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How Canon Is Going To (Eventually) Take Back The Mirrorless Market

By David J. Crewe on July 10th 2019

We’ve all heard the arguments, praises, and nay-saying about the new mirrorless systems that have been announced over the last year. Both Canon and Nikon released new full-frame mirrorless cameras, and totally new lens mounts to go with them, to compete with Sony’s well-established FE/E lens mount. Personally, we think the mirrorless vs DSLR debate is a dead horse- mirrorless is the future. (Even more reasons to move to mirrorless discussed in a post from Fstoppers regarding the benefits of Mirrorless and silent shooting for photojournalists.) But now we’re left to figure out which brand will dominate that future?

[Related Reading: Canon Explains Why RF Lenses Are Better Than EF]

Most will say that Sony has been, and still is, dominating the (Mirrorless) market. Canon’s EOS R and RP camera bodies omitted two major features that are offered in the Sony A7iiidual card slots, and in-body stabilization. Nikon’s Z6 and Z7 do offer sensor-based stabilization, but they both use a single memory card slot. And let’s not even talk about the limitations of these cameras’ video features compared to Sony…What most people aren’t focusing on or even talking about are the new lens mounts and what that means in the quality of the glass.

Consumers Are Better Beta Testers

Of course, it was probably smart for Canon, to release mid-range camera bodies first, this way they can use the customer feedback to help make sure their first flagship-grade mirrorless camera is truly amazing. But, let’s be honest, the current EOS RF bodies leave something to be desired for most all types of photographers or videographers, even non-pro hobbyists and enthusiasts.

But, what if I told you that all the doomsday talk has got it completely wrong, and Canon is in fact onto something genius with their RF lens mount as a whole? Of course this is just an opinion, but it’s also based on a lot of facts about the RF lenses Canon has already announced, and what’s rumored to be coming.

[Related Reading: If I Could Only Have One Lens, It Would Be The 28-70 F/2]

Much of the same can be said for Nikon, too, since they also have an all-new Z mount that allows them to break free of the admittedly restrictive F-mount they’ve been using for 60+ years. Of course, only time will tell, but in this article, we’ll outline just why we think now is a very exciting time for both Canon and Nikon, and why Sony, ought to sleep with one eye open.

The Importance of Mount Diameter And Flange Distance

One of the biggest subjects in the “Mirrorless versus DSLR” debate, of course, has to do with the lens mounts. In a mirrorless camera, the lens mount (and the glass in the lens) can be a lot closer to the sensor, which can lead to better image quality and (slightly) more portable lenses.

Also, a larger mount diameter allows the optics of a lens to get better light transmission to the corners of a sensor, which again will afford potentially incredible image quality in those corners, although it may take some extra glass in order to achieve it.

Sony’s E mount, which only gained the “FE” designation for certain lenses after they decided to add full-frame to their existing APS-C mirrorless mount, is in fact quite a bit smaller than Canon and Nikon’s new mounts. It’s also got a bit longer of a flange distance, but not by much.

This does allow Sony to offer some incredibly portable lenses, at least in certain focal lengths and apertures. For example, Rokinon’s 24mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/2.8 primes are downright “tiny”, as are some of the Sony ~50mm and 85mm primes. When paired with the highly portable Sony A7iii or A7Riii, they do represent an impressively portable and affordable package.

However, the E mount may not have been originally optimized for full-frame, which means that there might be limitations to what focal ranges and apertures can be achieved. (We haven’t seen an AF Sony 50mm f/1.2, for example.)

What does this mean? Well, if all you ever need are f/2.8 zooms or f/1.4 primes, and nothing faster, then you’ll likely be totally happy with amazing lenses such as the new Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM or 135mm f/1.8 GM, and their great (but not very lightweight, compact, or affordable) 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 GM’s.

But, if you’re dreaming of even more exotic glass, then yeah, you guessed it- Canon’s RF lens lineup may start to look more and more tempting to you.

The Canon RF Lens Lineup – A Portrait & Wedding Photographer’s Dream?

