Has The Sleeping Giant Awoken?

The Canon camera and lens lineup is now looking formidable.

The recent Canon launch saw the release of two new cameras, the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6. We all already knew the specs, and they are huge.

The R5 has all the headlines, 8K internal recording, and 4K 120p. But the R6 shares so much of its DNA, such as 8-stop in-body image stabilization and a blazing autofocus system.

Canon is back. The sleeping giant has awoken.

Canon has always been a name synonymous with photography. Ask a non-photographer to name a camera brand, and they will probably say Canon. Even if they don’t, they will possibly refer to photographers at sporting events with the big, white lenses.

Canon changed the game with the 5D Mark II. But since then, releases have been less groundbreaking and have offered more incremental upgrades. Canon felt like a giant who was happy plodding along because nobody was really challenging it.

Even now, Canon still has a monopoly on camera sales. However, in 2019, Canon’s sale value fell by 11%, whereas Sony saw a 14.5% increase in sale value in the same period. Sony’s sales success came in the form of their high-end mirrorless cameras. 

Along came mirrorless

Canon (like Nikon) seemed to almost bury their head in the sand as mirrorless cameras came to overtake the DSLR.

Canon’s release of the EOS R and RP seemed to be a reactive move. A way to get something out so they had a mirrorless camera, rather than a way to remind the industry who’s the boss. This complacency allowed Sony to not only gain a foothold but, in the eyes of many, to become the dominant player. 

It was Sony who released the new, exciting products. Sony’s sensors were the cream of the crop. Meanwhile, Canon felt like the old-school company that was sure mirrorless was just a fad. When reality (and the figures) hit them, they were ill-equipped to react. The EOS R felt like a product that was thrown together, rather than a genuine contender to Sony’s mirrorless crown.

It’s not that Canon EOS R is a terrible camera; it isn’t. But the lack of a second card slot (yes, we can argue about the importance of this in the comments), combined with an autofocus system that was nowhere near as competent as Sony’s, meant that many people started to be lured away. Sony pushed the boundaries of technology and became the company the others all had to chase. And it wasn’t just Canon; Nikon’s trajectory felt incredibly similar.

With the research and development of a new camera taking years, Canon’s only plausible response was to begin to put out lenses, which is exactly what they did. This glass was amazing. Canon now had some of the best glass out there for mirrorless, but they simply didn’t have a body that many pros could see themselves using, or one that was as good as what the competition was offering. People began to move away to other systems.

But then the rumblings started. 

The Canon R6 is also going to be a very popular camera with pros and amateurs alike.
The R6 does not feature the top-line specs of its bigger brother. But, to quote Han Solo, “She’s got it where it counts, kid.”

They’re coming

Rumors started about Canon working on a new mirrorless. A true 5D replacement.

Then spec leaks began, and it seemed there would be a lot more than simply dual card slots.

8K? No way!

4K 120? Not going to happen (or at least not to a usable standard).

IBIS? 45 Megapixels? There had to be a catch.

It felt like the photo community had become used to Canon doing something to ruin things (Motion JPEG codec, anyone?). These comments showed how far Canon’s reputation had dropped. 

Even so, people were excited. Many were hopeful. Could it be happening? Would Canon realize the errors of its recent past and actually release a groundbreaking camera?

As it turns out: Yes, they did. But why release one amazing new camera when you can release two?

The Canon R5 being used for film making
8K, yeah, right! Oh, wait, the rumors were true.

The champ is here

When the R5 and R6 were announced, we saw Canon launch themselves back toward being king of the industry. The spec rumors were all true, and despite a launch that felt cringe-worthy at times (it can’t just be me), Canon was taking mirrorless seriously.

This launch felt, to many, like the 5D Mark II did all those years ago. 

Now, this praise is based on reading pre-production reviews, and obviously those who were given these models to test are not going to bite the hand that feeds them.

But the R5 and R6 look good. Actually, scratch that; they look amazing. 

Amazing IBIS stabilization, those Canon colors, and amazingly fast autofocus that includes impressive face and eye detection.

8K video. (Okay, for most there is absolutely no need for 8K, but like in the megapixel wars, video resolution looks to be going towards the bigger is better mantra). Not only 8K, but internal 8K.

This is before you get to the R6. A camera that appears to share a sensor with the flagship 1DX Mark III and shares IBIS and AF systems with its more expensive bigger brother. 20MP may not wow in the megapixel race, but the potential for low light performance is huge. You only need to look at the revised DxO scores for the 20MP 1DX Mark III for proof of this.

If you were to ask for the perfect camera in 2020, at least some of the specs are featured on this one. For many (me included), it felt like an exciting camera, a game-changing camera, and one that will surely bring anyone who was thinking of switching brands back to the Canon fold. 

July saw Canon launch 2 mirrorless cameras to match their pro glass.
The professional glass has been here a while. Now the cameras match up to it.

What took you so long?

