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. 

Log in or register to post comments

87 Comments

Previous comments
Usman Dawood's picture

That would be easier with a mirrorless system :).

Canon has been handicapping their cameras in order not to damage the sales of higher end products and has hardly invested in new technology while the prices of their less and less competing camera remain high.

It would surprise me very much if they made a mirrorless with the same mount. They will probably not do that for the following reasons:

1: they will damage the sales of their current cameras (with mirrors).
2: why build a new system with a ridiculously large flange distance which isn't needed.
3: The sales of lots of new adapters is guaranteed if they make a new lens mount.
4: they can sell lots of lenses for their new system.

Canon isn't like Sony and Nikon trying to shove as much new tech in their cameras as possible, Canon will give you the least amount of new tech, they think they can get away with. And as long as people buy their cameras, they will continue to do so.
Canon is not your best friend. Canon is trying to make as much profit as possible out of a declining market.

Usman Dawood's picture

What you discuss could be true and I feel that's a sure way towards failure and a missed opportunity. Fuji did something similar where they killed off large chunks of their business and hurt a major section of their own sales in order to secure their future so it's in Canons interest to make bold moves such as these.

I think if they continue in the same way they won't sell as much, they don't have the sentiment behind them and I hope they don't underestimate how important sentiment is.

These shorter-term gains they've been concentrating on are exactly that, and they won't last.

The photography industry isn't in decline it's just changing. there are more photographers now than there have ever been, companies just need to take advantage of that in an effective manner.

Yeah, they should hire some consultants from the smartphone industry. Admittedly, I don't own a high end full frame camera but a Sony a6300 and an older a77 but I find the interface of most cameras sadly lacking in user friendliness when comparing them to smartphones.

But for video I have replaced my a6300 for a samsung s8 and a gimbal. Since my modest audience watch these videos mainly on their smartphones, it is hard to spot the difference.
For still, it is still a different matter.
The user interface of practically all cameras is so old fashioned and clumsy compared to that of a smartphone.
I can shoot a video and (raw) stills, edit them and publish it from my smartphone in reasonable quality, not the best though but good enough for use on social media. Try doing that on a camera.

Here is some proof of videos made with a gimbal and smartphone.
https://youtu.be/SGbSqLxMYsM

https://youtu.be/V1Mg_yFX1kU

Terry Poe's picture

Excellent article, I absolutely agree with all your points and I think you expressed opinion supported by most photographers:

"If I need adapter anyway why should I stick to Canon/Nikon camera and not switching to Sony?”

"a clever design of a future camera with traditional mount may somewhat compensate the bulkiness coming from necessity to accommodate a larger flange distance"

"the worldwide total value of accumulated actively used legacy lenses at about $80 Billion"

https://www.marketanalysis.com/?p=8981

Christian Lainesse's picture

You forgot to add Canon's new colour night vision technology. If they are going to succeed, they need to add something the others don't have. And it's already what, two or three years old?

This article is so retard i forced myself to register just to comment here....
First, what do you actually want for a mirrorless??? Do you have so much love for canon lens that you want to force them to smack their current DSLR bodies and make the same bodies become mirrorless?? Or do you just want only the lens? Are you too afraid to sell your lens collection just because canon's camera has become so outdated now??

Why are you really dying for canon mirrorless??? Why don't you just ask them to include mirrorless features but still retain the mirror?? I bet that is what you really want because you don't want them to change the lens mount right?? If you really want focus peaking and zebra, it is just a software feature and you can even view using those features with LCD..

if you are asking for an EVF, it is better to make an external viewfinder instead of making them all become mirrorless,right???
That should be what you actually want if you don't want them to make a new mount...

And the last thing....who wants a huge camera bodies nowadays?? Do you expect the camera and the lens will be bought by people with huge muscles???

Damn if you are canon CEO i am sure canon is dead already (or bought by sony)

Matthew Saville's picture

I can't decide if I'm completely shocked that Canon users are having these thoughts, ...or if I'm not surprised at all that Canon users are this out of touch.

I guess it just goes to show that "the masses" are a terrible metric.

There is absolutely zero chance that Canon will NOT abandon the EF mount. They will absolutely be doing so.

I don't think people are understanding just how easy it would be to throw in a free adapter, and just how seamless the use of that adapter would be. Heck, they could ship it attached in the box, if it makes you happy. And because it's 100% native, the AF and everything else would experience zero performance loss. (Hasn't anybody here used the EF-M to EF adapter with EF lenses?)

