News/Views

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This page of the site contains the latest 10 articles to appear on bythom, followed by links to the archives.

More Strange Things Said on the Internet XVIII

"Qualcomm exec thinks AI will help smartphones eclipse dedicated cameras soon" --reasonably accurate headline repeated by all the news scrapers who scraped the Android Authority interview. [Disclosure: I own Qualcomm stock.]

(I'll have more to say about AI in an upcoming article.) 

The premise of Sony's original statements about smartphones surpassing dedicated cameras  and now Qualcomm's echo of them lies in a very simple notion: that AI can make up for physics. In essence, what's been happening is that the image sensor/image processor chain in the smartphones has been getting tighter and faster and more "intelligent", to the point where the images produced overcome the obstacles of underlying physics of such a small sensor. 

"The processing in Snapdragon [Qualcomm's image processor for smartphones] is 10 times better than what you can find on the biggest and baddest Nikon and Canon cameras." Notice the word used wasn't "faster," but rather "better." The Qualcomm exec does go on to say they're doing "many times more processing", though. I'm not 100% sure that is true given the current dedicated camera processors. It's mostly just different processing. 

Quite obviously, both Sony's and Qualcomm's remarks about smartphones surpassing dedicated cameras are self-serving. Sony wants to sell more small image sensors, and Qualcomm wants to sell more sophisticated image processors. The huge volume of the smartphone business means that there's more return on R&D in that space than there is in the far smaller dedicated camera market. But the phone market is starting to top out and peak just like the camera market did. Once you have a recent, high-end phone, how often would you really need to upgrade? 5G was supposed to kick off a whole new wave of buying, but it was really the discontinuation of 2G that did that. 

I'm a little surprised that the camera makers haven't snapped up some of the machine learning software that's been percolating in the photo processing realm. Yes, using a smaller process size and adding cores gives you more processing power, and all the camera makers have been doing that. But ultimately it's coding algorithms into the hardware that gives the bigger bang for the buck. You need to own the right algorithms to get that advantage, which is the Apple/Google/Qualcomm thrust at the moment. 

Nikon and Sony seem to understand what's going on a little better than the rest of the dedicated camera crowd. Nikon sees the advantage of dedicated cameras coming in optics, particularly long optics. Sports and wildlife photography is not a strength of smartphones, after all. [Of course, I have to ask if Nikon sees this, why the heck isn't there a Z90 yet?] Sony sees the social media slide towards a video preference being key, and many of the processing techniques that the smartphones do with stills are still out of their reach with top-end video. So Nikon has introduced a Z9 and lot of telephoto lenses in the Z System lately, and Sony is introducing a lot of video products and lenses. Canon doesn't seem to be focused (pardon the pun) on any one thing.

Ultimately, the issue isn't whether smartphones are going to render dedicated cameras useless. I don't see that happening any time soon. On the other hand, dedicated cameras are going more niche, which I don't see smartphones attempting to match (gives up their spread of R&D over unit volume). This is basically a replay of the CD/High-Fidelity story. 

Bonus: you can still buy specialized Hi-Fi equipment, and that industry has moved on from a CD-caused bottom. But when was the last time you bought a CD player or CDs? That's right. Smartphones as cameras are likely short-lived. (Since I know you're going to ask, what do I see replacing them? Multi-camera AR scene formation.)

"Time for Sony to Change Their FF Body Design?" --headline in a forum post on dpreview

This is a relative to the "if it isn't broke, fix it" idea.

There's a reason why tools all tend towards a common design. That eventual design is the most effective to make use of the tool, basically. Cameras are highly configurable tools (lots of settings), which further lends themselves towards a common need in their design: the ability to change settings without taking your eye from the viewfinder or your index finger from the shutter release. 

Viewfinders end up in the center of a camera for a reason, too: particularly with long lenses the view is on axis with the rotation. Yes, I know that some of you are left eyed or big nosed and prefer the rangefinder style of off-rotation-axis viewing, but a right-eyed user also then loses some of the bracing effect that keeps the camera steady. And yes, I know you can turn on VR and get steadiness back, but generally I don't want "fixes" to something that wasn't broke. That's not the right design goal to pursue.

Then we have the "muscle memory" aspect of cameras. As I've documented for 30 years now, Nikon can be their own worst enemy at this, such as when they decided on the N80 to move the exposure compensation button that had been in the same position for two decades (and has since returned to its "proper position" for over two more). Once you learn a system, whether it be Canon's or Nikon's or Sony's or whomever's, you don't want to be relearning the basic things you do every time you get a new camera. New car? Oh, we moved the turn signal to the door panel and the horn to a button on the dash. Yeah, we don't want that in cameras, either. 

I actually applaud Sony for what they've done. The original A7 bodies had a lot of issues, some major, some subtle. Over time, Sony has directly addressed each of those without actually breaking their overall designs. For example, the AF-ON button got a modest raised platform to make it easier to find than the small, flat, back-panel-level one that had preceded it. It used to be that you couldn't find the AF-ON button with even thin gloves on; now you can. 

Moreover, one thing that made the Sony A7 bodies popular was size. Specifically, smaller-than-full-frame DSLR bodies, and frankly, smaller than most APS-C DSLR bodies. Start tinkering with new body design, and size could suddenly become in jeopardy. Within the current size you tend towards optimal-for-size and smaller iterations, which I believe the A1 and its followups are fairly close to. 

In product management teams an old adage was often repeated: "don't let customers design products." To some degree, that's correct, in that any specific customer isn't seeing the broader and more difficult problems that need to be balanced. Even architects designing one-off custom homes have issues with customer designs ("they don't know the ramifications of what they're asking for").  

On the other hand, product management needs to listen to customers to figure out what is working and what is not. Leave the things that work, fix the things that aren't. 

The body of the headline poster's forum query got to the reason why they wanted Sony to change their body design: style. "[The Hasselblad X2D is] so alluring that you simply want to hold one in your hands." Ah, consumers. So fickle. They won't buy the Subaru because it's so pedestrian, but oooh, look at that Porsche. 

Style is not something I want in my camera, it's something I want in my photos. The camera I want in my hands is something that fits, whose controls are optimized and accessible, and that holds up to continued use. I think I've been very clear about that for 30+ years. The day you see me with an "alluring" accessory is the day I jumped the shark.

"Fujifilm just broke all the rules for APS-C camera sensors." — digitalcameraworld.com review headline

Let's leave out the question of whether or not the X-H2 is a good camera or not for a moment. When I see hyperbole such as the quoted line, my radar goes off. First, there are no such APS-C sensor "rules" that I know of, and second, breaking rules generally has both positive and negative consequences, depending on your viewpoint and how carefully you look. 

Moreover, the publication in question purports to use Imatest to provide results, though they don't show actual Imatest results ;~). My own Imatest results have never aligned with what digitalcameraworld reports in their graphs, so I would say this: show me your work. 

