Canon’s Disjointed Mirrorless Strategy

Canon RP

Yesterday, I talked about the State of Mirrorless Cameras in 2019. Today, I’ll talk more in depth about Canon. With my Olympus coverage and use of compact cameras like the Canon G7X Mark II, you might not know that I own a complete full frame DSLR system, a Canon 6D and eight lenses. I don’t use them very often, perhaps a couple of times a year.

The Canon gear sits in my cabinet waiting to be resurrected by modern full frame mirrorless technology. Years of shooting other mirrorless cameras have completely turned me off of the now primitive DSLRs. I might still use DSLRs but more for the retro experience. Let’s just say, I was looking forward to Canon’s full frame mirrorless cameras.

First Try, EOS M

In 2012, Canon half-heartedly acknowledged the mirrorless trend and released the EOS M, an APS-C based interchangeable lens system. With all the negativity on the Internet, I try to remain optimistic on this blog, not being overly critical. After all, product development is hard and there are many competing factors to balance. However, the original EOS M was so pitifully bad, I thought it was broken when I first played with it. Its focusing was atrocious and they were many years behind the competition.

Over the years, to Canon’s credit, they’ve steadily improved the EOS M line and released more lenses. The enthusiast EOS M5 and M6 are solid cameras featuring dual pixel AF, which works well for video. But the cameras are expensive and they still fall behind the completion in almost every feature. Also, with only eight lenses, they barely cover the basics.

Clearly, the EOS M was Canon’s attempt not to directly compete with their money making DSLR line. But with Sony’s relentless push into mirrorless and the decline of DSLR sales, Canon knew they needed something better. Rumors swirled that they were working on a full frame mirrorless system.

Enter EOS R

Canon’s first full frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R arrived to mixed reviews. They get high praise for complete compatibility with all their DSLR EF and EF-S lenses. Their three adapters shows some real innovation. But the camera itself, as well as the the new RF lenses, are a puzzle.

The EOS R is a mid-range camera using older sensor technology and questionable interface controls. Does anyone really like the touch bar? The typical PSAM dial was replaced with a new dial and LCD system. It seems like they gratuitously added new features just to make it look modern, but the actual interface falls short of the tried and true DSLR controls. If they were trying to get Canon DSLR owners to switch over, why not retain the interface everyone was comfortable with.

While the camera was a mid-range model, the new lenses were decidedly on the serious side, large and expensive. There seems to be a mismatch between the camera and the RF lenses.

Then inexplicably, five months later, Canon introduced another full frame mirrorless, the EOS RP. This model is decidedly entry level with an aggressive $1299 price. It sports a more conventional interface that I prefer along with its compact size. Except, the native RF lenses are so large and expensive, they don’t harmoniously work with the RP, both from an ergonomics and price point perspective. Look at the picture up top. See how large the RF 24-105 lens is, in relation to the small body. That big lens is also so expensive that when combined with the RP kit, it balloons in price from $1299 to $2199. All the advantages of an inexpensive body are lost.

The RP’s older 26.2 MP sensor, borrowed from the Canon 6D Mark II, is not a stellar performer either. While full frame, image quality is not much better than smaller APS-C sensors.

Canon’s Competing Departments

I have no knowledge of the inner workings of Canon. However, from an outsider, it seems like their product development and product strategy was devised in separate departments that didn’t communicate well with each other.

1. The EOS M system is completely separate from the EOS R. While both systems can use the legacy DSLR lenses, the two mirrorless lenses systems are incompatible with each other. At Sony, by contrast, their full frame and APS-C systems use compatible lens mounts.

2. Why release entry level and mid-level bodies but not offer any entry level or mid-level RF lenses? The price points and camera to lens ergonomics don’t match.

3. Why release two mirrorless bodies 5 months apart? They were clearly in development at the same time. Did one project fall behind? There is no unified message between the two cameras. In contrast, look at what Nikon and Panasonic did with their full frame mirrorless announcements.

4. Why are the physical interfaces between the R and RP so different? Were they created by two separate teams?

There’s probably logical reasons for these apparent discrepancies. There always is. Perhaps Canon’s master plan will become clear over the next couple of years. But as a Canon user, their current message is disjointed and confusing.

Does Canon have the Technology?

I use enough different cameras, from all brands, to know the state of the mirrorless market. And, I get the distinct feeling that Canon just doesn’t have the technology to compete. Or perhaps they do, but decided for one reason or an other, not to use them. Is it because they still don’t want to compete with their DSLRs? Or they don’t see their competition clearly? Or maybe it’s hubris; years of being the top dog in the camera industry has blinded them.

At one time, ten to fifteen years ago, Canon sensors were the best. The in-house designed and manufactured sensors clearly lead the industry. But, that hasn’t been true for years. Sony sensors are clearly in the lead. Sony sensors have better dynamic range and better high ISO performance. Sony and Nikon, which both use Sony sensors, clearly lead Canon in technical image quality.

