Is Canon About to Take Back Its Crown as the King of the Camera Industry?

Is Canon About to Take Back Its Crown as the King of the Camera Industry?

Canon has been playing catch-up when it comes to mirrorless over the last couple of years, but other manufacturers should brace themselves: things might be about to change.

When rumors of the EOS R5 surfaced last week, many understandably assumed that someone was expertly trolling the camera industry. A 45-megapixel sensor shooting 20 frames per second electronic and 8K raw video seemed preposterous, but Canon Rumors was quick to double down, albeit acknowledging that the 8K raw video (since dialed back to just 8K) would probably not be straight forward. The rest of the specifications have remained consistent, however: 12 frames per second mechanical, dual card slots, 4K at 120 fps, and 5 stops of in-body stabilization. The announcement is expected to come next week with the launch thought to be scheduled for July of this year (see Canon Rumors for more).

Canon R5 and R6 rumors

If that rumor weren’t sufficient to get industry geeks excited, a second camera emerged merely a day later: an R6 is in the pipeline with very similar features. This would feature a 20-megapixel sensor but keep the IBIS, 12 fps mechanical and 20 fps of the R5. Video will be 4K 60p and this new body would be due to hit shelves in June, with an announcement expected in May.

A few weeks ago it was reported that a third full frame mirrorless camera might also appear that is positioned even lower in price and specifications than the current EOS RP, and a 75-megapixel mirrorless body has been slated for well over a year. And if that wasn’t enough, chatter about an APS-C version of an RF-mount camera is circulating, fueled further by the possible naming conventions that Canon seems to be employing: the R5 would take over from the 5D Mark IV, and the R6 will replace the 6D Mark II — it stands to reason that an R7 may finally be the successor to the 7D Mark II. A flagship APS-C ILC that shoots professional-quality glass without an adapter is currently a gaping hole in Canon’s line-up and one that’s been yawning wider and wider for some time given that an upgrade to the 7D Mark II should arguably have arrived in 2019 at the very latest.

 Canon 7D Mark II

The Canon 7D Mark II. Those waiting for the Mark III may be waiting a long time.

While an APS-C announcement might yet be a while off, 2020 could prove to be a pivotal year not just for Canon, but for the industry as a whole. Canon and Nikon have been slow to the mirrorless game and Canon has a reputation for moving at a glacial pace. It is a hugely conservative brand that, despite its efforts to inject a little bit of spice by dubbing its entry-level models the Rebel, is not one to take risks.

Historically, Sony offers a stark contrast. Without the hundreds of thousands of sports and press agency photographers who pull gear off the shelf and just expect it to work, Sony has had a license to be more experimental. Arguably, it has rolled out technology that’s not fully developed, creating waves by launching gear that’s been at times problematic. Early adopters have been relatively forgiving over issues such as battery life and overheating. Sony was able to take this risk because it only had customers to win and very few customers to lose.

Canon has not had this luxury. It is a manufacturer that has a reputation for holding off on technology until it is fully developed, though this has shifted slightly since the launch of the EOS R, with incremental upgrades to eye autofocus offered via firmware updates. The legendary Cripple Hammer (hat tip to Camera Conspiracies) has been deployed furiously, however, as the ability to shoot video in 24p has been randomly flip-flopped across camera models, and autofocus is typically a luxury reserved for those who don’t want to shoot video in 4K.

The gamechanger? The Sony a7 III.

The gamechanger? The Sony a7 III.

Canon has long been criticized for not joining the mirrorless party — there have been compelling reasons for it to continue making the best DSLRs in the world — and Sony’s launch of the a7 III brought this into sharp focus in March 2018. Sony’s mirrorless technology had matured, and many issues were suddenly resolved. Suddenly, I could afford a full-frame camera that shot at 10 frames per second without having to worry about carrying 6 batteries. With Metabones and Sigma offering to adapt glass, it felt like 5D, 6D and 7D owners were ditching Canon in their droves. The Sony doesn't have the soul (not to mention the ergonomics) of its competitors, but boy it was a lot of camera for not very much money, and still is.

