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Nikon and Canon: Catatonic?

Get Sony Alpha A7 mirrorless Digital camera and Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

How to make a small fortune? Start with a large one.

How to lose a dominant camera franchise? Offer nothing truly innovative for 5 years while ignoring the mirrorless trend.

Yes, the Nikon D810 is terrific as a DSLR, the current pinnacle, but it offers little real innovation. It can’t even support a proper EVF and why do I want the optical viewfinder at all most of the time? Many shooting situations are far better served with an EVF.

And 50MP from Canon with apparently the same lame 5 year-old dynamic range would be a total yawner if the Canon 5D Mark III weren’t half that resolution.

The point is, both the Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS are incremental advances with minimal non-obvious thinking. Kick the can down the road. Well, it ain’t coming back CaNikon, so sober up and take action.

Why can’t Nikon and Canon just for starters make a mirrorless like the Sony A7 series that takes the current DSLR lenses for 100% compatibility. It would be thicker than an A7 due to backfocal distance, but so what if it takes all the current lenses? Lose the optical viewfinder, add a high grade EVF and 4-inch Retina-grade rear LCD and throw it against the wall. It would probably stick pretty well as a transition product, and more importantly, reset market thinking that CaNikon are paralyzed. Why take a loss doing nothing meaningful when at least a market failure is a lose-and-learn?

Heck, I’d love a D810 sensor in a Sony A7 style mirrorless just to shoot Zeiss ZF.2 lenses; the EVF makes manual focus so much more pleasant than the rear LCD or trying to focus through a crude optical viewfinder that is optimized for AF.

Roy P writes:

Interesting that your column “Nikon and Canon: Catatonic?” should appear exactly at the same time I have been mulling over this very issue. After having just bought a Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, I returned it because Canon announced its new 100-400mm lens. I was getting ready to buy that and pre-order the new 5DS R, but it kept bothering me that both Nikon and Canon have been stodgy companies that have shown very little innovation over the past 5+ years.

The most visible “innovations” from Canon and Nikon have been sensor resolution. After years of languishing at 12 MP, Nikon finally came out with a 36MP camera in the D800/D800E, but it was a Sony sensor. And now, after languishing for three years, Canon is responding with a 50MP sensor.

Great. Leave aside the resolution for a moment. What are the 2-3 big other innovations from either Nikon or Canon?

I have no idea. I would have to think hard to come up with some answers like “Well, maybe better noise at higher ISO”, or “maybe a little better AF accuracy”, or “a little more resolution in the rear LCD”, or “better live view support”.

On the other hand, I can rattle off a bunch of innovations from Sony, without even thinking – mirrorless cameras, ability to intelligently use manual focus lenses, ability to use as universal bodies for a wide range of lenses of any make (except for the acute ray angle issues with M-mount lenses), super high resolution sensors, electronic view finders, sensor stabilization, focus peaking, zebras, far superior live view that lets me zoom into any corner of the frame down to the pixel level, the best 1920 and now, 4K video capabilities in 35mm cameras designed for still photography, compact designs, swivel LCD back that lets me shoot from waist level / knee level / camera held above my head, dual mode (contrast, phase detection) autofocus, compact designs, light weight, WiFi, NFC, GPS, lower prices, … to list a few, not in any particular order

I was getting ready to buy the new Canon 100-400mm lens, along with a Canon 5DS R body. But I worry that except for the 50MP sensor, there’s nothing new in the camera. Its AF speed is only so-so – it has a burst speed of only up to 5 fps.

It is inexcusable that this latest and greatest $3900 Canon DSLR can offer nothing better than 1080 video. Which means if I were shooting still images of wild life on a safari with a 400mm Canon lens and the Canon 5DS R, but then wanted to also shoot a video clip in 4K or at least, 1920, I would need have brought along an entirely different camera, with a different 400mm lens? How ridiculous is that?

Over the past 4-5 years, I got rid of my Leica M9 and M240, and switched to the Sony NEX initially, and then the A7x. Over that time, I also transitioned all my Nikon F-mount manual focus lenses over to my Sony A7x bodies. I can’t remember the last time I used either of my Zeiss Otus or any of my other Zeiss ZF.2 lenses on a Nikon body.

These days, about the ONLY use I have for my Nikon D810 is when I need fast, accurate autofocus and high frame rate. But Sony is quickly catching up in that, too. The Sony A6000 and A77-II both have very fast AF with subject tracking that are already pretty darned good, and I think it’s only a matter of time (perhaps even this year) that Sony will have FF cameras that can give the Canon 1DX and Nikon 4DS a run for their money in action photography.

I’m saying goodbye to Nikon / Canon, and switching over to Sony entirely. Yes, Nikon / Canon have a few lenses that are really outstanding. But Sony isn’t exactly chopped liver. Sony has a pretty decent portfolio of its own lenses, plus a lot of very nice Zeiss lenses. In addition, I think third parties like Sigma and Tamron are increasingly supporting Sony.

For anyone who plans to build a system, I think Sony provides a fundamentally superior platform and technology roadmap. This is not just a matter of a few products or features at a given point in time – this is something that runs much deeper. As a company, Sony is far more aggressive, innovative, willing to experiment, ready to take a risk, and willing to invest. I can’t imagine Nikon / Canon having had the intestinal fortitude to come out with a camera like the A7. Nikon and Canon are culturally not there. That will be the hardest thing for them to overcome, and I don’t think they will.

By playing its cards right and staying aggressive, Sony could run away with it. I’ve had enough of Nikon / Canon. I’m already waist deep in Sony anyway, and I’m transitioning over to Sony 100% (except for my Leica S).

DIGLLOYD: These are existentially concerning sentiments (and actions) for Canon and Nikon.

And this is from the high end. With the low end (iPhone 6) undermining the ice sheet with warm water from below, the Sony onslaught from the land of the rising sun beats down from above. Paralysis will give way to panic will give way to collapse unless Canon and Nikon show some leadership.

I like the Nikon D810 a lot, and it serves a very fine place. But boy is it fun and easy under many circumstances to shoot an Olympus E-M5 Mark II or a Sony A7 II or Sony RX1R. Nikon and Canon have zero to offer in that category of experience.

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