I'm also worried about lines such as "We thought APS-C sensors had reached their resolution limit, especially with the lack of any significant increase in real-world resolution from Canon's 32.5mp sensor." Um, no. Apples-to-apples comparisons please. Because of AA filters, lenses, and a host of other factors, it's real easy for "more pixels" to not show any "significant increase." We've had this problem since forever in digital. I've written it many, many times: more sampling is always better. How much better, however, is always the question these days, as we're dealing with incremental increases that don't always show obvious visual change to most people. 

Physics and math don't change just because someone created a new image sensor. Perhaps someday a completely different sensor technology (photon sensing JOTs, GaAs instead of Si, maybe a quantum sensor) may reveal that there was information possible to capture that adds clearcut ability to our imaging, but we're in a world right now where we're making small gains via incremental iteration on a fairly fixed, known path. 

I get it. As a reviewer you want to try and add relevance to your review as opposed to simple test results. It's real easy, however, to fall into the trap that all the High Fidelity magazines did at the peak of that era, and to overstate something purely because you're trying to prove your own relevance. (Disclosure: I once received a press association "award" for being the first person to use the word "screams" to reference the speed of a computer. So, yes, I get it. You don't see me writing "the Z9 in High Efficiency raw just screams and renders buffers superfluous." )

The problem, of course, is that hyperbole gets picked up and transmitted over the Internet so fast that it becomes "reality" for most people. That, of course, is one reason why I write these "strange things said" articles. Marketing messaging has become so pervasive and amplified in our society as to mask actual need and/or performance. As I was considering this article, an email came in that was asking about gear, but seemed to be valuing f/2.8 over f/4 for no apparent reason. It's real easy to hear about "better" and then lock into that as actually meaning "I need that." 

I haven't evaluated the X-H2 yet, and it will be a bit before I get to it, so I can't say how good it is. My expectations would be that more sampling is better. But I'd also expect other aspects to be relevant, too: with phase detect on sensor being based on photosites, smaller photosites get less light. So I'd want to understand how more sampling impacts other aspects of the camera.

Use Manual Exposure Mode with Auto ISO — a common email statement I receive and observation of user setups

The problem with Manual exposure mode coupled with Automatic ISO is simple: you're altering your pixel integrity to preserve a specific depth of field and subject motion constraint. I run into this a lot with wildlife and sports photography users. They want maximum aperture of the lens, but 1/1000 or 1/2000 of a second shutter speeds to stop action. The problem is that with a lens like the 500mm f/5.6 and 1/2000 is that's not a lot of "exposure." Remember, EXPOSURE = LIGHT filtered by APERTURE filtered by SHUTTER SPEED. Indeed, we're already two stops below Sunny 16 in bright sunlit light for an ISO 64 camera. As the light goes down, we get into pixel integrity jeopardy pretty fast.

We sports and wildlife photographers usually want to keep aperture fixed at maximum both for exposure and background isolation. I'm fine with that. Where I start to depart is shutter speed. At times I need 1/4000 (bird wing tips) while at others 1/500 will suffice (bird on stick). In the former case I'm still not getting what I want with Manual exposure+Auto ISO (because I set a slower shutter speed), and in the latter case I'm giving up two stops more exposure on those photosites (because I could have used a slower shutter speed). You might quickly say, you're in manual exposure, so why not just change your shutter speed? Sure, but then why do I need Auto ISO? ;~) 

That said, I'm okay with using Manual exposure with Auto ISO if you simply don't have time to be making shutter speed adjustments and if you've carefully figured out at which point the pixel integrity will break down too much. I say that last bit because I keep finding that the Maximum ISO people are setting with Auto ISO is indeed the maximum ISO the camera can set. Even with the best of the best noise reduction routines out there I'm not going to use my cameras at their maximum ISO unless there's absolutely no chance that I can avoid it.

Which brings me back to this: I find it faster to just change shutter speed than I do to take the camera out of Auto ISO and change shutter speed. Duh. Thus I don't tend to use Auto ISO. I instead settle for underexposure in a few cases and will push my shutter speed downward whenever possible. 

One, Two, Three, and Four Front Battles

In terms of digital cameras, where once we had a free-for-all across a broad range of fronts (compact, premium compact, action, video, crop sensor, full frame sensor, medium format), the repeated contraction of the industry has also made everyone pick their battles more carefully. The on-going supply chain and logistics challenges are forcing some companies to pick fewer battles, too.

Here's the way I see things at the moment:

One-Front Defenders

These are the companies that have a more focused view of the digital camera world. Their engineering, sales, and marketing teams really have one goal, and look mostly at only a single (type of) customer.

  • Leica — I believe Leica is in the process of abandoning compact and crop sensor (TL) and now concentrating on full frame only. That makes sense, as a high-end crop sensor model doesn't have a lot of takers these days (Fujifilm notwithstanding; but Leica was even higher-priced). I do think the L- and M-mount combo makes them less efficient, but I don't see Leica abandoning the M-mount.
  • OM Digital Solutions — Olympus' original two fronts in digital were compact and 4/3. They retreated from compacts despite at one time being #2 or #3 in that market, and eventually settled on m4/3 before they spun out the camera group. As one of the leaner development teams, they need to stay focused on one front. My only advice would be to take the Tough into the m4/3 realm and keep the ILC lineup lean and up-to-date.
  • Sigma — I'm putting them in this one-front category, though it's unclear if they're a one-sensor size unit or not. In lenses, no. In cameras, probably (full frame). Sigma has been clear that the camera side of the business is mostly a hobby business where they tinker in an area the founder had been interested in. I have no problems with that as long as they don't believe they'll be profitably competitive against the others at the pace they're moving.

Two-Front Defender

In this category we two companies that have pared back on compacts to the point where I'm not sure they're defending that front any more. Fujifilm's last premium compact was the mild X100V iteration two years ago, while Nikon's was the P950, also two years ago. Both seem to be just letting the compact side of their business wither while they concentrate on mirrorless ILC (interchangeable lens cameras) in two sizes.

  • Fujifilm — The two-stop equivalence differential between APS-C and Medium Format is much more reasonable to defend than the one-stop game being played by most of the others, as it means you're not competing against yourself. Fujifilm has played a tactical battle that's won them converts, but the one thing I keep seeing with them—including myself—is that they also get customers drifting away over time. I could write a whole article on just this, and probably will do so at some point. 
  • Nikon — In the DSLR era, Nikon stretched way, way out in battle fronts, with DX and FX DSLR, but also compact, premium compact, action, and CX crop sensor (Nikon 1). They've now contracted almost to a single front (mirrorless FX), leaving only a vestige of DX to defend a big territory (poorly). This was probably a strategic mistake. Either Nikon should have gone all FX (and Zf and Z3 instead of a Zfc and Z30), or they needed a Z70+ far earlier than they're likely to get to it. I happen to like the Z50, but it's really difficult to defend it with its dearth of lenses and the fact it didn't get updated. While some might say Nikon is still active in DSLRs, and thus a three or four front company, Nikon isn't really defending the DSLR territory, they're just letting it be ceded naturally over time.

