Mounting Confusion: Why Canon, Nikon's New Mirrorless Cameras Will Frustrate Existing Customers

Mounting Confusion: Why Canon, Nikon's New Mirrorless Cameras Will Frustrate Existing Customers

Sometimes, you have to leave old technology in the dust to move forward. With two of the biggest brands having just announced new mirrorless bodies, with it comes new lens mounts to carry these camera systems into the future.

Canon has done this once before in recent memory. In 1987, it dumped its FD mount system of lenses and cameras to go all electronic with the EF mount, a decision that angered many photographers with FD mount lens collections. However, it proved to be the right decision, as Canon made great strides with its autofocus using the new mount.

Nikon took a different approach, retrofitting electronic functions to its F-mount, which hit the scene in 1959. While initially slow to catch up to Canon in autofocus, that’s proven to be a non-issue in recent history.

But now both companies appear to be throwing all of that goodwill built up in these systems out the window.

Figuring It All Out

In teaching photography, one of the most common problems I came across was students who misunderstood what lenses would work on their camera. It’s not as easy as saying if you have a Nikon, buy a Nikon lens, or if you have a Canon, buy a Canon. Oftentimes, students with a lower model Nikon would get disappointed when they realize that 50mm f/1.8D lens they just got a good deal on won’t autofocus on their D3400. It’s a bit esoteric to explain to someone just learning how shutter speeds work about how some lenses need a focus motor in the camera body just to focus. It’s a similar situation with Canon, when a lens with a white dot can’t be hooked up to the 6D that someone just upgraded to. Then you have to get into a conversation about sensor sizes when you should really be talking about composition.

The new mounts from both manufacturers exacerbates the problem. Instead of just picking up a camera to use, you’ll have to figure out how to get the right lens on it.

Let’s take a look at Nikon’s side with the release of the Z6/Z7 mirrorless models. Up to this point, most everything F-mount has always worked to some varying degree on most of Nikon’s offerings. That varying degree, however, is quite a wide range. Some lenses won’t focus on some bodies, some won’t meter correctly, and then some won’t work at all (for instance, if you look at a workhorse lens like the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, you’re out of luck if you want to use that on your D200 or D3000, or even a professional model in the D2-series of cameras). To this you add a new mount (the Z) and an adapter which will have its own compatible lens list. That said, that Nikon was able to maintain any compatibility over the years with the same lens mount while dragging it kicking and screaming into 2018 is a miracle of engineering in its own right.

Canon has had a few different variations of the EF mount over the years.

For Canon, the RF mount on its new mirrorless EOS R will be added to the existing family of EF, EF-S, and EF-M mounts. None of these mounts are physically compatible except on APS-C DSLRs that can take both EF (red dot) and EF-S (white dot) lenses. To mount those to a current Canon mirrorless camera, you’ll need an EF-M adapter. The spec sheets make it appear that the upcoming RF mount will have three separate adapters: One with a control ring, one without, and one with drop-in filters. This is much more confusing to the consumer than just one simple option, such as Nikon’s FTZ adapter. However, it appears that Canon rectified a longstanding issue with these adapters – EF-S lenses are finally compatible with full-frame bodies in a crop mode.

None of the adapters from Canon appear to be compatible with EF-M lenses, which means a potentially orphaned system a la the Nikon 1. Or it could be a hard split between consumer and professional lines, depending on how you look at it.

Either way, all of those choices are enough to make your head spin, but is it enough to scare away beginning photographers from buying an interchangeable lens camera entirely?

Canon and Nikon are hoping that’s not the case. What do you think?

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78 Comments

I'd be disappointed (pissed) if the current line of EOS cameras was the last line of bodies that have an EOS mount. IF the 5D MV has an EOS-R mount I would not forgive Canon. But an additional line of lenses is fine by me. Beginning photographers have enough head-spinning options ahead of them anyway.

Kirk Darling's picture

Having gone through the Big Bang of the Canon FD to Canon EF change--and, yes, being pissed about for a decade--I believe now that Big Bang is the best way to make such changes, if indeed they result in the benefit that the EF mount has been for 30 years.

When I did finally decide to abandon my FD equipment, I looked at the whole field with new eyes...and Canon's EF mount was still the technological superior of its day.

This isn't really a Big Bang change, but I see no reason for Canon to release another high-end camera with a mirror. Canon has known since they played with pellicles decades ago that mirrors need to go away.

I see much more of interest in the EOS R than merely being mirrorless, which has always been a non-issue for me. And I suspect that it must actually be a low-level issue for anyone who is still using Canon DSLRs--or they'd have switched already.

Ed Sanford's picture

Good points.... What I keep asking in the comments is whether a mirror less will help me improve my photography. Second, can I look at a gallery print and determine whether is was made on a DSLR or a mirror less. Everyone always wants to engage in tech talk or gadget ball, but almost no one wants discuss skill and craftsmanship.

I think it will definitely improve photography for all in general, thanks to the Evf. We know exactly how the final image will look even before pressing the shutter.. so the exposures are going to be right and lesser time is spent of correcting exposure later on.. also the focusing will be better. Then, street photographers can be more discreet, travel and nature photographers travel light, sport photographers get more frames to shoot.. so it has its benefits..

But it's a long way from being path breaking, like was in the case from film to digital. And it's not a must have, it's just a copy of existing DSLR with out the mirrors that's all.. the companies should have added much more advancements to be frank, for now they are just hyping it up too much and it's all just matketing.. I guess 5 yrs from now is when it will be the right time to shift to mirrorless.

Ed Sanford's picture

Interesting points.... I think the slow shift is probably more accurate. It was quite awhile before one could say that digital was superior to film. It was easier but not necessarily better. A good photographer can previsualize from view finder to print today as Ansel Adams did in the 1940s. Remember post processing plays a major role in the final image because what is seen in the mind’s eye is not necessarily in the view finder. Nevertheless, I commend you for broaching the subject.

