The last DSLR I owned was the Sony A-850 back in 2011. At the time, it was at the cutting edge of sensor technology. It had a 24-megapixel sensor that could be cranked to ISO 6400 (to truly awful result) with a huge bright optical viewfinder and some really cool Minolta and Sony lenses like the Sony 135mm f\1.8 and the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and on and on. That was the last full-frame DSLR Sony ever rolled out.
Shortly after that, Sony began the great mirrorless debacle. There were A-mount translucent mirror cameras, e-mount mirrorless cameras that could use A-mount lenses and other lenses with various adapters. The early e-mount cameras were touted for their tiny size but what went along with this new line of mirrorless cameras was a lack of usable auto-focus, long black out periods while shooting and almost no native lenses. For the Sony and Minolta faithful these were the wilderness years. Like the Israelites marching endlessly through the desert, we Sony shooters trudged despairingly from one mirrorless camera mirage to the next always hoping to reached the promised land of a competent full frame mirrorless camera. And then finally in 2017 there was the A9! Can I get a hallelujah? And we were there. Of course, after renting the A9 and proving that it was real (to torture the religious metaphor further) like Doubting Thomas, I then waited until the A7 III was available to save a thousand bucks. But finally, life was good. I started to round out my lens collection and anticipate being able to get more specialized lenses in e-mount, things like 200 – 600mm zooms and long macro lenses.
But just to prove that the Sony mirrorless line had arrived, the DSLR heavy hitters Nikon and Canon rolled out full-frame mirrorless cameras with their own new mounts. And this proves the point because this was the only way for Nikon and Canon to prevent their users from jumping ship. It is now possible to get all the advantages that mirrorless provides like an electronic viewfinder that works in any light level from pitch black to direct sun without sacrificing the advantages that DSLRs provided, like excellent autofocus and professional lenses. You might think this competition from Nikon and Canon would bother me. A Sony fanboy would fear the competition from its rivals would harm his brand. But in actuality, it will force Sony to step up their game. For instance, I foresee Sony improving the weather-sealing on their A9 level cameras to compete head to head with the mirrorless cameras that their competitors make. But by the same token Nikon and Canon are going to have to provide sensors at Sony’s level even in more modest cameras.
And finally, this new situation takes away the biggest detraction that Nikon and Canon used in the past, that the only real cameras were DSLRs. Without a doubt they were the ones who blinked first in this staring contest. Sony no longer has to prove mirrorless is better. Canon and Nikon just did. So, here’s my prediction. In ten years, there won’t be a single new full frame DSLR camera to be bought. I would have said five years but as in everything else I am conservative.
Today I was watching a video on photography by Tony Northrup
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za2AeCujDZk&feature=youtu.be) . Basically, it’s one of those “Here are my predictions for 2018” videos. Tony goes through Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax and Fuji. He has a variety of predictions and comments. Some interesting, some obvious, some debatable. What I found significant was a couple of statements he made about Canon and Nikon. Apparently both Canon and Nikon are expected to produce full frame mirrorless models in 2018. And in addition, Tony noted that last year Sony passed Nikon to become the second largest producer of full frame cameras and that the way things are going Sony will pass Canon in 2018 to become the largest.
And that is actually sort of amazing. Tony Northrup is a former mirrorless skeptic. Up until the second generation of the A7 system he doubted that a full-frame mirrorless camera would ever have the autofocus ability to compete against the professional grade Nikon and Canon models. But in just three years Sony has gone from a novelty camera manufacturer to where they are now. Now, having been the victim of years of Sony dithering I can state categorically that their success has nothing to do with superior implementation of their products. Anyone who has had to deal with the Sony camera menus knows that’s simply not the case. So, what it must be, is that the time of the DSLR is past and the advantages of the mirrorless camera are now so obvious that even Sony can’t help but succeed.
So, if it’s to be mirrorless cameras going forward, who will be left standing when the dust settles? Will Canon and Nikon pivot and reinvent themselves as mirrorless camera companies? Will Sony parlay their electronic and video expertise to dominate market? Or will one of the other mirrorless companies like Fuji or the micro four thirds manufacturers take advantage of their smaller form factor to pull ahead?
Who knows? Certainly not me. But at least I feel like I’ve won the first part of the bet I took when I stuck with Sony when they went from DSLR to mirrorless. Now all they have to do is get out of their own way and give their customers the cameras and lenses they want to buy. This year they came out with two amazing cameras, the A9 and the A7R III. Both cameras are essentially ground breaking. The A9 is the first mirrorless camera that could easily be used by either a professional sports shooter or a wedding photographer and perform as well as if not in some ways better than the Canon and Nikon equivalents. The A7R III is a versatile high megapixel camera that can perform at the level of Nikon and Canon enthusiast cameras for everything from landscape to portrait to occasion shooting while providing the very best picture quality available. What remains for them is to finish off the line up with updates of their high ISO stills / video camera (the A7S III) and the basic A7 III plain vanilla version. Once the larger battery, better autofocus and joystick control of the A9 is introduced into these updates, Sony will have provided mirrorless shooters with the tools they’ve been waiting for. And it will become difficult for Canon and Nikon to convince the market that mirrorless cameras haven’t already matched DSLR performance and in some ways surpassed it. When I tested out the A9 last summer and saw what it’s like to shoot continuously with absolutely no blackout between frames I knew that mirrorless was the future. And when I saw how good the autofocus on that camera was I no longer doubted that Sony might be a part of that future.
So, the great mirrorless game is afoot. Who will take an early lead and who will be left at the gate? Predicting these kinds of things is almost impossible. But I’ll string along with Sony for the foreseeable future. They’ve chosen wisely and are now fighting on their own electronics turf instead of on the DSLR field. I like their chances. But I have to say that after following along with these guys for all these years I have a sort of fatalism about how clueless they can be about avoiding obvious problems. Please Sony, don’t screw it up.