Mirrorless Smackdown: How Photographers Feel About the Future of Canon and Nikon Cameras

Mirrorless Smackdown: How Photographers Feel About the Future of Canon and Nikon Cameras

Last week, I asked Fstoppers readers what their plans were for the inevitable moment when Canon and Nikon release professional-level full frame mirrorless cameras. I was genuinely surprised not only by how many readers responded, but where their opinions fell. Here are the results.

My Story

I shot Canon film cameras growing up, but that had no real bearing on the brand I picked up when I decided to get serious about photography. I ended up in the Canon ecosystem simply because there was a good Black Friday sale on a Rebel kit back in 2010, and so, that was the camera I bought. Once I became a good enough photographer to start appreciating the difference between the brands, I was a bit frustrated, mostly by the dynamic range of Canon sensors at the time (to their credit, they've caught up a fair amount). What kept me with Canon was their glass, which includes some of my favorite lenses out there. 

I dipped my toe in the Sony waters last year when I picked up a used a7R II and adapted my Canon glass to it, as a high megapixel body with stellar dynamic range was something that appealed to me as someone who shoots portraits and landscapes. Plus, I'm just a geeky guy, and Sony cameras are fun for people who likes lots of tech in their cameras. I liked the Sony’s features and image quality (with adapted lenses) quite a bit, but there were a few small things that kept me from making it my main camera. When the a7R III came out, all those issues were solved, plus Sony doubled the frame rate, making a sort of hybrid sports/high-resolution monster, and I was sold. The Canon 1DX II remains my primary sports and action camera, but the a7R III has become my everyday camera, replacing my 5D Mark IV for events, portraits, landscapes, and most other things that don’t demand the AF performance of native glass. I’ve hesitated to make the switch with my glass just because I have a lot of it, and for many lenses, there aren’t exact equivalents. Eventually though, I’ll probably end up switching everything over as soon as Sigma and Sony fill in the last remaining gaps, unless Canon pulls the surprise of the century with their upcoming mirrorless model(s). 

The Results

For the survey, I gave five possible answers to the question: "Canon and Nikon Owners: Will you buy a mirrorless camera from your brand?" Over 3,100 people responded! Here were the results:

  1. Yes, without a doubt. (440 votes, 13.96 percent)
  2. Yes, but only if they keep the same lens mount. (884 votes, 28.05 percent)
  3. Maybe, depends on the feature set and price. (1,053 votes, 33.41 percent)
  4. No, I'm staying with DSLRs. (355 votes, 11.26 percent)
  5. No, I plan to switch brands. (420 votes, 13.32 percent)

What They Tell Us

First, it was a bit exciting to see that only 11 percent of those who voted plan on sticking with DSLRs. I think it shows that excitement about mirrorless cameras continues to build and increasing proportions of photographers are looking to move toward using them. That's not overly surprising: with mirrorless cameras closing a lot of the gaps where they traditionally lagged behind DSLRs (and even jumping ahead in some cases) and offering features and a shooting experience an optical viewfinder simply can't, it's no wonder that the photographic community is starting to really embrace them. That's of course not to say that DSLRs will go the way of the dinosaur (at least, I don't think they will for quite some time), but I do think the mirrorless adoption rate is going to continue to increase, particularly when Canon and Nikon truly jump into the market.

These aren't going to disappear just yet.

While I was not surprised to see that a decently sized proportion of photographers are basing their decision on the lens mount, I think those 28 percent will be disappointed. Physics precludes Nikon or Canon from simply shortening the flange distance, and I doubt they'll just build a mirrorless camera with the same physical space between the lens mount and the sensor. What's more likely (and what rumors seem to indicate) is that introduce a new mount and create adapters of some sort. In fairness, those who think the lens mount is a dealbreaker should probably give the adapters a chance. Whereas a third-party adapter like Sigma or Metabones is at a disadvantage because it has to reverse-engineer the camera manufacturer's autofocus algorithms, a first-party adapter may be much faster and more reliable, possibly on par with native mount performance or close. Possibly. Wait to see on that. 

