Kodak. Remember them? Back in the film days, never did we think they would be an afterthought in the photography industry. But a complete mishandling of the move to digital became their downfall. At one time a top five most valuable brand in the world, now reduced to a footnote in the photography world we live in today. But are Canon and Nikon beginning to edge the same way? Are they the lumbering giants, slow to move with the times? Or, are they playing the game to perfection?
The recent announcements from Canon and Nikon about profit from their camera divisions are not exactly encouraging, but are they still the brands to beat?
I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Canon and Nikon did not meet their revenue targets for 2018 and both are rapidly revising their numbers for 2019. Predictions are that interchangeable lens camera sales will continue to fall year on year. There was even a rumour from an internal document from a camera company predicting Canon and Nikon will lose 50% of market share in the next three years. This is serious!
But why? Well there are several factors here. Firstly, there is the rise of Sony, Fuji and others in the mirrorless market. Sony have been producing amazing cameras (although not [yet] sold in the same number as Canon and Nikon), which have carved a nice piece of the pie for themselves very quickly. Add in Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus et al and you have an ever increasing number of cameras to choose from – all with amazing features and image quality
However, the more major factor for the whole industry is the ever-increasing quality of the smart phone. Whilst those of us who read Digital Photography School are generally concerned with DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, many just want a decent photo with minimum fuss, and the phone camera does this amazingly well. For all camera companies, the development of amazing quality phone cameras mean the market for those wanting to get great a “proper” camera is shrinking all the time. The latest series of phone cameras are more than good enough for most people.
The big three
According to the latest data for the year of 2018, Canon continues to dominate the world of interchangeable lens cameras with a 49.1% market share (a growth of 3.9%). Nikon stay second with 24.9% (a decline of 0.6%) and Sony are in third with 13.3% (a growth of 2.9%). All other brands made up the remainder.
Canon’s market share in photography has sat steady at around 40-50% for around the last ten years. The EOS R quickly became the best selling mirrorless camera in Japan on launch. Nikon’s Z series also stole a decent share of the market that has been dominated by Sony of late. The question is, are the people buying these existing Sony and Nikon cameras, heavily invested in a system? The answer for a large portion will no doubt be yes. It just makes financial sense.
As the market shifts and more people move to other systems such as Sony, Fuji and the L-Mount Alliance, will this continue? Existing customers are a large market, but people buying their first “Pro” camera have a choice that is now much wider than merely Canon or Nikon. You only need to look to YouTube for the number of people singing the praises of brands that are not Canon and Nikon to be able to see the beginnings of this shift.
Canon’s video problems
I am a Canon shooter. I have been since my first SLR (I know, I’m old). But, their current business model sucks! In an age where the average photographer uses both stills and video, Canon have fallen behind in DSLRs for video. Evidence includes some questionable codecs (motion JPEG anyone?) and cropped 4K. Compared to Sony, it’s not even the same league. What happened Canon? You are the same Canon that released the classic 5D2! Remember that? A game changer that was so good that episodes of your favorite TV shows were filmed on it and Canon were hailed as heroes. Well, they dropped the ball.
Skip to 2019 and Canon release the EOS RP. A great price point of only £1300 (US$1299) and a decent sensor (basically taken from the 6D2). A great camera at a great price. Yes, you can argue the dynamic range of the sensor is not perfect, but it seemed like a great camera release by Canon. Then the news came that the camera was unable to shoot in 24fps in HD. Wait…what? Yep, the standard video frame rate for movies, the same one that was in the 5DMk2 over ten years ago is now absent.
I know what some of you are thinking. It’s the entry-level model; you can’t expect everything. Most people won’t care. However, to omit such a basic video feature is a sign of Canon seemingly making terrible decisions in their digital camera lineup.
Why are they doing this though? The answer seems to be in Canon’s product lines. Canon’s pro video line has a similar starting price to the EOS R. If they put full-frame 4K video, 120 frames per second at 1080P and more into their DSLR range, they would be basically killing off some of their pro video line customers in the process.
You have to question this as a business decision. Put simply, Canon’s current cameras are lagging behind Sony and Panasonic when it comes to video. Rather than move to their C-line of cameras for video though, most people are moving to Sony and the A7 III.
This move seems to be incredibly short-sighted by Canon. When I look to upgrade my trusty 5DMk4, I’m not sure Canon will be the top of my list. The video features on Sony are just too tempting. Sure, I don’t currently do much video work, but I can see my customers wanting more, and Sony cameras have better video features right now.
Two cards are better than one
Shouted about all over the internet, why oh why did Canon and Nikon choose to launch their first cameras in their brand new system with one card slot? This feature alone means that a large amount of working professional users will not purchase a camera with one card slot. There is no way I would risk shooting a wedding with one memory card in the camera. It is just not worth the risk.
