Eric L. Woods

RNF: Canon, Sony, Nikon’s full frame camera structures.

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Just another random neural firing episode. Straight opinion ahead informed by trends seen with a few guesstimates regarding the future thrown in. All a thought exercise. A distraction essentially. I come in peace.

I will get one caveat right out if the way. I mainly shoot stills and on the rare occasion where video is required 1080p will do fine. For those seeking one camera high end stills and video nirvana there are plenty of great new bodies on the market. Just not my cup of tea. On to the topic at hand.

Mainstream camera brands had two tiers when I came on board a few years ago.

  • Gateway APS-C
  • Unobtanium Full Frame

There was arguably a third player in micro four thirds, but many if not most aspired to larger sensors. Including me even as a micro four thirds owner. Before the increasing number of high priced medium format options full frame was the top dog. Below it was APS-C in DSLR land. Both sharing one mount. This was the way of the two top companies for a long time, Nikon and Canon of course, and Pentax followed suit also technically. Sony followed that model with mirrorless, at least initially. Samsung and Fujifilm were APS-C only at that time with only a nicer APS-C camera at the top of their interchangeable lens mount mirrorless sensor tower. Then Samsung went the way of the dodo and Fujifilm leapfrogged itself out of my price range reality with their wonderful GFX line of medium format cameras and lenses. With DSLR on the downturn, sorry Pentax my old friend, the focus turns to mirrorless. Things seemed a bit wonky at first as they took different paths to a two sensor size model initially.

Sony

  • As mentioned Sony went the tried and true DSLR path with APS-C a6000 models and full frame A7 models sharing the same mount and able to use the same lenses.

Canon

  • Canon seemed to be holding onto the APS-C M mount while releasing the new and incompatible RF mount. A departure from the APS-C/full frame shared mount DSLR days.

Nikon

  • After abandoning their V mount Nikon is following the DSLR path with mirrorless like Sony before them with the release of the shared mount APS-C Z50.

But when you look at recent models and pricing trends it looks like a different path forward is taking shape. One that abandons two sensor sizes for an all full frame model. As a result there is really not a strong argument for APS-C in my estimation. Makes sense.

  • It has to be more cost effective for companies to engineer lenses for one mount and one sensor than split their resources between two mounts and or sensors. This is proved out by the current lens offerings. Across all three mounts there are far fewer factory options available and third party crop mirrorless lenses are even more scarce. This eliminates a major advantage crop sensors usually bring. Less expensive glass.
  • One of the big selling points of full frame mirrorless cameras is the ability to adapt legacy 35mm glass with no crop factor to contend with.
  • The question used to be APS-C or full frame with DSLR but that has now changed to DSLR or mirrorless. If one jumps to a new mirrorless mount half stepping to APS-C with full frame yet to go makes little sense.

The moment things changed for each brand for me.

Sony

  • The day I fully got my head around the A7c I sold my a6000 and a6100 to fund an A7c. Pair that with the relatively thin Sony crop lens offerings and it was clear that Sony was the way forward.
  • When I realized that the A7II is still on the market and regularly goes on sale for less than $1,000 like it did when I picked one up for a wedding a couple of years ago. A screaming bargain compared to the higher end crop Sony bodies.
  • Now that Sony is releasing its most recent wave of upgrades at the top end of their line offering tangible technological advances they have full frame options available from top to bottom.

Canon

  • The release of the value proposition EOS RP was attractive day one. It does not receive a lot of love but it is a very capable full frame camera. Now it remains on the market as quite the bargain proposition at less than $1,000 brand new.
  • Now that Canon is releasing its most recent wave of upgrades at the top end of their line offering tangible technological advances they have full frame options available from top to bottom.

I believe Sony and Canon chose well, but as things currently stand I believe Nikon may have a problem.

Nikon… well…

Further the remaining Nikon full frame offerings are a bit on top of themselves price and feature wise with only about $1,500 and a few key features and resolution separating the bottom to the top offering.

Sure, the Z6II and Z7II are nice cameras as are the Z6 and Z7, but Nikon is really playing it safe while Sony and Canon swing for the fences.

Bottom Tier

At the bottom end Sony and Canon arguably make better value arguments with the EOS RP and A7II rather as opposed to the newer Z5. One could make the argument that the Z5 was the more solid offering of the three feature wise, but nothing that I would pay hundreds extra for if value were tops on my list.