Three-Front Defenders

In this category I now only put one company, and again it's one that recently just pared back its compact camera lineup and essentially announced the end for that battle line. 

  • PanasonicA surprising three-front defender (video, m4/3, and full frame), and like Fujifilm, one with basically a two-stop equivalence differential (at the 3:2 aspect ratio) in the still cameras. Frankly, though, I don't get Panasonic's shot-gun approach. I say shot-gun because the video-centric Varicams, the m4/3 cameras, and the full frame S's are all different lens mounts. That simply can't work well over time, as it's a resource intensive endeavor with no synergy.  Varicam needs to go L-mount. I'm not sure m4/3 can ultimately survive, particularly if it just becomes GH-centric as some are suggesting is happening. The good news is m4/3 does have lens partners, so one way of dealing with the resource issue is to sidle up to one of those others in the alliance and let them do the heavy lifting. Instead, it appears that Panasonic is partnering with Leica in the L-mount camera/lens situation. Again, that leaves them with three fronts with different lens mounts, so I'm not sure how the partnership solves much.

Four-Front+ Defenders

The big market-share winners are in this category, mostly because they have visibility across a wide range of products, are establishing or have established synergies, and through a volume strategy are dominating market share in most of the markets they play in. It's not surprising that these are two large conglomerates with wide-ranging operations.

  • Canon — We still have compacts, crop sensor, full frame sensor, and video-centric lines being defended. It's taking a bit too long getting everything into the RF mount, though, which has left Canon weaker against the other four-front defender, Sony.
  • Sony — Another player with compacts, crop sensor, full frame sensor, and video-centric lines, but Sony long ago consolidated behind the E-mount, which has been giving them leverage and synergies across categories.

Long term, the HiFi-ification of the camera market is going to continue. A handful of audiophiles and professionals kept high end audio gear going. Well, now it's going to be a handful of photophiles and professionals that keep high end camera gear going. Overall, that means:

  1. Fewer units produced and sold.
  2. More marketing effort to target those who will still buy.
  3. Higher prices (due to #1 and #2 taken together).
  4. More difficulty using broad, multi-front battle tactics.
  5. More difficulty describing how low-level changes are meaningful.

One strategy that we're seeing all the camera makers suddenly fully committed to is the embracing of video within what are still cameras. This was originally seen as "enlarging" the possible buyer pool, but more recently has taken to companies targeting the YouTube/TikTok type crowd with product specifically designed for them (though still essentially a still camera at heart). I laugh when I see this, as apparently file sizes don't come into play in video any more ;~). Many of those that the camera industry is suddenly targeting use mobile devices on which an hour worth of original video won't fit (unless they compress the heck out of it, at which point, the video camera in the smartphone looks awful good). 

I've been writing the following for quite some time: the camera companies need to get much closer to their customers and truly understand what does and doesn't motivate purchase decisions in a world of declining benefits. More and more when someone asks me for advice on buying a new camera, I'm finding that I'm telling them what they already have is more than adequate, that the technical gains in the Next Shiny New Thing just aren't going to provide them anything useful. Meanwhile, the camera companies are leaving off features, making features more difficult to use than they should be, and generally ignoring UX things that would make our use of their gear more productive (and yes, cause us to buy new gear that had those benefits). 

Do Order Suspensions Accomplish Anything?

No doubt the supply chain issues coupled with high demand is causing problems for every camera maker. This has led to virtually every camera maker at one time or another announce that they're discontinuing taking any additional orders for a product. It doesn't help that such proclamations are often subsidiary specific, yet due to the global nature of the Internet, the media impact of even a regional discontinuation becomes global.

All of the camera makers have intermediaries between themselves and the customers: distributors and dealers. Most of the order suspensions are targeted at those groups, effectively telling them that the manufacturer can't supply that product at the moment. There's probably a legal component to this, but there's absolutely a sales planning component. Dealers can't just sit on their hands waiting for a few products to show up, they have to continue selling something, and dealers need to manage their cashflow carefully. 

Thus, a dealer knowing that Product X isn't going to be available for the immediate future allows them to adjust their inventory ordering, plans, and promotions. The two regions where a manufacturer-to-distribution suspension announcement happens most often are Japan and the US. 

Sometimes we also see manufacturer-to-customer suspension announcements, though more often we just see more generalized "apologies on not being able to deliver to demand" statements. 

In essence, both types of announcements essentially just one thing: wait. 

So the relevant question is whether or not they accomplish anything useful. 

I'd argue that they do not. 

What I find happening a lot now is that when someone gets frustrated by Company A not being able to deliver, if they see that Company B can deliver the (near) equivalent product(s), many customers are now bolting to the other brand. The Sony A1 and the exotic lenses for it are generally in stock these days, but the Nikon Z9 and it's exotics aren't, with the exotics now on "order suspension." 

Customers either are buying for "wants" or for "needs." That later category is completely turned off by order suspensions. Their need is immediate, so if Sony has the goods and Nikon doesn't, that's going to turn into Sony sales. It's a good thing that Canon and Nikon have longterm legacy customers that are brand loyal, because they'll at least have some customers for the product(s) in the future when they can deliver it(them). 

The problem with the order suspension messages is simple: not enough data. The only data point is "we can't deliver." Even that's somewhat vague. 

Note that Apple has pretty darned good customer-facing order delivery information. If a product can't be delivered today, you'll know approximately when it will be (plus they have a strong track record of meeting or beating that date). Of course, Apple has stores and a Web site that are directly interacting with most of their customer base. Apple knows, down to a few minutes, what their sales and inventory situation is, because they put a huge investment into the information infrastructure to accurately report that. 

The camera makers have put themselves into a position where they can't really do that. While they ask dealers to report their inventory and can see orders from them, this system is well known to be fallible. Highly fallible. Moreover, the insistence on pushing inventory that is available through to the dealer doesn't help things. This system is not going to sustain. Dedicated cameras are going the way of the Hi-Fi business: we're going to have very few dealers and a lot of direct selling in the future because the sales volume can't sustain a dealer in every city that stocks everything. 

But suspension of orders doesn't play in that future, either ;~). Issuing such vague announcements would just make for more brand dissatisfaction. If you can't reliably give me a date on which I'll receive my product, I'm not going to order it. 

What we need is clarity. The only form that can take is to provide details as to what the problem is, how the problem is being addressed, and when the problem is likely to resolve. 

Imagine a world in which Company X said "We apologize for any delays in delivering your XYZ. Demand for this product is running (far) higher than our production capacity at the moment. Under current conditions, if you order an XYZ today we estimate you would likely receive it in xx days/months at current demand levels and production capacity. While we are adding to our production capacity, this is not something that can be done overnight, thus our estimate as to when you might receive the product."

