When and How Will Canon and Nikon Get Into Full-Frame Mirrorless?

This is of course all speculation. The Sony A7s do take off and at one point Canon and Nikon will have to throw their hats in the game. Newcomers, gear nerds, enthusiasts and professional photographers, they’re all showing genuine interest for full-frame mirrorless. But neither Canon nor Nikon Rumors has said anything so far about an upcoming full-frame mirrorless camera system.

They have the (probably soon to be updated) Canon EOS M and Nikon 1 systems, both with their own pros and cons — portable, light and fast, but not equipped with a sensor of the size that’s possible today, as Sony proves.

Canon mirrorless concept camera | David Riesenberg
Canon mirrorless concept camera | David Riesenberg
Canon and Nikon seem to be borderline contemptuous when it comes to serious mirrorless. They will have to take this new market seriously, you can hold on to your DSLR pride only for so long. The question is not if they gonna follow suit, the question is when and how.

Right, they’re huge companies and risk-averse. Or do we see another Kodak? Film was Kodak’s bread and butter, DSLRs are Canon and Nikon’s. No signs of panic yet, but both companies recently revised their earning calls downward, and that might just be a new beginning.

As of now, Canon and Nikon’s DSLR sales still account for over 70% of the global interchangeable lens camera market. Once mirrorless seems like it’s a strong financial move (the optical division of Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic and Samsung are all losing money), they might then commit and conquer that market.

Their rationale? For the moment, the only thing mirrorless has going for it is size. DSLRs just work. They are rugged and reliable, ergonomics are proven and autofocus and tracking leave mirrorless out in the rain.

Let’s cannibalize profitable DSLRs first by venturing into new emerging markets, and once that cash cow’s dead, well then you still have millions of photographers bound by their legacy lenses with native mounts.

If Canon and Nikon see the time is ripe to convince their established markets to not jump ship, but to buy into a new, serious, mirrorless system, well then we gonna see Canon and Nikon mirrorless, allowing them to kill two birds with one stone: keep their own flock happy while forcing them to upgrade.

Sony, Olympus, Fujifilm & Co. doing all the innovation won’t be gone by then. But their trials and errors make it a whole lot easier for CaNikon to come up with what the market will want.

It’s a business point of view that makes a whole lot of sense. I think we’ll see them take first baby steps within a year, and once the element of “differentiation within the market” is gone with Canon and Nikon eating the smaller innovators’ lunch, then we’re off to a new innovation cycle and these smaller players push ahead.

Since electronics become more and more important than optics, especially Sony is naturally in a good position.

(with Reddit excerpts)

  • One More Thought

    Interesting subject. It would seem to be the natural evolution of cameras to migrate to mirrorless; many have speculated this would happen for the last few years.

    Yet as you point out there really isn’t any compelling sales or financial data to show that mirrorless is really taking off in a big way.

    Money talks, as you also point out, and if/when any of the major mirrorless brands start making significant profits then Canon and Nikon will pay attention.

    I think one problem mirrorless brands face is their presence in the major brick and mortar stores, at least in the US. I can go into any Best Buy, Costco, Target, Walmart, etc…and find decent Canon/Nikon dslrs. If I ask a sales associate for a more serious camera, they will recommend a Canon/Nikon.

    However, I can’t find the Fuji’s, most of the time I can’t find micro 4/3, and when I do, it is the lower end stuff only; I can find more of the Sony’s, but again, the lower end stuff, and the sales staff generally is not trained on mirrorless. Sony does have a smattering of their own retail stores, which helps but is not enough to make much of a dent in the market.

    So if the average consumer decides they want to take their photography beyond smartphones and point and shoots, they by default will be guided into Canon/Nikon.

    So in the US at least, there is this huge inertia in the market which leaves Canon/Nikon firmly entrenched.

    Now granted, part of this is because Canon/Nikon do have a huge and respected history in photography, and still make very high quality products. But it’s going to take something huge to disrupt the market, almost on the order of a company like Apple waging a campaign. Of course, Apple has already entered the camera market with its iPhone, and in doing so really triggered the smartphone revolution that is wiping out point and shoots.

    So I really wonder if Fuji, Olympus, Sony, et al, have it within them to do what it takes to disrupt the market. Sure they can put out some very interesting cameras, but without the marketing heft and retail presence, they will remain a niche.