Top Tier

Sony and Canon are really at it. Canon fires the R5 over Sony’s bow. Sony fires back with the A7SIII. Then I lose track a bit. Sony and the A1 retaliate while rumors of a Canon retaliation hit the blogs and Youtubes. Not only is Nikon not really competing nowadays. Panasonic and Sigma are not really playing in this same realm having contrast only AF. One could say the same for Leica but I do not believe anyone looking at the SL line and willing to pay the price of entry is cross shopping with any of these more pedestrian brands.

There are rumors of an upcoming top tier Nikon, but they are really going to have to pull off a near miracle at this point. It is possible and I truly hope that they do. I really like Nikon. My first DSLR was a D3300.

Recent shots..
Shots from the day.
Duke Gardens

I thoroughly enjoyed that camera. But similar to current circumstances another brand provided the full frame upgrade path for me. I have owned and still own Nikon film cameras. The Nikon FG is a current favorite after dabbling with the FE and F3.

But there is one more problem. Lenses.

Affordable f/2.8 Zoom Trio

There are stellar f/2.8 zoom trio full frame options coming online, but they are a bit steep for my liking. As far as I am concerned Tamron has cracked the full frame mirrorless code for now.

I have heard rumors that Tamron will expand these offerings to other mounts. Give me these three lenses in Z mount and two Z5s, with their IBIS, as primary and back up bodies and I could do just fine, but until then Sony has the clear lead. Canon would be a little more pricey since the IBIS party starts with the significantly more expensive R6, but Canon has the edge when it comes to…

Affordable and Portable Prime Trio

As I recently wrote about Canon won the full frame bang for buck trio prize for me.

And with two of three having lens based IS the less expensive Canon EOS RP does just fine.

RF Blog Post Product Shots

As for Nikon? Great native Z lenses, but they currently lack Sony’s affordable third party lens offerings and Canon’s lower priced brand name prime lens options.

What would it take to tempt a consumer like myself? It really has nothing to do with the top tier options for me. Many consumers, myself included, cannot or will not play in that rarified mega aperture top spec air. While impressive I believe they need to address their entry ramp issue.

  • Pricey top tier lenses are fine, but they need to release lower price priced primes or lower the price of the existing f/1.8 prime line up. The first thing I do before buying a camera body is virtually shop for lenses and both Sony and Canon offer much more affordable “bottom tier” native and third party lens options. What I would love to see are digital mirrorless AF interpretations of the three compact Nikon F lenses I use with the FG, the 28mm, 50mm, and 100mm Series E lenses.
Nikon Series E 28mm f/2.8 Ai-S
Nikon FG
Nikon Nikkor 100mm F/2.8 Series E AIS
  • In isolation the Z50 is a great camera. It would have sold well years ago. But I do not see a place for it in today’s market. Cut the Z50 completely like the V line and cut the price of the Z5. The Z5 sits uncomfortably above the EOS RP and in between the A7II and A7III price wise. One of the reasons I enjoy the FG camera mentioned above so much is that it offers the same competent entry level energy the Z5 has today. Combine that with the lens issue stated above and it is hard to justify the full price of entry.
  • Contrary to what I stated above a brand still needs aspirational top tier offerings. I am sure 7 and S series help sell 3 and C series BMWs and Mercedes Benzes.
    • Aspirational, stellar shared mount cameras give a sense of pride by osmosis to owning a base model camera in that same line up.
    • It is unlikely that I will upgrade to a Sony A1 or a Canon EOS R5 but it is nice knowing that I would hit the ground running with lenses already in my possession.
    • Nikon needs to not only crush it with the upcoming Z9 on the sports stills side, which I am sure they will do based on their past cameras, to compete with the A9II and soon to be announced Canon offering. Nikon also needs to deliver the video centric camera body that every company seems to need nowadays. Their own A7SIII/EOS R5 competitor.

I am rooting for Nikon. Perhaps they will find a path to success other than what I suggest above. I am brand agnostic and believe that more viable options on the market from varying companies is better for everyone. I really do hope they really knock it out of the park in 2021 and make for a fully competitive full frame camera and lens line up.

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