Sony’s sharp elbows and aggressive pricing have transformed the market, but it’s long been assumed that Canon would retaliate — eventually. If the rumors prove true, and if the Cripple Hammer has been put on a leash, this retaliation might be about to arrive, and the resulting excitement would have you believe that Canon might end up releasing the long-delayed a7S III on Sony’s behalf.

The Single-Slotted Toe Dipper


The single-slotted toe tipper. The amuse-bouche. The Lorem Ipsum. The EOS R.

In time, the EOS R may prove to be the Lorem Ipsum of mirrorless cameras, offering little more than a single-slotted toe dip. It is an amuse-bouche, though perhaps one that didn’t taste all that great and only made us wonder whether the chef was running late and had asked the pot washer to crack on without him. “Canon has a history of not always being first in the market with new technology,” said Go Tokura, Canon’s Image Communication Business Operations Chief Executive a little less than a year ago. “But we are very good at catching up, going beyond and becoming the leader.”

On top of these rumors comes a handful of interesting comments that coincided with the release of Canon’s financial results for the year ending 2019. Executives acknowledge the dramatic market contraction but openly state that they “see stable demand for professional and advanced-amateur models,” and these are reassuring noises for stockholders.

What’s more noticeable is the acknowledgement that it needs to rectify its market position. “Our line up is still insufficient,” the report notes. “In order to recover from our late entry into the mirrorless camera market, we have plans to launch a model that incorporates a newly developed image sensor and image-processing engine that offer even more advanced features.” Basically, to all those that think that Canon dropped the ball, don’t worry: that’s about to change. When translated from the staid, buttoned-down formalities of Japanese business-speak, this roughly translates as: "Hold on to your hats, folks. Shit's about to get real."

Many assumed that Canon would unleash something significant once it had done the R&D, but not many would have predicted 45-megapixels at 20 frames per second, dual card slots and IBIS. (Let’s leave the 8K raw video alone for the moment.) Once that’s digested, three questions emerge: firstly, what battery is going to support this level of throughput, especially with autofocus tracking? Secondly, will Canon have finally resolved issues regarding crop and autofocus limitations when shooting video? And thirdly, how much is this beast going to cost?

Hearing the news, some Canon shooters despaired, realizing that this might end up being an exceptionally expensive camera that shoots at a resolution that relatively few require. As if anticipating this alarm, the rumor mills responded in kind: don’t worry, a 20-megapixel version is not far behind.

Canon R6

If a Canon R6 emerges in line with the rumors, can you really regard it as a successor to the 6D Mark II?

Trying to take this all in leaves me anticipating one of two things: either Canon is about to reassert its dominance, a sleeping giant that is slowly emerging from its gentle slumber, or someone is playing an incredibly elaborate prank. If the latter, bravo sir. Bravo.

Is Canon playing the long game? If the R5 rumors are true, how will it be priced? Is Nikon going to shock and awe with something even more impressive? Will the Sony a7 IV then blow the R5 out of the water? Your thoughts in the comments, please.

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Jonathan Brady's picture

How often have rumors about Canon cameras come out 4-6 months in advance and been accurate? Not often. Maybe never?
Also: cripple hammer FTW

Joel Hernandez's picture

Hi Jonathan, I come in peace. How often have rumors about Canon cameras 4-6 months in advance and been accurate? I would say Canon Rumors website has been a trustworthy site for the last couple of years. I'm actually a little puzzled why you say rumors about Canon cameras (4-6 months before they come out) are never really accurate.

Not sure if you are familiar with Canon Rumors (website) rating system but they always have ratings on their rumors.

[CR1] – Plausible information, but from an unconfirmed source
This is information we deem as “possible”. However, the information comes from an unknown or anonymous source, so we cannot confirm its authenticity.

[CR2] – Good information from a known source
Even known sources that have been correct in the past may not provide perfect information from time to time. This rating means there’s a strong possibility that the information has some truth to it, but it may be incomplete and/or misinterpreted information.