Canon has already released two RF lenses that no other system seems to be able to match yet: the impressive (and massive, and expensive) RF 28-70mm f/2 L, and the jaw-droppingly good RF 50mm f/1.2 L. Both of these lenses are a portrait photographer’s dream, with their incredible corner-to-corner sharpness, as well as that dreamy smooth bokeh and “character” that Canon L lenses are known for.

But, Canon isn’t done yet, in fact we’ve likely only seen the tip of the iceberg. The official mock-up of the RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L made a huge impression, when it was seen at trade shows earlier this year and was literally the size of an iPhone X or coffee cup.

Canon RF 70-200 F 2.8

A compact, lightweight (and yet hopefully flagship quality) 70-200mm f/2.8 would be unprecedented for any full-frame system, considering that Sony’s 70-200mm f/2.8 GM is in fact just as big and heavy as the current name-brand DSLR competition. (Oh, and don’t forget the even more massive Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports, which tips the scales at nearly 4 lbs!)

Canon has also had a plethora of patents pop up over the last few months, from a quite believable (and probable?) 16-28mm f/2, to ridiculous unicorns like a 14-21mm f/1.4. I would even wager that we’re going to see some sort of whole new “holy trinity” at f/2, considering that rumor of a 16-28 f/2… we might also see a 70-150mm f/2, or even a 70-200mm f/2! That would be, well, crazy!

Canon seems to be pulling some sort of Babe Ruth move here. They’re swinging for the fences, shooting for the moon, or whatever catchphrase you prefer. And, that’s what you do, if you’ve been the number one brand for decades, the system of choice for many high-end pros who need truly exotic, amazing lenses that allow them to take their work to a new level.

[Related Reading: Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 Sports Review | Is Sigma Outclassing The Name Brands?]

Catering to the portrait and wedding photographer, I would love to see massive f/2 zooms at my disposal, and yet also have decently portable f/2.8 zooms when I need them. I’d love to have f/1.2 primes for those key focal lengths that I shoot tons of portraits, and decently portable, affordable f/1.8 or f/2.8 primes. And, of course, all nightscape photographers will salivate over the thought of an f/1.4 or f/2 ultra-wide zoom.

In short, if you’re a fan of very exotic glass, with incredible image quality, Canon might very well eclipse the competition in the next few years.

The Nikon Z Mount – A (Literally) Massive Comeback

In the past, Nikon had the smallest diameter lens mount and they never switched mounts in the 80’s or 90’s like Canon did when autofocus became prevalent in SLR cameras.

This made it impractical for Nikon to ever release an f/1.2lens, (with autofocus), for the F mount, while Canon had multiple versions of both.  Also, Canon EF DSLR lenses in general, were already capable of, shall we say, “cramming more glass” into any given optic, and were known to have gorgeous bokeh and “character”.

With the Nikon Z-mount system, however, the tables have turned. This new mount is even bigger than Canon’s new RF mount, and it’s utterly massive compared to Sony’s E mount.

This is how a lens like Leica’s current unicorn, the new 58mm f/0.95 Noct, is possible. And it will likely have incredibly good image quality, even wide open, too. (It will cost a fortune, weigh a ton, and is manual focus, however.)

Nikon also has a 50mm f/1.2 on its roadmap, and if it is anything like the current 50mm f/1.8, it will be an impressive lens. Unfortunately, however, we haven’t seen as many shockingly exotic options from Nikon yet as we have from Canon, despite Nikon’s Z mount being the larger one. So, only time will tell if they will be able to deliver the same full lens arsenal that a portrait or wedding photographer might dream of.

As a side note, Nikon’s Z mount is not only the widest diameter, but also has the shortest flange distance. This makes it the only mount that can potentially adapt both of the other lens systems to it, something which a company called TechArt has already been working on. So if you’re OK with non-native lens issues such as potentially less reliable autofocus, you may very well be able to soon use RF Canon, (and Sony FE), lenses on your Nikon Z-series body. What a time to be alive, eh?! (Ps, we’ve requested to test and review the TechArt adapter, so stay tuned for that)

Which Types Of Photographers Should Take Notice?

