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. 


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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Usman Dawood's picture

In short yes for Nokia, however, your analogy doesn't really work or fit for Canon.

No company offers me everything need and I doubt any company ever will. Requirements are fluid and ever changing. The same question can be reversed. Would I drop Canon if Sony offered me everything?

Shyama Prasad Mishra's picture

Is not it a no brainer?

If Canon offered someone everything for their genere of photography, why would they look for alternatives?

Unless they love weight lifting. Carrying two bodies, bunch of lenses, a stedy tripod and doing a 10hour hike is not fun. Is it?

Usman Dawood's picture

Depends on what you need but several photographers I know wouldn’t use Sony for their hiking due to its poor weather sealing.

Personally I just bought The A7RIII and really like it, I might switch back to it depending on how it performs for my YouTube videos.

Currently no camera offers everything, there’s always a trade off.

Shyama Prasad Mishra's picture

Well of course no camera offers everything, but that is not an excuse to stop inventing.

Are you trying to say Canon is wrong in admitting that they are slow lately?

Canon has a deeper market penetration. So they have the luxury to delay some of their programs without taking a big financial hit.

However it's just a matter of time. Every company need to buzz and listen to the trend.

Canon is not an exception!

J.M. Kariuki's picture

No offense, but have you have of Kodak? Or Blockbuster or radioshack or PanAm?

Current market dominance isn't a guarantee of future success.

The notion that a tech company doesn't need to innovate is laughable and I'm glad you're not at the helm of the Canon because reasoning like that would surely sink them.

I shoot Canon. 70D and 5Diii. They work fine for me. I didn't upgrade those to their successors but I didn't feel I was getting much value. But it's not because of their superior technology but more from a sense of adequacy. The only thing keeping me from switching to Sony is the affordable quality lens lineup or lack thereof.

Usman Dawood's picture

Did you read the full article or understand the points. I feel like you haven't understood them based on your comment.

J.M. Kariuki's picture

If I understand correctly, your point is that Canon already have superior tech and thus they don't need to develop or, if we're being honest, actually release said superior tech which they have but want customers to pay more to get.

I'd counter with:

Dual Pixel Autofocus
DPA is pretty much the best for VIDEO or liveview autofocus. For photo shooters only, Nikon, Sony (A9's and Eye detect), Olympus all have very impressive autofocus systems and it's hard to say that Canon has a superior edge. The truth is it's easier to find a good autofocus system these days than it is to find a bad one. I'd also note that the video autofocus on Sony's isn't too far behind.

The EF Mount
Only reason I'm still there. I actually only own two Canon branded EF lenses and 6 third party. If I could get the same on Sony, I'd jump ship.

Color Science
I, like many photographers, shoot RAW. I adjust colours accordingly in post. I conceed that as you keep repeating many people like Canon's colours. I have mixed feelings about it. I'm not a fan of how it renders dark complexions and since that makes up most of my shooting work I've gotten used to first taking some of that magenta off in post. I'm also not a huge fan of how it renders landspace colours but I put this down to the fact that I live right at the equator and the light quality is different from where the camera was developed. I find that the yellow-orange shift. In any case, this only matters for the video and subjective preferential change with time. Just look at my wardrobe from the early 2000's

I conceed here too. I bought both my Canon cameras used and they're working fine some 5+ years later. That said, my first camera was the t4i and the grip came off in like 3 months.

Now I think you missed my point.
The competition is getting better than Canon are. The Sony a7 came out and I scoffed at it. In six years they've developed a line of full frame cameras that compete, some would say best, Canon and Nikon.

That is exactly why Canon and Nikon have to innovate. My point was that all too often we've seen big companies go under because they got comfortable with their market dominance and didn't anticipate the market shift.

Canon and Nikon no longer operate in duopoly. Panasonic, Olympus and Fuji and giving customers different alternatives that check all your so called superiority points.
Tamron and sigma are making lenses that are as good if not better than L series lenses for a fraction of the cost. And Sony are innovating and learning faster than the big two. Woke up to news of Sony's entry level Full Frame camera, the a7iii. To compare it to my 5Diii isn't fair. Nor would it be to compare it to 6Dii which is priced the same. In fact, it's best compared to the 5D iv. Canon's supposed superiority edge is slimming fast than they realize.