    Interesting times ahead…

  • Well said, stock management, distribution and availability as means to steer and influence the market…

  • flambeauriver

    Kind of like how IBM sat back and waited to see how the personal computer market was going to develop before pouncing? Apple and others could do all the trial and error, and then IBM would unleash their giant and capture that market? How’d that work out …

  • Jack Siegel

    “autofocus and tracking leave mirrorless out in the rain”

    Based on what I have read, I am not sure that this statement is true. Lots of professionals are very impressed with how some of these cameras handle autofocus. I’ll find out soon enough. I am making my first foray into the world of mirrorless, with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 arriving on Wednesday.

    I do agree that the world is changing quickly. I know too many serious photographers who are simply tired of lugging big lenses and cameras around when they travel and I have seen some nice concert photography shot with some of these cameras.

    Read more: http://www.the.me/when-and-how-will-canon-and-nikon-get-into-full-frame-mirrorless/#ixzz2lh6kI2om

  • Bengt Nyman

    You got it Dan !
    I would just like to add a couple of details:
    Nikon and Canon are not as blind or indifferent as our impatience might lead us to believe:
    It is likely that Nikon and Sony have far reaching agreements about who does what. In essence Sony’s prototyping and test marketing serves them both.
    Canon, however, make their own image sensors. There have long been rumors about a 40 MP Canon image sensor. I believe this is part of Canons new, patented Dual Pixel technology where two pixels are paired under the same Bayer filter but with a slight optical difference allowing Canon to do instant PDAF anywhere on the image sensor.
    The color resolution of such an image sensor would correspond to a 20 MP sensor while the detail resolution might approach that of 40 MP.

  • Agree Jack, was referring more casually to the top of the line DSLRs. Add brand loyalty and being stuck in proprietary gear.

    The E-M1 won’t let you down neither in the autofocus department nor in the many details it excels in, such as the amazing 5-axis stabilization, especially helpful for video. But then again, you don’t buy the OM-D for tracking.

    I’d look forward to your initial impressions.

  • Brad Martin

    Well considering that IBM / Microsoft style computers have around 94% of the computer market to Apple’s 5% I’d say it worked out pretty well.

  • Brad Martin

    Nikon and Canon are in a really tough position. They’ve controlled the market for so long, and have made tremendous margins on their cameras that’s its become almost impossible to innovate lest they kill the goose that lays the golden egg. So they’re stuck with minor revisions to their core product line while everyone else around them is free to innovate like crazy because they don’t have much to lose. Sony’s A7(R) series may be impetus that gets the slow giants moving again. But engineering doesn’t happen over night, Nikon says they’ve been working four years on the Df, so I wouldn’t expect much out the Canon or Nikon for awhile yet.

    If Sony can get good quality FE-mount glass out (something that they’ve had problems with in the Nex line), and can iterate quickly with the A7 series, fixing some of the issues like AF speed and other small things, then they have a really good chance to yank a chunk of the market from Nikon and Canon.

  • amalric

    The basic misunderstanding here (quiproquo) is that C&N are going to follow the steps of Sony in mirrorless, the assumption being that pro photography will keep developing in 35mm.

    That is an imaginary assumption based on quantitative progress alone, bigger sensor will always be better, more resolution, more bokeh. I call it the Western Illusion, and is akin to that people had in Germany in the middle of last century when formats where shifting from 6×6 and 6×7 to 35mm, not to mention view cameras. Even Germans thought THEN that bigger formats would always be better. Americans are now going the same way.

    Sales figures in Asia don’t warrant the predominance of 35mm, smart phones are making its Mpx number a laugh. Do any editorial office still specify that assignments must be shot with a 35mm reflex or mirrorless? LOL.

    There is some subtler game at play with the original mirrorless: m4/3. It shows that it can perfectly face the bigger format, with none of its hurdles /bad edges, slow focus, big and expensive lenses, lack of IBIS, slow fps):


    35mm and short distance to flange will probably go nowhere unless you believe in the ‘science of imaginary solutions’ or you are a reactionary. Many photogs. are, but it never led them anywhere :)

  • One More Thought

    Right on! There is this mythology circulating on the net that poor Nikon and Canon are just doing nothing, marching to their inevitable demise like lemmings to the sea. Of course there is no data to back this up.

    Instead, with every year, the offerings from Canon/Nikon just get better and better. And in spite of their flaws, they still offer by far the most complete selection of imaging products, and with high quality.

    I also agree that this Canon dual pixel technology is not to be discounted lightly. It works great and will only get better and eventually appear on all of their models. Yet on the internet chatter it just doesn’t register, because it’s not more megapixels and it was not introduced in a FF body yet.

    If I were Sony I might worry that Canon will eventually eat away at my consumer handycam sales, because with dual pixel AF for the first time the average user can use their dslr as an AF video cam in a realistic way.

