A number of high-end camera bodies -and I mean high!- have been announced in recent weeks, which raises questions as to who, if anyone, should/could get any one of them, and what this says about the state of the industry and its players. Enter the Leica SL2, the Fuji GFX100S, the Canon R5 and the Sony Alpha One.
The first impression with these new cameras has to do with their price. For the last 12 years, the price of a high-end full-frame camera was sort of stuck at 3000$/€, a price point intiated by the landmark Canon 5D. 3 outliers in the FF space were the pro-sports-and-widlife-only Canon 1D and Nikon 1-digits, and the wealthy-only Leica M, clocking in at essentially double that. And MF was sort of double that again.
Now, the lay of the land has changed. The price for high-end is essentially between 5K et 6K ($/€, not video resolution). But that is where the similarities end. In effect, we can see 3 diverging trends, but all pointing to the same underlying fact.
In this camp, one finds the Canon R5. It attempts to be all things to all people. A very high performance stills camera as well as a video King of the Hill (the only photo camera to to 8K video when it was released). Oh, and a very high frame rate for sports, live and wildlife. Plus, it is not super expensive, at least compared to the others. It is, in fact, the least expensive camera in this very select group. Plus, Canon have been releasing high-end RF-mount lenses at a good clip, some of them with unique specifications, like f:2.0 zoom lenses.
Chasing smaller segments
For once, Sony are doing the exact opposite: instead of one-camera does it all, Sony segments the camera market in ever thinner slices.
You want a video king? The Sony A7SIII, which will do everything the R5 does, except 8K and overheat. But it has a low-resolution sensor, which is not an issue for video, and which gives it an inherent low-light, high-ISO advantage.
However, still photographers may feel its 12Mp sensor is so Canon 5D, a dinosaur by today’s standards. So, if it is an 8K camera a photographer wants, plus gorgeous stills, no way Sony is going to let him or her defect to Canon. Enter the Sony Alpha 1. Very simply, Sony threw the kitchen sink at the spec sheet. 50Mp, 30fps (yes, 30!), 8K without overheating (so they say, needs testing), great electronic shutter, without blackout, flicker or rolling shutter (same). Plus super-duper AF. Plus super fast data readout, card slots, electronic connection to the rest of the world, plus weather protection, plus… you get it.
Two minor issues. One, the price, around 7000$/€ (ouch!). Two, what is the point of buying the Alpha 9, Sony’s previous flagship, which does less of everything for not much less money…. Talk about hypersegmentation.
It does look like Sony are going after the Canon’s R5 bragging rights. But that would be childish, and Japanese multinationals know better than that, right? One could also say, such is the laundry list of features, that the Sony belongs to the previous category, in which a camera does it all. But then, the price….. Iit does look like a camera poised at pro users for sports, entertainment and wildlife, who previously bought, for the same sort of money, the top-of-the-line Canikon DSLR boat anchors. And that segment is one that the smartphones aren’t about to take over…:-)
Lowering the price
Enter the Fuji GFX 100S. It is a slimmed-down version of the original GFX100, but with the same innards, some hardware downgrades (EVF, for example) and some software upgrades. Gone are the vertical grip and the second battery. Gone too is a good chunk of the price. 4000$ less… So, while it is presented as a new model, it is mostly a price repositioning (read reduction), similar to what Hasselblad did when replacing the X1D with the similar X1D II. That said, it boasts a unique 100Mp stabilized sensor, so, for those who covet such behemoths, this is all to the good!
Who would have expected a Leica camera in this category? Clearly, writing this will not make me any friends in Wetzlar. With the SL2, Leica completes the introduction of high resolution to all its top-end lineup. It began with the Leica Q2, then the M10 R, the medium format S, and the SL2, high resolution version of the SL.
The key factor, though is that the price difference built in by Leica for the difference in resolution is less than expected, hence my opinion that, like Fuji, and Hassy before them, there is a repositioning (lowering) of the price point. I mean, you can buy a Leica SL2 body for less than a Sony Alpha 1 or a Fuji GX 100…. how un-natural is that?
In concusion: new products in a market where not much is new…
To be fair, the Fuji GFX100S and Leica SL2 could/should also be classified as cameras-that-do-it-all, like the Canon and the Sony. As can also the Sony A7R IV and the Hasselblad XD1 II. There is not one area where each of these cameras is less than very good indeed. And each can avail itself of high quality glass to match their own performance. Different flavours appealing to different tastes, but all of superlative performance.
And therein lies the problem. What does this tell us? That all products and companies are pretty much lifting oil from the same field. Digging more holes isn’t going to get more oil out of the ground, it only shifts who gets it and ups the extraction costs.
So, yes, each of these cameras is different, but differently excellent. One might have preferences -I do-, but I can’t imagine a photographer really happy with one of them and really not clicking with another, or making beautiful images with one but not with another. And video performance the same.
This is an indication that the technology and the market are mature. Until something really new comes up, and we know that new technology and capabilities are available, just the main players aren’t inclined to put them to good use, it will only be more wells out of an existing, limited field. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t avail yourself of one of these new babies, they are sizzling hot!
PS: this post begs one question. Where are Nikon? Where, indeed?
PPS: you might notice that the general tone of these pictures is dark. Official reason is that I am now again going walkabout at dawn with my friend Dallas. Yay! But the real reason could be the general mood of doom and gloom. Or the state of the camera market, despite the razzmatazz of the new and glitzy toys…
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