The die was already cast a few weeks before the show opened, as both Nikon and Canon launched their full-35mm mirrorless camera systems in quick succession, but the joint Press Day announcement by Panasonic, Leica and Sigma means the coming changes may be even more far-reaching. These three amigos are now the “L Mount Alliance”, another new full-35mm mirrorless camera system based on Leica’s L mount (as introduced with the SL in October 2015).

Photo: Paul Burrows

The L Mount alliance is off to a flying start with Leica’s SL system to be joined by two Lumix S camera bodies, three lenses from Panasonic (with more to come) and 11 Art lenses from Sigma plus, tellingly, an adapter to allow Canon EF lenses to be fitted to L mount cameras. Guess who Panasonic has in its sights? In an exclusive interview with Camera magazine (which you’ll be able to read in full in our November/December 2018 print edition), Panasonic’s Yosuke Yamane, who is head of the company’s Imaging Network Business Division, says professional photographers are the primary target for its new Lumix S system, with the company posed to present an alternative to Canon or Nikon D-SLR owners now contemplating a switch to mirrorless.

Asked about the closeness of all the announcements from Canon, Nikon and Panasonic, he admits “We were a little surprised and it is a coincidence, but it’s also good timing for us”. Mr Yamane – whose background is in engineering – reveals he had a vision for a full-35mm mirrorless camera system as far back as eight years ago, but the technology wasn’t ready. Work began on the Lumix S system four years ago and it got the green light from Panasonic’s top management two years later. While he admits it was “a dream with risk”, Mr Yamane says the alliance with Leica and Sigma helped make this risk more manageable (which indicates how long the three companies have been working together on this project) and he believes that developing a whole new mount system “… needs more than one manufacturer”. Certainly, the alliance is fast tracking the L mount which will, assuming all promises are delivered, achieve a lot over the next 12 to 18 months, exceeding what Canon and Nikon will be able to do individually. In addition to the L mount Art lenses it’s planning, Sigma has announced its own SA mount is finished and the next of its quirky Quattro cameras will be a full-35mm L mount model.

Panasonic Lumix S1R working prototype

Both Canon and Nikon were busy promoting their new mirrorless systems at Photokina and interest was very high as visitors were given the first opportunity to actually handle the cameras. Nobody is entirely certain about how the camera market will change over the coming months… but everybody agrees it will change. Yosuke Yamane talks of “a paradigm shift”, but says Panasonic remains fully committed to its Lumix G Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system – now ten years old – which will continue to offer the key benefits of smaller and lighter hardware.

Canon and Nikon compete for attention with their new mirrorless systems.

Nevertheless, the marketing emphasis is inevitably going to be on the bigger sensor and its various benefits – as well as those of the mirrorless camera design – which means D-SLRs and the smaller formats could start to look all a bit ‘yesterday’. Nikon says it still has new D-SLRs coming (perhaps not surprising as we’ve seen how long product development times can be) and that the D850 sales remain unaffected nearly a month after the Z system announcement. However, it also says pre-orders for the Z7 and Z6 are “higher than ever before”. We suspect these orders would be nearly all from the existing owners of Nikon D-SLRs who like the idea of a more compact body in the bag for specific situations (and this is likely to also be true of Canon’s EOS R), but it’s less clear what will happen once this ‘in the family’ demand is met and both Nikon and Canon then need to face up to competing with Sony and Panasonic (and also Fujifilm which also believes it will now have an new opportunity to make converts of high-end D-SLR users, especially with its expanded GFX medium format offerings). What does appear likely is that many photographers will now have more compelling reasons to switch systems, either to mirrorless or to a bigger sensor. Significantly, many are likely to be convinced to increase their investments in new camera bodies and lenses, giving a much-needed boost to the value of the market. As smartphones continue to eat into the low end of the camera business, it’s clear that the camera-makers are not just moving further upmarket, but also making these higher-end products more appealing, primarily through the adoption of the mirrorless configuration and what it enables, including in lens design.

While the pre-announcements may have taken a bit of a sting out of the 2018 Photokina (and given Panasonic et al some clear air), it will still go down as one of truly historic ones.