When the mirrorless race began in earnest at the end of 2018, no one knew who would win. Three years and over 10 full frame mirrorless camera bodies later, the answer is obvious: Canon is winning big, and they have done it by going “all in” on the RF mount.To understand how and why Canon has done so well, let’s go back to mid-2018 and explore the options available to Canon and Nikon on the eve of the full frame “mirrorless revolution”. Sony was entrenched in the segment after 5 years of rapid innovation, and the two potential contenders for the full-frame crown chose to challenge them in a different way.
Nikon: all functions, no flash
Despite all the bullshit they’ve taken over the past couple of years, Nikon has clearly come to play. Aside from the single card slot, in August 2018 the company released two excellent first-generation cameras, at two different resolutions and prices, with two very different and well-defined functions. The Z7 was to be the high-resolution camera for D850 owners who wanted to go mirrorless, while the Z6 tried to break into the video community.
It was an extremely pragmatic plan. So pragmatic, in fact, that it failed to truly attract the one or the other audience that was critical to the success of the Z Series outside of Nikon’s established user base.
- Professional shooters and the technical camera review community have found the Z7 lacking in comparison to the Nikon D850 workhorse. The autofocus wasn’t up to par, vintage screw-in lenses weren’t supported by the FTZ adapter, and the single card slot was a real deal breaker for event shooters accustomed to use this second card as a fail-safe.
- Young influencers Sony, Canon and Panasonic GH5 and aspiring YouTubers saw nothing exciting enough to steer them away from brands they had already bought into. It was always going to be a tough audience for Nikon. Almost no established YouTuber runs with the brand, and the company has never really tried to win over that audience until now. So despite excellent video specs on the Z6, there was no “wow factor” like 6K video, a built-in ND filter, or a coveted piece of glass that could set them apart.
In other words: Nikon played it safe. They released a pair of perfectly fitting cameras and a handy set of lenses that were very functional, but lacked enough “flash” to keep anyone away from the brands they were already using. As first-gen products, the Z6 and Z7 managed to keep many of Nikon’s mainstays from jumping while waiting for improvements to the Mark II and (possibly) Mark III variants, but nothing more.
In the years 2018, 2019 and 2020, camera makers clash in the battlefield of eyeballs and emotional appeal, illogical. It’s a lesson Nikon has yet to learn. As they continue to waste resources on full steam ahead for two mounts at the same time, they are losing more and more ground by the day.
Canon: everything is fine
From the start, Canon understood that if you want to steal market share from a company as established and popular as Sony – or at least stop the bleeding – you have to offer people something exciting… something to brag about.
This is tricky, because looking strictly at camera technology, Canon was not yet ready to compete in 2018. The first EOS R, while perfectly suited to the average consumer, was the weakest of the mirrorless debut. full frame of the group. Too expensive for its set features at launch, unnecessary function bar gimmick, 1.7x crop in 4K, slow continuous shooting, single SD card slot; In retrospect, the EOS R was mainly released to buy Canon as they finalized the technology that would go into the EOS R5 and EOS R6.
But Canon didn’t catch a flack on YouTube. All the influencers looking to tell you “the TRUTH about the CANON EOS R and the reasons Canon fails” haven’t bothered them. How did they come up with a camera that was objectively worse than Nikon – by a wide margin – while somehow avoiding getting raked in the embers for it?
Three reasons: discreet marketing, a very large user base who are dedicated to Canon and Canon products, and – the main factor in their success – they immediately started releasing flashy, exciting and awesome glasses to generate excitement. people about the future of the RF Mount.
Unlike Nikon, which is again announcing plans for more DSLRs and F-mount lenses in 2021, Canon has gone all out on the RF mount, shifting all of its resources to developing RF lenses and only releasing the kind of lens you usually don’t make. that once you are sure the mount is here to stay. While Nikon saved most of its f / 2.8 zooms and all of its fast lenses for 2020 and 2021, Canon released the kind of lenses you can brag about to your friends (and foes) who shoot Sony: they immediately released a 28 -70mmm f / 2 and 50mm f / 1.2, then tracked those lenses with * two * variants of the 85mm f / 1.2 and a 70-200mm f / 2.8 unlike anything we’ve seen before. have never seen before.
Complaints that there wasn’t enough affordable glass were hushed up, because everyone was too busy laying the foundation that Canon had just laid for its RF mount for many years to come. And in case you haven’t heard, they plan to release 14 more lenses in 2021.
Two strategies, one winner
Granted, Canon had other advantages in 2019 and 2020. For several years, the company has disappointed its user base with mediocre DSLRs that fell short of expectations, building on the solid performance of the Dual Pixel AF for video to stop bleeding, even when Sony brought out objectively better cameras. You could say that Canon woke up just in time …
But the story of Nikon and Canon’s full-frame mirrorless beginnings is the story of two entirely different strategies, only one of which had the desired effect.
Canon’s success in full-frame mirrorless – both objectively in terms of sales and subjectively in terms of enthusiasm for its mirrorless products – is the result of an “all in” strategy that has paid off. They realized that nothing less than a full frontal assault on Sony territory would do the trick and put all of their R&D dollars into making the RF mount the future of Canon cameras – first with an exciting lens, then with crazy specs like 8K video. The development of the DSLR and EF mount would suffer, and Canon was not afraid to say so officially.
Nikon’s mediocre performance – not an abject failure by any means, but certainly not the success they hoped for – is the result of an interim strategy that requires them to split their limited R&D budget between pacifying DSLR / F shooters -mount and seduction converted mirrorless. As if to underline my point, when I finished this column Tuesday morning 24/11, Nikon rumors released a report on the company’s plans for 2021: two new digital SLRs and “several new F-mount lenses.”
Canon wins because they chose to do everything. Nikon will continue to fight until they do the same.
About the Author: DL Cade is an art, science and technology writer and former editor of PetaPixel. When he’s not writing an op-ed like this or reviewing the latest tech for creatives, you’ll find him working in vision science at the University of Washington, publishing the weekly Triple Point newsletter. or sharing personal essays on Medium.