Followup Canon Impressions

First things first: both Apple (developer conference) and Canon (R5/R6 launch) seem to have taken the time to rethink how an online-only launch should work. Both still have a bit too much talking heads to them, but the pacing, the continuity, the passion were all definitely pretty darned good. As pitches introducing lots of new features, performance, and products, I think this came off reasonably well. 

In some ways, I like these online presentations better than sitting in a big room filled with reporters watching the usual pass-the-baton awkwardness. Of course, those in-person press conferences tend to allow one-on-one interaction with key personnel and some hands on time with the cameras. Unless you were one of Canon's Explorers of Light or one of the YouTuber or vlogging types with maximal subscribers, you didn't get that.

Canon was a little awkward in getting their Web site updated in sync with the presentation, though.

But you want to know about how the new launches change mirrorless gear thinking.

Okay, let's cover the bullet points:

  • Canon is all in with full frame mirrorless. This was expected, but now we've hit that point. Several times the message was a stark "time to transition from DSLR." Given how good Canon's DSLRs are and how much market share they have, this is probably the most important point of any Canon made today. They've hinted at it in the past, but today they showed us what they really mean.

    But they missed on a couple of things. First, no Lens Road Map. Either Canon is trying to hide more surprises like the f/11 DO lenses, or they made a mistake here. While we have a solid base set of RF lenses, there's still plenty to be done on the lens front, and if you let customers ponder what lenses might come next, their feet get colder.

    Second, the R model now sticks out like a sore thumb. It really needed a relaunch, with the R5/R6 UI. With the R6 sitting above the Z6 and A7 Mark III in price, Canon doesn't have a strong stand at the established price point. The RP is fine, as it's a sub-US$1000 camera and it's UI was already reflective of that (and is basically fine, as my review suggests). But the R is a camera in no-man's land now.

  • Canon is being aggressive. 8K on the R5 and making the R6 into a mini-1DX are both examples of that. Canon wants to be perceived as a leader, and the things they are (mostly) emphasizing reflect that.

    I'm a little surprised Canon isn't touting still files a bit more. With HEIF, C-RAW, and insane buffers (240 raw on the R6, more on the R5), Canon is in territory the rest of the competition isn't. Coupled with both the optional Wireless Transmitter grip and the internal Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connected to Canon's latest Camera Connect services, there's also huge flexibility in getting those images out of the camera to a client, server, or sharing.

  • As usual, you have to watch the footnotes. For example, while Canon emphasized the 12/20 fps ability of both cameras, that's only in Continuous+ display mode. They drop to 6/8 fps in true Continuous. And of course, the 20 fps is only with electronic shutter, which, while silent, has rolling shutter implications. Other attributes also have footnotes, like the -6.5EV focus ability: that's with an f/1.2 lens, so you can't directly compare that number to Nikon's or Sony's.

    Likewise, there are caveats in the video bit rates to watch out for that are card dependent. The R6 doesn't do 5Ghz Wi-Fi. Some of the CIPA ratings are with Power Saving enabled (e.g. 380 with EVF on the R6 with Power Saving, but 250 without it). While it was implied that the 4K video on the R6 isn't cropped, it does have a very small crop to it (1.05x), and enabling IS on any video imposes a small crop.

    Curiously, Canon wouldn't really say what IS stabilization is achieved with a non-IS lens. The 8-stop value they noted is generally only with both sensor and (some) in-lens IS combined. Flash sync is really 1/200, but 1/250 if you use electronic first curtain shutter.

    None of this is any different than the competitors, though. Every brand has a string of footnotes that further explain the limitations of some key technology that marketing is trumpeting.

  • Testing will reveal the realities. Already we're seeing comments about how long you can shoot 8K (and even 4K) before the cameras will shut down due to heat buildup. Neither camera has fans or advanced heat shredding designs, partly because that can compromise weather sealing. We need to know what the heat buildup is pragmatically. 

    Likewise, that AA filter is an unknown. Canon makes claims on the 1DX Mark III about how little impact the low pass filter has, but we need to see that in action on these two cameras. I suspect the R5 isn't going to be the landscape camera of choice.

    As with the Nikon Z's, actual battery life in real use is going to be different than the CIPA specs suggest. But exactly what that battery life is likely to be, we don't know yet, plus it will take some time to figure out how all the camera features interact with that (EVF refresh rate, for instance).

  • You may have missed something. The R5 and R6 add a focus stacking feature, for example. The two new cameras are not consumer cameras, they're enthusiast/pro cameras, and thus they're filled with features and tech. What you're hearing from Canon are the things they want to emphasize, which may not be what you want to know ;~).

I've tried to think through how I'd position the current full frame camera models from bottom to top, and this is what I came up with (caution, I could change my mind as I get to reviewing the newest cameras):

bythom fullframe2

While I said that Canon was being aggressive in the bullets above, that wasn't on price. In the 20/24mp base enthusiast/prosumer camera category, Canon is bracketing. The R is arguably lax in a number of areas and has a funky UI, and sits below the Nikon/Panny/Sony trio, while the R6 is trying to position itself as better and get a US$500 bonus for that. 

In the high megapixel cameras, we have much more differentiation. The Z7 is the cost leader, but it also is missing pixel shift and not up to the same video standards as the Canon. The Z7 also lacks the pixel count of the Sony (45mp versus 61mp). So it's clear why the Z7 should be price leader in the high megapixel category. 

You might be able to start to see some strategies playing out among Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Nikon set out with a strategy of lower-than-DSLR, leaving them room for better-than-DSLR down the road. Sony seems to be stretching things thin between the two primary models, which makes me wonder where the third one is (entry). Canon has come out at the as-good-as-a-DSLR level (technically better-than when compared to their current DSLR lineup, as the R5 is where the 5D Mark V would be today if it existed).

All three of the strategies are seeking volume, just in different ways. It's interesting, for instance, that Nikon is positioned somewhat below Canon in terms of technical specs this time around. Historically, Canon mostly shot lower, Nikon mostly shot higher. Long term, I think everything will likely settle out into very narrow bands (entry consumer, enthusiast, pro), but right now we're seeing very different targeting.

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