The Major Advantage Canon and Nikon Have Over Sony When It Comes to Mirrorless Cameras

The Major Advantage Canon and Nikon Have Over Sony When It Comes to Mirrorless Cameras

Sony has been pushing hard in the mirrorless camera realm for about seven years now, and they have undoubtedly made major progress both in terms of technology and market share. Still, Canon and Nikon hold a major advantage over Sony that if leveraged correctly can help them significantly in the long run.


I have been primarily a Canon shooter my entire life. I shot on Canon film cameras growing up and ended up in their digital ecosystem purely by chance when I found a good Black Friday deal and kept growing from there. The geek in me certainly was tempted by Sony when it exploded onto the scene with quickly advancing technology. So, in 2017, I found a used a7R II body. There was only one problem: all my glass was made by Canon. 

However, one of the big promises of mirrorless when it first hit the market was the ability to adapt lenses. Due to shorter flange distances due to the lack of a mirror box, the promise was that pretty much any DSLR lens could be adapted to a Sony mirrorless camera and that that would rewire how a lot of photographers thought about and worked with their gear. I certainly jumped on that hype by buying a Metabones adapter. At first, it seemed great: my notoriously finicky 85mm f/1.2L lens focused perfectly on my big toe when I tried out the adapter for the first time sitting on my bed. However, the limitations quickly came into focus: the autofocus speed of adapters was frequently very slow and sometimes glitched out completely depending on the attached lens. It became clear that it could not be relied on for crucial work and certainly not for anything that required continuous autofocus — fast or slow. Adapters were great for video shooters or anyone wanting to experiment with vintage glass, but the promise of a system with universal compatibility wasn't all we had hoped.


What is important to remember is that a decade ago, the photography landscape looked very different. DSLRs ruled the land, and Canon and Nikon ruled DSLRs. In fact, in 2010, Canon had a 44.5 percent of the market share of interchangeable lens cameras, with Nikon at 29.8 percent, and Sony at 11.9 percent. Furthermore, Canon and Nikon had (and continue to have) deep lens libraries, with many professionals deeply invested in those systems. 

This created an appreciable amount of intertia for a lot of photographers in terms of gear. Switching brands is tedious and often costly, and even if another brand offers clear advantages, a photographer will often stick with their original brand due to the depth of their investment in that system. Nonetheless, Sony managed to win a lot of users over by aggressively pushing mirrorless technology forward (as did Fuji), a testament to just how exciting their cameras have been and a symptom of Canon and Nikon's hesitancy to dive into mirrorless seriously. 

Canon and Nikon's Advantage

However, things are different now. Both Canon and Nikon have acknowledged the mirrorless future and entered the market space seriously. And while they have released lenses for their respective mirrorless mounts (in particular, Canon has aggressively developed their RF glass), their advantage lies in those deep lens libraries and Newton's First Law. Photographers are generally reluctant to switch brands, and the more deeply they are invested in a specific company's equipment, the deeper that inertia goes. 

Eventually, the industry is going to be entirely transitioned into the mirrorless realm, and eventually, the majority of photographers are going to have to follow it. If first-party adapters (e.g. a Canon adapter for adapting a Canon DSLR lens to a Canon mirrorless camera) did not maintain the full performance of the lens (like my Metabones experience), this would level the playing field quite a bit, as a photographer would have the opportunity to reevaluate their brand investment when the time to switch to mirrorless came. However, working with a first-party adapter is a vastly different experience. 

Reviews of Canon's EF-to-RF adapters and Nikon's FTZ adapter have almost universally praised autofocus performance, indicating no loss in autofocus speed and just as importantly, equivalent (or often even increased) accuracy and precision due to the fact that mirrorless cameras do not have separate autofocus sensors and thus do not need autofocus microadjustments. This is huge, as it means photographers already invested in Canon or Nikon DSLR lenses can buy a mirrorless body and complete the transition to mirrorless at their own pace or even just stick with their DSLR lenses indefinitely.

