Canon and Nikon Are Approaching the Mirrorless Market From Opposite Sides, but Who Is Right?

Canon and Nikon Are Approaching the Mirrorless Market From Opposite Sides, but Who Is Right?

With Photokina behind us and the unprecedented amount of new cameras and lenses announced over the past few months, we’ve had some time to let the dust settle, and there is something very interesting about just how differently Canon and Nikon are approaching the full frame mirrorless camera market. The question is: who is right? 

Over the past few months, both Canon and Nikon have released their first full frame mirrorless cameras, Canon with the EOS R and Nikon with the Z7. Canon markets the EOS R as a sort of prosumer/enthusiast-level camera along the lines of the 6D Mark II and priced to match at $2,300 for the body — very similar to the 6D Mark II's price on release. This contrasts the Nikon Z7, which is being touted as a sort of mirrorless D850, and its $3,400 price tag suits this comparison very well.

While two cameras having different prices isn’t interesting, when we take a deeper look into their currently available, upcoming, and rumored lenses, we can see the different approaches that Nikon and Canon are taking with their mirrorless full frame cameras. Alongside Canon’s enthusiast-level camera, they have released four lenses: the 28-70 f/2L zoom, the 50mm f/1.2L, the 24-105 f/4L, and the 35mm f/1.8 Macro. If you notice, three of those four lenses are L branded, Canon’s professional-level branding. 

Sample shot from the Nikon Z7

Photo by Adam Ottke used with permission

Comparatively, Nikon’s currently available lenses for the Z7 are the 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and the 24-70mm f/4. Now, I’m not saying that any of these lenses are bad lenses; they’re probably fantastic pieces of glass. But the 1.8 apertures really showcase that Nikon doesn’t necessarily seem to be targeting professionals with their lenses yet. They seem to be starting out by introducing a professional body and mostly prosumer lenses, while Canon seems to be releasing a prosumer body and professional lenses. It’s definitely an interesting approach from the both of them, but whose is better?

In my personal opinion, I feel that Canon’s approach is the proper route for now and the near-future (though in five or ten years, everything should all balance out). I’ve heard a great saying: “marry lenses, date bodies." Canon seems to really be banking on this outlook for their new mirrorless system. With the EOS R is seemingly targeted towards enthusiasts, their lenses are priced and specced towards professionals, and with their rumoured 14-21mm f/1.4L, Canon seems to be going all in on people buying the EOS R with the plan to upgrade in a year or two but buying their lenses to stay in the bag for much much longer. 

On the contrary, with the Z7, Nikon seems to be selling their pro-level camera first and banking on people either adapting their current glass with the FTZ mount adapter or buying lenses that are mostly going to get replaced once the 2.8/1.4 variants get released. I feel that both are respectable, smart approaches, and it will be interesting to see how the market reacts. But really, don’t we all win by having such fierce competition giving us better tools?

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55 Comments

Previous comments

I don’t think reducing size and weight is a huge driving force in the full frame mirrorless camera war here. As soon as one puts on pro /quality glass the size/weight benefits are gone. Holds true even with Sony.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

Agreed, if you want to save weight and size you need to go (mirrorless) APS-C.

I haven't heard of anyone who actually wants to save weight and goes full frame.

I definitely did! I've been using full frame for 6 years and couldn't go back to APS-C but since I do mostly landscape and astrophotography I wanted a smaller/lighter setup for hiking to the places I shoot. Also for street shooting and travel camera I think the A7 series with tiny Samyang 35mm f2.8 lens is incredible.

Size obviously isn't the only reason to go mirrorless but it's definitely a driving factor for people.

Nikon laid all there cards on the table and consumers know what to expect. Canon revealed half their hand and only rumored to have a more pro oriented mirrorless coming. But the big ? Is how long will it take to release? Features? That’s the only hole in Canons approach.

David Pavlich's picture

The fact that Nikon and Canon have adapters that seem to work seamlessly with the EF lenses is a really big deal. This single fact makes the new FF entries a success because the Nikon and Canon faithful don't have to rid themselves of their native lenses to move to other FF mirror less.

The only way that Canon messes up with a later release of their 'pro R' is if it isn't a pro body like the 5DIV (I don't mention the 1DxII as I'm guessing that a mirror less version is quite a while in coming). It needs two cards, great tracking, good fps performance, and IBIS would be nice.

