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.

Log in or register to post comments

196 Comments

Previous comments
Aaron Bratkovics's picture

Canon patents fingerprint reader for cameras and lenses. That is something for the canon user. When I buy another Canon I will hope for that feature. After I buy a thin camera strap for my fuji.

I saw this chick walking around with one yesterday. I was going to stop her and ask her where she bought it....but I accidentally fell in love and forgot my name.

Excuse me. Woman not chick.

Corey Weberling's picture

Dynamic range is far more important to me than the slightest change in "color science." I don't get the whole Canon color science thing.

Usman Dawood's picture

Composition
Lighting
Colours

Three fundamentals of photography. Dynamic range isn't one of them.

Tracy Webb's picture

Lets go Canon I'm still shooting with a Canon 70D But Sony and Nikon are starting Look Great ....Come on Canon 90D AND 7D3 lets show everyone Canon still rocks TO ME anyway : )

The dilemma with a company being successful and taking leadership in a market is that any new innovation or product it makes, cannibalizes its existing products instead of bringing new revenue. This is a hard-sell for investing in new development and it ironically plays into the hands of smaller competitors who can also cannibalize your revenue.

Usman Dawood's picture

Interesting points they do make sense to me too. Maybe that's why Canon have taken a back seat to let everyone else do the leg work so they can come in and simply offer what works instead of the trial and fail method of that R&D requires.

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

"Color, Im sorry, Canon has the best color science for skin tones period."

This reason right here is exactly why I stay with Canon. I love features, as I shot Fuji XT2 and XT1 for 2 years but the end results were just not the same. Sony also packs many features as well, but only after fumbling thru the menu system. At the end of the day, it's about what works best for you and canon does the job for me. However, I'd spend great money to get a canon body with Nikon D850 features. #TakeMyMoney

Sean DeWitt's picture

I left last September after 3 bad Mark IV's in a row. I tell people the same thing, it's like cheating using the Sony A9. I'm buying an A7RIII next. The good news, they work just as well if not better with Canon glass than a Canon body! Buy the Sigma MC-11 adapter instead of the Metabones. The Metabones adapters are hit and miss.

Usman Dawood's picture

I actually just had the MC11 delivered today and trying it out on my A7R III, does seem to work pretty well. I'll see if I can do a review/comparison.

Sean Gibson's picture

This is all just premature. While past Sony alpha cameras were good, they were mostly being used as second or third cameras (like I did with the a7rii). Now that the a7riii and a9 can compete with and beat their Canon counterparts, it will be 2018 that shows a shift in revenue shares. Then it probably takes most people 2 years to build up their lens inventory, so it will be years 2018-2020 where Canon will really start feeling the pain.

Usman Dawood's picture

Three years of consistent strong performance in a declining market is not premature.

"Now that the a7riii and a9 can compete with and beat their Canon counterparts, it will be 2018 that shows a shift in revenue shares"

Your comment is definitely premature. We don't know what's going to happen for sure in 2018 for you to make that claim.

Sean Gibson's picture

Of course the last part is just my educated guess; You should write Wall Street though, and tell them that projecting a companies worth shouldn't be based on recent events/changes in the marketplace.

Usman Dawood's picture

"Fugayzi, fugazi, it's a whazy, it's a woozy,"

:)

William D's picture

Everyone of you are missing the meaning of Canon's sales. It is the entry level to mid level DSLR market that makes up the bulk of the sales. They sell 10 separate bodies under $1200.00, tons of options for the first time user, the gift buyer, and even the mid level hobbyist. Their mid level 80D is so well priced and feature packed it makes their own 7d2 look silly let alone anything else from another company. Their old 70D even wiped the sales floor with what else Canon made higher end and Sony and Nikon put together. They may of sold more 70D's than all their higher end cameras in total, yet that still don't touch the sales numbers of the SL1 or T5 entry level stuff. Canon has the best kit lenses on the market, their STM stuff is beyond what any other manufacturer can do on top of the old used EF stuff people can buy used. Ask any camera salesman and they will tell you Canon's entry to mid level sales destroys everyone else. People getting into SLR for the first time don't care about 4k video because they already have that on their phone, they don't care about video codecs, they care about one thing. That one thing is will this camera work for the large $$$ i am spending? Canon is the only manufacturer that has the reliability so well put Sony can only dream of reaching such a mark. Remember this, to an entry level buyer or even a mid level buyer the price of a t5 or an 80D is a huge cost, these are people taking a leap into a new hobby they may have never been in before, these people don't make money with the gear, put yourself in their shoes and realize how big your first SLR purchase is. DPAF was all about making it easier on the entry level market, making it easier on them to focus video like these people do on their cell phones. You may not like Canon is so hardcore to the lower end of the market but understand this, the lower end is what pays for all the research and development of every upper line lense or body!

