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Why Buy a Canon EOS-R?

EOS-R with LTM 50 F1.2 on helicoil adapter

Last year Canon introduced its first full frame mirrorless camera body. Canon was no stranger to mirrorless, in fact other than Sony they had more mirrorless bodies in production than any other brand. But unlike Sony, Canon waited a long time to go big on the sensor. This gave Sony a huge edge having a five year head start on Canon in the full frame mirrorless space. Sony was further enabled by virtue of their semi-exclusive deal with Carl Zeiss for high end glass to rival Nikon and Canon’s best. When both Canon and Nikon entered the full frame arena, they were five years behind on glass, or were they?

Both Nikon and Canon have adapters that allow the use of the old DSLR lenses on the new mirrorless bodies. But Nikon is at a severe disadvantage versus Canon regarding the use of legacy glass. Nikon’s beleaguered F mount dates to 1959 and most of the lenses that utilize the mount will only work in a very limited fashion on the new mirrorless Z cameras. The newer AF-I, AF-S and AF-P lenses work very well. For Canon any EOS-EF mount lens ever made will work on the EOS-R with the adapter. On day one Canon had the entire catalog of EF lenses dating to 1987 that worked on the EOS-R and they work better on the EOS-R than they do on the cameras they were actually designed for!

The biggest advantage to the mirrorless bodies is the short back focus of 16mm – 20mm depending on brand. This shorter flange distance has two excellent benefits, one is that lens designers are able to produce vastly superior performing lenses when they don’t have to work around a mirror box. This shorter flange distance has the PhotoFair favorite advantage and my personal fav as well: you can adapt old school rangefinder lenses and nearly any lens in fact to work on the body. The other advantage to mirrorless is the fact the the camera focuses right off the sensor itself rather than through a mirror system that can become out of alignment with the sensor requiring tedious focus correction procedures.

Now before I go on, any person currently using Sony mirrorless or Nikon DSLRs quite likely should stay with their current brand. Nikon DSLR users with a heavy investment in premium Nikon glass definitely ought to stick with Nikon. Canon DSLR owners ought to stick with Canon as well, duh. But why buy a EOS-R if you have a perfectly good working Canon DSLR? Well friends, that is the question of the day.

Lets be real clear, “Bones” McCoy said this about the DSLR “He’s dead, Jim.” OK he was actually talking about an unfortunate red shirt, but the words ring true for the single lens reflex design. Mirrorless is the future of professional and serious amateur photography.

Canon and Nikon both decided to use a wide lens mount. Canon already had an enormous 54mm wide mount on the EOS cameras and they used it to great effect with some of the fastest SLR glass ever made! Nikon went an extra 1mm to 55mm on the Z mount. Canon unlike Nikon is already producing ridiculous awesome lenses that no one ever thought possible. For some reason Nikon is holding back on the exotics other than a special manual focusing 58mm F/0.95. I wonder if Canon is snickering… “we did one of those in 1961. I assure you, the modern Nikon will be much better… for eight grand it damn well better be! Canon launched the 50mm f/1.2 L that is optically superior in every metric to the EF version. They followed with a sinister 28-70mm F/2 yes two point oh! They continue their march with crazy excellent L series glass the 85/1.2L and a ‘Defocus Smoothing’ version. A full suite of 2.8 L zooms to complete the “holy trinity” of glass 15-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8 and the latter is by far the smallest pro grade 2.8 tele zoom in the universe!

EOS-R with LTM Canon Rangefinder 50/1.2 on Leica M macro helicoil adapter

So the pitch for EOS-R is pretty simple, Canon is going to quickly put the bulk of their engineers on mirrorless and the lens line up they already have is pushing boundaries of optical design. As a long time Canon user the switch to the R was too easy. I have the EF adapter with the cool control ring and my scary large collection of L series lenses mounts up and works perfectly. The camera is fast, a little smaller than a DSLR and offers the most sophisticated focusing system Canon has ever made and perhaps anyone has ever made. It has well over 5000 focus points which is ten times what Nikon or Sony have. Canon’s exclusive dual pixel AF is an industry leading technology as well. Furthermore I have several adapters for old school camera mounts including a Leica M adapter with a macro helicoil focus feature. Rangefinder lenses often had terrible close focusing limited to roughly 3 feet. The helicoid adapter adds a few millimeters of rear focus to allow for much closer focusing. Even the vintage glass is improved on a mirrorless camera 🙂

