Canon enthusiasts are waiting patiently to find out if the manufacturer will add APS-C sensors to its R-series cameras and a new rumor brings the possibility of a model such as an R7 — perfect for action and wildlife photography — another step closer.
Canon Rumors claims to have been told by “a good source” that Canon plans to launch an RF-mount camera featuring an APS-C sensor in the second half of next year. Furthermore, this sensor will be backside-illuminated (BSI), potentially delivering excellent speed and reduced rolling shutter similar to the level of performance seen on the recently released EOS R3.
I suggested a few weeks ago that the launch of the 16mm f/2.8 STM might be a sign that Canon is plotting an APS-C camera. This tiny, affordable lens is perhaps an indication that, rather than splitting its RF lenses into full frame and APS-C as it did with the EF mount, Canon is making small, compact glass that works equally well on both formats. One of the advantages of the switch to mirrorless is the smaller flange distance (i.e., the gap between the back of the lens and the sensor) is greatly reduced compared to DSLR cameras, the physics of which allows for more compact lenses. It’s possible that Canon has decided to exploit this possibility and keep image circle sizes consistent, regardless of whether a lens is designed with full frame or APS-C in mind.
This brings a couple of benefits. Firstly, customers have a smoother transition from APS-C to full frame; in the past, EF-S glass became redundant for anyone upgrading from, for example, a Rebel T8i (a.k.a. 850D) to a 6D Mark II. Nikon, following the same logic as Sony, has kept with this approach to a degree, having already introduced two APS-C sensor mirrorless cameras (the Z 50 and the recently-released Z fc). It has produced both DX and FX lenses for its mirrorless bodies, though, unlike EF and EF-S, you can use the APS-C-intended glass on a full frame body without risking damage to your camera. The only difference is that APS-C lenses don’t produce a sufficiently large image circle to fill the full frame sensor, leaving you with a black circle around your images.
To Split or Not to Split
Splitting the line of mirrorless glass means being able to produce lenses for APS-C cameras that are even more compact, going beyond the advantages lent by the removal of the mirror. The disadvantage is the awkward upgrade route and equally importantly, customer confusion. For whatever reason, manufacturers don’t like putting the letters “APS-C” in their product names, and it’s not unusual for inexperienced buyers to end up with lenses that don’t match their sensor size. Full frame prices have dropped, making the format increasingly accessible and leading to huge swathes of inexperienced photographers buying into these systems. There are countless articles explaining the difference between DX and FX, and it’s not unusual to see people posting on Facebook groups asking why the compact Sony 35mm f1.8 OSS they just bought leaves a black ring around all of the photos they’re shooting with their shiny new a7 III.Canon could avoid this confusion and ease the transition between APS-C and full frame by swallowing the fact that their APS-C-leaning lenses will be slightly bigger than they need to be. Is this a good compromise? One of the advantages of APS-C is the smaller size of bodies. So, is Canon confident that it can keep lens sizes down to make the system suitably compact, or does it have something else in mind?
Entry-Level or Birder?
The existence of an RF 18-45mm f/4-5.6 IS STM has already been all but confirmed after leaks of internal Canon lens roadmaps (Canon Rumors), though this lens is thought to have been delayed, along with a couple of others. This slow, variable aperture lens would make an ideal kit lens for an R-series APS-C camera, were it to come to market. This suggests that an affordable crop-sensor camera is potentially on the way, especially when you take into account lenses patented by Canon, most recently an RF 16-30mm f/4-5.6. Admittedly, patents aren't always an indication of what the future holds, and Canon files a wide range of designs in order to protect its research, however broad and speculative that research might be.
Where the theory of a forthcoming APS-C camera doesn’t quite hold up is one small detail: this rumor suggests a backside-illuminated sensor. Canon has just deployed the technology for the first time in the R3, which has enabled the blistering transfer speeds of 30 frames per second from its 24-megapixel sensor when using the electronic shutter and dramatically reducing rolling shutter. This marks a significant step forward for Canon, bringing them up to speed with Sony. This is cutting-edge technology (for Canon, at least), and a backside-illuminated sensor is not something that you put inside an entry-level APS-C camera: it's unnecessarily advanced and far too expensive.If this rumor proves true, is Canon looking to deliver a camera that follows on from the 90D and 7D Mark II (an R7?), utilizing the massive speed offered by BSI sensor technology and made even faster — including autofocus speed, notably — because the sensor is physically smaller? Is this the goal rather than creating a basic body geared towards first-time buyers, instead of pushing those customers towards a sub-$800 full frame R-series camera that’s been speculated upon previously? Or is Canon plotting both: an R7-like camera for sports and wildlife photographers, alongside an entry-level APS-C bundle that's under $500 — including the kit lens — that's in line with the Rebel T7 (2000D)?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.