I sometimes stop by Fstoppers to read article because I like Lee and Pat's viewpoints about shooting experience sometimes. However, this time I feel like you are trying to convince people to buy Nokia or Blackberry bricks that lack innovation nowadays, and I consider this article is pretty biased.

Being a long time Canon and Sony shooter, I shoot mainly wedding and events, to all people who always talk about color science including famous peter mckinnon, it's just all about taste, to me personally, doesn't matter if you take picture in good light or backlit or bad light, skin tone from Canon cameras always have too much magenta, period! don't believe it? just take the picture of a white shirt and check it out, so again, it's just all about taste, and you can't tell people Canon has the best color just because it's true to you and your taste, let them decide. Plus, nowadays if we take commercial portrait, I'm sure we all shoot RAW and color balance and tone does not matter anymore, what really matters is dynamic range. so PLEASE people, stop bringing up Canon color science topic in everywhere, because it's just YOUR preference!

Why the phaseone xf100 system is that expensive nowadays? its dynamic range is crazy and second to none, you can basically get all details back in its images.

There are certain things I don't like about Sony system, pretty understandable, it's a young system and eventually lens collection will grow plus huge support from Zeiss. I like my Canon lenses and they have good price compared to Sony GM line, agreed on that!

During 2017 holiday season, Canon was pushing for more sales since the sales lean toward Nikon and Sony (Nikon sales during Christmas was really good), and I had no complaint because I got a really good deal for my 6D ii, I will keep using Canon for some type of work that Sony does not offer, for example rugged big bulky bodies with better weather seal that I can beat up on my job and long trips, big telephoto lenses that are not part of Sony systems. It will all depends on the type of jobs I do, but please, don't worship Canon as your god in 2018, because it's not, we all do want Canon to innovate so we can all get benefits from competition, and I feel like this tech company is becoming a new Blackberry!

Usman Dawood's picture

I’m not trying to convince anyone to buy anything. If you look at my camera line up you’ll see a variety of manufacturers from Fuji, Sony, Nikon and Canon.

Colours are a fundamental of photography dynamic range isn’t. Also difference in dynamic range is currently minimal between all manufacturers and in the flagship models (1D) canon currently has the best dynamic range.

Phase One is that expensive because they offer a huge sensor which costs a heck of a lot to make. Phase One seems to care more about colours than they do dynamic range too.

Once again colours are fundamental dynamic range isn’t. And extra stop isn’t anywhere near as important as having more accurate colours.

Colours are subjective but more people prefer canons colour than almost any other manufacturer.

First comment on fstoppers, here it goes:

Canon needs to innovate. Reason? Look at the drop in total camera sales. Where did all those money go? To the smartphone market, maybe? Who produces the most sensors in smartphone cameras? Acording to Bloomberg, Sony now controls roughly 50% of the world market for image sensors.
After chewing up compact cameras with small sensors, smartphones are eyeing to replace entry level DSLRs or CSCs. Somebody stated that those are the areas where Canon makes its bulk sales. So smartphones actually endanger Canon business model more than other camera makers. With advances in software image manipulation and the increase in number and reach of lenses, entry level DSLRs with kit lenses might be replaceable by smartphones in several years. Blur - check. Image quality, even in the low lighting conditions - check. Telephoto - 2x now, might grow to 3-4x. Plus smartphones offer instant access to digital editing and publishing photos on social networks.

In the smaller and smaller camera market, many times a Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Pentax or Olympus is sold, Sony makes some money, too. It controls the digital sensor market. What was the last notable sensor you can think of that wasn't produced by Sony? So it makes sense that the technological lead that Sony has will grow the following years.

If I was a Canon manager, I would be worried. The smartphones are here and eating my margin. My sensors are a generation behind the competition. And Sony has grown into a worthy competitor. Sure, lenses, ergonomics, professional services are still a step behind. But they are getting better alarmingly fast.

Totally agreed! consumer market is DEAD for DSLR, even 1 inch sensor camera, micro 4/3 and soon to be APSC and FF will be in danger once the phones can get 1 inch sensor in it. There are so many things softwares and apps can do, in the next 5 years or so, you will see software simulation vs optical quality, the iphone already have bokeh blurry background generated by the native apps.

I have to confess that sometimes I was filming a wedding using my iphone in 4K, however, people will question me why do I use iphone for that much I'm getting paid for, so I just place my phone on top of my DSLR hot shoe and it did the job pretty well ;)

BTW, Sony sensors are not only in smartphones, and big cameras, they are also in cars (safety cameras), dashcam, surveillance cameras, medical...They are going in the right direction!

JetCity Ninja's picture

this reads as: "you're all wrong, blah blah blah, 1 chart with data, bunch of anecdotal "evidence," blah blah blah, actually, I guess you all have a point."

this is the sort of garbage that should be a video blog to be ignored, while "3 tips that prove i'm better than you/know more than you,/why you suck" sort of stuff should be typed out instead of 15 minutes of rambling.

