Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Making Sense of The Mirrorless Market

Canon has recently provided an insight into their mirrorless strategy. They are the last major camera manufacturers who are still without a mirrorless camera. Here are the main points of the interview:
  • Does a mirrorless camera really need interchangeable lenses?
  • Can we make a compact or DSLR that can beat the mirrorless cameras? (they believe they have it)
  • Higher sensitivity rather than high resolution (probably refers to quality over megapixels)

The mirrorless cameras are about compromises of various features. in my opinion at the current moment, no one knows what the right formula is. Panasonic and Olympus has been tweaking the various components for the past few years and I think this is still ongoing. This is evident from the product release schedule of about 6 months per generation. Every generation differs considerably from the previous generation. Sony has their own assumptions but while they have made great efforts, theirs may not necessarily be the best. Nikon, Ricoh, Pentax all employ very different strategies and no one knows for sure what would work.

Secondly, they whole appeal about the mirrorless market is camera size. While camera body sizes have shrunk considerably due to the removal of the OVF, the lenses have not. Sony's strategy to use the APS-C sensor gave it great advantages in terms of image quality but their lens sizes became their great weakness. Their 18-55mm kit lens is probably the worst kit lens in its class. Their 18-200mm is probably the best in its class in terms of image quality but the enormous size negates any advantages of using a mirrorless.

Thirdly, the impact of releasing a new mount. Sony and Nikon has no qualms in creating a new mount. Nikon's mount strategy is already so fragmented with AF, AF-S, DX, FX... it may not bother them too much to introduce a new mount. Canon has always focused on a single EOS mount strategy, introducing a new mount would mean customers will need to invest in a new set of lens. There is a niche market for users who wants to mount their Leica M and other classic MF lenses but most mirrorless users will not buy more than 1-2 lenses for their camera.

Whatever is driving the mirrorless market right now is novelty and the promise of point and shoot camera with dslr quality. A promise that has not been properly fulfilled even now. The m4/3 camp is doing better in terms of size, especially with the introduction of the EPL3/EPM1/GF3 and the panasonic X kit lens. However, as Leica has said, the m4/3 sensor is a bottleneck of image quality.

In my opinion, since there are many strategies out there and Pentax and Ricoh chose a 1/1.7" sensor in at lease one of their strategies, Canon's strategy to focus on the S and G series as their mirrorless strategy is not better nor worse than the others.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Canon's Road to Total Dominance

Two days ago, on the 17th October 2011, Nikon announced that they have produced a total of 65 million Nikkor lenses since 1959. Less than 24 hours later, Canon made a similar announcement, declaring that they have produced a total of 70 million EOS lenses and 50 million SLR camera bodies since since 1987. This seemingly mundane and regular announcements hailed a historic moment for Canon, which for the first time managed to surpass the total number of lenses produced by Nikon despite seemingly dominating sales charts for the past decade.

You see, Nikon was the dominant SLR maker before the digital age, and since 1959 millions of Nikkor lenses has been produced before the EOS mount format was even created. Canon had always played second fiddle to Nikon in the past. Moreover, Nikon had an almost 30 years headstart before Canon started selling their EOS based lenses. This is why, despite being the recent market leader, surpassing the total number Nikkor lenses ever to be manufactured is no small feat.

Having achieved that sealed the EOS system as the most popular SLR lens format of all time. Let's recap the road to dominance for Canon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

It is the Powershot time of the year again!

After almost a year since my last post, I have decided it is time to hit my keyboard again....

It is almost August and in mid-August, Canon usually updates the Powershot G series as well as the its young sibling, the compact S-series.

So, it is speculation time again... What would Canon likely do to improve the already impressive range of cameras. A short scan of Sony and Panasonic sensor announcements in the past year did not yield anything revolutionary nor interesting. There is the new 12mpx 1/2.3" CMOS BSI sensor from Sony (IMX078CQK) which I believe has found its way into most of Canon's recent PnS cameras, but nothing much more. The fact that Canon uses mostly Sony sensors for its PnS, I think we won't be expecting anything exciting in the sensor department anytime soon.

Here are some potential sensor scenarios for the G13 and the S100 (? if Canon doesn't mind reusing an old model number).

  1. A new Canon manufactured sensor. This would likely be a larger sensor, maybe the often rumors 2.7x crop sensor or even m4/3 sized one. However, this would create a huge challenge in making the new PnS pocketable. Remember, the physics cannot lie, bigger sensor, bigger lenses, bigger cameras.
  2. Reusing the same 10mpx 1/1.7" CCD sensor which is pretty good and perhaps improving the NR algorithm but yawnnn...
  3. Using the same IMX078CQK sensor as the other IXUS and PnS offerings. The smaller sensor would allow Canon to increase the zoom range for the G and S series without increasing size. The picture quality seems to be on par with some of the bigger CCD sensors as well. You also gain high speed shooting and 10180p video recording.
From these three scenarios, I somehow feel the chances of (3) happening is pretty high, given its ability to allow much needed features to be added in order to catch up with the competitions. The shrinking down in the size of ILC (the cameras formerly known as EVIL) will definitely pressure Canon to redesign the G series, perhaps more than the S series.

What are some of the these features that Canon would likely be (pressured?) to add to the new compacts. Here is a list:

  • 1080p video recording - Almost a must. I mean come on, my phone can do it...
  • Higher frame rate shooting - Maybe 5 fps?
  • More filter effects, better and faster HDR, simulated bokeh, etc...
  • Better high ISO noise control
  • Faster AF
  • Smaller Size
  • Better lens - High Resolution, Bigger Zoom (24-200mm for G Series, 24-120mm or 24-140mm for S series), Faster (f2.0/f1..8)
  • Panorama Stitch
  • Electronic Leveling
  • Flash Commander Mode
Ofcourse, traditional features such as RAW capture and OVF (for G Series ) would likely stay. As you would probably have notice, many of these features, would only be possible with a smaller BSI sensor at 1/2.3".... Thus, this year, my head would be in control rather than my heart. As much as I want a bigger sensor compact, my prediction stays with a smaller BSI sensor, bringing with it size and a more versatile lens advantage....