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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Brent Soule's picture

"First rule of Canon/Sony fight club, you don't talk about Canon/Sony fight club."

Ok, that's hypocritical sense there is already a reunified "Lord of the Rings" (can I get a NERD! from those in the know) worth of comments out there.

What about, "Camera bodies come and go, but glass lives forever." Yeah, I can go with that.

No one is changing anyones minds. It's a basic psych concept that people have to validate and reinforce their emotional (and monetary) investment. On top of that, "photogs" know everything and are never wrong.

The next Sony could be a 30 stop d-range flaming dumpster fire (possibly literally) and fan boys would still be like, "it's the best camera ever made, sense the last Sony a week ago." The next Canon could be hand cranked and use smart media cards, and diehards would say, "Canon don't need to innovate, their cameras last forever and never f-up."

Yes, Canon needs to stop screwing around and just do UHD 4K that everyone else uses and NOT full 4K. Keep the bloated full 4K files on the 5D? and the 1D? for those who want it. I have seen people that really know how to do video, I'm talking real video production people and companies (like Reds, Ursas and up, +some Sonys, Olympus, Canon, what ever) , take that "antiquated" video file and it makes Sony's UHD look like hammered medow muffins. But it is hard to work with and most people don't know how to process it.

I'll tell you one thing Canon will NOT put something in a camera unless it works 100%. I have a 12 yr old rebel that my wife uses and a 8yr old, 250,000+ click 60D that I still shoot travelling ball and prep sports, 6D and 5Diii. I have never had a camera lock up or glitch, unless it was the fualt of a 3rd party tele-converter, battery grip or vintage glass mount adaptor with af confirm chip. (Hence the, "glass lives forever")

Doing dusty traveling base/softball tournaments, I keep having parents ask me why their expensive Sony (and yes Canon Rebels and Nikon D3xxx) camera and/or lenses keep dying and what they should get. I tell them weather sealing, weather sealing weather sealing. Which means Canon and Nikon, + whatever sealed lens they can afford (native or Sigma/Tamron).

Features aside, Sony will never get the Pro Pro market unless they fix their reliability and get some real weather sealing. They even say that their sealing on the a9 is not as good as Canon or Nikon. That is their only camera with weather sealing.

I know someone that jumped to Sony and regreted it. Sold his Canons and bought two a7rii. Both were dead in 6 months. Then Sony blamed him and wouldn't do anything. $6000 flushed down the toilet. Thank God for insurance, but he still lost a bunch of money.

Sony innovates and Canon works. They both need to get their butts in gear.

Usman Dawood's picture

"Sony innovates and Canon works. They both need to get their butts in gear."

This! :).

Also, I really like DCI 4k it looks more cinematic haha.

Brent Soule's picture

Yeah with the format and how the image just looks, it is like the 1Dx and 5Div were made to be B cameras to higher cinema cameras.

Not just video, stills also. My experience with Sony raw files is that about 1/3 time it's fine, 1/3 it's mega flat and the rest are super over cooked HDR looking, with out rime or reason when it does what. That's in M and 0'd out.

Sony's pre-raw file processing is insane. And before some one says, "it's raw sensor data there is no processing", all cameras have pre-raw file processing algorithms otherwise you would literally see 1's and 0's. Thats after an analog to digital conversion right off the sensor.

I had raw files that looked HDR'y, over de-noised and over sharpened for no reason.

Usman Dawood's picture

You're absolutely right about RAW files being cooked. Try using Capture One with Sony, I've found it to be much better. In fact, I've found Capture one and it's ability for more control over colours to be significantly better than Lightroom.

It's a sham Capture One doesn't allow other medium format cameras to use their software.

I think the jury is in. Canon is NOT innovating as much as you'd like to think, or give them credit for, ...at least so says the all-powerful internet. :-P

Usman Dawood's picture

Perception does not mean reality.

Reality is almost always at least a very good litmus test, which higher-ups would be folly to ignore.

Like I've said before, as someone who does personally know enough variety of photographers to actually consider it a notable data point, ...I have lost count of how many Canon ship-jumpers I know, whether to Nikon many years ago when the 5D2 and 5D3 just couldn't deliver in the DSLR arena, or recently to the Sony A7-series.

Canon still has plenty of time left on the clock, and they're innovating quite impressively in some ways. But they need to be innovating at a much faster pace, and listening more closely to what the general consensus is about their direction / what they need to deliver sooner than later. Because when you're a ship this big, you need to spot icebergs a very long way off, and this one is at least coming over the horizon presently.

