Canon Third Party RF Lens Ban

Yes, I’m writing about this too. Everybody has. But my perspective is very different, so please keep reading.

I’m both baffled and annoyed at the indignant positions taken by many commentators, including folks like Tony Northrup, on the decision made by Canon to issue cease and desist orders to third party lens makers who are (were) producing RF mount lenses. Specifically, here’s the announcement (in case you really haven’t seen it):

Not his first offering on the subject, but in this one, Tony seems particularly hell-bent on trashing Canon for their decision. Although in fairness, he did choose to hide it embedded in a breaking news piece that focused more on Nikon (thank goodness).

The bottom line for Tony is that Canon is making a huge mistake by not allowing third party manufacturers to produce RF mount lenses, and further that Canon has chosen not to license its RF technology to those same parties, foregoing a HUGE revenue stream. SOOOOO many potential customers are saying that they will no longer consider purchasing Canon products because they need and expect access to less costly gear options to justify the huge up-front investment from them that Canon requires for access to its new line of cameras. And indeed, the commentary on most YouTube posts where the decision is trashed is exactly that.

Every once in a while though, there is a solitary voice commenting that the decision was indeed the right one. One of those voices is mine.

I don’t have an infinite budget. I don’t come at this from the point of view of someone who is agnostic to who I buy my gear from and how much I pay. I struggled mightily with my recent decision to ditch my Sigma 150-600 EF mount Contemporary lens and pick up the Canon 100-500 RF mount lens – at three times the initial investment for the Sigma.

Canon’s reasons are what you would expect and perhaps one you wouldn’t:

  • The production of third party lenses violates patent laws – true and the expected reason
  • Canon has not and does not plan to license any third parties to produce RF lenses – true as well
  • Canon continues to invest in the RF mount and its associated technology and does not want to compromise that work – really!

The last reason given is very interesting. We all know that the R series cameras and RF mount lenses have had their performance challenges. Certainly my R5 has had several major firmware updates in an attempt to both stabilize and to release the full capability of this new technology. In effect, Canon is saying that the technology is not yet mature, and it makes no sense to license it to any third parties at this time. They also very much want to be the beneficiary of that maturity.

This is the new world we live in. Technology is released before it is mature (or even fully tested in all possible conditions). Witness the issues with the latest iPhone 14. Instead, the new business model is to release at 80% confirmed functionality then improve while the technology is still fresh and new.

But there is a whole other side to this issue which makes it frankly ridiculous – methinks they do protest too much!

I first would like to point out that there is indeed access to R series cameras and RF mounts for all of these lens manufacturers already. Through the EF versions of their lenses and the EF to RF adapter. They can produce as many of these lenses as they choose and even issue new ones to work with the new Canon bodies (through the adapter).

Second, if you look at the quality and functionality of most of the existing lineup of third party lenses for the EF mount, only a few claim to provide FULL functionality and fully replicated speed and performance of the matched Canon EF glass. By definition, these lenses are cheaper because they DON’T offer the same functionality, speed and performance of the original, not because they waited until Canon did all the work on the technology and simply licensed it. These lenses indeed may be wonderful optically, but mechanically and electronically, they just don’t compare – deliberately so.

If that is the case, then adapting EF glass to the RF mount is the perfect solution for continuing that trend.

Third (and most ridiculous) are the complaints from boutique manufacturers who have never provided full functionality or generally nothing more than manual operation of their glass (Rokinon comes to mind). There is absolutely no logical reason that a company like Viltrox would ever need access to the full mechanical and electronic specs for the Canon RF mount because they would never produce a lens to those specs! Yet they somehow feel hard done by in Canon’s decision.

Fourth, the threats from customers who claim they will never buy Canon glass again are, in my humble opinion, just that, threats. The very next camera that comes out with the latest 500 megapixel or 100K video specs will be right at the top of their list to acquire. Can they honestly (with a straight face) tell me that the only reason they purchased the R3, R5, R7 or R10 was because they were expecting third party options for lenses? I don’t think so. And I also find it more and more frustrating to listen to online complainers who expect more and more for less and less.

The days of matching any camera to any lens are behind us. Camera bodies are sophisticated computers and the best performance comes from sophisticated peripherals matched to the intelligence of the body. I am frankly insulted that anyone would want third party options, since that degrades the quality of the experience for all of us. Don’t get me wrong – I think competition is healthy. But not in a million years do I think Canon should simply open its doors to anyone who says “me too”.

Canon has recognized that it needs to provide more consumer friendly options and has released both camera bodies and lenses to address that situation. More are coming. They have chosen to address the proclaimed market demand that way. I completely agree with their decision. The advances made in the R-family series of cameras is phenomenal and Canon should be allowed the time to benefit from this investment in an overall market landscape that is constantly shrinking. They will grab and hold on to as much of it as they can. Those who claim “never again” will be back. Just wait.