I sure hope the chiefs at Canon aren't using your logic in mapping out their future because that will lead them to follow the path taken by all those companies I mentioned in my previous post who once thought they didn't have too innovate because they were market leaders.

Reginald Walton's picture

They used to make phones, right? LOL

Shyama Prasad Mishra's picture

Did they? Have not heard of them for years now. Lol

What planet are you living on, 8k monitors are being shipped right now. An 8k image is over 33 megapixels. I'm waiting for the day when one of my customers ask "why is the picture so small". We live in a world where inovation is advancing customer expectations. I'll stay with Canon until the 5D V arrives, then we'll see. Btw, what's gonna happen to the 1D series in a world with 8k monitors and mirrorless cameras that already shoot 12 fps?

Usman Dawood's picture

How many people own 8k monitors though and how long till it becomes mainstream?

4k still isn't quite there yet.

8k will be mainstream in three years, Japan is broadcasting the Olympics in 8k Executives and decision makers will demand 8k monitors for their computers in their offices soon, and boardrooms will have 8k monitors where the decision makers will be looking at my photos which will be shot for 8k whether or not its a Canon. If I have to crop any images, I want them to be over 45 megapixels, and I'm not buying a 5D series camera that will be competitively obsolete in three years and the 5DS is a studio camera. I hope Canon doesn't take your advise or we'll all be fire selling our EF lenses. The business world is littered with companies who didn't think they needed to innovate. This mindset was fine in the print world, but we're not in Kansas anymore.

Usman Dawood's picture

You're forgetting that technology pushes consumer preferences and behaviors too. Canon does not exist in a vacuum, they release new cameras regularly and are part of the progress.

In 3 years most if not all cameras currently available will be obsolete.

So I guess Canon will need to innovate?

Usman Dawood's picture

They continue regardless.

J.M. Kariuki's picture

Yet Canon takes 5 fives to upgrade a camera.

Kirby, I am in the IT industry and I can tell you that 4K monitors might be commonplace in 3 to 5 years but not 8K.

We'll see but I've been the IT industry for years too and I've seen executives and marketing types that always get the best technology. Remember when duel monitors came along? Monitors are a status symbol in the corporate world. I also read where Sigma announced a new 14 -24 f2.8 art lensè geared torward the 50MP market so I'm not alone in my thinking.

Rex Larsen's picture

What is the most popular camera system at the winter Olympics ? Super Bowl ? White House ? Fashion Week ? Pick the most important events in the world and what cameras are selected to capture them ?
Asking for a friend.

Usman Dawood's picture

I'm guessing it's between Canon and Nikon, however, I don't know the figures.

Piotr Maksymowicz's picture

Oh my god another article from this canon fanboi... I didn't even read this thing!

Usman Dawood's picture


Nice try but I actually prefer Fuji cameras and really enjoy my Sony cameras. Canon I only use for much of my pro work due to their practicalities. If I could I would switch to Sony but they don't have an effective solution.

how's reliability of Fuji? I heard many bad stories about their QC, however, their products look solid to me, I'm new to Fuji and I do want to try Fuji as my street/travel system to replace my A6500 system because I'm fed up with Sony abandoning crop lens system. Fuji lenses look good!

I think some of the points in this article are valid, but the title throws me. There's a difference in saying here's why Canon doesn't NEED to innovate vs. here's why Canon CHOOSES not to innovate.

What the author says regarding sales is very true. Canon is a publicly traded company that is beholden to its investors. If your sales are still strong and selling outdated/crippled products at great margins doesn't appear to lead to losing market share, a CEO is going to have a hard time justifying super high R&D costs and new product launches that are competitive but not as profitable.

Brands like Sony can justify the opposite for sake of gaining market share (and thus increasing profit through volume rather than margins on individual products), and Sony has certainly proven they're capable of doing just that. Nikon can justify similar moves because everyone who owns that stock knows something has to change in order for the company to recover.

As for comparing what Canon does well/better over competitors, that seems a less sound argument, in part because some of the strengths listed above are subjective preferences, but also because it's no secret that basically every other camera manufacturer produces more feature-rich cameras than Canon at this point. (Honestly, if one had to choose between a D850 and a 5D IV just in the merit of cumulative feature set vs. price, that's not a difficult choice.)

