Three Things I Appreciate About Canon Cameras

Three Things I Appreciate About Canon Cameras

Canon cameras tend to get a lot of flak for seemingly being behind the times technologically speaking, though they remain the top brand in the world. Nonetheless, it's not all bad with them. Here are three things that I think Canon cameras do very well.

When I was a kid, I shot with Canon film cameras, though I didn't know much about photography; I just liked taking pictures. I continued shooting with them as I moved into the digital world, but being the nerd I am, I eventually branched out. I've shot with Pentax, Panasonic, Sony, Fujifilm, and Hasselblad, and I currently shoot mainly with a Sony a7R III and a Canon 1D X Mark II. In all that experimentation, I've come to appreciate certain things about Canon cameras that might get overlooked when one looks at the spec sheets and the like.

Ergonomics

There is really no codified way to quantify this, and thus, it often gets swept under the rug by more marquee features like frame rates and dynamic range. But taking pictures is a physical act, and as such, how a camera fits in your hands has a significant impact on how comfortable you are and can even affect if you get a shot or not, as having a strong, intuitive feel for the device's operation can shave off precious milliseconds that make the difference between getting the shot and being just a smidgen late. 

In this regard, I think Canon can't be beaten. In the race to shrink the size of bodies in the last few years, I think ergonomics have suffered a bit. I love the files I get out of my Sony, but holding it for extended periods of time can get a bit uncomfortable, and it never feels deeply molded to my hands so much as simply being gripped. On the other hand, my Canon feels like an extension of my body. Whereas most camera bodies have grips that simply aren't big enough, causing me to hold them more with my fingertips, the Canon's grip allows the entirety of my fingers to wrap around it, sinking deep into my palm. The textured material adds the right amount of friction to keep it in place. Whereas other cameras feel acceptable in my hands, a Canon camera legitimately feels comfortable; it's an enjoyable physical sensation to pick one up. And over the course of several hours of shooting, that seemingly minor distinction can add up to a big difference.

This feels amazing in my hands.

This is further backed up by the controls layout. I personally think Canon does a great job with the physical placement and feel of controls. I can keep my eye to the viewfinder and change all of the most crucial settings with ease and efficiency, which is again a very important aspect of staying agile while shooting. This is why I always say that if I could drop a Sony sensor into a Canon body, I'd have my perfect camera.

Menu System

I used to scoff at complaints about menu systems on cameras, thinking photographers were being overdramatic. But I've come to appreciate how much a logical, well laid out, and well labeled menu system is. We've all had that experience on a shoot where the camera isn't behaving the way we expect, and we have to try to quickly diagnose and fix it before we start missing shots. Canon's menus are very well organized in an intuitive fashion such that even if you don't know where a feature or setting is, you can quickly guess and find it.

Even the 1D X Mark II's tremendously sophisticated AF system is easy to tame and customize with its menus.

Even more importantly, feature and setting labels are well named and clearly indicate exactly what they're affecting. There are many other camera systems on which the names given to menu settings are too technical, nebulous, or just plain weird to tell you what they're actually affecting, and that can be tremendously frustrating. You shouldn't have to keep the manual in your camera bag or refer to Google for these things. Also, I often find the organization and location of settings on other cameras to be less well thought through. But perhaps most frustratingly, I've found that sometimes, changing settings on another camera results in unanticipated consequences on other settings or features. With a Canon camera, you can intuitively follow the camera's internal structure and logic with ease.

Lens Selection

Other companies are definitely catching up, but Canon remains the brand with the deepest library of professional and more esoteric lenses. And while most brands have the standard sets of professional lenses now (the holy trinity of f/2.8 zooms, standard primes, etc.), Canon has some of the most interesting lenses that can give you a competitive edge in specialized applications or that can inspire creativity. For example, they have a highly regarded line of tilt-shift lenses ranging from 17mm to 135mm, with the longer focal lengths featuring macro capabilities. Their 28-70mm f/2L is a stunner that blurs the line between prime and zoom in terms of capabilities.

Whatever the scenario, there's a Canon lens for it.

Whatever (possibly justified) complaints photographers have about a lack of innovation in camera bodies, Canon certainly creates a veritable bevy of reliable, high quality, innovative lenses, and anyone working with the Canon system is certainly not left wanting when it comes to glass. Even as I continue to migrate away from Canon bodies, I find myself hanging on to a few of my favorite lenses and using adapters simply because the results I get from them are so consistently excellent. If you're a photographer who relies on more standard lenses, that might not matter as much to you nowadays, but if you need more specialized glass, Canon is still one of the leaders. 