I was also surprised that while the vast majority of people plan to invest in mirrorless in some fashion, only 14 percent plan to definitively stick with their brand. That leaves a large proportion that either plan to switch or are open to the possibility if their current brand doesn’t meet their expectations for one reason or another. Switching brands is both a tedious and expensive thing to do, and if so many photographers are willing to seriously entertain the possibility, it indicates both the collective desire to embrace mirrorless as a serious professional tool and the expectations photographers have of Canon and Nikon to deliver a competitive, professional-level product. 

While Sony (and Fuji) have certainly made major inroads in market share, Canon in particular is still dominating the industry, but they do lose a bit of a competitive edge without the EF mount on a camera, losing the ability to leverage that massive lens library and the inertia that might stop photographers from switching. While what I mentioned above about potential adapter performance may hold true, there's still an issue of perception that may cause some users to at least peer over the fence at what the other brands have to offer.


Continuing in that sense, I wasn't surprised to see the greatest proportion of photographers choosing to wait to see what Canon and Nikon can come up with. I think many have a sense that we're nearing a major shift in the photography industry, and Canon and Nikon's unwillingness to enter the game until Sony gave them no choice has delayed the shift in the paradigm and created higher stakes around the moment that's finally approaching. If they fail to deliver on a level that comes close to the products Sony has been putting out at a breakneck pace, I don't think we'll suddenly see Sony wake up as the market leader the next morning, but I do think that sometime around 2022 or 2023, we might see Sony with the number one spot and look back on this as the watershed moment.

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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A few comments here. Right now, Sony is the world #1 seller of fullframe cameras with their lineup of A7,A7s,A7II,A7SII, A7RII, A7RIII,A7III and A9. NOT Canon or Nikon. Canon may still sell much more overall,even that lead is shrinking. And Sony, right now has the single world's #1 selling fullframe camera with the A7III taking that title from the Nikon D850.

Sony has made public their corporate goal to be the World's #1 overall camera seller by 2020, yes 2020. They have excellent lineup of models in compact,APS-C and Fullframe. They have the resources, every bit as much as Canon, the tech, and the corporate will to make a run at that goal. I was a Canon and Nikon top pro gear user for 40 years, yes 40 and switched to Sony back in January 2017 and have never looked back.

For an award-winning pro like myself and many of my fellow pros (former longtime Nikon and Canon folks) we got tired of Canon's drip,drip of half-baked releases and updates.(Nikon less so) . We have embraced all the distinct advantages of pro-quality fullframe mirrorless and would never go back to DSLR and their bulky mirrorbox and unnecessary and outdated tech of flapping mirrors.

Do I want Nikon and Canon to succeed with their first pro mirrorless systems, a resounding YES. Real competition is good for us all, as it keeps them all pushing the envelope and innovating, including Sony. But if Nikon and Canon don't hit it out-of-the park with their first fullframe mirrorless features and usability, to equal or surpass what Sony already has ,while matching the Sony price, then they both are in for more defections. If you have a huge collection of Nikon or Canon lenses then yes you should probably wait and see what comes out that might allow you to keep your glass.

But don't expect even native adapted glass to work as well as newly-designed Nikon and Canon mirrorless lenses. If it did, then Nikon and Canon would not be rumoring about their new mirrrorless lenses coming out. We will all see if the heralded rumors and buzz are for real. And don't forget Sony will not be moving over, or sitting quietly by and letting Nikon or Canon snatch their fullframe mirrorless leadership away from them. Trust Sony to match and exceed whatever Nikon and Canon bring to the table. It is a great time to be a digital shooter, as the next few months to a year will see some amazing new gear from all, including Oympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Fuji and more. Cheers

"We"? Who is this "we" you speak of?

Personally, I don't see the appeal of mirrorless and I know I'm not alone (and I include fellow professionals, some of whom switched and have since switched back again. And I'm sorry, but award-winning? What does that mean and why the need to even mention it? Anyway, I have no plans to abandon DSLR anytime soon, regardless of what Canon or Nikon bring out. I like the DSLR form factor and the ergonomics suit me.

The thing is, as photographers, we've never had it better in terms of the immense range of technological solutions available to use to help us create our craft; and we've never moaned as much about those solutions as we do now. I can't help but think that all of this technology is getting in the way of creating great images as our thoughts become consumed with trying to think what the best tool is rather than simply getting on creating awesome images.

