Canon is the world leader in cameras and lenses. That didn’t happen overnight. Canon has been manufacturing optical products for decades. The prototype of the first Canon camera appeared in 1934. That model was not called Canon, but Kwanon. The first SLR was released in 1959 and was, appropriately, called the Canon Flex.
The major breakthrough, both in the consumer market and in the professional field, came to Canon in 1971 with the introduction of the famous Canon F1 and the Canon FD mount. Canon released the AE-1 in 1976. This camera had built-in electronics and the option of automatically exposing images. The camera was a huge success.
The foundation for the current success was laid in 1987 with the introduction of the first Canon EOS, the 650, and the first EF lenses. That was a daring step by Canon because the existing FD mount was suddenly obsolete. The FD lenses could not easily be used on the new cameras with EF mount. However, the EOS system offered so many benefits that many photographers soon switched to it. At that time, more manufacturers were busy introducing autofocus, but Canon was the only manufacturer to introduce a whole new system for it. It was only a short time before Canon also had a range of lenses in EF mount that was just as broad as for the old FD system.
Canon is not only a manufacturer of cameras and lenses but also of a great deal of other electronic equipment, such as video equipment, inkjet printers and laser printers. They are also very strong in innovation in many of these areas. All that knowledge came in handy for the next major development in the camera field: digitization. With the fully electronically controlled EOS cameras, Canon was already in a good starting position to make digital cameras.
In collaboration with Kodak, Canon launched the first digital EOS DCS camera on the professional photography market in 1995. Consumers could already go digital in 1996 with the very first PowerShot 600. In terms of sensor, the company then took a step that was just as daring as the introduction of the EF mount: the development of the CMOS sensor. At a time when almost all other camera manufacturers fitted their cameras with CCD sensors, Canon decided to equip its models with a CMOS sensor. And history has shown that Canon was right. Almost all cameras available today have a CMOS, in one form or another. One of the advantages for Canon was that, although CMOS sensors were expensive to develop, they were cheaper to mass-produce.
That advantage was fully exploited on the 6-megapixel Canon 300D, the first digital SLR under 1000 euros. The super-fast and robust Canon EOS 1D with its APS-H CMOS sensor was already the standard choice of almost every sports photographer and photojournalist at that time, and the 10D and 40D were particularly popular among consumers and professional photographers. The 300D and all subsequent models made sure that digital cameras became accessible for amateur photographers and caused a huge decline in the sale of analogue cameras.
Canon also had a scoop in the top segment with the introduction of the full-frame Canon 1DS. A little earlier, Kodak announced its own full-frame camera, but that model appeared to be full of first-design problems when it was introduced. You can therefore safely see the EOS 1Ds as the first real full-frame camera. With the familiar, solid 1D body and an 11-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, the 1Ds was a camera that many professionals had been waiting for. Not only because of the fantastic image quality but also because with this camera you could finally use the full field of view of your lenses again, thanks to that full-frame sensor that was the same size as the old-fashioned 35 mm film.
Those lenses are another reason that Canon is so successful as a camera brand. Canon has one of the most extensive lens series. The company offers almost everything you could need as a photographer: zoom lenses in almost every focal point, super telephotos and extreme wide-angles, fisheyes and special macros, light giants and tilt-shift lenses. If Canon does not have it, there is little chance you will find it from another brand. The reverse occurs much more frequently, that Canon offers lenses that virtually no other brand has.
Canon is one of the pioneers in the field of image stabilization. In 1995, Canon was the first to introduce a stabilized zoom: the Canon EF 75-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 IS. In 1991, Canon already had a complete range of tilt shift lenses in the range, with a 24 mm, a 45 mm and a 90 mm. Fans of bokeh can also indulge themselves with Canon, with the bright 50mm f/1.2L and the 85mm f/1.2L. In combination with full-frame cameras such as the 1DS or one of the EOS 5D models, you can use these types of lenses to dissolve the background in a sea of impressionist colors. It is these types of lenses that have contributed to the fact that paper-thin depth of field and bokeh are so fashionable.
Another development for which Canon is responsible is filming with your camera. As with full frame, Canon was not officially the first camera brand to introduce a model with which you could film. Just before the PhotoKina in 2008, Nikon announced the D90, an APS-C model that could film. Canon followed less than a month later with the EOS 5D Mark II. The EOS 5D Mark II was the first full-frame camera with which you could film, and the 5D Mark II could also do that in full HD. The Nikon did not better than 720p. That combination of full-HD video and a large full-frame sensor created a revolution in the video field. As a result, many video makers were able to get real cinematographic reproduction with a very inexpensive camera in video camera terms.
Canon has continued that revolution in its current devices, with for example the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which can now also film in 4K. The current Dual Pixel AF is also largely developed for video. In addition, with the C-series, Canon now also has a whole series of specialized film cameras with large sensors that are a cross between the cameras and Canon’s own camcorders.
What makes a brand unique?