Of course, Canon and Nikon want people to purchase their new mirrorless lenses, and Canon, in particular, is doing a fantastic job of creating show-stopping lenses that offer performance and features a step up from their already great latest generation EF lenses and thus giving reason and temptation for photographers to upgrade, but before a photographer decides to purchase new lenses, the company has to convince them to buy their specific lenses. Having first-party adapters that make the mirrorless transition so smooth help to lock users into a brand all the more and leverage that aforementioned inertia. 

Further Benefits

Canon is doing an especially great job of leveraging this key benefit. While the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 and Canon R5 and Canon R6 all have in-body image stabilization, Canon is getting innovative with their adapters. There is the standard adapter for $99, which allows you to adapt EF lenses and maintain all the standard functionality. There is the Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R for $199, which adds the Control Ring found on all RF lenses that allows one to control parameters like ISO using a dial on the lens.

This is pretty neat.

Then, there are the Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R with Circular Polarizer Filter ($299) and Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R with Variable ND Filter ($399). These are especially interesting for a few reasons. First, they can be fantastic options for landscape photographers, as they save money and bulk by obviating the need to carry filters of different sizes and make it especially easy to work with lenses with bulbous front elements like many ultra-wide options. This gives photographers an easy and affordable way to maintain compatibility of their lens libraries or to explore more interesting options that enable new ways of shooting. 


10 years ago, Canon and Nikon ruled the DSLR world, and there are literally hundreds of millions of their lenses in the libraries of photographers around the world. Combined with the fact that their first-party adapters provide a seamless experience and significantly ease the financial pressure of transitioning to mirrorless, Canon and Nikon have the chance to significantly leverage their previous DSLR market shares as we move into the mirrorless future. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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100 percent dead on. The Sony adapted lenses never did really work that well. Both the Nikon and Canon mirror less cameras work at least as well as their DSLRs when using their adapters. It's a new day.

Adapters are never as good as the actual lenses made for each system. What I think sets Nikon and Canon apart from Sony are superior ergonomics. Sony would be leading this game and no need to look back if they had any ability to design cameras and menu systems.

> Adapters are never as good as the actual lenses made for each system.

But at least recent EF lenses ARE made for the R system (too). Canon have had Dual Pixel AF in their DSLRs for some time. And lenses have been build to perform optimal with Dual Pixel AF. Both for live-view in their DSLRs and of course for the future R system they have been planning and designing in many years before its launch in 2018. And the R cameras (also) natively talks the EF lens-language, so adapters are just extending the distance to the sensor. No translation between different lens languages/protocols are necessary.

I assume something similar goes for Nikon and other systems too?...


With the EF-to-EF-M adapter, there is literally no difference between putting a lens on a 90D and putting the same lens on the M6 MkII.

Never had an issue wirh menus or ergonomics, and I started on A6xxxs coming from a D750. Some people just don't like change, and blame others for that.

It's not change, it's bad design... Almost everyone in the industry agrees the Achilles heel of the Sony line is the over reliance on a very poor menu system.

Completely agree. It's actually quite unbelievable that Sony couldn't design a GRIP that feels good (and could have also contained a bigger battery)...buttons that feel good...etc. I love Sony for their tech, but hate 'em for their ergonomics. And hate' em more because it seems they DELIBERATELY hold back on common sense items so as to make you buy the NEXT camera to get a better grip, etc. I own an the sensor...hate taking pictures with it.

Canon deliberately holds back on features too. I run Magic Lantern on my 6D, I have been waiting for a built in Intervalometer, motion detect, auto bracketing and more, all of which are available on a 7-year-old camera...but from Canon we only get a little at a time.

Peter Perry ... I had a couple A77IIs before Nikon introduced the D500. The A77IIs are good sports cameras (24 MP, 12 FPS, focus tracking), but the menus were just to chaotic for me.

