What Canon's Full-Frame Mirrorless System Needs to Be Successful

What Canon's Full-Frame Mirrorless System Needs to Be Successful

To many of us, it's become apparent that mirrorless is the future for cameras. The huge advancements in short period of time have made them very popular. Companies like Fuji, Sony, and Panasonic have developed some fantastic cameras, and their respective ecosystems are growing fast with new lenses and accessories. Currently, Canon and Nikon have remained behind when it comes to effective and professional mirrorless systems and many disappointed professionals have already jumped ship to other manufacturers. As it becomes clear that Canon is developing their own model, here's what I think it needs to compete with those alread out there.

Keep The EF Mount

I really can't stress how important it is for Canon to keep the EF mount for its pro-level mirrorless system. The EF-M mount can be used for mid-range and entry-level mirrorless cameras, but the EF mount must remain for their pro system. Canon's main advantage is the fact that they have such a vast number of incredible lenses. They may, in fact, have the best lens lineup on the market. If they develop another mount for their pro-level mirrorless system, that will spark the beginning of the end for the EF mount. Getting rid of this major advantage is extremely ill-advised and one of the worst decisions they could ever make. Canon is already a few years behind companies like Sony and Fuji when it comes to sensor technology and camera features. An incredible amount of money will be required to develop all the new lenses, only for them to end up in second or maybe even third place. Moving away from the EF mount will also potentially make all of their current customers free agents, and I'm sure Sony would love to tap into that market. Sony should be praying that Canon does not continue with the EF mount.  Nikon, on the other hand, has needed to update their mount for some time now, and this is why they've had to go for what is currently being described as the "Z-Mount." Canon needs to capitalize on its strengths. The EF mount is a major strength and will put them far ahead of the competition. With this one point, they could secure their position for decades to come.

Adapters? 

For the love of god, no. Adapters are not convenient. They are horrible, ineffective, bad solutions for a problem that doesn't need to exist. Stick with the EF mount! The way to do this is to create somewhat of a hybrid camera. Keeping a similar body design with the same flange distance will save a ton of money. Get rid of the prism and the mirror and simply add in an EVF. Whatever potential space is left can be used for something more useful like better cooling, maybe more internal storage, more powerful processors, or maybe even features currently in development that we may not know about. You may be asking the questions: "What about adapting other lenses? Won't a shorter flange distance be better"? The most popular adapters currently available are for EF lenses, and if Canon sticks with the EF mount, then there's very little need to adapt. Many professionals that have switched over to Sony only do so for the body and continue using Canon lenses; therefore, keep the EF mount. 

Size and Weight? 

Weight is important, but as discussed above, get rid of the prism and the mirror; this will automatically reduce the weight of the camera by a very noticeable amount. Also, maybe lighter-weight materials could be an option, although that may require more investment than it's worth. Size, on the other hand, really isn't that important. In fact, having a smaller camera is a disadvantage for a number of reasons. Many tech companies seem to think that having a smaller device is somehow a great achievement when it's actually a compromise and potentially a flaw. Ergonomics are far more important than having a smaller camera, and smaller cameras are generally terrible for ergonomics. Some may suggest using a battery grip, but then, what was the point of making it smaller in the first place? Also, lenses can't exactly get much smaller, and only the flange distance is going to be different. The trend seems to be pointing towards tiny bodies and huge lenses; eventually, maybe your 50mm will need a tripod collar. 

Battery life is another major disadvantage for smaller cameras. The fact remains that mainstream battery technology has not progressed very much and bigger batteries will have better battery life. Mirrorless cameras also require more energy, which only compounds the problem. Even batteries from bigger mirrorless cameras such as the Fuji GFX 50S can't compare to batteries from a 1D series camera. It's extremely difficult or not at all possible to keep the same battery performance with a smaller body. Bigger is without a doubt better. Canon should save themselves some money by keeping to a similar body design and sticking with the EF mount. 

