Here's Why Canon Does Not Need to Innovate

Here's Why Canon Does Not Need to Innovate

Ever since the Canon 5D Mark II, it seems as though Canon has been dragging their feet when it comes to innovating. Their new announcements and releases tend to be met with quite a strong negative response, and although this may not be an overall consensus, it's prominent enough.

Their latest DSLRs, the 5D Mark IV and the 6D Mark II, already feel a little long in the tooth and dated, especially when considering what else is now available.

Nikon's latest addition, the Nikon D850, and Sony's a7R III both seem like they're a whole generation cycle ahead of Canon. New innovations like BSI sensors, in-built stabilization, and significantly better 4K features make them far more appealing. Not to mention they have minor but very useful features such as having a tilting screen and being compatible with newer storage solutions.

Is this an inability to keep up on Canon's part, or is it the fact that Canon simply believes that they don't need to or that they're in fact doing enough?  

Aside from Canon's flagship 1D X Mark II, which in my view is still the best DSLR currently available, Canon seem to be slipping when it comes to releasing new and exciting products. For the most part, the sentiment seems to be against Canon with what seems to be a large number of photographers leaving them for their competitors. Sony seems to be doing really well with their continued releases and frequent updates; for the most part their new cameras are generally met with a huge amount of optimism and support. The a7R III might be one of the best full-frame cameras available right now due to the fact that addresses many of its predecessor's shortcomings. This in itself demonstrates a willingness from Sony to not only listen to its customers but implement the feature their customers want. Nikon also released an incredible DSLR, and although their focusing system for video is lacking, it's a minor issue considering the overall performance and requirements it fulfills. 

Canon, on the other hand, seems to remain relatively tone deaf to the market and even after the disappointment of the 5D Mark IV they went on to release the 6D Mark II which received far worse reviews. Somehow, however, Canon seems to remain unaffected by the sentiment and still holds a very large portion of the market. In fact looking at their latest financial results from 2017, they're doing better than ever relative to the market.

Looking at the results above you can see how there is a noticeable downtrend in the market since the peak in 2012. The interesting thing, however, is the fact that Canon remains relatively level for the last three years even with the market in decline. This is actually very impressive and shows their strength when it comes to sales and potentially demonstrates their real market sentiment. Since 2012 the number of sales has effectively been halved yet Canon's sales remain strong in comparison. There has been a noticeable drop in their sales, but nothing near 50 percent. 

As you can see above, Canon has had a great year in both sales and profits. Their sales are up by nearly 20 percent and their operating profits are up by a very significant 44.8 percent. This paints an extremely different picture of Canon's position compared to how many in the industry describe them. You may have heard comparisons with Kodak and that Canon is doomed to fail, Sony and Nikon will eventually take over. The market and the sales figures definitely do not share that sentiment. Is Canon immune to the need to innovate?

What Canon Does Right

Dual Pixel Autofocus

I think we can all agree when I say that Canon's Dual Pixel autofocus is still the best on the market. This system is incredibly useful, easy to use and very effective. Sony has been trying to implement their own autofocus system into their cameras for some time and although they have improved, they're still not there yet. Nikon, on the other hand, doesn't seem like they're even trying in this area. Dual Pixel autofocus is so good that it individually makes a mediocre release like the 6D Mark II, an incredible option for so many people. When it comes to innovation for autofocus, Canon has already done it. 

The EF Mount

Canon has been making incredible lenses for a very long time and their dedication and continued innovations in this area has kept them ahead of the competition. From ultra-wide-angle lenses all the way to super-telephoto lenses, Canon has every kind of photographer pretty much covered. Almost every budget and every kind of photography can be catered for with the EF mount. From exceptional niche tilt-shift lenses to extremely niche lenses like the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8. To add to that, the EF mount is also incredibly popular for video shooters with many high-end cinema cameras offering EF mount options.  

Color Science

There's a good chance you've heard about Canon's color science and how great it is. Although Nikon cameras do produce very good colors, Canon is more famous for theirs and for good reason. Their color science is extremely good and in stark contrast, it's one of the biggest complaints about Sony's cameras. In fact, Canon's color science is so good that in several of my own comparisons I've found it to be much better and more accurate than even some medium format cameras like the Fujifilm GFX 50s and even the Pentax 645Z. Their color science makes for a much easier and more streamlined workflow and this is especially useful for video too. Footage and images look more natural and skin tones tend to look much better than their competitors. Colors are far more important than having an extra stop of dynamic range or a slightly sharper image. Colors are a fundamental of photography and Canon just gets it right. 

