2018 has been quite a year for new equipment releases. We’ve seen Sony’s impressive a7 III, the Nikon Z6/7, and now the Canon EOS R, among many others. Specifically, these new mirrorless cameras continue to bring up one question for me, and that is: have we lost our minds?
I could get into some other pieces of equipment with this article, but I am going to focus on the new mirrorless announcements, because they seem, well, ridiculous to me. I don’t really have any issue with the cameras; they look wonderful and have some nice features. I’m even a little interested in the Z6 myself. However, both the Nikon and Canon cameras have one flaw that I find hard to overlook: the lenses.
For years, I worked at a camera store and we heard our fair share of gossip and always talked about what we thought of new products. Many months ago, I remember all of us agreeing on one thing: it would be ridiculous for Canon and Nikon to use the EF and F mounts (respectively) on their full frame mirrorless cameras, because the lens sizes would simply not be functional on a smaller camera body. Then, the announcements came and we see that they both opted for a new lens mount, which is good. Then, they both released absolutely behemoth lenses for the system for seemingly no other reason than because they could. The Noct for the Z6/7 and the 28-70mm f/2 are quite frankly, absurd.
Look, I get it. A 28-70mm f/2 sounds awesome on paper. So does a 58mm f/0.95. But, when the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 is 3.4 inches long, and the Noct is at least double the length, if not longer (judging by photos) and who knows how much heavier, do we really care about f/0.95? Probably not. As one of my former coworkers would always say: “if you need that blurry of a background for your photo to be interesting, the gear is not the problem.” I understand that some people like journalists or sports photographers benefit from having fast glass that lets them shoot in poorly lit locations, but not when it’s massive, manual focus, and costs roughly double their camera body. It seems more like bragging rights for Nikon. The same can be said about the 28-70mm f/2 from Canon for their new EOS R, although I see slightly more reason for a lens like that. These large lens mounts are continually bragged about for their ability to enable smaller lenses with wider apertures and better optical performance. Why not just make a 24-70mm f/2.8 that is small and comfortable unlike Sony’s beastly G Master? That certainly would have given Canon an edge for many photographers who find a 24-70mm to be their staple lens. The 28-70mm f/2 RF lens is over an inch longer than the EF 24-70mm f/2.8. That’s problematic.
I’m not faulting any one manufacturer; in fact, I think photographers themselves are to blame to some extent. For years, people have wondered about the possibility of an f/2 zoom like the 28-70mm RF without actually considering if there is a need for it. Sadly, Canon and Nikon listened and decided to make innovations in the area we need it least: lenses. I think this was an opportunity for both Canon and Nikon to make some major improvements to their video performance, dynamic range, or low light performance. Instead, these new cameras feel like excuses for Canon and Nikon to come out with their own “Otus” lenses — lenses that are not needed, but only dreamed of. I believe both manufacturers missed the mark by more or less repackaging their staple full frame cameras and eschewed opportunity for real innovation and change. I still think Fuji and Sony will still be the mirrorless staples in the years to come.
As a final disclaimer, I like mirrorless cameras quite a bit. I have an X-T2 that I use more frequently than my Nikon DSLRs. As stated early in the article, I even have my eye on the Z6, but only for the fact that it is a far smaller alternative to my D800/D700 and is still full frame with decent lens choices. Nikon made a great call with their initial lens lineup for the Z system: they’re small, light, and still functional (sans Noct). My issue with both Canon and Nikon is that these cameras don’t really do much that the D850, D750, and 5D Mark IV don’t already do. They’re just smaller and lighter. And both companies seemed to use them as an excuse to launch a new sort of competition between the brands of who can make the most absurd lens rather than really push boundaries of useful performance that will benefit the end user: us.