The Chinese Syndrome (Pt 1)

While Chinese manufacturers brands have been quietly establishing a beach head in the studio lights/speedlight segments over the past few years, 2016 also saw the first Chinese branded Micro Four Thirds camera, from Yi, and some sophisticated wide-aperture wide angle lenses from Laowa and Mitakon. Slowly but surely, Chinese brands are gaining familiarity and kudos among professional and consumer customers.

The Mitakon Creator 135mm f2.8 - metal costruction and a built-in retractable lens hood for around US$200.

The Mitakon Creator 135mm f2.8 – metal construction and a built-in retractable lens hood for around US$200.

Just today Zhongyi (Mityakon) announced an f2.8 135mm prime with a metal barrel and built-in retractable lens hood – for around US$200! Then there is filter manufacturer Nisi, also making its presence felt with high quality, lower cost lens filters. And a company called DJI is said to be doing interesting things with drones.

Next year might well see further challenges to the long-established order of things. In 2016 Tamron joined Sigma in offering premium lenses at about half the price asked by Canon, Nikon and Sony, effectively challenging their business model. South Korean lens manufacturer Samyang has also been offering high performance at head-turning prices. Two thousand and seventeen could well be the year the Chinese move further toward the mainstream photographic industry, with potentially market-disrupting consequences. The big question for photo retailers is whether to adopt and ‘wait and see’ attitude, or plunge in with new offerings from unfamiliar sources.

The Yi M1 is a M43 cameras with a 20-megapixel sensor capable of 4K video and weighing just 280g (body only). It shoots in RAW (DNG), has 5fps continuous shooting, and has an 81-point AF system. It is arguably more ‘digital native friendly’ than any other mirrorless camera on the market, with its all-touchscreen interface and just two physical buttons. Whereas the likes of Nikon and Olympus would rather not talk about where they get their sensor technology (Sony), it’s a key selling point for Yi:  ‘YI M1 Mirrorless Digital Camera provides stunning photos with the latest Sony 20MP image sensor (IMX269) delivering accurate color reproduction and the finest tone curve.’

The Yi M1 - a 20-meg, M34- mount camera which is available for around US$500 with 14-42mm lens. .

The Yi M1 – a 20-meg, M34- mount camera which is available for around US$500 with 14-42mm lens. .

With a kit lens, it’s for sale in the US at just $499, and while the first review of the camera has a ‘not bad but could be better’ tone to it, it’s about $150 less than it’s nearest competitor. The M2 will no doubt be better, and still be cheaper than the competing Olympus and Panasonic models.

It’s worth noting that Yi also manufactures a range of action cameras, with the top-of-the-line touchscreen, 4K model reviewed as out-performing anything from GoPro, at about half the price! (And what’s the bet that that struggling business goes to the highest bidder some time in 2017? If so, the Yi 4K will be one of the nails in its coffin.)

Laowa (just three years old) has focussed sharply (pun unavoidable!) on manufacturing macro-capable lenses. It’s most recent release, a full-frame 12mm f2.8, was achieved through Kickstarter support. It’s available for pre-order at under US$1000 and has had (bemusedly) positive reviews.

The full-frame Laowa 11mm f2.8 Zero-D (designating zero distortion!) is under US$1000 - around a third of the cost of the nearest Nikon and Canon alternatives.

The full-frame Laowa 11mm f2.8 Zero-D (designating zero distortion!) is under US$1000 – around a third of the cost of the nearest Nikon and Canon alternatives.

Other lenses in the line-up – all of which push the boundaries in macro lens specs – are the 15mm f4 1:1 Macro (US$500), the 60mm f2.8 2:1 ‘ultra macro’ and the 105mm f2 (US$700). All these lenses are potentially market-disrupting in terms of price for performance.

At PhotoCounter we have long held that predictions are for charlatans, fools, or those rare individuals who can actually shape the course of history – Donald Trump and dudes like that. But it wouldn’t be foolish for photo retailers to keep a close watch on developments in Chinese manufacture of Chinese-branded photographic products. After all, they are making a lot of gear for more familiar brands already.

To complete this two-parter, Brian McKinnon, from professional photographic products distributor PROtog, has generously contributed a nuanced feature on the state of play with Chinese photo goods manufacturers, with insights gained as a pioneering local distributor of brands which are fast establishing themselves as alternatives to the ‘incumbents’.

 

 

 

 


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