Fire The Canons

I wanted to hold off on this post until I had more time to spend with a few of the cameras I mention below. Although I spent more time with my personal SL1, rented an EOS 6D, sold my EOS M, rented a Nikon D600, got hands on time with a D610 and D800, and rented an EOS 5D Mk.III, the recent launch of the completely misguided Canon T5 has forced my hand. I’ve kept notes on all of those experiences, most of which will end up as part of a larger “new camera” narrative I’m working on.

There was recently a post on SLR Lounge by Carsten Krieger titled “A letter to Canon from a (soon to be) former customer.” I dove into it immediately because this exact same idea has been rattling around my head lately as I hunt for a new DSLR to replace my aging Canon EOS 60D. It was a particularly well timed article for me since I’ve become increasingly disenfranchised with Canon and lately have been exploring Nikon solutions, especially the D600/D610 which I feel is an almost perfect Prosumer camera body for the kind of work that I do (lifestyle/event).

My little workhorse.

The post addresses a few issues, including the disappointing lack of innovation coming from Canon, but then goes on to focus on a few professional bodies and lenses with a particular emphasis on cost, value, and features when compared to direct competitors. Now, while I agree with some of these points, they are only highly specific examples of a much larger problem with Canon at the moment; A complete lack of product focus across their DSLR lines.

If a photography novice walked up to you right now, expressed an interest in getting a little more serious, and then asked you to recommend an entry level Canon DSLR, what would you say?

For a lot of us in semi-professional or professional photography fields, this is a question we get asked all the time. The response is generally along the lines of “Well, it depends on what you want to photograph.” but, in my experience, this usually a time-buying answer while we take a mental inventory of the ridiculous number of options available to answer with. This usually leads to a bunch of follow up questions about priorities and needs, so on, so forth. This scenario, right here, is why we (and Canon) have a problem.

The fact that I cannot, as a photographer and camera technology enthusiast (Disclosure: I work in imaging technology.), deliver a solid recommendation without an interrogation highlights Canon’s severe lack of product focus and direction in their DSLR offerings. Let’s take a quick look at that previously mentioned mental inventory of entry level APS-C DSLRs (I’m including the EOS M here since it can use EF lenses via adapter).

  1. EOS T3
  2. EOS T3i
  3. EOS T4i
  4. EOS T5
  5. EOS T5i
  6. EOS SL1
  7. EOS M
  8. EOS M Mk.II

Eight. Eight options and that’s not even counting the 60D which, even though still in production (but recently replaced by the 70D), is so close to the T5i it’s hazy where it even belongs in the line up (more on this later). The T5 is brand new as of this writing, but brings nothing to the table in terms of features, design, or product advancement when compared to the current modern lineup other than price, which we’ll also get into later. Even if you knock the T4i off the “official” list, and the EOS M II for being region specific, you’re still looking at 6+1 counting the 60D.

Entry Level LineUp
Click to enlarge.

Now, think of the person you’re trying to make the recommendation to. If you fired off this list as is, you’d make their head spin. Attempting to explain the differences between these cameras, I mean, the real, tangible, differences that will have a direct effect on their entry into the DSLR market, is an exercise in folly. Short of the EOS M’s mirrorless form-factor and maybe a body with a Vari-Angle screen, there aren’t any. Sure, you could argue for weights, touch-screens, and other little features, but this lineup of bodies are so close to one another in terms of hard specs that actually have a quantitative impact on the end photographic product that any recommendation you could make is practically irrelevant. This is a huge problem when it comes to a basic, but critical, part of the marketing chain, consumer evangelism.

Depth of Field
I suppose this insane cannibalism/micro-iteration of the low end wouldn’t be such a big deal (more options) if it didn’t have such an apparently huge impact on the rest of the Canon DSLR line, especially the “Prosumer/Semi-Pro” range, both APS-C and APS. If you’re in the market for a Prosumer DSLR (i.e. not a high end Professional body, but better than an Entry Level) you’re probably looking at a few key influencing factors that are steering the decision. Although the details are based on personal need, typically top of that list is sensor size balanced by price. The high end of this bracket shouldn’t really cost more than $2000 for just the body. Let’s take a quick look at what Canon offers in this space.

