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

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Walid Azami's picture

Love my Sony, and underwhelmed by Canon lately but a Sony doesn't fit in my hands the same way Canon does. Canon feels like an extension of me.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Good article Usman. You know that I'm always here to trash Canon when they deserve it but all your points are correct. As for innovation, Canon does innovate a lot actually, they fill more patent than Google and Apple every year.
https://www.ificlaims.com/rankings/rankings-top-50-2017.htm
The problem is to translate this innovation in useful technology, without doing stupid market segmentation. Everything is here, it's incredible to see what the Magic Lantern can do with 5 years Canon camera. Sigh...

John Cavan's picture

Patents are not hard to get, there are reams of patents that are dreamed up for the sole purpose of litigation defense or attack. It's not what you can dream up on paper that matters, it's what you do with it. By your argument, IBM would be considered, by far and away, the most innovative company on the planet. That's simply not true.

Christian Santiago's picture

I think Canon's foothold in the market has more to do with their army of fanboys and arsenal of EF glass. Most people I know stick with Canon simply because they've already invested in so much EF glass over the years, but I always hear them griping about everything Canon lacks that everyone else is innovating with.

Of course, there's something to be said for the quality lenses they've produced over the year. Can't take that away from them. And God knows how much great content has been created using Canon Gear. So i am by no means calling them trash.

BUT we live in an age where even entry-level cameras from all the major manufacturers have incredible sensors while Canon consistently lags behind. Is it after all the most critical part of the whole damn contraption no? Canon is selling so-called "pro" cameras at ridiculous prices while their sensors get beaten in low light noise performance and dynamic range by cameras selling at a third of the price.

Add to that the fact that manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic, and Fujifilm are putting all their best tech into their entry level "prosumer" bodies (A6500, XT-20, G8 etc.) while Canon still stubbornly refuses to implement these things that customers are craving. BTW anyone who has ever held an XT2 from Fuji can attest to the build quality of that camera. It's a straight up tank.

"Color" Science is kind of an overrated metric. Sure it's great if you want nice SOOC JPEGS. But most people are shooting RAW or LOG (for video) and dial in their looks and colors in post anyway, so it's a mute point.

Brand loyalty and reputation can keep you on top only for so long. Canon might still be king of the mountain because they have the most money to throw at Youtube fanboys to sing their praises. But unless they start innovating, I just don't see them maintaining the lead much longer. Especially now that Sony is releasing more incredible lenses every year.

I'm day to day fstopper reader, but not regirstered user. When I read this comment, I just want to agree with Christian Santiago opinion. I was nikon user, then sellout everything, had maybe four years without camera for think what I really want, what is the best for me.. Then I looked at fuji x-t1, but patiently wait for new generation and I bought x-t2, had it from release date and it's the best of price camera I ever had.. It's long story short..

My good friend started learning photography and guess what? Most of uses canon gear.. She bought 80D + 50 f/1.4 Sigma Art.. It's good camera, but it lags behind.. Viewfiner, weight, controls, everything looks outdated when comparing to fuji.. I didin't enjoy 80D in any way.. Sorry for canon, but it's time to change, even now when we had medium format like fuji gfx and hasselblad x1d..

something i noticed is that the 5d4 is crazy cheap as a gray import compared to sony 7r3 or nikon d850. ofcourse those havnt been out long enough but still. i wanted the 5d4 to be a comeback camera but i wonder how it stacks up against the old D810.

Usman Dawood's picture

D810 is better for image quality, however, this does depend allot on what lens you use.

5D4 is better overall.

its newer too. but what if you used lets say a 85mm 1.4 sigma. same lens on both.

Usman Dawood's picture

As I said the D810 is better for image quality.

thomas Palmer's picture

Color science is quite vague, now that we can colorgrade pictures, shoot raw and even use color charts. Skin. Also too subjective

Usman Dawood's picture

I agree it is subjective and based on that subjectivity Canon is the winner. More people prefer Canon colours than they do many other cameras.

Rex Larsen's picture

No need to be grumpy or cynical about camera gear because there are so many choices. The competition benefits us all. I have used Canon all my life and there have always been a couple features that let me down. Strong photography is mostly about good ideas. It must be said that Canon has been a major innovator of camera technology. So many features in all brands have been inspired and developed by Canon technology. Their research and development dwarfs other companies. Ultrasonic lenses, back button autofocus, full-time manual focus, electronic lens mounts, top of camera display readout, Internal stabilization in lenses, to name a few innovations. Take your pick of great camera brands but show some love for all Canon does for photography and the gear you prefer.

Rex Larsen's picture

Many great choices for photographers today. I stand by my comments. What gear is being used today for the most important assignments ? Is there one Sony camera on the sidelines at the Olympics ? I don't care but I am curious.

