Mirrorless ILC, Gap Filler or Disruptive Innovation ?

axlotl | Opinions | Published Dec 28, 2011




By Axlotl  December 2011

Excerpts from Wikipedia 2011, under  "Disruptive Innovation"

A ...... disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market  and value network and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades),
displacing an earlier technology.

In contrast to disruptive innovation, a sustaining innovation does not create new markets or value networks but rather only evolves existing ones with better value, allowing the firms within to compete against
each other's sustaining improvements. 

Christensen and colleagues have shown .......... that good firms are usually aware of the innovations, but their
business environment does not allow them to pursue them when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from that of sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition). In Christensen's terms, a
firm's existing value networks place insufficient value on the disruptive innovation to allow its pursuit by that firm. Meanwhile, upstart firms inhabit different value networks, at least until the day that their disruptive innovation is able to invade the older value network. At that time, the established firm in that network can at best only fend off the market share attack with a me-too entry, for which survival (not thriving) is the only

Here is a brief excerpt from a recent interview with a Canon representative about the company's position on mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras:  From Impressjapan magazine, via mirrorlessrumors.com  dated 19 December 2011.

 Will you be releasing a mirrorless camera?

...... we are challenging ourselves to make DSLRs that are smaller, and  compacts that have better image quality. So you have to ask if a mirrorless product is really necessary to fill the narrowing gap. Of course, we are more than capable of making a mirrorless camera, if we decide to.

Canon could be blowing smoke to disguise it's real intentions but it appears to believe  the Mirrorless
Interchangeable Lens Compact (MILC)  is a "Gap Filler", something inbetween compact and  DSLR.

In a recent edition of  ProPhoto (an Australian magazine) the editor, Paul Burrows commented......" we've been
seeing a steady dumbing down of  CSC's, partly as a result of making them smaller and partly because the idea persists that snap- shooters really hanker after interchangeable lenses, but apparently little else of what comes with an entry level D-SLR".

In the same magazine, Mr Burrows also wrote.."There seems to have been quite a bit of confusion among the manufacturers - or more accurately, the marketers- of compact camera systems about who exactly is the target customer".

To this I would add  that in it's current form the MILC appears to be an answer without a clearly expressed

My perception is that there are, in the operational sense, two main types of camera user. The majority are snapshooters who are too busy enjoying life to bother about changing lenses or wondering what an f stop might be. Many of these people take photos with a phone cam. Some still like to use a compact camera. Some even use a DSLR  or MILC  set to one of the fully automatic modes.

The other camera user group is the controllers.   These people do like to change lenses, fiddle with shutter speeds, adjust f stops and experiment with all the interesting options available on an advanced

So what does this mean for the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera ?  What follows is my own reading of the situation, others will have their own views. In due course the market will decide. 

The MILC may look like a "Gap Filler" right now.  But with further development it has the potential to become a genuinely disruptive innovation leading to real change in the market for both compact and interchangeable lens cameras.

So, which segments of the market are in line to be disrupted ?

Medium format  DSLR  
The larger the sensor, the greater the  potential for size and weight reduction by removing the mirror box, prism, etc..  etc of a DSLR.  So I think that if some maker has enough courage to make the investment and if they get the product right, then mirrorless will become the preferred option for medium format, using a square
sensor, live view monitor and touch screen controls for use on a tripod, which is the way these cameras are usually supported.

DSLR with full frame sensor,   43 mm diagonal  Same argument as above. This type of camera would handle even better with a 36 x 36 mm sensor and electronic selection of  landscape/portrait framing, so there is no need to flip the body over for portrait framing. This would be a hand held camera for reasonably still
subjects, requiring a high quality EVF and a sufficiency, but not a profusion,  of hard controls.

Compact    I think that if  mirrorless ILC's continue their present attempts to compete with compacts, they will fail.    I think that when snapshooters get over the  newness of the MILC they will revert back to compacts.   Why ? Because, for any given box size (width x height x depth)  a compact with a fixed, collapsing zoom lens can have more zoom range or greater aperture or both, than a body with mounted interchangeable zoom lens.

with 27-28 mm (diagonal) sensor
Most DSLR's have a sensor this size.                 At present the MILC offers some things not managed very well by the DSLR,  such as full time live view, the benefits of EVF and accurate contrast detect AF.  But most of them take away other things like predictive AF and the benefits of OVF.  The MILC can be smaller than a DSLR  but the size difference with lens mounted is not compelling and in any event, cameras which are too small usually suffer from compromised handling and control.

I believe the MILC has to tackle the DSLR  category  head on and win or become a lost cause.   In order to
succeed in this task the MILC has to do everything  better than the DSLR.

Everything  means everything.  Image quality, operating speed,  responsiveness, EVF appearance and refresh
rate, single frame AF,  predictive AF,  handling qualities, controls,  lens selection and more. To really disrupt the market all this has to be available to consumers at an attractive price point.

Responding to the challenge   One way that MILC makers could respond to these challenges would be to completely split their product lines, with both lines using the same sensor and image processor but little else.

To compete with compact cameras for the snapshooter crowd, they need to make.........yes, you guessed it..........compact cameras with fixed zoom lenses. A compact camera could easily be wrapped around micro four thirds or even 28 mm sensors.  The smaller Nikon/Aptina CX  sensor, in particular, could form the guts of
a category killer compact.

To keep the controller group happy and push DSLR's off center stage in the interchangeable lens market the MILC  needs  to grow up, stop trying to be a teensy, tiny thing and develop a few muscles, in the form of fast CD plus PD AF, super high quality EVF, fast refresh rates and operating times.  The MILC needs a proper handle and thumb rest for those users who elect to operate the device with their hands. Oh  ........right.........that would be all of them........ 

An excellent layout and  user experience for the photographer  who likes to take control of the photographic process, would greatly enhance the appeal of this camera type.

Canon and Nikon will keep  selling boatloads of  DSLR's, in the process competing with each other within the envelope of sustaining innovation until the day someone delivers to the market an MILC which beats the DSLR at everything, for the same price or a bit less.  At that point the game will change forever.

The problem for the DSLR as a species is that it has  reached the end of it's evolutionary journey.
DSLR's  can benefit from sustaining innovation  but the MILC brings the potential for disruptive innovation. If the makers of MILC's  bring their technology and ergonomics up to speed, they will prevail.