Reliability

Canon remains consistent in their ability to make pro grade cameras that just work. From usability, build quality, and aftercare, Canon seems to nail it every single time. Even in a recent weather sealing test, the Canon 5D Mark IV performed the best compared to the Nikon D850 and the Sony a7R III. Sony cameras, on the other hand, seem to be rife with issues like overheating, slow lagging software, and weather sealing. Sony's strategy seems to be that they release cameras quickly or too soon and then rely on firmware updates for fixes and band-aids. Even Nikon over the last few years has suffered some pretty significant issues with their batteries and some prominent pro-level cameras like the D600 and D750. Canon just seems to get it right when it comes to really important features. Their cameras are so good when it comes to sheer usability and reliability that I've completely switched from the Sony to the 5D Mark IV for all of my YouTube videos. The crop factor for 4K and bloated file sizes really don't impact workflow as much as having a fast and effective camera with amazing autofocus. 

Final Thoughts

Canon makes cameras that have the most important and fundamental features right. Bells and whistles are fine and are things to get excited about, but if the core features of how a camera is supposed to operate are compromised then it's no longer practical. These are some of the reasons why Canon continues to dominate. The thing to consider here is that Canon has already innovated because they're still ahead when it comes to how their cameras perform for the majority of professionals. Their competitors just don't have the lenses, the autofocus features, or the color science they offer. Has Canon stopped innovating? Not at all if anything they have already provided the most important innovations and it's other companies that are playing catch-up. The 1D X Mark II is still quite possibly the best hybrid video and stills camera on the market. No other camera under $10,000 offers 4K at 60p with a 1.3x crop factor and with something as good as Dual Pixel autofocus. I do have my personal gripes against Canon, but ultimately I'm still using Canon and relying on their cameras for most of my professional needs. There just isn't another viable, effective alternative, especially considering the kind of work I do.

There is, however, a danger that Canon face and that is market sentiment. Canon really needs to improve how it's perceived by releasing cameras that maybe have a few more bells and whistles. Many photographers currently feel let down by Canon, supposedly because they are unwilling to compete. If Canon continues in the way they have over the last couple of years, maybe financial results like these are going to be less frequent for them in the future.

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196 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

Left Canon 6 months ago, no regrets.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Same here. From 5Ds and 5D Mark IV to A9 and A7RIII. It feels like cheating to use these Sony cameras. It's SOOOOO easy. I think if I were to pick up a 5D series camera right now, it would feel so antiquated.

+1 for me too. Just took delivery of 2 A7R III's last week, blown away by them. Better in every way.

Johnny Rico's picture

Went Nikon, but all my auto-focus issues that CPS was never able to correct are now gone, imagine that. Also bye to all the shadow FPN after some lifts.

For everyone crowing on the internet how they left Canon, there are many more who stick with Canon with no regrets whatsoever, but are not vocal about it online. They just keep taking their photos.

People who are negative about anything...a brand, a product, a shop or restaurant, are usually more vocal, whether it be online or through some other medium of communication.

But the sales data proves that most Canon users are happy with their equipment. And certainly looking over the pro photographers at the Olympic and Super Bowl, it appears that most pro's are quite satisfied with Canon.

Johnny Rico's picture

I'll say this, I had been with Canon for over 10 years. I've been looking to jump ship for the last 3 because the bodies never seem up to par, lack of innovation. When an article titled "Why Canon Does Not Need to Innovate", I'm going to say something.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Amen Wade. All the pros I know aren't switching because of minuscule feature upgrades. I bet if we had the data, it's mostly a younger audience that had very little gear to start with. I also wonder if they're mostly hobbyist.

Matthew Saville's picture

I don't know, Wade, I'm literally running out of "people I know" who haven't left Canon for Nikon or Sony, and that includes multiple circles of photographers, from nightscape and landscape photographers, to wedding and portrait photographers.

Literally the only people I know who are sticking with Canon are doing it rather grudgingly at times, and/or have a special deal / affiliation with Canon so they get special treatment or free stuff.

But, keep steaming towards that iceberg, bragging about how you've still got the "most passengers aboard"...

Or Fuji! We are always seeing people jump to Fuji from Canon.

Jonathan Brady's picture

"I think we can all agree when I say that Canon's Dual Pixel autofocus is still the best on the market."
For video? Sure. I agree with that. For stills? Nope. Sony's AF in the A9 is definitely superior. Tracking is easily as good from the A9 and being able to recognize an eyeball and track it when moving at high speed is something DPAF simply can't do while the sensor in the A9 can.

You are comparing different development cycles. Further, you mix AF technology with software algorithms - pattern recognition. Sony's A9 represents the latest AF tech and algorithms. The 5div DPAF is on the same development level as the PDAF was on the A7rii. And Canons DPAF is easily on par, in my opinon better than it was on the A7rii. It is -4ev, too and is able to focus tele zooms from fully oof in dim light, something the A9 or A7riii, which I own, too, can't. I also use the 5div at weddings, so know both systems under battle conditions very well. The 5div still has advantages in low light.
Eye AF is based on pattern recognition and therefore a software thing. It is not something restricted to OSPAF on Sony sensors, only.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

I'll agree that the 5D Mk III AF was just ok/shit. You had to work your butt off in some lighting scenarios to pull focus. The Mk IV is impressive as ****. It's rare that I have any issues with focus, so rare that I never have any. If it's not the best, it's still better than you'll ever need. I haven't been on a shoot in the last year(I'm shooting 3-5 jobs a week) and thought... man I wish my Mk IV was as fast/accurate as the Sony A9 or II or III. lol People talk about a lack of innovation from Canon and I just giggle to myself. Plus all the tourist/momtogs/hobbyist that I know that brag about switching or talk about wanting to switch, I can't help but wonder what the real reason wanting to switch is. I need to switch because of xy and z and innovation. Sure you do bud.

