Who are they for?
Over the last couple of years I’ve watched the arrival of ever more Mirrorless Full Frame cameras. Pretty much all the major manufacturers offer at least one full frame mirrorless camera. Notable exceptions are Fuji and Olympus. Olympus sadly may no longer be the brand it once was due to fiscal issues and the sale of the digital imaging arm of the company.
Perhaps one of the bigger surprises ( to me at least ) was the arrival of the Panasonic S1. I really hadn’t thought that Panasonic would move into the larger format given that they had, until recently, said that they were committed to the Micro four thirds format. There are other players in the market but they tend to be highly niche and very expensive and we wont include them in this instance.
So why the push to full frame? The single biggest reason appears to be pressure from the video section of the market. DSLR users who needed Full Frame cameras had top quality Nikon or Canon cameras to choose from. Both brands support a very large range of excellent quality lenses, and although larger and more expensive than the APSC brethren, there was a solid range of APSC cameras and lenses that were the recipients of some very nice technological advances. Auto focus for example was improved through the whole system , in part driven by the need for Pro level photographers to have accurate , fast & reliable AF. The same holds true for improved ISO performance and shutter speeds. All of this technology rolled down to the smaller APSC line of cameras benefiting the more budget challenged of us. All in all these things proceeded in a fairly logical progression.
The arrival of mirrorless cameras sees the next stage of camera development. Eventually I can see this progress to a point where manufactures will perhaps reduce the number of DSLR’s that they produce. Nothing is certain however as Canon has shown with its seeming lack of interest in developing its EOS-M line. This is reminiscent of Nikon’s V series of cameras being abandoned. Its hard to know what direction, if any, Canon is going to take with its APSC sensored mirrorless cameras. At this point I’m pretty well convinced that they will drop the line in favour of an APSC RF mount camera, as has been touted on several Camera Rumour sites.
It is likely however the the DSLR will live on for some time to come. Pentax for example has stated that they are focused on the DSLR line and have ( at this point ) no interest in the mirrorless segment of the market. This could be a smart option or it could be catastrophic. Time will tell. Fuji has stated that they arent going to pursue Full Frame and will continue to concentrate on APSC and Medium format. From my standpoint thats a pretty smart move.
Given the above, who then is the new generation mirrorless Full Frame camera for? Current Full Frame DSLR owners may well decide to go for the newer technology being incorporated in the mirrorless system. Big DSLR’s are heavy and cumbersome, dont always offer the feature set now found in the new generation Mirrorless camera bodies, which tend to be smaller and lighter, and may appeal more to the Pro sports or Pro studio & Wedding photographer.
In our local camera club I’m aware of only one member ( currently, there may be others ) that uses a new Canon R5 Mirrorless Full Frame camera. This individual shoots for real-estate clients and couples the still & video with drone work. I’ve seen the output from this camera and its excellent. Is it better than a top level APSC camera, perhaps although personally I dont believe it is for the average photographer more interested in general photography. Thats not to say that both the images and video weren’t excellent they were but rather that for most of us that level of equipment cost outlay far exceeds our budgets or ability to utilise this type of equipment to its maximum potential.
There will of course be a section of the enthusiast photographer that will be tempted to trade there current gear for what is perceived to be a lighter and more compact system. This is true to a point. Once you move away from the more standard kit lenses offered and move into more of the Prime lens offerings weight and size become just as big an issue as with the full frame DSLR, while the mirrorless bodies tend to be smaller the new generation of lenses can quickly negate the weight reduction gains.
Heres an example:
Canon R5 – body weight – 738 grams
RF 24-105 lens – weight – 395 grams
Canon 5D Mark IV body weight – 800 grams.
EF 24 -105 f3.5-5.6 IS STM lens – weight – 525 grams
Fuji XS10 body weight – 465 grams
XF 16-80 lens – weight – 440 grams
As can be seen in the image above the XS10 is easily the smallest and lightest of the cameras, while the R5 sits in the middle. The 5D weighs in at almost 1.5 kg and is almost 50% heavier than the XS10 and is roughly 50% larger as well. In terms of size the R5 is closer to the XS10 but is still 25% bigger and heavier. Once you go to bigger glass these weight and size differences start to generate even larger issues, often needing tripods to support them.
While there are gains in image quality do you really need Full Frame or is it simply a marketing ploy by manufacturers to get people to continue to buy expensive, large & heavy equipment? Personally I dont think its a ploy, but rather manufacturers looking to maximise returns while offering products that marketing suggests is the most profitable direction given today’s current level of technology. Cheap DSLRS are not going to return that great a profit, considering how many units they would need to sell and the already shrinking camera market. New and innovative equipment and design will need to be employed in the future.
For me personally, I wont be buying into the Full Frame market anytime soon. The current pricing, at least here in new Zealand is somewhere between expensive and stratospheric in the full frame market. The 5D above with the EF 24-105 f4 L IS II USM lens similar to that shown above from a reputable dealer is $5980.00 NZD and weighs an even heavier 1.85 KG with the lens currently offered as a kit.
The R5 comes in at $8980.00 NZD with the RF 24-105 lens as a standard kit.
The Fuji XS10 with the lens shown above comes in at a respectable ( comparatively ) $3228.00 NZD.
I purposefully choose the XS10 as its layout is similar to what one would find on a DSLR. It also has the added advantage of having the same basic internals as the XT4 without all the added dials and camera body style. Think a stripped down XT4 and you would be close.
Who are full frame cameras for? A select few I think, mostly people that are already in the full frame world in one form or another, where the work demands the top level technology and the camera enthusiast with deeper pockets than most. For the rest of us mere mortals who in all likelihood could never justify such a large fiscal outlay and dont want to tote around a bag full of bricks, there are more than enough choices from the APSC and micro four thirds world to keep us entertained. Not to mention the continuing rise of the mobile pocket camera, you know the ones, the ones that ring and sometimes you call people with them. Its a brave new world, long may it be so.