It seems like a matter of when, not if, Canon and Nikon will enter the high-end, full-frame mirrorless market. But will any system they release accommodate legacy lenses?Last week I wrote an article in which a supposed “internal document” from Fujifilm suggested Canon and Nikon will lose 50% of their market share within three years. Naturally, this created a lot of healthy discussion among Fstoppers members and the article has had almost 100 comments to date. Many of the issues brought up in the comments related to mirrorless systems and what will happen if and when Canon and Nikon enter the mirrorless market.
Currently, the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, and Olympus are at the forefront of the mirrorless market and have a good head start on the two traditional giants. However, it seems a foregone conclusion that both Canon and Nikon will produce a high-end mirrorless system sooner rather than later, perhaps as early as next year if rumors are to be believed.
But what drove a lot of discussion in the comments to last week’s article was whether or not any high-end mirrorless system that Canon or Nikon release will allow for full integration of legacy lenses that owners have been using on their DSLRs hitherto.
The Current Need for Adapters
At the moment, if you want to use DSLR lenses on a mirrorless system you need to use an adapter, such as the Metabones T Smart Adapter. That is simply to account for flange distance - the distance between where the lens mounts and where the sensor sits in your camera. Obviously, the distance is different when you compare a mirrorless system with a DSLR system that has a mirror, hence the need for an adapter.
Depending on the adapter you use, you might not be able to use automatic focus or auto aperture with your current lenses. Naturally, the adapters that couple legacy DSLR lenses with mirrorless systems most effectively are at the more expensive end of the market, and don’t always guarantee a perfect transition. Which brings us to our current dilemma.
When Canon or Nikon release a high-end mirrorless system into the market, will those cameras have the capacity to allow for perfect use of lenses currently used on DSLR systems? Now that might seem like a ridiculous question considering they are two completely different systems but I will put my hand up and say, perhaps naïvely, that I had assumed that the two makers would provide such a feature without a shadow of a doubt.
From a Business Perspective
I did some looking at it purely from a business perspective. If you look at Sony, for example, it has had its a7r series out for about five years and is now on its third iteration, the Sony a7riii. That means Canon has had almost five years to sit back and look at how developments have played out. During that time, the two traditional giants have seen a number of people move over to mirrorless systems, albeit with the need for them to use an adapter for their legacy lenses.
So in reality, that means that the likes Sony and Fujifilm are ahead of Canon and Nikon by about five years in their Research and Development for high-end mirrorless systems currently on the market. So surely, when Canon and Nikon do finally release a high-end, full-frame mirrorless system to compete with the current market leaders, it won’t just be something similar to what’s already available now with other brands? Surely it has to be something significantly better?
If it isn’t, don’t you think they risk alienating loyal users who have sat back and waited for them to release a system that competes with the likes of Sony, and hopefully outperforms them?
From a Personal Perspective
In my case, for instance, I have put years and years and thousands of dollars into building up my lens collection, mostly with Canon. I am perfectly happy with my current 5D Mark IV and batch of lenses, but of course, if I could use them all on a native Canon mirrorless system that was a significant improvement on my current camera, then of course I’d jump at the chance. However, if Canon releases a full-frame mirrorless system that still requires an adapter for legacy lenses and doesn’t guarantee full integration of all lens features, then I will have to think seriously about which way I go, for two reasons.
First, I’ll probably be angry that I’ve put so much time and effort and love into curating my current collection of lenses yet they may potentially become redundant on a new, mirrorless system. That's a sentiment that many people have expressed. You might say I could simply go out and buy an adapter but there is enough current evidence out there that they are not always successful and do not always guarantee seamless integration of all lens functions and features.
And it would be pure speculation at the moment as to the success of any adaptor because neither Canon nor Nikon have released a high-end mirrorless system. But if they did come out and release a full-frame mirrorless system with the caveat that I needed to start my lens collection again from scratch if I wanted to benefit from all the features of such a system, then I wouldn’t be a very happy camper. And it’s something I hadn’t even contemplated until last week.
Follow the Leaders
Secondly, if that scenario were to play out then I’d have to think seriously about following many others and moving over to a different brand. Why? Simply because of position in the market. If Canon, for example, released a full-frame mirrorless system that was essentially on par with the Sony a7riii and didn’t offer a significantly better experience, then why would I not go to the market leader?
You’d imagine the likes of Sony and Fujifilm and Olympus etc are already researching and designing upgrades for their next release. So if Canon couldn’t give me an irresistible reason to remain loyal (such as full integration of legacy lenses), then I’d be heavily tempted to go to a system that already has 1,000s of users and advocates and proof of worth, rather than hope that Canon’s first iteration was a blinding success (albeit potentially without use of my legacy lenses).
I put this issue to both Canon and Nikon on Twitter, but am yet to hear a response. This doesn’t mean anything really, but it would have been nice to get some information about what’s on the horizon.
How do you feel about it? Do you think Canon and Nikon will find a way to integrate legacy lenses with new, mirrorless systems, or do you think it’s a pipedream? And if you’re a Canon or Nikon owner, will you stay loyal if they release a mirrorless system that requires an adaptor to use legacy lenses, or will you jump to brands like Sony, or Fujifilm?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.