What Canon does right: marketing.

Francisco Eduardo de Camargo's picture

As Canon has the largest market it has the best money to pay for ads and pay youtuber to speak well of the brand and maintain sales.

Usman Dawood's picture

I wonder what Sony's market cap is :).

Francisco Eduardo de Camargo's picture

Usman Dawood: Those who arrive late in the market need to row much to be able to conquer. I'm trying to say that Canon conquered spaces in all areas of advertising: in shop windows, in internet sales, with professionals who use their equipment, etc. There has been a lot of commitment from many people with Canon for years. Do not just come with a truckload of money to conquer all spaces. Thus, there is a great strategy of market of Canon that knew to occupy the spaces before the other companies. Can this be reversed? Sure, but it raises time.

Not innovating is a good way to eventually lose. It's what happened to Pentax who, at one time, owned more of the market than Canon and Nikon combined and failed to pay attention to what was happening until it was too late to catch up.

If Canon were not innovating or spending on R&D, they would not be one of the leaders in patents for years:

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/canons-focus-on-innovation-once...

It is just that people want Canon to include all of that in a new camera model.

There are companies that exist for the sole purpose of dreaming up patents and suing others, so I wouldn't read too much into patents as a statement of innovation. However, my point wasn't around Canon itself, but more to the article headline. Companies that do not innovate will get their butts handed to them, it's simply a matter of time, so Canon does actually need to do so.

Ronnie Dai's picture

I switched from Canon 5D MKII to A7RII
Here is what I can say what I miss about Canon
1. Lens especially F4 zoom lens (sony's wide, standard, and tele are all x2 the price while offering almost the same performance some even worse than Canon)
2. Color, Im sorry, Canon has the best color science for skin tones period.
3. Reliability, SONY really sucks in this department. It happened to me twice that the SD card becomes invalid and you can not format the card in camera (card is fine and all the files are in it, but it requires using your computer to format the card then put it in the camera) This is a huge red flag so after that I always have to get a backup camera and several cards in hand.

Would I switch back? No, but I sure wish I kept my 5D for certain on location jobs.

Thanks for the honest share of your experiences. My assistant had #3 happen too many times. Scared me off the A7 line.

I did the same as you, but have kept my 5D2 as a back up. The Metabones adapter is great, kept all my lenses and have no troubles with it (other than a slightly slow autofocus, though I mainly manual focus or have the camera tethered, so not much of an issue for me)

Jonathan Brady's picture

Ronnie - number 2 is a statement of opinion, not fact. In my experience, Sony's color science for skin tones is superior to Canon's. My wife and son both are blue eyed, fair/freckly skin, orange/blonde haired and Canon skin tones made them appear too red/orange whereas with Sony they look far more natural and normal. I've found the same when photographing other people as well. Too much red/orange. So, when you say "Canon has the best color science for skin tones period" I have to STRONGLY disagree.

I was with you, until the ignorant statement about Canon Skin tones.

Sorry, but the S Pro 2 was better than Canon, the S Pro 3 was better than Canon and pretty much every one of the X-T bodies have been better than Canon for Skin Tones.

Canon is good, but they’re not the best.

Eric Salas's picture

"I remember when the 6D mark ii came out and it changed how I photographed everything" - Said no one ever.

Jonathan Brady's picture

This literally made me laugh out loud. That camera is a halo product for sure. A halo product for Canon's entire business philosophy (give 'em as little as you possibly can and charge as much as possible until it bites you in the a**). It was EXTREMELY telling that just a few months after launch, you could pick one up brand new for literally half the MSRP (if you deduct the value of the bundled items like the Pixma Pro 100, etc.). Half. HALF!!!

Canon better colour than Fujifilm medium format? I was paying attention until this crazy opinion. Canon doesn't innovate because so far they have blind sheep sticking with their ecosystem. Why spend on R&D if you can sell old technology for top dollar. Canon AF certainly doesn't thrill me over Nikon or Sony and yes I've tried them all. Writer shoots architecture which is great but hardly requires AF or colour accuracy. Probably shoots F11 all day.

Usman Dawood's picture

Colour accuracy is EXTREMELY important for the kind of work I do. Have you ever tried to work with an interior designer?

I'm also a YouTuber DPAF is life :).

Jonathan Brady's picture

It was pretty obvious that your article was written from a STRONG video perspective. For folks who pretty much only shoot stills, Canon's AF in live view isn't nearly as good as Sony's. With my A9 I can track an eyeball that takes up less 1% of the frame. Can DPAF do that? Nope!

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