Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Photokina 2010, Old Ideas vs. New Ideas

    Photokina 2010, and the week leading up to it, has been an interesting time for people who are interested in cameras. During this period of time we have started to see the direction the camera manufactures are heading. In the case of big names like Nikon and Canon, we see that they have no interest in changing what is working for them right now. That can be clearly seen in the release of the Canon G12 and Nikon P7000, which show that neither company has a mirrorless camera ready or that they just aren't interested in making them yet. Maybe it is just a sign of neither want to let go of the past, which has been tied to the traditional SLR system for so long.

    I have read a few other photographer's blogs, people who use Nikon or Canon DSLRs, and they seem to be frustrated by the fact that neither of those manufactures have released a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (EVIL) or even a large (Micro 4/3 or APS-C) sensor compact camera. I can understand that frustration after seeing the Fujifilm X100, the concept of a large sensor compact from Olympus, and of course the Sony NEX series of cameras, along with the Samsungs NX100. Nikon and Canon's choice not to even display a concept of such a camera has left some people wondering if they will ever release such a camera. I can understand the hesitation of Nikon and Canon, because sales of DSLR and traditional point and shoot cameras are still strong right now. That cannot last much longer though, considering the smaller, lighter cameras that the competition is laying out before consumers.

    The only reason that I can see for Nikon and Canon delaying the making of interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras, is lens mounts. Both companies are heavily invested in the development of lenses for their traditional lens mounts, more so in the case of Nikon, which has used the same mount for just over 50 years. For Nikon it would be a huge step to develop something that does not revolve around the "F Mount" system, which could be why we haven't seen an EVIL camera from them. There have been rumors of "Q", whether that could be the name of the new mount or just the concept name for a mirrorless camera is unknown, but those rumors seem to be going nowhere fast. For Canon the current EF mount is only about 20 years old, but still would be hard to break away from. If Canon and Nikon were to make new mounts for such cameras, it would force them to make some shifts in what cameras they make. Their DSLR lineups would surely have to change, and entry level models could fall to the wayside like the Olympus E-620 has to the likes of the E-P1, E-P2 and E-PL1.

    In any case, Photokina this year has shown onlookers that the traditional big players in the camera manufacturing business have no interest in changing, which is odd. If you think about it, it was those same big players that were among the first to dive into the digital market. Partly because of a strong user base, but also because they could see the direction the market was heading. The digital SLR system has proven to be a big cash cow for them, in the higher end segment of the camera market. Partly because people are more likely to upgrade cameras often in the digital world, than they were in the film world where a new camera didn't matter nearly as much.

    So the question is, will Canon and Nikon come out with a mirrorless camera in the next year? Or will they resign their position at the top of the market for compact cameras and entry level DSLR/EVIL cameras to the big electronics makers such as Sony, Panasonic and Samsung? Of course other traditional camera companies like Pentax and Olympus are still in the game, with the latter clearly willing to dive into the mirrorless arena as one of the leading contenders. Olympus's biggest problem is brand recognition in contrast to house hold names like Sony, Panasonic and Samsung. Pentax like Canon and Nikon seems stuck in the traditional SLR past, although it has shown signs of expanding its market with the release of a medium format camera earlier this year. The problem is, medium format is just another small segment in the camera market, the price of said cameras doesn't exactly have mass appeal.

    It would be sad to see Nikon and Canon's camera departments fall into the same struggles as Pentax, but short of a major shift in their line of thinking in the next few years, that may be inevitable.