Does Canon still care about APS-C DSLRs?

The results I got at SXSW this year during a concert shoot was eye-opening. I always knew, according to DPReview specs anyway, that the new Olympus micro 4/3 cameras basically match my big gun, the Canon 7D DSLR in image quality. But it’s one thing to read about something, it’s another to experience it yourself. Some people weren’t surprised. After all the 7D is a 4-year-old camera — of course the new stuff, even with a smaller sensor, is going to outpace the old tech.

Curious, I decide to poke around and see what Canon’s done lately.

I was a bit surprised. I’m following Olympus and micro 4/3 lately so I haven’t kept up with Canon. Sure, I knew they introduced the 5D Mark III and the 6D, but what have they done in the APS-C space?

The short answer, basically, nothing.

Canon has 3 lines of APS-C DSLRs. The consumer Rebel line, the XXD series (currently the 60D) and the prosumer 7D. While there are rumors of a Mark II, the 7D has no update since the original 2009 introduction. The 60D, introduced in 2010, also has no update. Only the consumer Rebel line has been updated on a regular basis.

The newest Rebel, the T5i, appears to use the same 18MP sensor, introduced by the 7D back in 2009. The image processor is updated to the Digic 5, also used in the Rebel T4i, and SL1. The Rebel T3i, 60D and 7D use the older Digic 4. So within the last 4 years, it looks like the update to Digic 5 is the only image quality related change Canon has made.

So how good is this new Digic 5 processor? Here is some analysis I did for your reading pleasure.

1. I started with the usual DPReview image comparison application. You can access it via this URL. I compared the Olympus OM-D against the Canon 7D and the Canon Rebel T4i. Make sure to change the cameras you are comparing via the drop down menus. The Rebel T4i is listed under Canon EOS 650D, the European name for the same camera. The OM-D represents the newest of the Olympus micro 4/3 sensors, the same one used in my E-PM2 as well as the newest E-P5. The Canon 7D, the other camera I own, represents the older Digic 4 processor. The Rebel T4i has the newest Digic 5.

You can eyeball the results yourself. Things don’t begin to get interesting, these days, until at least ISO 1600. That is where the noise creeps up and the color quality begins to drop. To my eye, the 3 cameras look pretty close. The OM-D more than holds its own against the 7D and if anything the Rebel T4i seems a bit noisier. So unless Canon purposely reduced the image quality on their consumer line, the Digic 5 processor doesn’t seem improve image quality or at least high ISO performance does not seem any better.

2. Let use another comparison. DXO is a company that does extensive sensor and lens testing for their software. They have an interesting database called DXO Mark where they publish their results. Let’s compare the Canon Rebel T4i (650D), the Olympus OM-D and the Canon 7D. You can see for most results, the OM-D with the smaller micro 4/3 sensor outscored the Canon APS-C sensors. Also, the 7D with the older Digic 4 processor outscored the Rebel T4i with the Digic 5 on every test.

I’m not saying that these tests are perfect, I’m sure some people will quibble about it. But the two results seem consistent. And it’s also what I see when I compare my Olympus E-PM2 vs the Canon 7D. So the question is, why hasn’t Canon improved their APS-C image quality? Since the APS-C sensors are larger than micro 4/3, in theory they should produce better results. Is Canon committed to APS-C or is their plan to just add more extraneous bells and whistles to their camera while not improving image quality.

16 thoughts on “Does Canon still care about APS-C DSLRs?

  1. Canon makes big lenses, so why would they be interested in small sensors? To get the most out of the lenses, you need the big sensors. When I was using film, I used the 70-200mm lens a lot. When I started shooting with the 10D, the 70-200mm rarely got used. When I moved to 4/3 (now m4/3), I had to get new lenses. These lenses were matched to the sensor and I was able to get the range that I wanted with three zooms.

    1. Well they sell a lot of cameras with these APS-C sensors. A lot more than full frame. I would think they want to keep up with the competition.

  2. I really loved my Canon A-1 when I was younger, tho it ate batteries like I do with French fries πŸ˜‰ The 600D which my neighbour (plus some of my colleagues) bought is a nice camera for what it is. It out-resolves my 10MP E-520 for sure, but that one has the higher ‘feel’ in your hands, by far not as fragile and plastic.

    Yes, the world doesn’t stand still, and I guess it’s high time for Canon to update the most important part of their APS-C digital lines.

    Somehow tho I think that Kirk Tuck is right about these EVFs. Looking through an optical viewfinder feels old since I have that VF-2, so maybe Sony is the company to watch. Their DSLTs bring the fast AF-C which our mirrorless cameras still don’t have. But that’s probably also only one more iteration to wait for; let’s wait and see.

    Would love to see that VF-4, but I think that would be an expensive experience…

    1. The EVFs do have some nice features, especially for pre-chimping. I don’t know about the Sony SLT but I find them slow for fast action sports.

  3. That is a very interesting observation that you bring up here. Canon really did a great job with their new Speedlites (the 600EX-RT and the ST-E3-RT Transmitter), and their full-frame cameras are still very highly regarded – so why would they pretty much abandon the APS-C cameras (except for the Rebel)? Maybe they are finally actually allocating their engineering resources towards addressing the electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens cameras. If so, nobody is expecting it. Naw… no way!

    Your observation about the lack of development in the APS-C cameras makes me think that they must be working on something, however. It’s either that, or they are going down the same path that the American car manufacturers went down in the 80’s. (Ignore the competition, until they overtake you.)

    1. Somehow, it seems like Canon is getting too complacent or cocky. I heard from a few people that Canon doesn’t seem as interested in getting customer feedback, at least compared to the other camera companies.

  4. The rumor mill at mentioned that a 70D and 7D mark ii are coming in the near future, possibly with an announcement of one in July. Personally I’m OK with Canon being a little slow in releasing the next model if the additional features and image quality makes it worth the wait. A 3-4 year or so life cycle on a DSLR seems reasonable to me; I have no desire or financial ability to upgrade more frequently than that. Canon has been putting a lot of resources into much needed lens refreshes. Perhaps they have chosen to focus on that product line for now.

  5. Wow, I did not expect that. I can’t wait to hear more about your FF exploration. Agree about the minuscule incremental improvements of the APS-C line. it is the main reason why I picked the cheapest of the rebel line (refubished T2i). Somehow, I don’t think it can be really good marketing for Canon.

  6. I need some help with my canon 5D mark iii and the 50mm 1.8 lens. I was always able to use this lens with my old canon 40D without fail and no problems. But for some reason this lens would NOT focus on the 5Diii and it keeps making that focus sound very loudly.

    I tried doing a quick search on google, but nothing really came up regarding this problem. Does anyone have any idea?

    Btw, my 85mm 1.8 works perfectly well on this body.

    Here’s a video (not mine) from youtube – which is the EXACT same thing that is happening to me.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. I’m sorry hoa, I don’t know the answer but perhaps someone else might. I think it would be worth calling Canon Tech Support. That camera and lens combination, of course, should work.

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