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.
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 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 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 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.
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 (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.
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!