[CR3] – Fact
We use this rating when we’re sure what we’re posting is a fact.

The new R5 specifications has a CR3 rating

The new R6 specifications also has a CR3 rating

Tim Sheehan's picture

Is it really a fact if you don't mention the caveats like 8k being a time-lapse mode?

Joel Hernandez's picture

Hi Tim,

If you scroll a little down in that article, it states:

"*Update* I have removed the “RAW” part of the 8K @ 30p video specifications, I thought I had done that yesterday. The source that confirmed some of this stuff is unsure of what sort of 8K the camera has."

That should let people know that 8k is most likely a time lapse mode or something else. Although I am confused why it says 30p... I think for all of us, it's hard to believe this is coming from Canon when they have always tried to protect their sales for their higher end video cameras.

Tim Sheehan's picture

30p would probably be to indicate it's compatible for people who want to deliver content for both 60Hz and 50Hz regions

Alex Herbert's picture

Rumours? I'd say more like 'Camera Conspiracies'

paza laza's picture

"All i want is the perfect camera, All i want is the perf....

Alex Herbert's picture

Easily the least useful/most entertaining camera related channel on YouTube!

Spy Black's picture

Within 2-3 years I suspect Canon and Nikon will be back at their 1-2 slots.

The real dark horse may not be Sony so much as China. There are several Chinese manufacturers making very high quality lenses (or "glass", as the Canonistas call it), and if they start spitting out matching bodies that can cut the mustard, they'll have the potential to pull the rug out from Japan, Inc.

Deleted Account's picture

I highly doubt that Nikon will ever take back the #2 spot as long as they're dependent on Sony for their sensors.

Spy Black's picture

Perhaps, time will tell.

Alec Kinnear's picture

I had an A7 III and now have a Z6. Theoretically the same sensor. Nikon high ISO grain much more appealing with an organic feel, Nikon shoots wide Leica M lenses without colour patches at the edge of frame, Nikon has good highlight rolloff on video (as opposed to straight burnout on A7 III).

I'm glad Nikon is buying Sony sensors and tuning them than stubbornly sticking to its own limited, chroma-noise infested sensors (Canon). Nikon knows what to do with a good sensor and Sony is still wandering around trying to figure it out (in fairness Sony colours have gotten better since the A7III).

Ex-Canon shooter, happily dodging the cripple hammer and price hurdles of Canon on the dark (Nikon) side. Just sold off my almost mint Magic Drainpipe today. Only an EF 35mm f2 IS and a 300mm f2.8 IS to go.

Canon lens pouches and cases are better than Nikon, so I'm still using those. Nothing else to miss. Glass is equally good.

Deleted Account's picture

The Nikon sensor is certainly tuned differently, but the A7III has better autofocus so there's a trade-off there. I do think that the Z-mount is superior, but we've yet to really see whether the theoretical superiority is going to translate into meaningful differences in image quality. As it stands, Sony is making some excellent lenses and even though the E-mount is more limited, it doesn't seem to be really affecting them much yet. I suspect that when all of these mounts mature, you'll see similar image quality with bigger lenses on the Sony side to compensate.

As far as the Leica M thing, I don't know anyone who is buying Nikon Z cameras to attach Leica M lenses to it. I'm sure that they're out there, but I don't think that it's enough users to be worth considering when you're generally talking about system vs. system. The Z does have the advantage that you can adapt just about every lens to it including those from other MILC systems, but I think most people will be sticking to native options.

My main concern about Nikon using Sony (in regard to them getting back to #2) is the fact that Sony's sensor business is not separate from their camera business so Sony doesn't even have to engage in corporate espionage to see what Nikon has planned. They will know ahead of time to match or exceed it. They can also reserve their latest tech for their own cameras, leaving other manufacturers a generation or so behind. It's difficult to gain market share against a competitor who also happens to be the supplier for the most critical component of your products. Generally, gaining ground involves getting out in front of your competition. That's pretty much impossible in Nikon's current scenario, which is why I don't think they'll regain the #2 spot.