Every brand has its own character. Sometimes, that leads to unique products, with a DNA characteristic of that brand. Because the scores of our tests are based on measurement results, non-measurable properties are underexposed in the final scores. That is why we are trying to describe the DNA of a few brands based on our practical experience.
There are many reasons why photographers remain loyal to a brand like Canon. One of those is ease of use. The introduction of the EOS system was not only a breakthrough in the field of electronics and autofocus but also in terms of design and ergonomics. The EOS models had rounded shapes. That was a break from the angular design of the models from the decades before. The cameras were therefore very comfortable to hold. The Canon menu system is just as well thought out. With its well-arranged tabs and the possibility to create a “My Menu,” it is one of the better camera interfaces. And once you are familiar with the menu structure of an entry-level reflex like the EOS 1300D, even an advanced camera like the EOS 5D Mark IV has few secrets.
Canon also offers a particularly wide range of lenses. We already mentioned the tilt shift lenses. Canon now has five, more than any other manufacturer. With a 17mm, 24mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm, the range, both on the wide-angle and the telephoto side, is bigger than with any other brand. With the EF 11-24 mm f/4L, Canon also has the wide-angle zoom with the largest field of view. And if you are looking for a bright lens, then the choice is also enormous. For fans of bokeh and limited depth of field, there are a 24 mm and 35 mm f/1.4, a 50 mm and 85 mm f/1.2 and a 135 mm and 200 mm f/2. Of course, these types of lenses are not cheap or small, but the image quality and brightness are certainly worth it.
For photographers who also like to film, Dual Pixel AF is a unique system that you would really like to have. Many recent Canon models today have Dual Pixel AF. This system actually divides each pixel into two halves, allowing phase-detection autofocus on the sensor. A sensor with Dual Pixel AF therefore knows the direction and degree to which a lens should shift the focus. As a result, cameras with Dual Pixel AF can not only focus quickly and very accurately in live view but can also follow subjects well. Even making a focus pull, which is shifting the sharpness from one subject to another in a video recording, is child’s play with Dual Pixel AF in combination with a touchscreen. Simply tap on the new subject you want to bring into focus, and the autofocus glides smoothly from one point to another. The system works so well that Canon has also introduced it on specialized film cameras such as the C200.
To get the most out of Dual Pixel AF, Canon has equipped a number of lenses with an STM stepper motor. Canon’s well-known USM motors are lightning-fast, but less suitable for focusing slowly and smoothly. And that is precisely what you want with video. However, STM motors are not as fast and therefore less suitable for sports photography, for example. A completely new and recent development is the nano-USM engine, which combines the advantages of USM and STM. It’s another Canon innovation that we will probably see in many lenses in the near future.
Canon is one of the pioneers in the field of digital photography and has been the main supplier of many professional photographers for decades. The feedback they received as a result has made the colors of Canon a well-known concept. Each brand has its own color reproduction, and Canon’s is experienced as very pleasant by many users. It is a combination of true-to-life colors that are saturated, but not excessively so. A nice contrast with nice spicy shadows, but also good skin tones, even in the dark areas. Especially for photographers who want to make direct use of the images that come straight from the camera, the Canon colors are an important reason why they choose this brand.
Canon makes many special products. The Canon EOS 5DSr is a few years old now, but with its 50 megapixels, it is still the full-frame SLR with the highest number of pixels. If you don’t need that many pixels, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with 30 megapixels and a big dynamic range is an excellent all-rounder and a first choice for many professional photographers. It is not without reason that the 5D Mark IV achieved a score of 9.3 in our test. Canon also makes many unique lenses. The EF 200-400 mm f/4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x is an example. This high-quality telephoto lens has a built-in 1.4x Extender so that the focal length can be extended to 560 mm without having to remove the lens from the camera. This not only works faster but also prevents dust from getting into the camera because the lens can stay on the camera. We tested the image quality of this lens on both full frame and APS-C, and the results were impressive on both. Mind you, the 200-400 mm is not only very unique, it is also big and heavy and heftily priced, and therefore not a lens that you will purchase on a whim.
The Canon EF 24-70 mm f/4L IS USM and the Canon EF 16-35 mm f/4L IS USM are much more of the same. These lenses offer professional quality, both optically and mechanically but are also relatively light and reasonably priced. And they both have built-in image stabilization so that you can also take razor-sharp photos under less favorable light conditions. You can also use the 24-70 mm as a semi-macro because you can focus with it particularly close for a standard zoom. If you want even more macro, the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS is an excellent choice. Not only is this lens very sharp and offers a nice distance from your subject, but the bokeh is also beautiful, and it is the first macro lens with a hybrid image stabilization that still works well even for close shots. If you don’t need your camera to be all that big or professional, you can also opt for the very compact Canon EF 40 mm f/2.8 STM. With this pancake lens, your complete camera is hardly bigger or heavier than the body, but you still have a very good and sharp lens for street photography and fun snapshots.