If you didn’t notice the onslaught of third-party lens manufacturers launching mirrorless camera focused lenses recently, then you must have been living under a rock. It is notable, for many reasons, but for starters, it is very telling of how these companies are thinking with regards to Mirrorless systems, but in particular, Sony’s FE system. These companies are businesses, obviously, and they have people whose job it is to identify potential revenue streams and decide the direction the company should take into the future to maximize profits. Clearly, they see potential, yet… Mirrorless systems and Sony’s A7 cameras are not new, so the real question here is why now and what has changed?
The battle is coming, and they know it
The industry as a whole has been expecting a big showdown between the old guard and the new school for a while now; Canon and Nikon have not been cooperative, allowing Sony all the time in the world to perfect their mirrorless system, launch lenses and build a following and reputation for innovation. But that is all about to change: those paying attention will know that reports of Canon and Nikon’s mirrorless ambitions have heated up greatly over the last six months. It is a Photokina year and that means the entire industry will converge on Cologne, Germany – all hoping to catch the attention of the rest of the industry. Companies announce their Ace products at Photokina, and many are expecting Nikon (and possibly Canon) to officially unveil their foray into the professional Mirrorless arena.
Even Sony executives know this is coming (one has admitted as much on the record), and that it will likely happen within the next year. This has got to have Sony worried, at least a little bit. Competition is good for consumers, but it is stressful for companies. So what Sony has done, at least according to my conversations with third-party lens reps, is front-loaded 2018 with big announcements like the A7 III, and broadened the lens ecosystem significantly by facilitating the expansion into the E Mount by these third party lens manufacturers. All of this in an effort to stack the deck in their favor, and make their lead in Full Frame Mirrorless even more insurmountable than it may already seem to be.
For the longest time, the biggest trump card that the DSLR makers have had over mirrorless was their lens ecosystems. This is not just in terms of OEM lenses, but also third-party lenses, and this is even with third-party lensmakers needing to reverse engineer their lenses’ communication with the DSLR bodies. So what Sony did, from what I heard (and this person wouldn’t have any direct knowledge of this, so this could have been speculation on his part), is made it easier for these third-party lens makers to make native E/FE mount lenses by giving them the tools they needed to communicate natively with the Sony cameras – no reverse engineering needed. I don’t have confirmation of this from Sony, nor from any third-party lens makers officially, but if these sort of agreements have been made, it was/is a stroke of genius from Sony.
The sandbox for the longest time has been dominated by DSLRs, but that box is getting old and those players are starting to come play in Sony’s sandbox. By giving themselves the competitive advantage of having a large and thriving lens ecosystem, Sony is forcing Canon and Nikon (whenever they do launch their systems) to be in the same situation Sony and the other Mirrorless brands have been in when fighting against the DSLR systems; outgunned in the lens department.
The table is being set for what could be an industry changing battle between the old guard and the new school. Will Canon and Nikon continue to be the brands that come to mind when people think of cameras and photography, or will they be replaced, after being beaten at their own game by the likes of Sony?
Only time will really tell, but it will be interesting to see what comes of it. Competition is good for consumers, so now that R&D and marketing dollars are going to be flowing into Mirrorless systems, things are about to heat up considerably.