Friday, March 11, 2011

The Future of Mirrorless Cameras

Quite a few very influential people are claiming that mirrorless cameras will take over the mid-range completely within the next five years. SLR cameras will be reduced to a niche, and an entirely new age of cameras and lenses will emerge. I doubt this. What's more, I doubt it for entirely market reasons, not technological.

While people enjoy the small size of mirrorless cameras, the majority of mid-range camera purchases ($500-$1500) are made by men. Men like gadgets, and men also like to pose. The NEX'es and 4/3s'es of the world will never have the pro cachet of SLR cameras. And since neither Nikon nor Canon will threaten their huge installed base of lenses, their pro cameras are going to be SLR's for some time. That halo effect means that the mid-range will have a significant amount of SLR sales happening for the foreseeable future.

That said, I think that people are idiots for doing it. We should all be buying into the new systems. The more we do that, the more the market will experience upheaval, and the greater the progress. I've cast my lot, at least for the time being, with 4/3's, but any of the other systems could lure me away easily.

I've gone in with 4/3's because lenses are more important than cameras, and high-quality lenses will always be smaller and cheaper on the smaller sensor than they will on the APS-C sensors of Samsung and Sony. Still, Samsony has an inherent advantage that will always exist with every generation of cameras, so I want to see some serious product definition and refinement out of Olympus and Panasonic.

Neither company has effectively delivered a well-defined array of cameras. All of their cameras seemingly offer the same things for a wild array of prices and with obtuse alpha-numeric names. Olympus, Panny, here's some advice.

Have ONE camera under $400. Make sure it's branded as the discount version. Different name, different style, different everything. Have your standard camera, which is kind of the flagship camera. It's the philosophical representation of your models: good cameras, low price, small size. And then have one model in the $1,000 range. Don't go higher than $1,500. I don't care what your market research says. NO ONE WILL BUY IT. That's it. Three cameras for each generation. It seems easy, but instead we have this bewildering array of cameras.

Next, focus on fast, high-quality zooms. People in this price range are going to prefer zooms. You can cater to the enthusiasts with quality primes later, for now, zoom. The fact that the Olympus 12-60mm isn't already available in m4/3's is insane. Whatever you guys do, do it quickly. Sony and Samsung will market the hell out of their larger sensors, which has you at a perpetual and inescapable disadvantage. You must push out more lenses, focus your model line, and then cater to demographic tastes. For example, sell your entry-level camera in a multitude of colors. Sell a camera package specifically marketed as a party shooter with the 20mm 1.7 lens.

But not before you cut the fat in your product lines and grind our some better zoom lenses.

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