Mirrorless Developments, Large and Small, at Photokina 2016

It's Photokina time again, and there's been a lot of mirrorless news drifting back from Cologne. No, I didn't get to go, but I have been following the reports with at least some interest. With all the excitement, I thought I might offer some thoughts on the state of mirrorless photography.

The first MILC -- Epson's R-D1

Epson R-D1

Epson R-D1 top panel controls. The lever is used to cock the shutter.

No, this is not new at Photokina this year. But, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on just where we came from. The first commercial mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, and also the digital rangefinder camera, was the Seiko/Epson R-D1. Introduced in March of 2004, it used a 6MP Sony APS-C CCD sensor, and lenses compatible with the Leica M mount.

A couple of the features of the R-D1 were fairly interesting. First, the 2" LCD on the camera back was able to fold out and rotate, something which many new cameras can't match. And, in a fun "throwback" to film, the shutter was manually cocked with a level, just like an old-school film advance lever.

Unlike current mirrorless cameras, the R-D1 did not have an electronic viewfinder, nor did it offer any form of autofocus. The only autoexposure mode was aperture priority. This was due, in large part, to the choice of using the Leica lens mount.

In reality, this was a purists camera, being almost a literal translation of a Leica or Voightlander Bessa to a digital form, the only concession to the digital world being the rear LCD display.

Photographs from the camera are very pleasing, as you can see from the images by Yeong Shin, below (to see more of Yeong's work, visit his page on Flickr.

It's the kind of camera that, had I been able to afford it and the required lenses, I might have bought. Current examples are selling for over $1,000 on eBay. You can read what dpReview had to say about the R-D1, starting with the announcement page.

Morning walk in autumn by Yeong Shin. Image Copyright © Yeong Shin. Used with permission.

Micle and Son... by Yeong Shin. Copyrignt © Yeong Shin. Used with permission.

So, now that we've taken a trip down memory lane, let's take a glance at just a few of the items from Photokina that caught my eye (for a full report, you can visit dpReview's Photokina 2016 page

Medium Format from Fuji!

This is the big one (no pun intended), as far as I'm concerned. Fujifilm have skipped the whole "full-frame" mirrorless thing, and gone straight to medium format, and from all accounts, this camera is the absolute shiznit! Both David Hobby and Zach Arias have been singing it's praises. Words like "amazing" and "sick" and "crazy" have been thrown around.

The camera boasts a 50MP Sony CMOS sensor (the same one used in the newest Pentax and Hasselblads), a new series of lenses (three should ship at the same time as the body, with three more to follow in short order), and Fuji is targeting a package with camera, viewfinder, and a 63mm f/2.8 "normal" lens for "well under" $10,000. Take that Hasselblad! The announced lens lineup consists of the aforementioned 63mm f/2.8, as well as a 23mm f/4, a 45mm f/2.8, a 110mm f/2, a 120mm f/4, and a 32-64mm f/4. While most of us used to DSLR and current mirrorless lenses wouldn't think so, these are crazy fast lenses in the medium format world. 

While the camera is a big camera, it's not really all that big, coming in only slightly larger than Nikon's D810 full-frame DSLR. You can learn more at Fuji's official announcement page, or over at 

Canon M5 -- Finally a "serious" mirrorless from Canon

Canon's taken a lot of heat for it's mirrorless line so far, and rightly so. It's really been a pretty blah affair -- smallish box with some rather unexciting, slow glass. Most people thought that Canon had given up. But, a few days before Photokina, they slipped a new mirrorless body out the door. Called the M5, it might be considered to be an interesting little camera.

The M5 uses essentially the same sensor as the 80D, coupled with Canon's Digic 7. By extension, it offers many of the same features. Of course, it uses the Canon EF-M lens mount, and can accept most EF and EF-S lenses via an $180 adapter.

The biggest innovation for Canon in the M5 is the in-body 5-axis image stabilization, which can work alone for lenses without image stabilization, get out of the way for lenses that are image stabilized, or work with newer lenses with image stabilization. This is something that Panasonic has done for years. Good catch-up, Canon.

Autofocus should be pretty amazing, and here Canon may have something really special to offer. All of the autofocus points are cross-type phase-detect and simultaneously work as contrast detect focus points. This should offer the best combination of speed and accuracy. When coupled with the drag-to-select autofocus point (using the camera's touch screen), there are some really exciting possibilities, especially in video, where racking focus during a shot can be really effective.

Speaking of video, the camera will do Full-HD video. No 4K. I'll just leave that there for those who care. You all know how I feel about using still cameras for video work.

You can read all about this $980 body at Canon's site, should you desire. I was going to suggest to Donna that it might be a good move up from her current camera. But by the time you add the price of the body and adapter (so she can use her current lenses), she'd be better off getting the 80D.

A shame. Canon had a chance here to do something really great, and prove that they can still be innovative. Unfortunately, they've come up a few days late, and a lot of dollars short, especially when compared to other MILCs at the same -- or lower -- prices.

Micro Four-Thirds on a budget

Young Innovators M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with 12-40mm f/3.5-4.5

Okay, this gets my attention. A Chinese company called Young Innovators have shown their M1 micro-four-thirds camera. It's sleek. It's sexy. It's well spec'ed. It comes with two decent lenses. And, it's che ... er ... inexpensive.

For $700US, you get a decently spec'ed and designed MFT body with a 20MP Sony sensor and what looks like a well though-out UI (both physical and on the touch screen), a 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom, and a 42.5mm f/1.8 prime. Say what?!? And, according to the folks at YI, it will use an lens you can put on an Olympus or Panasonic body. If you just want the zoom, that comes in a kit with the body for $450,  or you can get the body only for $330.

The full poop is available at YI's mirrorless camera product page. If you're interested in testing the MFT waters, this may be a great option.

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, and Panasonic GH5

These are also both new, upgrading prior versions and upping the ante in the MFT world big-time -- both look to be fantastic cameras. They don't excite me all that much, being a Fuji shooter (at least that's what I'm telling myself, but it's good to know that both of these manufactures are still kicking but in their market segment.

I'll hope to get a hands-on look at all of this and more in October, when I go up to PhotoPlus Expo in New York.