You know, I shot with practically all brands in a photo meetings and I find all menus illogical. Whether it is Canon, Nikon, Fuji or Olympus, they are all equally confusing when you are not used to a camera. I don't like the Sony menu but after using Sonys for over ten years, I can find most of what I need pretty quickly.

Personally I don't like Nikon's menus as a non-Nikon user. But if I bought one I'd learn the menu pretty quick and would never mention it again, as I did with the A7iii when I bought it. People can learn to use Photoshop and Lightroom, and they can learn Premiere Pro or Resolve, but can't work out a Sony menu??

Unless the adapters are for the same system. Canon R and Nikon Z use different mounts, but the electronics are fundamentally the same. Same software. So adapted lenses work as well on R or Z bodies as they do on recent EF or F bodies.

So no cross platform translation works as well. Even a perfect adapter between two different systems has to essentially run a translation service between the two electrpnic languages. That adds delay to everything, even if the concepts in each language linebup perfectly. Which they don't necessarily do, requiring even more delay in translation.

Makes sense...but on the other hand, computers can translate really, what IS the problem?

It depends on the focus speed of the lens of course. A slowish Z or RF lens is still going to be slower than a exceptionally fast EF or F lens.

Canon EF lenses work as good if not better on the R cameras. They are phenomenal lenses and nothing is lost going to the R with an adapter. And they are enhanced with the control and filter adapters. Sony is WAY behind in glass and struggle to make good lenses. They have to turn to Zeiss to keep up with what Nikon and Canon make in house as a matter of fact.

I don’t currently have a horse in this brand race (shooting Fuji, Sigma & Leica), but have owned all three, most recently Sony. The only AF lenses I used were adapted and worked great, though I don’t shoot sports/action. And of course as each brand climbs the megapixel race with their cameras, legacy lenses will move to specialized uses over time (across camera brands). Seems to me this advantage just started for Nikon and Canon and is pretty short lived.

The gee-whiz adapters seem great until one sucks in some sensor debris or moisture. Canon claims that there are no penalties for ef-rf adapters. We’ll have to see how they fly with the R5/R6. The biggest drawback of Sony IMHO has been the price/offerings of lenses. Canon definitely has the advantage and allowing photographers to use their existing lenses while they transition to mirrorless is a brilliant strategy. Considering that Canon long EF primes are selling used for less than 50% of new has created a wealth of opportunities. Let’s see if the Canon bodies are as good as the hype? For the moment nothing beats the a9(ii)’s af/performance/size.

We already know how well the adapters work on the eos r and I see no reason why they would work differently on the r5 and r6. My canon lenses focus more accurately on the eos r than they ever did on my canon dslrs and they focus at least as fast as they did also. The only thing not to like in my view is the added weight and slight inconvenience factor of using them.

The only reason they focus more accurately is because they're being used on mirrorless. No mirror = no AF microadjustment. All mirrorless that can AF a Canon lens are just as accurate because of this. Their ability to keep up with action, of course, depends on the adapter and body. For example, my A7 III blows away my old EOS R when using the Sigma 150-600, because the body has better AF.

LOLOLOL. "Reviews of Canon's EF-to-RF adapters and Nikon's FTZ adapter have almost universally praised autofocus performance, indicating no loss in autofocus speed"

What a joke. Anyone who has used a 5D or D8xx and then adapted their lenses to the R or Z systems knows this is plain false. Neither company has caught up to Sony in terms of the AF performance present in their current-gen. a7 lineup and even that is at best on-par with the top DSLRs. To claim that systems that have worse performance with native mirrorless lenses than their DSLR counterparts can somehow magically match or outperform them when adapting lenses is just a total joke.

If it's true, I'd love to see some evidence like a video comparing them. Again, the R and Z cameras can't keep up with their DSLR brethren to begin with.

