Dead Cameras Walking: What System Will Be the Next to Bite the Dust?

Dead Cameras Walking: What System Will Be the Next to Bite the Dust?

The last few years have seen promising camera systems (Samsung NX) and not-so-promising ones (Nikon 1) abandoned by manufacturers in the name of progress (Nikon Z) or in the name of saving face (Samsung). With the race towards more powerful mirrorless models, inevitably, more will be cast aside.

Which ones will those be? The year is still young, but I’m casting my bets early. Here are the systems that I think are on life support here in early 2019.

Canon

Well, not all of Canon is going to go, just its M series of APS-C sensor cameras. The original EOS M was a disastrous entry for the company into mirrorless, with its dimwitted autofocus and lack of control points. The company was so worried about eating into sales of its DSLRs that they didn’t even bother to release the M2 in the U.S. The M3 signaled Canon USA’s rejoining of the party, but even then, it was a half-hearted effort, using the company’s hybrid phase/contrast autofocus system when it already had the tech for faster mirrorless autofocus with the 70D’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Since then, cameras such as the M5 and M50 have been solid efforts, but they were launched in a time (now) when a camera has to be much more than solid (and include usable 4K video) to survive.

With the EOS M system, it’s like Canon never really took the gloves off. They certainly did (more or less) with the EOS R system, their full-frame entry into the market. But now that they have the EOS R system, it seems like they’ve all but forgotten about the EF-M mount and the M cameras, and there’s no compatibility between the two mounts.

Between recent fire sales and a large amount of layoffs from Canon’s camera division, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough firepower to keep three full lineups of cameras going from a marketing and sales standpoint. The natural first choice to go would be the M series of cameras. Now might be a good time to unload all of that EF-M glass you’ve been sitting on.

Pentax

The Pentax K-1 Mark II brings quite a few innovative features to the full-frame DSLR party, but at a time when people are eschewing DSLRs for mirrorless cameras.

The Pentax K-1 Mark II brings quite a few innovative features to the full-frame DSLR party, but at a time when people are eschewing DSLRs for mirrorless cameras.

Yes, in this case, I mean all of Pentax is going to die. I can count on one hand and have fingers to spare all the times I’ve seen a Pentax in the wild. It’s a shame really, because I’ve had the occasion to use a K-1, and it’s quite a decent full-frame camera, but the company itself has never seemed to be able to reach any sort of saturation in the marketplace that Canon, Nikon, and Sony have. The bigger issue the company is facing is a lack of any sort of real mirrorless camera waiting in the wings. The Q, Pentax’s previous entry into the market, with its less than 1” sensor, wasn’t a serious entry into that market and seems to have been quietly discontinued.

While Pentax does have very high-margin specialty cameras like the medium format 645Z in its portfolio, without a serious APS-C or full-frame mirrorless camera on tap, there’s nothing to entice new users or compel the relatively few existing users to stay. It’s likely only a matter of time before parent company Ricoh gives up on the DSLR endeavors entirely.

Olympus

The Olympus E-M1X brings professional features, but not quite a professional sensor, to the table.

The Olympus E-M1X brings professional features, but not quite a professional sensor, to the table.

Olympus is doubling down on its Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system with the OM-D E-M1X, a professional-grade camera built around its slightly smaller than APS-C sensor. It’s a bold move, but pricing seems to be completely out of whack with capability, and at the end of the day, the company is always going to be at a disadvantage because of the smaller sensor size. This doesn’t bode well for the system as a whole.

If Panasonic stayed the course with Olympus, I’d give them a better shot. Panasonic’s sensor tech and lenses are pretty solid offerings. However, Panasonic seems to have strayed and thrown in with Sigma and Leica to form the L-mount alliance.

Olympus may have had a more open standard in mind with Micro Four Thirds, but it seems that what Panasonic really wanted was an open relationship, and it’s one that’s now firmly tilting in the direction of the full-frame L-mount and away from Micro Four Thirds with the launch of the S1 and S1R.

With Olympus being the only strong cheerleader for the Micro Four Thirds format, they are facing a tough uphill battle for the system. It’s something that pains me to say, since I’ve been beating the Olympus drum for a while now. It’s a great system, but it’s one that I’m worried won’t survive, especially now that Olympus seems to be straying from its core strengths of small size and reasonable prices.

Who Do You Think Is Next?

These are just some of the manufacturers that seem to have a tough road ahead. Are there others that you can think of? Are there ways forward for the systems listed above?

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88 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

I say Olympus...I feel another format change coming...a larger sensor.

If Olympus could put their AF tech into an APS-C and keep the sizing similar to what they have now, look out Fuji

That is doable. My E-M10 and A6000 are close to the same size. The Olympus only 16mm taller and the other two the mentions are within a millimeter or less. So clearly APS-C fits in a small body.

Start with a well thought out entry level body with good kit lenses (Olympus already dose that) and you got a good start. People like myself who have used Olympus since the 70s would love it.

