Now my serious opinion about the Canon mirrorless full frame cameras and why they will once again dominate the photo-landscape.

The extinction event. Goodbye D700?

About ten years ago I predicted that we would see the end of DSLR cameras as EVF technology improved and mirrorless concepts matured. The logic was simple; people didn't really understand the basic principles of the photographic process but seeing the image in real time, on a screen, would enable them to make corrections by eye and obviate the need for training. An even more compelling argument (and one I made at the time...) is that the two most expensive things in a traditional DSLR camera, after the imaging sensor, are the semi-silvered pentaprism that makes a DSLR a "reflex" camera and the moving mirror construction which requires many more mechanical parts and must be very well calibrated in order to work. So, more parts, more expensive parts and more delicate parts created the writing on the wall that prophesied the approaching demise of traditional cameras. 

The camera makers have done a magnificent job of convincing most consumers that the much-cheaper-to-make mirrorless cameras are worth large sums of money even though the costs to camera makers have been reduced, overall, by 40-50% (manufacturing being only part of the cost; there is still marketing and distribution to cover).  That Sony A7Riii is most likely 40-50% cheaper to create than the Nikon D850 but, if the end results are the same, so what? Sony pockets more profit per camera and dumps more cash into marketing their product, creating a narrative about it's prowess that is partly true. 

So, now that the conversion from DSLR to mirrorless has reached its tipping point we can pretty much agree that camera makers will now move from cameras with flippy mirrors to cameras with.....less stuff. The ardent fans of mirrorless (in some camps) misinterpret the move to mirrorless as being motivated by a size and weight reduction but they are, of course, wrong. Mostly. Serious photographers and working pros are still more interested in the results from cameras rather than a scramble to own "dainty" cameras. But with stodgy Nikon and glacially slow Canon joining in the evolution to a new camera ethos, and Panasonic reportedly waiting in the wings, I think it's safe to say that mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras will be the primary choice of the demographic ready to spend thousands of dollars on gear, and ready to spend similar thousands, year after year, to upgrade and acquire more. 

And that begs the question: Who's going to win?
And I firmly believe that Canon will trounce everyone else for a few simple reasons. First, the smart engineers at Canon created a lens mount in the EOS series that was fully electronic and amply sized for future work. Even though the R series has a new lens mount the fully electronic nature of the previous mount should mean that all those wonderful Canon lenses, made from the late 1980's through now will work flawlessly, not just partially, with a Canon supplied adapter in conjunction with the new R mount. That's huge. They can make the new R lenses a premium line but still have fast to focus and very sharp lenses from their entire EOS legacy catalog available. Win-win. 

It's a different equation for Nikon whose long line of pre-G lenses will be only partially capable with adapters on their new Z cameras. Nikon will sell a bunch of Z cameras to the faithful but not because of a flawless backwards compatibility; more of the sales will come from a regard for the color science and handling, and, to a certain extent, a very usable video implementation. 

Canon will either kill Sony's momentum or force them to come to grips with their engineering mistakes (see: lens mount dwarfism...) and the shot across the bow, from Canon to Sony, is the initial Canon introduction of the 28-70mm f2.0 lens. That's fast. And no one other than Sigma has done an f2.0 constant aperture zoom for full frame before. This is shorthand for: look what we can do with a wide mount diameter. Match this nex guys.  Nikon can do it too. 

While Sony has been on a tear recently one has to understand that Canon has many times more current users, many of whom have been loyal for decades. They might all want to be mirrorless owners but sales and statistics have shown that they were willing to wait till Canon came out with the product they ultimately wanted. 

But wait! What about Panasonic. It's been rumored that they'll be unleashing their full frame camera in the first quarter of next year. The smart money is betting that it will be a Panasonic branded Leica SL body which as gotten very, very good reviews as both a still photography camera and a video camera. If a meteor took out my entire studio and I was starting from scratch that system (the Panasonic version) would be at the top of my list. Right now I'm making videos that are so vastly superior to that which I was getting from Sony's top cameras just a year ago that I am stunned by how far ahead Panasonic is in video from everyone else in the multi-use camera market. 

But sadly, they will not blunt Canon's momentum. Why? Because most people who buy consumer cameras are still buying them to make still photographs. Yes, they like the ability to push a button and make and Instagram video of their kid blowing out birthday cake candles but they really never do the deep dive into high end, high sweat video that would show off the difference between implementations in Nikon, Canon and Sony. 