Expected Features

Canon really needs to step up their game when it comes to features. Aside from the 1D X II, all of their other new releases have been underwhelming at best. Here is a quick list of features that Canon needs to have as standard:

  • Full-frame 4K capability with a more efficient codec
  • 1080p at 120 fps
  • Better dynamic range of at least 14 stops
  • Log profiles as standard
  • Focus peaking
  • Flip-out touchscreen
  • Dual card slots 
  • Focus stacking 
  • A fully developed time-lapse feature
  • A minimum of 9 frames per second continuous shooting spped

Yes, DSLRs are meant for video too, and Canon needs to start taking it more seriously. They are the company that made it popular; it's only fitting they continue to develop this. 

Recommended Features

There are some features that I strongly recommend Canon consider; however, I doubt these are features we will see in a Canon camera anytime soon. 

  • Built-in sensor stabilization (not just an electronic version of this)
  • Pixel Shift technology coupled with Dual Pixel raw files
  • 16-bit raw files (seriously though, this would be amazing)
  • Better Wi-Fi with a better app
  • Native ISO 50 
  • 15 stops of dynamic range or more

Final Thoughts

"This is now an era when latecomer manufacturers stand to gain." This specific quote from Canon's CEO sums things up pretty well. The stars couldn't have aligned themselves any better. A few key decisions that Canon makes in the next year or so could have a huge impact on the company. I doubt that Canon will be releasing anything earth-shattering, as they are very reserved in many cases, but whether or not they continue with the EF mount may determine their future. Nikon may have a tough road ahead of them when it comes to developing their mirrorless system. This, however, is something they will need to do in order to compete. It may take them up to a decade before they have a fully developed ecosystem, and the amount of investment required puts them at a great disadvantage. Nikon may have to settle for third place. Sony, on the other hand, is growing their mirrorless division very well, and the market sentiment seems to be in their favor. Effectively, this has become a race for two companies, and Canon potentially has the upper hand. Not only does Canon have a significantly larger range of lenses available, they are also cheaper and have better third-party options. The overall sentiment seems to be against Canon; however, the practicalities of their system outweigh the sentiment. Many professionals will simply continue with them. They already hold the number one spot in various key areas, and if they stick with the EF mount, it's going to be very difficult for other companies to compete. 

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65 Comments

Derrick Ruf's picture

I do not necessarily envy Canon's decision here. Like you said leaving EF behind would be crazy as that is one of their main competitive advantages. Part of the draw though for mirrorless for some is losing that mirror box and ultimately slimming down body size, which the native EF lenses may not allow to happen as much. It will be interesting to see how this goes!

Usman Dawood's picture

Personally I’d say, don’t slim down Canon you look great. Wear stripes :-p

Honestly though I don’t see the appeal of a smaller less comfortable to hold camera. Sony with the A7RIII had to end up making a bigger camera because of issues like ergonomics, overheating and battery life. I’d personally ask for an even bigger camera with a larger grip.

Lighter is good, smaller isn’t necessarily.

If you do location shooting, smaller is definitely better. If you fly for work, being able to get lights and camera plus lenses in carry on is gold.

Usman Dawood's picture

Yes but that's very niche in all fairness.

woon jia wei's picture

I disagree. A camera that you don't bring it out is as good as not existing. I never bring my d750 for casual purpose, after switching to sony, i found my passion in photography again. Bring the small primes and adapted lens is the biggest appeal of mirrorless

Usman Dawood's picture

Canon have small primes too that's not unique to mirrorless. This is not a discussion about casual shooting. Canon already have their mirrorless systems for that market. This is for the high-end pro level cameras. Small primes don't perform as well as many of the bigger primes.

Also which brand of lenses get adapted the most, it's Canon.

I'm not sure I really understand the desire for mirror-less. Is it to compete against iPhones? For anyone with a range of lenses, what's the advantage? (For me, with a bunch of lenses weighing between 600g and 1500g, the last thing I think about is a smaller camera body. I really don't want anything smaller than a 5d-sized body, since the grip on that is only just deep enough as it is. I'm also not sure I understand the video phenomenon; if I wanted a video camera I'd buy a camera specifically for video.)

