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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86 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.

Travel photography is not "niche". Nor is having a camera small enough to carry every day or on social occasions. This is one of reasons Fuji sold so many X100's to people who already have full-frame systems.

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.

>> Canon have small primes too that's not unique to mirrorless.

Again, it's obvious that you don't know anything about optical design. Canon's "small" primes have to use designs that don't require an element close to the sensor, which means that they have to accept other trade-offs - lower aperture and lower optical performance. If you compare the Canon 40mm to the tiny lenses on high-end film compacts like the Contax T2, they kick the hell out of the thing - they shoot like Canon's best L glass or better. Or try comparing the Ricoh GR lens to the Canon equivalent "small" prime.

Usman Dawood's picture

Canon 50mm f1.2L vs Sony 50mm f1.4

Look up the weight and size difference?

Again you demonstrate your lack of knowledge and thought. WHICH Sony 50mm f1.4???

...The SAL50F14 weighs 220g and the Canon weighs 600g. The Sony actually has substantially better image quality and costs about 1/3 what the Canon does.

I suspect you were thinking of the Sony 50mm f1.4 Planar - but that lens is in the same quality range as an Otus. (In fact in the lensrentals tests it outscored the Otus 55mm.) And trust me, it's a lot lighter than an Otus. And half the cost. Because it doesn't have to work around a mirror box.

Usman Dawood's picture

SAL50F14 is an A mount lens why would you even bring that up??

Nonsense point, typical diversion tactics.

The Canon 50mm is a very good performer and has a wider aperture too. You talked about lower aperture as a trade-off and I provide an example of how your point isn't necessarily true.

Also let's get one thing straight, at no point in my article do I discuss lens design advantages or why a shorter or longer flange distance is better. You've completely made up this strawman argument. Read the article again and then make points addressing mine.

In several of your comments, you discuss lens design, optical design, and flange distance advantages as if I made points around that. Stop making stuff up and using it as a means to argue against me.

I discuss lens line-up, not design.

>> SAL50F14 is an A mount lens why would you even bring that up??

Because you didn't ask the right question.

The correct comparison would have been the Sony vs the Otus. They're the same quality - much better than the Canon - and the same aperture. And the Sony is lighter (700g to +1kg) and half the price, because not having to work around a mirror box allows a cleaner designer. They're both super-high resolution designs intended to let +40MP sensors compete with medium format; comparing them to a much lower resolution walk-around lens like the f1.2 is something only a person who doesn't understand what he is talking about would do. Building lenses for high sensor resolution is expensive in terms of cost and weight.

..To brutally hammer home to you how silly your comparison is, look at the dxo tests for these lenses. The Canon only achieves an effective 21MP on a 50MP sensor! The Planar gets 41MP of resolution - yes, ***double***. You simply can't compare them - you have to compare Planar to a DSLR lens in its own resolution class.

Oh - and if you want to be taken seriously in a discussion about optics stop using meaningless words like "very good performer". The LX7 is a very good performer - that doesn't make it sensible to criticise a 5Div for weighing more...

>> I discuss lens line-up, not design.

Yes, that's the problem. You can't intelligently discuss a lens line-up or camera mount without understanding at least very basic optical design issues. You don't. You haven't even considered something as basic as the fact that every SLR lens wider than 35mm needs to be a retrofocus design. Which adds enough complexity to a prime but is much worse when you try to build a wide-to-tele zoom. You've made it clear that you don't even understand that different lenses have different resolutions and building for higher resolution adds weight and cost. So why on earth did you think you could write this article? Bizarre.

Usman Dawood's picture

The goal posts have been moved lol.

I guess you just want to sit in your corner and argue points that you make up yourself.

Ok fine enjoy.

Canon 24-70 vs Sony 24-70 :-p thought I’d just throw that in hee hee.

Usman Dawood's picture

Also I just properly read your points about the Sony and the Otus. You've cherry picked points to serve your arguments.

A few things to consider when comparing the weight and size difference.

The Otus is much better for vignetting, it has a much better T Stop, and better for CA. All of these things generally require more glass and a bigger front element which the Otus does. You can't simply attribute the extra wight to having to work around the mirrorbox, the Otus actually gathers noticeably more light.

In regards to image quality the Sony is much softer in the corners wide open in comparison and the Otus is sharp edge to edge wide open. The Otus is a better lens overall all of this information can be gathered from DXOmark.

Do you need to brush up on your understanding when it comes to lens design?

>> You've cherry picked points to serve your arguments.

Now you are being a hypocrite. No, you were the one who chose the f1.4 Planar. I compared it to the only other lens - or at least the most obvious - in the same resolution class. So the only person who could possibly be cherrypicking is you. I can hardly be cherrypicking for providing the only possible like-for-like lens for the Sony lens you selected, hmm?

>> The Otus is much better for vignetting,

It's somewhat better, yes.

>> it has a much better T Stop,

The Otus and the Planar tested by dxo are about 7% apart for their t-stop. That's not only virtually identical rather "much better" it's also one with the sort of range you get for acceptable samples of the same lens...

Again, why the hell do you think the rest of the world needs to be told what to do by you on a subject you know nothing about?

Usman Dawood's picture

Vignetting is kind of like 2 thirds of a stop better. It's not "somewhat" at all lol there's a big difference. That's why the Sony has a 72mm filter thread and the Otus has 77mm. Bigger front element, which of course increases the weight.

T stop is almost 2 thirds of a stop better. That's not a small difference at all.

Where are you getting the 7% from are you sure you're looking at the right lens?

Also you made no points about edge to edge sharpness. The Sony is not on that level.

You talked about Aperture being a trade off and I pointed out how actually that's not always the case I didn't cherry pick I directly addressed your point. You brought the otus into the mix and I pointed out how actually that's not a good comparison for a number of reasons.

I then also offered another lens the 24-70 which you didn't discuss at all.

You seem to enjoy telling me what I should and shouldn't do. You make a bunch of sweeping statements which don't actually ring true in the real world.That doesn't sound like someone who knows what they're talking about.

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.

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

Yes. The 1.4 is as good or better than Canon L.

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.

>> It seems you've really latched on to one bit of information and you're using that to determine your points.

It's called "using facts". You haven't used a single one.

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