Or maybe "We apologize, but we've run into a part supply problem that will delay us being able to deliver your XYZ. This has effectively reduced our production to a fraction of what is necessary to meet demand. We are scrambling to find alternative part supplies and hope to resolve that in xx days/months. However, if you order an XYZ today we estimate you won't receive it for xx days/months given our current parts supply. Rest assured we are doing everything we can to address this problem, and hope to have better news soon."

Personally, I'd go further if I were in charge. As problematic as it might be to get right, I'd also establish a centralized ordering queue. To some degree, NikonUSA already does this with the NPS Priority Purchase program. However, that only applies to a subset of the customers, and even NPS members are often left in the dark as to when their product might appear. A good queue is transparent. It tells you how many are in the queue ahead of you, and when you're likely to get your product. 

In the meantime, I don't believe the current situation is accomplishing anything. The camera companies just look like disorganized fools that can't manage their product and sales process. 

Book Updates

I've spent the past weeks on book updates. The following updates are now available:

  • D500 Guide 1.02
  • D850 Guide 1.03
  • Z6 II and Z7 II Guide 1.03

Coming soon:

  • Z9 Guide 2.10

Full details of what was updated are listed in a section at the start of each book. All four books have quite a bit of small, but important changes to them, and should be fully up to date with the current Nikon firmware. 

If you purchased any of these books, updates are free. Didn't get the update? Please look carefully in your Spam/Junk folder, as the update link comes from an automated server, and many mail systems just don't like automated messages. If for some reason you still can't find the update, you can send me an email link. However, past experience with updates tells me that I'll have to set aside a day every couple of weeks manually sending out updates to people whose email systems nuked the message, or who waited too long to attempt the download, so be patient. I have to look all such requests up in the database, verify information, and force the server to send a link manually, all of which takes time. Note: if your request does not have your last name or the email address you ordered under, it will not be processed unless you provide the original PayPal transaction number. Again, such requests are processed when I have the time.

Coincident with these updates, I've now raised my prices on the DSLR books to reflect my current costs of providing them and publishing updates (for which I pay email and bandwidth charges). I had said I was going to do that earlier this summer, but gave everyone a brief reprieve.

______________

d500 on ipad

Bonus: Pulling out the D500 and putting it through its paces again while updating my book for it simply reminded me of how badly Nikon squandered their clear lead in the APS-C flagship realm. There's simply nothing particularly wrong with a D500—even five years after it was introduced—that wouldn't be corrected by having a reasonable lens set. As I've written elsewhere, the D500 is still one of the top APS-C cameras you can buy today. Not only does it have a better range of telephoto options that are well suited for sports and wildlife photographers than the Fujifilm X series (or even Canon EF or RF), but also in my initial analysis its focus system still holds its own against the newest comers. What the D500 doesn't have is any real support from Nikon (lame and late firmware updates, total lack of marketing after the launch, and no new stock available in much of the world). 

This isn't the first time that Nikon's pulled this stunt. The D300 started this whole neglect thing on Nikon's part as someone at the helm decided that FX was what they really wanted to sell. I can also point to times in the film SLR era where Nikon did similar things.

Nikon management may wonder why their Imaging business tends to go through cycles. There's no doubt in my mind that this is partly internally caused. The modus operandi of the engineering teams is to force two, four, or eight year cycles for products, in a world that doesn't move in such a fixed way. The minute a product falls outside of the two-year pattern, it gets neglected not just by engineering but also by sales and marketing. DSLRs that fell into that category were the D600/D610, D750 (and now likely D780), D3x, D300/D300s, and D500. While Nikon was allowing that to happen, they often kept iterating consumer DSLRs on almost yearly cycles of near-nothing changes, a total waste of resources. Worse, if a new image sensor they needed didn't fall on their development schedule's cycles, they just skipped updating that camera.

One would think that once you captured a customer at the US$2000 mark, you'd want to keep them and milk them. I've tracked an almost 10% leak of D500 users, not to something else Nikon, but to competitor's products. So much for keeping customers. By not providing DX lenses, so much for milking them. As farmers, Nikon would end up with a fallow field with no animals, I suspect. 

Upcoming Workshops/Events

Yes, I know I've been quiet about workshops and other events for quite some time. Then again, I haven't even completed all my 2019 commitments yet! 

Getting locked-down time commitments and firm prices for new workshops has been as difficult as getting semiconductors for a new camera, it seems. Because so many travel locations I use completely closed down in 2019 and 2020 (and a few continued that into 2021), a ton of reservations that had prepaid deposits got postponed into the future while the pandemic took its toll. Fortunately, it was just a matter of time before those postponements got honored, schedules started to clear, and working out future trip logistics got back to a more normal level. 


Thus, today I can announce that I have one new workshop coming up in April 2023 that you can sign up for. I'll be repeating the unique timing in the Okavango we experimented with earlier this year, as it turned out to have opportunities you don't generally get in the usual tourist season schedule (July to September in Botswana). Like that blue sky behind the eagle, above, or the green behind the lion, below. As you might be able to tell, we get close, we find great subjects, and we have a 12-year track record in Botswana of doing that. 


This new 2023 workshop has only 9 spaces available for students, so it will likely fill quickly. Two full time photo instructors, three local driver/guides, and a camp crew of a dozen will accompany those that take this trip. Think of it as Land Cruising for Cats, Glamping for Giraffes, or maybe Extravagance around Elephants. A longer description and a pointer to the full brochure is on this page. Sold out, but still taking wait list participants.

I'm in the midst of working out 2024 and 2025 workshops, as well. I'll be running a repeat of my Kalahari Desert workshop in 2024, which turned out to be even better than I had hoped when we ran it for the first time earlier this year. I'll also have a new shorter, lower cost Intro to Okavango option, as well. 2025 will have to remain a secret for the moment, as I negotiate new options.

Meanwhile, I have two big presentations I'm working on for you to look forward to, and on topics you don't usually see covered by others. More details on those will be forthcoming as soon as I have dates.

More Strange Things Said on the Internet XVII

"Do you...think about composition like in terms of rule of thirds when the camera is capable of shooting 360 degrees in one shot?" --dpreview post

I think you now know why I'd like to strangle the person who started that whole "rule of thirds" compositional shortcut ;~). Everyone's looking for a shortcut, I get it, but rule of thirds is actually a dead end most of the time, not the short route to something useful. 

What people want in their composition is balance, but balance doesn't take one form. You wouldn't, for instance, place a subject on a one-third point if the goal was to show isolation, for instance. In such a case, the composition needs to be highly offset, with something well outside the one-third lines balanced against the rest of the frame. Or maybe a small subject in the direct center of the frame. 

