves a better photographer (and post processor) no matter what camera, lens, and software they came with. (Which reminds me, there's one opening in my November two-week Galapagos workshop available.)

So, are you guilty of stocking too much gear? I'll bet your are. I can tell you that most of the people I work with who have oodles of equipment available to them start their photographic day confused about which bits they should be carrying and using. It should be crystal clear, not confusing. I spent the last two weeks recently in Botswana with just one camera and one lens. One. Not confusing at all ;~). And I don't believe my photography didn't suffer at all. If anything, it got better during that period as I learned every nuance of getting the best I could from that camera/lens combo.

Which brings me to this: yes, this is the time of year when we're getting new camera and lens announcements and many of you are buying new gear in anticipation of upcoming vacations and holidays. Before you do that, I suggest you go all Konmari on your gear: find the unnecessary things and send them to new homes where they can be loved.

______________________

As with many of my articles, I wrote this one several weeks ago, then edited it earlier this week for posting. By coincidence, Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer just happened to throw a lot of darts at a similar target this week, though from a different angle. Read this, then especially this

Low Margin Versus High Margin

Let's say that Nikon is correct about future camera buying, what does that imply for the entire industry?

Let's first recap what Nikon said last week: (1) the entire market for interchangeable lens cameras will be only about 4.5m units in four years; and (2) 66% of that market will be mid- and high-end models for pros and hobbyists. 

Nikon two years ago began diverging from their old market-share strategy. Canon is still trying hard to win 50% of the market (in terms of units), so is still using the old market-share strategy. Sony and Fujifilm have unclear strategies, though it appears that Sony is beginning to opt for Nikon's approach. 

So let's look at Canon first. With the current market between 5-6m units, Canon still retains half. At 6m units, that's 3m cameras sold. But at least half of those are entry-level models. If Nikon's correct—and they've been consistently good forecasters in terms of market direction—then four years from now Canon will be selling 2.2m cameras, and if Canon continues to pursue market share, half of those are going to be entry-level models. Canon would likely lose market share in the mid- and high-end model lines. Indeed, both Nikon and Sony need to succeed at mid- and high-end in order to stay in the camera business under Nikon's forecast. Thus, Nikon and Sony are going to be aggressive in the high-margin products. 

You can already see that with the Z9. By cutting a significant cost (shutter) Nikon has placed a flagship model well below the typical flagship model price. I expect Nikon to continue that trend down line, while raising the bottom end of the lineup they sell (done by eliminating the true consumer DX products). Nikon's pretty darned good at meeting clear targets, and it seems they have a clear target: sell as many units in four years as they do today (700K), with all of those being higher-margin, higher-end cameras. If they're successful at that—and I believe they will be—that leaves 2.3m high-end units for Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony to share (OMDS and Panasonic will take a small piece, too, but the real high-end battle will be between four makers (Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony). 

Here's an approximation of what the low-end/high-end share splits might look like four years out if Nikon is right and Canon pursues their current strategy:


Note how distorted that looks when you think about low-margin (low-end) products versus high-margin (high-end) products.

Nikon already adjusted their overhead and manufacturing to allow them to keep unit sales flat, move all those units to the high end, and to retain clear, solid profit margins. Nikon is the lean player now, but powerfully lean. Think marathon runner, not football lineman. 

If Canon pursues the 50% overall market share strategy they've been on (forever), that means they'll likely produce nearly 1.5m low-end consumer cameras and perhaps fewer than 1m high-end, high margin cameras. Yes, they'd outsell Nikon overall in unit volume, but the low margins they'd get on all those true consumer cameras wouldn't make them much more profitable than Nikon, if at all. Or more profitable than Sony. Canon hasn't really written off production capacity, and it's currently spreading R&D over three mounts and four lines of products in pursuit of their "dominate via market share" strategy. Because Canon uses only their own image sensors for interchangeable lens cameras, they're also constrained by what they can do at their own semiconductor fab. All the new fabs coming on line don't help them. 

I believe Canon's still trying to pay back their huge fab investment via market share: the more cameras they can amortize their recent semiconductor factory investments over, the better. I'd say there's high risk to Canon that the market actually falls below Nikon's 4.5m projection, at which point Canon's economics simply won't make sense and they'll have to write off facilities and investments. Note that virtually every other camera manufacturer other than Fujifilm and Canon has already had to do that, though some have been sneakily doing so in dabs hidden by other related products as opposed to the big write downs Nikon and Olympus made. 