Thorsten Merz you may not see the appeal of mirrorless but thousands do. DSLR sales are down worldwide and mirrorless sales are up worldwide. I personally know of no pros who switched to pro-grade fullframe mirrorless who then switched back to pro DSLR and their older tech. There may be some who long for their big bodies, but adding a battery grip to a mirrorless has been the solution for many who miss that big body feel. No one is asking you to abandon DSLRs if that is your comfort zone, but you may be tempted if your brand comes out with a killer mirrorless that lets you use your DSLR lenses. For me and countless others the new tech helps make it easier to create our art and to be more competitive against other pros. I embrace the new tech, but am NOT consumed by it. Cheers

yet no photographer uses sony camera's at sporting events or when it really matters. the build of the nikon and cnanon is much much better then the sony's. dropping my nikon would lead to a cracked floor, not a broken camera. then the grip on the sony, buy a battery grip if you dont have girly hands. lens offer is still horrible. that said, i am considering buying a sony A7-3 beside my D850. for video work and some work when you dont want to carry the big boy.

Gerald, you sound like a Sony apologist or someone that has a huge doubt about having made the switch to Sony mirrorless. A doubt that it so significant that you're now trying to justify your switch by trying to convince readers that mirrorless is the only game in town and in so doing, you hope to convince yourself too.

Until such time as I see a compelling reason to switch from DSLR to mirrorless, I'll continue using my DSLR. You see, the thing is, that the only person that cares (or should care) what I use is me. Nobody is going to look at a finished image and say "I bet you used mirrorless for that." For anyone that has switched to using mirrorless, I'm happy for them that their investment has paid off (for them). But none of them have made a convincing case to me as to why I, personally, should make a similar switch.

Gerald, sincerely, keep your "award winning" bullshit for your website bio, no one cares.

As for the pros switching to Sony, yes there are many, but there are also many more who still stay with they Canon or Nikon setup. Switching brand is a huge cost and right now Sony full frames are mostly appealing to portrait/wedding photographers. For landscape photographers like myself, a DSLR is still great and I don't really care about fast bursts or lightweight bodies.

I'm personally friend with Sony ambassadors IRL and they're much more subtle than you about the strong points of their line up. You sound like an ad, and a bad one at that.

There are pros and cons to both DSLR's as well as mirrorless. There are a lot of technical advantages to mirrorless, for sure. Though they still need to solve some persistent issues, one being poor heat dissipation from the sensor. I love the size/form factor of mirrorless... but I'd rather have a larger camera with a heatsink and better heat management than the smaller form factor.

Accordingly to what I’ve read, DSLR sales outpaced mirrorless through Feb of this year accordingly to CIPA...

I’m sure there will be fluctuations and increased sales upon new releases, but mirrorless isn’t for everyone. I have a new Fuji, but still prefer my DSLRS for action. I use the mirrorless for travel and from what I’ve seen, most mirrorless users mostly are portrait or landscape shooters... wedding guys too.

I've won plenty of awards too. I was Student of the Month in my elementary school, I won a 1st place in a spelling bee, I won a potato sack race that one time...

I'm also a photographer so since I'm a photographer and I've won awards before, I can call myself an "award winning photographer", right? :D

Sure call yourself anything you want if it makes you happy.


Just sharing what an award winning photographer can do.

That "award winning professional photographer" thing is getting really old, really fast. I can't imagine ANY of the giants in the industry saying that about themselves and they would probably be embarrassed to hear someone else say it about them.

Same thing about how I've never heard of a professional photographer refer to themselves as a professional photographer, and yet I hear some people rail on and on about how they are, it's almost like they need the validation.

I am proud of my body of work, not embarrassed by it. Cheers. But all opinions here are valid, no matter what photography you do. Cheers

I think you're probably a good guy. Separate yourself from your work. "Look at what I did!" (and then show us) vs "Look at me!" :-)

"I am proud of my body of work..." OK, you keep being proud there, buddy. :D

Just another note, I've got a mirrorless camera sitting on my shelf right now and it's absolutely atrocious compared to my DSLR's. I'm not really sure why you're going on and on about the benefits of not having a mirror, but I'll be sure to let my Holga know that there's an award-winning professional photographer that thinks it's just wonderful. ;)

The photo world is changing and swinging to mirrorless. The Japanese camera manufacturers themselves have said so publically, and they will be making the gear you may wish to buy someday.