Many of the review pundits out there were disappointed in the EOS-R. They complained that at $2295 which was $300 more than the then current Sony A7 III, it should have had IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) which Sony had. They bemoaned the lack of dual card slots which Sony also had. Seriously they were on about that like the camera was garbage town because it lacked those features. Full disclosure I was really hoping it would have IBIS and I was a little bummed it did not. I love mounting my old Leica and Canon range finder glass to the full frame EOS-R so IBIS would have been most welcome. The pundits continue to demand that Canon launch a “Pro Version.” Never mind that Sony didn’t launch the A9 until 2017, four full years after the first A7.

Well pundits it’s time to get schooled… newsflash the Sony A7 and A7r as well as the Nikon Z6 and Z7 and yes, even the EOS-R, ARE professional cameras. They are not the “flagship” models like Sony’s A9, Nikon’s DSLR D5 or Canon’s DSLR 1DX Mk II. Most pro’s do not need what the flagship bodies have. The sports guys shooting the Super Bowl definitely need that. A professional studio shooter does not. These so called expert pundits often fail to even recognize that the flagship bodies are sacrificing resolution for pure speed. Many full time professional photographers choose resolution over speed. In fact I run into working pros all the time using Canon EOS 5D Mk IV cameras which are pretty similar in stats to the EOS-R. There are also a fair number of Nikon pros using the D850 which is also reasonably similar in specs to the Z7. And I have run into full time pros using Sony A7 cameras.

My friends, Canon lowered the price of the EOS-R to $1799 and if you don’t need all the bells and whistles they have the EOS-RP at a price of $1299, that camera is a bit smaller as well. The EOS-R at $1799 is a fantastic camera. I paid $2295 for mine last year and I think it’s fantastic at THAT price!

Annabee with EOS-R and EF 85mm F/1.2 L Mk II © 2019 Rod Sager

Here is the deal about full frame mirrorless cameras. If you plan on using these exclusively for the purpose of mounting classic glass from Leica, Canon, Zeiss and such as well as other vintage lenses, and you do not own a Sony, Nikon, or Canon full frame camera, get the Sony A7r III or the new A7r IV. These cameras have IBIS that works on your old school lenses, the smaller lens mount makes the cameras a bit smaller, and if you want to buy a couple of modern E mount lenses to travel with, the smaller mount makes those lenses smaller… MUCH smaller than either Nikon Z or Canon RF mount lenses.

If you see yourself using the modern lenses and want the absolute highest and best quality especially from future lenses, either Nikon or Canon is your ticket. Why? Because even Carl Zeiss is limited with that tiny lens mount, soon Nikon will start destroying Sony with new lens designs that they can’t match due to physical limitations in the lens mount. Oh, and Canon already is mopping them up with this barrage of L series RF glass. Canon is rewriting the record book with lenses that push optical barriers and deliver ridiculously sharp images. Since Canon has not launched a step up body to the EOS-R yet 30.1 megapixels is the ceiling for now. Nikon’s Z7 offers 45mp and IBIS. If resolution is your thing, Nikon holds an edge, oddly they don’t have any high end Z mount glass to take advantage of the 45mp. Canon has all kinds of new crazy sharp glass for the RF mount but no high resolution body to take full advantage either.

So why buy the EOS-R? Because mirrorless is the future, DSLRs are dead, Canon has the best “pro lenses” in the mirrorless space, you can’t mount vintage rangefinder lenses to you clunky DSLR. Mirrorless cameras are more quiet, have real time exposure in the viewfinder, and many other genuine advantages. All the energy and focus is in mirrorless.

