More Annoying of Users

I was aware of this earlier due to backchannel info I've received, but now it's appeared more clearly in public: Canon apparently has been telling third party lens companies that produce RF lenses to cease and desist. The RF mount is apparently a closed system that will be defended by patent, trademark, and other legal action by Canon. 

The latest public indication of that is shown in an online conversation between Viltrox and a customer just published by Photo Rumors. Viltrox says they've been told by Canon to stop selling RF mount products. They are not the first company I'm aware of that has been told this. Previously, Samyang stopped making RF mount lenses, though they weren't as clear about why. Other companies hinted at RF lenses that never appeared.

In essence, Canon is saying to its customers "we are a closed system" and we'll litigate to keep it that way. This from a company that has a total of two RF-S lenses for its crop sensor mirrorless cameras (buzz, buzz). Of course, interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) have historically been about being open systems. That's one of the things that makes them desirable and how lens mounts, and thus cameras, gain traction in the first place. Canon themselves benefitted from that in the EF mount for many years. 

Somewhere in Tokyo there's a Canon management team that has very low self esteem concerning RF. In essence, they've just made a knee-jerk move to protect their own lens sales, and that's a statement of weakness. Apparently Canon doesn't think they can win via lens product performance in a competitive mirrorless market, even though they managed to do just that in the SLR and DSLR markets. I've used ten RF mount lenses so far, and indeed I've found them to be mostly on the blah side. By comparison Sony's G and GM lenses are shining, as are Nikon's S lenses. Of those ten Canon RF lenses I've used so far, I'd say only one of them sits at the same level of across-the-board performance as their direct competitors are producing in mirrorless. 

Big companies always seem to want to close off competition arbitrarily. It's the easier and simpler way of doing business once you have a huge bureaucracy. Apparently lawyers cost less than creative engineers ;~). The problem with anti-competitive practices is that it takes the pressure off of making better products. In the long run, a nimbler competitor will topple giants that try to win business by legal caveat. Customers move on, and are quite good at sniffing out protectionism versus innovation and usefulness. Unfortunately, the operative words in this paragraph are "in the long run."

I've long questioned Canon's market share fixation, and now I question whether they'll even be able to keep their dominance intact. For several decades Canon has captured 40-50% of ILC market share. Much of that was delivered via marketing and sales distribution tactics, not better products. Here in 2022 one of the reasons why Canon can still claim such high market share has partly to do with their lingering "cheap DSLR" sales (you can get a new Rebel for as little as US$379 with kit lens today). 

Things aren't going so well in mirrorless, where Sony is giving Canon a strong challenge (much like Nikon did early on with DSLRs). Sony has to be laughing at Canon's "no third party lenses" proclamation. Sony, after all, is the largest shareholder in third party lens maker Tamron, so all those desirable Tamron lens options simply aren't going to show up in an RF mount, even if Tamron wanted to make them (note Tamron already has shown cooperation with Nikon in the Z mount, though not under the Tamron name). 

Last week dpreview attempted to show how the full frame lens lineups for mirrorless were going. I trashed that article for a number of inaccuracies and flawed logic, but customers actually need such information, so expect to see me do a short series of comparisons on sansmirror shortly. I'll give you some foreshadowing: Canon's RF mount looks the weakest in terms of lens choices, mostly due to the lack of third-party lenses. RF-S? Laughable. Indeed, it's Viltrox that actually boosts the Nikon Z mount ahead of Canon in terms of choices. Oops.

The question keeps coming up whether Nikon is doing the same anti-competition thing as Canon. As far as I can tell, they are not (though they are tight lipped on whether they are or aren't). One third party lens maker, Voigtlander (Cosina) is claiming mount cooperation from Nikon; Nikon has licensed at least one lens from Tamron; and Nikon executives have been seen promoting cameras such as the Zfc with Viltrox and other lenses mounted on them. Nikon's cooperation with SmallRig, Tascam, Profoto, and Nissin also seem to indicate that Nikon knows they can't go it alone in fully developing a full system on their own. I suspect that Nikon stays relatively quiet about all this because of cultural reasons (it might be perceived as an admission of failure [to do everything]).

Personally, I don't wish to reward companies for practices such as Canon's scaring off third party lens makers. Thus, for the time being, I'm going to borrow RF lenses rather than buy them for testing. That also might mean that I don't review as many RF lenses, but so be it. 

I also don't see how this is going to play well for Canon in China, a major market they'll need to win over to keep that dominant market share. The Chinese are just as proud of their native products as the Japanese, and I don't think they'll take well to a Japanese company telling them that they can't use Chinese products on their camera. Again, Sony has to be laughing themselves silly right now. My marketing experience tells me to make an ad for the Chinese home market that shows the difference. Imagine an ad in China that has two sides to it: the left side shows a Sony camera and all the Chinese lenses available for it, while the right side shows a Canon camera and all the Chinese lenses available for it. Point proven. Own goal, Canon. 


Bonus: long-term readers know that I've often talked about "ecosystem" as it comes to technology devices (and cameras, specifically). Think about any "winning" technology product, and you'll also note that it has a broad and deep ecosystem of other products supporting it. With computers, that's software and accessories. 

What Canon's attempting to do with their "no third party RF lens" edict is the opposite of building an ecosystem. It's arbitrarily destroying an ecosystem before it even appears. Given that all of Canon's competitors will end up with ecosystems that are broader and deeper than Canon's, that's going to put an enormous amount of pressure on R&D to make a better product that can't be duplicated by others. Yeah, that's not going to happen. 

Even Apple is aware of how important ecosystems are, though they use licensing to try to impart some level of control over it. 

To make a closed system work long term, you basically have to be in a monopoly business. While a 50% market share is big, it's not a monopoly, and I'll bet Canon will not be able to maintain that. If I'm right, Canon will only have themselves to blame for the erosion. 

 Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: | mirrorless: | Z System: | film SLR: all text and original images © 2024 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2023 Thom Hogan
All Rights Reserved — the contents of this site, including but not limited to its text, illustrations, and concepts,
may not be utilized, directly or indirectly, to inform, train, or improve any artificial intelligence program or system.