With today’s announcement of the full-frame Canon EOS R, together with Nikon’s own recent reveal of the Z6 and Z7, it’s official: mirrorless cameras are no longer the preserve of second-rate companies who couldn’t compete against Canon and Nikon’s DSLR duopoly, but a crucial part of the future of high-end photography. Canon and Nikon are late to the game, to be sure, but no-one can doubt that both companies’ new products are serious, wholehearted efforts to develop credible and wholly modern camera systems.
The question is, how late is too late? Well, after using the EOS R today in Tokyo, I think Canon might have showed up just in time.
The EOS R doesn’t look revolutionary — in fact, it’s even more DSLR-like than the Nikon Z7, and feels as reassuringly chunky in your hand as you’d hope. But the control scheme in particular shows that Canon has worked hard to rethink what a digital camera should be when it’s no longer bound by the constraints of a flipping mirror box.
The EOS R feels like a completely new type of camera
That unmarked dial on the end? It’s actually just the on-off switch. The monochrome secondary screen on the top? It’s not just for passive display of information, but a critical part of the camera’s UI, working in tandem with a button-dial combo. Those control rings on the lenses? Taking advantage of the new electronic lens mount, they give satisfyingly clicky feedback and are likely to prove indispensible. And who even knows what uses people will find for the customizable touch strip on the back?
It’s impossible to pass judgement on a product like this after using it for such a short period of time, but Canon appears to have designed an appealingly minimalist yet flexible control system that makes the EOS R feel like a completely new sort of camera. The easy route would have been for Canon to simply remove the mirror from a DSLR and call it a day — I’m glad it didn’t.
And goodness, the lenses. Has a mirrorless camera system ever launched with such an immediately desirable lineup? The 28-70mm f/2 alone is unprecedented and would cause countless DSLR shooters to get their wallets out for an EF-mount version. Okay, it is gigantic. And $3,000. And 24mm at the wide end would have been nice. But still. For that wider angle you’ll need to get the 24-105mm f/4 kit lens; by comparison, Nikon just has a 24-70mm f/4 right now and a f/2.8 version coming next year.
As for primes, the 50mm f/1.2 is surprisingly bigger than its EF-mount equivalent, but it’s an extremely versatile option to have right from the start. Nikon’s Z system only has a 50mm f/1.8. And while both systems have a 35mm f/1.8, Canon’s doubles as a macro lens.
Of course, this is nowhere close to a complete system. But every one of these lenses should be a great option for professional work in a wide range of situations. The real question is how quickly Canon can build up the rest of the line-up — the company announced new EF and even an APS-C M lens today, too, and it’s hard to see three separate lens mounts remaining sustainable for long.
There are all manner of ways in which the EOS R could disappoint
EOS R is likely to be the future of Canon, however, and the EOS R camera looks to be an impressively mature first attempt. There are definitely question marks; Nikon’s Z6 and lenses undercut Canon on price and should be very competitive, while Sony has several years more experience with the technology and a big head start in the lens lineup. There are all manner of ways in which the EOS R could disappoint when it ships — video appears to be somewhat of a weak spot, and it’d be surprising if Canon could deliver DSLR-level autofocus performance on its first attempt. You should absolutely wait for real-world reviews before buying this camera.
Overall, though, the EOS R is an exciting product that sees the biggest dedicated camera company in the world willing to throw behind much of its legacy to try something truly new. I think it will sell. And at long last, everyone can now agree that mirrorless cameras are here to stay.
It only took a decade.