The Photokina Prognosis

(commentary)

I’ll be off line in August when most of the pre-Photokina announcements start flooding in. If you want to help support this site and pre-order anything that gets announced in August, just use one of the B&H links on this site and then go to the item you want to pre-order. Thanks in advance for your support; it helps keep this site running. 

So what’s likely to show up? Let’s take it category by category. But be forewarned, these are predictions, not certainties.

DSLRs
The rumored Canon 7DMarkII should appear soon. There’s been lots of talk about a radical sensor change, but I think that’s likely more dual-pixel focus ability, only better integrated into the calculation engines this time. In other words, I expect the sensor change is mostly about focus performance, especially with video and Live View. 

Canon made a big deal earlier this year about bringing more lenses to market. I don’t expect the flood to show up at Photokina, but rather in Jan/Feb at PMA/CES/CP+. That said, I’m expecting at least a zoom or two at Photokina. 

The bigger question is whether the mythical Nikon D9300 (or predictable D7300) appears in August/September. Word I hear is that Nikon is a bit behind on its releases. It was originally supposed to be D810 in June, Coolpix 1” in July, DX DSLR in August (see Canon ;~). For Nikon’s sake, whatever they put out next in DX had better be good. Not just another D3xxx or D5xxx or even D7xxx type of iteration, but something more tangible that re-asserts their authority at the top end of crop sensor cameras. I know they’ve worked on this product, it just seems to have the slowest gestation of anything Nikon’s done in the digital age. Still, I think it has to be announced if Canon announces the 7DMarkII as expected. If not announce/ship, at least teased behind glass in what looks like a finished form.

Lens wise, Nikon has just gotten completely unpredictable. So many designs have been patented and considered, but so few have actually gotten the go ahead. On my Patents Predict page there are 23 lenses that went into design but haven’t come out in production.  Of those 23, the ones I’ve heard the most about are: 16-85mm f/4 DX and 300mm f/4 refresh. 

Then again, when I look at that list, most of them aren’t really lenses that the Nikon faithful would get all that excited about. Virtually nothing for the serious DX user (other than the 16-85mm remake and a couple of wide angle primes, one at the wrong focal length (28mm equivalent). 

So, the question is, do any new lenses show up at Photokina? I’ll bet yes, one. If the D9300 type of camera makes it, then I’ll bet two, with the 16-85mm f/4 being the second one. Releasing such a camera without a serious “kit” lens would be a mistake, I think. 

How about Pentax and Sony? I’m not hearing anything about a new Pentax DSLR to be released. Indeed, the recent K-3 Prestige Edition seems to be a good indicator that there’s no real camera being readied soon.

Sony should have a new Alpha lens, though I doubt we’ll see a new DSLR from them at the show. We’ll see more Alpha lenses when the A99II is announced later in the fall. Why no Photokina launch for the full frame DSLR? Because I think they have their hands full with other things, and they’re in the launch-a-month club along with Nikon, so they’ll keep something big for October launch action. I’m thinking that will be the A99II. 

Sigma is likely to have the next Art lens at the show, plus I think they’ll be showing video-enabled versions of some of their lenses (t/stops, gears, etc.). I also think we’ll be seeing a new telephoto zoom out of them, as they’re slowly getting outclassed by others now (e.g. the new Nikkor 80-400mm just blows the focus ring off the Sigmas, and the Tamron 200-500mm has pushed into Bigma country).  

So DSLR-wise, not a lot. Given the state of DSLR sales, that’s probably to be expected. Canon and Nikon really need to protect their cash cows with another big release or two (e.g. 5DMarkIV, D5), but they’ll be spread out now: first to cut costs, second to make sure what they do is good enough to hold court. Any product that continues to have decent sales will get incremental updates (the dreaded “10” in the Nikon world), others will just be let to die off.


Mirrorless
Even though mirrorless is one of the three niches where the camera makers expect to see growth, it’s a relatively small playing field with a lot of players. That means a lot of action, but a lot of confusion for customers. In alphabetical order:

Canon will probably stay out of Photokina with new mirrorless. I expect them to be quiet right up to the point where they have to shift Kiss/Rebel to mirrorless. 