Conclusion

Canon tends to get a lot of criticism for a seemingly glacial pace of evolution, and some of that criticism is certainly justified. Nonetheless, behind the headline features that attract the attention of photographers, there are a lot of subtle aspects and features of the Canon system that add up to what's quite often a very enjoyable and reliable shooting experience.

What are your favorite features of the Canon system? Let me know in the comments! 

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61 Comments

Previous comments
Dylan Bishop's picture

“ I don't have an opinion on Sony because I have NOT had the chance to use any of their DSLRS or mirrorless systems yet.”

Oh wow I totally forgot Sony made DSLR’s too haha.

Fritz Asuro's picture

At my work, we use Canon and boy how I hate the ergonomics. When I started, they gave me the 1Ds Mark III and it's like holding tight on a brick. Then next is 5D Mark II, still like gripping on a brick. Now, I have 5D Mark III, it's a bit more comfortable but I won't say it feels good in the hand after a long day.
Reaching buttons 1 handed is "okay" I guess. I'm saying this because unless you memorized the buttons on top of the camera, there is no telling what you're actually pressing.
The thing I think Canon really nailed is that aperture wheel.

Menu system is subjective, I highly disagree that Canon's menu system is that fantastic. But like I said, whatever floats your boat. (But we can all agree that Sony's menu is horrendous)

Lens selection with Canon is wide but sometimes I find it confusing and redundant.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Just curious what camera you do like as far as ergonomics.

Arun Hegden's picture

Eos R's ergonomics is outstanding, holding feels good, the buttons are a pleasure to operate, something which I really wished to have in my Sony A73.

I like how each L lens has its own rendering characteristic. They are optimized for their intended use for their focal length. Portrait lenses have dreamy rendering wide open. But will become razor sharp when stopped down in a studio. There is a huge difference when something is ugly unsharp (e.g. old Sigma glass) vs soft focus dreamy glow (Canon L portrait glass). Their environmental portrait, landscape, and macro lenses are sharp as they can be. That's versatility and value unlike new glass coming out from the likes of Sigma and Sony which all have similar rendering and only vary by focal length. It might be the trend right now to have all lenses sharp all the time, which Canon is now following also, but their EF glass will always be more versatile for providing different types of looks outside of focal length, shallow DOF, and compression.

Alex Cooke's picture

That’s a great point, and I totally agree! Every lens has a great character.

Jonathon Rusnak's picture

I haven't used a Canon since the 1d mark 2n. But I still remember how awesome the ergonomics were then.

All 3 points well taken from the article however, my most recent camera purchase was a Sony A6300 over a Canon R. Why? Well, ergronomics are good on Canon but I actually use my stills and videos. Canon shoots 5 fps (vs 10 on my Sony) and video specs are worse than the Sony that was released in Feb 2016 and cost 1/3 the price of the R. Yes, hate Sony's menu layout, don't like the feel of the Sony in my hand but it gets the shot/video I need for sports photography.

Canon, you want me to buy your cameras in the future? Try releasing a camera that isnt outdated 5 years behind the competition the day it is released.

The people that bought the R because it is a full frame and mirrorless and are brand loyal to Canon, not because it is a superior product. It falls short on low light situations and antique video capabilites.

If you look at what were the pro cameras before the digital age, most were a lot smaller than now. The cameras started growing at the advent of the digital age. I'm not sure why but probably because they had to house all the electronics which were bigger than nowadays. The ergonomics of lots of analogue cameras were debatable but they did the job.

Interesting. These are exactly the three reasons I haven't been sucked into the hype surrounding mirrorless and continue to use DSLR cameras (Canon, as it happens).