Oh you’re going to have the Pentax shooter upset, you know they released a lens last year.

I was a Pentax DSLR shooter from the ist DS to the K3. I just recently divested myself of all of the DSLR stuff I had. Not because it was lacking but because I was tired of carrying my F4 and F mount lenses along with my K3 and duplicate K mount lenses. I sold the K3 and picked up a D610. Whether some want to admit it or not, Pentax has some fantastic APS-C cameras. As I shoot with my 610, there are things that I wished it would do that the cheaper, older, completely weather sealed, and easier to control K3 did. Now the only Pentax stuff I still have is film specific.

Sadly, however, Pentax is not really interested in keeping up it seems. It might be lack of access to Sony sensors or something else. Sigma no longer makes K mount lenses leaving only Tamron, who I believe, is also manufacturing some Pentax branded lenses. The announcement that Sigma was done with that mount was my trigger to sell off what I had. Pentax has announced a successor to the K3, which will no doubt be a great camera. The problem, however, is that they are stuck with the K mount. To develop a mirrorless body they need to develop a different mount (unless they go the Sigma quattro route and have a small body with a big spacer built in) and they quite simply do not have the funds to do so.

It makes me sad to think of Pentax shutting down their camera department but they really are not doing it any more. Niche is even too large of a term for them now unfortunately.

JetCity Ninja's picture

"The problem, however, is that they are stuck with the K mount. To develop a mirrorless body they need to develop a different mount (unless they go the Sigma quattro route and have a small body with a big spacer built in) and they quite simply do not have the funds to do so."

Pentax has already done that with the Marc Newsome designed K-01 a few years ago... an APS-C mirrorless body with K-mount's long depth. that didnt go over well due to the weird design and questionable ergonomics.

personally, i think Ricoh has long decided that going more niche is their most profitable route, rather than trying to be more mainstream. i feel the K-1 II's limited update choice and the new GR are evidence of this direction. it's kinda sad because if not for their troubles, i would've bought a K-1.

Tony Tumminello's picture

"that didnt go over well due to the weird design and questionable ergonomics."

So why not skip both of those downsides. Imagine an SLR with the mirror box removed, and there you'd have a mirrorless body that handles like a classic SLR. Sure, they'd lose some of lens design benefits but if Ricoh isn't gonna build a mirrorless system from scratch then I'd assume that's the best direction for them to go. It doesn't need to be another Marc Newson disaster camera.

William Koehler's picture

Imagine an ILC with variable ND where the mirrorbox used to be and a quality EVF :-) I've used Pentax SLR/DSLR since 1977, but sadly agree with the author that Pentaxs' days are likely numbered.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Sigma also did that Quattro thing with the built-in spacer to support their DSLR lenses. I think at the end of the day, you can't do that half-hearted approach and succeed.

The K-01 was an interesting camera. A mirrorless K5 but before the real tech to take advantage of mirrorless was mainstream.

The Pentax KP angered me and pushed me into the sale of all my K mount DSLR stuff. What a wasted opportunity that body was. It is fully weather sealed, a great set of controls, compact APS-C body but instead of investing a little more and making it mirrorless, they built in a pentaprism. It would have made a great mirrorless body and could have gotten them into the game a little bit but they put it out and undercut the K3II that was already out there. Makes no sense.

Pentax is niche. I get it. But that niche is just too small. They cannot flood the market with incremental cameras like Canon and Nikon but they could release a great full frame and a great compact and a great APS-C.

M FG's picture

Granted Pentax is slow but shutting down?
Limited's production revived by Ricoh https://youtu.be/NzuGZlFqz8A

Every lens from the film days is comparable with Pentax digital.
Oh and on the support side, Elinchrom providing flash support for Pentax (TTL and HSS support solving one of the real limitations with the system)

Tony Tumminello's picture

Not sure if we're "allowed" to count it because it already happened, but Sigma announced the discontinuation of their SA-mount cameras in September 2018.

Shawk Parson's picture

that's rather sad imo ... not a Sigma camera user but i always liked and admired their Phoveon sensors ... a very special type of image sensor indeed ... pity it was always too costly to own one ...

A new Sigma camera with Phoveon sensor is in the works. Expected release is 2020. But with the new L mount. Source: Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of Sigma. See interview from last month here: http://c5d.at/oi5

Michael Jin's picture

Pentax.

Robert Callahan's picture

I think Sony is silently killing the A-mount already, but I won't be surprised if a formal announcement is made at some point...despite what Sony has been saying for so long - actions speak louder than words.

Tony Northrup's picture

My experience is they won't ever make an announcement. When was the last A-mount lens released? I think the system has already died. The a99 II release was really a shock.

JetCity Ninja's picture

2015. they released 3 of them.

Andrew Morse's picture

Pentax I can see falling off, but I think it might be early to call Canon's M line and Olympus as being on the way out.

