An interesting link. A bit light on the sourcing and heavy on the opinion, but hey, it’s Medium.
It kind of glossed over why Canon became dominant in the later ages of film - the story goes that Nikon introduced AF (everyone was working on this, it was a Big Thing) and asked pros whether they liked it or not. Pros being pros, they said it was too slow for pro (sports) work, and Nikon said, fair enough. Canon on the other hand, decided to fix the AF problem, which they did, captured a huge share of the market, and left Nikon scrambling to catch up.
I have no sources for this, just memories and anecdotes picked up on the internet. Sorry.
Another interesting thing is that Nikon only lately, with the introduction of electronically controlled aperture mechanisms in the lens, has come to parity with the Canon EF mount - just electronic contacts, no screws or levers.
My understanding is that part of Canon’s edge in the 1990s ultimately came from the fact that they were willing to move to a new mount in order to enable better AF and other things (FD to EOS/EF in 1987). Arguably Canon could afford to do this because they were the underdogs; moving to a new mount and thus instantly orphaning all of their existing customers wasn’t the huge deal it would have been for Nikon, because Canon didn’t have as many customers.
(In the context of this Medium story, I think this is an important difference. It shifts the lessons from ‘Nikon not grasping things’ to ‘underdogs can afford to do disruptive things that leaders can’t’.)
Canon did have a lot of customers. The Canon FD mount cameras were very popular and successful, and they caused Nikon a lot of pain as they captured the “lower end” of the amateur market.
Ultimately the move to EF was a good choice, but it caused a lot of bad blood. Pros could afford to move eventually, but a lot of other shooters who had “invested” in the FD system were pissed. Part of it was of course because FD lenses and bodies instantly lost potential resale value, but I also think a large part of it was the feeling of being “cheated” by the company they had chosen. Fanboyism is by no means only confined to the internet age.
I think there’s more to it than fanboyism. Interchangeable lens cameras are a system, and when you buy into a system one of the things you’re taking a bet on is the continued life and development of the system. When Canon changed their lens mount, they killed FD as a system. Your existing FD gear would still work, but you weren’t getting any improved future cameras or any improved future lenses. People are naturally angry about a system being ended on them this way; it would be somewhat like Apple declaring out of the blue one day that they were stopping all future development of MacOS hardware and software, and what you had now was all you’d ever have. The drop in the resale value of your current hardware would be the least of your worries.
(Not entirely like it, because 1980s cameras didn’t have security vulnerabilities.)
That’s a good point… however, it was clear to everyone that AF was the future, and whether you shot Nikon or Canon you would have to update all your gear to take availability of the new features. Granted, many people were perfectly happy to keep on using older manual focus Nikkor glass on AF Nikons, and that path was denied to Canon shooters.
One difference between a gradual shift (in any sort of system) and an abrupt, all at once shift is that in the latter, you’re dependent on the new system having everything you need right away. If it doesn’t, either you have to do without, delay your shift (and do without the new system’s benefits), or use two systems for a while (in this case, carrying two cameras, using two sets of film, etc).
I don’t know how many Canon FD lenses were available in 1987 at the time that Canon announced EOS/EF, but I suspect that EOS didn’t launch with equivalents of all of them available. Although according to this source (and also) Canon does seem to have had an impressively large number of lenses available that year. Interestingly, it took until 1989 for them to put out an 85 mm prime, despite that being a common portrait focal length.
One of the things that probably irked Canon FD shooters was that there was no way to adapt the FD lenses to EF without an adapter with optical elements.
Canon did make such an adapter but it was special order only, and supposedly offered to owners of FD superteles so they could continue using these lenses on the new EOS system.
The FD system was pretty complete.
Exactly right. It is very much like Apple switching to OS X from System 9—they had little to lose.
I tried to make this point so sorry it didn’t come across.
Hello..ouch light on sourcing :-) I included photos of magazine articles, ads, and brochures as well as my own lens ;-) What am I missing.