Jonathan Brady's picture

As an opinion piece, it's not really possible to argue your points.
However, I would argue something you've stated: "I've come to appreciate certain things about Canon cameras that might get overlooked when one looks at the spec sheets and the like". Ergonomics, menus, and lenses - along with Canon jpg colors (and Adobe's interpretation of Canon's raw colors) - are the points that Canon users steadfastly cling to repeatedly, hell they/we practically chant them in unison, to defend the choice to stick with Canon. All of this, plus "system investment" are the very reasons Canon's imaging division didn't go bankrupt overnight. These reasons haven't been overlooked. Not even a little. It's the core of Canon's staying power. And, again, your piece was an opinion piece and as such, can't really be argued against. But, I tend to agree (as a predominantly Sony user with a Canon camera as well) that these are strengths of Canon's cameras/system.
Conversely, the criticisms shouted in unison come down to a STUNNING lack of appropriate technology research, development, and implementation. It's absolutely mindblowing that Canon is at the top of the list worldwide, year after year after year when it comes to the number of patents they apply for yet somehow they manage to evolve their actual product offerings at a snail's pace. IMO, if they maintain that philosophy and IF the photographic market maintains enough users to be viable over the next 5-10 years, then Canon better get comfortable with the #2 position or possibly even the #3 position. Canon has maintained its volume lead primarily because of the low end of the market. As we've seen, the low end of the market is the low hanging fruit for cell phone camera tech and the irony is, the cell phone makers aren't even REALLY pursuing that market as the opposition. They're simply fighting each other and the low end of the market is collateral damage. How's THAT for being a minnow in the world's largest lake? Being the brand with the best name recognition and highest volume sales in a segment of the market that is vanishing before our eyes is a really bad place to be when the rest of the market is pursuing technological advances that your brand simply can't (or won't) compete with.
I think Canon has made a mistake in listening to the folks who shouted the loudest and were scared of mirrorless technology. SO MANY Canon users dug in their heels and even chained themselves to trees when the mirrorless tornado (especially Sony but also m43) came rushing onto the scene. They screamed and shouted about how they PREFER larger cameras and lenses and how mirrorless were little toys that were going to just fall apart in their hands. They chose words that, even if they were trying to appear neutral in their arguments, were designed to insult mirrorless like "fiddly" and "small". Well, Canon listened to these people and that's why Canon is releasing $2300 standard zoom range lenses and $3000 standard primes. You know how many people buy such lenses? Not many. And if lens superiority is where Canon wants to hang it's hat while it drastically underperforms in the camera technology department in what will eventually be the ONLY end of the market (for practical purposes) then... I hope they're all wearing life preservers...

Ryan Davis's picture

"fiddly" may be an insulting word. I think "small" is just a neutral descriptive term. Most people that criticize mirrorless for being small aren't trying to fanboy-slag the product on the down low, I don't think. The big hands problem is real. I want a camera that is big like the 5d series, but light. I don't care if it has unused space or not.

You're 100% correct about those $3000 lenses though. I'm a canon user from way back and would never consider a standard zoom that weighed 1.5 kilos. Never- even if it was half the price. Outside the studio (which I rarely to never shoot in) I wouldn't replace my 24-70 mk I with it if it was free. Canon is no longer barking up my tree.

Dylan Bishop's picture

Excellent article. Ergonomics is so important, I totally agree. I had a time sensitive project and rushing out the door I had to grab one of two cameras; Sony a7R II or my Canon EOS RP. I had just bought both of them the month prior so they were both exciting to use, but I grabbed the Canon. Glad I did because it was a breeze to handle and use, and I’m just more familiar with Canon. Love the Sony but when I found out my sensor was damaged (bought it used) I wasn’t as bummed out about returning it. I’ve come to love the EOS RP despite the significantly lower DR. It’s just a nicer shooting experience IMO.

Dear Alex,

‘seemingly being behind the times technologically speaking, though they remain the top brand in the world...’

Fall in love with a human, or at a stretch a pet, not a camera....

It reads like a love story.... get a room..,

FWIW They ARE behind the curve technically and ‘the top brand’ means ‘most sales’ nothing more.

A camera should give you amazing quality

Nikon D810/D850

Be easy to use and not get in the way of what you are trying to create

Sony A7 III (or any of their A7 mirrorless range)

Provide a wide range of great lenses

Nikon/Canon/Sony

In the real world Nikon’s dynamic range is untouchable, Sony’s mirrorless kit, along with Panasonic’s is amazing for video, I’m not a sports shooter but Nikon’s D5 is right there...

I loved my old Pentax 67, and 645, my 500 Hassie, My H2, my P25 and P45 backs...

I loved them because the got the job done.... I didn’t need to write a sonnet about them...

Alex Cooke's picture

Dear Glem,

"Fall in love with a human, or at a stretch a pet, not a camera...."

I have a lovely girlfriend, a horse, and a dog. Life is good. Thanks!

Justin Punio's picture

Love my 1DX2. I was really worried about the size and weight coming from the 5D2 and 80D, but I instantly loved it. I've tried Sony, and flirted with the idea of changing with all the hype. But it just didn't feel right to me, and the menu system irked me.

