As we move into 2019, we look at the current state of play in the interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) market, investigate trends and air credible rumours that have surfaced so far.

Panasonic will release its first cameras with ‘full-frame’ sensors in 2019 but few details have been revealed so far. (Source: Panasonic.)

While a few manufacturers have released information on products they expect to release in the first half of the year, some are holding back and few have disclosed full details. As usual, the rumour mill is grinding and there have been a series of leaks of tech specs and, in some cases, photos of anticipated new products. The decision to postpone the next Photokina to 2020 has provided breathing space for new product development, which means some rumoured products might not arrive until the second half of the year.

Towards the end of 2018, DSLRs began to look a bit like yesterday’s technology. Only four new models were released during the year: two entry-level models from Canon and another from Nikon with Pentax announcing its K-1 Mark II full frame model in February 2018 but nothing since. In contrast, Fujifilm released four X-mount cameras, along with the medium format GFX 50R and Panasonic had three new models on offer. Olympus and Sony were relatively quiet with only one new model each, the M4/3 PEN E-PL8 and the ‘full frame’ α7 III, respectively.

Despite Photokina in September 2018, it was a relatively quiet year for ILCs overall. This is reflected in the year-to-date figures from CIPA (the Japan-based Camera & Imaging Products Association), which show overall ILC shipments are lower than in previous years. The hint of an uptick in volume and value in the latest figures suggests it’s not all doom and gloom – although it implies a maturing market.

The latest graph of overall camera shipments from CIPA shows a general decline in the market during 2018 when compared with previous years. (Source: CIPA.)

If you split the total camera market into three segments – fixed-lens compact cameras, DSLRs and mirrorless – an interesting picture emerges. While fixed-lens cameras represent the bulk of the market, production is erratic with peaks around the northern hemisphere’s spring and autumn.

The DSLR market shows similar irregularities but retains a higher production volume than the mirrorless sector, which tended to show a slight peak in April and some growth from about August on. The graph below shows the market positions at the end of October, based on the latest figures available to date.

When you look at market value (shown in the graph below), a different picture emerges. The fixed-lens sector is the lowest, despite a trend towards higher-priced models in the past few years.  The most interesting sector is the mirrorless market, the value of which overtook that of DSLRs since September 2018, probably as a result of new cameras released by the big three manufacturers – Canon, Nikon and Sony – which currently command 85-90% of the ILC market.

Sony: Sony has ‘owned’ the high-end of the ‘full-frame’ mirrorless market for most of the past five years, having launched its α7 and α7R models in the third quarter of 2013, followed by the α7S in April 2014. Since September 2016 its focus has been on mirrorless cameras where it has developed three distinct ‘full-frame’ ILC  lines:
– The α7 line is the lowest priced and targeted at general users;
– The α7R is designed for photographers who require high resolution, and
– The α7S meets the needs of photographers and videographers who require superior performance at high sensitivities plus professional 4K video capabilities.

Sony’s flagship model, the α9, which features a full-frame stacked CMOS sensor. (Source: Sony.)

A fourth line, so far represented by a single model, the α9, was launched in mid-2017 to compete with Canon’s and Nikon’s DSLRs. It features a 24-megapixel stacked CMOS sensor, weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body with dual SD card slots, a hybrid AF system with  693 phase-detect points covering 93% of the image area and an ISO range of 50 to 204,800. It can also record over-sampled UHD 4K video and uncompressed raw files.

By the end of 2018, Sony’s  α7 and α7R cameras had reached their third generations and Sony was benefiting from user feedback to make new models even more attractive. Interestingly, the cameras from all generations are still listed for sale in Sony’s online store, with earlier cameras at discounted prices.

A third-generation model is expected for Sony’s α7S line, updating the α7S II, shown above, which has been on sale since late 2015. (Source: Sony.)

A third generation model in the α7S line appears to be in the pipeline but details are scanty. Rumours suggest it may offer 8K video capability, along with faster frame rates for 4K video. There’s also a suggestion of a possible second-generation α9 model although, once again, details are sparse. It’s predicted to have a 60-megapixel sensor and support 8K video, which makes sense since current G Master lenses can support up to 100 megapixel resolution.

In the meantime, Sony has largely neglected its cropped-sensor, ILCs with the last model to be released being the α6500 back in October 2016. Rumours suggest an α6700 or α7000 model may be on the books for 2019. It will probably have a new sensor with better low-light performance but retaining the 24-megapixel resolution of previous models. Other features may include advances in IBIS  (in-built image stabilisation) and autofocusing capabilities. Faster frame rates for 4K video and 20 fps continuous shooting are also predicted, along with improvements to the user interface (one of the on-going failings of Sony’s cameras).

Canon and Nikon came late to the ‘full-frame’ mirrorless market, having each dabbled in models with smaller sensors. Canon picked the better option of using APS-C sized sensors, although most  EOS M cameras so far are basic consumer level models.