Not including in-body image stabilization (IBIS) was a clear missed opportunity in Canon’s new mirrorless line. That’s the feature I was looking for. Imagine an image stabilized mirrorless Canon to which I can adapt my legacy EF lenses. They now come alive with new technology and increased capability. I would have gladly bought a Canon mirrorless with IBIS. I’m sure Canon knows this. Did they omit IBIS on purpose? Or, perhaps, they don’t have the technology.

There are other rough spots in the R and RP. The shutters, for example, are loud and DSLR like. They have none of the finesse of modern mirrorless cameras. The same is true of the smaller EOS M cameras. Do they even care or realize this?

These are some of the things I see about Canon in 2019. Have they become so bloated that they can no longer complete? Have they been caught flat footed by Sony’s aggressive push into cameras? Sales leadership and profits can blind a company into complacency. Has this happened to Canon?

My future with Canon

I am not wedded to a camera or camera company. I use them as tools for my photography. I have requirements for what I want to do — primarily travel and street photography with some casual portraiture — and I choose the tools that I think can best help me achieve my goals. I use Olympus mirrorless cameras right now but I’m also using a Canon compact camera. I am willing to change these, if I find a better tool.

The current trajectory of Canon mirrorless cameras are disappointing, as you can tell from this post. If I were wise, and I don’t claim that I am, I should just sell my legacy Canon DSLR and lenses. They don’t get much use and Canon’s mirrorless strategy is suspect. Sadly, I hold on, hoping that something will change. There are rumors that a future Canon mirrorless with have in-body image stabilization. But, even if that’s true, would that be enough? Their mirrorless technology is clearly behind the market leaders.

When I moved from the Canon 7D to the Canon 6D, it was basically to protect my “investment”. I was no longer using the 7D, because it fell behind technologically and its image quality was inferior to the faster and more agile Olympus mirrorless cameras. But, buying the 6D didn’t change much. I no longer enjoyed using it, even if the full frame DSLR had theoretically superior image quality. I wonder and fear that my move to a Canon mirrorless will be the same.

However, the reality is, the old Canon gear is not worth much. I can sell it for pennies on the dollar or just keep it and add it to my legacy gear collection. The Canon 6D and lenses will sit next to the retro cool film cameras, my quirky old digital point and shoots and the surprisingly capable 15 year old Olympus DSLR with the CCD sensor. Years from now, I’ll pick up the Canon DSLR and play with it, like I do my other old cameras. Just for fun and for the appreciation of history.

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7 thoughts on “Canon’s Disjointed Mirrorless Strategy

  1. Canon’s EOS launch mystified me as well. low to mid-range entry level type cameras and really expensive lenses. Sure there is an adapter for the DSLR glass, but I don’t get the lens line-up for mirrorless.

    Nikon on the other hand, lead with high-end cameras and lenses. This would seem to be ideal for the early adopter types.

    I have a DSLR. I like shooting with it. I don’t really see the big advantage of spending a bunch of money to switch to a mirrorless camera that will take the same quality photos as this point. If I did, I would look at the Nikon cameras because I have a lot of F-mount glass and Nikons seem to have a good ergonomic and UI design. But they only have like 5 or 6 Z-mount lenses out yet (nothing for astro-photography). I will consider it maybe in 2020. No big hurry.

    1. Hi Jason, agreed. Nikon’s approach seems more organized and rational. If I didn’t own any full frame lenses and were buying a full frame mirrorless, Nikon seems the most compelling for me, at this time.

      To be clear, there is nothing wrong of course with DSLRs. They certainly can make wonderful images. And for sports and action, superior for now to mirrorless, though the gap is really close now.

      For my travel and street photography, however, some mirrorless is really nice for its compact size.

      1. Oh, if I was doing a lot of street photography, I would much prefer one of the micro-four-thirds systems, like Olympus, for compactness, weight, and concealment. And that would also be nice for the casual hike, but it is too much cost for me to get into another separate camera system. My full-frame choice is mostly driven by astrophotography and landscape (light sensitivity and lens choice).

        I don’t think that mirrorless makes much of a size difference in the full-frame world as the lenses are kind of huge for both systems. I would like to play around with the EVF and see if that makes much of a difference, but much of the time I am shooting in live view anyway.

      2. Makes sense for your astrophotography and landscapes. High ISO performance and available wide-angle lenses with a large aperture certainly would help too, I imagine.

        A mirrorless full frame will definitely be larger than micro 4/3, especially the lenses. But done right, a mirrorless full frame can still be significantly smaller than a DSLR. Sony’s system is a good example, with their compact primes.

      3. As to Canon, I’d guess that if you wait around 6 – 12 months you will see a higher end mirrorless camera from them. They just can’t ignore this. And they will probably finally add image stabilization as well.

        And by then, their mirrorless lens line-up will be more fleshed out as well.

      4. It will be interesting to see how Canon and all the other players build out their systems. It’s a whole new ball game when the big guys have to complete with new found competition.

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