2020 has seen some remarkably good cameras released and perhaps a dud or two. Which was the best? Here is my pick.
2020 showed a mirrorless market that continues to mature and offer some remarkable technology, with upper-end features beginning to trickle down into more affordable bodies and higher-end bodies pushing into new realms. What was the best of the bunch?
When Canon announced the EOS R in the 2018, the response was middling. At the time, most of the mirrorless hype centered around Sony, which was absolutely torching the industry with an entire range of models that offered top-level autofocus and burst rates (the a9), great all-around performance (the a7 III), high resolution with great dynamic range (the a7R III), and dedicated filmmaker tools (the a7S II). In fairness to Canon, no one expected them to immediately put out four cameras that competed with the aforementioned Sony models, but what they did put out, the EOS R, didn't really compete with any of them. Issues like a very heavy crop factor in 4K (1.8x) and a single card slot disappointed a lot of users, particularly since Canon and Nikon's seemingly glacial pace in getting to the full frame mirrorless market left a lot of people anxiously awaiting something that would impress them. It was even more frustrating considering they also announced the RF 28-70mm f/2L alongside the EOS R, an unbelievably impressive lens that begged for a powerful camera to pair with it. It felt like buying a Ferrari only to drive it in residential areas with a lot of school zones.
The answer finally came this year in the form of the EOS R5. But what made the EOS R5 so impressive was that it not only finally gave the company a competitive mirrorless camera, it blew the doors off the industry by putting every other company on notice. If you had asked pretty much anyone in 2019 what they thought Canon would produce when they released the EOS R5, they would probably have told you to expect something akin to the 5D in mirrorless form: a perfectly competent if somewhat unexciting camera that improved on the EOS R without shooting for the stars. It would be a jack of all trades, master of none — the sort of conservative and carefully considered camera we have come to know the company for.
Then, rumors began to trickle out, but they were so extreme that they seemed to be a game of telephone gone wrong at best and simple lies at worst: a 45-megapixel sensor that also shot 20 fps bursts, 8K raw internal video, and a price under $4,000. It seemed absurd, even more so coming from a company with Canon's design philosophy. Except the rumors continued unabated, leading some to wonder if by nothing more than their sheer persistence that there was some impossible sliver of truth to them. And sure enough, the rumors were true. If I had told you in 2019 that Canon would come out with a camera that shot 8K raw video before the Sony a7S III was even announced, you would have thought I was insane, yet here we are.
And the craziest part is that the R5 is the mirrorless equivalent of the 5D in terms of where it sits in Canon's mirrorless lineup. In other words, there is still a flagship R1 to come, and given the R5's features, I am giddy to see what the company has in store, as it seems on a spec-for-spec basis, the EOS R5 is much closer to the 1D line than the 5D line.
It is also worth mentioning the EOS R6, the smaller cousin to the EOS R5. The EOS R6 is akin to the 6D, but it does not follow the same sort of design philosophy differences embodied between the 5D and 6D lines. Traditionally, the 6D offered a weaker autofocus system, poorer video, slower burst rates, and other drawbacks, as it was Canon's most basic full frame DSLR. On the other hand, the EOS R6 has the same wickedly powerful autofocus system as the EOS R5, the same ultra-fast burst rate, in-body image stabilization, and still offers 4K at 60 fps, making it a very well-balanced and powerful camera at a competitive price. Sure, you lose 8K raw and 4K at 120 fps and the high resolution, and the EVF and rear screen are lower resolution (along with a few other minor design differences), but it was a far more capable camera on its release than the 6D was in 2012 or the 6D Mark II was in 2017.
And what is even better is that that does not mean Canon has simply foregone a budget full frame model and raised the price of entry for full frame users; in fact, it has lowered the barrier of entry significantly by offering the EOS RP, which gives users the option of a full frame mirrorless camera for under $1,000. Sure, you will not be shooting 8K raw video with it, but as a first full frame camera or a backup body, it is hard to beat that price. In other words, Canon has maintained the same general tiers of full frame bodies but significantly upgraded the capabilities of each level and tacked on an ultra-affordable tier as well. It is certainly a massive shift from their design philosophies of a few years ago. All these cameras also work seamlessly with EF lenses via an adapter, making the transition as easy as possible for the many photographers with deep investments in the EF lens library.
I do not know what prompted this shift; maybe it was Sony's aggressive approach that began to pull photographers and filmmakers away from their Canon kits, or maybe this was planned long before that began to happen. Regardless of why it happened, I am thrilled that it did. The EOS R5 represents the first step in that direction, and it is more of a running leap than a step. And it is both on the merits of its specs and what it represents that I think it is the best camera of 2020.