Okay, let’s be realistic. Do you personally need an enormous f/2 zoom, or a pricey f/1.2 prime? You might want one, sure, but for a $2-3K price tag, it might be out of your reach if you’re a more casual photographer. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that many people switch from their old DSLR to a mirrorless system is for its portability, and “f/2 zoom” and “portable” will likely never wind up in the same press release.

However, if you’d like to push the envelope further than ever before, you’ll probably be seeing a lot more capability coming from Canon’s RF mount, and possibly from Nikon’s Z mount, over the next few years. If Canon produces a 1-series class of mirrorless camera in the next year or so, they’ll be rapidly claiming ground in the mirrorless market. With the rumor of an entirely new set of “holy trinity” glass at f/2 for the RF mounts, we may just see an entire generation of shooters make the leap to mirrorless being able to shoot pretty much ANYTHING you can throw at them with just 3 pieces of glass in their kit.

What are your thoughts? You’re welcome to comment below call this a fanboy’s dream, but let me ask you this- have you shot with those RF L lenses yourself? They’re definitely a dream, and more of them are on the way.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

David J. Crewe is a full-time commercial photographer and Senior Editor with SLR Lounge. Based out of both Southern California & Las Vegas, Nevada.

View his work and blog: DavidJCrewe.com

Follow his Instagram: @DavidJCrewe

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Chris Mason

    Well written but I think your premise is flawed. If Canon “wins” it’ll be because of how popular Canon already is. I would guess Sony, trying to make a name for itself, went for lenses that were more traditional to show they can compete with the big DSLR companies. Now that everyone has a REAL dog in the mirrorless fight, it’ll be interesting to see where the lenses go. I can’t imagine that the 50mm 1.2 is as big as it is, and then a 70-200 2.8 is going to be essentially half the size. 

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  2. astar bucks

    Amazing that the website deleted my most important posts about the factual errors in this article! Good thing I have saved a backup and taken a screenshot:-

    Also I neglect to point out that this writer isn’t even correct on the basic facts, let alone being able to understand the basics of camera body/lens design.  Despite all this being old news!

    Firstly, Sony’s E-mount flange distance (18mm)  is hardly outdated or constrained as a disadvantage by any means! It is bang right in the middle between that of Nikon’s Z-mount (16mm) and Canon’s RF mount (20mm). The Panasonic/Leica L- mount is also 20mm.

    That makes the Sony E-mount the 2nd shortest flange distance among its peers in the current marktet – DESPITE it having been a mirrorless design created much earlier for the APS-C NEX mirrorless bodies. That’s pioneering status for you if you still can’t understand my previous point about who is the leader and innovator. Canon can’t reclaim a crown it never had. Sony has always had the crown.

    Sony’s E-mount is therefore very future proof and doesn’t even need to have as big a lens mount diameter to create the same high quality large aperture lenses!

    How do we know that? By calculating the  angle of the light entering through the lens mount and travelling from the mount’s edge to the sensor (flange distance) … drum roll … The theoretical fastest lens Sony can make is f/0.63 which is exactly on par with the Leica L! Canon RF can do f/0.62 (virtually the same). Nikon’s Z-mount can do f/0.58.

    See the Sony slide presentations confirming the above and rebuking this lens mount diameter  fake news spread by Canikonpanny and their lackeys like SLRlounge.

    [Perhaps its the link that this site deletes. So Google sonyalpharumors.com under “sony-says-they-can-theoretically-do-f-063-fast-full-frame-e-mount-lenses/”]

    For the record (and the stupid people everywhere) – Nobody will bother to want to make anything remotely close to a f0.63 lens because it will be too huge, heavy, expensive & impractical! Already nobody wants Nikon’s overpriced,  useless and therefore derided manual 50mm f0.95 lens. So its all talk by stupid people for stupid purposes!

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    • Matthew Saville

      No deleting as far as I know. We welcome all good discussion, and any factual corrections! It’s our job to be accurate.

      Regarding the flange distance, you are correct about Sony being in a sweet spot. However, the mount diameter is what is a constraint. Theoretical and actual are two different things, and the bottom line is that we haven’t gotten an f/1.2 prime from Sony yet. And if they could make one, (as Sigma has just proven is possible, at least at 35mm, we’ve yet to see a 50 or 85 1.2) …I doubt the corners would be as sharp and bright as they could be on Canon or Nikon.