It didn’t take long for the negativity to start, though.

Canon EOS R5 overheating issues, based on leaked documents and pre-production models, are popping up everywhere. When Peter McKinnon spoke about overheating in his YouTube video, it saw social media explode. The R5 instantly became unusable for video professionals, another example of Canon getting it wrong, etc. That’s before I even mention the 20MP sensor on the R6.

You can understand some of these concerns, but they are not new and really should not be unexpected. 8K means putting a huge amount of information through a tiny camera (with no fans) constantly. To record 53 minutes of 8K raw footage, you will go through one terabyte of storage. That being possible on a camera the size of the R5 is mind-blowing. Yet some people seem to be complaining that you can’t do unlimited recording on it. The fact you can do it at all is a feat of amazing technical expertise.

Canon hate is now strong in some parts. Canon now must appeal to those who moved away to (mainly) Sony. Switching to a different camera system is something that people really don’t do lightly. Those who moved to Sony from Canon are now facing the reality that Canon just gave them what they wanted, but it is too little too late.

It goes deeper than that, though. Those who moved away from Canon, the team they once loved, will always tend to be harsher critics. Not simply because of their newfound loyalty, but also the fact that they had their hearts broken.

That is not in any way to say Sony hasn’t released some amazing cameras. They have, but people will always struggle to cheer for a brand they just left. There are also a lot of big YouTube influencers on Sony’s payroll, which will definitely result in a certain narrative from a portion of the photo community. 

The Canon lunch featured the R5, R6 & several lenses

Let’s look at the R5 specs

If you were looking for a high-end camera and it did the following, what more would you want?

  • 45 Megapixels
  • 8K RAW
  • 4K/120 fps
  • Autofocus in all video modes
  • Beautiful high-resolution viewfinder
  • Animal, eye, and face detection autofocus that is as good as, if not better than, any current camera
  • Up to 8 stops of image stabilization
  • 12 fps shooting with the mechanical shutter (20 fps with the electronic shutter)
  • 5 GHz WiFi
  • Gigabit Ethernet (via the optional grip)
  • New sensor with the ability to resolve greater detail than the previous 50-megapixel camera

These are the specs of a camera that is looking to take down all competition in 2020.

You may feel the price tag seems high, but this is a flagship mirrorless camera that has everything most professionals will want in a camera for the next five-plus years. 

The EOS R5 with its optional grip, part of the Canon launch
When fitted with the optional grip, the R5 gets Gigabit Ethernet.

The bigger picture

With this release, Canon now has a formidable line-up of cameras (not to mention lenses) at the top of their range.

Canon 1D X Mark III

An amazing DSLR for sports and news professionals. Yes, it’s 20 megapixels, but for many professionals, that is a perfect number. A true professional workhorse.

Canon EOS R5

An amazing mirrorless option for portrait and wedding photographers. Add in the crazy video specs and you will have the ultimate hybrid camera which will find its way into huge numbers of camera bags. 

Canon EOS R6

A low-light powerhouse and another amazing all-rounder. For those who aren’t consistently printing at huge sizes, the lower megapixel count will free up hard drive space and allow older computers to hang on for longer. You also get 4K video that is perfect for the majority of people, so there really is a lot to love here. 

Canon’s current lineup easily rivals Sony’s offerings, and really has put Canon back in the position of pushing camera technology to the limit.

But there’s still a lingering question.

A Canon mirrorless setup with the R6 camera
Although the megapixel count is lower than some, do not underestimate the R6.

Is there an Achilles’ heel?

Will these cameras live up to the hype?

We will only know for sure when production models make their way into the hands of reviewers and the public. On paper, the cameras look outstanding, but only time will tell. I personally can’t see Canon dropping the ball here.

The more obvious issue so far is also one of the most important: battery life. The giant may be back, but it seems to have spent a lot of energy getting here. The R5 is limited to only 320 shots, much fewer than the 530 shots that the Sony A7R IV can manage.

You can lower the screen refresh rates and get up to 490 shots per charge, but Canon has gone for backward compatibility with the 5D Mark IV and EOS R over pure battery power.

The ability to use older batteries (with fewer shots per charge) will ease the transition of those using the 5D Mark IV, which is a huge target for Canon with this camera. However, battery life is essential for many, and not matching Sony’s battery capabilities is a small misstep.

So is Canon back on top?

The question is:

Are these new cameras enough to win people back to Canon?

And honestly, I don’t think they are. The new cameras are amazing, and don’t doubt that Canon, the sleeping giant of the last few years, has awoken. It seems hungry to flex its muscle and eager to destroy those young upstarts that have been stealing its thunder. 

However, time has passed, people have moved on, and while this is an amazing pair of releases that will keep Canon shooters happy, many have already left.

Tired of waiting for the Canon launch that would finally bring them hope, people left for different shores.

And as wonderful as these releases are, I can’t see many turning around and sailing back.

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