The ardent researchers/fans/pro-users/dedicated hobbyists make the mistake of believing what the camera marketers have been trying to sell in this camera space; that every camera hitting the market from now until the end of time must achieve exact parity with all the other companies in all aspect of performance and across the entire list of features. But it's not true. 

Canon may not have state of the art, full frame, 4K video but the cameras will still sell like hotcakes to all the Canon fans and loyalist who want to use their cameras to shoot the things they've always shot. Things like kids playing soccer, family vacations, fun events, recitals, casual portraits. These are all things that Canon cameras can do as well of better than other brands. That's the big market. 

Some will argue that Canon failed miserably because they did not put image stabilization into the newly introduced R body. But there is always the argument to be made that image stabilization in a lens can be better because it's customized exactly for that lens and the focal lengths involved whereas in body image stabilization is, from an engineering point of view, a compromise. If I were a consumer looking at the new Canon the one lens I'd be buying first (and for most families, the onliest) would be the 24-105mm lens which I believe is stabilized and is a focal length range that has a long and excellent history in the Canon lens family. I bet they got this one just right. And in today's photo circles it's pretty much the all around lens that ticks all the crucial boxes. 

Panasonic will make a better camera (especially for video) but they will market it as a niche product for people who need killer video as well as great a great photo tool. Canon will always sell millions more bodies. 

Nikon will have more desirable features (in the short run) and pull ahead of Canon on their video implementation but Canon will out market Nikon and actually point out things like their lens prowess and ease of use. They will continue to gain on Nikon. I love the idea of the Nikon products but if starting from scratch I'd still feel some pull from Canon. 

Sony will be the net loser on this one. They had a good run with the A7 series and they've done some innovative things but the lens mount will eventually strangle them and they will launch a secondary system down the road. That'll piss off the faithful.  I'm betting that Sony sees things more as consumer products (individual products) rather than being long term systems which need to be backwardly compatible and cross functional. Their A7 series video codecs are already starting to look dated. They are better video cameras than the current Canon but Canon can change that whole paradigm in one product cycle. And, as I've stated above, I'm not sure small differences in video performance matters to the vast majority of buyers.  In fact, I'm almost certain of it.

If you are a current Canon professional user who shoots mostly stills but has the routine requirement of shooting some video for clients in 1080p the R camera will be a no-brainer for you because, with one adapter you'll be able to use, without limitations, that 70-200mm f2.8 that is best in class, the 24-70mm f2.8 that is so well established and any number of other lenses that you already have in your bag. 

How will both Canon and Nikon prevail over Sony? It's very simple, you just have to try each camera in person, in your own hand. The handling differences are tremendous skewed in favor of the established players. The small, incremental differences in handling and feature sets will pale next to the realities of good, livable industrial design. Count on it. 

Canon > Nikon > Sony > Fuji > Panasonic > Olympus. Everyone else can go home now and we'll get ready for the next round of musical chairs.

Me? After I take a call with a client on the east coast I'm tossing a fresh battery into the D700, sliding on the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art and heading out to take a nice walk with a beautiful, historic camera. I feel kinda like a guy with a 1964 Corvette Stingray in the garage. You know it's an ancient car but it's still incredibly fun to drive and gets you to the same destination as quickly as your new, aerodynamic jellybean lookalike car. Yeah.

Fact for today: Cameras can be too small and too light to be optimally effective. The way a hand tool feels is as important as the way it works.


Another user said...

Love your posts

Anonymous said...

Love your posts and opinions.

Jacques said...

I think I'm going to steal your "Jellybean" analogy !!! :-)

Jonathan said...

Here is a thought. Since Sony makes sensors, they come out with a square format camera with their existing lens mount that covers the entire image circle of the lens.

Crazy? I don't think so at all.

I have been waiting for someone to do this for a very long time. If indeed Canon puts as much pressure on them as you say, maybe this is how they get creative. I'll be the first in line if they do it.

As a canon user with a full compliment of EF lenses I think the R is great for folks like me. I could see getting it with the 24-105 and 35 1.8 and using my EF lenses for everything else. It would be the least expensive way to go to FF mirrorless for someone like me.

David said...