      Hey, hopefully Sony will change this situation, and make some killer 1.2 GMs! As camera geeks, we love being proven wrong and seeing awesome feats being accomplished, regardless of brand.

      But for now, the proof lies in the lenses we’re actually seeing. And as we’ve actually shot with all of the latest lenses from all three of the mirrorles systems, we are really enjoying what focal lengths and apertures Canon is delivering. We just got the 85 1.2 RF in our studio for review, and it certainly offers a look that is unlike any other, with insane sharpness to go with it.

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  3. Abhay Sharda

    Im sorry, but this article is extremely fanboyish. you will only get exotic lenses with canon? You mean a lens, with a price for which I could buy a seperate camera system?

    The problem with Canon is underpowered camera bodies which are uselessly overpriced. That is exactly why I shifted from Canon to Nikon because the cameras were an improvement from the last model, but not an improvement as a generation. Those f/2 lenses that you’re hoping for are only gonna be costlier than the normal one. $10k for 3 lenses?

    And video capabilities of the Canon are so useless they probably had to pay Peter Mckinnon to say that the 60fps of the Eos R makes it challenging for him as compared to the 1dxm2.

    They cant even use the full sensor for video. 

    Lenses are not everything.

    Maybe for photography, but there are only a few photographers willing to spend 2-3 awesome prime’s worth of money on a zoom.

    They’re good as a proof of concept, thats all.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Abhay, I think you misunderstand us gear reviewers in general. We’re camera gear geeks, we love to play with new cameras of ANY brand.

      If we were Canon fanboys (or fangirls) of one single brand, we wouldn’t have mentioned how awesome Sony already is, or how much potential there is for Nikon to surpass them all with “exotic-ness”, if that’s a word.

      Were’s also eternal optimists, hoping that the next camera of ANY brand will fix the problems that we’re pointing out. Because that’s literally our job- to point out the problems of an existing camera or system.

      If it’s any consolation, we have a whole lot more articles coming up that prove these claims to be true. We’ll happily point out the things we absolutely can’t stand about Canon, Sony, or Nikon, just as much as we’re happy to sing praise.

      Thanks for reading!

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  4. Biorn Falken

    Like you I was wondering why Nikon hasn’t shown more impressive Z-mount glass yet. But I’m sure it will come. Great article. Very interesting times ahead.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I think they’re taking a balanced approach; showing that their new mount will be capable of both “modest”, portable lenses that achieve the impossible, (like the 14-30mm f/4, the first full-frame 14-x zoom that accepts standard filters!) …as well as the truly exotic, unicorn status lenses that very few will ever afford.

      I do hope they showcase an f/2 zoom sooner than later, though, because since they have both the widest mound an the shortest flange distance, they can do anything that Canon and Sony can do. Nikon’s problem has always been that they can only do so many things at a time; they’re much smaller corporations overall compared to Canon and Sony. However, when they do deliver the goods, they’re always truly impressive. When they first made the 14-24mm f/2.8 it was absolutely unprecedented compared to anything Canon could offer at the time, that’s for sure!

      Time will tell. Either way, this new realm of competition will benefit photographers in many ways!

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  5. astar bucks

    What a dumb article and what dumber comments!

    Canon can’t take back what it never had in the first place! Sony is the market creator and leader and everybody else is just wising up and desperately trying to stay relevant!

    My replies to the dumb comments below!

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  6. John Lindsey

    The Canon R with battery grip and 28-70F2 sure feels like the next step.  I did get rid of my Sony A7Riii kit the week after getting the R&28-70.  The Nikon Z7 and Canon are years ahead of the Sony, from someone that owns the both and got rid of the Sony…  The 28-70F2 is every bit as nice as people say. 

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    • astar bucks

      What use is a lens with a crap sensor using tech from the last 5 years?

      Meanwhile, the sharpest lens in the world (according to DxOMark, who at least perform lab tests with proven methodologies instead of pointless talk like you), is the just released Sony 135mm f1.8 GM. While the smallest lightest sharpest 35mm f1.4 is, yep, the Sony 35mm f1.4 GM.