Usman Dawood's picture

I completely agree about the size I really don’t understand the appeal cause it just makes things more difficult. Like you mentioned about your lenses and their weight, you can’t make high performing lenses much smaller or lighter anyway so your left with an imbalance.

Also about video, it’s here to stay and only going to get better :-).

Oliver Kmia's picture

The removal of the mirror and viewfinder leaves more space for IBIS, processors, more efficient thermal management, etc. So you can stuff more in the same body, or make it smaller. The lens size won't change much though (see the FE lens).
The mirrorless also remove the need to have two different AF systems (one for liveview direct to the sensor and one in traditional viewfinder/mirror down). AF on DSLR is a delicate thing and you have to manage back /front focus adjustement and variation between lenses whereas mirrorless is more nominal (what you see is what you get on the AF).

On the pro side for DSLR is the direct link between the subject and viewfinder, no lag, no low light issue, etc. Even though this point is not very relevant with the lastest generation of mirrorless cameras.
Mirrorless also need more power compared to traditional DSLR.
Finally, having a mirror in front of the sensor helps to protect against sensor dust. Mirrorless camera tend to get dirty much faster (but again, you can swab your sensor).

Mirrorless camera's are expensive, Fuji XT-20 + 35mm 1.4 = $1298 , Nikon D5600 + 35MM1.8dx =$843 .

You're comparing an 1.4 vs 1.8 lens. I'm not into fuji x, but surely this is the pro grade lens.

Nate Dorsey's picture

While Canon certainly has good glass in their EF lineup, I disagree about the lens mount. In fact, if Canon doesn't have a new mount that would allow them to create more compact lenses, I don't think I would purchase one. A big draw, for me at least, with mirrorless cameras is a more compact and lightweight system. A mirrorless camera with the current 50mm 1.2 L or 85mm 1.2 L would be imbalanced and likely feel a bit awkward. However, I don't know how long it would take them to engineer equivalent lenses in a new mount...

Usman Dawood's picture

The compact lenses argument for mirrorless isn’t true at all and the weight imbalance you discuss is very apparent for Sony.

Consider the 85mm f1.4 for both systems, the canon lens is only slightly heavier with IS and is actually smaller than the GM version.

The 24-70 from canon is noticeably lighter than the Sony version and dimensions are very similar.

70-200 from Sony is actually slightly bigger than the canon with almost exactly the same weight.

Canon also have pancake lenses like the 40mm and their 50mm f1.4 is much smaller and lighter.

Developing fast aperture lenses require them to be bigger and this is something no manufacturer can get past. Also every new lenses that canon will have to make for their new system will undoubtably cost more and provide basically the same performance so why not skip the fuss?

The comparison you're making is totally off, it surprises me coming from an editor who, at least, should be a bit educated.

Lens designs benefit from the reduced flange distance at focal lengths of aprox the flange distance. So, lenses on the >40mm focal length are about the same weight and size and differences in those kinds of lenses are a matter of tradeoffs given same skills of the engineers.

I can give you an example: Sony 12-24G vs Canon 11-24L. No size benefit? No weight saving?

You might say, Sony engineers were inspired. Zeiss Loxia 21 2.8 vs Zeiss milvus 21 2.8.

And then you compare the Canon 50mm 1.4 vs the Sony Zeiss 50 1.4. It's like comparing a Chevrolet Corvette C4 of 1993 with the top of the line Corvette 2016 C7. If you don't get it I'll put it plain and simple: the canon 50mm 1.4 was marketed on 1993 and is screaming for a replacement.

The only thing missing in the mirrorless lineup are supertelephotos. And mirrorless mounts allow more space for super wide, wide and normal lens designs. Like the before mentioned lenses or the 55 1.8 which design is impossible on a DSLR mount.

Even the Sony 85 1.8 last element sits so close to the sensor that its design would be impossible on a dslr mount.

After 85mm the flange distance advantage vanishes.

You just picked the lenses you needed tovalidate your own beliefs.