I tried not to gloss over this but clearly it didn’t sink in. Nikon was extremely focused on professionals and took a very conservative approach for this reason. They tended to view AF as a consumer feature and kept a very clean separation between consumer and pro cameras over concerns of both cannibalization and making pro cameras seem too gimmicky (even to the degree of worrying about having a backup mechanical shutter in the f3).
There are many magazine articles at the time debating autofocus and critical of the speed. The F3AF is horrendously slow and because it required a special finder and body and had only two slow lenses it was much more of an experiment. But the speed made it seem self-fulfilling.
it is worth noting that Nikon’s AF lens line came out the same year as the EF mount. It was also the same year as the Nikon F4 which was a pro camera with autofocus. The F4 was a big improvement over the F3 even without autofocus which led to a slower ramp up time of AF with Pros. I posted on FB a photo of the full range of AF lenses introduced at the time. Worth noting is that shortly after intro the AF lenses were all revised again to add “D” designation for distance information from lens to camera—already in the EF series.
Nikon was loathe to introduce electronic aperture since new lenses would not work at all with older cameras. It is only with the E and G lenses that the break has finally been made. Again they started with consumer lenses interestingly enough.
I do appreciate the article, the effort put into it, and the discussion it has engendered. Thanks!
I felt you got the main points across, but it jumped a bit from film to digital to film again during its course.
One thing worth mentioning is what I noticed leafing through old PopPhoto issues from the late 70s is that Nikon could run ads both for the pro F3 and the consumer level Nikon bodies, and in a very aspirational way - Nikon cameras were affordable and easy to use, and when you stepped up to the “big leagues”, the lenses all worked! (this was pre Canon EF, of course). The pro gear caused a “halo” effect. This is how Canon’s white glass work now.
According to this source, E lenses actually started with pro lenses, first with the 2008 tilt/shift PC (perspective control) refresh and moving on to some of the long telephotos. The G lenses do seem to have started with consumer lenses (some sources say the 2000 era 70-300 f/4-5.6).
The recent AF-P lenses have all been consumer lenses (and with strikingly low backward compatibility for Nikon). The cynical assumption is that removing the on-lens VR switch is largely about making them cheaper to manufacture (I say as an annoyed D7100 person).
I have personally handled a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G lens that was also screw-drive AF.
That was a consumer lens (or no pro would ever bother). The first 300/2.8 was the screw lens. The second one, AF-I, had a lens motor but was just slow.
Oh, indeed. My point (carelessly made) was that not all G spec lenses were AF-S/AF-I.
I used to be able to keep track of Nikon’s lens compatibility but with the recent E and P spec lenses I’ve basically given up…
It’s interesting history is kind of repeating itself with Sony starting to grab market share from Canon, starting with high end full frame prosumer A7* series and eventually trying to sneak pro’s away with the A9.
Mirrorless as a thing is still something I’m skeptical on, mostly because of battery life, but you have to hand it to Sony that they’re making progress and the results are pretty impressive.
It’s interesting history is kind of repeating itself
It’s interesting history is kind of repeating itself
It goes even deeper. Canon is pulling a Nikon now, by releasing near-insulting refreshes of their top-tier cameras the 5Dmk4 and 6Dmk2, both worse than older (!) Nikon equipment, whereas the recent Nikon releases have been received very well. One might suspect Canon themselves have given up on DSLRs. They seem to be stuck in eternally rereleasing the same 24 megapixel sensor all the time.
I think in the long-term mirrorless is inevitable and it looks like Canon has finally gotten its shit together to produce EOS M cameras which are starting to get competitive with their EOS bodies. Nikon is also expected to release some mirrorless camera this year. I’m sure the first models will be terrible to begin with but in a few years I can definitely see me switching from a D750 to a Nikon mirrorless. Or Sony mirrorless.
It’s kind of sad though that newer Nikon pro gear (everything on the NPS list) is built to lower and lower standards, with production offshored to China or Thailand, while Canon pro equipment is built to better and better standards in Japan, and it’s cheaper than Nikon!
I much prefer the Nikon ergonomics and the features of Nikon cameras, but the lenses produced today, while of great optical quality, feel cheap and awful. Canon lenses on the other hand are made of metal (the good ones), and feel like a tank.
