I can honestly say that 2015 has been the best year I've ever known for photography. We've just been spoiled rotten with outstanding gear! I've looked at some key highlights of the year from a photographer's perspective as well as an overview of what each manufacturer has contributed, picking out what I think are the best and worst as I go.
2015 - HIGHLIGHTS
January was a relatively quiet month for photography with a couple of lingering PR issues for Nikon to deal with being overshadowed by a succession of drone stories & the "Ansel Adams Act" briefly causing a stir in the US. The month ended with a few surprises though - the leaking of Canon's forthcoming massive megapixel 5DS/R cameras but also an interesting report showing the decline of mirrorless cameras in Japan with an astonishing fall of over 10% market share. This was the last opportunity CaNikon fanboys would have to lord it over Sony for the rest of the year though!
February started with a flurry of new camera & lens announcements - Canon went crazy with 3 cameras and their 11-24mm lens but Pentax, Nikon, Sigma & Olympus also revealed new gear. The World Press Photo contest was again obliged to disqualify many of its entrants for breaching regulations, something of a recurring theme for the event after 2013 had the same problem. More noise around drone regulations, Photoshop's 25th birthday and this fantastic "flow motion" hyperlapse pretty much rounded out the rest of the month
March saw the WPP controversy continue from February when, despite evidence showing the winning photos were staged, they maintained their decision to award the winner... only to reopen the investigation a couple of days later and strip the winner shortly after that. Canon's 11-24mm lens finally hit the streets and made an impression with its quality, size and giant price tag. A British photographer shot the viral "weasel riding a woodpecker" photo, followed by a storm of internet outrage over the staged frog manipulation images used to enter international exhibitions.
Apple finally ditched Aperture in favour of its dumbed-down Photos app, causing mild consternation at the perceived abandonment of enthusiast photographers. Finally, two different states in the US both tried to pass bills to restrict what is legally allowed in terms of street photography - fortunately one of these was repealed.
April began with Sony ditching its stake in troubled Olympus but interest soon shifted to the first of the year's seemingly endless musician vs photographer contract wrangles. The second of the controversial public photography laws in the US was also dropped, as were the prices of over 30 of Canon's pro-grade lenses. Nikon simultaneously "won" the accolade for best APS-C SLR from DXO and then issued another warning, this time about fake cameras on the market. Our first hint that Sony were to be putting their A-mount out to pasture came to light when Sony were hacked, along with details of their forthcoming A7xII cameras. Rumours their RX cameras were dangerously radioactive, coming weeks after April Fool's Day, were quickly squashed though.
May kicked off with a headline which, for some, will likely sum up the state of things for 2015 - that in 2014, 40% of all camera sensors (including phones) used Sony sensors. Soon after its announced they're struggling to keep up with demand for sensors too, ultimately leading to their acquisition of Toshiba's sensor branch later in the year. Otherwise it was a pretty quiet month until someone called Richard Prince caused a storm by selling other people's Instagram images, without permission, for huge amounts of money. The internet predictably erupted in futile anger.
June enthralled us all with the "news" that mirrorless was now an official market segment, providing clarity that no-one really thought was needed. Drones again made headlines after pestering firefighters & being shot down by enraged neighbours but in general the first half of the month was very quiet. Adobe released their CC 2015 package with some nifty new features and photographers in Europe went into a panic overdrive with the notion that their "freedom of panorama" rights might be removed (which didn't happen in the end). Taylor Swift then started something of a recurring theme for the rest of the year when her PR team announced its new set of rules for concert photographers - this was then repeated by too many other artists to mention over the coming months - causing endless displays of righteous indignation from photographers championing the "cause" against her. All in all, a fairly boring month for photography.
July began with a flurry of Sony news. From ramping up their sensor division (to the tune of $4 billion) to their new ludicrously fast readout sensors in the RX100 cameras hit the news in quick succession. The ongoing concert-photography kerfuffle continued with various newspapers boycotting & rejecting gigs. Nikon again tumbled head-long into yet another quality assurance nightmare and Fujifilm announced the demise of yet more film lines. Everything stopped for a few hours mid-July though when the NASA New Horizons probe passed Pluto sending back incredible images, before people went back to bleating about concert photography and endless mirrorless vs SLR debates.
August saw new gear announcements from Nikon & Fuji, including an immensely useful black & gold hot shoe cover every Nikon owner had been waiting for. 500px used its $13m of funding to redesign their mobile app which was promptly abhorred by everyone. The A7RII began to reach reviewers getting the hype train started early & prompting Canon to announce their M-series would "feature prominently in 2016" - a move that didn't exactly send shivers of excitement through photographers - beginning with the M3 hitting US shores to lukewarm reception.