EOS Prosumer

Three, one of which is 5 years old (7D)

The 70D was a great, logical, upgrade to the 60D. It hits that sweet spot, in terms of price and features, that allows the Entry Level photographer to move into a more advanced APS-C space. At this point you’d be hard pressed to not choose it over the aging 7D as well, though that body’s reputation as a serious workhorse still lends it amazing credibility and brand strength. The 6D on the other hand, is a great example of Canon just having no idea what to do with the APS-C to APS movement path. It is a camera artificially, ridiculously, crippled with the reasoning of not wanting to hurt 5D Mk.III sales (or presumably the 5D Mk. II aftermarket), which would make sense except for the fact that they exist in totally different lineup fields and, judging by the Entry Level line up, self-cannibalization of sales doesn’t exactly seem to be something Canon is overwhelmingly concerned with.

The Canon Prosumer range is a mess. I personally feel it has enormous revenue potential if Canon can get it’s act together, because right now their DSLRs are being eaten alive by the more nimble mirrorless competition and offerings from competitors. The gulf between camera types is only widening, Point & Shoots losing to Mobile leads to more advanced, powerful, but niche, P&S bodies like the Powershot G line. Entry Level DSLRs are getting hammered by the next generation of mirrorless cameras from companies like Fuji and Olympus. Aside from the huge shake up recently caused by Sony’s A7 and A7r, the Prosumer field is where DSLRs still have the ability to offer powerful, innovative, features that mirrorless can’t quite compete with yet. As that continues to change, even as the gaps close, they still represent the path to the Professional DLSR, but that continues to be a big leap for a lot of photographers who would take it.

Canon 5D Mk.III v Sony A7 v Olympus OM-D E-M1

Go Pro
Canon’s Pro lineup doesn’t really need too much discussion, though I will address it in the next part of this article. It meets most of the essential criteria for this field, the 5D Mk.III and 1D-X are class leaders. The 1D-C is still niche. Short of a huge megapixel body for serious studio work, you’re hard pressed to find better professional DSLR bodies.

So what’s the solution here? It’s easy to say, and see, that Canon is all over the place and it’s hurting their customers and potential customers. There needs to be some serious thought given to direction and focus moving forward. Personally, here’s what I think Canon should do:

  1. DO redefine each consumer field, Entry, Prosumer, Professional to include 3 main bodies with room for a niche/outlier so they make sense for consumers, novice and experienced alike. Leave room for growth as bodies get discontinued and new ones are introduced.
  2. DO identify clear, defined, value for each body along a logical path for upgrading, with logical price points, both within the field and to another field.
  3. DO be innovative and future forward with hardware while continuing to add value via firmware.
  4. DO confidently price each body in line with the previous guidelines.
  5. DO NOT impose artificial restrictions and limitations, especially on hardware, out of unfounded upgrade cannibalization fears.
  6. DO NOT release constant minor iterative hardware updates.

So, what does this reorganization look like in terms of lineup? Let’s take a look.
Prices listed as – Current (New).

Entry Level: (APS-C)
Wifi, Touch screens, 14-18mp, up to 5FPS, 3in screen, built in flash, full HD video, etc

  • T5 – $549.99 ($449.99) – Basic Entry Level.
  • SL1 – $749.99 ($549.99) – Mid-Range Entry Level, small size.
  • T5i – $849.99 ($649.99) – Advanced Entry Level. The step below Prosumer.
  • EOS M – $599.99 ($399.99) – Mid-Range Entry Level, mirrorless, different lens system.