Fujifilm will likely show off a new XPro-2. They need to get to 24mp sensors, they need to clean up a lot of things on the XPro, which is now looking a bit old and underpowered in the mirrorless world. It’ll get a newer version of the hybrid finder, the X-T1 focus, and a general detailing around the board (maybe even weatherproofing). We certainly will see prototypes of the pair of f/2.8 lenses, though I doubt we’ll hear about ship dates for either yet. 

Leica just shot their wad with the T announcements, but I fully expect we’ll hear about new lenses for the camera. 

Nikon has done its Nikon 1 updates for the year. It’s possible that we’ll see another CX lens pre-announced, but I strongly doubt it. Someone needs to seriously clean up and re-rationalize the Nikon 1 offerings. Then they have to figure out how to market them well. Too many problems to try doing small mid-course corrections at this point. So they’ll play up the V3 and 70-300mm CX lens, basically. One possible addition: another AW lens, probably the 10-100mm. Outside shot: AW2. 

Olympus is eating a bit of crow. They just haven’t found a way to sell more than 500k or so m4/3 cameras a year, which means they’re designing faster than they can sell. They don’t need another E-M camera, as they’re already having to deeply discount them just to keep them moving off shelves at any measurable rate. Meanwhile, they’ve delayed and delayed their Pen updates, mainly because they don’t sell many Pens any more. We should, however, finally get the E-PL7. They have to release it some time, since they designed it, got it ready for manufacturing, and the E-M10 isn’t exactly gobbling up all their production ability and parts supply. So a pre-Photokina announcement it is. Meanwhile, I believe they’ll come up with a bling edition E-M1 to generate some additional interest in it. We should, however, see a number of serious lenses from Olympus, at least in prototype form. I suspect we’ll see them all: 7-14mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8, and the 300mm f/4. Shipping is another story though. 

Panasonic has retrenched around the GM1 and GH4, and taken back some of their lens road map, too. I’m not expected a lot from them. Personally, I’d hope they fix a few things and create a GM2. I like the GM1, but it could use a little engineering love to make it even better. Given Panasonic’s video focus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the existing cameras (GM1, GX7) get a video-oriented update. 

Pentax is a wild card. I’d like to think that someone at Ricoh/Pentax has looked around and decided that they have no mainstream presence outside of Japan any more, and that their mirrorless options basically aren’t visible outside of Japan. You’d also think they’d look at their lenses and see all those pancakes, and look at their competitors and see that they’re mostly doing DSLR-like iterations now. Funny thing, they’ve had all the pieces (including an EVF) for some time, they just haven’t put them together usefully. I think we’ll learn at this year’s Photokina exactly what Ricoh’s ambition in cameras really is. New mirrorless system that’s competitive: they’re in it to win it. Mild iterations of things they’ve been doing: it’s a hobby and will always be a hobby. I’m betting hobby and that they just refresh the Q with yet another number.

Samsung may use Photokina to launch their high end mirrorless camera. Are you ready for 28mp crop sensor? ;~) The two f/2.8 zooms ought to be showing up any day now, as well. For most everything else, I suspect that we won’t see them until CES, which is more up Samsung’s alley as a launch event.

Sony will scramble to bring the FE lenses to Photokina. It’s the most serious problem with the A7 series cameras, after all. The FE wide angle zoom is a necessity to launch at Photokina, but a couple more primes, a macro, and something else telephoto are also strong needs. I’m betting we’ll see—at least in prototype form—all of those. For the E series, it’ll mostly be the A5100, I think. A6000 focus down to the less expensive sibling.

We’re likely to see a lot of action in mirrorless lenses from third parties at the show, as they try to take advantage of gaps in the camera companies’ offerings. Will Schneider finally show up with those m4/3 lenses? Maybe. Zeiss will certainly be showing up in force with new offerings, as will the Asian optical companies.