There is some truth to the quality issues and I think everyone, even the most ardent fans, have to agree. The cameras are still what they have always been. But the core lenses continue to increase the plasticy feel which I think just bothers a lot of people. Canon’s core pro L lenses feel very much like Nikon’s Ai-S and first generation AF-D lenses when there was still an aperture ring. I am hardly one to beat up gear but my 70-200 has stopped working twice which really bugs me.
I don’t feel like Canon is in a rush to move to mirrorless (IMHO, the benefits are minimal for protogs).
What they are getting beaten on is sensor quality; no BSI in 2018 is a sign they’re not investing in their in house sensors enough.
All it would really take is bringing the sensors up to speed, and adding some better 4k video handling in the 5d series (you can now at least get c-log output) and they’d be competitive again.
I’ve switched to mirrorless. Thing almost fits in my jacket pocket - if I saved up for a non kit lens it would, actually, fit in my jacket pocket. I’m a casual shooter. Batteries are not an issue - I carry two spares with me, just like one would carry film in the old days. The auto focus is on par with my consumer level Nikon DSLR, the low light performance is phenomenal. For casual shooters, can’t think of a reason the SLR format should survive.
I mostly shoot slide film. I have a Nikon F4, a Nikon FM3a, and a Nikon FA, and a bunch of old, manual focus AI-s lenses. However, I want to shoot digitally too, so a bought a Fuji X-T10. I have been using this camera for about two years now, and have taken many great pictures with it, but I hate it so much, so much. I can’t wait to get rid of it and buy a Nikon DSLR.
Let’s start with the good stuff. The good Fuji cameras and lenses are built to the highest mechanical standard. I wish new Nikon lenses were this good.
That’s all the good stuff I can think of, now the bad stuff:
The camera is small, but the lenses are just as big as modern DSLR lenses. This means the camera is too small for proper hand-holding technique. When assembling a system, the total weight is little bit lower than a DSLR kit, but the bulk is not significantly smaller at all, and I am constrained by bulk, rather than weight.
Focus by wire works poorly. In fact I would say it’s impossible to use. Never again. But even if where were lenses which didn’t focus by wire, you still could not manually focus because the resolution of the EVF is too low for critical manual focus. On a tripod you can zoom to 100%, but handheld, no way. On the other hand I use a split prism focusing screen on my SLRs, so this is never a problem.
The ergonomics of the camera are bad. I can’t use it with gloves. I can use a (D)SLR with gloves.
The software on the camera is terrifyingly bad.
The flash system is weak.
In low light, or for sports, autofocus is useless. There are some mirrorless cameras out there that do better AF than even DSLR, but only the top-of-line stuff.
The colors I get from this cameras are not great. This is not a problem with the camera, but with the color profiles used by desktop software. However, it is what it is. I can’t really do anything about it. You can make custom profiles, but it’s much harder than most people realize, and if you do it you’ll get a metrologically correct profile, which is not what I want. Nikon and Canon profiles are non-flat in a way that I like, and I can’t really emulate that.
Speaking of color profiles, Nikon allows you to load custom profiles in-camera. This is huge, because even if I shoot RAW, I need to make decision in the field based on the JPG preview, so it’d better be what profile I’m going to use anyway.
All lenses use different filter thread sizes. This drives me nuts.
Battery life is poor, and extremely poor in cold weather. A pro DSLR can take Lithium primary AA batteries that work at -40C.
Again, not a problem with the camera, but with Adobe software, but Adobe does a very poor job on Fuji raw files. I use Iridient Developer to convert Fuji raw files in DNG, but that makes the workflow slower and uses twice the amount of space (assuming I want to keep the originals, which I do).
Oh yeah, camera takes too long to boot.
I would like a mirrorless camera, but it would have to work differently than they work now.
