5 Major Problems with the Canon R System (2018)

Canon EOS R

I am going to complete this introduction quickly. Canon has fully revealed their full-frame mirrorless system. After a few days of reading through the information available from Canon and first-hand accounts, I cannot help but notice it has some major issues compared to its main competition – Sony and Nikon. My focus is on how the end-user is affected, so this article is about real practical considerations. These are issues that the person who is going to hand over their hard-earned money for a Canon R system needs to think through, and they should. Photography is an expensive hobby if you are not making money from it.

This article is written from the perspective of what we can see and project from September 2018. Hopefully the outlook improves for the better as we move further into the future. But as of now these problems hold true for the Canon R system.

1. Most launch lenses are too expensive

The launch lenses are impressive. Closer examination reveals two trophy lenses – the RF 28-70mm f/2 L and RF 50mm f/1.2 L. 90% of the people singing worship hymns over these lenses will never purchase them as their prices exceed what most of them are willing to pay for a camera lens. If you can’t have them, their existence is irrelevant to you. In other word, of the 4 lenses introduced at launch, 2 of them are as good as “do not exist” to the vast majority of the photography community.

2. Launch lenses are too big and heavy

Canon introduced 4 RF lenses. 3 of them are 700g and heavier. The 1.4kg RF 28-70mm f/2 L and 950g RF 50mm f/1.2 L are massive. We thought we are supposed to benefit from some size and weight savings from FF ML? To be realistic, is is a fact that fast FF lenses will always be big and heavy. We already know by looking at Sony’s native FE lens selections that many fast FF ML lenses don’t gain significant weight and size savings over their FF DSLR cousins. But as Sony also demonstrated, it is still possible to have some reasonably compact and portable FF ML lenses. But what we actually do get with this Canon launch is ONLY ONE RF lens weighing in at a reasonable mass and size – the 305g RF 35mm f/1.8 M.

Canon EOS R 2Most of the RF lenses available at launch are actually large and heavy

Whether a len’s size and weight actually motivates or dissuades you from bringing it out to shoot with strongly affects the actual, real-life practical value and ROI of that lens to you.

3. A lens roadmap with very limited number of lenses

Every camera company introducing a new camera system showed us a lens roadmap encouraging us to invest in their system and reassuring its potential adopters of its future.

But Canon did not.

Until dc.watch shared a roadmap slide that was shown in Japan.

The translation is as follows: Besides the 4 launch lenses and a bunch of mount adapters, from 2019 onwards we will start getting various f/2.8 L zoom lenses. And the exact focal range of those f/2.8 L zooms are not specified at all.

09_oThe Canon RF lens roadmap looks really sad today (2018)

And that’s it for Canon’s version of a roadmap to users.

Let us put this in context for a potential customer of the Canon RF system. This means that by 2019, we know there are 2 big and heavy RF lenses that are priced beyond what most people are willing to pay, plus an unspecified number and types of f/2.8 zooms, which should also be quite large and have hefty price tags attached to them. Just a 700g RF 24-105mm f/4L and a lightweight RF 35mm f/1.8 for those of us looking for something more accessible in terms of price and weight. That is all we know today.

Contrast that with the Nikon Z lens roadmap, which promises customers at least 12 lenses into 2020 covering a very respectable combination of focal ranges, plus a few unspecified entries.

Z roadmapThe Nikon Z lens roadmap definitely looks better than The Canon RF lens roadmap

In fact, it is like Canon is purposely trying not to work hard for RF lenses. Canon not doing its best for a particular product line on purpose – now why does that not sound familiar? 😉 The next point will explain why.

4. Canon really wants us to clear their inventory of EF lenses (and cameras) first

Take points (1)-(3) above into consideration. Then consider the fact that Canon released no less than 4 – yes 4! – EF-mount adapters.

It becomes obvious. Canon is not ready to sell us more RF lenses because they are not ready for us to stop buying EF lenses and cameras.

All RF lenses are specifically designed to take advantage of the shorter flange distance to produce image quality superior to DSLR lenses – Canon’s own white paper on the EOS R system states this. A new software-programmable control ring is also featured on all RF lenses to allow increased control and flexibility. In addition, users will also benefit from size and weight savings. Even if it is just half an inch or 100g, every little improvement can be appreciated.

But instead of quickly delivering a large number of RF lenses for users to use natively with an R system, Canon would rather we first clear their inventory of EF lenses and use them with adapters. Nevermind that it is detrimental to the users’ experience. Canon does not want us to think this, so they are bringing 4 mount adapters to market. There are as many adapters as there are launch lenses! We customers have to clear out Canon’s inventory of EF lenses first.

At this point in 2018, I can’t see what the RF lens system looks like in 2019 or 2020. I do not recommend people buy into a system until they see the lenses they want show up. Because what you want may never show up within the time frame that you need it.

5. Canon is never going to stop gimping video features on their consumer camera bodies

Many people hoped that with a mirrorless camera that is clearly a video-and-stills hybrid tool, Canon will finally stop crippling video features in their consumer product line to create differentiation for their super-expensive C-series line of professional video cameras. To our surprise, The EOS R still has cropped 4K. Even more surprising is that the EOS R does not even offer 1080p at 120fps!

This video by DSLR Video Shooter explains Canon’s position on such issues at about the 06:44 mark:

Let me put this in absolute practical terms:

If you are wondering when Canon will stop gimping video features on their consumer camera bodies to manufacture product differentiation for their C-series video cameras, wonder no more. Canon will never stop doing that. Forever. If you are not happy with that, use a product from another camera company and be happy forever, instead of hoping for an illusion that will never materialize.

That is the best advice I have for Canon users who have been agonizing over this for years.

So who does the Canon R system appeal to?

Despite all these issues, the EOS R system still has an audience that will overlook its shortcomings. In terms of price and features, it is somewhat like a mirrorless version of the 5D mk4 at a much cheaper price. So that will definitely appeal to some users.

If you have already invested into a good collection of EF lenses and wants the features of the new Canon R camera, go ahead! Indeed, this is the exact demographic Canon is targeting in this launch. This launch has nothing worthwhile for people who have already bought into a Sony FE system. Even Fujifilm and M43 users would be hardly moved. Nikon users are also unimpressed as the Nikon Z has a better lens roadmap and is offering more for a Nikon Z6 for less than the cost of an EOS R. This Canon product launch preaches to the choir – the loyal Canon fan base who is elated that they can use their existing lenses with the new camera. Hence the fact that there is actually only a very limited RF lens roadmap do not bother them that much. “We’ll just use our EF lenses with the adapters”.