I agree. A higher pixel count isn’t necessary in my opinion but it would add to the appeal for some photographers.

Nikon has IBIS, and their sensors score better at DxO.

"But the 1.8 apertures really showcase that Nikon doesn’t necessarily seem to be targeting professionals"

The difference between 1.8 and 1.4 is ~2/3 stop, and costs at least $200 more. 1.8 is also better open all the way. It's meaningless.

IMHO it's a weight game, what do (Canon and Nikon's version of) early adopters want light weight vs performance. Looks like Canon is hedging it's bet with the 28-70 f/2L zoom and 24-105 f/4L being more versatile but heavier and much heavier than Nikon's 24-70mm f/4. But really guys it's the first 4 and 3 lenses. Not a huge sample size to predict a companies whole strategy.

David Widder's picture

I think the much more important aspect to this equation is not so much how Canon and Nikon have chosen to approach mirrorless design, but rather how the L Mount Alliance has. For reasons only known to themselves the big two have gotten into mirrorless late, after Sony has a very long head start on development and lens production. Canon and Nikon have also, according to their obvious business models, chosen to go it alone and develop their new systems by themselves. Of course they would do this, why wouldnt they.

But suddenly on the cusp of the Z and R reveals we see Leica, Panasonic and Sigma drop the synergy bomb. Wait a minute now, you're saying three very strong companies are banding together to build a system of bodies and lenses around a very capable and well thought out mount? A mount which hits the sweet spot of APSC and FF? A mount which already has a whole set of expensive, pro level glass available for it? Well now, I dont think Canon and Nikon were expecting anything in the way of that level of production cable competition.

With the Leica SL glass approaching or exceeding Canon L level quality and some fine Panasonic lenses right around the corner complemented by the very good Sigma Art glass the question is not how are Canon and Nikon approaching their mirrorless plans, but how are they going to keep up with the prodigious amount of lens and body options which will quickly be available from the LMA.

Rough estimates put around 30 full frame lenses out for the LMA bodies by the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020. And thats not counting the APSC glass that is already out for it. What was that Canon and Nikon roadmap again? Did I miss the part where they said they too would have out about 30 lenses in that time?

And Sigma has announced an EF to L mount adapter, so most or all Canon DSLR lenses can be adapted over to L mount bodes just like on the EOS R. Oh dear.

The question has quickly become (as it has been all along really) why Canon and Nikon have waited this long to get serious about mirrorless. It could possibly be too late. Probably not, but for two such industry 'giants' we shouldnt even be having this discussion.

How well will EF to mount adapter work? If it's like EF-E mount adapter, it won't good enough for professional. But you are correct, that alliance will be formidable for photographers and videographers.

David Widder's picture

True, I'm sure the Sigma option wont be quite as perfect as the Canon adapter. But if its close it will offer a viable option for those with Canon glass. Especially if the L mount bodies and lens options offer significantly more choice in a faster time frame then what Canon has. There are many other factors of course, such as AF ability and IQ. If Canon can clearly beat the LMA offerings in these and other areas then it will stop many from moving over, no matter how many bodies or lenses L mount has. But if there isnt CLEAR advantages over L mount then Canon might have some problems. Already I am looking at the apparent monster video specs Panasonic is putting in their bodies. We wont know until test units are out there, but I dont think Panasonic is going to hold anything back. They realize now is the time for market dominance. Moving slow and holding back features (which is right out of the Canon playbook) isn't going to get anyone a big piece of the pie right now. Anybody entering into mirrorless in this moment needs to have all guns blazing.

Completely agree with Panasonic not holding anything back. They are rather late when it come to FF market and will likely doing everything they can to be competitive in photo & video side to compete with the like of Canon, Sony, Nikon offerings.

David Pavlich's picture

The Panasonic jump into the FF market is interesting. I don't doubt that the cameras will take great pictures. Where I will wait to see is the focusing system. Will they match Nikon, Canon, and Sony?

Panasonic has 1 big plus for me and that's there choice of body style/size; much more like Canon and Nikon. It's a fun time to be a photographer!!

John Tyson's picture

Amazing Glass > Newest Camera Body with "ALL THE TECH!!!!"

user-206386's picture

I don't get this "f1.8 are not pro lenses." I've been a pro for over 20 years in a very technical field, and have never owned a lens wider than f1.8. Is it a wedding photog thing?