Terry Henson's picture

To say Canon doesn't need to innovate is not only silly but purposely inflammatory.
Nothing good can come from kissing a king's ass. Yes they are the most popular, but it seems every test by both sites and actual photographers proves otherwise when compared fairly.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

This one has sparked a flurry of opinions, and as we all know, everyone has an opinion. Trouble is - opinions are at best a basis for a discussion or conversation, and at worst, they are utterly meaningless. The reason is - opinions can co-incide or differ - but they are INCAPABLE of being either "right" or "wrong".

So - I'm not even going to bother going through the comments on this one. We all ultimately end up with what we "want" - for the moment - till another attack of GAS leads us off in a different direction.

Canon has a magnificent range of lenses - hands up all the other manufacturers who can compete with them on that one!

Canon has great build quality. I could name several others that don't, based on plowing through endless group chat sites and also on some unsatisfactory experiences I've also had. But there's no point - it won't change Canon's status and it's inappropriate to sledge companies that are already facing more difficult conditions in the market place.

Canon has great image quality. Actually so do some of the other cams. And while I'm being told all over the place that nobody prints photos any more, the images live their entire lives trapped in digital media, I really don't see why people get all uptight about image quality. If you print a shot about 4 feet by 6 feet, then you might have concerns about IQ - pixel counts - whatever. But not while the images are only viewed on tablets or laptops or cellphones - the largest domestic TV screen on sale right now has only just been released, the screen's a whopping 7 footer, and it only has 33MP, which is pathetic when compared to the better DSLRs in today's market.

I have several Niks and on Canon - just so nobody gets the idea I'm saying this stuff because I'm hopelessly biased.

And it ain't the camera that takes the photo - it's the person holding it - so if there's something wrong with the photo . . . .

Ed Sanford's picture

I read these comments about Canon and I find them interesting. I am a solid Canon fanboy. After giving it some thought, i’ve come to the conclusion that there are two major groups of photographers. First, there is the techie group who is very out spoken. They count pixels, measure autofocus speed, and analyze color spaces. They inundate themselves with bench test results and specifications. No matter what, they always talk tech. The next group of which I am a member are the visual artists. We want reliable cameras and equipment that enable us to make pictures that please us.. Our goal is to improve our vision and produce great images. I shoot the 5DSR. Despite being told how bad it is, I find that using it comes close to a spiritual experience. I marvel at the bad shots I take. By the way those of us in this group can take high quality images with a smart phone or a point and shoot camera. Neither group is better than the other. One is focused on technology while the other emphasizes technique. Those of us in the technique group are less likely to bash Canon because good enough equipment is well.... good enough.

The FY 2017 results you posted here are for ALL of Canon's operations. So They could be doing poorly in one or more areas and it it would not show up here. Canon is involved in dozens of business segments so this chart is essentially meaningless for the purposes of this article.

Canon is clearly innovating big time in video cameras. They are bringing out new pro and prosumer cameras and lenses every year and are not resting on their laurels in this highly competitive segment. It is pretty obvious that Canon is back to the same attitude about still cameras that they have displayed several times in their history. They just get interested in something else (for whatever reason) and forget about still cameras for a while.

Usman Dawood's picture

Without having the figures, that's very speculative, camera sales are huge part of their business.

Canon has remained strong and consistent in their camera sales and doing very well relative to the market which has declined over the last few years.

Usman, if you would take the time to read Canon's annual reports you would know that the business unit (Imaging Systems Business Unit) responsible for digital cameras and many other products comprises only 32% of their global business. This business unit has had absolute sales declines every year since 2013. I would not argue that Canon are doing well relative to the rest of the market. However, the Office Business Unit accounts for more than 50% of total sales and is the one unit that is actually growing. This is why Canon's global business sales numbers look good. It has nothing to do with their digital cameras.

Nice try with this bunk... But Canon color science is nowhere near as good as Fuji’s.

Yeah they have a good color profile, but Fuji has 4 very good color profiles and that’s not counting their black and white profiles.

Canon is living off their name and yes Sony Color Science Sucks.

Usman Dawood's picture

I shoot Fuji and love their cameras but Canon is more accurate.

Having said that I love colours from my fuji cameras especially for video they do look more cinematic.

Thanks for reading my bunk :)