Where We Ended up in 2021

I had some time to think—hey a 16-hour plane trip can do that—and reflect on the year just passed. While we bemoan the parts shortages and lack of inventory of some product, I'd say that 2021 was a seminal year for cameras. And probably lenses, but that's another story for another day.

Canon, Nikon, and Sony all put out a flagship in 2021 (R3, Z9, and A1, respectively). I own the A1 and Z9 and can honestly say they're probably more camera than 95% of you need, and everything that another 4.9% of you need (the Fujifilm GFX100S would probably fit the remaining .1%). It'll be a bit before I can confirm that the R3 joins that party in some way, but I'm guessing it does from all the comments I'm hearing from my Canon pro friends.

If you think about it, full frame is pretty much a dream right now:

  • Canon: R3, R5, R6 (plus the R, RP aging in place and highly likely to be replaced in 2022). 
  • Nikon: Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9.
  • Sony: A7 Mark IV, A7R Mark IV, A7S Mark III, A9 Mark II, and A1.
  • Nikon (DSLR): D780, D850, D6.
  • Plus offerings from Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma, and of course the Fujifilm Medium Format to consider.

If there's not a full frame camera in that list that works for you, no camera will work for you. So quit your bellyaching. 

Crop sensor is where the hurt is right now. While I enjoy using my Nikon Z50, it could use a fair amount of tweaking. Overall, APS-C didn't exactly kill it in 2021:

  • Canon: the M stands for mature, which turns out to be a euphemism for soon-to-retire. I'd be very surprised if we don't see RF-mount APS-C from Canon in 2022.
  • Fujifilm: the X-T30 II and X-E4 felt like lukewarm placeholders while Fujifilm figures out how to move the next big step forward. 
  • Nikon: the Zfc stole the Z50's II-ness. I still use my Z50 over my Zfc, which should tell you something. 
  • Sony: uh, what just happened? The A6000, A6100, A6400, and A6600 all retired or went on sabbatical. 

So I'm not going to blame you if you felt that 2021 wasn't a very good year for cameras, but only if you're committed to APS-C. I find it mind-boggling that nearly six years after it was launched, the Nikon D500 is still arguably the best APS-C camera you can buy. Nikon's good, but not that good! 

With highly competent full frame now living near the US$1000 price point, and with high-end smartphones now gobbling up US$1000 on their own, the "squeeze" I predicted back in 2009 is in full force now. Consumer/Prosumer APS-C really has to live in the US$500-1200 price range and have a compelling marketing story, as well. Canon doesn't have that. Fujifilm relies a bit too much on X-Trans as the marketing story. Nikon tried legacy as the "new" story. Sony was doing "hey, stuffed to the gills with technology," but then they couldn't get the parts ;~). 

So we enter 2022 with the camera companies in a conundrum: they can't figure out how to sell US$500-1200 crop sensor cameras in enough quantity (and wouldn't be able to make them if they did due to parts shortages), so now find themselves contemplating >US$1200 crop sensor cameras at a time when US$1200 full frame cameras that are highly competent already exist. 

Fujifilm's answer in 2022 will be stacked sensor APS-C, but it's going to be high-priced. Higher priced than their lineup goes today. Which puts them up against products like the R6, Z6 II, and A7 Mark IV. Oops. Rumor has it that Nikon is also prototyping stacked sensor for a high-end APS-C model. Still oops, though if Nikon could pull off the D1/D100, D3/D300, D5/D500 thing again with a Z90/Z9 combo, it might work. 

I have no idea what Sony is going to do. Really. No idea. The A6### models all felt a little too gimmicky and non-ergonomic to me (otherwise I'd be using an A6400 instead of a Z50 as my walk around camera). Does gimmicky tech still sell? I'm not sure. Note that the Sony full frame line basically became more and more DSLR-like (or Canikon-like) as it matured. You can combine technology with proven features/UX, you know. But with all the A6### models currently not being manufactured or shipped by Sony, you have to wonder if they have a Plan B. 

Which brings us to Canon. Here's my guess: they'll start APS-C on the RF mount with a mirrorless resurrection of the 7D (or maybe 90D). In other words, prosumer or better. That'll launch right up against Fujifilm's stacked X-H2, so that will be interesting. Fujifilm has the lens set, Canon doesn't. Why the high end? Because Canon keeps wanting to milk the cameras they've been making, right until no one can stand them any more. I don't see how consumers don't see through that. If an R7 (APS-C) exists, why again would I want to buy an M6 Mark II? And, oh, the Rebel T8i DSLR still is on the market, too. Which means I'll have a choice of dying lens mounts to choose from in Canon APS-C! 

Yeah, some snark snuck in there. 

Okay, a lot of snark. 

Whether you're feeling snarky about 2021 probably depends upon whether you're into mirrorless full frame (no snark), or you're waiting for Godot, uh, I mean APS-C.

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