GM lenses are aiming to get a good bokeh, sharpness, contrast and very good optical correction. That's why they're made bigger but you can have a very good pro-grade system with a big saving in size and weight vs the Canon counterpart.

Usman Dawood's picture

Most common lenses used are 24-70, 85mm and 70-200. That's why I picked them. You're comparing niche lenses which are also different focal lengths too.

11mm vs 12mm is a noticeable amount Also the canon is a significantly better lens, I can use your own car analogy here.

You can't make pro grade lenses much smaller you still need to capture the same amount of light relative to the fstop for the larger sensor. The sensor size is what ultimately limits how small you can make the lens.

11 and 12 give 4.5° of difference in field of view. It's like going from 18 to 19 is 3.1° and from 19 to 20mm 2,9°.

So, they're different, but they're comparable. Take the sigma 12-24 f4 if you want to.

I'll give you the real differences and a link to lensrentals blog, where Roger Cicala does a MTF comparison.

The specs:
Sony weight (565g)
Canon weight (1,15 kg) +102% aprox
Sigma weight (1,15 kg) +102% aprox

Sony diameter (87mm)
Sigma diameter (102mm) +17%
Canon diameter (109mm) +25%

Sigma price (1599$)
Sony price ( 1698$) +6,1%
Canon price (2699$) +68%

Canon max fov (126,5°) +3,68%
Sony max fov (122°)
Sigma max fov (122°) +0%

Again, the difference

Lastly the link to the comparison/review of the MTF's to show you that the canon isn't better than the sony, it's actually a tiny bit worse. But we will give it like a tie because it goes to 11mm.
https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2017/06/sony-fe-12-24-f4-g-mtf-tests/

Usman Dawood's picture

It seems you've really latched on to one bit of information and you're using that to determine your points. You do realize I pointed out 3 extremely popular lenses and you're sticking to discussing one niche lens.

Full frame sensors require full frame size glass.

I think probably the more salient point here is that a shorter flange distance will likely allow sharper wides to be created. Small is probably out the window. The trend has been towards sharper lenses and those tend to be bigger as we've so clearly seen in recent years. Maybe they're a little less big for mirrorless but eh...

The comparison I have in mind here comes from the medium format world where flange distance is something of a flexible thing. It is commonly accepted that if you want a really sharp wide you get a tech cam which has no mirror box. Even modern phase lenses can't touch what's possible on a tech cam even with the same digital back.

For wides on a tech cam you do not use bellows because the lenses are designed with very little sensor to lens distance in mind because apparently that is optimal engineering wise.

"Full frame sensors require full frame glass"

Every lens I quoted is full frame.

While 24-70 and 70-200 might be more broadly used, surely sony has seen that the advantage of mirrorless designs are in the wide side.

Anyway, the 16-35 GM is smaller and lighter than the 16-35L 2.8 III as well.

If we are just talking about flange distance, there are two potential remedies:

1. Offer an EF-I mount ("I" for "Internal", or whatever; "M" already taken obviously) which allows lens elements to extend beyond the flange where needed. Obviously the back-of-lens cap is going to be different if the glass sticks out/in an extra inch, but that allows the elements to take up the space previously allocated to the mirror box. Still more difficult for true wide-angles, but would improve some lens formulations I believe.

2. Mechanically move the sensor (or, less likely, the flange itself) between the "EF"/"EF-S" lens flange distance (mirror box area left vacant) to a much-closer-to-the-lens "mirrorless" flange distance, at least on the "pro" model cameras. Lower end / consumer-grade cameras might stick to being fixed at the "mirrorless" flange distance and having a more slender profile in return.

I'm not an optical engineer, and maybe the sensor design between a DSLR-flange and mirrorless-flange distances necessarily needs to be different for some reason, but it seems like Canon has options to make this work without completely giving up the full history of EF/EF-S lenses and thus preserving existing consumer buy-in to their system. Neither is cheap nor without potential manufacturing/reliability issues, though.