      If you even know anything, you would actually know the importance of pairing the best lenses with the best sensor tech. Clearly you have no clue what you are talking about.

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    • Ken Cheng

      “years ahead of Sony?” lol  that’s hilarious (and yes, I DO have experience with ALL of them, I work part-time at a shop, and we get to take them home.  Just in the AF department alone, Sony blows away Canon R and Nikon Z, but whatever, anyone can claim anything on the internet these days… We still have a hard time keeping the a7III in stock after over a year of release and it’s never been on sale, yet… with the R and Z being on sale, they’re not movin’ much AND we’ve had several returns on the R… we had to sell them as “open box”… pretty pathetic actually, oh and should we even talk about the terrible Canon sensors? Canon’s sensor technology is years BEHIND lol)

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  7. Rumi Munir

    And an unicorn will make canon match sony sensors?! Sony is miles ahead there. Sorry but this article seems like a load of cow dung. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      OK, about the “miles ahead” thing.

      Canon and Nikon have closed the gap between actual image quality very dramatically within the last few years. Any difference that you see in image quality between Canon and Nikon or Sony is going to be smaller than the average difference between nailing your exposure/focus, and “shooting sloppy” with poor technique.

      It’s also a moot point if you’re simply comparing stats that are “miles” beyond what you even need. As an analogy, right now we’re basically arguing about two cars that can go 250 MPH versus 225 MPH, …when we’re literally never going to go faster than 90 MPH. See my point? All cameras have surpassed what most working professionals need, many years ago. Would I choose Sony or Nikon if I was a landscape photographer who hates bracketing? Sure. But for most photographers, it’s not “miles ahead”, it’s splitting hairs.

      OK, that’s image quality. To hopefully prove to you that I’m not just a Canon fanboy here, and maybe get you to truly consider what I’m saying about how small the image quality difference is, I’ll say this:

      When it comes to on-sensor hybrid autofocus, Sony is indeed MILES AND MILES ahead of the competition. The A9 is just jaw-dropping. And it’s not just the incredible focus speed and precision that blows away Canon and Nikon. It’s the actual interface and customization, the way the A9 (and to some extent, the A7Riii and A7iii operate is just highly versatile and intuitive. All three mirrorless systems got major updates to their AF system recently, and the Sony AF system is still way ahead of the pack.

      However, I do think that’s not a game over signal for Canon or Nikon. They can turn it around within 1-2 camera generations. That is, if they pour money into R&D constantly, for the foreseeable future…

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    • Jonathan Brady

      Matthew… You say that Canon is 1 – 2 generations behind and that they will catch up but that requires the competition to stand absolutely still. You do realize that won’t happen, right? Canon would have to invest a TON of money to catch up to Sony’s sensor technology and the camera market would never thank them (by buying enough cameras) for it. The only way Canon ever catches up is by discovering some process or algorithm that makes things CHEAPER and faster/more efficient. That’s really unlikely given that Sony pours far more $ into sensor tech and AI than Canon. At this point, Canon (and it’s unrelenting fans) need to accept they’ll always be at least 1-2 generations behind what Sony can offer in terms of technology. Canon probably has, hence the sell-a-kidney lenses they’re designing to differentiate themselves.

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  8. Tony Edwards

    “and Canon is in fact onto something genius with their RF lens mount as a hole?” Fixed it for you…

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  9. Nam Nguyễn Ngọc

    And then Sigma announce the 35mm f1.2 for emount. 

    Some people are just so gullible. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      The Sigma 35 1.2 is indeed exciting, despite being pretty massive. The question is, can they do a 50 or 85 1.2 like Canon has? And if they can, will the lenses be optically enormous and/or sharp in the corners?

      It’d be great to see such lenses on Sony, but so far it looks like Canon is already doing lenses that we might never see on Sony.

      Let’s see if Sony proves this wrong!

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  10. Alex Harper

    It’s quite easy Canon can retake the entire market if they simply produce a good camera.

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    • Christian Fiore

      But when was the last time they did that?

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    • astar bucks

      Like I stated up top – you can’t retake something you never had in the first place, genius!