September again opened with gear, Tamron leaving things late with its first releases of the year. Canon ignited the troll-wars with its 250mp prototype sensor announcement, followed by a 120mp DSLR, livening up an otherwise very-dull start to the month. Epson came under scrutiny when it was demonstrated just how much ink its high end printers waste. Sony delighted owners of its A7xII cameras when it finally shipped firmware fixing the native RAW file compression issue and previews of the A7SII also started leaking. Finally, Instagram revealed it now has a staggering 400m users, increasing by 25% in less than a year. Ultimatley though, all other news was "eclipsed" by the deluge of super-blood-eclipse-moon shots flooding social media & photography sites.
October is always Wildlife Photographer of the Year month for me, something I always look forward to. The winner, shown at left, is pretty cool and thankfully so far devoid of controversy. Voightlander, the stalwart film rangefinder company, announced it was finally discontinuing its final camera and effectively wrapping up business. At the same time Sony spun off its sensor unit as a dedicated business. Adobe's v6.2 patch to Lightroom causes havoc, introducing bugs, removing features and generally ruining performance. The biggest photography store in the US, B&H, becomes the centre of a storm of controversy over accusations about how it treats its workers, something still grabbing headlines three months later. Sony raised a few eyebrows when it confirmed the A-Mount was effectively dead in the water (no doubt a victim of A7 friendly fire). Finally, the much-anticipated drone registration policy finally came into place in the US.
November saw Canon announce a fall in sales with mirrorless fanboys falling over themselves to announce as clear evidence the ship has sunk and mirrorless was the future, conveniently forgetting/ignoring the general drop in the market sector overall and a confusing correlation with causation. It made for some entertainment reading the comments sections on photo new sites. Sony do an about face, releasing a new A-mount camera despite confirming only a few weeks earlier it had ditched the platform. Reuters issue a surprise announcement banning their photojournalists from submitting RAW files and Nikon surprise no-one with their attention grabbing ploy announcing the D5 is in development. Samsung's demise in the camera market begins with an unceremonious exist of various markets around the world but the news that Canon tried & failed to buy Sigma was definitely a highlight, showing how serious a threat Canon consider them to be and how committed Sigma are to refuse their approach.
December has been fairly quiet so far. Flickr issues its annual stats breakdown again showing that smartphones are the majority source of images but showing quite a disconnect between SLRs and mirrorless. It could be easy to conclude that's because mirrorless cameras are simply not as popular as their fans would have us believe but could just as likely be mirrorless fans don't use Flickr - to answer that one way or the other we'd need more data.
Some of that data came soon after with the IDC camera market share review was issued. With Canon holding steady and Nikon losing out to Sony & "others", rumours of mirrorless crushing all in its path could perhaps be seen to be premature.
All in all, quite an eventful year and one dominated by one theme - gear.
2015 - THE YEAR OF GEAR
Although Canon have produced some top quality stuff this year I think this year will still be remembered by the photographic community - rightly or wrongly - as another year they didn't produce a serious, professional mirrorless camera body. While I'm less concerned about the ergonomics of the camera and more about image quality & specs, even I've been questioning this apparent trepidation on their part. The M-series are not, and in fairness were never trying to, fill this niche but it's all we've seen from Canon. This wall of radio-silence on the mirrorless question has had the unfortunate effect of overshadowing some pretty solid releases this year. Canon don't need to beat Sony in the mirrorless race, they just need to be in the game. Until then, they'll continue to lose news headlines to the rapid developments of their rivals even if the stats show in real terms they're still comfortably the top dog.
A very quiet year for Fuji. With no lens releases that I can remember and only iterations to existing camera lines with the only notable exception being an infra-red version of their XT-1. Although I have a lot of respect for Fuji gear & generally rate them very highly it's a bit unsettling to see such an apparent lack of development or progress. That said, historically they do keep things quiet before dropping solid product on the market.
Gear of the Year - though I've not actually used it, the XT-1 IR is based on the XT-1 which I really like. So if I have to pick, the IR version gets my vote!
I'm not going to pretend I've reviewed or even been hands on view any Leica this year so this is a more "theoretical" appreciation! The Kardashians of the photography world surprised us all with the cameras they've delivered this year, not least the new SL model. The last few years Leica have been churning out uninspiring compacts and incremental revisions to their rangefinders but this year they seem to have taken bolder, more confident steps.
Gear of the Year - the SL has grabbed the headlines but I can't deny there's an allure to the type 246 Monochrom M!