Trying to look at writing emerging on the wall regarding Canon's future is trickier. Ubiquity is a heck of a marketing tool to have up one's sleeve. When people say "smartphone" they generally mean "iPhone," and I suspect Canon has a similar relationship with the words "DSLR" or "real camera" among the general populace. The emergent situation, however, is that general consumers buy dedicated cameras less and less. The only market that's really left is enthusiasts, part-timers, and pros, and they're generally more savvy and critical in their purchasing. Indeed, you can look at emerging trends and see a problem for Canon: Sigma offers a free mount change for any Art lens - I doubt there's many people rushing to join EF mount. Likewise, the trend towards better and better adapters for using EF glass on other camera systems would seem worrying for Canon as it helps ease the greatest pain point in jumping ship.

Until it becomes good business for Canon to innovate, I doubt they will. However, as others have mentioned, the point at which your market share is shrinking is not the time to suddenly release exciting products. Once a company burns up most of its goodwill even among dedicated and longtime users, a hot new product isn't enough (if anything it feels like a too-little-too-late insult). In reality, I think Canon needs some new leadership that is willing to stand up to their board of directors and say "if we don't sacrifice some profit and actually innovate now, in five years we'll be having a much more difficult conversation regarding our camera business."

Most people that buy cameras are not professionals.
When they enter a store, they recognise Canon and Nikon Brand and they just go for it.
They don't go search forums or youtube for opinions, they just want to take a pic at their kids at christmas.
Canon is stuck and we all now it, it still has great color and great AF, but that is not enough, let alone calling it innovation...

Steve Korn's picture

I think Canon is following a business plan that is shared by another long lasting Japanese company, Yamaha. Yamaha does not focus on innovation and passing trends, allowing other companies to do that leg work. Instead they see what has work for other companies, then improve upon it, releasing a better, more reliable version. Companies seem to either be cutting edge, making money through innovation, but failing in constant redesign and updates or like Canon, watching the market and producing products that have a proven track record and dependability.

Benton Lam's picture

If Canon execs actually think they're fine from the balance sheet, they're in for a rude awakening.

I joined BlackBerry back in their peak, and that company rode the express elevator down.

The market rarely knows how the business actually works, or know the signs of dangerous rots in a particular industry until it is painfully apparent. When that happens, the outcome is usually panic.

You don't get to the top thinking that no one overtakes you - you always look up for that Sword of Damocles. Is Canon doing that? You decide.

Usman Dawood's picture

I definitely share some of your sentiments. Although it's impressive to see Canon remain consistent and increase sales when the market is declining.

It's difficult to say where Canon will be in 5 years from now.

Christopher Thorpe's picture

As I write you have mainly 96 negative comments posted. I am sure somebody will want to correct me on that. Very brave article - did you duck as you hit the post button. Certainly will generate lots of traffic :) I think the broad point here is that a for better or worse Canon have figured out how to make money from selling camera's. They understand there consumers and what sells - And he's the key point - the majority of the people who buy their camera's don't need or understand the difference between SD Cards vs CF card - just what available at Best Buy - what they do understand that they one to spend $5 on an SD. Canon have always been in the business of selling reliable easy camera's to the broader market and NOBODY does it better.

Here's the catch if you have even bothered to read FStoppers and even have enough time to waste reading this response puts you in a small echo chamber of a photographer/hobbist/gear freaks - that knows a lot more/cares a lot more than 90%(its a guess) of people who buy cameras - so everything that is said as a knock against Canon is correct. There sensors are not the best and haven't been for a while and the latest generation from Sony are truly killer and reallly now good enough to be taken seriously.

Canon do need to worry as Sony and smart phones are shrinking their market, and I am a little sad to read that maybe their answer is to move into other markets!! My personal advise would be to continue to refine/redefine the smartphone/camera interface and make it seamless as you're average Joe will love that. (they're getting there with bluetooth/WiFI but still way too clumsy)

Me I am holding out for the MkIV. Maybe that will make me a better photographer.

Michael Yearout's picture

I'm very happy with Canon and have been for many years.

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