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Crunch time for Canon? APS-C RF rumors grow, but Canon’s situation looks impossible

Canon EOS R7 mockup
We think a Canon EOS R7 is coming but we don't know what it will look like. This is just our artists impression! (Image credit: James Artaius)

Rumors continue to circulate that Canon will launch a lower cost APS-C EOS R camera using the mirrorless Canon RF mount. It sounds like a great idea, and a way to extend the reach of the RF system into the amateur/enthusiast market. There’s only one problem: what happens to the EOS M range?

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Rumors of an APS-C Canon RF camera have been around since 2020, with reports that a new EOS R7 model could arrive later in 2021, and more recently Canon Rumors reports (opens in new tab) that patents have been uncovered for new APS-C RF mount lenses.

We’ve speculated plenty about the future of the Canon EOS R system in our own Canon camera rumors (opens in new tab) article, but as ever with Canon, nothing happens until it happens.

But if (and that’s a big IF) Canon does launch an APS-C RF mount camera, that poses two big questions:

The Canon EOS M6 Mark II is Canon's most formidable EOS M camera yet, but while it's the best of the bunch, it no more than holds its own against rival brands. (Image credit: Canon)
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1) What will happen to the EOS M camera range?

The first Canon EOS M mirrorless camera was launched way back in 2012, and since that point the EOS M range has gone through several different models and upgrades… and yet it just hasn’t had the impact that Canon must surely have hoped for. The cameras are good in parts but often lackluster, while the lens range has grown slowly but stuck to low-cost amateur-orientated optics with limited appeal for serious photographers and vloggers. 

The Canon EOS M6 Mark II (opens in new tab) is pretty capable and fresh, but pricey too and reliant on a clip-on EVF, since there isn’t one built in, but below that there’s the EOS M50 II (opens in new tab), a very minor refresh of the original EOS M50, and the unlovable Canon EOS M200 (opens in new tab). The EOS M5 and M200 both shoot cropped 4K video that doesn’t even offer Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF in that mode. They’re last year’s cameras with last year’s tech.

Canon still makes only eight EF-M lenses, most of them low-cost optics aimed at beginners. (Image credit: Canon)
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And even now, Canon only makes eight EOS M lenses, including just three primes, and no constant aperture zooms (see Best Canon EF-M lenses (opens in new tab)).

We imagine Canon has invested too much in the Canon EOS M brand to just shut it down, but with Sony and Fujifilm far ahead with APS-C mirrorless technology and lens ranges, it probably wouldn’t be much of a loss to the photo market as a whole if it did.

Indeed, if Canon were to shut down the EOS M line, we think it might do it quietly over time and just not launch anything new. Which is what it feels like right now, to be honest.

If Canon does launch an APS-C RF camera, that would put the RF mount in direct competition with the existing APS-C EF-M mount. Would it effectively kill it off? (Image credit: Canon)
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2) Can Canon make YET ANOTHER lens range?

The trouble with APS-C cameras is that you need APS-C lenses to go with them. That’s not strictly true with macro lenses, portrait lenses or telephotos, where the increase in focal length from the APS-C crop factor can actually be an advantage, but Canon would definitely need to make some APS-C kit lenses and wideangles, where full frame RF lenses just would't offer a wide enough angle of view.

You only have to look at the Nikon Z50 (opens in new tab) to see how important the lens range is. The Z50 is a great camera, but it’s held back through having only two native DX Z-mount lenses – the Nikkor Z 16-50mm kit lens (opens in new tab) and the Nikkor Z 50-250mm telephoto (opens in new tab). There is a DX-format Nikkor Z 18-140mm superzoom (opens in new tab) on the way, but already that feels too little, too late. If you want a wide-angle lens for your Z50, what are you supposed to do? Use the FTZ adaptor and a DSLR lens?

If Canon does make an APS-C RF mount camera, it will need to make a core set of lenses to go with it – and it will have to decide what to do about the EOS M. If it doesn’t, it will be left with no fewer than five different current lens ranges:

• Canon EF-S DSLR lenses
• Canon EF DSLR lenses
• Canon EOS M lenses
• Canon APS-C RF (RF-S?) lenses

• Canon RF lenses

Out of that list, the Canon EOS M and APS-C EOS RF lenses would be in direct competition. Everyone will be confused about what to do, not least the customers.

Could Canon simply give any new APS-C EOS R camera an EF-M lens mount? Hardly, because that would leave no compatibility or upgrade path between two sets of EOS R cameras, which would seem unthinkable.

But then having two APS-C format mirrorless lens mounts seems equally unthinkable too.

New full frame EOS R models are expected, both above and below the current EOS RP. What we don't know is whether this will include a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor. (Image credit: Canon)
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What’s next for Canon mirrorless?

If Canon does decide to launch an APS-C EOS R camera (our money is on an enthusiast level EOS R7), that will surely kill off the EOS M camera range and Canon will still have to do some pretty fancy marketing footwork to make it all look logical and straightforward.

Honestly, we don’t know how Canon would do that, and that’s one reason at least while an APS-C Canon RF range might not happen tomorrow. But those, of course, sound like famous last words…

Read more:

Best Canon cameras (opens in new tab)
Best Canon RF lenses (opens in new tab)
Best Canon EF-M lenses (opens in new tab)
Best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab)
Best beginner cameras (opens in new tab)
Best enthusiast cameras (opens in new tab)
Canon reveals what the R in Canon EOS R really means (opens in new tab)

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Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.