Sunday, November 25, 2018

Canon EOS R, Nikon Z and Sony FE: Quick Thoughts

Having hands on-used all three full-frame systems, some thoughts in no particular order:
  • Sony in general is picking up users from both Canon and Nikon camps, whereas the Nikon Z and EOS R systems are primarily only attracting users from their respective ecosystems. At first glance this would seem like Sony has the bets momentum of the three, but my personal feeling is that Sony is preliminary taking the less tightly attached. Canon users are generally in their system for the EF L-series lenses and for the known quantity of the the Canon colour rendition. Nikon users generally stay within the system for ergonomics, focus and exposure accuracy. 
  • That said, the Sony A7 III and A7r III have the best current autofocus systems of the field; the reason why its not swaying more users from Canon and Nikon camps is because the users from the latter are looking for DSLR-levels of phase detection AF performance. Mirrorless sensor-based PDAF systems have come a long way but still are not match for the the likes of the best dedicated subsystems seen in higher end DSLR's.
  • Nikon users are the unknown here: There is a fair amount of overlap between Canon and Sony users because of videography. It's very common to see EF lenses mounted on adapters to Sony bodies, but there seems to be a hard core contingent of Nikon users out there that are hoping that a second and future iteration of the Nikon Z-mount will give them what they are looking for in AF performance.
  • Nikon really missed the boat by not carrying over the familiar control layout of the D300/D500/D850 to the Z6 and Z7. They did a good job with the menu system, which had already migrated to a touch interface by the time of the consumer-level D5500, but the traditional left-hand / right hand division of labour is gone, or at least different on the Z-series.
  • Likewise, on the back panel with the Canon with the  M-Fn Bar.... well there's a lot going on with it, but it a way it feels like how the car manufacturers took took the traditional PRND automatic gearshift control and started to experiment with different control layouts with their transmissions.
  • Nikon and Canon are making a big deal out of the bigger mount diameters, but in actual fact the benefits are nothing new. Leica makes a big deal out of the quality of their lenses, but a lot of the sharpness comes from the design possibilities of having the lens exist pupil closer to the sensor plane. If you compare Leica M lenses versus DSLR lenses, the M-mount lenses start hitting their sweet spot around f/2.8, whereas the DSLR lenses in general need to be stopped down further to f/4 to enter their peak resolving-power range. This is also partly why Olympus m4/3 lenses give good results on that system; the overall size of the mount (and lens exit pupil) are fairly large relative to sensor area.
  • Speaking of which, this is the weak point in the cycle for Leica. Each subsequent M-series looks new and relevant at the time of their launch, but the Japanese companies are on quicker product cycles and will have move the game on within two years. You can't justify the price premium of a Leica M, and that became harder with each subsequent entry into full-frame mirrorless.
  • That said, what a Leica M does offer is the a desirable lens quality-to-size ratio. Even though it can't match the sensor resolution of the Sony A7r III, a Leica M10 with a Summilux 35mm f/1.4 is a lot less unwieldy to hold your hand.
  • The Nikon Z 35mm and 24-70mm lenses are fairly competent. The specs don't look exciting but the optical quality is better than the equivalent DSLR lenses. Nikon didn't even make a 24-70mm f/4 for their DSLR's, but the Z-mount 24-70 is prosumer competent. It's not a lens that you will brag about, but it is one that you'll keep and use
  • The Canon RF 28-70mm f/2, on the other hand, is an incredible statement lens. The bokeh qualify is similar to the feel from the EF 50mm f/1.2L or EF 85mm f/1.2L, consistent across the range with evenly rendered out of focus transitions. Generally speaking, the EF 24-70mm F2.8L is a high bar to beat for Canon DSLR's, users switching from that to the EOS R system and the 28-70mm won't be disappointed. It is a massively heavy lens though...
  • The Nikon system with lenses feels like a more ergonomic alternative to the Sony systems. The Canon EOS R system with the lenses announced at launch isn't small at all. The overall potential is there, but out of the three systems, it poses the weakest alternative to a traditional DSLR system in its current incarnation; it's not significantly smaller and the AF is not as reliable as the EOS 5D  Mark IV.  Is it a better overall system than the the EOS 6D Mark II? For the most part yes, but 6D users as a whole tend to have less stringent requirements than 5D users, so the only fair assessment is if the EOS R system is with the 5D Mark IV, even if Canon isn't positioning the camera as a direct replacement to that level of a DSLR.
  • Can confirm, the Nikon Z 6 video output is up there with the Sony, and has the potential for being a solid platform for Nikon to do video with into future generations. My take would be that it's not enough to convince a Panasonic GH5 user to switch to Nikon, but it is enough for a Nikon Z6 user to feel that they don't have to add a GH5 for video. 
  • If we account for the passage of time and inflation, the Sony A7 III is the Nikon D300 of our time. It's a well sorted general-purpose prosumer level camera that costs roughly the same in inflation-adjusted dollars as the ubiquitous Nikon D300 of 2007. That crown doesn't go to the D500 today; high-end APS-C is now a niche slice of the camera market, and affordable full frame is the new  high-end APS-C.
  • Even though Sony has the largest selection of lenses, there are some gaps in the line-up, like a missing mid-range 35mm f/2 (very popular in the Leica universe) or a 24mm prime (the latter being filled in by the Sigma ART 20mm E-Mount instead)
  • Sony has gotten it right with the Z-series battery. We might never see mirrorless cameras that can last a thousand shots per charge like a DSLR, but the A7 III an A7r III are up into the usable ballpark territory. As for the old NP-FW50 battery from the A7 II generation... Sony users really ought to have given them more grief for under-batterying that generation of camera, if not just from the cost to the consumer but also because of the environmental impact of producing cameras that tend to compel users to go through a notably larger number of batteries than other brands. 
  • None of these systems are particularly small. We remember film cameras being small because they were largely shot with prime lenses back in the day. But even switching to primes only doesn't save much on size and weight because the expectations of lens quality are so much higher. Generally speaking, the better quality a lens is, the more glass elements that are required to bend the light until it reaches the desired level of precision. A Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.8 from the film era has 6 elements; the Z-mount 50mm f/1.8 has twice that. 
Honestly, if you were to gift me any of the three systems for Christmas this year,m I would not be unhappy, they are all tremendously capable. If the photo community seems like they are picking apart every little thing about these camera launches this year just remember one thing; cameras have been good.... damn good.... for a number of years now. What we are now talking about is which view is best from the summit, but the majority of the mountain has already been scaled.