A prototype of the forthcoming Canon EOS R5, on display at the recent WPPI trade show

If it wasn’t obvious at the time, it should be clear now that the EOS R and RP don’t represent Canon’s full ambitions for full-frame mirrorless. Following the initial surge of those releases, there’s been an apparent lull while the real work continued. Now that Canon has started to release details of the forthcoming EOS R5, the bigger picture is becoming clearer.

This is not to downplay the role of those first two cameras. The RP in particular seems to be turning into the camera we thought it might: a competent and aggressively priced first-time full-framer, pitched below the 6D level to entice people into the system.

But it was very apparent that the R and RP weren’t at the center of Canon’s plans for the RF-mount and we’ve had to wait until now, to see more of Canon’s longer-term strategy.

The RF lenses have already set out the game plan though. That triumvirate of F2.8 L zooms is clearly not primarily aimed at RP or even R users. The prices and the performance that they’ve shown, along with the use of the widely respected ‘L’ designation, should make that clear.

Neither the ‘holy trinity’ of F2.8 L zooms, nor the 50 and 85mm F1.2 prime lenses will have been developed primarily for EOS R or RP shooters.

These lenses are laying the groundwork for a camera designed to appeal to the dedicated enthusiast and professional user.

The R5 will be a mirrorless 5D

One thing that’s certain, now that we’ve seen the prototype cameras, is that the inclusion of the number ‘5’ in the R5’s name is no coincidence.

The 5D line has been important for the company, both in terms of sales and in terms of reputation. The 5D DSLRs help cement the company’s image as the maker of aspirational products for enthusiasts and dependable cameras for working professionals, then extended that to create the first high-end stills/video hybrid camera. Like the ‘L’ designation, Canon is unlikely to risk undermining the values associated with that branding by casually applying it to something less ambitious.

Canon is unlikely to risk the 5-series branding by applying it to something less ambitious

The prototype units Canon has put on show also help to make clear that it’s this 5D-using crowd it’s targeting with the R5: the styling cues of the body might come from the EOS R but the control layout is reassuringly 5D-like. Wedding shooters, along with everyone else who got really anxious about such things when the EOS R was launched, will be reassured to hear the R5 will have twin card slots.

There are certainly plenty of design cues from the EOS R, including that square status panel and the mode button set inside the rear shoulder dial…

Canon was determined to get it right

The lag between the announcement of the system and the arrival of its key camera model suggests there was still work that needed to be done.

Given how much of a head start Sony had already established in full-frame mirrorless with its progressively better a7 cameras, there must have been a temptation for Canon to quickly establish a presence in such a key part of the market. But, rather than launching a rival to the Sony a7R III at the same time Nikon launched its Z7, Canon has kept its powder dry.

…but that rear-plate scroll wheel, that big, traditional joystick and the arrangement of the two buttons on the right shoulder have much more in common with Canon’s DSLR design.

This strongly suggests it’s been continuing to work on the technologies underpinning the R5. Whereas the R and RP placed sensors from existing models (the EOS 5D IV and EOS 6D II respectively), in less-expensive bodies, it’s now clear that the R5 will include a series of all-new technologies. And we’d guess at a price tag around the $3500 territory that EOS 5D models have been launched at.

It will feature new-to-Canon technologies

Canon confirmed to us over a year ago that it was developing an in-body stabilization system for a ‘pro-level’ RF camera, and this is likely to be one of the things still being perfected.

There’s scope for some misunderstanding in translation, of course, but the senior figures we interviewed seemed to suggest a system that would combine the efforts of in-body and in-lens stabilization, like Panasonic and Olympus do, rather than sharing the work by letting in-lens stabilization take over some of the work from the in-body mechanism, per Sony and Nikon.

Canon has a history of launching new systems by starting with the middle model. The launch model of the EF mount, the EOS 650, wasn’t an especially high-end offering.

While Canon has decades of experience of in-lens stabilization, it doesn’t have any prior experience of combining lens and sensor-shift IS. This is clearly a technology Canon wanted to get absolutely right before launching a 5D-level camera, rather than delivering a standalone IBIS system and then using the promise of combined IS to entice people to upgrade to an R5 Mark II.

It will push video capabilities forward

The EOS 5D II established the idea of the DSLR as a video device. It wasn’t quite the first video DSLR but with its Full HD capability and full-frame sensor, it was the one that ended up in the hands of would-be videographers the world over. The Mark III added a little polish to this but didn’t really push things forward.

But one of the undeniable advantages mirrorless offers over DSLRs is that you don’t have a mirror that needs to be moved out of the way before you can start recording. This, in turn, helps give a more coherent stills and video shooting experience, making it easier for photographers to adapt to shooting sequences of moving pictures, rather than just stills.

So a 5D-level mirrorless camera would be the perfect time to make a spiritual successor to the 5D Mark II and Canon is talking in terms of 8K capture.

The potential benefits of 8K apply to people watching in 4K, just as there were benefits to 4K capture before widespread adoption of 4K displays

You may not think you need 8K, if that’s what the camera ends up outputting. It’s true that the limits of human vision at sensible viewing distances take us into the realms of diminishing returns, but many of the potential benefits of 8K apply to people watching in 4K, just as there were benefits to 4K capture before widespread adoption of 4K displays.

The first is the ability to crop in, giving scope for adding panning or zooming movement into locked-off shots. This is hugely useful in terms of giving flexibility at the edit stage, particularly for single camera setups that an R5 is likely to be used for.

But the other option is to capture at 8K and output it as perfectly oversampled 4K, since you need to capture twice the resolution to accurately describe all the detail that a 4K video can show. It may be that this is what Canon is referring to 8K capture with 4K output, but even this would be an impressive step forward.

I won’t call it a flagship

So what we know from the announced details and what we can deduce from the RF lenses that have been launched is that the 5R will aim to be a ‘Super 5D’: with the addition of in-body IS and advanced video making it perhaps the biggest generational leap forward for ‘5’ level cameras since the introduction of Full HD video capture.

The EOS R5 promises to match the 1D X III in terms of its 20fps frame rate, but it’s still the 1D series that’s the real flagship in Canon’s lineup.

But I’m still loath to call it a flagship. 5D cameras are important to Canon and certainly help set public perception of the brand, but it’s the 1D-series that has entrenched the company’s position on the sidelines of sports across the world.

The R5 is likely to include some of the AI-trained autofocus know-how developed for the EOS-1D X Mark III, and it’s likely to be the top dog in the RF lineup for the foreseeable future. But the sheer amount of power offered by the 1D X III in mirrorless mode suggests we may be only a single generation away from an RF-mount 1D.

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