Nikon has taken this one step further and only have on XQD card. A more expensive format right now and also a format that most existing camera owners will not own in any great amount.
If photography is a hobby rather than a way to earn your living, then it may not be so much of an issue. However, again, it just seems a little short-sighted.
Shooting without a backup is always fine until a card fails.
Where’s the excitement?
Who was honestly excited by the EOS RP? Or the EOS R for that matter? Who thought that Nikon Z6 & Z7 were ushering in a new dawn of quality? Pretty much nobody. They just seemed to be mirrorless hack jobs of the 5DMk4 and D850 respectively, albeit with limitations.
The recent products from Canon and Nikon seem boring. No style and no killer features. Just OK. Just safe. The initial move into mirrorless feels like products designed and launched quickly to try and compete with Sony. Look at the amazing video features of the Sony A7 III when compared with Canon and their disappearing histogram. Compare the autofocus on the Sony A6400 or Fuji X-T3 with the Nikon Z6. There is no contest (the Nikon may improve dramatically with the eye AF update). The question is, why are they not competing with the best in class at launch?
Are Canon and Nikon’s cameras good? Yes. Are they class leading or exciting camera releases? No.
The Cameras do not match the glass
Leading with your best glass is an obvious decision. Both Canon and Nikon’s glass for their new mirrorless systems looks great. But it makes Canon’s decision to release the EOS RP all the more strange. Simply put, there is no budget glass for their budget full-frame camera.
There is no glass that really matches the system. The lens offered as a kit lens for this system costs over £1000. A quick Google shows the price of the EOS RP body at £1399 ($US$1299), but the cheapest option with a lens (the 24-105 f4) is a staggering £2329 (US$2199). This is crazy! Especially when you can pick up a Sony A7 III with a 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 for £1999 (US$2298). The Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm is even more expensive still at £2514 (US$2596). Yes, you can use an adapter if you have other branded glass, but if you buy a new system, with a new mount, you surely want a native mount lens to play with.
I know the lens is not as good, but the Canon EOS RP is not in the same ballpark feature-wise as the Sony A7 III and you can have a camera and native lens for over £300 cheaper. There is no way I would spend extra to get a lesser camera. The fact that Canon has yet to release a cheaper lens seems crazy given they’re releasing more budget-friendly cameras. Maybe Nikon will launch a similar lens with the rumored upcoming EOS RP competitor?
Where’s the flagship camera?
So why not a pro body to rival the Sony A9? With the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, my guess is that Canon and Nikon are working feverishly behind the scenes to get their new flagship cameras out for the opening ceremony. I’m sure Sony is doing the same.
Rumors are surfacing that Canon has begun testing the 1DX Mark III with a very limited number of photographers, so this prediction does seem likely. Canon is a big Olympic sponsor, and it is also a home Olympics for them. It really does make sense for big product launches on the eve of the event. Whether the new flagships will be a DSLR or mirrorless is going to be interesting to see.
But what about the meantime? What’s next up for Canon or Nikon? The EOS RP was underwhelming for many, and the next in line from Nikon is meant to be a direct competitor to the EOS RP. I feel this camera will also be met with the collective sigh the EOS RP received.
What does the future hold?
In the end, it boils down to this; mirrorless is the future of photography. It took a while to get here, but the benefits are now easy to see. Canon and Nikon were late to the party, but they are working hard to claw back ground they have lost. They seem to have learned from Kodak and their lack of acknowledgment for the digital camera.
The fact that both Canon and Nikon have fully entered the market late is currently having an impact on the quality and excitement that greets their new products. So far they appear to be playing it safe with mirrorless, which might not be enough to keep them on top moving forward.
What would be in your dream camera? As a Canon shooter (and daydreamer), I have thought long and hard while writing this article. For me, it would be a mirrorless update to the Canon 5DMk4. A new sensor. Autofocus to rival that on the Sony A9 (or even 6400) and non-crippled video. Full sensor 4K and 120 frames-per-second at 1080P in C-Log and preferably without a histogram that disappears when you press record, or at least zebra stripes. Maybe IBIS would be nice too. Oh, and two card slots. Is that too much to ask? I also would like it under £3000.
Or maybe, I’m getting tempted to move. The Sony A7III keeps tempting me to rent it. The A9 with that new autofocus update is a beast of a camera for a shade over £3000. I also want to see how Panasonic’s latest offerings play out.
I’m heading to The Photography Show in Birmingham, UK in March for an annual look at what is out there. On top of my list of stands to visit are Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji. The fact the Canon and Nikon are not even on my radar says a lot about their current appeal.
What are you looking for from Canon or Nikon? Or, have you moved to another brand and never looked back? Let me know in the comments.