One of the things that made the Japanese camera companies so hardy when it came to basic economics is the stagflation that ran rampant in Japan for decades. Banks found that it was better to loan money at 1% to big companies with a strong chance of paying them back than it was to do anything else with that money, as interest rates sat at near 0% for a long, long time, and the banks could just borrow more. One has to wonder whether stagflation will continue, though. Last month Japan's consumer price index went up above the 2% target that the Bank of Japan set many years ago but seems to never achieve. 

Unfortunately, I think the Bank of Japan is dreaming. They're trying to keep monetary policy intact as Japanese consumers—and that means all those folk working for the camera companies in Japan—are not getting raises to keep up with even that modest inflation rate. Something has to give under the current scenario, and that could get ugly in the rapidly declining camera market. The only good news on the macroeconomic front is that the yen has fallen against the dollar recently. Where you could get 114 yen for a dollar at the start of the year, today you'll get 128. That makes exports that were cost in yen look better overseas, and one reason why you're seeing companies move more inventory recently into the US for sale.

Of course, any economic forecast is going to be wrong. Mine, Canon's, and Nikon's included. Generally economics is really good at seeing and forecasting trends, but not in being able to predict specific numbers. A good economic forecast of any type would be any that falls within +/-4% points of what actually happens.

But that brings me back to product margins. There's simply not a lot of margin in a US$500 camera. Dealers take 15-20%. Wholesale takes 25-30%. Sales and marketing take at least another 10%. So you have to make a profit by producing that US$500 camera for an out-of-the-factory cost of US$225. Things look so much better for a US$2000 camera, even though some of your parts costs will be higher (but not high enough so that you can't get far better profit margins). Which is why Nikon and Sony are targeting cameras at that level, mostly. And why Canon and Fujifilm will likely eventually have to do the same. 

Which brings me to this: I've written for some time that Canon's M line is a dead-end. No amount of juggling by Canon could keep that from not being the case, particularly when they made the wrong mount decision in 2012 when they first came out with it. (Note that Nikon also made the wrong mount decision with their CX line in 2011, but also look at how fast they realized that and discontinued it.) The problem today is that Canon can't afford to put any additional R&D money into M, as the overall trend for consumer cameras like that is down. Spending more money on low-margin products that are being squeezed out of the market is not shareholder-friendly. I expect Canon will try to milk the M for as long as they can, but that's going to look more and more problematic on their bottom line.

Notice that the new R10 is basically US$1000 and the R7 is US$1500. The M50 is US$600, and the M200 even less. The M6 Mark II, the highest camera in the M lineup is US$850. Do the math. Take 20% off for the big dealers. Take another 30% off for the wholesale (subsidiary costs). Take another 10% off for marketing and sales costs. Now what do you have to make the M50 for? US$270. And I'll bet you that it's actually far worse than that (once higher internal costs are fully accounted for, including that fab, R&D, and more). No, I don't think that's sustainable for Canon. If their volume becomes more than 50% low-end products like the M's and the chart I show above, it will just eat away at their bottom line as camera sales continue to decline. Meanwhile, Nikon and Sony will be posting higher profit margins. 

Let's face it, cameras are becoming niche. More and more niche every year. The things I'd pull a dedicated camera out for over my highly competent smartphone keep declining. And I'm more demanding in those niches over time, wanting faster frame rates, better focus, additional specialty lenses, and more. 

No, Nikon has made the right call. Sony seems to be making the right call. Fujifilm's mostly been adding higher-end gear to their lineup (GFX models, upcoming X-H2 models), so I think they've figured it out, too. The only Japanese camera company still racing down the wrong track is Canon. My advice to them? Bite the bullet and quickly amputate their market share strategy. Yeah, that'll end up with a big, one-time write down, but Canon really needs to go all in with RF (both stills and cinema), and they need to concentrate 100% of their energy in US$1000+ cameras now. Anything else simply dilutes their earnings, which will eventually generate the usual shareholder revolt that forces them to do what I suggest, anyway. 

Smartphones Crush Cameras, Again

The CEO of Sony Semiconductor was quoted last week by Nikkei as saying in a briefing session: "We expect that still images will exceed the image quality of single-lens reflex cameras within the next few years." Nikkei's headline says that year is 2024.