The key to composition is knowing what you want to say, not knowing where to put a subject in the frame. I really need to make a Sesame Street style video to illustrate this ("behind", "next to", "near", "far", etc.). 

One thing I always laugh about with rule of thirds illustrations is that they'll draw the lines, and then the actual subject focal point isn't actually on an intersection, it's just nearby. Some rule. The rule seems to be "put a subject about here, or about here, or about here, or about there." The resulting photo may or may not be "about right." 


"Shop your closet first." --subject line of an email received

A reader after my job ;~). Love his wording, so I'm going to steal that line in the future. 

But the point is extremely well taken. Too many people go to the B&H site when planning for an upcoming trip rather than pull things off the shelf of their gear closet. Yes, we have more megapixels now, and some recent lenses are miraculously sharp, but you bought and fell in love with that 58mm f/1.4 for a reason. Rediscover that reason before trying to replace the lens.


Not a strange thing said, but a strange thing shown: press release photos of new lenses with chromatic aberration, improper color rendering, poor focus choice, and so on. 

I'm going to pick on Tokina for a moment, as they're just the latest that have done this. Here's their press release photo for their latest lens:


Notice how blue it is? There's a magenta/blue tint throughout the image. Terrible JPEG compression artifacts live in several places in the image, as well. The shadows are crushed. White isn't white, but "paper". Now let me clean it up a bit for them:

See the difference? I thought so.

Now here's the thing: if a camera or lens company can't render their press images cleanly, accurately, and consistently, would you trust their engineers to have designed the lens cleanly, accurately, and consistently? 

Not that the camera and lens companies are the only ones that have this issue—it's so easy to fire most of the marketing team since they don't "create revenue" and contract out work to a bunch of interns—but you'd think that if you want folk to believe that your product accurately captures what's in front of it, that you could do that in your marketing, too. 


"It's very hard...not technically impossible...I may do my best." --Fujifilm engineer describing whether 160mp in-camera pixel-shift images might be a future feature on a firmware update for the X-H2, in an interview available on YouTube.

The actual answer is far longer than my abbreviation, above. My reading of the entire response in the original language is essentially the way the Japanese say "no." The Japanese will often answer a question in a way that suggests that "yes" might some day be a possibility, but what they are actually saying is "no, we won't do that." It's a cultural thing, where direct confrontation with the questioner is avoided by giving some respect to the question. 

But here's the thing: none of us care if something is hard to do for the product designers. What we care about are features that allow us to get our job done more productively. Pretty much every pixel-shift implementation so far requires you as a user to go out of your way to set the camera to collect a set of images, then requires you to use some terrible piece of computer software that was coded in haste to create the pixel-shifted file. Some require you to go further and process the file once stitched together. From a user/customer standpoint this is not what we want. Let me easily set the camera to pixel shift, let the camera create a combined file (and perhaps keep the originals, as Nikon now allows with many of their similar in-camera features), and let that combined file be one we would process with our normal tools, in a normal fashion. Update: someone reminded me that the Leica SL2 produces a 187mp DNG file directly in the camera. Which is just a further indictment of the Japanese reluctance to do the same.

When you stop caring about what the customer really wants and instead base feature creation on how easy it is to implement for you, you've just created a cardinal sin in my product management book. You want my money? Give me the right implementation. I don't have extra time to waste on extra steps in my workflow that don't produce optimal results. 

The Camera Chess Match

On second thought, the games being played by the camera makers are not exactly a chess match as the headline suggests. The pieces don't seem to move in logical ways, and the moves don't always take turns. The current market game situation reminds me more of Magic: the Gathering, where things take more bizarre twists and turns sometimes seem to never end, yet somehow the momentum can swing 180° with a single card play by any player.

One thing the pandemic seemed to do is whittle down the lower end product offerings considerably. While Canon (R10) and Nikon (Z30) are still active trying to re-establish volume where they just gave it up with the demise of consumer DSLRs, most of the action has been at the top. Witness the Canon R3 and even R7, Fujifilm X-H2/2S, Hasselblad X2D, Nikon Z9, OM Digital Solutions OM-1, and most new cameras all the way back to the Sony A1. 

We're seeing a lot of action in high-capability cameras, and it's causing both a lot of excitement as well as confusion among the photography community. To help resolve the confusion, it's probably worth looking at the high level strategy/tactics that each of the players are currently pursuing.

  • Canon — The Big Bully seems to be trying to replicate its previous long-term strategy now. The M experiment is over. The R UX experiment is over. EOS is now squarely RF and RF-S, and we get full frame at the top (R1, R3, R5), the new RF-S Kiss/Rebels at the bottom (R10, upcoming R100), and enough in the middle to fill out a complete lineup (R6, R II?, RP II?, R7). Third party lens makers will be scared from making autofocus lenses by missives from the Canon lawyers. The old EF lens lineup will be mostly duplicated in the RF mount, with a handful of slightly interesting deviations.

    That said, I still see disarray at Canon, coupled with a bit of a panic and a lot of insecurity. The legal bullying is just one aspect of that. Note that the RF naming is not particularly clear, which means product marketing is also is still a bit in play within the company. Unlike Nikon, who's gone to single digit for full frame, double digit for crop sensor, Canon has been willy-nilly throwing numbers out there, with some letters thrown in to confuse everyone. Marketing also hasn't found a technology "spine" on which to base any claims of superiority. To me, Canon still feels like they're turning the battleship and not yet sailing in a clear direction. The only ones yelling "make way, starboard rights" are the legal team. 

    I'm pretty sure that Canon thought they just needed to launch full frame mirrorless and they'd catapult to leading market share there. That didn't happen. It's not even clear if they are doing better than Nikon in becoming #2 for full frame. The R7/R10 combo seems to have done a better job of re-establishing Canon in the APS-C market, but that's going to come at the expense of the dying M-mount. What I think I see with Canon is that while Canon RF is now the plan and fully underway, the RF sales aren't up to the old EF sales, which is a problem for a company that wants to hold a 50% market share. 

    Here's my question for Canon executives: What's the clear reason someone should buy a Canon RF camera?

  • Fujifilm Finally, a direction, though it might not be the direction that their original base wants. The GFX cameras and the X-H2 cameras share something: a consistent user interface and user experience (UX), and one without all the dials that got so much attention early on. I've long said that going back to a retro dial-based design, while seemingly appealing to many in a nostalgic sense, was ignoring things that became mainstream for photographers who truly need to be spontaneous yet still control the camera. Canon and Nikon long ago established their basic UX, and Sony finally got around to that around the Mark III generation or so. Fujifilm? The differences between the Pro, A, E, H, S, and T models were pronounced, and haphazard to me. That was one of the things that bothered me about the Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. They went from Frankencamera DSLR designs to a prolonged period in the labs while not making any ILC, to a series of very mixed designs. 

