The rumored Canon lenses coming out have got a lot of us talking and pricked up a number of ears. One set of ears it ought to have pricked up, however, is Olympus' — and here's why.
Some of you may know that earlier this year, Olympus was kind enough to send me to Costa Rica with their new OM-D E-M1 Mark III to review it with the help of some of South America's staggeringly diverse wildlife. From the first pre-trip presentation, it was clear the direction Olympus had been going for some time was the one there were intent on staying on: wildlife and sports. Their micro four thirds sensor puts a lot of people off — not least because of its age now — but it comes with at least one perk, and it's a big one: effective focal length. With the 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens on the aforementioned body, I was shooting at the full frame equivalent of 600mm. Then, when I added the 2x teleconverter, I'm shooting at the equivalent of 1,200mm on a full frame body, something that is not easily or cheaply done!
The message from Olympus in their presentations and marketing was simple: they offer a small and light, cost-effective way to get fantastic reach for photographing birds, other wildlife, sports, and anything else where you have to be a distance away from your subject. Compared to DSLRs, everything Olympus claims is true. However, as I mentioned in my review, compared to full frame mirrorless bodies (albeit not necessarily all lenses), there really wasn't much in the size or weight between them and what Olympus offers. But if you're looking at the maximum reach for the best price, they truly cannot be matched. The sacrifice, of course, is that you are using a micro four thirds sensor, which limits cropping and performance. Though the Olympus bodies come with the best in-camera tech I've ever seen, which almost entirely offset the sensor for me.
So, what has this got to do with the Canon rumors? Earlier this week, we reported on Canon Rumor's mirrorless full frame lens roadmap for 2020. Coming off the back of a period of lackluster innovation, toothless launches, and disappointing adoption speeds of mirrorless, this news (alongside the Canon R5 with a spec which floored most of us in the industry) had us all looking at Canon in a different light. Our own Alex Cooke wrote a brilliant piece on this just a few days ago. For the roadmap, I'll quote Andy Day's news piece covering Canon Rumors' good work:
- Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM
- Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM
- Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
- Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM
- Canon RF 600mm f/11 DO IS STM
- Canon RF 800mm f/11 DO IS STM
- Canon RF 1.4x
- Canon RF 2.0x
This list is chock-full of talking points, but my interest (and what I believe ought to be Olympus's concern) is the second half of the list. Canon is offering super-telephoto lenses as well as 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. What does this mean? A full frame Canon mirrorless body will be able to shoot at 600mm and 800mm, heavily encroaching on where Olympus does its best work, but with a significantly better sensor. Now admittedly, the widest aperture of an f/11 lens and whether the 100-500mm, 600mm, and 800mm are compatible with the teleconverters is up for debate, but it's probably unlikely. I would say 1,600mm at f/22 and the autofocus still working is borderline impossible, but I'm not sure on that matter.
Without the Olympus 2x crop factor, you're looking to take images at fantastic reach, great resolution (which means the ability to crop), and all on a far newer sensor. So, even without the compatibility of the teleconverters, Canon is putting photographers who need long focal lengths in a position they've not been in for a long time. This all, of course, hinges on one key element and an element I think Canon is infamous for failing at: price.
There's a lot of talk about compactness and affordability of what Canon is producing in the mirrorless sector, and the latter is of the most interest to me here. Some outlets are claiming the f/11 super-telephoto lenses will be around $2,000, which if true, would knock me for six. I can't imagine how that would be the case, but if it is, wildlife and sports photographers have a decision to make, and I'm concerned it hugely favors Canon. I say I'm "concerned," because I really like Olympus both as a company and what they produce. Yes, they've grafted themselves to micro four thirds sensors even if they have to die with it, it seems, but they're a great company, and as I've said, their in-camera innovation is unparalleled. If you take away the chief perk of the micro four thirds sensor, however, I'm just not sure it's enough. Olympus prices aren't quite low enough on their flagship body and their best telephoto lenses to offset the clear gains of a far newer and full frame Canon sensor.
Will Canon dominate wildlife and sports photography from amateurs through to professionals? Their grip on the latter has been pretty resolute, but amateur and enthusiast photographers aren't likely to drop $20,000 on equipment just to use a far larger and heavier setup. What do you think?