Will Canon Still be the Leader After The Next Camera Announcement?

by Hugh Brownstone9 Comments

Federer and Nadal; Gates and Jobs; Lauda and Hunt; Edison and Tesla – I’m sure you can name many other world-class champions who were made even better by their worthiest opponents (please feel free to nominate yours in the comments section below!).

But you’d probably find little disagreement that in the world of HDSLR’s – and the 35mm still photography industry upon which they are based — the two heavyweights who have made each other better are Canon and Nikon.

Nikon vs Canon

Back in the old days of silver halide, the Nikon F was the class leader until Canon upped the game with its EOS cameras and EF lenses — and then rewrote the rules of the game entirely with the video recording quality of its full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

It took Nikon a long time to offer a truly worthy response, but there’s little doubt that Nikon’s sensors of late have raised the bar altogether, leaving Canon – at least on this front – in catch-up mode.

There’s a lesson or two in there about the attacker’s advantage. With no sacred cows (as, for example, Nikon's F mount or Canon's CMOS sensor), rising competitors have the room and motivation to reconceptualize and reinvent.

Canon hasn’t yet come up with a compelling response to Nikon’s sensor, but they haven’t been asleep at the switch either, introducing their Cinema EOS line, the dual pixel auto focus 70D, the diminutive but highly capable Rebel SL1, and two staggeringly good ultrawide zooms, the EF-S 10-18 and the EF 16-35/4.0.

As filmmakers, we are all richer for this clash of the titans and should offer our thanks to both.

And yet the giants ignore the other players in the field at their peril – most especially Panasonic with their GH4 and Sony with their A7s.

Panasonic and Sony are motivated to innovate through function and price. That’s how they break into the very top rank.

But Canon and Nikon (thus far) are motivated to preserve: preserve their market share; preserve their margins; preserve their manufacturing advantages by using common technology, parts and form factors amortized over a larger number of shipped units (hence continuing to shy away from mirrorless); and preserve their brand cache both by demonstrating time and again how their products are being used by top professionals – and by refusing to give any air time to upstarts (a bit ironic to use that term for Panasonic and Sony, but in the HDSLR world, there you have it).

If the GH1, 2 and 3 were warm-ups (as one might also think of Sony’s earlier Alpha series HDSLR’s), there can be little doubt that the GH4 and the A7s are main events: truly worthy competitors that not only dare the competitors to respond, but demand it.

Camera brand logos

So the question becomes: will Canon still be the undisputed HDSLR leader after its next model is released? Will the 7D Mk II, already reportedly delayed – or perhaps an SL1 Mk II or some as-yet-unannounced new model — show Panasonic and Sony just who’s boss? Or will it be greeted not only with a yawn — but serious defections to Panasonic and

If it’s the latter, then Canon will have proven as so many one-time leaders have (Fisher Scientific, anyone?) that trying to hold on to the market by any means other than superior product and value is doomed.

As a long-time Canon fanboy with not-inconsequential sums invested in lenses and other peripherals, I hope Canon’s next model responds forcefully and brilliantly to the challenge.

As a filmmaker, I applaud and encourage Panasonic and Sony. I believe their latest offerings are truly game changers, and I am looking seriously at making a switch.

But there is one other observation — obvious as it is — worth repeating: it’s never just about a camera body. As the fairly controversial video by Tony Northrup and more recent post by dpreview.com both suggest, the weakness in the crop-sensor HDSLR world is the meager maximum aperture in their lens offerings (Cosina’s Nokton and Leica’s Nocticron are notable exceptions). Canon, Nikon and Sony have a real advantage here, and Panasonic ignores THAT at its own peril.

Then again, it’s never just about the equipment, either. But you already knew that.

Let the game continue!

(cover photo credit: snap from brand manufacturers' logos)


  1. Hear hear. I am making the switch to the A7 from a 6D and BMPCC. The features just seemed to align better with my needs and requirements. I wish Canon would innovate and delight more but it’s time for me to move on until that happens.

  2. For the gh4, it seems that using a speedometer is mandatory to get the speed you want…. It’s even more flexible than using the nokton lenses…

  3. MikeySchreurs would love to learn more about your decision process and your experience making the switch, Mikey.

  4. Hugh, I’d be glad to share. First off I wrote a breakup letter to Canon over on my site RocketPencil.com. You might enjoy it.
    Here’s the things, I was never interested in the A7 until I walked by a display I’m a big box store while looking for something generic. I noticed it was on sale and picked it up. It felt really good.
    I played with some of the features and made me think about what I’ve been missing or needing. Features like Focus Peaking hasn’t really existed on Canon unless you go the Magic Lantern route but that hasn’t progressed much in terms of my Canon 6D.
    I’ve wanted more control over my grading so I looked up and bought a pocket cinema camera from Blackmagic Design for my corporate work and for my short films. I love the image of the BMPCC except the files are huge and sometimes I don’t want to fuss with the amount of control it gives.
    I need a camera that has the option for 422 but give me more compressed for space, a camera with easy access to audio levels built in and a headphone jack to monitor. The A7 has all of those features and you can even get a XLR adapter to have more professional connections from lav kits etc.
    Being a one man band it’s tough to run audio through a zoom, monitor image, light the scene and direct. Having those conndctions built in help take one thing and make it easier for me. Run and gun most certainly a benefit add. Then post comes easier with synced clips on board.
    Focus peaking is great in daylight through the EVF to help you see what is in focus, think weddings. You can change the color to contrast your scene and in all help you images be more in focus.
    It’s these features combined into a camera that made me jump from Canon and BlackMagic to Sony. And all of this in a dslr smaller than flagship DSLRs at a great price is a win for me.

  5. MikeySchreurs Out of curiosity, why not the GH4?  Seems it also meets your requirements…

  6. Except the GH4 is a micro four thirds AND has a 2X crop factor. It’s not the end of the world to have a crop factor but kinda tired of having one, like the 3x on the BMPCC.
    The GH4 is $1699 body only and I got the A7 with the kit lens for $1799 which should hold me over until I decide what to do on the lens front. The GH4 has stupid idiotic rolling shutter when infested it at Pictureline.com‘s brick and mortar store.
    The A7 is full frame so I can use the full coverage of the lens. 4K was tempting but it’s rolling shutter pissed me off bad. I was excited for the GH4 though but as for the A7 I haven’t noticed crazy rling shutter besides what I’m used to.

  7. MikeySchreurs And again, a decision process that will resonate with more and more people.  Thanks, Mikey.

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