  • Robert Mark

    One reason you don’t see comments from Rebel users switching to mirrorless is because the cheap kit lens is a pretty lightweight tool. Dragging around a Rebel and 18-55 lens is really not much of a hassle. What do you mean DSLRs are heavy?

    What doesn’t get measured however, are the DSLR components that _don’t_ get bought because of size/weight/cost. There’s the shortsightedness of the Canikon duopoly.

    Most Rebel and D3xxx users won’t consider spending $2000 for a lens that weighs twice as much as their camera — so they don’t. Many might give a $400 fast prime lens that fits in a pocket a try, but they can’t buy such an optic from Canikon — so they don’t. Meanwhile Canikon reasons that there is no market for such a product.

  • Robert Mark

    Lately, I’m shooting portraits with a Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens. The depth of field is TOO shallow at f1.8 to get an entire face in focus. The so-called “full frame” depth of field mantra is an overstated and overpriced non sequitir.

  • Andy Umbo

    As I’ve stated possible on here before, non-sports photography professionals (which is basically 95% of the market), are investigating mirror-less for many reasons:

    1. Multi-format (and I can’t emphasize this enough), the ability to shoot in a 4X5 or 1X1 format, vs. the mostly professionally unusable 35mm format, is a boon to people who’ve spent their career’s shooting on view cameras and 120 cameras. 35mm has comprised a miniscule part of the professional photography business, up until DSLR’s became the way to shoot digital even for studio product people, and we hate the frame size.

    2. Set the focus anywhere. The ability to set focus with a touch at the far corners of the frame is a boon. No DSLR I’ve ever owned has focus points as far out as I want to focus in some cases, and none of them have had “focus-able” ground glass/fresnel screens.

    3. Auto-face recognition and focus. For a guy like me that generally shoots annual report when they’re shooting people, and generally shoots one person in the photo; setting the camera to face recognition and focus is a “no-brainer”, I can do whole jobs with this setting alone. I’ve done similar jobs with Nikon DSLR’s, and even when I set an edge point to be on a face when I hold the camera vertical, it’s refused to focus because the focus point wasn’t a “cross type”, and it couldn’t read what I was putting it on. Face recognition and focus, with one touch setting on the rear screen, fast and easy!

    4. At least with M4/3rd’s, tons of decent primes. I’m not a zoom shooter, and I’ve shot Nikon DSLR’s since the beginning and they’ve never come out with “right-sized” “G” series f/2.8 primes for APS-C cameras (or even their full frames)…silly…

    These are just a few of the reasons a lot of pro’s have either changed, or are testing mirror-less systems.

  • Robert Mark

    Worked out well for whom? Apple collects virtually all of the industry profit in the premium computer category. In the less than premium category, there is no profit.

  • One More Thought

    Yes…Apple, with about 5% of the pc market, collects about 45% of the profits.

    The bottom line is the bottom line, and Apple is winning in that category vs all other manufacturers.

  • Robert Mark

    We buy camera with mirrors because they sell cameras with mirrors.

    Someone once asked Steve Jobs why he didn’t conduct market research before releasing new products. His answer was (paraphrasing) “if Henry Ford did market research he would have found that what people really wanted was a better faster horse.”

  • Bengt Nyman


    A possible explanation for the seemingly diverging rumors about a 40+ MP image sensor versus the Dual Pixel , or Split Pixel autofocus goes hand in hand with the rumors about Sony’s new mirrorless 54 MP image sensor development.

    I believe that at the bottom of this lies an effort to find a technique for fast and accurate mirrorless image sensor autofocus.

    With a 27 MP color resolution Bayer array covering 54 MP Split Pixel sensor sites this new sensor technology would offer both fast PDAF and a detail resolution approaching 54 MP.

    I would not be surprised if this is the effort going on at both Canon and Sony and resulting in the fragmented rumors heard so far.

    If this is the case we are on the verge of the experiencing the breakthrough that once and forever will lift camera technology from the art of the mechanical DSLR to a mirrorless, fast and quiet electronic technology.

  • fds

    Canon: I´m selling my gear and leaving you for Sony. Tired of waiting.

  • tom rose

    It does not matter what cameras we use. It is the images we make with them that are important. We each have to figure out what equipment works for us, and it would be nice if people would stop assuming that what they like “ought” to be everyone’s preference.

    I am very happy with Canon 1-series DSLRs thank you. For a grown man a 1.5kg camera is not a huge burden … but a comprehensive lens range, unmatched AF, dual card slots and 1500 shots from a single charged battery are big deals