Mr. Go Tokura, Group Executive ICP Group 2, Image Communications Products Operations, Canon Inc. Pictured at the CP+ show in Yokohama Japan, 2016. 

As well as reporting on the newest gear, we use the opportunity of visiting the CP+ show in Japan to sit down and talk to senior executives from the major camera and lens manufacturers. This year, we were fortunate enough to spend some time with Mr Go Tokura of Canon. 

Canon has had a big year with the launch of the enthusiast-focused EOS 80D and the professional EOS-1D X Mark II. Can you summarize your strategies for catering to these two different market segments?

With regard to the 1D X Mark II, this is an Olympics year.  In years when the Olympic Games are held, one of our objectives is to launch a flagship model within our DSLR lineup to try to capture the professional user market. So this is a big objective in terms of strategy.

As for the 80D, we have entry-level DSLR models under the Rebel brand and the 80D is the level just above - designed to ensure that users can maximize its features in the best way possible. That’s in terms of price, operability, usability and that sort of thing. In recent years the entry-level market segment has been weakening, but the level above that, where we’re targeting advanced amateur users, is becoming an increased focus. The 70D is doing well and is quite popular among our users, and for that reason we expect a lot of interest in the 80D.

Some of our readers were disappointed that the 80D does not include 4K video. Why did you decide not to include this feature?

As you know, in our DSLR lineup we incorporate both video functions and traditional stills DSLR functions. Among our DSLR users we’re still seeing a strong emphasis on the stills photography function. 

We’re promoting our DSLRs as providing both stills and video features - the best of both worlds, you might say. However with regard to the 80D, the main emphasis was to maximise the stills side of the camera. Then, with the aim of increasing the user base, we add movie features to this established stills shooting feature set.

The EOS 80D offers an easy-to-use video feature set, and its new 18-135mm kit lens is compatible with Canon's new inexpensive Power Zoom unit for convenient handling in video mode. But it's not 4K-capable, and as yet, no camera in Canon's sub-pro DSLR lineup is, either.

Do you think there is space in the enthusiast DSLR market for a more capable video camera? Which maybe does offer 4K?

We are considering this and we recognize that this is a feature which might be in demand in the future.

Do you think that Dual Pixel AF will ever be equal to conventional phase-detection DSLR focus, and if so, when will this happen?

It’s very difficult to predict timing, of course, but we want to make Dual Pixel AF surpass conventional phase-detection in terms of performance. 

Dual Pixel AF is a technology which has huge potential for mirrorless cameras. A lot of our readers are still very hopeful for future Canon enthusiast mirrorless models. Is there anything that you would like to say to them?

Obviously I can’t be particularly concrete when talking about our future product planning, but this is something that we are looking at. Something that is under consideration. There are some features, such as AF, which have not yet caught up with DSLRs, so given the current state of affairs it would be a little unrealistic to say that we will suddenly start offering a professional mirrorless camera. There’s still a performance gap that needs to be addressed. 

If we assume that at some point in the future Canon will create an enthusiast or professional mirrorless camera, what are your benchmarks?

This is just my personal opinion. In my view there are two key features that have to be addressed. The first is autofocus, particularly tracking of moving subjects. The other is the viewfinder. The electronic viewfinder would have to offer a certain standard. If those two functions were to match the performance of EOS DSLR camera performance, we might make the switch.

Tremendous progress has been made in electronic systems.  However in terms of AF, pro-level AF functions, and the range of shooting situations that professional photographers can respond to, there’s still a gap between DSLRs and mirrorless systems.

The Canon EOS M3 is Canon's most convincing mirrorless camera to date, but it isn't the model that a lot of Canon users have been hoping for. According to Mr Tokura, autofocus and electronic viewfinder performance has to improve before Canon will consider launching an enthusiast-focused mirrorless product. 

When I spoke to Mr Maeda last year he told me that he was focused on increasing the speed of product development at Canon. Have you seen a change?

I can’t give any concrete details here but this is a goal that we’re working to achieve. 