In the end, though, I strongly suspect that Canon would weigh either of these two options against "include the EF adapter in the box" or perhaps "make cheap $20/per adapters so legacy EF mount lenses can be converted to our new mount" (and throw those adapters into the lens boxes of all new EF lenses they ship out prior to coming up with new mount versions of them) and choose one of the adapter-based options.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

The lightweight mirrorless trend went out the window a while ago, even Micro 4/3 cameras are getting up there in size. It's all about the other benefits of mirrorless - electronic viewfinder with live exposure preview and fast and accurate AF done off of the sensor itself (Canon is already ahead here with Dual Pixel CMOS AF), to name just two. As someone that has a large investment already in EF glass, as well as a few other different mirrorless systems and Nikon as well, I'd certainly not be in the mood to add another set of lenses. If Canon (and Nikon) are jumping into the water this late in the game, it's foolish to make people buy into yet another system when I already did because they didn't have mirrorless in the first place.

I think you're all missing the point. The behemoth that is Canon will absolutely abandon the ef mount (just as they walked away from FD). They'll give us a very adequate adapter (limited to newer lenses) for the transition. Why? Because they're a giant monster & the giant monster is always hungry. New mount means a full new kit of lenses (5-30k USD) for each & every one of us... Ouch!

If Canon is SMART: they'll be working on a global shutter & a way to build a competitor to the GFX\X1D that will be profitable. First to market with a global shutter that WORKS wins everyone who uses strobe the world over. Make that global shutter work in video (no jello) & you'll give red+arri a rash.

What Canon should be doing is making it clear to those of us who haven't jumped ship what the plan is... I've been looking at the landscape & there's no Canon body I'd buy over the equivalent Sony. Not. One. My 5D3 is getting long in the tooth & If I have to drop 12k to replace my primes + 70-200 why not go with the team that's showing me innovation & Zeiss?

Makes me wish for the days of Fake Chuck

Usman Dawood's picture

I don't think it's in Canons best interest to do that, they won't make more money from changing the mount and actually open themselves up to unnecessary risk.

From a game theory standpoint even if it were just Canon and Nikon battling it out if both changed their mounts neither would stand to gain anything. It would be a level playing field and Nikon and Canon shooters would remain with their respective systems, for the most part anyway. Currently, with Sony changing their mount and Nikon looking to potentially do the same, Canon have everything to gain by "cheating" and not changing their mount.

thomas Palmer's picture

They just can't, because you can't obviously put anything between the lens and the sensor if you want to keep the current mount. So, in order to have in body Stab, and all the things you put in your wishlist, the size requirement would be medium format like.
A canon EF mirorless system would be full of wasted space, that's the huge paradox.

So you really have two choices : new lenses and decent adaptor in a "maybe not that small" body(win-win), or a traditional hassleblad without the larger sensor.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sony and Panasonic cameras have a lot of those features and they manage to keep their bodies much smaller. It is possible it's just a matter of being efficient. I'm not suggesting they put anything between the lens and the sensor but areas like where the prism is or where the main autofocus module is are areas that can be used. Also the sensor stabilization is on the actual sensor like how the GH5 and A7RII cameras do it. The camera doesn't need to be any bigger at all.

Matthew Saville's picture

Thank you for writing this reply, so that I didn't have to.

Creating a mirrorless camera with a native OVF SLR mount would be quite possibly the dumbest move in either camera brand's history.

Usman Dawood's picture

Why?

Back up your point, please.

Matthew Saville's picture

If you don't already understand why, then my explanation will likely fall on unwilling ears.

However, here's a push in the right direction:

Your dislike of adapters is likely based on an entirely false premise, that of third-party adapters made for cross-platform compatibility.

Compared to, say, a name-brand adapter for same-brand platforms, we arrive at what is most like a Mac vs PC debate- that is, completely apples to oranges.

Usman Dawood's picture

Canons own current mount is not an effective solution. Adapters are not a pro solution. Native lenses are still significantly better.

The way that DSLRs focus vs mirrorless cameras is very different.

Matt Rennells's picture

Why does Nikon need to update their mount? You stated it as if it was common knowledge, yet this is the first I've heard of it.

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