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Sansmirror and dpreview weigh in on Canon mirrorless plans
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Sansmirror and dpreview weigh in on Canon mirrorless plans

Thom Hogan (sansmirror) wrote on an interesting article outlining what he feels are the dilemmas surrounding the move to mirrorless for both Canon and Nikon.

I found the article interesting, and intriguing but I have a little different of a view of at least Canon's choices, as they are more complex and also at the same time more simplistic than Nikon's decision.

I see allot of people assuming that Canon is simply going to use the EF-M mount and the decision has already been made.   I honestly don't feel it's that simple and like Thom feel that the decision deep in Canon and Nikon were quite long and debated over what to do.

Dpreview also came out with an article over the past little while breathlessly declaring the death of the DSLR is nigh.

I found their article a little short sighted because they made some glaring assumptions.  Just because Canon and Nikon may release a mirrorless full frame camera, does not spell the end to their DSLR EF and F mount camera systems, nor to future development of these camera systems. Odds are both companies will use mirrorless to augment their existing ecosystems and let the market choose a winner or loser.  Also there’s an assumption being made that both companies will change their mount systems, something that is completely at this time up in the air.

Canon, I feel, has three choices ahead of them with associated risks.

Use the existing EF-M Mount

This one in a way makes the most sense for Canon to do if they are going to move off the EF mount for mirrorless cameras in general. It's already there, it's as big as the Sony FE mount so we know it can support a full frame sensor, so from a logical standpoint there's alot of good here.  However, there's some bad with this. The throat diameter is much smaller than the EF mount, possibly complicating some of the larger lens designs.  You can see that with the Sony lenses, were they must squeeze down to the diameter of the mount.  The EF-M mount has very little in the way of lens support and possibly even a "bad rep" for that reason. Canon would be essentially still starting from scratch and building both the reputation and lenses under this mount.

It would still take a considerable amount of research, development and engineering to catch up to Sony's already in existence F/4 and F/2.8 zoom trio's and the primes that Sony and others have already released.

Adapters no matter how efficient get a bad rep and buy in.  They aren't a substitute for the mount.  You have another surface with inaccuracies, flex, and for waterproofing. 

Using the EF-M mount would take years for Canon to catch up to Sony, making it difficult for them to maintain their #1 marketshare and will create confusion over which lenses to buy in the future, EF or EF-M.

One other benefit, it would simplify Canon's mounts over time. From right now having three variants of mounts (EF-S, EF-M and EF) down to one mount for all cameras, this assuming of course, that mirrorless over time replaces DSLRs in Canon's development plans.

Make a new mount

Making a new mount and starting again from scratch sounds like an easy process.   It's not. No matter how good the adapter is, it's still an adapter.  There will be a huge negative backlash and distrust in what will become of the EF mount and any EF lenses that you have or may buy.

Canon would have to launch a serious marketing campaign to manage both the expectations and the delivery of this out to their massive user community.

Canon would lose a ton of marketshare, as Sony and possibly Nikon would shred their marketshare with competing systems with potentially far better lens selection for years until Canon could catch up.

Technically, this would allow Canon to do possibly sexy solutions, such as smart adapters that offload the heavy USM torque of the "big whites", perhaps adapters such as the Sony LP-EA3 with built in PDAF sensors and so forth, and design camera bodies and a full frame mirrorless mount that they can take into the future.  While they may possibly do these with the EF-M mount as well, a clean break, bigger throat of a full mount would allow them the most options.  Maybe even start to sell their big whites with "tuned" adapters for mirrorless, that drive the USM motors as well as the 1 series cameras do today.

The more adapter specialization the more Canon would reduce the disruption, but this would still require a strong marketing message that both the EF and the new EF mirrorless mount will coexist with strong support in both areas.

A point against this and the EF-M mount in general, is that we have seen little if nothing in the way of full frame lens patent applications dealing with a shorter registration distance.  If anything, Canon would have to re-introduce a significant amount of applications showing embodiments with a shorter registration distance than the EF mount is currently.

Use the EF mount for full frame mirrorless, EF-M to augment EF-S

This is really the easiest and the least painful way of implementing mirrorless.  Canon can still make small mirrorless cameras, they have successfully made small EF mount cameras since the film days.  The mount can support it.  There's no technical reason unlike the older F mount to why Canon could not use the EF mount.

People could use their existing lenses, and life would be simple.  There is some bad to this.  It wouldn’t allow for as much third-party adaptation as what we are seeing with the short registration distance FE mount and prevent them from taking advantage of the short registration distance with new lens designs.  However, conversely, we have seen no evidence that Canon is even working on short registration distance lenses.

This would also present the biggest danger to Sony and Nikon. Canon would be able to use the existing EF mount, which is very suited to mirrorless and not miss a step in the transition to mirrorless from DSLRs.

Conclusions

Both Nikon and Canon have a lot of decisions to be made, and ones that are even more complex than what is being laid out here.

Canon’s decisions are perhaps even more difficult than Nikons because Canon does have the marketshare and momentum and they already have a compatible mount in the EF mount to use for mirrorless.  Moving away from the EF mount is fraught with risk, and while there are some technology benefits to moving to a new, shorter registration mount. Is that enough of a reason to tell over 50 to 100 million EF mount users, you now have to most likely use an adapter going forward for your existing lenses? Canon has a massive and sophisticated marketing engine, they will certainly be needing to employ it all regardless of their decision.

 

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