Pete Spence's picture

I recently switched to Canon (from Nikon not that it matters) after trying out ALL of the full frame options. The eos R just fit me. I agree (mostly) with the article, but I will say that what I miss the most from Nikon is the 20 f/1.8 and the 28 f/1.4. Unless I'm missing something, Canon just doesn't have the equivalent.

Rayann Elzein's picture

There are some exceptional Sigma ART equivalents ;)

Are Canon cameras comfortable because they are ergonomically excellent, or just very familiar to so many photographers? My Sony cameras also feel comfortable and familiar and these cameras are regularly bashed by camera reviewers for poor ergonomics. Like any tool, the user is is responsible for learning to use it and practicing with it until they have created the appropriate muscle memory and the processes become rote. Sure, Canon cameras still take great pictures and the lens choices are extensive and high quality. But the dynamic range is below average and the low light capability is not great on many models. If asked to recommend a new system today, there is simply no way I would suggest a bulky DSLR.

Alex Cooke's picture

Here's my a7R III versus my 1D X II. See how much of a gap there is with the Sony between my palm and the grip and how I have to hold it with my fingertips, whereas my hand conforms perfectly to the Canon?

I saw this photo on the left so I went and tried it with my Sony and could not recreate the gap you show so I guess everyone is different. But I did get a cramp when I tried to twist my hand around to look at the camera from the top.The Canon is thicker so the hand fits it differently.
FWIW 90% of the time I am using a camera it is on a tripod or on a strap, I am not gripping it for hours on end. Gripping a teddy bear like that would cause a cramp.LoL

Alex Cooke's picture

Yeah, in fairness, I have very long fingers, which makes me a good guitarist, but poor at holding cameras lol.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Ask a rock climber if they’d rather hang on a crimp or a jug for 4 hours. It’s not uncommon for “bulk” to add effectiveness. I guess if you have very small hands, I would give you the benefit of the doubt, or if you had no pinky on your right hand.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Over the last 12 years, our studio has gone from Nikon, to Canon, to Canon and Panasonic, then added in a few Sony bodies. Now we’re rock Canon and Sony. Here’s our thoughts (which are not meant to stomp on yours).

In all 3 categories, our entire studio prefers Canon. They’re just a pleasure to use. Menu system might be subjective, but ergonomics and lens selection are are hard to argue with.

Image quality probably goes to Sony or Nikon. They come quite close subjectively.

Color goes to Canon, but obviously that’s subjective (but also widely recognized and accepted)

Features easily goes to Panasonic or Sony. That ones not so subjective.

After going from Canon to 90% Sony whenever I use the 5d2 I need to dial back the warm and saturated Canon color science to a more neutral to match the Sony color science....
But since I very rarely use the colors that the camera picks for me, that is what Joey from "Friends" calls a "moo point"

I like one more thing about Canon - they have the best service in my experience - compared to Nikon, Sony and Fujifilm. The cost of repair for Fuji being the highest and slowest in response times.

My experience with the Pro Support was:
NPS usually answered "your fault, impact damage. it will cost $XXX -$20% Updated firmware cleaned sensor"
CPS usually answered "could not recreate the issue, it will cost $XXX -$20% updated firmware and cleaned sensor"
SPS usually answered "yes it is broken, it will cost $XXX -$20% to fix but may take 3 days to 3 weeks, updated firmware and cleaned sensor"

To be fair all usually had a loaner on hand so It was not a huge deal. And I always had to re-clean the sensor LoL

Michael Yearout's picture

Canon fits my hands, I love the control layout. I'll never change.

"This is further backed up by the controls layout. I personally think Canon does a great job with the physical placement and feel of controls. I can keep my eye to the viewfinder and change all of the most crucial settings with ease and efficiency, which is again a very important aspect of staying agile while shooting. This is why I always say that if I could drop a Sony sensor into a Canon body, I'd have my perfect camera."

I can't say I have ever completely agreed with a paragraph as much as I agree with this one. And props to Canon for essentially never changing the perfect layout they have. I can get a new SLR from them and be up and running in 15 minutes after I set my menu shortcuts.

Eric Crudup's picture

More world class images are done on a Canon than any other camera, despite spec sheets. I'm pretty okay with my upper limit being "world class".

Do I wish there was more dynamic range, IBIS, and 120fps @ 1080 on my EOS R? Of course! But those aren't the only things that make a camera good (unless you spend more time posting on DPR forums than taking photos).

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