Canon - Losing Relevance & How They Need to Change

In a lot of my posts, I often dish out criticism towards Canon (often unfairly). But they don’t innovate and I don’t believe they are staying relevant in an industry where their competitors are taking huge steps to cram unbelievable features into their camera bodies. 

NOTE: Canon fanboys, don’t worry, I am not out to bash them and you’ve got a lot to look forward to. There’s two aspects to this post - their DSLR’s and cinema cameras which I’ll talk about separately. I’m also focussing more predominately on video technology as my overall opinion is that photography tech is stagnant in comparison (regardless of the manufacturer). 

Overall, if it weren’t for one thing, I’d probably be predicting Canon’s demise within the next few years. The best feature of Canon cameras that I’ve been envious of (ever since I made the switch to Sony), is their colour science. 

 

Canon’s DSLRs

Prior to buying my Sony A7S, I used to shoot on a Nikon D5200 (Nikon lacks innovation just as much as Canon). I have however used (but never owned) many Canon DSLR’s, and they all have the same consistent benefit to them… 

They get the job done, the colours are awesome and they take great pictures. 

The Canon 5D Mark II

The Canon 5D Mark II

The problem though - It feels like Canon hasn’t been innovating. For filmmakers, the Canon 5D mark ii - changed everything. Filmmaking became further democratised and image quality, that prior had only been accessible in expensive cinema rigs had made its way down into a full frame stills camera. But that was 2008. 

Autofocus speeds have improved in DSLR’s since, so has continuous shooting speeds. But I can’t think of a significant change in DSLR technology that is going to encourage the masses to upgrade to newer models. This is particularly true for the 5D mark iv. 

Oh but there is one thing though. 4K. 

Finally, the 1DC and 1DXii aren’t alone as being the only 4K options for Canon DSLR users. But those cameras are far from accessible as they come with hefty price tags. 

The Canon 5D Mark IV

The Canon 5D Mark IV

The 5D mark iv has been underwhelming to say the least. Despite shooting 4K video, you can’t take advantage of the whole sensor. I simply don’t understand. Filmmakers love DSLR’s because we can shoot in full frame. We can’t shoot on 35mm or larger sensors with expensive cinema cameras (except maybe the ARRI 65, but thats rental only and only a few exist). So why would you give us 4K and take the best thing about DSLR filmmaking away from us at the same time? 

I am by no means an expert in how this technology is produced but I can’t see why Canon can’t make a camera that can shoot in full frame and 4K, at the same time. 

I can accept that the photography features on this camera has seen some nice improvements. But it’s a far cry from being innovative. 

 

The Changing Camera Industry

There’s one thing you can’t argue with though. Canon has the largest market share in the stills market. I honestly expected mirrorless cameras (from Sony, Panasonic and Fuji) to start overtaking DSLR’s but they haven’t. This is probably attributed to the fact that professionals had invested so much into the Canon ecosystem. Changing to newer technology isn’t going to increase their revenue when their current kits are good enough. And Canon knows this. 

But there’s a problem, one which isn’t unique to Canon. 

The camera market overall is shrinking. Partly due to camera technology getting better in smart phones, but mostly because I believe DSLR technology hasn’t seen substantial change. Not enough to warrant buying new cameras. And when I say consumers, I really mean the every day Joe Blow who wants to take pictures on holiday, or of his sons soccer match. 

Camera sales of film and digital cameras (non-interchangable, DSLR & mirrorless). Introduction of digital technology indicated by a red line. Charts by Thomas Stirr - photographylife.com

Camera sales of film and digital cameras (non-interchangable, DSLR & mirrorless). Introduction of digital technology indicated by a red line. Charts by Thomas Stirr - photographylife.com

The industry saw exponential growth from the mid 2000s up until a few years. It was largely fuelled by these 'Joe Blow' consumers who wanted great image quality beyond the capabilities of a smart phone. But another demographic that spurred huge growth was the effect that DSLR’s, and in particular Canon, had on the budget videography market. I somehow get the feeling that Canon isn’t interested in supporting budget filmmaking despite all they’ve done for the industry. 

Anyway, enough about DSLR’s.

 

Back in 2014, the rigged up C100 being operated by my friend Benjamin Ling. 

