Photokina 2018 Wrap-up

Photokina 2018 has wrapped up and it was full of many big announcements from Fujifilm, most of which were leaked on FujiAddict first. There were also some surprising announcements like the Leica, Panasonic, Sigma partnership; Zenit rangefinder camera and Zeiss ZX1; along with a somewhat heartbreaking Olympus press conference that basically reiterated their belief in the viability of micro 43.

This Photokina was probably the biggest yet, with medium format creeping its way down to the masses, and the possible death of micro four thirds. So I’ve decided to do a general post about the camera industry.

Fujifilm had some of the most grandiose announcements out of the bunch because they seem to be trying to squeeze full frame out of the mainstream. If you own or have used a GFX, it’s easy to understand how easily it could be used for 99% of your shooting needs. Fujifilm is even making the system more compact with the GFX50R for those that want to hit the street with medium format.

The announcement of the Fujifilm GFX100S is a milestone halo medium format camera of sorts that gives us a glimpse of things to come. It seems like Fujifilm is producing it simply to end the debate about medium format vs full frame. They even coined a new term Super Full Frame to reinforce its supremacy. Part of me wonders if Canon/Nikon realized this reality and that’s why they designed their new mounts to be so big, but more about that later.

If I were asked who won Photokina 2018, in my mind Fujifilm won because their announcements will push photography beyond where we are today. Sure the L-mount announcement was daring and it’s nice to see Canon/Nikon’s first attempts at serious mirrorless cameras, but none of them are far enough along to judge. While the new Zeiss ZX1 will have to catch on to really change things, the GFX is here today with amazing lenses you can hold, and the GFX50R is going to bring GFX quality to even more photographers.

On a side note, I think we might see some exciting X-T3 firmware announcements in the future since the GFX100S has the same X-Processor 4 as the Fujifilm X-T3. It takes a lot of bandwidth to shoot at 102MP and to turn a medium format image with that many pixels into 4k 30p, so maybe the X-T3 has some reserves to be tapped. If so we will likely see the improvements after the Fujifilm X-H2 launches.

Sadly not a lot to say here. Eye AF of animals will be great for some, but Sony already made all their big camera announcements. The Sony a7III/a7RIII are amazing speed demons and can fill most photographers needs. I’m sure very few photographers are lusting after the Sony a9 now. The announcement of a Sony a7SIII is also looking increasingly bleak with what the a7III can do. Maybe we will see something amazing, but it could be a while before they develop a better sensor for the a7S.

Sony also needs to lay off their AI talk. Today most camera functions could be called AI based, depending on how you want to define AI. The Sony press conference was shockingly disappointing, but not the worst.

I’m combining both here because, frankly, everyone I’ve spoken within the industry is convinced that Leica is dying. While I like the L-Mount agreement, Leica is giving too much of their prestige away with the Zenit camera announcement. Leica also should have had an SL2 to announce alongside the L-Mount alliance announcement to lead the way forward. I know a lot of the people at Leica and I have a lot of respect for them and the brand, but did we really need a Leica S3? How many Leica S cameras have they even sold? It just all seems like a bad investment now and I’m glad I didn’t buy an S, but I’ll keep my M240 and Summilux forever and hope L-mount can support medium format mirrorless in the future.

On the other hand, Panasonic’s announcement of the S1 and S1R feels a bit premature. They should have more specs by now and it’s kind of weird they haven’t finalized their lens designs for an early 2019 launch. It is also very disappointing that Panasonic is going to continue using DFD focusing instead of moving to phase detect AF. I loved my GF1 and GH2, along with the lens line up, but it sounds like m43 is going to get phased out after one or two more specialized bodies. I’m just not sure the market exists to keep m43 afloat when there are only hardcore users left.

No one new is going to be convinced to buy an m43 camera now, but I hope we can pick up some deeply discounted bodies in the near future. The technology is sound, but customers are drawn to things that are bigger and “better.” Panasonic and Olympus should have kept prices low if they wanted m43 to be competitive. The Panasonic GH5 at $1,200 would sell well.

