Do CaNikon Have to Take Mirrorless Seriously?

One could argue that with arrival of the Canon EOS M3, the world’s imaging technology leader is finally taking mirrorless a bit more seriously, as suggested by Damien Demolder’s op-ed on DP Review. Right, that rather sounds like wishful thinking. The simple fact that the M3 won’t be available in the U.S. suggests the camera is neither a game changer nor a new mirrorless standard, but rather a bridge product between current and next generation mirrorless technology. For good reasons, Canon and the world’s number two camera maker Nikon don’t yet really see a need for a truly disruptive mirrorless system.

Demolder wants to see the opposite. “More, and soon,” he demands:

Canon really does need to go boldly here. These tentative measures just will not do. The compact system camera market will happen and grow whether Canon is on the bus or not. Now is the time not to bumble along, but to grasp the opportunity to make a statement, to have confidence and to carve a determined slice of the action. The EOS M3 might be a step in the right direction and a decent start, but it isn’t a system and it won’t win any wars on its own.

Or could it be, as Thom Hogan suggests, that the war over mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) technology is already over and the battle lost?

I think that both companies think a bit like I do: they believe that it will take something disruptive to restart growth in camera sales. The difference between me and them is this: I think I know what that disruption is and they don’t. Moreover, if I’m right about what the disruption needs to be, both Canon and Nikon are poorly equipped to create it, as it will mostly differences in software, not hardware, that define future cameras from present ones.

The last grand disruption, as we all know, was the iPhone. Or was it? Hogan’s pie chart says it all:

"Other" brands (Fujifilm, Sony/Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Ricoh) have lost market share since 2000. In fact, their market share today is about the same as in the early DSLR days. | Thom Hogan
“Other” brands (Fujifilm, Sony/Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Ricoh) have lost market share since 2000. In fact, their market share today is about the same as in the early DSLR days. | Thom Hogan

Canon’s share has stayed roughly the same overall, Nikon’s share significantly grew in the digital era by a whopping 30%, mainly because they were a first and aggressive mover. So, Canon and Nikon don’t really feel like aggressively moving into mirrorless whereas Other brands have lost market share since 2000.

In fact, these Other brands have changed their lens system and created whole new markets, says DP Review forum socialite HappyVan, costing their old customers a lot of aggravation. Sony left their Minolta customers behind, ditto for Olympus. Fortunately for Fujifilm customers, their former Nikon mount assured their lenses could still be used on Nikon cameras.

Canon and Nikon are “simply rising and falling with the water level,” writes Hogan:

If they switched (and could switch) all of their DSLRs into mirrorless cameras, its somewhat unlikely to provide them with an upside in terms of sales. The primary upside to them would be the one that Sony is currently enjoying: lower costs in producing the product — though Sony is giving a lot of that back by being aggressive in pricing.

So, the market’s verdict for now is that the MILC systems are no better than DSLR. So far mirrorless hasn’t caused a significant market disruption at all. But that’s not the future. It’s highly likely that at one point Canon and Nikon offer a true market disruptive technology that will have to be smaller, faster, cheaper and more profitable.

Their economies of scale will simply devastate the Others, probably with Sony being the exception that proves the rule. For now, as much impressive advancements MILCs offer, CaNikon put true power and performance into their easily upgradeable DSLRs/ILCs. A new switch, slightly better specs, and you have a whole new model. Soon a $500 DSLR camera will enjoy a once top end, 51-point AF system able to capture birds in flight. Which mirrorless does?

Power and performance are not the only important parameters. But especially Nikon’s complete upward compatibility, enjoy DSLRs while they last.

  • Frank

    I visited the Nikon booth at CES with my Fuji X-T1 in hand and told one of the staff that even though I was a Nikon shooter for many projects, I chose the Fuji that day because it was the best tool for the job of documenting my day walking the show floor. I told him I want a pro mirrorless worthy of the Nikon name that will work with my lens investment. He said it doesn’t make financial sense for Nikon because the camera market overall is shrinking and mirrorless is shrinking more than the DSLR segment. He left me with the impression that Nikon is not interested in the high performance mirrorless camera business.

