Which is better, a traditional full-frame DSLR or the new mirrorless full-frame Canon EOS R System? We asked leading extreme sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Richard Walch for his Canon full-frame comparison.
Richard Walch is one of the world's most experienced action photographers. He has been using Canon cameras professionally for more than 25 years. Best known for his snow sports and sailing images, Richard works in the most extreme environments on fast-moving shoots where failing to get the shot is not an option. That's why he chooses the right camera for each job.
"Before I go on each job, I work out which is the perfect camera system for me to take," he explains. "For full-frame DSLR, Canon has a huge range of bodies and lenses to choose from. I love the rugged quality and the great battery life."
But Richard is at the top of his game because he is always looking for the edge to take his images to the next level. And right now, for some assignments, that edge is the new technology in the Canon EOS R System and its groundbreaking RF lenses.
"I depend on technology – I see it as supporting what I'm trying to do with my images. The Canon EOS R has definitely earned a place in my bag and is exciting to work with," Richard says. "Once you get past just checking the spec sheets and start to use the camera, you realise it has features that can move your creativity forward.
"For me the best images are spontaneous, and the EOS R gives you stunning full-frame quality in a package that's super portable. But you can't forget Canon has worked on the EOS DSLR range for 30 years. They are super reliable and built tough. So now I have a choice."
So how does he choose? What's the difference between full-frame DSLRs and the mirrorless full-frame EOS R System? From his expert perspective, what benefits does each offer, and when would he use one rather than the other?
"When it comes to high-speed action, a Canon DSLR like the EOS-1D X Mark II is hard to beat. It shoots at 14fps with lightning-speed autofocus, so you're never going to miss a shot. There's a massive choice of lenses, and all the controls are at your fingertips. And working with an optical viewfinder gives you a pure and natural way to connect with the subject. You feel the moment; you see the shot and take the image. It's the way we shot for decades.
"If I go to the mountains to shoot skiing, the EOS-1D X Mark II battery will last even if it's very cold. If I'm shooting a downhill ski race, you only have a split second when the skier flies into your frame. It's critical the camera is super fast, and the EOS-1D X Mark II is perfect.
"But if I want the highest resolution for a billboard campaign or large custom print, I'd use the 50.6MP EOS 5DS R – it's unbeatable especially when there's enough light in a studio or for flash work.
"The EOS R is similar in spec to the EOS 5D Mark IV, with a sensor of around 30.3-megapixels and Dual Pixel CMOS AF, and both are great all-round cameras. If you're a traditional photographer who has used DSLRs for years and doesn't want to change, the DSLR is still perfect. But I'm very open to new technologies, and to taking a new product and finding out what it can do for me. I'm willing to spend a day or two figuring it out. That makes me a perfect customer for the EOS R."
"The low-light performance of the EOS R is phenomenal. It can see in the dark! That's thanks to the electronic viewfinder [EVF] and LCD screen, as well as low-light autofocus, which mean you can keep shooting when the light has long gone.
"Also, the EOS R controls can be almost endlessly customised, which means you can shoot how you want, very quickly. There are two extra controls, the Multi Function bar and the Lens Control Ring, which can be mapped to almost whatever you want, such as exposure compensation.
"Shooting with an EVF has been a revelation – you really get to appreciate 'What You See Is What You Get' when it comes to exposure and depth of field. There is certainly far less looking at the back of the camera to check focus and exposure. It makes shooting so much quicker, and you can stay really focused on your subject as nothing gets in the way.
"Because it's mirrorless, the EOS R has a totally silent shutter mode, which will get you taking pictures in previously tricky situations.
"When you change the lens with the camera off, the EOS R automatically closes a shutter to protect the sensor. For shooting action where there is dust or snow, that's ideal."
"Of course, if you upgrade from a Canon DSLR to a new Canon DSLR, you don't have to learn anything new. On the EOS R, some things are different [such as the new controls], and you have to get used to it. But if you are willing to go to the next level, you should give it some time.