Prosumer: (APS/-C)
Wifi, GPS, dual card, 18-24mp, 5+FPS, 3+in screen, 1/8000, 19+ AF points, advanced construction, etc

  • 70D – $1199.99 ($1199.99) – Basic Prosumer APS-C. Logical upgrade from T5i.
  • 7D Mk.II – N/A ($1599.99) – Advanced Prosumer APS-C. Great 2nd body for Pros.
  • 6D Mk.II – N/A ($1899.99) – Advanced Prosumer APS. Great 2nd body for Pros.
  • APS Mirrorless – N/A ($1499.99) – Mid-Range Prosumer APS, mirrorless.

Professional: (APS)
Dual card, 18-34+mp, 6+ FPS, premium construction, serious hardware

  • 5D Mk.III – $3499.99 ($2799.99) – Primary APS Body, logical upgrade from 6D Mk.II
  • Large MP Studio N/A – ($3499.99) – Premier Studio APS Body.
  • 1D-X – $6799.99 ($5899.99) – Premier Field APS Body.
  • 1D-C – $11,999 ($9999.99) – 4K HDSLR

Now, Canon’s official line up is getting closer to this, but it doesn’t resolve the mistakes it keeps making and for making decisions like releasing another low-end, Entry Level, body into it’s already packed field. It’s pricing structure is still a disaster, especially between Prosumer and Professional, offering no less than a $1500 jump from 6D to 5D Mk.III (MSRP). That’s an entire new body, or a great glass investment. Coming from any other non-pro body the jump is even larger. The 6D is not a suitable bridge camera between Prosumer and Pro, so there is no logical upgrade path.

Even if you take price out of the equation and sub in the focus systems/points, that’s 9(1CT) vs 61(41CT), which makes even less sense than the cost disparity. Even allowing for abstract justification, it is in no way a logical upgrade path. Even the 7D (again, a 5 year old DSLR), has 19(19CT). There is no reason, at all, that the 6D could not have featured an updated version of the 7D’s AF system.

Allow me to reiterate. This is what Canon’s upgrade path looks like through the viewfinder.

Canon AF

It’s also worth noting here that the 5D Mk.III’s system is the exact same as the 1D-X, Canon’s $6400 flagship professional field DSLR. The new 2013 70D, the replacement for the 60D, has the same 19pt system as the 7D. Again, these are “lower tier” cameras borrowing a defining feature from “higher tier” DSLRs, yet the 6D couldn’t even manage the reverse. In fact, if you refer back to the Entry Level chart above, you’ll find nearly all of those cameras have focusing systems identical to or better than the 6D. What?

Custom Function
There are always going to be the people who buy the latest and greatest, no matter the cost. They will always have the newest tech and toys, even if just for the sake of having the newest tech and toys. At the same time, there are people who will produce absolutely stunning photographic work with just the tools they have available. They are the very embodiment of vision, talent, and skill being more important than the tools and toys.

For a large number of us though, we are a mix of the two. We’re advanced amateurs, prosumers, and semi-professionals, looking to both supplement and grow our vision and skills with intelligently designed and marketed equipment without having to spend an inordinate amount of time compensating for lack of features or destroying our budgets. Other camera manufacturers understand this and are creating incredible equipment to meet these needs. The Nikon D610 and the Sony A7 represent best in class in this field and exceptionally strong reasons to abandon Canon.

Ultimately, a complete camera system is more than just it’s sensor, or it’s focusing system, or low light performance, etc. It’s a combination of all the aspects and features available, and those have to be weighed against the needs of the photographer. After spending the last week with a 5D Mk.III I was convinced more than ever that I DO like Canon’s implementations of certain systems. The controls and menus seem natural to me. I love the colors their cameras produce. I love what I can do with those results in Lightroom. What I don’t love is that not only does the current line up make no sense, but that I have very little confidence going forward in a company that makes such bad decisions in the first place. This not only impacts my personal purchasing decisions, but also my recommendations to others who trust that I am a knowledgeable source for this kind of information.