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Where were all the cameras at CES? 2020 will see fewer, but better, releases

This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.

As one of the largest technology trade shows, CES often sets the tone for the year’s trendiest technology — but what, exactly does a show where camera launches are few and far between say for the state of photography in 2020? A show designed for next-generation technology, the major mirrorless manufacturers were silent as Canon launched the expected EOS 1DX Mark III and Nikon unveiled the long overdue D780, two DSLRs.

But while a majority of major camera manufacturers were mum at this year’s show, the cameras that did make a debut have one thing in common — hybrid versatility. Why endlessly argue the merits of mirrorless vs. DSLR and write clickbait headlines on the death of the DSLR when you can mix the best of both into one?

Perhaps no camera embodies the hybrid trend, albeit a different type of hybrid, more than the Insta360 One R. It isn’t one camera, but three. The modular body houses the processor, microphone, memory card, and touchscreen and sits on one half of a battery base.

Insta 360 One R

The other half houses the lens and sensor, but can be swapped for different applications. There’s a 1-inch sensor mod designed alongside Leica, offering a step up in image quality. There’s the more budget-friendly wide-angle action cam mod. And of course — since the camera is coming from a 360 company — there’s a dual-lens 360 mod.

The design both allows videographers to get better quality out of a 360 cam when they don’t need 360, and switch “lenses” on an action cam. The camera has one of the more novel designs spotted on the show floor — and earned our pick for the best photo tech of CES.

The two other major camera announcements from CES take on a less literal hybrid design, but an important one, nonetheless. The long overdue Nikon D780 adopts the on-chip phase-detection autofocus of the mirrorless Z 6, meaning the DSLR’s Live View will no longer be seriously lacking compared to focusing through the viewfinder. This also allows for features like Eye AF in live view.

While most photographers are likely better off just getting the Z 6, the D780 still has a big advantage for wedding and event shooters: battery life. Nikon has significantly improved efficiency on the new DSLR, giving it a 2,260-shot battery life. We’ve also found that DSLRs still focus better in low light than mirrorless cameras, especially when your subject is moving.

Canon’s previously teased EOS-1D X Mark III also takes on a list of hybrid features. Like the D780, the camera adopts a mirrorless-like Live View autofocus, adding Eye AF to the Dual Pixel system. But the EOS-1D X Mark III takes that hybridity a little further and offers a 20 fps burst mode when using Live View (and a still great 16 fps with the viewfinder). This means there’s finally a full-frame DSLR to compete with the speed the Sony A9 and A9 Mark II. The camera also comes with an impressive 1,000-image buffer for RAW+JPEG shooting.

Importantly, the hybrid trend also follows the 1D X III into video. Canon held nothing back and gave the Mark III the best video features ever seen in a still camera, including 12-bit RAW recording at 5.5K resolution, making the camera just as adept at motion as it is for stills.

While the biggest CES 2020 launches followed a welcome hybrid make-up, the show was relatively quiet for cameras. (Nikon also launched the superzoom P950 and two lenses, while Canon introduced a Lightroom plug-in). This isn’t a surprise, though. Photography’s role at CES has been growing smaller and smaller for years. In 2019, our list of favorites included a pair of binoculars and a cardboard film scanner.

The slowing number of new cameras isn’t just centered around CES — Nikon, Leica, Olympus, and Fujifilm have all decided to sit out Photokina this year, the largest photography trade show, which begins on May 27. Perhaps the decision has something to do with Photokina moving from a bi-annual to an annual show, perhaps camera companies don’t want to compete for attention the week that everyone is launching something new, or maybe the lack of participation is a more sinister indicator of a slowing camera market.

Camera launches the past few years seem to have slowed even beyond just ditching the $100 point-and-shoots no one needs anymore. Even the D780 comes a whole five years after the D750. But if the trend is for a hybrid, do-it-all camera, do we really need a bunch of niche products, or just a few that hit all the high points in a single device? If the rest of the cameras coming out in 2020 are as versatile as the D780, 1D X Mark III, and Insta360 One R, maybe the photo industry is in good shape, after all.

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