    The good news is that the X-H2 and X-H2s suddenly show a different side. Coupled with the GFX bodies, Fujifilm suddenly has a core UX. What's amusing about this is that Fujifilm is now following a familiar Nikon pattern (speed/pixel combos), as well as becoming a little more button+dial Nikon-like. Of course, what happens to the Pro, E, S, and T model lines remains to be seen (A appears to now be abandoned; the A's along with the T### models were actually externally developed, so that makes sense). My prediction: drop the E, make S the intro model(s), and keep the T as the dials camera. The Pro will probably be kept going due to its unique hybrid viewfinder, but it's not an important model to Fujifilm's success in the market.

    To me, the thing that isn't working for Fujifilm is lenses. Not that they don't have a lot of great lenses. However, most of those are primes. I'm not feeling as much love with the zooms, and we're in an era where zooms dominate. Of the lenses that Fujifilm themselves listed as "get[ting] maximum benefit from...40mp", only seven zooms show up. The good news is that the f/2.8 trinity is there, but things like a 24-120mm equivalent f/4 are not. 

    I think Fujifilm's fairly well situated to compete with the full frame cameras, but only if they solidify the UX in upcoming XF models and produce more zoom lens choice. The US$2000/2500 pricing of the X-H pair is in a good spot for them, but does pit them against the R6, Z6 II, S5, and A7 Mark IV, which is a darned credible crowd.

    Here's my question for Fujifilm executives:
    How are you going to build out the other XF models and zooms?

  • Hasselblad — After sitting out a few games, Hasselblad appears to be coming off the injured reserve list with a mended offering, the X2D, plus another attempt at lenses. On paper, they look competitive again. Moreover, they're concentrating on their strengths while completely ignoring video. It'll take some time with the new camera and lenses to see if they've just leaped over the GFX100s. 

    Fujifilm left the medium format open to competition, in my view. Their lenses just don't seem to be up to the need level of 100mp. I've seen too many misaligned and underperforming Fujifilm GF mount lenses, and I'm not the only one to find that. In the studio, the leaf shutter of the Hasselblad camera/lens combos has a large benefit, as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see reviews that say that the X2D has put Hasselblad back on top of the studio medium format game. If so, bravo, a game of leap frog properly jumped. 

    Here's my question for Hasselblad executives: Is one camera and a handful of lenses enough?

  • Leica — Leica's been a little quiet as of late, with only the 60mp and slightly simplified M11 appearing in 2021 or 2022. That's okay, as they're not a high volume producer and have a clear clientele that doesn't exactly play the main game. I am curious, however, as to what happens with the SL. The SL2 split into a not-really-speed and not-really-pixels combo in 2019/2020. I'm not sure what that's all about, but it would seem that we ought to see a 60mp SL3 at some point soon.

    Leica's other duo, the CL/TL combo that crossed the full frame and APS-C lines seems to have dead-ended. The TL2 is now selling at closeout prices that are absurdly low for Leica (<US$1500). The CL's five years old, which in dog, uh digital camera, years is a lot. Meanwhile, the S2 (medium format DSLR) is over a decade old. During the CL/TL/S2 rest period there are so many variants of M's I'm not sure I can count them all. 

    It appears that Leica will continue to be Leica, popping out morsels they believe their gourmand audience will quickly order and obsess over. But the camera chef seems a bit aimless and the lenstender seems to have taken a break, with a sign at the counter that says "see Sigma." 

    My question for Leica executives: Do you really have a clear plan, or are you just randomly executing?

  • Nikon — The Z9 is not a camera line. I would tend to say that Nikon has not caught up to Sony (other than the Z9, where they might have passed them), and is not out of the woods yet in terms of getting a solid bottom-to-top camera lineup established. The Z5 does hit it out of the park for an entry full frame camera, while the Z9 does that at the top, but everywhere else in the Z System you'll find products that seem more like placeholders than industry-leading. Historically—and I believe this to still be true—it takes a full line of industry-leading products for Nikon Imaging to get a complete head of steam and restore its place in the camera market. 

    The weak points are currently: (1) high-end APS-C (DX); (2) US$2000-2500 full frame; (3) high pixel count camera(s); and (4) no truly video-centric cameras (the Z30 vlog camera is not what's needed, though a nice product at the bottom of the video parade). Canon is going to get potential Z70 buyers, Fujifilm is going to get potential Z90 buyers, Sony is going to get Z6 buyers. That's three key product categories that need shoring up, and fast. It doesn't help that the clear user demand (clamor) for a Z8 indicates that the Z9 can't do it all by itself at the top. Nikon's going to be the last to launch in #1 and #4, and maybe #2 and #3. Again, they'll need industry-leading products to get themselves out of their now third-place position, let alone hold off the fourth place player. 

    At the risk of sounding click-baity, I think Nikon Imaging is more in more danger of being spun out of Nikon today than ever before. Nikon's future growth is clearly in other arenas, ones that are not based on consumer-facing products. So the only reason to keep the Imaging group around is if they can reliably produce profit without downsizing more. So far, that's been true, but having four weak points is not a good sign. Those need to be addressed, and quickly.

    Okay, you want good news. That would be that the Nikkor side of the Z System is swinging for the fences and delivering, and doing so consistently. I was skeptical when Nikon management a while back said they wanted to increase the lens sales rate to 2x the body rate (called the Attachment Rate, which traditionally for the industry has been 1.5-1.6x). Well, if they keep hitting it out of the park and can get their supply chains moving faster, they're not only going to hit that, they're going to exceed it. But it'll also take the right cameras in #1-3 to maximize their Attachment Rate. 

    My question for Nikon executives: How fast will (can) you address #1 to #4 in my list?

  • OM Digital Solutions Okay, so the Vaio strategy sort of works. I say "sort of" because it's clearly working for the vulture capitalists in charge, somewhat less so for the customers. One camera and two lenses a year would be a worse problem than Nikon has: you fall out of relevance at that pace, and then can only cater to the established base. Fortunately, the established base is a reasonable size for the moment, but everyone is still wondering what the "real" size of the ILC market is once the pandemic and supply chain issues have been worked through. And I see clear erosion of the m4/3 base.

    OMDS is probably going to have to be happy with a three or four model camera lineup long term. OM-1, OM-5, OM-10, and maybe Pen. Not that Olympus had all that many more products when it passed the baton (add PL, 1X). I actually think the additional camera answer for them has been clear ever since I pointed it out a decade ago: m4/3 Tough. As I've indicated several times before, I believe that each camera maker has to have some element of the market that "they own" compared to the rest. Tough would be the natural one for OMDS, as it was for Olympus before them. So give us the Tough 1 (great name, by the way, if I don't say so myself ;~).

    My question for OMDS executives: How's that customer base holding up? 

  • Panasonic — Panasonic still has all four of their feet in four different buckets. As long as they try to keep that balancing act going, they won't make any progress in any market, is my guess. The buckets are m4/3 stills, m4/3 video, full frame, and video centric. With four feet, you'd think they could run faster ;~).

