Some people are hailing the new mirrorless cameras offerings from Nikon and Canon as a sea change in strategy and a signal that the big two really “get it”. But, is that really true?
Both Canon and Nikon already are the entrenched players in the professional and consumer DSLR market. They make the worlds best professional DSLRs and have multi-billion dollar investments in these systems. Each has multiply factories churning out lenses and cameras bodies for the world-wide market. Are they just going de-emphasize their bread and butter, turning away from their cash-cows to pursue mirrorless? I don’t think so.
What the Z 6, Z 7 and EOS R represent is more the Nikon and Canon’s belief that the market for interchangeable lens cameras over-all is going to continue to shrink and they better be prepared to grab and maintain as much marketshare as they can. It these mirrorless cameras are simply a way to stop defections to Sony and keep their photographers in their fold. The internet has had a raft of stories of professional photographers that switched from Nikon or Canon DSLRs to Sony full frame mirrorless and they felt the need to create videos, some long and boring, justifying why they did it. I think most are actually video applications to the Sony Collective but I digress.
You can look at what Canon and Nikon introduced, both in terms of bodies and announced mirrorless full frame lenses to get a glimpse of what is really going on.
First Canon; Actually Canon has been in the mirrorless space since the launch of the EOS M in June 2012. 7 years on and guess what, today Canon has 7 lenses for the EOS M systems despite a steady trickle of updated bodies from the original M through the M2, M3, M5, M10 M100 and M6. Get the impression this ain’t their fist rodeo? The most recent introduction, the consumer grade M50 was actually the best selling mirrorless camera in Japan over the holiday quarter and probably the best selling mirrorless camera in most markets around the world. But still to date only 7 native M lenses, only 2 of which are fast primes. The rest are slow consumer zoom lenses. Canon expects everyone to use their adapter and the standard EF lenses for professional offerings. Also, all Canon’s EOS M cameras have been built around smaller APS-C sized sensors, not full frame.
Next Nikon; It has fared even worse considering that is only foray into mirrorless before the Zs has been the not-well-received Nikon 1 series with the even smaller than Micro-4/3rds CX format sensors from some of their point-and-shoot cameras. Whether the system took good photos or not is irrelevant, from a sales and marketing perspective it flopped and the entire line was officially discontinued early last year.
So let’s look at what they introduced. Remember that both of these companies make the premier professional camera bodies on the market today and have been catering to the needs of professional photographers for decades. But both the Zs and the EOS R have only one card slot. That is the clearest sign that no matter how else these cameras are spec’d out neither company considers their first full-frame mirrorless cameras to be aimed at professionals. These are prosumer bodies at best meaning they will be back-ups, second systems or experimenter bodies for working pros until the next generation of bodies are introduced. Nikon at least included In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) in the Z 6 and Z 7 but offer no battery grip option for vertical shooting, something else working pro’s need.
Canon has a battery grip option but no IBIS. Interesting considering the lens intro that Canon is touting, a native RF mount 28-70mm F/2.0 beast lens that is $3,000, has a huge 95mm front filter thread and NO Image Stabilization (IS) in the lens. First the zoom range, 1999 called and they want their focal length back. 28-70mm, in 2019 really? 24-70mm f/2.8 have been the standard since the early 2000s. Why didn’t you just roll out one of those in the RF mount with IS? Oh, you want people to use the adapter and the 24-70mm f/2.8 you’re already making, get it. Next the 28-70mm is big and heavy because of the impressively f/2.0 aperture but has no IS and you are going to mount it to a camera with no In Body Image Stabilization either? Who thought that was going to make for an easy handling package?
Both the EOS RF mount 28-70mm f/2.0 and Z Nikkor Noct 58mm f/0.95 (manual focus only on that one) are show-boat lenses designed to show off each companies optical prowess. They are not lenses designed for photographers. Now both companies have introduced other native full frame mirrorless lenses that are much more useful.
Both new mirrorless camera systems have adapters to use their existing arsenals of lenses, which is what these camera are both really all about. Both systems have potential and Nikon has released a pretty excessive road map for Z lenses with primes being mostly f/1.8 which makes sense to take advantage of the larger lens mount.
For 2019 through early 2020 both Canon and Nikon want the EOS R and the Zs to simply stop the defections to Sony. These cameras are purely defensive maneuvers to give their install bases a reason to stay with them, shoring up marketshare and potential future sales. In the short term both companies are not considering coming out with full frame mirrorless camera bodies that threaten the dominance or sales of their flagship professional DSLR cameras and lenses. No sea change or change of heart here.