A few years ago, a lot of photographers were a bit frustrated by Canon's seeming lack of desire to push the technological envelope and often arbitrary handicapping of camera feature sets. Fast-forward to 2020, and suddenly, Canon is an entirely different company.
Even two years ago, in 2018, a lot of photographers felt somewhat frustrated by Canon's lack of urgency when it came to pushing the envelope. To be fair, Canon held (and still holds) the majority market share, and countless professionals rely on their products. No doubt, they make solid, reliable cameras that are highly refined after years of iterations, and they have the most expansive and interesting lens library in the world. Still, photographers generally lamented both the seemingly arbitrary handicapping of features in different bodies and Canon's slow rate of innovation, particularly as mirrorless was exploding, with new and exciting products from both Fujifilm and Sony, leaving Canon fans wondering when the company would get serious about mirrorless. The EF-M line was peculiar, offering little in the way of features or lens options.
We saw glimmers of advancement. Cameras like the 80D and 5D Mark IV showed significant steps forward in dynamic range, and the latter offered an interesting feature, Dual Pixel Raw, which let photographers refocus their images in post to correct slight errors. We also saw an entirely new lineup of tilt-shift lenses. Later in 2018, the EOS R came out. Essentially a mirrorless 5D Mark IV, it was a competent camera, but with photographers looking at cameras like the Fujifilm X-T3, the groundbreaking Sony a9, the Sony a7R III, and even the Fujifilm GFX 50S, it felt somewhat more like a company being forced into mirrorless by the rest of industry rather than taking the reins. Along with it, though, came the remarkable RF 28-70mm f/2L, a lens unlike any we have seen from any company before. The lens combined an extreme design that had an unheard of aperture in a normal zoom lens, spectacular image quality, and the innovative control ring feature, making for a truly exciting optic. The RF 50mm f/1.2L continued that trend with fantastic image quality even at its extreme maximum aperture. The high standards continued with the RF 85mm f/1.2L and other f/2.8 pro zooms and lenses.
No doubt, it was clear Canon was taking mirrorless seriously, with the sort of astounding and innovative lenses that also established the EF mount as a leader. Then came the 1D X Mark III. Though it is a DSLR, as the flagship of the brand, it offered a good look at where the company was headed, and the future was bright. With features like a 20 fps burst rate using both the mechanical and electronic shutter and 5.5K 12-bit internal raw video, the camera was a quantum leap forward from the already great 1D X Mark II and put the 1D X Mark III side by side and even ahead of some of the best cameras in the industry, making it exciting to see what the next mirrorless body out of the company would bring.
And then came that mirrorless body, the R5, a camera that has probably generated more excitement in the industry that any other in recent years, and deservedly so, with features like uncropped 8K internal raw video, uncropped 4K video at 120 fps, a 20 fps burst rate, and in-body image stabilization. With the camera about a month away, anticipation is building, but what is even more remarkable is that Canon essentially confirmed that it is the equivalent of the 5D in their mirrorless lineup, meaning that an R1 (1D equivalent) is still to come, likely in 2021. If I had told you in 2019 that by the middle of 2020, we would still be waiting for the a7S III, but would be looking at a Canon camera with 8K raw video, you would have probably called me crazy. And yet, here we are.
And while the R5 is definitely exciting, what has me even more excited is the recently leaked lens roadmap. The lenses in it aren't the extreme designs like the 28-70mm f/2L; in fact, they are in the entirely opposite direction. We'll see lenses like an RF 50mm f/1.8 and a 70-200mm f/4L. These are likely to be much smaller and far more affordable. Throw them on the EOS RP, and you have a very affordable entry point into the RF system. And thanks to the excellent performance of Canon's adapters, you can use your EF glass as long as you want.
What I find even more interesting are the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM, RF 600mm f/11 DO IS STM, and RF 800mm f/11 DO IS STM. These are some fantastically interesting lenses. First up is the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM. You might balk at the f/7.1 maximum aperture at first. But remember first that 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is an extremely common lens design, and this lens probably sits at f/6.3 at 400mm, only a third of a stop past f/5.6, practically a negligible difference with modern sensors. So, instead of lamenting the f/7.1, think of it more like the classic 100-400mm design with a bonus 100mm of reach on the long end.
Most interesting, though, are the RF 600mm f/11 DO IS STM and RF 800mm f/11 DO IS STM lenses. Sure, f/11 is a really narrow maximum aperture, but if you need extreme reach, your only option right now is the EF 800mm f/5.6L (Nikon is the only other manufacturer that makes such a lens, aside from Sigma's older 300-800mm), and that lens will cost you $13,000, plus it's massive, tipping the scales at just a hair under 10 lbs (4.5 kg) and measuring over 18 inches (461mm) — not the sort of lens you toss in your bag for a birding hike. On the other hand, an 800mm f/11 would be significantly smaller and cheaper, and a lens using Canon's diffractive optics (DO) design shaves even more weight and length off the design. Sure, it won't be as versatile as an 800mm f/5.6, but it'll also likely be about a tenth of the price, and it will enable photographers to explore genres like wildlife photography without dropping extreme amounts of money or give them a great option for throwing in their bag for the occasional shot while out hiking or the like. It's a chance for many more photographers to try out extreme focal lengths. Canon is turning traditional lens design on its head at both ends of the spectrum while also filling in the more traditional optics and releasing a spectacular camera to match. It's certainly a bit unexpected, but it's incredibly exciting to watch, and I am very curious to try out these new lenses and see how they enable new creative avenues and change my work.
It seems the company isn't just making a premium mirrorless system; it's making a mirrorless system for everyone, with room to grow into the highest echelons of full frame technology should you so choose. And that's exciting, as even if you aren't a Canon shooter, this sort of innovation keeps the pressure on other manufacturers and drives the industry forward.
What are you most excited for from Canon?