What you want is a 5D4 with interchangeable viewfinders, like in the days of old. For anybody that remembers, or has at least read up on the history of the OVF camera as a system, it was actually a HUGE thing when Nikon first dumped the interchangeable prism from the F3 / F4. A whole lot of pros scoffed at the F5 for this reason.

But I digress. Everything is wrong about this whole concept. But I guess I'm not surprised that (some) Canon shooters are asking for this.

Kirk Darling's picture

Given the original brilliance of the EF mount, the only thing the adapter needs is pass-through wires. So, yes, they could provide an adapter in the box with each lens that could be made to attach semi-permanently to the lens. Okay. And that would be necessary, because they're unlikely to roll out their entire EF line in that new mount all at once.

Usman Dawood's picture

LOL, I love how you create this imaginary group of people that are all Canon shooters. Do they have secret meetings and ceremonies too?

Also no, adapters don't work the same as truly native lenses and yes I have used the EF-M adapter and it's ok at best. It's better than the metabones adapter on Sony but not as good as using a native lens on let's say an 80D.

The EF mount is possibly the most used mount in the world. From Cine cameras to even "Sony users". There are a lot of practical and financial benefits for sticking to it. Chances are Canon may move to a new mount but based on the sentiment it seems many "canon users" would also prefer to remain with the EF mount.

Lastly, can you quantify your claim that a shorter flange distance helps developing sharper wide angle lenses? Not that I don't believe you just want to see information backing that up please.

Matthew Saville's picture

Yes, and apparently the secret meetings involve sniffing paint or glue or permanent markers. All evidence points to it.

There is no practical or financial benefit to sticking with EF mount that isn't overcome by a simple pass-through adapter, and the massive new market of a system with a much shorter flange distance. No matter now popular EF is, Canon would be leaving money on the table if they stuck with the mount.

The argument about lens optical quality of any kind is very simple: With a shorter flange distance, you have more options. if you so choose, you can still design optical paths however you might have with an OVF DSLR. However if a mirrorless mount has a much wider diameter and shorter flange distance, it at least gives the opportunity for light to hit even the extreme corners of a sensor at near-90-degree angles, depending on the optical formula.

But, enough of this. I've published my own rants about things that I was totally wrong about just months later, so I know what it's like. We'll find out who's right and wrong pretty soon, it seems.

Usman Dawood's picture

Can you provide evidence for the claim, I'm genuinely interested?

Also, adapters are still worse as an option, it is not a professional solution by any means.

Lastly, what is there to be right or wrong about?

Matthew Saville's picture

There is no evidence needed to prove that any optical engineer would prefer less restricted space, instead of more.

Adapters may be a slightly "worse" option for folks who hate adapters, but the net financial gain of a whole new mount far outweighs these complaints.

We'll see, pretty soon, whether Canon sticks with EF, or creates a whole new mount. Who knows, maybe you'll be right and I'll eat my hat. I've been wrong before. But if I'm wrong, I suspect that the majority of the market will see it as a bad move, and their wallets will agree.

Kirk Darling's picture

The issue of turning all current EF mount owners into "free agents" is a significant risk for Canon. I was one of those who had a considerable investment in EF lenses. When Canon drop-kicked me and my investment to the curb I had, fortunately, moved into a phase where medium and large format were more important and I didn't need to make an immediate 35mm upgrade.

But when I did, I certainly looked carefully at Nikon. What saved me from Nikon was that at the time Nikon was struggling with their transition from all-mechanical F-mount to a modern electronic mount. They had all kinds of cameras and all kinds of lenses scattered across that transition, and you needed a roadmap to know how automated any particular lens would be with any particular camera.

Canon's wisdom in a Big Bang switchover to an extremely versatile mount--which is not by any means yet technologically obsolete--became apparent.

The difference between then and now is that back then, Nikon was the only contender, and it had crippled itself. Today, Canon doesn't have the luxury of Nikon being its only serious competitor.

Dave Kavanagh's picture

I absolutely agree those features are whats needed for them to be competitive in the mirrorless market. Although aside from the native EF mount (which would be very nice), thats basically only whats needed to stay on par with the current Sony offerings.

I'll maximum give Canon a time span up to Easter to come with a very good full frame mirrorless camera, if not I order Sony!

Thank you for the list of what this camera must include. But Canon must hurry up now if they're not going to loose me.

So you guys want something like Pentax K-01? which has proven to be a total failure. If they kept the ef lens there is not need to make a new mirror less camera. Just make one SLR the same size as EOS 750D. The reason to get a mirrorless is the compact size, and flexiblity to use smaller lens. Just look at how small a ranger finder lens is. keeping EF moutn will never give you any advantage over size.