The EOS M50 is the latest of Canon’s cropped-sensor mirrorless cameras. Sadly it’s incompatible with the EOS R system. (Source: Canon.)

Nikon made the error of thinking ‘small and light’ was better than having capable equipment and has subsequently discontinued its Nikon 1 line. One-inch type (12.8 x 9.6 mm) sensors just can’t cut it with today’s photo enthusiasts.

In announcing their ‘full-frame’ mirrorless cameras just ahead of Photokina 2018, both Canon and Nikon presented buyers with very capable and attractive equipment. Canon’s EOS R and Nikon’s Z6 directly compete with the Sony α7 line, while Nikon’s Z7 is so far the only competitor for the Sony α7R line.

Both companies accompanied their new cameras with well-thought-out selections of lenses. Canon is offering two primes – the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM – and two zooms –  the RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM and RF 28-70mm f/2L USM. Nikon had three lenses at the Z7 launch: the Z-Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 S, Z-Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 S and Z-Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 S.  Both companies provide adapters that enable users of legacy EF and F mount lenses to be used with full capabilities on the new cameras.

Nikon’s Z6  and Z7 cameras are compatible with more than 60 legacy F-mount lenses via the FTZ lens adapter. (Source: Nikon.)

Rumours suggest Canon will announce a high-end EOS R  Pro body in the first half of 2019, along with three new f/2.8 zoom lenses: RF 16-35mm f/2.8L, RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS and RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. Two further EOS R bodies and two or three additional lenses are also on the cards. There are also suggestions the company will announce at least one (and up to three) new cropped-sensor DSLRs and one or two EOS M models.

Nikon is expected to announce its D6 flagship DSLR camera early in the year, along with a replacement for the entry-level D750. One or two new cropped-sensor DSLRs are also possible with D5700  and D7600 models suggested. But there has been no hint of any mirrorless cameras or lenses designed for cropped, DX-type, sensors – and no other Z-mount cameras so far.

At the launch of the Z7, Nikon announced six new lenses will be released in 2019, with the highlight being a Z-NOCT-Nikkor 58mm f/0.95 S lens, which will take advantage of the short flange focal distance and wide  inner diameter of  the Nikon Z. Other 2019 releases will be a 20mm f/1.8 and an 85mm f/1.8, along with three zooms: a 24-70mm f/2.8, a70-200mm f/2.8 and a 14-30mm f/4.  Scheduled for release in 2020, a 50mm f/1.2 will initiate a new series of f/1.2 lenses.

The Z-NOCT-Nikkor 58mm f/0.95 S lens is the fastest available to date and takes advantage of the short flange focal distance and wide  inner diameter of  the Nikon Z mount. (Source: Nikon.)

So, as of the end of 2019, Sony is still the clear market leader, with three lines of ‘full-frame’ mirrorless cameras and 26 dedicated lenses. Within the next two years, that number will climb to  around 34 and, if we include lenses from Zeiss, which has a close alliance with Sony, as well as Tamron, which is partly owned by Sony, there will be at least 48 FE lenses to choose from.

By comparison, Nikon plans to have at least 12 Z-mount lenses available by 2021 and more than 60 F-mount lenses will be fully compatible with its Z-mount cameras via the FTZ adapter.

Nikon’s lens roadmap for the next few years shows 12 lenses confirmed for its new cameras. (Source: Nikon.)

Canon hasn’t released full details of its ambitions for the RF mount, although if it maintains its pace of releasing three new lenses each year, it will match Nikon’s lens release rate. It is also able to offer full support for more than 60 EF-mount lenses that are fully compatible with the current three EF adapters.

When we come to the other manufacturers, Panasonic stands out with the announcement at Photokina 2018 of its intention to move into the ‘full-frame’ mirrorless ILC market. Initially, there will be two new ‘S’ series cameras arriving late in the first quarter of 2019.

The new S1 camera will have 24-megapixel resolution, while the S1R will offer 47 megapixels and a built-in variable ND filter. Both models will include dual slots for  XQD and SD memory cards along with Dual I.S. (Image Stabilisation). They will also support 4K 60p/50p video recording.

We don’t know a lot about Panasonic’s new ‘full-frame’ cameras but an online video suggests they will be launched with a 24-105mm zoom lens. (Source: Panasonic.)

Since Panasonic has joined the L-Mount Alliance, which is also supported by Sigma, the new cameras will feature a new mount based on Leica Camera’s L-Mount, making them compatible with Leica’s high-quality lenses from the start. Panasonic has also committed to developing at least 10 Lumix S series L-Mount compatible lenses, including a 50 mm f/1.4 prime and 24-105 mm and 70-200 mm zooms.

If you’re wondering whether Panasonic will abandon the M4/3 format, it seems to be unlikely (at least in the short term). Photokina saw the announcement of a Leica-branded DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm lens with a constant f/1.7 maximum aperture and a commitment to further expansion of the system. Rumours also suggest a Lumix DMC-GH6 camera will appear some time in 2019.