    Beyond the spread out location of their limbs like a giraffe drinking water, there's Panasonic's insistence on keeping DFD autofocus going. Geez, even the smartphones went to phase detect on the image sensor. So four buckets and NIH thinking has Panasonic stuck. If they're going to insist on DFD, they need to just make video cameras, where absolute crazy fast autofocus isn't something you actually want. Trying to survive in the full frame mirrorless world with DFD is a bit like trying to make a performance sports car to compete with a Corvette using a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that's poorly tuned. 

    Meanwhile, Panasonic in a recent press release and interviews states that they're going to work in "collaboration" with Leica (above and beyond the L-mount alliance. So what does that actually mean in terms of cameras? And yes, they've once again said they're looking at phase detect autofocus, but that all seems to be in some sort of blurred future.

    My question for Panasonic executives: When are you going to really give up on DFD?

  • Sigma — Foveon sensor technology is out there somewhere. In a new fab somewhere, apparently. In the minds of a very few customers, unfortunately. Sigma tinkers in cameras as a hobby mostly in honor of the father of the CEO. Given that, they're entitled to do whatever they please. But that also will have a result that is mostly random and not reflective of the overall camera market. Thus, I have no questions for Yamaki-san. 

  • Sony — Once you get on top of the hill, you find it harder to stay on top of the hill. Sony has a lot of territory to defend now in mirrorless: APS-C, full frame, video centric. That's actually the order in which they need to put in more effort, too. 

    After years of rapid iteration, the current Sony A6xxx APS-C cameras find themselves...well...behind. And oddly behind not just in technology, but in UX, as well. We need a A7000, A7300, and A7600 that restate the lineup with the current Sony UX design and using state-of-the-art technologies. We don't need another video-centric model for vloggers. 

    The problem for Sony is that Canon and Nikon are attacking them head on in full frame and making inroads, while Canon and Fujifilm are attacking them head on in APS-C and making inroads. Meanwhile, I'd argue that Nikon's Z30 did vlogger righter than Sony (too bad it doesn't have the lenses, buzz, buzz ;~). 

    On the good news side, the A1 is holding up against the Z9 for the time being, and the A7 Mark IV has moved the marker in a key full frame category. Lenses, as with Nikon, are being knocked out of the park consistently (though we still have focal length gaps that need to be filled quickly). Sony might be able to defend the hill, after all, but it's going to be a far tougher battle than it looked as little as only one year ago. 

    My question for Sony executives: Just how much will you attempt to hold off the APS-C competitors, and when?

For customers, we're in an era where we have a large number of excellent choices. I'm happy with my gear at the moment, and am backing off any new gear purchases because of that.

The good news is that it appears that all the camera companies weathered the pandemic and supply chain disruptions in a way that they are currently profitable and have at least some growth. However, it's unclear how much of the current demand is simply pent-up demand and postponed buying. 

Which leads me to my greatest fear about the camera market today. Too much of the 5m unit sales I'm seeing today are from Hyper-Sampling and Hyper-Switching customers, who are like a dog chasing its tail, and who keep chasing the latest marketing line touting Today's Top Toy. At some point, just as with a dog, they'll wear themselves out (or run out of credit line), and where's that leave us? With a reliable ILC sales rate of 3-4m units a year? That's too low to sustain all the players, above. Even a 5m annual sales rate moving forward would mean that the only way to grow would be to steal share from someone else (no wonder Canon is looking scared ;~). 

On the other hand, it appears that the camera makers have finally found—at least temporarily—a new, younger customer. For lack of a better word, they refer to these customers as "creators." That's a euphemism for YouTube, Tik-Tok, and Instagram millennials+ who have taken to producing content onto which Google, Facebook, et.al. attach their mighty advertising engines, providing a small slice of the proceeds to the creators doing all the work. While there are an estimated 2m such creators pulling in six-figure incomes, I wonder just how viable it is to rely upon the behemoth middlemen now being targeted by antitrust and other legal actions. Moreover, once you have a 4K-viable setup to create with, what more do you need? Most of the creators' output is actually watched at 720P or 1080P, not 2160 or higher. 

Start Saying Goodbye to 20/24mp

It happened within a minute of Apple's iPhone 14 streaming event ending: the emails started coming in with some variant of the line "why do I need a lower end ILC any more? I'll just get an iPhone 14."

Okay, a clarification: they mean iPhone 14 Pro. That's the model with the new 48mp main camera (24mm f/1.78 lens equivalent), including sensor-wide focus pixels and a second generation of Apple's OIS. Apple's also claiming a quartet of prime lenses in the iPhone 14 Pro: 13mm f/2.2, 24mm f/1.78, 48mm f/1.78, and 77mm f/2.8 equivalent, all optically stabilized. Heck the iPhone even has a zoomable flash now. 

Updated Of course those pixels are 1.22 microns. The Apple iPhone 14 sensor (and most other high megapixel smartphone sensors) is what is known as Quad Bayer, which means that instead of RGRG and GBGB, the pixel arrangement is instead RRGG and GGBB. What this does is provide less color crosstalk at the small photosite sizes while still imparting some additional detail when a proper demosaic is used. But essentially you can also think of it as a binned 2.44 microns and 12mp+ worth of data.

By comparison, a Z9's 45mp image sensor is 4.33 microns. Before you start trying to do math and hurt yourself, let me do it for you: ~6 square microns for each color's capture area (iPhone) versus 18.7 square microns for each photosite capture area (Z9). The bottom line is that the ~3:1 difference that many will begin spreading disinformation about isn't exactly correct, as you can't directly compared Quad Bayer with Bayer. 

The high end interchangeable cameras (ILC) probably don't have a lot to worry about. With an iPhone 14 Pro you're collecting about 1/13th the photons per photosite as a Z9 with the 24mm f/1.8 lens. Those pesky random photons have been the bane of our digital photography existence since the late 1980's. If we want anything in our cameras, it's not more pixels, it's more photons. 

Still, 48mp at 24mm f/1.78 stabilized used in Apple ProRAW mode will probably look pretty good in a lot of situations with the right post processing, particularly with Apple's Deep Fusion image algorithms working behind the scenes.

So as a walk-around camera the pocketable 7.27 to 8.47 ounce (206 to 240g) iPhone 14 Pro has a lot going for it. Personally, I like the decision to widen the lens to 24mm, too. The old 26/28mm optics were just a little tight for me, and the wider angle camera on the iPhones to date has proven to be a little more limiting in quality. 

48mp in your shirt pocket, even with small photosites, definitely makes for some reasonable expectations in terms of imagery. Binned to 12mp, we're talking about about 6 square microns, which should provide a solid 4K-sized image with reasonably low noise levels. 

