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.