Olympus, in contrast, is sticking with the M4/3 system and is expected to announce a new camera body in late January 2019. The rumoured OM-D E-M1X will offer the same 20-megapixel resolution as the E-M1 II but will be twice as fast, supporting 18 fps burst shooting, up to 7.5 stops of built-in stabilisation and AI-driven autofocusing.

Designed primarily for sports shooters, it will have a larger EVF, built in GPS and support wireless data transfer to a server plus radio control of remote flashes. Users will be able to capture 80-megapixel images with the camera hand-held when using the compositing High Res Shot mode.

This picture of the rumoured OM-D E-M1X was published on a leading rumour site in early December.  

In an interview published on the Imaging Resource website, Olympus America’s VP of sales and marketing, Aki Murata, pointed out the key direction for Olympus since the 1970s has been to pursue ‘compactness, light weight, and ultimate reliability’ a philosophy that continues today and finds expression in the Micro Four Thirds format. It’s worth reading the entire interview to see how these concepts are fleshed out in the latest Olympus cameras and lenses.

The company also sees itself as building a strong presence in a market segment (compact, lightweight and rugged) that rival manufacturers appear to be quitting. We’re now waiting to see if any new lenses are announced.

Given the neglect of APS-C sensor cameras by the majors, it should be no surprise to see that Fujifilm strengthened its position during 2018 with the release of the X-T3, X-T100, X-H1 and X-A5 cameras, each targeting a slightly different type of buyer. The 26-megapixel X-T3 is the current flagship with a weather-sealed body, dual SD card slots, 20 fps burst shooting and professional 4K video capabilities.

Rumours suggest we might see a down-scaled X-T30 and/or a second-generation X-H2 some time in 2019. The latter would probably include the company’s fourth-generation 26.1-megapixel X-Trans CMOS sensor plus some tweaks to the X Processor Pro image processing system and faster frame rates for 4K video.

The X-T3 is the current flagship in Fujifilm’s cropped sensor range. (Source: Fujifilm.)

Fujifilm skipped over ‘full frame’ by announcing its GFX 50S medium format camera back at Photokina 2016. This camera was released in the first quarter of 2017, along with three lenses: the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR, a GF32-64mm f/4R LM WR and GF 120mm f/4 Macro. The 43.8 x 32.9 mm sensor has a crop factor of 1.7x, making these lenses equivalent to 50mm, 25-50mm and 95mm, respectively.

Photokina 2018 saw Fujifilm announce the GFX 50R, the rangefinder version of the GXF 50S, which included most of the features of the original camera in a smaller, lighter body. The company also announced a flagship model, the  GFX 100S is in development. Based around a new image sensor with 102 million photosites and a fast X-Processor 4 processing chip, it will be the first medium format mirrorless camera to have phase detection pixels covering the entire image sensor.

Fujifilm’s new GFX 50R will be joined by a very high resolution model, the  GFX 100S. (Source: Fujifilm.)  

The new model will also include a built-in image stabilisation system, another first in a medium format camera and will support 4K video recording at up to 30p 10-bit quality. It is scheduled for release between late 2019 and early 2020. Fujifilm has also stated it will release 25-30 medium format lenses in next five years, which will greatly strengthen its position in the professional sector of the market.

Advice for camera buyers
Given this flood of new equipment, some photographers will be wondering whether to upgrade their gear and if they should switch brand and/or format. If you’re planning new purchases over the next few months, we’d suggest you first consider the following:

  1. Is your existing equipment overkill for how you’re shooting? Does it make sense to use a 45-megapixel camera – or even a 20-megapixel camera – when you’re only sharing the results online? (A smartphone may be a better choice.)
  2. Do you really need new gear – or will your existing equipment meet your needs for the next six months or so? It’s often wise to wait until new formats bed themselves in and any bugs are ironed out. Free firmware upgrades for existing equipment can sometimes be a better option.
  3. If you are determined to invest in new equipment, first check out the equipment you’re using today and decide what you actually need. Only buy items that will improve the pleasure you gain from shooting and/or have a significant effect on the results you obtain.
  4. When buying new equipment, decide your main priorities. If you’re after small and light equipment for travel photography or simply because you can no longer carry a heavy DSLR kit for long distances, mirrorless could be the way to go. (M4/3 represents the smallest and lightest equipment.) Sports and wildlife photographers looking for lighter, more portable gear should be aware that lens choices will be more limited for mirrorless cameras. APS-C DSLRs that can use ‘full-frame’ lenses can provide focal length advantages due to the sensors’ crop factors.
  5. Draw up a long-term plan that includes where your interests are going and what capabilities you require. Are you likely to change your usage patterns (through retirement, family and/or social developments) and, if so, what will change? How will those changes affect the equipment you shoot with?

Don’t be trapped by FOMO (Fear of Missing Out); there will be plenty of new gear in the coming year. Remember the nut that presses the shutter button has more influence on the end results than the actual equipment used.