The saddest conference of them all. Honestly, they shouldn’t have even bothered. All Olympus did was state they still believe in m43. They even made a good argument for the format, “you wouldn’t buy a car based on the displacement of the engine alone” or something like that… I feel sorry for the representative that had to make the statement and it wouldn’t shock me if Olympus exited the photography market for a while. Maybe they could rejoin it later with the L-Mount.

I have to say after all the hype died down, I’m very disappointed with both companies’ mirrorless cameras. At least Canon has their amazing 28-70mm f/2 zoom to flaunt, but Nikon couldn’t even be bothered to make their 0.95 autofocus. I hope both release new, more professional bodies with some wow soon. Repackaging the D850 and 5DIV as single card slot mirrorless cameras is not innovative.

The sad thing is that the Canon EOS R and Nikon Z7/Z6 will sell amazingly well. Many fanboys will be satisfied with what was launched, but they should expect a lot more. Canon and Nikon have had a decade to work on their mirrorless cameras.

It’s not all bad though, the Canon and Nikon mounts are probably designed for a future mirrorless medium format sensor. They could even use the full frame lenses they develop on the medium format camera with some digital correction and then launch a medium format lens line.

Nikon/Canon are just getting started in professional mirrorless. I hope they add to the platform rather than chase other mirrorless companies. At least The announcement of Canon’s 28-70mm f/2 will push others to develop faster zooms.

The announcement of the Zeiss ZX1 was one of the most surprising and innovative. In some ways, it copies what Leica’s doing with their TL line of cameras, but takes the design to an entirely new level. The Zeiss ZX1 is basically a professional smartphone and I hope they release it at a good price point to really shake up the market. The Zeiss ZX1 is the ultimate travel camera and I am sure we will see others build on the idea in the future.

The Ricoh GRIII is the ultimate pocket camera and the announcement of a new one came as a pleasant surprise for those that have used them before. If you want a truly pocketable APS-C camera, nothing beats Ricoh’s GR cameras. I can’t wait to buy one again myself.

Sigma is going mirrorless in a big way this year. I can’t wait to see their L-Mount Foveon camera. Hopefully, they get Lightroom support and more at launch since that’s largely been the issue holding back Sigma’s cameras. Foveon is a great technology and I hope it survives and comes into its own like X-Trans did for Fujifilm.

Lots of interesting lenses being developed by companies like Laowa, Tamron, Sigma, and more. We are finally getting great niche mass market lenses designed for mirrorless.

Everyone’s trying to innovate today with the photography market contracting and mirrorless becoming the dominant format. Not everyone is going to survive this transition, but that’s ok. Canon/Nikon/Sony/Fujifilm will all definitely make it through the transition, but the rest are trying to stand out.

The combined efforts of Panasonic, Sigma, and Leica could potentially take a chunk of the mirrorless market, but Panasonic’s video needs to be substantially beyond everyone else to drive the format. I’m just not sure if Panasonic will be able to pull it off with companies like Fujifilm now producing cameras like the X-T3 that are able to surpass Panasonic’s GH5S. Maybe Leica or even Sigma will design a crazy zoom for L-Mount like the f/2 zoom from Canon, but by then Canon could have a whole line of f/2 zooms.

If Canon/Nikon don’t change their ways and start innovating  I think they will continue to lose market share to the other mirrorless camera companies. It’s unlikely anyone company will knock them out, but now they have legitimized mirrorless by releasing semi-serious mirrorless cameras along with some very high-end glass. Canon/Nikon should find a way to make Sony cameras into a non-issue and move into medium format sooner rather than later.  This might be just what they need, and hopefully, their new mounts will support a larger sensor.

Photokina 2019 is going to be interesting for sure, and hopefully, we will see rolls reverse a little with big announcements from all of the companies that floundered a little this year. Fujifilm and Sony should have more cameras to show next year, but they will likely be based on current technology. Canon/Nikon should have more mirrorless bodies by then too, with some of them designed for professional work. Hopefully, Canon/Nikon will build some mirrorless cameras from the ground up. Panasonic/Leica/Sigma will have new L-mount bodies and glass ready for Photokina 2019 and we will know how their L-Mount alliance will compete by then. I might even attend next year since it falls during a better time for me, so stay tuned.

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