Friday, 3 May 2019

Will Canon ever be successful at Mirrorless? Does mirrorless even matter?

I’m so tired of hearing about the whole mirrorless “feature”. Yes there’s some benefit to not having a shutter, but I’ve yet to see any real reason why we should throw out DSLR's for Canon's mirrorless cameras … I’ll take a step back and explain.

What can the Canon R (and RP) do that’s so special? Well there’s "Dual Pixel" focusing. That’s awesome - no doubt about it, and honestly I'm surprised it's taken so long to do this. My second Canon SLR was the 7E series - it would focus wherever your eye pointed in the viewfinder (I believe the Canon EOS 3 had the same functionality). It was flawless and Canon somehow scrapped it! But surely dual pixel focusing is not why most people would want one?

Getting into the Canon R ecosystem comes with a HUGE caveat - a new lens mount. The lenses released to date and planned are typically bigger and heavier than their EF counterparts. And that’s the deal breaker. Had Canon said, hey here a mirrorless camera and you can use EF glass on it, Canon would be in the money (for camera body sales). But they didn’t. And what nobody else in the photography media have admitted to yet is that Canon has already done this - with the Canon M camera range. Did they abandon the M format lenses already? It sure seems so.

I’m writing this, after reading how Canon had a press release earlier this week that said initial sales with Canon R and RP were brisk - but within a month, this interest has (in Japan of all places) already tailed off. Sales of Canon R have flatlined already.

“You can still use a converter to use EF lenses” - it’s like deja-vu all over again. Canon did the exact same thing with Canon M cameras, and wanted a huge amount of money (proportionally to the cost of the camera) for a converter to continue to use EF lenses. The barrier to entry - that’s great when they only make less than a dozen lenses.

The other issue I see with Canon's camera division is the inability to price gear to match the market. The Canon 5Dmk2 price point was so good that they sold millions of them - it was the biggest selling prosumer camera Canon ever made. Then they got greedy and did a minuscule upgrade that added a huge markup. The 5Dmk4 is a bigger step up, but still isn't nearly as ground breaking as the mk2 was and is already out of date compared to the market. Their research and development teams are obviously not talking to the marketing department. But I digress.

Let's take stock of the mirrorless problem here.

Canon has traditionally tried to maximise profits by limiting camera features to prevent diluting their broad product range (which is why there’s still no DSLR or Mirrorless camera with a decent 4K implementation - because they want you to buy a video camera - another topic I’m going to talk about shortly) and fractionally better glass makes much greater profit margins (ironically, there’s more air in a lens than glass!). It makes much more sense to Canon to make you buy another expensive lens, that will likely replace one with the same specifications as one you’ve already bought.

Canon’s M range focused on being mobile - the lenses were light, because the point was to replace a point and shoot without the weight. The quality was intentionally dialled down to prevent eating into their EF line. But ironically they also came out with their “worlds smallest SLR” range which was a similar size and weight, and was a much better fit for many users (which can be seen by its popularity and now in its third revision). Canon’s R range has completely missed the boat here, as the camera got smaller (which you’d expect after removing the glass pentaprism and the shutter), but now they’re extremely front heavy because the lenses are no lighter than their EF brothers.

A few years ago, Panasonic, Olympus and others introduced the Four Thirds system, which had a huge adoption. I don’t believe this was because it was mirrorless, but because of it’s convenient and easy to use hardware that was not locked into one brand. And primarily because in addition to taking really high quality images, it was lightweight. But the obsession with mirrorless was born and has been nothing more than a huge sales pitch ever since.

So what is the Canon R series good for? It’s not lighter, it’s not more convenient, it’s not without its flaws (try looking at YouTube for bloggers reporting quirks with the EOS R camera not working as expected and ultimately not trusting it as a professional camera!). Canon has created yet another ecosystem for mirrorless and I don’t expect it to last any longer than the Canon M series.

I recently watched a video trying to justify using a Canon EOS R as a B-camera for video production, and the comments speak for themselves. We’ve now got to the point where I presume that Canon is trying to find reasons to justify this rushed out and thoroughly botched concept.

Canon now has EF series lenses (and their EF-S line tailored for smaller sensors), Cinema series lenses, M series lenses and now R series lenses (yes they also had FD series pre 1987 but that’s pretty much dead now). The first two have obvious benefits, where Cinema series lenses use video industry T-Stops instead of the photo industry f-stops for determining how much light will pass through the lens. The different gearing for cinema lenses also makes total sense and makes up for the bodge of trying to gear the focus and zoom on an EF lens. Canon M and R series can’t claim any real benefit - yes the R lenses have an extra ring that’s configurable, but that is there purely to add a difference to justify its existence. It is otherwise a feature that nobody asked for.

Someone, anyone, please - tell me what I’m missing! Is it any surprise that Canon's camera division isn't doing so well right now?

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