The issue, however, has nothing to do with adapters. Canon and rspecially Nikon are newer to mirrorless AF than Sony, and it shows. Sony's AF was terrible in the origonal A-series cameras. They have made progress both in better AF sensors and in going to faster CPU/ISP chips than the competition, so they can do more in software in the eyeblink it takes to focus. Canon still apparently needs two DIGIC processors to maybe perform as well as a single Sony BIONZ X chip.

Just like weather forecasters have better weather models waiting for faster supercomputers to be useful, I'd bet money that Sony, Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Olympus, and especially Panasonic have better AF software working in the lab, just waiting for faster processing on-camera.

The reviews mean there's no loss in autofocus speed in as far as what that Canon/Nikon body is capable of...NOT as compared to a given Sony body with inherently better autofocus capabilities.

I wasn't comparing Canon mirrorless to Sony. I was stating that the top DSLRs still edge out Sony in AF, thus adapting your DSLR lenses to a mirrorless system with lesser AF speed cannot and does not result in AF speed that matches native DSLR lenses, regardless of whether you are using native OR adapted lenses.

No one is saying that EF lenses focus faster on RF bodies than RF lenses do. They're saying Some EF lenses focus just as fact and more accurately on RF bodies than they do on EF bodies when using the OVF based AF system.

I get that, and I'm saying that it's not true. I have used Canon and Sony extensively and I'm not comparing brands per se. My point was that DSLRs, especially the 5D/D8xx and up have SUPERIOR AF to ALL mirrorless. Although Sony has nearly closed that gap, the top DSLRs are slightly faster. That being said, the R and Z systems are not on par with their DSLR counterparts, even when using native lenses. It is a total fallacy to claim that EF lenses adapted to the R, or F-mount to Z are as fast as they are on their native DSLR mounts. They are in the same ballpark, but definitely not as fast or accurate (except for portraits, where eye AF does offer an increase in accuracy).

I know I'm kind of nit-picking here, but the claims in this article are just plain false.

Canon literally released newer EF-glass that would work very well adapted to either RF or EF-M bodies.
Everything from the time the new 16-35mm L, 24-70mm L, and 70-300mm USM launched is smooth sailing. But of course if you pop the old 24-105mm L workhorse then you can expect sub-par performance - but guess what, they updated that lens too.

That would work "very well"... NOT as fast as their DSLRs operate them though.

You seem to be clueless.

So, two questions on which I'm not clear: (1) Does the IS on an EF lens work with an adapter on an R body? and (2) If you use an EF lens with adapter on the R5 body, does the in-body stabilization of the R5 work?

1. Yes it works. Tried myself with eos R. The system works because of gyro sensors in the lens, not on the camera.
2. Never tried R5 but it was claimed that it works well


1. Yes even with non Canon EF glass the IS works with the adapter ( EF Tamron IS on an adapted R )
2. IS on the EF lenses works in conjunction with the R5/6 IBIS . This article gives you the variation on stops with RF lenses and the R56 , so Im assuming there will be some variation with EF glass as well, although lens IS will still operate at some portion


Just saw your comment. Thanks.

Every system has Hybrid IS when used with an IS/VR/OS lens. Not sure if this will actually be a Canon advantage as their claims aren't quantified. However, this is actually an advantage for Nikon as their FF IBIS is about as good as it gets right now, and is actually better than the competition.

We'll see in a few weeks whether Canon has or has not dethroned Nikon in that respect.


Very true statement...for the select group of (semi) professional Nikon and Canon photographers who've invested in quality glass and wish to continue to use that. However, the vast majority of the 100s of millions of lenses is made up of plain standard lenses and 3.5-5.6 kit zooms. Those are not particularly worth adapting. An adapter is usually a clumsy add-on that completely forfeits the benefits of going mirrorless. The millions of newcomers and upgraders are better off buying new glass tailored to their cameras. Looking at the sales numbers both in FF (Sony) and APS-C (Fuji) Canon but esp. Nikon are facing tough times... adapters or not...