Usman Dawood's picture

Mirrorless have more advantages than just compact size. Smaller is not better, it's a compromise and worse in many cases, I outline those points in the article.

Mirrorless cameras have eye detect autofocus, image preview, focus from the sensor which is much more accurate, EVFs with can have as much information as you need and so on. It's not about size.

Weight is an issue but that can be addressed just by removing a few things from the camera like the prism and mirror.

There are so many reasons why mirrorless is better but just having a smaller camera isn't the way forward.

Also comparing a Pentax camera vs a Canon isn't going to be effective, Canon has a much bigger market share with a significantly larger lens selection. The marketing budget available to Canon is also much bigger and even cameras like the 6D Mark II were top sellers even with all the bad reviews.

Canon needs 3 new cameras to complete with a7, a7r, a7s. They need to get rid of their Useless 6D. And leave 1D for wildlife and sports. Getting a new mount is not a great idea, as they have never used the current mount to full potential. Recently EF mount lenses are becoming focus by wire and lcd focus info.

Very unusually, I completely agree with everything in this article, especially sticking with EF mount and some of the desired features. Couldn't have put it better myself. And if they went along these lines, I would be among Canon's mirrorless customers without doubt.

Lucifer Love's picture

What features should the next Professional Mirrorless Canon cameras have?
1) Same batteries from current pro level DSLR.
2) Accepts EF, lenses and if needed, new mount system without using adapters, the camera should have a manual mechanical means of adjusting flange distance or better yet, automatic motorized flange adjustment.
3) A new lens system with mechanical aperture ring yet, the camera still accepts EF lens mounting
4) A retro look camera with similar looks like the Canon AE-1.
5) IBIS
6) Better dynamic range.
7) 4K Video!
8) C-Log

Matt Whitby's picture

I have a lot of nice EF lenses, but I don't think I want to wait until Q1 2019 so I may move away from Canon and go to a Fuji mirrorless.

Usman - Do you actually know anything about lens design??? If you don't, then why are you telling two major camera companies what to do?

And if you do, then explain you just told told Canikon to throw away THE biggest advantage of mirrorless - which is that you can use lens designs, like the sonnar, that have their rear element much closer to the sensor than a DSLR will allow. (You could possibly, in theory, have a lens with rear element protruding back of the flange. But in practice you'd get lawsuits when people destroyed lenses and DSLRs trying to fit them together.)

...There are disadvantages to adapter systems, but they exist precisely so cameras like the A7 can use legacy glass and lenses that would be impossible for a DSLR to use.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sorry are you saying the biggest advantage for mirrorless cameras is that they can adapt legacy glass?

That’s complete nonsense.

No, Usman, fairly clearly that wasn't what I was saying. The point is that MODERN lenses made especially for mirrorless can have their lens elements close to the sensor, which means that they can often use much more optimal designs, especially for wide angles. The Ricoh GR 28mm equivalent is an excellent example of this. It has about 30% fewer elements than an equivalent DSLR design and outshoots not just 28s but premium 50s. The T2 sonnar is another - it's tiny but the image quality is better than any DSLR standard lens short of an Otus. The legendary rangefinder standard lenses? Same deal.

Lensrentals has an excellent set of articles on basic lens designs. Why don't you go and read them?

not to go back on an old article from a sidebar link, but I thought it was interesting nothing came to pass but also the points are so spot on why the new R mount was ill conceived. New mount it is, and it is 100% incompatible with the EF-M mount and vice versa. Author neglected on huge point: Nikon's flange is 16mm meaning it will adapt anything on the market by the metabones of the world plus any 3rd party design just needs a new housing and mount to become compatible, including all the sony 3rd party lenses. Canon, Sony, F mount, everything sits in front of 16mm making Z the most future proof mount of any system, and unlike sony, not restricted by size.

Off course the seeds of disaster were laid long ago: EF-M was too small. So unlike canon's M, Nikon and Sony now have 100% native mounts compatible with APS-C without requiring a different mount for full frame versus crop.

So canon not only has to catch up and it is way behind native mirrorless FF lenses, but also
1) it cannot longer leverage the broad mount against Nikon, evident as Nikon producing 1.2 lenses and up to 0.95.
2) it has to effectively decide to kill off EF-M or support it by taking away resources from producing R lenses
3) by choosing 20mm as a flange distance, it has killed any possibility of any 3rd party lens for sony FE being ported over easily, unlike Z. They should have gone for >18mm to match sony's FE

So not only is the mount change a problem, but they picked just about the worse possible choice: two mounts, too far a flange distance.