Usman Dawood's picture

Offer a counter argument instead of a rant and you won’t be what you seem to detest :-).

@ the title of this article: LOLWUT?

That is not at all how innovation works in large corporations. In fact, I was just listening to an industry expert the other day, and they said this is LITERALLY the exact reason large corporations crash and burn. The research was done only counting the corporations that a certain number of BILLIONS in profits, and had eventually gone bankrupt or shrunk down to almost nothing. The number one cause of that "epic fail" was that the company sat back on its haunches and said, "we dominate the market, we're fine"...

So, I agree with the general gist that I gleaned from the content of this article- Although Canon is doing "alright" as far as market share and profit margins are concerned, they still desperately need to innovate, unless they wish, shall we say, to "pull a Kodak"...

I would also argue that Canon is not innovating nearly enough, either, and I think the poll (currently) agrees with me. They hit a brick wall with dynamic range over 10 years ago, and literally just now started chipping away at that brick wall. They've been notorious over the generations for intentionally leaving certain features out of lesser cameras and lenses in order to entice sales of their higher-end gear, a business tactic that just does not fly in today's global economy. Anybody who has followed the history of digital cameras since the days of the very first sub-$1K DSLRs will tell you, they've lost count of how many times they've heard of Canon hiding / disallowing features on certain cameras via firmware, ...only to have "hacks" such as Magic Lantern enabling them.

Canon needs to start innovating at a MUCH faster pace, and re-thinking some of their "product placement" tactics too, if they don't want to find themselves in the #2 spot in 5-10 years.

I added an A7R III and a 24-70 2.8 GM to my Canon stable in November. The A7R III does feel a generation (if not two generations!) ahead of my 5D IV, no question.

For me the release of the very disappointing 6D II (which I really wanted to buy) followed by the release of the wonderful A7R III sealed the deal.

And the A7R III works wonderfully with my beloved Canon glass through the Metabones 4th gen adapter. Even eye-AF works well! For many use cases, the A7R III is currently the best body you can mount on the back of your Canon glass. To give you an extreme example, my 85 1.2 II hardly ever focuses precisely on my Canon bodies wide open. It does on my A7R III!

I did get pretty awful skin tones out of the A7R III on one occasion (no idea how our face got so green in a beach shot). But I shoot raw+jpeg anyways, so it was an easy fix. No issues otherwise, and I've done thousands of shots by now.

Here is still hoping Canon will come out with a competitive body soon. Sadly, the odds of that are very low though. They want to "protect" their cinema line and their 1D line. Good for them. They just missed out on $6,000 I spent on Sony gear instead. My brother and my GF are considering making the switch, too. Together with several other friends who have been eyeing Sony since the release of the original A7.

If Canon believes Sony is no competition to them, they are fooling themselves.

EL PIC's picture

If their customer base says they need to improve and innovate .. they do !!

Francisco Eduardo de Camargo's picture

I leave a question here to be answered: Could Canon be spending all of its research and development time for future professional Mirrorless cameras?

Thanks for the thought provoking article, and one that makes some very good points.

The sales data proves that the chatter on the internet is not at all representative of general consumer behavior. And Canon does have features and innovations that no one else has caught up with as yet..so who is really leading and who is really behind?

Sony is vastly overrated; their handling and ergonomics still are poor, and so the user experience is poor. Once Canon and Nikon enter FF mirrorless in a serious way, then Sony will be in a world of hurt. Canon is already eating Sony's lunch in APS-C mirrorless, without even trying that hard.

As for the pro market, look at all the big white lenses at the Super Bowl and Olympics.

Bottom line: Taking everything into account, Canon still has one of the best, if not the very best, overall systems. And Sony still is second tier.

Chris W's picture

I am starting to think you guys have problems defining innovation with an open mind. Also, new tech doesn't automatically means it is objectively better. Just stop whining and buy what you like. Don't spend time convincing yourself about accepting things you dislike. Life is short.

Terry Poe's picture

You really summed it up what I feel as a loyal Canon shooter. Attachment to legacy lenses, ergonomic and reliable system, simple interface on one side and growing disappointment (bordering with outrage) of being stuck forever in 2012. Your previous article also sums up pretty comprehensively what I'd like to see in the new Canon camera.

Canon procrastinated innovation for too long to catch up, totally lacking capability of advanced signal processing driving features in new Sony cameras.

Oh, it is easier to stay with Canon, that 850 sure is a tasty looking carrot though.

Usman Dawood's picture

Very tasty indeed haha

I've been with Canon 42 years and I don't see a reason to switch now. I've shot weddings, rock concerts, wildlife and nature and they always perform for me. Now I wear contact lenses I have to depend on auto-focus and it serves me well.

More comments