Many pundits bashing the R seem to forget the amazing touch screen experience on the Canon, the fully articulating rear LCD, the touch to move focus points which is brilliant, none of these features is available from either Sony or Nikon. Sony users have been SCREAMING for a fully articulating rear LCD since the A7 launched over FIVE years ago. It has been a persistent demand in the market that Sony has ignored, as have many you tubers in their bashing rants against the EOS R. Let’s not forget that Canon has the largest catalog of fully electronic lenses on the planet… it’s not even close BTW… seriously not even remotely close. Every single EF mount lens made by Canon and from every single third party lens maker like Tamron, Sigma, Tokina, etc. since 1987 works on the EOS-R. Those EF lenses are almost certainly faster and better on the R than a DSLR. Hundreds of millions of fully electronic lenses new and used that work like they are native to the camera are out there, new in the box or circulating online and on the shelves of camera stores. And like most mirrorless bodies you can adapt almost any lens to work on the camera. That is why I bought the EOS-R and now you can get one for $500 less than I paid last fall.

Once you get your mirrorless camera, be it a Sony, Nikon, or Canon, you should start heading to the camera shows looking for amazing vintage lenses to adapt. Oh! How convenient, there is a show on Saturday in Newark CA! The PhotoFair! 

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Lensbaby Goes Premium

Lensbaby spent the early part of its existence refining the original Lensbaby and some variants on that original theme. The original design featured a simple single element lens that created a “sweet spot” in the center that was sharp followed by a radial blur all around that sweet spot. The lens could be manipulated with its semi flexible barrel.

Lensbaby has come a long way since those early plastic bodied creator lenses. They still offer a variety of variants on the original themes but in the last few years they have put forth some very nice quality optics that still offer a creative alternative to traditional lens design but in a fantastic high quality product that looks and feels premium.

I purchased the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 which is just such a product. Many of you that follow this blog know that I have a healthy infatuation with so-called soft focus lenses. These lenses use deliberate spherical aberrations to create that glamorous glow. Most of those lenses utilize a form of lens element shift internally to induce the effect allowing the lens to perform as a standard lens as well. You can check out my previous posts on several of these that I have owned over the years.

These previous lenses had some form of switch or ring that was activated or turned to produce the soft focus usually with varying degrees of effect. I remember that years ago Pentax made an 85mm f/2.2 soft focus lens that had no such switch or dial but rather the effect was induced based on the aperture with wide open having the most soft effect and the stopped down past 5.6 nearly no effect at all. I never liked that style because you could not shoot the lens wide open with out the spherical aberrations, so it was a ‘one trick pony’.

This Lensbaby Velvet works just like that old Pentax, yet unlike the Asahi made lens of yesteryear I like this lens. What gives then? What is different about this Velvet? Two things immediately set this lens apart from any soft focus lens I have used, or read about. This lens has a super bright f/1.6 opening. By the time I stop down to f/2.8 at non-macro distances, most of the spherical aberration is gone. In effect I get the f/2.8 without the soft focus, more or less. The faster opening allows me to really throw the background way out of focus and even further enhance the delicious soft glow. Furthermore this is a bona fide macro lens capable of producing a 1:2 or 1/2 life reproduction ratio. The lens will focus down to 5″ which is four times closer than a typical 50mm lens.

I really like the polished finish which harkens back to the days of old school rangefinders and Exakta SLRs. It looks cool and it feels well made with all metal finishes. If you prefer a more subdued look they have a black anodized finish as well, but who wants to be subdued? I also noticed that they have a Velvet 85mm f/1.8 in the catalog as well and it too has very close focusing capability.

I find myself shooting this lens at f/2 – f/4 most of the time. That gives me a range of softness from very subtle to very strong but maintains a good sharp plan of focus. This Velvet 56 is pretty soft wide open.

Lensbaby is a local company at least from my perspective as they were founded in Portland, OR which is adjacent to my Vancouver USA. The company has a large line of clever and artistic products allowing for a wide range of effects to enhance your imaging experience, check out their website here.  I’m Jonesing for that 35/2.8 Burnside lens with the controllable swirly bokeh.

I love this Velvet 56 lens, below are some images I have made with it.

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