Compacts
Low end compacts? Toast. Total toast. Find a landfill if you’re still making them. Not even the emerging markets want them now. But two areas in compacts seem to be having some success: (1) big sensor big price; and (2) small sensor big lens. We’re going to see a ton of these things at Photokina, because this is the one pivot in cameras that everyone decided that would make them some money. I’m betting that’s short-lived, as the demand for #2 is limited, and the price makes #1 not exactly a big sales play.

Everyone’s probably heard about the Sony RX2 (or whatever they call a curved sensor, fixed lens, full frame followup to the RX1). Everyone is guessing that the Fujifilm X100s will become 200 (24mp, faster focus). Nikon hasn’t exactly kept the rumors of 1” Coolpix from spreading, and they have big time RX10 and RX100 envy. Panasonic will show up with probably another 1” one now that they’ve shown they’re using that sensor, and this one will be more the RX100 competitor than the RX10 competitor (i.e. pocketable). Leica will follow into 1” as well because all that really requires is putting the Leica logo on instead of the Panasonic one, but I also think we might see an APS compact update, too (e.g. X3). 

The wild cards in compacts are Canon, Olympus, Pentax, and Samsung. And Nikon. Wait, what? 

I keep hearing about a Coolpix A followup. Yes, I wrote that. I’m betting that the “B” will be full frame and produced at Sendai. Yes, this is RX1 envy. But see, that takes care of the A’s problem (it was too high priced ;~). If you could just do a B and keep it at or under Sony’s price, then you’l be the good guy, not the bad guy (e.g. the A was more expensive than the Ricoh GR). Note to Nikon if you’re considering this: stop using flimsy battery compartment doors and latches and other parts. Sony’s cleaning your clock in terms of making small, high-build quality compacts. 

What about Canon? I expect them to be on the sidelines this Photokina with compacts, other than maybe a long zoom, small sensor one (actually, just after I wrote this, they announced two ;~). Olympus? They should make a pocketable m4/3 compact, but I’ll bet they don’t. Remember the XA, Olympus? I do. So should Olympus. Stick an m4/3 sensor in one! Bring it up to date. Voila: pocket wonder. Or is Olympus afraid of competing with the Panasonic GM1 now? 

Pentax, well, see what I wrote above. Moreover, they’ve indicated they want to mostly get out of the compact market. Not expecting anything there. 

Finally, Samsung? The NX mini Smart seems like their “compact” camera. So other than more Android, eh, excuse me, Tizen, experiments with longer lenses, I don’t expect anything else there. 


Other
Although Photokina isn’t exactly the big video show (NAB is), I suspect we’ll see some action on the video side, partly because it won’t be hidden by lots of still camera announcements and all the reporters will be looking for something to write about ;~). We’ll also see a lot of trumpeting of recent cameras and their video abilities, including the Panasonic RX10 clone and the Nikon D810. Video, video, video. The still camera companies seem to think that’s driving camera sales, but I’m not really seeing the use pattern that supports that. 


Timing
Nikon tends to not do major announcements prior to their financial disclosures (they sometimes do Coolpix announcements a day or two before). The announce first quarter financials on August 7th, so I’m expecting that Nikon’s announcements will be in the following two weeks (e.g. August 12-14, or August 19-21). It’s possible that if they feel they have a really strong offering, they’ll push the announce back right up against Photokina (August 26-28, or September 2-4).

Which brings me to another point: Photokina announcements are lot like watching a pride of lions eating or Hollywood blockbuster films picking release weekends. It’s a giant scramble to find your own space. If you’ve got something small, you try to announce it early, as Canon did with their new Powershots. That’s because you want a clean launch where every news source picks it up because there’s nothing else launching that day. Launch a small thing on a day where big things get announced, and you won’t see the same level of coverage. 

So what are the “big” announcements this Photokina. So far the Canon 7DMarkII and the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X200 would look like the biggest of the bunch we know about. Those announcements are going to try to take prime position in the two weeks prior to Photokina, I think. 

So watch the order of announcements in August. The earlier, the less confident the company is in the product being able to bully the other announcements. 

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