The L-Mount Alliance, Some Thoughts
While the rumours of Panasonic planning to release a new full frame camera were fairly rampant in the lead up to Photokina, I think the announcement of a partnership between Sigma, Panasonic and Leica took many by surprise. Once you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Panasonic and Leica already have a long partnership, and Leica have an existing mount and system, so using that makes a lot of sense for Panasonic. Sigma also joining this group is interesting, because it means that there will be the potential for the system to expand much more quickly than it would with just one manufacturer.
The two cameras announced by Panasonic could be a big deal in the video world. While Panasonic probably wants these to be taken seriously for still as well, the company’s video shooters are probably the most enthusiastic about this announcement, and depending on what the final specifications end up being, these could be amazing cameras for video work. They have already committed to 10bit internally, and based on the GH5, Panasonic doesn’t under deliver when it comes to video, so I expect the codecs and other features will be as good.
There are quite a few unknowns at this stage though, as the cameras that Panasonic announced are still in development. The most obvious question is what the price point will be for these. The also announced some initial lenses, including a 24-105 and a 70-200 but it was unclear what the maximum aperture would be (I’m guessing f/4). The beauty of this system though, is that at launch, the new Panasonic S1 and S1r will have access to a range of high quality optics from Leica that have already been launched, and Leica shooters will also gain access to Panasonic lenses, which will undoubtedly be less expensive.
Getting back to Sigma, there is some really interesting things to ponder there too. Sigma has announced that it is planning to release a full frame Foveon based camera using the L mount. Foveon has some loyal fans, and its a unique sensor design, so it will be interesting to see what happens here. It will also be bringing a series of lenses natively to L-mount as well as an L-mount version of it’s EF adaptor.
The thing I found really interesting though, was the praise Leica executives heaped on Sigma. It wasn’t so long ago that Sigma was only thought of as a cheap lens maker. But since the company committed to producing high quality optics, and with the release of the Art lens series, the company has completely changed its reputation. The fact that Leica of all companies was commending Sigma’s lenses is quite an endorsement and shows how far the company has come.
Another interesting point is that this isn’t just the three companies agreeing to use the same mount. They also committed to sharing R&D on the new system, which in itself could end up turning out to be a big deal.
The upshot of all this is that there is now even more choice for photographers, and the increased competition will mean that others won’t be able to rest on their laurels. There have been lots of theories as to why the DSLR market has been shrinking and stale for the past few years, but in my opinion, its because DSLRs haven’t had much innovation and a lot of older cameras were good enough and similar enough to newer ones that no one really bothered to upgrade. The shift to mirrorless means a sea change, and with new cameras that are now significantly different form the DSLRs they are replacing, I expect a rush of upgrades over the next few years.
In terms of Panasonic, if they put as many video centric features into the new S series cameras as they have in the GH5, I suspect that these new cameras will take the throne for video shooters who want a full frame camera. Sony will need to up its game in terms of video capabilities in order to compete (which is a good thing for Sony), and perhaps that is why we haven’t seen the A7SIII yet. The GH5 has better codecs, better colour depth and built in scopes. While Sony currently wins on sensor size, low light and autofocus. If Panasonic can leapfrog Sony here they will be hard to beat in the near term, but that is all just speculation at this point. Regardless, as I keep pointing out, the increased competition is great for everyone, and we’re just beginning this new era.
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