Shoot with what suits you best. Don't bow to peer pressure and, certainly, avoid biased and vaguely inaccurate articles such as this one. Also, learn photography and how to use manual focus. I shot Minolta with film and, for exactly the same reasons as given in this article, went digital with Sony. ( Minolta innovation was way ahead of Canikon in the old days and Sony kept the same lens mount along with the Minolta ethos) Times change, technology moves on and l have adapted. I use Fujifilm as well. No complaints. They suit me. Zeiss lenses with Sony full-frame..... that's my heaven. So sorry if it's not yours.

Zeiss lenses are probably the best reason to go Sony. I don't really like Sony's ergonomics, but these Batis, Loxia and Sony-Zeiss lenses are stellar. Throw in a couple of excellent GMs like the 24, the 85 and the 135 and you see why Sony has become so popular among (semi)professional photographers. I guess an adapter is for those who forgot to adapt...

My studio and 2nd shooters simply flipped to Sony so the lenses all work with no adapter. The adapter is a crutch which is part of the transition and this applies to any system. Our business decision was on the fact that Sonys system is better in that it allows us to create better quality, but more importantly...faster. And frankly it's been the case for almost 2 years now.

On the forums I’ve seen some arguments about how “open” Sony E-mount actually is, but whatever Sony are doing seems to be working and getting a lot of third-party lenses produced. I suspect that rapidly growing catalog of native lenses will do more to attract people to the platform than the prospect of maybe-better DSLR lens adapters.

I use "dumb" adapters for my Sony camera, and I shoot manual mode. For me this is not a big problem. However, I shoot mostly landscape shots, so I don't worry about an adapter being able to autofocus. In fact, I almost always prefer to shoot in manual mode.

I don’t quite buy this adapter advantage argument. Both Canon and Nikon have to promote it because their native mirrorless lens lineups are simply too few right now. Whilst I’m not a Sony fanboy - I’ll use any system that suits my needs, what drew me to the A7III was the number of native mount offerings and plenty of decent, cheaper third party lenses. Also, I like manual lenses and Voigtlander and Zeiss make great E mount lenses not available in Canon or Nikon mirrorless mounts. Also, as a prime lens user, some mounts add considerable bulk to smaller lenses.

Whether you "buy" it or not, the native adapters for Canon and Nikon are seamless with no loss of lens functionality whatsoever when using them on the mirrorless cameras compared to using them on DSLRs. Canon's EF mount, with the all-electronic connection between camera and lens, has an advantage over Nikon's F-mount, which depends on mechanical connections for most F-mount lenses.

Sure but that doesn’t address the other points I made. I still don’t like buying (often costly for a decent one) and adding an adapter between the camera and lens if there are decent native options.

It would have been nice to have had these available years ago. However, they are very late to the party and with a drawer full of very excellent Sony lenses, I'm happy to stay with their leading-edge technology. (Yes, the Sony menu system could be better, but with the customizable favorites section, I just built my own, organized, section with the choices I use 95% of the time. It's not rocket science.) But nice to see Canon and Nikon making an effort.

The unbreakable rule of photography. Glass, glass, glass, glass, glass! Sony lenses are inferior to Nikon / Canon lenses. Sony / Zeiss lenses are equal to Canon / Nikon lenses but are more expensive. Add in overheating and poor ergonomics and Sony becomes completely unattractive to me.

Sony has been improving on lens design. Most of their non-Zeiss lenses were designed by other contractors to a specific price goal. But their G Master series is in-house design and serms to be generally at the Canon/Nikon level. Of course, Canon and Nikon have also bern upping their game... and quite often, cost. When your highest resolution camera after decades of building a system is 22 megapixels, you have a different set of lens design criteria than aftee you introduce your first 45-50 megapixel camera.

Sony's lens designs have improved with the G-Master series, but their QA has not. Too many of them leave the factory already misaligned. Just ask Roger Cicala. His company probably owns more Sony lenses than anyone not named Sony, and the ones lensrentals owns are used regularly and tested every time they are returned from a rental.

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