The camera market may be 84% off its peak, a horrendous fall, and that even pre-COVID, but that doesn’t stop the release of new gear. In this instance, 3 new camera bodies in just a few weeks, each of which is significant in its own way. Meet the Canon R5, the Leica M10R, and the Sony A7 SIII. 3 upmarket, pricy, full-frame cameras. Clones, you might think? Hardly. Then that means differentiation, innovation even? Hardly either … 🙁
Noblesse oblige, the Leica M10R first. The M system was in a way the Asterix of high-end cameras. The whole world has adopted high resolution. The whole world? No, because Leica holds out and all its bodies remain below 30Mp. Then comes the Q2, at 40Mp+, but that camera is a bit of an outlier within Leica. Then the SL becomes the SL2, again at 40Mp+, possibly with the same sensor as the Q2. Then only the M is left in low-res land. And now it is over, with the M10R at 40Mp. Possibly (and unexpectedly, even strangely) not the same sensor as the Q2 and SL2. Leica are saying that the increase in resolution comes at no cost in noise or DR, indicating actual progress, which is good. It also offers some others goodies over its predecessor, like the ability to shoot directly colour or B&W, or a touch screen. Naysayers are hinting at harder focusing through the rangefinder with the increased resolution, and deploring the lack of IBIS. Price is of the same order as the M10 and M 10P. Interestingly, it remains entirely without a video mode. Maybe the last such holdout. Until, who knows, a M10 V for video? And then an M10VS for video and stablized ? 🙂
On July 28th, Sony introduce the A7S III. The exact opposite to the M10R. No noblesse with the Sony, but a huge list of features and performance numbers. And one target: video. Which is perfectly compatible with -ahem!- low resolution, even for a high-end camera. Because a 12Mp camera will easily give you uncropped FF 4K images. And 6K and 8K, while they exist, aren’t much of a commercial reality just yet. The A7S III will bring all the benefits of the III and IV A7 iterations to the “S” range, meaning larger battery, larger body, better this and better that, including the world’s highest-definition EVF, not a minor detail for a camera often used in very low-light envirnoments thanks to its very low inherent noise. In many ways, the absolute opposite, both from the DNA and spec sheet p.o.v. of the M10R.
The third un-amigo is the Canon R5. Again a completely different approach. Because, whereas the Sony and the Leica both eschew large slices of the high-end market in order to serve their designated segment supremely well, the Canon R5 aims to be all things to all people. High resolution at 45Mp (not the touted and rumoured humongous 80Mp, though), 8K video (not quite uncropped, and not unlimited recording time, despite the “rumours” with a 1,05 crop factor and a 20mn time limit for cooling purposes), fast action up to 20 fps, autofocus that includes eye-AF including for birds in flight, IBIS up to 8 stops (wow!), a whole laundry-list of world-beating specs. Its nearest and most obvious competitor: the Sony A7R IV, which retains its resolution crown at 61Mp. The Canon is obviously designed to kill, so to speak, all birds with one stone. Which of course raises the question of it being -or not- a Jack of all trades but master of none.
Overall, are these really 3 new bodies? Very emphatically no.
Before the Leica M10R, there was the M 10. Same body, different sensor, different bits and bobs. But I very much doubt that whoever was ” not into” a Leica rangefinder at the previous M stage(s) would be decisively swayed by the fact that, at last, the M went the way of high resolution. Keeping the M customer base happy, quite possibly. But a tool to acquire a newer, younger segment? Hardly.
Before the A7 S III there was the S II. The S III is the same with a new sensor, lots of bits from the existing Sony parts bin, and maybe a few novel ones, like the EVF. Enough to Keep the existing customer base happy? Quite possibly, even probably. Enough to sway an increased flow of new customers to Sony ? I can’t see that in any significant way.
Before the Canon R5 (and they also released a R6 20Mp body), there was the R. The R5 is just an R with upgraded bits and bobs. Enough to keep the Canon customer base happy, meaning keeping them from defecting to Sony, or a bit less so, to Nikon? Very probably. Enough to sway non-Canon customers to the brand? Maybe, but not solely because of the specs, but because Canon are a marketing juggernaut, and because there are a number of users of declining brands who may be wanting to switch to a more progressive one.
All this doesn’t mean that these are good or bad cameras. I haven’t used them, but, frankly have there been any bad high-end cameras released of late by major brands? No, not one. Why? Because cameras today are more like computers than ever. Not only because they are digital signal processors with screens and power supplies. But also because, like computers and other electronic gizmos, they are basically garden-variety (Leica excluded, but that comes at a price) assemblies of sub-components. That tells us that, as long as matters remain that way, innovation will not come from camera body manufacturers but from component makers… Which suggests an in-built advantage for Sony and Canon, who make their sensors, and for the large-volume players, who can afford to have custom, efficient and powerful ASICS in their designs, as opposed to buying off-the-shelf components and having to make do with them.
So why would Canon, Sony and Leica spend money developping, tooling and lauching new models that will not bring them any extra business, but, essentially defend what they already have?
Because, in a shrinking market, only the strongest survive. Those 3 specialised models will put pressure on the competition. On Panasonic in the video segment, on Sony, who didn’t have any competition with the A7 R IV, on Panasonic who’d made some inroads with they S1R, on Nikon who have neither video-oriented cameras, nor resolution fiends, or a really high-end mirrorless. Leica at their end of the market, needed to do something to protect their M turf from lower-priced (relatively speaking, lower than before) MF cameras from Fuji and Hasselblad. The 3 un-amigos like their competition, are playing musical chairs, and they have just made it that much harder for the weaker ones to grab a chair fast enough…
Some of you may ask: what does that have to do with the clients? With making better images? Well, the images might well be better, should and will no doubt be, in some way, numbers-driven way. But is that what this ought to be about? My answer is harsh, brutal even. If manufacturers cared all that much about clients, their photo experience, and IQ, said clients wouldn’t be sitting on their hands or defecting to smartphones in droves.
Last minute: like les 3 Mousquetaires (the 3 musketeers), the 3 un-amigos are actually 4. Nikon have just announced an entry-level FF mirrorless, the Z5. Z for zero innovation (which doesn’t mean they aren’t fine cameras, they are, but innovation is something else altogether). Again, it is all about recycling existing bits from the parts bin and quelling any exodus from the customer base. And the price, 1399$, isn’t even that agressive compared with the Canon E0S Rp, which means there is some built-in wiggle room for discounts. Not what one would expect if the company was convinced it had a world-beater in hand. But, as said, very probably a fine image-maker. Except that, does it really matter all that much? And, 4 new models in that short a time span in a hugely down market. No, really?
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