Olli Thomson
Photography

The Toyota of Cameras

The newly announced EOS R appears to be Canon’s consumer level ‘full frame’ mirrorless camera based on the specifications, competing with the Sony A7III and the newly released Nikon Z6 (though the EOS R is priced at $2,400 compared to $2000 for the others. Perhaps Canon has plans for an even more basic model in the future that will be priced closer to the Sony and the Nikon or possibly undercut them.)

I think we are supposed to be astonished at how cheap these cameras are compared to traditional ‘full frame’ SLRs but consumer level ‘full frame’ DSLRs and the A7 series have been hovering around this $2000 price point for quite a few years now and with digital medium format cameras now available for around $6000, ‘full frame’ cameras are being squeezed from above with high end models needing to be competitive against medium format.

Looking at the lens line up Canon announced at the same time as the camera it seems that they see this more than the camera as the main revenue generator. The first batch of lenses announced by Nikon at the launch of their Z series were quite predictable: 35 f1.8, 50 f1.8 and 24-70 f4 and none the worse for that. This is a line up that makes sense – they appear to be high quality lenses at (relatively) affordable prices and (relatively) compact in size in commonly used focal lengths. Nikon’s Z series lens roadmap also makes clear that over the next two years Nikon will fill out the lineup with a full set of f2.8 zooms and a solid range of f1.8 primes. Only the Noct Nikkor, a manual focus 58 f0.95 lens, looks like a gimmick in this line up.

In contrast, Canon’s announced initial lens lineup looks like it was created by the marketing department. A 28-70 f2 zoom – sacrificing a crucial 4mm for the sake of one extra stop, and creating a lens which is very big, very heavy and very, very expensive at $3000. A 50 f1.2 prime – again, very big, very heavy and very expensive ($2,400). A 50 f1.2 has its place (and Nikon plan to introduce one by 2020) but to make it the only 50mm lens available at the launch of a new system seems strange. If you don’t want to spend that much money or carry that much weight you are left with a 24-105 f4, which is a little more affordable at $1100 (though, strangely, if you buy it with the camera as the ‘kit lens’ it’s still $1100), and a 35 f1.8. I have not seen a lens roadmap for the EOS R series so it’s impossible to know what will be coming in the years ahead and whether there will be a decent range of affordable and compact lenses for this system.

I find it hard to know who will buy this camera. Surely if you are the kind of person prepared to pay $2000-3000 for your lenses you would prefer to wait until a higher end model appears? Alternatively, if you are shopping at the consumer end of the market and are more price sensitive why would you buy a camera without a decent set of more consumer friendly lenses, particularly when there is no information on whether or when these kind of lenses might turn up?

On the other hand, Canon is the Toyota of cameras. Canon doesn’t have to be better than everyone else; Canon just has to be good enough. Marketing, brand recognition and a huge existing user base will do the rest. I’m sure it will be a perfectly fine camera, just like every other camera these days, but it’s at times like these I’m glad I got off the ‘latest camera rumour/launch’ frenzy when I started getting back into film photography.

It’s not that I’m against digital; I still have and regularly use digital cameras and there are Fuji X series cameras in my future. Nor am I against gear acquisition. It’s exciting to get new gear and I’m excited by the prospect of my new-to-me Minolta 35-70 f3.5 MD arriving in the next few days. But film photography is a great way to reorientate your thinking about cameras and photography, focusing on the essentials rather than the spec sheets and the latest innovations, and I have found that this way of thinking has ultimately reshaped my approach to digital photography as well.

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