An other great post. I hope Panasonic has realized that they are a video player. If they have, what I would expect is the new larger format Panasonic camera to have a 16:9 aspect ratio sensor, being a large chip and capable of great 8k video. Amazing if it where 60p 8k video. That would trump basically all other video cameras and pull Panasonic a head. If Panasonic is trying to compete with these other players, then they will lose. But hopefully the great sales of the GH5S and poor sales of the G9 have told them were they stand. But similarly, the poor sales of the G9 may have pushed them into this format. So we will see what comes out.

Anders Holt said...

Very nice, very to the point! I now use Olympus, but started with the Panasonic gf1 about 10 tears ago. But my hart holds the button for Nikon, because of the one used Nikormat and Nikon FG, 40 tears ago. Still have some lenses...

Eric Rose said...

I am just waiting for the new Panasonic FF to come out. I can't wait to pick up a couple of cheap GH5's when they hit the discount table.

Roger Jones said...

For the life of me I don't understand why Nikon didn't make a better adapter. A adapter that used all their lens, and give it for free with the Z6 an Z7. Canon made the right move with their adapter, and including it with the new camera. As for Sony, who cares. Here's a thought, why does Nikon keep using the sensor from a company that's trying to put them out of business? Makes no sense.
I'm afraid your right, the days of the DSLR are coming to pass. Sad, but true. Although, I'm getting ready to add more/or one relics to my collection, a D750 or a D800e. I really like the D750 and would buy it in a heartbeat except for the AA filter. If the D800e had a flip up screen, I'd buy it in a New York minute. Oh, what to do, what to do??? So I ask myself what would Kirk Tuck do, and I came up with the answer, I bought both.

Have fun

Jim said...

And you are right, a camera is a hand tool.

Hugh said...

Long term Canon user here (40 years, including 5D1, 5D2, 5D3 and 5D4).

I'll buy one when used prices drop, with the 35mm lens - nice easy handling portable setup that takes all my existing EF lenses when I need a backup camera. Also ideal when I want to use vintage manual focus lenses for video. It's exactly what I want.

Canon video is just easy to shoot and get an acceptable result. I've tried Sony - just too much work.

John W said...

I bought a Canon EOS620 in 1988 and lugged Canon gear for the next 26 years. But then an old back injury and age caught up with me and playing pack mule with all that heavy metal got to be a bit too much. In 2015 I switched to Fuji, not because I was unhappy with the results from my Canon gear; they simply didn't have a camera to compete with the size, weight and IQ of the XT-1. Now they do, and love my Fuji gear as I do, if I could afford it I'd go back to using Canon gear in a heartbeat. Never liked Nikon or Sony - they simply don't fit my hand ... though I have owned and still own some non-DSLR Nikon gear. Canon and Fuji fit just fine thank you.

James Weekes said...

Two questions as to the Canon. Are their sensors as good as the Sony/Nikon/Panasonic/Olympus ones? I keep reading about poor dynamic range. Doesn’t Canon make really good video cameras? If the video performance is seen as hindering sales, I’m pretty sure they can play catch-up in a hurry.

Bill Bresler said...

28-70 f2 ?!?!? I have full-frame Nikon dslrs and monster lenses that my employer gives me. Most of the time I leave them at home and shoot with an a6000 and a6300 that I paid for myself. Small and light keeps me mobile. The more mobile I am the better photos I make.

Michael Matthews said...

Interesting. Despite the overkill approach in pre-release publicity, Nikon managed to present a product which looks new and enticing. Canon, on the other hand, arrived with a dull thud. All the points for stage management and clarity of concept go to Nikon. But you’re right, a larger base of satisfied users may give the game to Canon.

Equally interesting, now that I’m paying more attention to video, it appears to me that the bulk of the Youtube types consistently cranking out really good-to-look-at video are doing so with Canon gear. This despite the endless grinding of teeth about the brand’s chronic lag in state of the art tech.

ODL Designs said...

Don't count out m43rds. As everyone attacks the FF world a new sensor and an additional lens or two could draw in a lot of APSC users :)

Rufus said...

Kirk has not seen the new Fuji X-T3 yet ! That was announced this morning and it is a SERIOUS video tool. A proper hybrid camera.

Fuji have taken video very seriously.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about any reason to believer IBIS is a compromise. Not a single real life example. I wonder why did you raise this argument after using olympus i panasonic - did you have any issues with IBIS?