Of course, there's a bit of self-interest in that statement, as Sony Semiconductor is currently on a campaign to get more image sensor design wins in future smartphones. This is a bit of a reversal from the recent past, when Sony suggested that smartphone image sensor usage would taper off and no longer be as much of a growth driver for them.

The devil's in the details, as usual. While image sensor improvements will play some part in smartphone image quality increases, the real improvements come mostly from extra processing, as Apple and others have been demonstrating for years. 

Too many photo sites are unfortunately promoting Shimizu-san's words as "the demise of interchangeable lens cameras" (ILC). Sorry, but no. 

Actually, Nikon's Investor Relations presentations last week told us what the real situation is likely to be with ILC: 

bythom nikon ilc

Essentially, the higher end of ILC holds its own, with little to no growth over the next four years (note that someone at Nikon corporate was just as confused about their fiscal years as most of the press: the actual years being referred to here should be labeled FY22 (which ended with 2.7m high-end units on the year ending March 31, 2022) and FY26 (which ends in March 2026).

If you go back and look at my predictions from several years ago, I wrote that the ILC market was likely to bottom out at 4m units (and that was just a modest update of my 2009 prediction on an upcoming "smartphone squeeze"). It appears that Nikon now agrees with me. ILC is headed for a similar situation that happened in the last decade of film SLR dominance: stagnated sales levels.

There's a difference this time, however: in the 1990's sales were near flat or slightly declining across all levels of ILC, from entry-level to pro. This time, only the entry-level is going to be slowly wiped out by smartphone competence, while the higher end cameras will continue on with stagnated sales levels.

What's that mean for you? I'd put it this way:

  • Sub US$1000 ILC models will slowly disappear over the next five years, even if we adjust the US$1000 number for inflation along the way. The development costs just can't be recovered well with declining volume. For Nikon, in DSLR terms that means the D500, D780, D850, and D6 would be the only models that could survive out to 2026, and even that list will likely be winnowed in the next four years. In mirrorless terms, it means that any Z50 update has to hit higher (e.g. Z70 level and US$1400+), and it and the Z5 II would be the new bottom of the lineup. No Z30 is likely to appear, though I wouldn't be surprised to see a Zf come out instead of a Z5 II at the low full-frame price point.
  • The success of the A1 and A7 updates, the R6/R7, and the Z6 thru Z9 models mean the camera companies are going to put most of the development at those levels and higher. By "success" I mean return on investment. Nikon, for instance, can build a Z7 II far less expensively than a D850, so their margins went up considerably for essentially the same specification of camera. US$2000 and up cameras are what is being targeted in that pro/hobbyist market where the customer is still buying.
  • APS-C models really have to take on the model that the D300 originally established: nearer to full frame performance characteristics but at the reduced cost associated with the smaller image sensor*. The Canon R7 and the upcoming Fujifilm X-H2s are just the first of those. 
  • Video will continue to be a key development area, as (again from Nikon's presentation statements): "the number of users motivated by 'video shooting' has more than tripled over the past 6 years." The tricky part here is that the (lack of) ease at which you can record video on an ILC and get it directly to social media is holding up more adaption by younger users, which is going to be a problem that is increasingly important for the camera companies to solve as their older, established customers die off.
  • It's not surprising that you're seeing Canon and Nikon emphasizing frame rate, sophisticated focus, and telephoto lenses in their recent offerings. These are things that smartphones have a tougher problem matching. Sure, a single still image taken of a landscape or even indoor scene can be improved by solid computational add-ons in a smartphone. But 45mp, high dynamic range, clearly focused, telephoto-necessary imaging is still easily the reign of ILC. It's not surprising that six of Nikon's first Z-mount lenses and eight of Canon's initial RF lenses are substantive telephoto offerings. We'll see more of that, not less.

*As I've been writing for over 15 years, the image sensor is the most expensive part of an ILC, and you simply can make an APS-C image sensor at at least 1/3 the cost of a full frame one (all else equal), and probably as much as 1/5 the cost depending upon what technologies are in the image sensor. When you add in the 3x (rule of thumb) implied cost to consumers from parts cost to manufacturers, you get a huge differential in retail price between APS-C and full frame (again, all else equal). You can increase that differential by pulling out a few additional costs here and there, as well. Thus, a US$2500 APS-C camera might match up against a US$4000+ full frame camera fairly well in terms of specifications, though it will still have a one-stop disadvantage in terms of equivalence. 


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