      Try getting the basics right. Canon was and is still clinging to its DSLR pacifier. Sony is the innovator and mirrorless leader.

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  11. Shawn Earle

    I must disagree, the mirrorless cameras feel like toys and many of us still like the durable robust feeling of a DSLR. And also Canon will need some big innovations to match the image quality of Sony’s sensor

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    • astar bucks

      Thanks… From that we know you have confirmed that:

      (1)You are a dinosaur/Neanderthal still unable to grasp the impact of tech; and/or

      (2) You are a novice wannabe who wants a huge heavy DSLR to overcompensate for your inadequacies elsewhere.

      Real pros never like large/bulky/heavy equipment. Smaller, lighter and yet higher quality lenses/sensors will ALWAYS WIN when you have to use and carry lots of equipment everyday.

      Its always the hobbyists and amateurs who want massive gear to look good or feed their insecurities.

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    • Matthew Saville

      After reviewing the Nikon D850 and then the Z7 pretty close to each other, and after using DSLRs for 15 years, I must say, I disagree, I prefer the form factor of full-frame mirrorless cameras much more than DSLRs. At most, I can get on board with a 6D size or D750 size DSLR. The 5D-series and D8xx series feel like old boats that need to go on a diet. And I have big hands, too. I do find the Sony grip to be too cramped. I do think they could beef up a “flagship” pro version of a Canon EOS R or Nikon Z7. But all in all, I absolutely prefer the mirrorless form factor for all of my professional and personal work, hands-down.

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    • Matthew Saville

      astar bucks, as much as I like the mirrorless form factor, I would also disagree that it’s “dinosaur” to prefer a DSLR. The optical viewfinder is like a stick shift car. Is it outdated? Yeah. But does it still serve a very useful purpose, that many people still prefer? Yup.

      So, DSLRs aren’t going bye-bye any time soon, like some say. They’ll just take a back seat to whatever the full-frame mirrorless systems are doing.

      I do agree that there are some pros or aspiring pros who think that they need a huge looking camera and lens in order to be taken seriously. But that is indeed something that might fade with time, depending on personal preference. I know plenty of veteran pros who still use their DSLRs, and I know many experienced pros who were happy to dump their DSLRs for a mirrorless kit, even an APS-C mirrorless kit. It’s all about how you shoot, and what your priorities are.

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    • astar bucks

      “Matthew Saville

      & @”Shawn Earle” – Already, you are a dinosaur for not being able to appreciate what mirrorless really means.

      If you start off with a small body, you can add on the necessary to size it up. With the A7/A9 bodies, you can add a SmallRig bracket/plate which not only serves as a Arca Swiss tripod mount plate but also as a finger extension.

      Or you can add a vertical grip. Or any other L-brackets. They even have wooden video style grips or Sony’s thumb grip. There are 3D print accessories too!

      However, you cannot size a camera body down can you? What, are you going to saw something off your stupid DSLR when you need something smaller and lighter?

      For novices/amateurs like you whining about loving oversized heavy stuff, wait till you are a serious pro using it regularly for work. By the time you add a cage or L-Bracket with tripod mount, wireless transmitter, external shotgun microphone, mini-LED light panel, external HDMI monitor plus SSD etc. etc., the whole rig will weigh a ton anyway.

      Real pros and serious photographers never talk like you about wanting heavier bigger gear! LOL!

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      Astar, chill out and stop being so emotional! He said he liked the larger DSLR feel and said nothing about preferring DSLR tech. I also sometimes prefer a beefy grip when wielding large glass (as necessary for overcompensation lol)

      You know who uses the term “real pros” when making an argument? Insecure amateurs (typically with no profile pic) 

      For what it’s worth David & Matthew, thanks for the reviews, insights, and opinions!

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  12. Jonathan Brady

    I expected SO much more than the tired ass “larger mount” argument. I’d like to say “you can do better” but apparently you can not.

    Here: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1475646-REG/mitakon_zhongyi_mtk50f095m3fe_speedmaster_50mm_f_0_95_iii.html

    See? A 50/.95 for FE bodies.

    Now… Put down the gigantic pitcher of Kool Aid and walk away with your head hanging low.

    I’ll do the same for expecting more from you.

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