Meanwhile, while Apple was pulling the iPhone 14 Pro out of their sleeve with all the excitement of a bored magician, you might have noticed some other things going on in the camera market. Hasselblad went to 100mp. Fujifilm is launching 40mp APS-C this week. We already have 40mp+ ILC from Canon, Leica, Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony, and in many cases, multiples. 

As I've been trying to explain in my "what X needs" articles over on zsystemuser.com, I don't expect Nikon to be going down in pixel count. Just the opposite. The Z6 III needs to go up to 33mp, and any Z8 needs to go well beyond 45mp. 

We have sort of a marketing war going on because of the tyranny of numbers, and 20/24mp is starting to look weak.

Apple now says 48. Samsung says 50 or 108.

While the camera buyer knows that we still have a photon-collection advantage (among other things), I'm encountering more and more that are thinking that a smartphone 48mp+ is closer to the 24mp cameras than it really is. That's partly because they didn't fully understand how much difference there might have been in the first place. You know: ILC started at 2.4mp and slowly worked up through 12mp where they became really good, so maybe phones are doing the same thing, right?

Maybe. Depends upon how you look at it, I suppose, and what your output expectations might be. Which for a lot of people is more murky water to wade through. 

So what ends up happening is that that 48mp number starts to sound pretty darned good to people. It's even probably good enough to me for some more casual work. And as that locks into people's brains, suddenly the math of comparing to 24 doesn't work for them any more. Which means it becomes more difficult for the camera makers to sell 24mp cameras, particularly crop sensor ones that are less expensive. 

I stated it first back in 2007: the coming erosion of the market by smartphones was going to narrow and narrow and narrow the opportunities for the camera makers. That's happened only a wee bit faster than I anticipated, but it's ongoing and relentless. 

Which is why I say that a Z8 has to be 67mp+. Why the top pro ILC models have to be 45mp (8K) or higher. Why the Sony A7 had to move up to 33mp and the Nikon Z6 and Panasonic S5 will have to, as well. 

---------------------

Bonus: If you want to see how to turn a liability into an asset, take a close look at Apple's insanely brilliant Dynamic Island. Whoever came up with that little UX touch needs a promotion, stat. Instead of trying to hide the front camera notch, Apple has come up with a way to use the small blacked out portion of the screen to direct attention to notifications and background tasks. If any camera maker understood how to pull off such a trick in our viewfinders, it'd have the YouTube influencers gushing in ways they've never gushed before. 

Post Labor Day Labor

Years ago I used to write the following: "the Japanese companies don't seem to understand that the Europeans won't see product announcements made in August due to their vacation pattern, and folks in the US also don't get back to the grindstone until after Labor Day." (Labor Day is in the first week of September for all you foreigners not keeping up with US holidays.) 

I've advocated, over and over, that companies should make their product launches post Labor Day because of those two things. 

For the most part, such advice was largely ignored by the camera companies for decades.

This year, it appears that part shortages, pandemic-delayed schedules, and a host of other factors have conspired so that we have a log jam of announcements that started pouring out this week; post Labor Day. Not only will those launches get more press than July/August releases, they'll get more eyeballs seeing them. So congrats to the Japanese marketing teams for randomly getting it right for a change ;~).

Of course, doing launches on the same day as Apple's big yearly event means that a few camera and lens launches were competing with iPhone camera announcements of significance and loudly shouted out of the room. May the best competitor win. 

All this to say that my sites will be busy for the next couple of weeks catching up with all the announcements you may have already heard about, and a few you haven't. I'm a one man band, so it'll take me a bit to strap on all the instruments and start making the full amount of noise, uh music, that's expected. This site, in particular, might not be updating as often as I begin putting the new material on sansmirror.com (and probably zsystemuser.com, as I'm expecting at least lens announcements on the Nikon side soon). 

Now We Know

Official Canon statement: "Shenzhen Jueying Technology Co. Ltd. manufactures autofocus lenses for the Canon RF mount under the brand name "Viltrox". Canon believes that these products infringe their patent and design rights and has therefore requested the company to stop all activities that infringe Canon's intellectual property rights."

Official Tamron statement: "[the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3] is developed, manufactured and sold...under the license agreement with Sony Corporation...[and] under the license agreement with Nikon Corporation."

So, Big Red is threatening the third party lens makers with legal action, while Big Orange and Yellow are cooperating with third party lens makers. Of course, Tamron lenses in the Nikon Z-mount are US$200-300 more expensive than the same lens in the Sony FE mount, so the customer is still getting the shaft, but at least they can get the shaft ;~).

Remember, you're buying SYSTEMS cameras, so maybe you ought to pay attention to just how extensive that system is likely to get, and whether those options are coming from one or many companies. 

Sony did the right thing with their mirrorless efforts. They've been licensing the specifications for the E/FE mount since the beginning. Nikon appears to now be doing the same thing, as we already have confirmed licenses from Cosina (Voigtlander) and Tamron, and Nikon executives have demonstrated Viltrox lenses in the Z mount.

Put another way, Canon seems to be currently headed towards a closed, proprietary approach, while its camera competitors (including Fujifilm, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sigma, and Sony) are all taking a more open, expand-the-ecosystem approach. 

When a large, mature company locks its kimono shut, I read that as a sign of weakness. They're not sure that they can win by simply making better products. 

Canon's "no you can't do that" legal team threat is classic protectionism. Technically, reverse engineering a "patented" protocol using a clean room technique is legal throughout most of the world. But by threatening to tie the smaller company up in court and exhausting them via on-going legal costs, it's essentially a clear anti-competitive practice. I had this happen to one of my companies once. Only when the case got to the discovery process, the Giant Corporation found out that we Small Fry had dotted all our i's and crossed all our t's in terms of reverse engineering. Giant concluded they were going to lose the case, big time, which would have had a more profound impact on them than just paying us off to settle. 

Canon's sent out the cease and desist letters. It appears that the first two recipients have decided the cost of legal action isn't worth the possible sales profit. What we have happening now is what is known in legal parlance as the Chilling Effect.

The problem is that Canon's doing this at exactly the wrong time in camera history, and the Chilling Effect will be on RF mount camera sales. Talk about own goal. Most people buying cameras today already have cameras and know the photography industry pretty well; they have an expectation of lens choice. With virtually every photography Web site now writing about Canon's threat to third party lens makers, all the remaining potential buyers in the market are going to have to think about what that might mean to them. Will Canon give in and license the RF mount to Sigma and Tamron? Will Sigma and Tamron move forward without Canon's permission? Both of those companies make a ton of interesting lenses that Canon doesn't, increasing the buying options for a camera user. 

Sony FE mount has the head start. Both Sigma and Tamron have a substantial number of excellent and interesting lenses for the FE mount that aren't available elsewhere. Tamron has started working with Nikon in the Z mount, so it's likely that we'll see a steady stream of non-Nikkors that are interesting, as well. Canon RF mount? Sorry, mount not open to the public...

Yeah, that's going to work out well for Canon, isn't it? 


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