On Canon's side, as recently as two weeks ago Canon said in an interview that they're going to keep the M line going as the size conscious option (https://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/latest/photo-news/cp-interview-can...), and I believe they still sell quite a lot of m50s (they were super popular in Asia I thought). I'd be more curious about the EF-S line with a number of bodies being fairly late for a refresh (i.e. 7D series and 80D series). APS-C is their bread and butter, though they haven't announced a whole lot there recently. No doubt Canon is going to kill some lines off eventually with 4 mounts active and numerous lines of stills cameras within each.

Olympus just released the OM-D E-M1X and while it is super expensive, it does have some standout features which aren't widely available. I think Lee on this website earlier this week released a review of this camera. The one feature which really stood out (to me) was the pro capture option. I guess you can half press the shutter and the camera will start shooting at high frame rate in the background, and once you full press the shutter it will record images it took before you pressed the button and everything after. I guess the camera can over-write images in its buffer while you're half pressed, meaning you could potentially hold the half pressed shutter button until something interesting happens and then full press to have the camera start keeping photos from then on, and whatever's in the buffer from before full press. That could be game changing for action shooters if you don't know when something's going to happen. Waiting for an animal to make a quick movement? Half-press the shutter and wait until it moves, then full press, and you can be confident that you've got the shot. That feature alone makes the price more acceptable in my mind, though in all fairness I have no idea how this will work in practice.

Xander Cesari's picture

I would be more optimistic for Olympus if the E-M1X had done anything with their smaller sensor that couldn't be done with a larger one. Particularly IBIS is the one area that M4/3 could possibly excel. But everything the E-M1X is good at (autofocus tracking, shoot to buffer, pixel shift high res, built in ND filter) is irrelevant to sensor size. Their IBIS-based features are good but not world's better than a FF camera. The advantage of lens size is the last bastion of M4/3 and it seems to be a diminishing demographic that shops for that. Budget sports and hiking wildlife photographers perhaps.

I agree, Love my Olympus cameras, but I don't see a long term viability for the M4/3 format.

Tony Northrup's picture

The elephant in the room is that Canon and Nikon DSLRs are on their way out. We'll probably see a couple of camera releases (a D6, 1D III for the Olympics, and maybe one more round of updates for DSLRs)... but I bet they're done making new DSLR lenses.

It's a rapidly shrinking industry and cameras make up a very small part of the overall business for Panasonic, Olympus, and Pentax. I think Panasonic's chances are maybe 50/50 that they'll still be releasing new cameras 5 years from now... it depends on how Canon, Nikon & Sony attack the video niche.

With Olympus, I thought the E-M1X was really telling: they found a way to release a new camera with very little real R&D; mostly just a few software updates and a big marketing effort. It's not unlike Pentax's K1 Mk II. Maybe the cameras will be profitable but t's a short-term strategy and both camera companies are falling even further behind. If either has a new ILC camera out in 2024 I'll be (pleasantly) surprised.

JetCity Ninja's picture

"With Olympus, I thought the E-M1X was really telling: they found a way to release a new camera with very little real R&D; mostly just a few software updates and a big marketing effort. It's not unlike Pentax's K1 Mk II. "

um, just no.

for Pentax, basically a processor upgrade, that's true. as long as heat and power are managed, it's just a "drop-in" replacement from a development standpoint, literally swapping out the mainboard with a new one then slapping a decal on the body. however, the R&D behind the Olympus E-M1X is completely different. just because the body and control placement looks similar in no way means any company, Olympus or not, could just glom on a second grip and battery, getting the results they did, and calling it a day.

while many things can be borrowed, as all manufacturers do, like the firmware base, evolution of previous designs, imaging sensors and image processor, the body had to be designed and built from the ground up. it's not an E-M1 with the battery grip permanently affixed, but rather a whole new body with E-M1 design details. combined with new internals, that body had to meet the requirements for power and heat plus durability and weather sealing. add to it the fact that they're pricing it to be their new flagship camera. it's one thing for Canon to drop the T6 into a smaller shell and call it the SL2 while the price point ensures sales would cover development costs (and any features that may not work due to the smaller body could just be crippled, using the price point as an excuse), it doesn't work so easily when going the other direction on the pricing scale.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I think this is giving Olympus a bit too much credit. There's a lot borrowed from the E-M1 II. And this is coming from someone who is an Olympus fan.

No he isnt. He's exactly right.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

But the main thing of the camera - the sensor - is a repeat from the E-M1 II. In a $3000 new camera aimed at professionals, that's a tough sell, no?

Rob Davis's picture

If anyone keeps through-the-lens photography alive it would be Nikon and they’ve got the type of user base that would still demand seeing with their eyes and not focusing by wire. Won’t be as big as it was, but it won’t go away.

I don't think "through the lens photography" is at much risk. But reflex photography is fading. I agree, it's not going to go away completely.

Shawk Parson's picture

the 1D range of Canon cameras was or is to be discontinued already ...

Shawk Parson's picture

or maybe it was the 1D MkIII only? not sure ...

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