The reason I ask is that it seems that compared to the past, the entry-level ILC market seems to be moving rather slowly right now, whereas in terms of development speed, the enthusiast and semi-pro ILC market is moving quite quickly. 

Yes, I agree. For this reason, it’s becoming increasingly important that we do increase development speed.  That’s why it’s considered a very important objective that we’re continuing to address.

What is your strategy for growth in this changed market? What do you need to do to differentiate?

One of the differences between us and our competition is the EF lens lineup. We have a very broad base of EF lens users and we don’t want to do anything that would sacrifice their loyalty, so it’s a very high priority for us to satisfy their needs and meet their demands. 

With regard to the overall market, maybe there’s a lack of vigor and it could be viewed as shrinking. Looking at the compact camera market, the bottom end is dropping considerably and the competition is smartphones. Smartphones offer a very easy, convenient way of taking photos. However in the high-end compact segment, at the high end there are cameras that offer functions and performance that smartphones cannot compete with and here we’re seeing growth. So in the compact market, offering features that smartphones cannot compete with is a way of differentiating and invigorating the market. 

You mentioned loyalty. How important is it to you to continue to update older models via firmware even perhaps after end of life?

Of course we’d like to provide every level of support we can, even to users of older models. Should an opportunity arise we’ll obviously offer firmware updates so that they can get the most out of the models that they have purchased. However a lot of the performance depends on the hardware itself. There is only so much you can get out of older or out of date hardware. There are new devices incorporated in newer models which make possible improved performance, so there’s a kind of tradeoff. Unless newer hardware is introduced, sometimes it’s not possible to get the performance.

One of the areas where we’ve been pleased to see improvement from Canon is in sensors. What are your priorities in terms of sensor development in the future?

Increasing resolution and increasing sensitivity are ongoing objectives and that’s not going to change, but on top of that, as I’ve mentioned there’s an emphasis on merging stills and movie functions. So two priorities for future sensors are lower power consumption and increasing processing speed. 

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is a significant, albeit iterative upgrade to the 1D X. We should expect new flagship models in Olympic years, says Mr Tokura. 

As you develop semi-professional lines like the EOS 5D and 1D-series, where are you most focused in terms of improvement?

When we look at a model that we want to upgrade, we don’t take a single item of specification and choose to work on that and not other aspects. We try to improve all features to the same degree. The EOS 5DS however was an exception. Resolution was increased markedly, off the charts compared to anything we had done before. But that’s the exception. Usually we won’t try to boost any one feature over and above the rest of the feature set.

Our approach when it becomes time to launch the next generation of the EOS-1D X or the 5D, is that we try to raise performance across the board as best we can.

Editor's note:

I last spoke to Mr Tokura in 2014, and although Canon has been pretty busy in the two years since then, when it comes to the big picture it might appear that not much seems to have really changed. The company still lacks a convincing mirrorless camera, as competitors like Sony continue to set a faster and faster pace of technological development at the semi-pro end of the ILC market.

But at least we have a clear sense of what it would take for Canon to make a 'switch' to mirrorless. Although Mr Tokura acknowledges that the technology has advanced a lot, he still sees autofocus and the experience of using an electronic viewfinder as being the two key areas where mirrorless cameras lag behind DSLRs. Whether you agree with him or not, the implicit promise that Canon intends to improve Dual Pixel AF to the point where it rivals the best professional DSLR autofocus systems should be very exciting. 

Canon is big enough that it doesn't need to worry too much about being left behind quite yet (Mr Tokura's point about Canon EF users is a good one - there are more than 100 million EF lenses out there, something that Sony certainly cannot boast) but I do sense a shift, of sorts, in my conversations with Canon representatives in recent months. Mr Maeda, who in conversations with us has stressed the importance of speeding up product development, is moving up inside the company. More than ever, his influence is, I think, being felt quite keenly by the managers that report to him. When I asked Mr Tokura whether increasing development speed was still a priority, he answered with a knowing smile. It's very clear that yes - it most definitely is.