Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony. As the range of mirrorless compacts grows steadily and sales of these cameras grow rapidly speculation continues regarding the position of the two big names - Canon and Nikon - in this market.
Mirrorless Rumours recently drew attention to a report in the UK based photography magazine, Amateur Photographer, of an interview with Simon Iddon of Nikon UK. He played down the significance of the compact system camera (CSC) arguing that these cameras were eating into the compact market rather than the SLR market. He also commented that Nikon already had 'all points covered with a complete range of cameras.'
Mirrorless Rumours also linked to a recent interview with two executives from Canon Europe on the Spanish photography website Quesabesde. Discussing the possibility of a Canon CSC the response from the Canon people is almost identical to that of the Nikon executive: 'The idea is that we do not need CSC because our current range covers all fields.'
On the face of it that sound like a definitive no to the idea. Yet somehow these arguments fail to convince. Despite Nikon's claim that CSC's are not impinging on the SLR market, sales evidence suggests otherwise, especially in the the Asian markets and in the UK.
This is the real dilemma for Canon and Nikon. CSC's are already eating into the market for low budget DSLR's and as these systems evolve and mature it is reasonable to expect that they will do so more and more. It is precisely these lower end DSLR's - the D3000 and D5000 series' from Nikon and the Rebels from Canon - that are the big sellers and undoubtedly the big earners for both companies. Yet, on the one hand, if Nikon and Canon sit tight and pursue their current strategy they risk seeing further erosion of their sales as the CSC market expands. On the other hand, if they enter the CSC market, they risk cannibalising their own DSLR sales in a market they dominate while entering a market where they are no longer the default choice for most people and the competition is much tougher.
Yet they may have no choice. As Thom Hogan puts it:
Given that mirrorless is topping one-fifth of the interchangeable lens camera sales in the home market of Japan and a tenth of the worldwide market, I'm betting that Nikon and Canon can't wait much longer to join in.
So when will we see CSC's from Canon and Nikon? There have been plenty of rumours on respectable sites of a forthcoming Nikon CSC (though most of them also predicted an April launch), but nothing credible for Canon. The longer they wait, though, the greater the challenge will be. Both may have extensive DSLR systems available to cover almost every photographic eventuality but the assumption that once Canon or Nikon bring out a CSC they will inevitably dominate the market is false. The size of their current DSLR systems is irrelevant. In the CSC market both will be starting from scratch and taking on competitors with mature products and expanding systems.
Whatever the timescale the end results can only be good for consumers of CSC's. More competition means more innovation and pressure on cost. We should see better, more innovative cameras and accessories at competitive prices.