Personally, I want a APS-C/FF camera (micro 4/3 is too small) that has small lenses. I want a 16-35/f8 and a 70-300/f8-f11 (35mm equivalent). When doing landscapes, I shoot at those small apertures anyway, so i’d like small lenses. You couldn’t make such slow lenses for DSLRs, because they would be too dark in the viewfinder, but with mirrorless you could. With small lenses, the camera can be small too, as it won’t feel unbalanced. The lenses must of course use the same filter thread size, and it should be possible to operate the camera with gloves. The camera should boot instantly. The camera should close the shutter when changing lenses (why don’t mirrorless cameras do this??).
If you can’t make small zooms, I’d be happy with small primes. 20mm, 85mm, and 200mm are all I need. If you kake them f/4 you should be able to make them, really, really, really small.
Oh yeah, and I’d like some tilt-shift lenses too.
If you haven’t got one already, I can recommend a Nikon D700 as the almost perfect “digital FE2” camera.
In our household we solved the problem of size and weight by me carrying all photo equipment and playing assistant to my wife, who has the talent and skills. Not for everyone but I am happy with results :)
I’ve switched mostly to an X100 for the past few years. However the DSLR is still ‘needed’ for two things - kids sport and product/portrait shots for my wife’s seamstress business. The second could be mitigated by switching to a interchangeable lens mirrorless, but then I lose a lot of what I love about the X100.
There are a few things missing from this article.
Back in the old days, apart from exotic supertelephotos and speciality lenses like ultrawides, all Nikon lenses used 52mm filter threads. This was huge because you had to take with you a single set of filters. Canon used whatever size was easy to produce for them. This sucked. Much later both Nikon and Canon standardized on 77mm filter threads for pro lenses, although recently they started to produce lenses with 82mm filter threads.
Canon lenses always had manual-focus override. Even in autofocus mode, you could always rotate the focus ring to do manual focus. Nikon AF and AF-D lenses could not do this. You had to flick a switch either on the camera or on the body to put it into manual focus mode. Worse, most Nikon lenses had rotating filter threads!
I think this is the primary reason pros moved to Canon in the early 90s. It’s not only that autofocus was fast and quiet and reliable, but the fact that you could manually focus at any time, and that their lens filters didn’t rotate.
Eventually Nikon introduced AF-S lenses, which work exactly like Canon lenses, but it took them about a decade, and of course much more time than that to get all their pro lenses in AF-S mount.
Hello…it depends on how far you go back. At launch in 1959, the prime F lenses used 52mm (2.1, 3.5, 5, 10.5, 13.5) but the new longer lenses used 122mm and there were some rangefinder lenses that counted in the system and used 43 (though there was a step up ring). Of the 16 or so Canon lenses at launch depending on how you count, 9 used 55mm. This is mostly optics and so consistent. Canon lenses have a larger rear element which leads to larger front element (and also a larger possible max aperture).
Yes that is correct about AF. Nikon’s early lenses were primarily aimed at the consumer market. Canon tended to be reaching up.
AF-S introduced the in-lens motor which was the big thing that Canon had done with their EOS lens mount.
Being able to manually focus was a big deal especially on Nikon where AF was slow to catch up. But my experience at the time was that the speed mattered and without the in-lens motor this was a killer. The most commonly referenced failure is the AF lens, 300 and 400, sports lenses that were horribly slow, especially if they had to rack all the way in/out. These 2.8 lenses were key to modern sports and also very slow focusers.
Another part of autofocus was the overall metering system. Here again Canon had the edge early on.
Regarding filter sizes… I think that Nikon realized quite quickly that a uniform filter size was something that pros really appreciated, and this was prioritized in design. Arguably, the 35mm f/1.4 manual focus was “optically compromised” by the requirement that it have a 52mm filter size. I have no idea whether this is actually the case, but it’s true that this lens has a very… eccentric rendering wide open, and I suspect its designers felt the tradeoff was worth it.
(It’s not specifically mentioned here, but this Tale, along with the others, offer a charming and idiosyncratic view of Nikon’s lenses: http://imaging.nikon.com/history/story/0027/index.htm)
I’m not sure I agree with the comment about the metering system. I didn’t use either Canon or Nikon in the days when this was getting going, but my experience with Nikon’s matrix metering now is almost universally positive, while Canon shooters seem less happy with the performance in their bodies. Again, all anecdote.