We are on the precipice of another major shift in the photography industry, as Canon and Nikon prepare to unleash professional-level full frame mirrorless cameras. Are you going to buy one, or is it too little, too late?
Can Canon and Nikon Catch Up to Sony?
If we're talking about professional users, I think that's a bit of a red herring. Canon and Nikon are the established titans of the industry, and Sony is the company seeking to usurp them (and they're progressing quite well at that). As such, the question should be: "Can Canon and Nikon create sufficiently feature-rich cameras to prevent their users from jumping ship?" A supplementary question should be: "Can they leverage their existing lens lineups?"
If we indulge the question of Canon and Nikon "catching up" to Sony, I think they have a steep hill to climb. Sony has the a7R III, a camera that can shoot high-resolution stills at sports frame rates natively (the D850 needs a grip to even come close to the a7R III's native speed). They have the a7 III, an "entry-level" camera that's anything but that we loved in our review. Both offer full-frame, oversampled 4K video. Both are aggressively priced, with the a7 III in particular leaping well ahead of other cameras in the same price range. Do I think Canon and Nikon can build mirrorless cameras with similar feature sets? Yes, of course. Do I think they'll do it at similar price points? Not so sure about that. Look at the 6D Mark II, after all. It is possible they will out of pressure from Sony, though. After all, one of the companies admitted one of the main reasons they're even getting serious about mirrorless is because of Sony.
Back to what I think are the more relevant questions. Can Canon and Nikon create sufficiently feature-rich cameras to prevent their users from jumping ship? Well, inertia is a powerful thing. When you're a pro deeply invested in a lens ecosystem, switching is a pain, both in terms of work and finances. If you own 10 lenses, you might make do with a lesser body to avoid exchanging all that glass. Yes, for those in the Canon camp, you can achieve a reasonable compromise using lens adapters in certain genres, but if you're a demanding pro, you really need to get a set of native glass. This lens issue works in Canon's and Nikon's favor in two ways. First, because they have a large contingent of pros deeply invested in their glass, and for many of them, switching is infeasible for either financial or convenience reasons, but there's a catch (more on that later). Second, because they've been around longer, they simply have larger lens libraries, particularly in the more niche and extreme realms that certain pros often venture into, such as supertelephotos. Nonetheless, the Sony 400mm f/2.8 is on its way, and you can bet they've got more in the works. The point where a photographer will decide the value of switching exceeds the hassle is different for each individual, but anecdotally speaking, I see a lot of my friends starting to reach their individual points.
Then there's the second question: Can they leverage their existing lens lineups? Well, yes and maybe. "Yes" in the sense that they have deep lens libraries that are appealing to almost any type of photographer. As mentioned, however, Sony is catching up, while brands like Sigma are helping to fill in the gaps, and Fuji has a great library themselves if you're comfortable with a crop sensor. "Maybe" in the sense that it comes down to how they handle the lens mount. The problem for both companies is the flange distance, the distance from the lens' mounting point to the sensor plane. It's much shorter on mirrorless cameras since there's no need for a mirror. All signs seem to be pointing to Nikon introducing a new mount, while the Canon side is a bit murkier, though I would also predict a new mount with some sort of EF adapter. If the two companies introduce autofocus adapters, it's not the end of the world for their shooters (possibly). Whereas a third-party adapter has the issue of dealing with another company's AF algorithms, it's possible a Canon-made adapter will handle EF lenses much better than the Metabones just by virtue of keeping it all in house, perhaps well enough to obviate the issue. The same goes for Nikon. Still, that's not as elegant a solution, but sometimes, physics forces you to be inelegant. Still, a lot of genres demand the fastest AF speed and highest accuracy at the pro level, and if the adapter is even 10-20 percent below native performance, that lens library advantage may evaporate, and suddenly, Sony will be the most established full-frame mirrorless lens manufacturer.
Even so, if they do introduce new mounts, they'll still bring out new lenses for that mount in addition to the adapters. Those will cost them money to develop and manufacture, and they'll fragment their ecosystems. I'm not saying they'll abandon their EF and F mounts; that would be insane. But continuing to develop, produce, and support two separate full-frame lines will be a tricky balancing act, and it will muddy the waters for photographers wondering what to buy, thereby decreasing the advantage.
Does It Matter?
Does it matter if Canon or Nikon catch up to Sony? I still think it's a question of balancing photographer inertia with feature sets. Sony has some remarkably sophisticated features that I don't see Canon or Nikon implementing at a similarly well-developed level in a first iteration (if they're there at all). For photographers looking to make an initial investment in a mirrorless full-frame system, I think Sony will hold the advantage. And if they can hold the feature set lead over time and continue to add to their lens library, they'll continue to lure other photographers and continue to increase their market share. If nothing else, the release of Canon and Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras is good for photographers because of the competition it will generate within the industry.
Tell Us What You Think
Are you invested in the Canon or Nikon systems? What are your plans when their mirrorless cameras appear? What will it take? Vote below and let us know in the comments.