The Mirrorless Interchangeable lens sector of the camera market is without doubt the most dynamic, the most innovative and the most changeable. 2014 saw a lot of new products (Thanks to Photokina) but will 2015 be just as interesting or is this a year for consolidation?
The big players here are Sony, Fuji and the m4/3 dynamic duo, Panasonic and Olympus, They each deserve their own article, and I was intending to write four concluding with Sony. However in the light of the release of the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom and some other lenses, I've decided to add another general piece that doesn't deal with specific brands, but reflects on the statement in the title.
Hang on a minute, I thought mirrorless was supposed to be different?
Anyone else somewhat disconcerted by the size, weight and price of some recent mirrorless interchangeable lens releases? The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 zoom, the two Fuji f/2.8 zooms and the Sony 70-200mm f/4 are all BIG lenses. The argument goes that these are smaller than their DSLR equivalents and that may be so (though not by much), but isn't this missing the point? Surely I'm not alone in being under the impression that this wasn't supposed to be the point of mirrorless interchangeable camera / lens systems. All the mirrorless manufacturers were at great pains to point out the small footprint of what we were being offered not so long ago, but now this is what we get.
Big, heavy (expensive) 'macho man' 'big boy' telephoto lenses. Isn't that the preserve of the DSLR systems we are all supposedly trying to escape? Well for me the answer to that is yes. Because even though these are lighter and smaller and cheaper (though once again I would point out that this is often marginal) than the Nikon and Canon alternatives, they are still what I've been going out of my way to avoid ever since I bought that Panasonic G1. And again, I can't speak for anybody else, but this is most definitely NOT what I want. Though I am happy to concede that for some it is exactly what they DO want.
In fact, this might be the answer to where mirrorless interchangeable goes in 2015. It just gets bigger. And for me persoanlly, that is a shame and it's also, as far as I'm concerned, just as much a wrong direction as the over miniaturisation of a few years ago. It's almost as if the mirrorless interchangeable lens manufacturers are trying to prove that they've got as much testosterone as Nikon and Canon and that size really does matter after all.
Yesterday I went out with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 + Panasonic 15mm f/1.7, Olympus 25mm f/1.8 and 75mm f/1.8 lenses (my mirrorless moratorium is over). It all fitted into my small Olympus retro bag and I came back with some great pictures. Three small, light fast primes on a small light body, which for me is the reason I got into this 'alternative' camera gear in the first place. Now I may be unusual, in that I really don't want anyone to take any notice of me when I'm out photographing. I want to be as anonymous as possible and if passers by think I'm just a 'happy snapper' then that's fine. But how that's supposed to happen with the three monsters pictured above is beyond me. And I do often write about 'Pro' mirrorless, but that doesn't mean that I want everything to get bigger and heavier, because that isn't (or shouldn't be) what 'Pro' is all about. For example I like a battery grip as much as the next photographer, but I use them when I need them and like yesterday when I walked a long way, I leave them at home. I often want light, small and inconspicuous and that's where I thought mirrorless was supposed to offer me a high quality option that didn't require going to the gym to work on my bench pressing.
Now I'm not saying that this 'upsized' mirrorless interchangeable gear isn't high quality, it is, and neither am I saying that there aren't still the small(er) light(er) alternatives, there are, but this seems to be moving from an option to a trend. When mirrorless first arrived, much of it was based on rangefinder design, now small film SLR's seem to be the inspiration. And yes the cameras are still pretty small. But the lenses seem to be getting bigger. Yes, some of these are fast f/2.8 zoom lenses and in the case of Sony there is a 'full-frame' sensor to accommodate, but as the picture below from an article about the Fuji zoom on Luminous Landscape shows there aren't as many size and weight savings compared to DSLR systems any more.
These days, there are also some small DSLR's around, so it's perfectly possible to carry around a bag of mirrorless interchangeable lens gear that is heavier and larger than a bag of DSLR gear. And the companies who are releasing this gear must think that there is a market for it, or else they wouldn't do it. I suppose that many DSLR users may be tempted by less weight, less bulk and more bang for their buck, but at the top end of mirrorless interchangeable, this is less of a significant difference than it used to be.
It has to be seen whether this is going to make the mirrorless encroachment into DSLR sales faster or stop it dead in it's tracks. Certainly on the photographic internet there seems to be a split in opinion. Some embrace this move towards a 'chunkier' mirrorless, some don't. But whatever the result of this in terms of sales, one thing is for sure. While these companies are devoting their energies and R & D towards this upsizing, the aren't coming up with the smaller lighter options we are used to seeing.
Now, am I exaggerating this? We do of course have the LX100 or GM5 from Panasonic and Sony seem to still be offering their rebranded NEX options. (Though Fuji stuff does seem to be getting bigger across the board) But for how much longer will this continue? Will customers flock to the new larger footprint gear or will we see more of the 'Sod this, I'm using my phone' attitude? Now I have no answer to this, but as time moves on the differences between DSLR and mirrorless seem to be getting smaller. As I say, currently there are still plenty of alternatives for those of us (and yes that does include me) who do want mirrorless interchangeable to be easier to carry for long distances and less conspicuous, but these alternatives seem to be being matched by the DSLRisation of the lens ranges in particular. And as I say, this may be just what many want and there is no denying that there is enthusiasm for this 'upsizing' on the photographic internet.
It's nice to have choice. And currently mirrorless interchangeable does still offer the best choice. Because it's still perfectly possible to put together a system that matches our requirements in terms of size and weight. As yet I still have plenty of alternatives to keep me happy and interested in what mirrorless interchangeable has to offer. But there is no doubt that mirrorless is not what it was. Now some will consider that a good thing, some will feel things are moving in a direction they don't want and while there are plenty of alternatives and options we can all be happy and catered for. But one thing is for sure, many of the assumptions about DSLR and / or Mirrorless will have to be revised somewhat as neither option conforms to it's stereotype any more. And if there is one really good thing to come out of all this, then it's that.