Adrian Pocea's picture

The best wife is not the woman with the best body, eyes, or breasts. Or legs. Replace that with sensor, 4k, etc. Canon makes still the best "wife camera ". I tried many mistresses. I tried to cheat. I come back to her. 5div is an AMAZING camera, you guys don't know what you are talking about calling it a disappointment. It is the best feeling in hand camera EVER, period. Best touch screen and menus. Gets abuse and is never late when you need it. You manoeuvre it with closed eyes. I can bet that 100 dollars that in a fast paced , wedding type of situation, if you need in 10 consecutive shots to change iso, aperture and shutter and wb at each shot, Canon 5div gets the most keepers out of anyone out there . The buttons on the Sony are small and cramped, either too responsive( I was changing iso without my knowledge) either too non responsive. Even the Fn buttons on Lumix or Sony don't work that fast. Canon menus are like a driving test. You learn them and them you drive by instinct. Every menu item makes sense where it is, the buttons are just where are supposed to be, the responsiveness is superbly calibrated. The thing is , Sony shooters KNOW that, but they won't admit it. They were declaring the A7r2 the perfect camera and were in denial about 1 million issues, and now, that they have A9 and A7r3 with decent controls that Canon has for a decade ago,they chant joy and victory

Eric Robinson's picture

So you like Canon.

Usman Dawood's picture

Just had my A7R III delivered today I like all gear :). If anything I'm a little biased in favour of Fuji but I try and remain objective.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Snag an A9, do a portrait shoot and shoot a sporting event with the Canon of your choice in live view and the A9 side by side, then tell me that Canon's AF is superior to Sony's.
A bit of advice, while it may be gratifying in the moment to smash your Canon gear on the ground when you get frustrated with it after using the A9, it's an infinitely better idea to simply sell it to someone else who truly believes Canon has the best live view AF...

Usman Dawood's picture

Until it overheats right :P

Jonathan Brady's picture

Who is having issues with the A9 overheating? I haven't seen that anyone has reported that as an issue.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Now let's make sure we're being fair. I haven't seen anyone else saying that it's an issue after the firmware update, enabling the higher-temperature menu setting, and or using the battery grip. Also, since you trust him to provide that information I'm guessing you should also trust his opinion on another topic. Fast forward to 7 minutes and 10 seconds of this video https://youtu.be/OKdwc4t8Ohw

By the way, later in that video he said that since receiving his replacement unit it has not overheated. So it seems like it was a bug which was found early on in the products life cycle which has since been addressed. Hopefully, anyway.

Usman Dawood's picture

On that basis I have to agree with you, fair enough. If it's no longer an issue then it's not an issue.

Still, I'm going to be cheeky and say that Canon don't release cameras that have issues like that which need fixing :P.

You are right :).

Jonathan Brady's picture

Yeah, definitely! They've never had issues with things like oil splatter, discolored hand grips, peeling hand grips, Etc LOL

Jonathan Brady's picture

To add a little transparency to our exchange, I shot Canon for 9 years. When I decided to switch to Sony I had a 5DS and a 5D Mark 4, 7 or 8 lenses, and an entire flash system suitable to my needs. I simply grew discontent with Canon's ability or willingness to implement features which would make photography easier and more enjoyable for me, personally. Sony did it, so I switched. I came out of pocket about $2,000 in the switch but it was completely worth it as I'm taking fewer pictures, with more keepers, and enjoying it more. Not only that, because of Sony's color science I'm spending less time in front of the monitor. All of this is also helping me focus on the areas in which I really need to develop my skills because I don't have to worry about some of the things I used to when I shot Canon. Eye AF and AF points spread across the entire frame really has been a godsend for me. Never having to worry about AFMA has been incredibly liberating as well.

Adrian Pocea's picture

Man, you wrote like 30 comments on this article. You are obviously very hurt and biased and wanting to prove something. This proves low self esteem. Enjoy your Sonys, we got it.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Hahahaha! Obviously. Thank you for your PhD level psychoanalysis! Is this a freebie or should I send a check?

Adrian Pocea's picture

Even if all that you wrote it would be true(which it isn't ) how can justify your rants here and your boiling blood against Canon? Why the sarcasm, until yesterday you used Canon, you made money out of it(although I doubt), you learned photography. It was and it is the leading company for decades. What is your problem? Is Canon putting its hand into your pocket and forcing you buying products, is Canon scamming you somehow, selling you ideas and tech that don't work(like Lytro or GoPro Karma)? Canon has it's market strategy,millions of professionals use it around the world, who are you and a bunch of other 100 very active and bad mouthed fan boys, to judge what Canon does or to offend people like the author of the article or myself or millions others who use Canon day in day out and are happy with it? Are you saying that we cannot afford Sony or we are uniformed or stupid or something? What are you implying, at the end of the day, what is your point? Canon owes you NOTHING, you paid for their cameras, you used them, you sold them(not losing a lot of money) you bought into another system, good for you. Move over it.

I do agreed on color science, when I shooting wedding with Sony A mount, less work for me in post comparing to Canon's. for E mount, anything before the A9 and A7R iii can't give me the color I want.

Luc-Richard Elie's picture

I really want to know why people shoot stills in Live View? Outside of my smartphone it feels strange. Dont really understand why the focusing in that is a necessary feature

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