"But don't expect even native adapted glass to work as well as newly-designed Nikon and Canon mirrorless lenses. If it did, then Nikon and Canon would not be rumoring about their new mirrrorless lenses"

What?? They're talking about new mirrorless lenses because they will obviously come out with a few lenses for their new mirrorless mounts. But until they can build up an ecosystem like Sony E, they would also have adapters. Sony had their adapters for A-mount, but they were also at a bit of an advantage because they were a pioneer in mirrorless, so the competition to have a huge selection of native glass wasn't as big as it now.

If Sony can make Canon lenses work great on their own bodies, then I sincerely believe Nikon can make Nikon F mount lenses work well on their new mirrorless bodies!

You are counting the egg inside the chicken. Let's wait to evaluate

If Canon or Nikon will produce a mirror less camera with the same in hand ergonomics as their pro bodies (5D/1D or D850/D5) then I'd consider mirror less. Mirror less in and of itself is not my stumbling block. I really dislike the way the mirror less cameras feel in hand. It is an absolute deal breaker for me. Fact is, if I had the money, I'd be shooting Fuji's GFX 50 right now. Fuji's engineers worked out a nice felling camera with a larger sensor stuffed inside. The battery grip for the GFX is a work of art.

If I don't like the way the camera feels without even firing off a single shot, there's an excellent chance that using it would produce little enthusiasm. Subjective as can be, but it does matter.

I only know a handful of pro shooters, but they are all still using Canon or Nikon.

Yeah, because what "we" all want are cameras from a company that has decided they can make more money introducing half-baked beta level products using a very fast new product cycle and then touting those products as "years ahead" of everyone else instead of taking the time to thoroughly test and revise their products to guarantee reliability and interoperability.

You can say they're way ahead of whoever you want, but they haven't yet come anywhere remotely close to building a system that can take a beating, day in and day out in any kind of weather and survive the way Nikon and Canon flagship bodies and pro-grade glass do.

light is most thing and creativity of photographer is completer. unless before photographers used mirrorless or ...

You're not addressing a critical element here. the VERY VAST majority of photographers don't come here, didn't fill out your survey and have never heard of this site. That's not to say your poll didn't capture the photographic community's thoughts on the issue but, those same people are very much less gear oriented and so, much less susceptible to geek think. Just a thought.

I'm not missing that. I simply don't draw conclusions from data I don't have. The very vast majority of any statistical population about which properites are inferred do not participate in the polls that generate the data upon which those inferences are based. It’s an assumption that people who visit Fstoppers are more gear-oriented than those who don’t. I can name a lot of local photographers who simply don’t visit internet photography sites, but are complete gear geeks, one who even has enough gear to buy a house. Neither of us has the data to prove or disprove that assertion, so I went with what I did have.

...and I acknowledged the possibility your poll was representative. It's probably less accurate than you think and more so than I think. Also, and this is not to invite an argument, given the targeted questions, any conclusions (not just yours) may be questionable.

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Actually, with about 3,100 answers, he has enough data to come to a reasonable conclusion for the ENTIRE population of photographers in the United States.

The Bureau of Labor estimates there are about 55,000 pro photographers in the U.S. That doesn't include self-employed though, of which they estimate a total of roughly 139,000.

For a 95% confidence level (which is what most statisticians use), and a confidence interval of 2 (meaning + or - 2), your sample size would only need to be about 2,400 for accurate data of about 140,000 people. If you want a confidence level of 99%, you'd need about 4,000 sample size. So with 3,100 people, accuracy is somewhere between 95 and 99% with an interval of +/- 2. This is *well* within statistical acceptability.

(yes, I took a lot of statistics classes in high school and college)

If I ever got a tattoo, it would probably say “p<.05.”

hahah Alex, that's funny!

Knuckle tattoo or bust. Coincidentally I made this shirt design years ago for my wife's PhD program.

Of course, assuming readers of this site are a fair representative of the overall photography community. You don't know that it is and I don't know that it isn't. Knowing that you don't know what you don't know is just as important as knowing that you know what you know.