    • Interesting, and why should they. Nikon 1, in the proper hands, is a stellar mirrorless system available right here and now. Looking at images not many will be able to tell the difference between sensor sizes. Nice reliable system (like EOS M) offering the weight and size advantages, heck too small and light for many users…

  • Omer

    I own both Nikon, and Sony E-mount cameras and frankly don’t see in either brand nor camera design the success so many hope for. So I wonder if this “sky is falling” mentality is just reactionary behavior to the obvious, that the camera market is naturally contracting simply because there is no longer a ubiquitous need for stand alone cameras, regardless of design.

    The real and surprising success of Leica is notable, not for their technology but for their awareness of who their market is now.

    • Leica’s success is mainly based on people willing to pay phenomenal margins for, one has to be honest, timeless design and peculiar craftsmanship — apart from the rebranded Panasonics.

      While camera systems appear to be “similar,” I wouldn’t be a happy Pentax shooter, however excellent their cameras are. It’s the liaison between hardware and subject/object that defines the value of gear, so there are true nuances and differences. Lucky those who find “their” system.

      • Omer

        If one can afford those nuances. Most folks are happy to learn the ways of brand X if it means saving a little. And using a smartphone camera means savings.

        For you and I photography is important enough for us to learn those differences and act accordingly. But camera companies need a wide spectrum of the consumer market, unless they are Leica, Phase One, et al.

  • I sold my bulky Nikon D3 (1200 gr for the body only) and pro Nikkor lenses about two years ago. Since then I feel free and not depending of any brand any more. I tried to invest in good glass during the last years (Leica-M and -R, Zeiss, and T/S lenses from Nikon and Canon). Of course I have some E-mount lenses too, when flexibility and AF is important.

    With the small camera body and the very short flange focal distance (FFD) of the mirrorless cameras I may change to any camera brand in the future (hopefully :-) ) and just have to change the adapter. The camera body can be changed, when new technology comes up. It is a bit like in the analog days. Remember all the tests in the Photo press of new films from Kodak, Agfa… several times a year?

  • Another Thought

    This is exactly the point that needs to be made more and more. Everyone assumes mirrorless is this inevitable future, and this inevitable utopia for cameras.

    Yet dslr’s are still the performance king. One can get a good dslr for the same price or even less than the good mirrorless models these days. That dslr will be more capable: better AF, better battery, no lag in EVF, etc. Moreover, that dslr may even be just as small and lightweight.

    The Canon SL1 is a fraction of the cost of the Fuji XT1 or Olympus EM1, yet delivers images as good or better, is as small and lightweight, better AF, and of course uses a far larger and better lens system. The new Nikon D5500 also compares favorably to these other 2 mirrorless models, again at lower cost, better performance and with a better lens ecosystem.

    I agree with Thom: why should Canon and Nikon rush to mirrorless? There’s little business sense in doing so. With the smaller, lighter dslr’s there is also little reason for consumers to migrate to mirrorless, as the only real selling point for mirrorless has been the size/weight issue. Give me your budget and needs, and I can pretty much give you a better solution with existing dslr’s from Canon and Nikon, than with mirrorless.

    In fact, ironically, mirrorless seems to be getting bigger and more expensive. Many people when they buy mirrorless the first thing they buy with it is some sort of grip to make it bigger and easier to hold.

    The only thing mirrorless has going for it is that it is the new kid on the block and so tech bloggers and internet sites and commenters give it more attention. This creates a false sense of what the reality of the market really is.

    • Sarcastically, a reader commented on Facebook: “Mirrorless? Brilliant solution to a non-existing problem.”

      The two complement each other, the future will certainly move away from optical-mechanical to fully electronic solutions.