Other than that, Canon made 2 mistakes. One is lack of IBIS, second is significant 4k crop. Basically 4k is unusable. And tehir excellent 24-70 2.8 is not stabilized. For me its a deal breaker. I don't put too much value in DR, but these two a key factors for me.n It's a pity because canon has a lot of good affordable glass and new R line, while not exactly cheap, is definitely interesting.

Also, regarding Sony "small" mount" - we're yet to see the impact. for now sony 24-105 f4 is lighter than canon newest R 24-105 F4 and sony is allegedly excellent performer. Maybe Sony will not offer F/1 glass. But the possible mount advantage is not clear as of now.

Terry Manning said...

Canon gets haptics right. Every time I hold a Sony, it just doesn't feel like a camera I could use all day every day. I enjoy my little Fuji and Olympus cameras, but I'm conscious of the effort of holding them, whereas my Canon bodies disappear and I can concentrate on shooting.

Kirk Tuck said...

To Anonymous above: Much has been written about the limitations of in body image stabilization, especially in large sensor cameras. Relatively large sensor movements are required for true stabilization and the mass and size of a full frame sensor mitigates against its efficacy at longer focal lengths and with more pronounced vibration. It's also a limitation if the sensor is constrained by too small of a lens mount as the longer movements during stabilization cause the edges to have increased vignetting. Additionally, per Panasonic, unanchored sensor assemblies (required for IBIS) can cause many artifacts because of the momentum of the assembly and its inability to stop and start quickly enough at the end of a transit. Also, since unanchored, any jarring to the camera can cause anomalies to be present in the images. I.S. in lenses is limited to the smallest element groups and is optimized for the focal lengths involved, not limited in the same way by available side to side and top to bottom spacing and capable of more radical inclined movement in other than the X/Y axis. Yes, I've had issues when panning with Olympus cameras and my GH5 with earlier firmware. One of my reasons for picking up the GH5S is, in fact, the feature that is the lack of IBIS. The I.S. of the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro is demonstrably superior to the IBIS in the GH5 and switching lenses when using a gimbal buys me more image stability when shooting with the GH5S with its locked sensor. The reason the Olympus cameras and Panasonics latest cameras have such good IBIS is tied directly to the size and mass of the sensors. It's an optimal compromise. Moving to full frame I think you'll find the equation tilted in favor of in lens stabilization every time.

The 4K is not unusable in the Canon. It's just not as good as the implementations of Nikon and Sony. Just as the Nikon and Sony are so much less capable than the GH5. If you want to use the best 4K in the Canon then you switch to APS-C mode and use appropriate APS-C lenses to give you a "full frame" approach in a very serviceable sensor size.

Finally, while the Sony 24-105mm f4 might be lighter than the Canon much has been written about the shortcomings of the Sony lens and the difficulties of getting good corner sharpness with A7 series cameras in conjunction with wider angle lenses. I don't really give a crap if the Sony is lighter if the Canon is sharper, better and more nuanced. Do you? The mount advantage for Nikon and Canon is very, very clear to me and the Sony mount will emerge as their Achille's Heel.

RaminM said...

Respectfully, here is my take on your article: you are certainly entitled to your opinion but calling your site 'Visual Science Lab' is ironic when you are merely throwing out absolutely arbitrary arguments with no scientific ground to justify your brand favoritism.

Kirk Tuck said...

"Respectfully" right back at you. This is a blog about life in photography it's not a cheap substitute for a college class in the "science of" mechanical engineering, optical engineering, etc. If you want to research all the stuff I wrote in the article then grab some coffee, strap yourself into a chair and knock yourself out on Google. You'll easily find good reference material for everything we mentioned. And don't be such an asshole. I"m not into brand favoritism and I don't shoot with Canon so do your research about our wonderful site before you go off half cocked. Jeez. I have a good mind to increase your membership fees here. Oh, that's right, we do this blog and all the content free of charge. Prove me wrong on anything I mentioned and we'll send you a free VSL T-shirt.

James Weekes said...

Did that guy accuse you of brand favoritism!?!? The only camera you haven’t used since I started reading this blog is Miranda and maybe, Konica.

James Weekes said...

Did that guy accuse you of brand favoritism!?!? The only camera you haven’t used since I started reading this blog is Miranda and maybe, Konica.