Lee Stirling's picture

Was this article published with no consideration of the Nikon Z6 being released in November? The Z6 is much more pro-sumer in terms of the specs and price. It would seem to better suit the 3 pro-sumer Z-mount lenses that Nikon has already released.

It does seem as though Nikon was banking on sales of the Z7 with people adapting their existing professional Nikon glass primarily. Canon seems to be pushing to attract people to their new platform as a starting point given the availability of better lenses off the bat. Both Canon and Nikon seemed to have been pushing to meet a certain price point, while intentionally holding back certain performance aspects for future iterations of these new mirrorless cameras. Nikon Z7, for example, has poor AF performance in burst mode, allowing a true AF-enabled 5fps. Canon for example has no IBIS in the EOS-R. WTF?

John Skinner's picture

I'm thinking the marketing and release of these cameras is all wrong.

We've seen this time after time. A new release is upcoming and they tout it as the 'second coming' of all that's good in the photo world. And the mirrorless discussion is just that. We're a long way off from even pretending this is a viable option for people moving forward. The one company that has done some impressive work (SONY) sorrily lacks a glass catalog that anyone could brag about.

And with these releases by Nikon & Canon... yea... so, they're cameras. EVF capabilities are sorrily lacking at this point. And even when they become mainstream, people are always going to prefer real life views and not tiny TV screen inside their bodies. So -- release away! Just don't be claiming some 'new revolution' in the photographic world that will change how everyone shoots.

These two dogs have come out of the gate with more firmware flaws than Apple. And if you want to be the lug that lays down 3K (glass not included) to be part of their little experiment...THEN go onto forums and tout your silly purchase, more power to you. Just don't be shocked when people get on their hind legs and kick a little.

Jason Lorette's picture

"But the 1.8 apertures really showcase that Nikon doesn’t necessarily seem to be targeting professionals with their lenses yet." << Can you please explain this line to me, sorry but that just doesn't make any sense to me?

Rod Bruno's picture

They are both right by waiting this long to jump on mirrorless, others like Sony took a much larger risk by going first. Don't judge by their first offerings, they should be eating this new market within the next 5 years anyways.

A little ironic, since Nikon started as an optics company (although Canon did, too, just later). But in any event, Nikon uses Sony sensors, and there are rumors Canon might be, too, for an APS-C body. So going forward, the glass will be an even bigger reason to chose one system over the others. Which of course is as it should be--it's always about the glass.

Francisco Eduardo de Camargo's picture

This text and comparison just forgot to say some fundamental aspects of the different approaches of Nikon and Canon:
1) Canon's brighter lenses are much heavier and the prices high;
2) Lenses that need stabilization of the image since the body does not count on it;
3) f / 1.8 lenses without stabilization, size and smaller weights, in addition to smaller prices give a huge difference in approach issue;
4) Professionals who use Nikon can continue to wear their "Pro" lenses without any problem, without the need to immediately invest a lot of money.
5) Nikon certainly thought about its customers and loyal users.
6) In the medium and long term Nikon can make the lens you want from super bright and expensive ...

SUPER funny that in an article re:Canon and Nikon the picture posted is from the Sony Be Alpha LA event.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

As a Nikon user, I have to admit that Canon does have quite an edge with their range of lenses, apparently that historical trend still continues.

frank nazario's picture

-"Comparatively, Nikon’s currently available lenses for the Z7 are the 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and the 24-70mm f/4. Now, I’m not saying that any of these lenses are bad lenses; they’re probably fantastic pieces of glass. But the 1.8 apertures really showcase that Nikon doesn’t necessarily seem to be targeting professionals with their lenses yet."-

So if a there is not a 1.4 or a 1.2 they are not professional for the professional... wow brother, if this does not tell me you are a Canonista nothing will... so all the 5.6 or f8 photos taken or the 99.99% of photos taken at 2.8 by "professionals" do not count right? Thi is why Fstoppers is loosing credibility... articles like this.

Look at your featured photos and check the specs... aren't those professional photos? one is eve shot at the sacrilegious Fstop of F9!!! OMG he CANT be a professional if he uses a 24-70 f4 for that!!!!

I know its your opinion... but the above is mine.

Oh , and yeah I shoot Nikon...