"The EOS R has only one memory card slot. If you have a shoot where there is no way you could risk losing the data and it makes you more confident if you have two slots, then use an EOS-1D X Mark II or EOS 5D Mark IV. But I've never lost images in-camera and am more relaxed about it."
"Canon has a huge range of EF and EF-S lenses for DSLRs. But you can use them on the EOS R System cameras with a range of smart EF-EOS R Mount Adapters. They are not adapters that take light away or change the focal length like a teleconverter. The same engineers that designed EF and RF lenses designed these adapters, so they really made sure the experience is seamless, and there's no loss of quality or functionality.
"In fact they made it even smarter, because there is an adapter with a Control Ring, which brings a new interface to EF and EF-S lenses.
"There is also an adapter that has a drop-in filter mount, so you can use variable neutral density or circular polarising filters, for example.
"The Canon EOS R System has a new, larger RF Mount that allows lens design that's never been possible before. And the lens quality is a real standout. The new glass extends the range of what is possible, especially the RF 28-70mm F2L USM zoom. It's an L-series lens with fantastic quality made possible by the new mount design.
"It is reasonably heavy, but it can replace three prime lenses. If you usually have a 28mm, a 50mm and an 85mm lens, you could leave these three lenses at home and just take this one zoom.
"For a wedding photographer, for example, they can take one camera and one zoom. They'll be faster and can work completely silently.
"The range of fast RF lenses, such as the RF 50mm F1.2L USM, backs up the fact that the EOS R System is so good at low light. You can really work with the shallow depth of field. And the optical design is so good you can really use them wide open. You don't have to stop down to get sharp images. Of course, wide open the depth of field is so small, you need accurate autofocus."
"For sport and action, nothing is better than the EOS-1D X Mark II. But on the EOS R there are lots more focus points, and it makes a huge difference, especially with the touch-and-drag focusing using the touchscreen.
"When I use the EOS-1D X Mark II, I change the AF point every time I pick up the camera. I am used to the process, but for every shot I have to think about where the focus point needs to be. With the EOS R, you can select the point with your finger on the back of the screen.
"It takes a while to get used to it – and it's not so good wearing gloves on a snowy mountain! But for the majority of shooting, it is very smooth. You can have a powerful lens, opened all the way up, then use your point focus, and it nails it."
"The differences aren't a matter of whether a camera is mirrorless or a DSLR. Compared to the EOS 5D Mark IV, the EOS R makes it very easy to shoot at different angles thanks to its vari-angle screen. Both have Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which enables smooth and precise pull focus when recording video, but the touch autofocus is easier to operate on the EOS R's tilting screen, with a phenomenal 5,655 manually-selectable AF points.
"If you need to shoot 4K at 60fps then the only camera to do this is the EOS-1D X Mark II – the EOS R and EOS 5D Mark IV only do 4K at up to 30fps. The EOS R shoots slightly narrower 16:9 4K video, where the other two do 17:9. But the EOS R becomes a really powerful option if you connect it to an external recorder, because then it can output 10-bit 4:2:2 and it supports Canon Log for wide 12-stops dynamic range. That makes it a great choice for a professional video workflow.
"And lens-wise there is the RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens, which has Image Stabilization built-in, so is ideal for video even if you're shooting hand-held. It works hand-in-hand with the camera's own Movie Digital IS 5-axis Image Stabilization. It's a stunning combination."
"It's an EOS-1D X Mark II for high-speed sports and an EOS R as a second camera because it excels at different things. Whenever there is hardcore action sport, there is preparation for that and after-parties. That's where the EOS R is perfect. You want to be fast and discreet, and there will be low-light shooting.
"If you're an enthusiast, the EOS R can do everything you'd need right now. It's similar to the EOS 5D Mark IV but has more options. The EOS R is at the forefront of technology. If you master it today, you will be ready for the future with this new camera system."