Spencer H said...

Has there ever been a time in history where someone starts a sentence off with "Respectively" and its not been passive aggressive? Why bother? Just say you disagree!

Thanks for all the digital ink on the older cameras lately. Used my d700 and ancient 85mm 1.8D the other morning while out walking my dogs. Still functions the same as it always has...

TMJ said...

I moved to Canon FF two years ago, whilst many were going to you-know-whom.
Anyway, I'm pleased I did, because the image quality is great and the lenses superb: the lens IS in the newer models is outstanding. The current obsession with sensors, especially in regards to DxO mark and dynamic range (DR), is frankly a bit silly. I have never once found that the DR of my Canon in anyway was a hindrance to the end result.

For me, the new Canon mirrorless is exactly what I would like next, essentially a 5d IV but with weight and cost saving.

amolitor said...

I think you're being proven right, Kirk.

Canon flew a bunch of people out to Hawaii for a couple days, rather than merely inviting the same people to a warehouse in NYC for an afternoon. The result? Everyone loves the camera. Which is essentially the same as the Nikon offerings. Sure, there's this little feature and not that one, and whatnot, but this is just rationalization after the fact.

"Canon is awesome! Nikon sucks! Ok, I was disappointed that it too only has one card slot, but at least it's an SD card slot, so let us forgive Canon a minor peccadillo where we panned Nikon for a horrendous crime."

and so on.

Canon is good at this, and has spent their money wisely. The buzz is all Canon's way.

Tony Northrup and his wife made an absolutely shameful video in which they are obviously drunk on Canon's booze, but boy they love the Canon. What a grifter.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your wwww research you synthesize. Much to think about :-)
I struggle to see how Nikon's FTZ adapter falls short. It is surely nothing more than an extension tube capped by respective female-male bayonet-flanges. Its electronic innards is the crucial stuff in between. Nikon has all the proprietary specs to make this work as well as an actual F-Mount
Initial reports say it works flawlessly with all Nikkors tried (AFD excepted as only MF)

fcotterill said...

here's another essay by Lloyd on strategic significance of competing lens-mounts. The ability to bridge leading AF lenses (eg AF Zeiss Batis on Sony-E etc) to Nikon-Z will of course hinge on rvs-engineering the Nikon AF

If Sigma and Tamron fail on porting to the FTZ on these new MILC cameras, they will not only lose out big time, but those invested in Nikon-fit lenses will be incensed. And rightly so IMHO. Ditto for Canon. It is in the best interests of Canikon to NOT antagonize loyal clients, surely.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk, thanks for commenting in my post about ibis/4k/mount.
I take your point that ibus may be a problem in specific situations like panning and ibis on ff is not as efficient as on m43. However i havent seen any complaints or ibis induced artifacts yet and having ibis >>>> no stabilisation. Sure, I take ois, but most of canon lenses including all L primes and 24-70 l zoom dont have any.
Secondly, sony had big issues with corner sharpness but somehow it was able to release number of very good lenses recdntly, all GM are universally praised, as is zeiss batis line. That being said I see canon nee 1.2l and 280-70l and its more than likely sony wont compete in that space. Actually sony doesnt compete in f1.8 or f2 affordable prime space either. So mount is ine thing, but vision and market experience is even mord important and canon has it more.

The point I wont agree with is that 4k is usable, just put in adapter and buy aps-c dslr lens (and still suffer from crop as 1.74 > 1.6 cabon aps-c). You cant point that canon produces cameras with consumer friendly features and then accept very convoluted approach of getting 4k out if camera. Why would i buy dslr aps-c lenses for my new canon r? And then for still do I need to change it back to ff lens or get 10mpix picture? No way. Lets call canon on this one.

If canon had ibis and 4k, I'd join the crowd and canon r. But for now nikon simply looks better - better sensors, better 4k, also a big mount. And sony has it all as well, even more and better. It might be different in 5 years time though.

neopavlik said...

I'm a Nikon shooter but I view the Canon slightly more favorably because they did better on the 2 things most important to me. #1 being able to use existing lenses (my screwdrive lenses can't AF on Nikon, where the equivalent versions could be used on the Canon if I had them ) and # 2 eye AF. Nikon does have the edge on that full fram 10 bit video out.

Interested to learn more about the Fuji and Panasonic offerings.