Back in 2014, the rigged up C100 being operated by my friend Benjamin Ling. 

Memories of the C100: Great Colours, Great Video.

For years I used a Canon C100 (still have it too), it’s a fantastic and reliable unit. The image quality that came out of it for an entry level cinema camera was pretty damn good. However, I do believe Canon released that camera a couple years too late (only coming out in 2012) and lacked any innovative technology. 

But it gave me 90% of what I needed in a camera for the price. XLR inputs, built in ND filters and fantastic image quality. 

It got the job done, the colours are awesome and it could take great video. 

Handheld, I thought it was a very well designed unit ergonomically. But I chose to put the C100 aside and get something different, the Sony FS700 (also released in 2012). 

 

Myself with the Sony FS700 in 2016 - Photo by David Beach

Myself with the Sony FS700 in 2016 - Photo by David Beach

Switching to Sony.

The ergonomics on the FS700 are frankly, shit. But you can not deny, that camera did things no other camera could do for that price. 4K, 12-bit RAW output, 240fps in HD (8 sec burst), 200fps in 2K output, 4K 100fps (3 sec burst) output, It still holds up against cameras being released now. Just add an Odyssey 7Q/+ and it does everything you’d expect from a 2016/17 camera. 

Although it’s showing signs of age now, the FS700 was the definition of future proof. it is a stark contrast compared to the Canon C100 and the more evenly priced C300 (mark i). Canon were behind and Sony knew how to innovate. 

The picture coming out of the FS700 is very nice. But maybe not as nice as Canon. 

 

The Canon Camera That Is Proving Me Wrong

So if there was one camera that has truly impressed me from Canon lately, it is the C300 mark ii. Despite them never offering much in the way of slow-motion, Canon’s C300 mark ii is probably the camera to get if you have a $10-15k budget. I used to think the Sony FS7 held that crown but Canon have taken whats best about the C series and given us 12-bit 444, 4K in 410mb/s - internally! 

The Canon C300 Mark II

The Canon C300 Mark II

However, I wouldn’t give the crown to Canon if they didn’t drop the price on the C300 mark ii. Had that not happened, you couldn’t justify the nicer colours and image over the Sony FS7 (which used to be half the price). Mind you the FS7 has great image quality and rivals the C300 mark ii, it’s just a tad behind in my opinion - it just can’t beat Canon’s skin tones. 

Canon face a problem going into the future though. They’re afraid of cannibalising their own cameras. In order to protect the C300 mark ii, a camera like the C100 mark ii is underwhelming to say the least. 

Sony buyers have the opposite problem. Faithful customers are buying a camera one moment and in the space of a few months there’s something better on the shelves (like releasing the a6500 only 9 months after the a6300). It’s a good problem to have, but it’s also incredibly annoying to know your investment is already obsolete. 

 

So What Does Canon Need to be Doing?

  1. Innovate. It’s that simple. Not just narrowly thinking about how to improve their own products, but make them exciting and better then the competitions. 
  2. Cannibalise their products, before someone else does. 

Canon isn’t struggling. They probably feel contempt and safe as they only have to make sure that they stay the number one producer of cameras in the world. But Kodak was in the same position 25 years ago. Before film even died, they were the first ones to produce a digital camera but abandoned it, they feared it would damage their film sales. Canon aren’t new to mirrorless cameras, they released the M5 not long back but panicked when it didn’t sell as many units as Sony mirrorless cameras. They haven’t made any more progress in this new technology since. A decision which I truly believe will come back to bite them. 

For their cinema cameras, they really just need to keep producing the great colours Canon is renowned for. But they need to care more about resolution, codecs and frame rates. I know these features don’t make a camera great, but a lot of cinematographers care as proven by the high sales of Sony and RED cameras. 4K has been here for years and it has got to be the standard resolution of all new releases. I wouldn’t be surprised if the industry started pushing 5K and 6K more often this year. DJI (Inspire 2), RED (starting with the Scarlet-W) and to some extent -Blackmagic (Ursa Mini 4.6k), are all examples of companies pushing resolution beyond 4K. It isn’t 2012 anymore, 4K is no longer a gimmick, and anyone that tells you otherwise is out of touch. 

So lets hope this year Canon treats us all and makes it even more difficult to decide what new, shiny bit of kit to buy.