I'm not interested in statistics. :-)

Probably should have paid a bit more attention in those classes. Samples need to be *random* for that to work. NOT self selected.

"While in a probability-based survey participants
can choose not to participate in
the survey (‘opt out’), rigorous surveys seek
to minimize the number who decide not to
participate (i.e., nonresponse). In both cases it
is possible to have bias, but in non-probability
surveys the bias has the potential to be much
greater, since it is likely that those who
opt in are not representative of the general
population. Furthermore, in non-probability
surveys there is often no way to assess the
potential magnitude of the bias, since there is
generally no information on those who chose
not to opt in." ~ Fielding: Online Research Methods (Handbook)

No sh*t. Any online survey is going to have self-selection bias.

That assumes a representative cross-sample and distribution of gearheads, non-gearheads, and everything in between. You can survey 2 million people, but if they're all from Chicago you're probably not going to get an accurate picture of which way the entire 300M+ country is leaning politically.

I actually appreciated your answer, Matt.

Did they talk about selection bias and differences between sample size and representativeness of a sample in these classes you took?

e.g. "According to an Internet survey - 100% of North Koreans have Internet access"

I think 28% of those people are about to be sorely surprised. There is no way Canon or Nikon will keep their existing mounts. Pentax tried doing that, it was an utter failure. It also entirely defeats some of the main advantages of mirrorless - short flange which reduces size, allows adaptability of pretty much any other lens, and makes design of certain lenses (like wide angles) much easier. It also helps to keep (some) lenses compact, but that advantage begins to disappear as your focal length increases. Mirrorless telephoto lenses don't have much of a size advantage, but lenses <35mm do (along with being easier to design).

I'm not sure why so many people are against using the inevitable adapters that Canon and Nikon will make. There are some great adapters for Sony like the MC-11 or Metabones, as you point out, and those aren't even first-party. The only time I would be concerned about adapters is with the cheaper ones, where you may run into planarity issues or infinity focus problems. But a dedicated adapter made by Canon or Nikon I would have no problem using.

I personally voted "Maybe, depends on the feature set and pricing" - if it has a great feature set, good reviews, and a decent price, then I'll get a Nikon mirrorless. If not, I'm going Sony.

It was already announced that Nikon was coming up with a new Z mount for their mirrorless and will also produce a F to Z adaptor !

Nikon *has* to. No one will buy a mirrorless that isn't an all electronic mount. Canon went to an all electronic mount in 1987. They have a few more options in that regard.

The sizes/weights between DSLR and mirrorless don't matter to me.
I'm moving around 2-5 cases of lighting and grip gear that total 70-250 lbs.

Same, also you pack lighter than me lolol

I've been seriously looking into mirrorless this year. Been using a Fuji XE3 since late last year and I've been shocked at how well it performs. Can't use it for everything, but almost.

I've been a Canon shooter for over a decade with a good set of glass to go with it, so the idea of switching hurts my head. I could get a Sony A7III with Metabones for around $2600. Once you add in a grip and batteries I'm looking at $3200 just to get started.

If Canon can come out with something good and reliable in that range (and their adapter works) it would give them a good beach head in mirrorless (and something I would consider getting). They could promise another camera next year with a lens road map.

At the end of the day it's a business decision, so I'm basically in "wait and see" mode till Canon drops what their model.

I've been a Canon shooter for 18 years. A few months ago I got a Panasonic G85 for vlogging - It has rekindled a dying love for photography. The only areas where my Canon gear has it beat is battery life and resolution - Two issues that aren't present on a G9.

I'm holding off buying more Panasonic gear until later this year. If Canon doesn't announce the new gear, or it's disappointing... Bye bye Canon.

Resolution is huuuuuuuuuuuge

Have some video productions friends who use that cam and love it. One of them also has RED cameras they use but they have been shocked with how well they perform and hold up against the RED (especially for it's size).

Yeah, it's a great little cam. I prefer it over the Canon, unless I need the res.

Focus personality aside (it has it's quirks for face detect), the only complaint I have is that the chroma sub-sampling is only 4:2:0, so green screen is a bit finicky. Mind you, I'm not a video expert!

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