It feels like Nikon have spent more time ignoring... sorry, apologising for another succession of mistakes and production problems this year. Both of "the Big Two" have been feeling mounting pressure but Nikon haven't done themselves any favours. The D5 announcement was a marketing blooper too.
A year of evolution rather than revolution. A couple of OMD mark II bodies and a couple of lenses leads one to question whether Olympus has truly put the events of 2012 behind them. I wonder how long Olympus can continue pushing the same basic, three-year-old sensor in a selection of incrementally different bodies?
Despite some initial exciting progress, Olympus seem to be faltering, unsure of their direction or how best to move forwarrd.
Steady progress, Panasonic continue to cement their position built on their outstanding video offering. They're fleshing out the lens selection and continuing to develop their M43 cameras. Without a serious capital injection to ramp up development and production they will always remain as a tier 2 player at best but while they continue to quietly put out solid gear, that's no bad thing at all.
Gear of the Year - The GX8. With its tilting EVF, quality 4K output and combined lens/sensor image stabilisation - it epitomises Panasonic's quiet commitment to photography but highlights how they're overshadowed by the bigger players.
What is there to say. It's game over for Samung and the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Samsung won't be on this list in 2016 and to be perfectly honest, it's no great loss.
Sigma just get better and better. Three top notch lenses in 2015 would be evidence enough but with the recent announcement that Canon have tried to buy them shows how much of an impact they are having. They even expanded the DP Quattro line with the DP0 and its evolution of their unique sensor design.
Gear of the Year - I've been assured I'm on the list but until I receive my review copy, the 20mm f/1.4 is particularly exciting for my astrophotography itch!
Well! It's hard to understate just how good a year these guys have had! They became the standard to be beaten for mirrorless cameras last year & maintained this again this year for good reason; their sensors are outstanding. They've even delivered on their ambitious FE-mount roadmap this year with half a dozen new lenses while keeping up momentum with their compact ranges. Only their A-mount appears to have suffered with untimely rumours of its demise, likely to ensure resources are funnelled to their full frame options.
Gear of the Year - though there's a few things to choose from it really does have to be the A7R-II. Simply fantastic.
It's felt like Tamron has taken 2015 off! Although the prior two years were pretty good, they've left things too late this year to be covered. I'm hoping to check out their new fast primes next year. I continue to rate some of their older lenses highly but they need to keep delivering to keep pace with rivals like Sigma.
Who Has Impressed Me Most?
This is sort of my unofficial league table of how I'd rank each company in terms of their impact & how much respect they have won from me this year. It's the closest I come to describing my current preferences! Entirely personal & subjective.
My Predictions for 2016
Here's where I go out on a limb and in twelve months limb either look like a prescient genius or some kind of buffoon.
Canon will finally release a mirrorless full-frame option but although technically capable, it'll still lag behind Sony rivals - but they'll also release a completely new sensor-design that despite some flaws/teething troubles will be pretty exciting. Nikon's biggest release will be the D5 and it'll concentrate more on fixing its quality assurance problems and releasing iterations to existing cameras. Samsung will be out of the camera business but will still have a finger-hold in sensors, probably for smartphones. Fuji will again concentrate on minor refinements of their current ranges but will release a full-frame, fixed lens X200 - and it'll be killer. Rather than compete with cameras like the R1XR-II from Sony, with massive megapixel counts, it'll be more capable in low light with a relatively modest MP count. They'll also release a long telephoto zoom & a longer focal length macro lens. Olympus will have another quiet year with little outstanding, probably a mkII OMD EM1, and a couple of uninspiring lenses. Sigma will FINALLY release a fast 85mm Art lens like everyone has been screaming for and will also tease-but-not-release a larger-sensored Foveon camera for 2017. Finally, Sony though their track record suggests Sony will release Mk3 versions of all their A7 series, in 2017 we will only see the A7III featuring a full-frame version of the sensor used in the RX100-IV - 2016 will see their sensor development slow down a fraction. Instead, Sony will focus on fleshing out their lens lineups with some telephotos surpassing 400mm and some fast, quality primes.
Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments!
I couldn't really wrap up 2015 without mentioning how amazed & humbled I've been with how this site has exploded in popularity & how many people have engaged. It has been absolutely fantastic - knowing I've helped people learn & grow as photographers was the whole point of the website so it's awesome seeing it happen. Growing from what was basically a personal portfolio site I took the decision to expand my offering into reviews, teaching & more and I can't believe just how much it has expanded in less than a year.
I'm committed to continuing to bringing my real world reviews, beginner guides & more next year. I also have plans for much, much more such as increasing the number of YouTube videos, reaching out to more gear companies, more free beginner guides and, fingers crossed, a secret project many years in the making... :)
Thank you all!