Ed Sanford's picture

Guys, I am providing a link to a blog by Robert Rodriguez who is an outstanding teacher and photographer. This piece is the best thing that I've read regarding reasons to move to mirrorless. It is my belief that technology is necessary but not sufficient. Please take a look at this great piece: https://robertrodriguezjr.com/2018/09/13/my-thoughts-on-mirrorless-camer...

Marius Pettersen's picture

The next 5D will have an EF-mount - because it's not in the R-series. Remember, the R-series is an addition to the line-up, it's not replacing anything for the time being - probably in the distant future when mirrorless is more or less the norm.

Kirk Darling's picture

I think the smartest move for Canon would be to release the next 5D, 6D, 7D, and xxD cameras as R models. Get the change over with. They should also give away the control ring with all L lenses until they are superseded by R mount versions.

It is technically impossible "to release 5D, 6D etc as R models". The flange focal distance of R-mount is much shorter so if you will do "5D with R-mount" there will no space for a mirror. Or (if you keep a legacy flange focal distance) a R-lens will not able to focus.

Kirk Darling's picture

Release R models as replacements for those DSLRs is what I mean. I consider the EOS R something like the EOS 650.

It's physically not possible for a DSLR to use mirrorless lenses due to the short flange distance of mirrorless designs - so you can put your worries to rest. However the days of DSLR is coming to an end and so is the EF mount. While neither the Canon or Nikon systems are quite ready for prime time. Sony have showed us mirrorless can do everything equally as well if not better than high end dslrs. They will catch up eventually

Michael Jin's picture

I think that's what salespeople, reviews, and Google are for. It's not really all that difficult to figure out which lenses are compatible with your camera body.

I shoot Nikon for last 3 years and still have no clue what is supposed to work on my camera and to what extent :)

Probably you need to learn more about photography and less about gear ;)

How am I supposed to learn less about gear if I don’t even know about mount? ;)

I dropped Canon when I stopped using my AE-1. I went to Nikon because I prefer Nikon's ergonomics. Now that Nikon has a new mount, I plan to ignore it until they have a camera body, which uses that mount, which I'm interested in. The Z6/Z7 aren't it for me.

William Dyer's picture

I quit Minolta and went to Nikon for the same reason. I had a lot of money invested in XK and XE-7 bodies and lenses.

Marius Pettersen's picture

"This is much more confusing to the consumer than just one simple option, such as Nikon’s FTZ adapter."

What's confusing about it? The basic functionality is the same, but with added features that you may want or don't care about. Too many choices can be a bad thing, but I do not find these adapters confusing at all.
You only need a basic adapter? Cool. You want that new fancy control ring on EF lenses? No problem. Do you film for the most part, or do a lot of ultra wide angle photography? We got that backend drop-in filter system for you.

I find the Canon system to be really simple to grasp, but I do understand how people are confused about Nikon and which AF lenses work on specific bodies.

It is only simple if you're going full frame to full frame mirrorless. anything else and canon's system is an outer mess of twin adapters some for this, some for that, and betting its future on two mounts...that don't even cross mount with any adapter! Even EF-S and EF and DX and FX did way better than canon did. You never saw Nikon or Canon making it impossible to mount a full frame lens on a cropped sensor. This is a particular downgrade for Canon however which used to be far more compatible thanks to its newer mount than Nikon was with APS-C bodies and older lenses.

The future being simpler for both sony and canon supporting each a single mount for mirrorless speaks to the competitive disadvantage canon is at. Knowing sony's vicious marketing, they will exploit this on their APS-C pro camera with a blitz of coverage that you can mount FF mirrorless lenses natively without adapters....unlike "the other guy".

Marius Pettersen's picture

Not really. If you're moving from 80D with an EF-S lens, then it will work the same way on the R-camera, with one of the adapters, as on the 80D. It will just enter APS-C mode - like using DX optics on a FX body.

When using EF-S lenses on an R body, does this body automatically crop the image or does one just get fuzzy dark edges on the image, which must be cropped later in post production?

Marius Pettersen's picture

From what I recall, it crops by entering an EF-S mode.

michael andrew's picture

I’m not sure the SLR will disappear. The lens lineup is just so strong.

Perhaps a evf and a mirror will be designed soon, the only downside to that is size and to be honest most people don’t mind the size of the current 5D sized camera, I know I prefer them.

And when I want to go small I want really small like a Fuji x100

Mike Stern's picture

Michael. Large dslr lens line up is history prison to older cameras. Most of them don’t autofocus properly on recent models and more importantly most of the existing dslr lenses can not resolve the new high resolution sensors.
So there are no hundreds of lenses for your newest camera.
Sorry to ruin it for you. Better to get on to a system and use their at least relatively recently designed lenses to cover your needs.
So slr will fade away sooner or later. Except for the fanatics.

Dana Goldstein's picture

True, I remember when I went to the D800, there were lenses that no longer could live up to the resolution I was now working with, and I had no choice but to say goodbye to them.

Thomas Logan's picture

Had the same problem... and moving to the D850 did it again, to a few lenses.

Ed Sanford's picture

Nope... we fanatics are still shooting film.... :)

Thomas Logan's picture

Goodness, yes. I so miss shooting with my Nikon F2 and F3; Canon A-1 and F-1, loved those cameras.

Photography-wise, I don't care. I have a D850 and use my D800 as backup.
I'll be picking up a Z6 as a B camera for video projects. $2,000 is cheap for its specs and I record everything manually anyway. It's easier than renting, which is what I do now.

John Horwitz's picture

Image made with a Stone Age D100 ~ eat your heart out!

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