Then again, Sony is the leader in tech for the segment right now so not buying from them presents a different type of problem altogether, which is what Canon is looking at. I really wish another conglomerate or two would get into the imaging sensor business.

Spy Black's picture

Tower Jazz may change the competitive landscape for Sony. I think Sony will maintain a close relation with Nikon because they know Nikon has a manufacturer option, and Nikon designs some of their own sensors, licensing Sony tech, and has Sony manufacture them. Sony wouldn't pull the rug out from Nikon because they are their number one sensor client.

Spy Black's picture

Nikon designs some sensors, but has Sony manufacture them. They license tech from Sony as well, like BSI.

Alec Kinnear's picture

"Nikon designs some sensors, but has Sony manufacture them. They license tech from Sony as well, like BSI."

Designing one's own versions of sensors on a proven base model with working production lines sounds like an intelligent business decision to me. There's limits to what Sony can do in terms of blocking Nikon. They are both Japanese companies and beholden to the Japanese government (there's still something called national solidarity in countries outside the USA, which dictates a national interest, which in turn limits the poor behaviour of corporations within their own borders).

More importantly, how Sony behaves with Nikon will affect other partners' perception of the reliability and transparence of Sony. Just because an American company would let Nikon get comfortable and then cut them off cold in an attempt to destroy the partner or force though a low ball takeover bid doesn't mean a Japanese or German company would behave that way with its partners.

Dave Haynie's picture

Apparently, Sony has a standard contract for sensor manufacturing that can include (presumably for extra bucks) a portfolio of their sensor design technology. They can't prevent Nikon from accessing that unless they just stop the licensing program. But that would put a pretty big chill through the industry, given that Fujifilm, Olympus, and others also depend on Sony chips.

Dave Haynie's picture

The Chinese are making decent lenses, but nearly all fully mechanical. A competitive digital camera represents a completely different skill set. Of course, with all the lenses and the extreme likelihood that Chinese companies would use existing lens mounts (well, since they already have: DJI, YI Technology, Z-Cam, etc.). So it's not necessarily the case that the same companies need to make both.

Spy Black's picture

Well, if they're going to make that jump, they can go their own way with their own mounts and AF systems. Time will tell if this may happen or not.

Dave Haynie's picture

They certainly could go their own way, but where's their motivation? The Japanese were making cameras for several decades before they decided to go their own way on lens mounts.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Canon 1 - Pessimists 0. Two days ago "Camera Manufacturers Are No Longer Relevant", but that was 2 days ago... old news already.

Sandy Chase's picture

"Canon might end up releasing the long-delayed a7S III on Sony’s behalf." Haha. Great line!

Dillan K's picture

Maybe. Maybe not. I think they can do it, but they have to want it. Canon has a habit of holding back. I hope they realize that they shouldn't do that anymore.

Tom Reichner's picture

I don't understand what the author means when he says that Canon is about to "take back its crown."

Canon never lost its crown in the first place.

When I look at gross camera sales figures, and net profit from camera sales, Canon has remained in first place for a couple of decades. Sony may have some more innovative cameras, but Canon has consistently made more money from its camera sales, and in the corporate world, it is all about the sales and the profits.

Year after year after year, more people pay more money for Canon cameras than any other brand of camera ....... so Canon has been King of the camera industry all along.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Just a title meaning that Canon is going to be strong in the mirroless market very soon and is positioning itself as a very strong competitor in that field pretty much dominated so far by Sony.

Tom Reichner's picture

Well, I know that. But that isn't what the title actually says. People use really weird titles on the articles here on this website. They often don't make sense.

Charles Metivier's picture

They just want to stir things up.

Michael Dougherty's picture

My understanding is that Canon has been introducing some absolutely superior quality lenses with little fanfare.

Robert Nurse's picture

"Canon never lost its crown in the first place."

Maybe not in hard and fast numbers: a.k.a. market share. But, certainly in perception. Perception may not pay the bills, but, it sure does affect things going forward. I'm personally psyched by the R5 if it's true and I'm hoping it is!

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