Does Cinema EOS mark the end of high spec Canon DSLR video?

Learning 5D Mark III raw video
The 5D Mark III

If Canon announced that they were withdrawing from the enthusiast stills camera market, you’d be surprised. It’s a pretty big market. But withdraw from the enthusiast video market they almost certainly have at the moment, whether they meant to do or not.

Whilst we ponder Canon’s deeply uninspired 2014 in terms of technological innovation, consider this theory – Canon entered the enthusiast DSLR video market by accident and now they have pulled out of it by accident.

Whether they like it or not, Canon DSLRs are no longer 1st, 2nd, 3rd or even 4th best performing enthusiast options for video. Nikon, Sony, Panasonic and Samsung are all significantly ahead, and if we count Blackmagic (they’re actually more pro than enthusiast) Canon are down to 6th. Just 2 years ago they were 1st. What happened?

Canon’s newest cameras for enthusiasts are the 70D, 7D Mark II and 5D Mark III. The market lies below $3000. Unlike casual consumers, enthusiasts have a high knowledge of the products and are more willing to invest in lenses (not just stick with the kit zoom). Lenses is where the really big margins are for Canon in their business. Make no mistake, Canon needs enthusiasts. Pros were initially using enthusiast cameras like the 5D Mark II for video until Canon moved them into the Cinema EOS range, probably at an even higher margin than their lenses. In dong so, Canon made a huge mistake.

They chose not progress their video feature-set or image quality enough on their enthusiast DSLRs and it is seriously harming their reputation, which unsurprisingly, is based around image quality ranking 1st not 6th. Perception is everything in todays world.

Nor did Canon have a camera in the Cinema EOS range priced to fill the gap. The C100 Mark II starts at $5500 which is as much as a 1D X – firmly pro territory as far as affordability for enthusiasts goes.

Judging from the 7D Mark II which arguably overall puts video quality back by 2 years to before the 5D Mark III because it has roughly the same spec but a smaller, noisier sensor, Canon still don’t seem to be moving forwards. The likelihood of a 5D Mark IV coming along soon with 4K is zero. Why? Because in my opinion Canon have no interest in convergence. At the height of the buzz around DSLR video and stills convergence in 2010, Canon looked to cut their sponsorship budget and one of the first things they did was to pull sponsorship from a London based convergence event for filmmakers. Canon want to sell you two cameras, a stills camera and a video camera. On the video cameras they have chosen to aim higher up the market because they make more margin. Game over for the other stuff.

Samsung NX1 4K mirrorless camera
Samsung NX1 4K mirrorless camera

Canon’s competitors haven’t always got things right but in 2014 they have had Canon on their knees in terms of video specs. Canon’s best DSLR for video is the 1D C priced $12,000. This is in fact a lightly modified 1D X which leaves the factory in small quantities. Panasonic and Samsung offer all-round video capabilities better than the 1D C for $1500, a difference of over $10,000. Sony have the A7S with Atomos Shogun which produces a better overall image from a much larger recording area on the sensor. Under the 1D C Canon don’t have a single 4K interchangeable lens camera. As of 2014 even JVC and Samsung have one! Let me make this clear – Canon have been beaten to the critically important sub-$10k 4K video market by JVC. Soon they will be beaten to the market by a Kickstarter open source project (Axiom) with a budget the size a single Canon manager’s yearly salary.

What’s going on?

It could be that Canon’s market feedback and sales suggests enthusiasts are contented with video quality on their 7D or 5D Mark III, but how long can that contentedness last in the face of such high video specs from rival systems? The acceleration of 4K TVs into the home driven by dramatically lowering prices suggests consumers will start to notice the difference in other ways too.

Already Canon have run the risk of a large scale systems switch, which in turn risks a key part of their business spiralling downwards: the sales of EF lenses. Recent releases such as the Canon EF 35mm F2.0 IS had a $300 price drop just months after launch, which tells you a lot. It is purely by luck that Canon’s lenses happen to adapt to Sony and Panasonic cameras so most users have been able to carry on investing in Canon glass even though they no longer use Canon bodies.

5D Mark III vs GH4 vs A7S size comparison
Comparison picture from Dave Dougdale’s Learning DSLR Video. Dave sold his 5D Mark III when the GH4 came out.

In terms of resolution on their enthusiast and semi-pro DSLRs Canon have settled around the 720p mark in reality – although labelling it 1080p the real resolution delivered is significantly lower. In the 5D Mark III the image comes off the sensor beautifully, we know this from shooting raw video with Magic Lantern. What are Canon doing to the image to hurt it so badly with the DIGIC processor?

For stills the picture isn’t much brighter. Canon’s reluctance to add credence to an expanding mirrorless market with a high end mirrorless camera of their own has meant that increasingly they have been unable harvest sales from new technology. The better this technology gets, in particular the EVF (as on the Fuji X-T1) the more defunct Canon’s DSLRs get. If Canon are reluctant to compete against their own highly successful and established EF lens range by introducing a new one for mirrorless cameras, I simply don’t understand why Canon have not just made an EF mount mirrorless camera with EVF in the mould of the 7D Mark II like Samsung have done with the NX1. Clearly their market research is telling them that customers prefer optical viewfinders but again, in the face of such high mirrorless specs from rival products, how long can the status-quo continue?

What I find astonishing about this is the lack of real discussion about it. Very rarely have I seen an interview where Canon have adequately answered our concerns over this. At no time have I been asked for my feedback on DSLR video despite EOSHD being one of the biggest resources for DSLR video on the internet. Sony and Panasonic talk to me. Canon remain silent. And from my humble point of view, if this isn’t a sign of a complete lack of interest in the DSLR video market… I don’t know what is.