I totally understand what you are saying. Here are some of the things I do know.1. Canon themselves have blamed part of the decline in DSLR sales on lagging technological improvements2. A couple years ago financials from Nikon indicated that they had gained a significant amount of DSLR growth thanks to their improved technology (can't say what technology specifically, the documents don't say), in significant part due to the D600 and D800 as well as some of their mirrorless cameras (the latter seems to have fallen off, honestly not sure about the others as there have not been more recent financial reports that state similar information)3. Canon already has a 180nm fab, so they would not need to invest in a new one
Given the above, particularly given #3, why would Canon "go under" in five years by working on improving their dynamic range? It's even simpler than that. Canon already has patents for many of the same kinds of technology that Sony used to improve DR in their Exmor sensors. The big one was going to CP-ADC, but Sony also upsells their digital CDS as well. At the very least, since Canon already has a newer and more advanced fab (this very low cost to just start using it), and since they already have patents for the kinds of technology that would improve dynamic range, the cost barrier seems very low, for the gains it could provide.
As you can see with the math, reductions in read noise are the best way to rapidly gain more DR. Increases in FWC can help as well, but that is a lot more physics-bound...small pixels have small capacities unless you do something much more drastic (like embed CCDs into each pixel that can expand the charge capacity, called multibucketing...but that requires smaller transistors, too!
When the D800 came out, Nikon benefited from it, according to their financial papers from the following fiscal cycle. Canon openly acknowledged that lagging technological advancements (generally speaking, they did not call out sensors specifically, but sensors are a key technology area in digital imaging) was a part of their growth problem. If Nikon, a much smaller company with more schizophrenic marketing and model naming (well...I donno about the marketing...Canon has had some STRANGE marketing lately....
), could make gains of 45% in a single fiscal cycle thanks in significant part to the D600 and D800...why couldn't Canon, a company that has a history of excellent execution?
Something else I know:4. Sony is making big waves in many markets.
I used to be snugly engulfed in bird and wildlife photography. Lot of photographers there are long-time Canon users, and there is solid brand loyalty. That said, I have been seeing an increasing number of bird photographers using the D800. For certain kinds of birds...say chickadees, or common loons...birds with extremely high color contrast (deep black and bright white all on the same bird, as the case with these two), the D800 up through ISO 400 performs significantly better than the 5D III or 1D X. I was amazed at the quality of some ISO 200 Loon images from one particular professional bird photographer...very fine detail in both the bright white feathers as well as the deep black feathers on the shaded side of the bird. The lighting on the bird was more "non-standard" in that it wasn't lit broadside like usual...the light came more from the side, and the bird was angled towards the photographer...very difficult situation which usually blows the DR limit of a 5D III or 1D X.
I am now also engulfed in the astrophotography world. The D810, D810a, A7s and A7II are all making big waves in the astrophotography world lately. I'm friends with a modder, a guy who opens up these cameras (well, Sony and Canon cameras) and mods them for higher hydrogen alpha sensitivity. He has been modding A7s and A7IIs lately, and he routinely remarks about the higher build quality of the Sony cameras vs. Canon cameras, their tighter construction. Feature-wise that doesn't say anything...there are still some functional limitations on the A7 series of cameras that don't compete with Canon cameras...but it is very interesting to me the comments he makes about the superior build construction and quality of the innards of Sony cameras vs. Canon cameras (and he's taking those things apart, modding them, and rebuilding them all the time, it's one of his businesses, how he makes part of his living.)
The D800 and D810 have been regularly demonstrated to produce much lower noise across the board, even at higher ISO, than the 5D III and 6D. This is largely thanks to lower dark current, but many users are shooting at wider fields, and using lower ISOs like 200, where they also have lower read noise. Nikon cameras have much better color discernment than Canon cameras, and also have higher natural Ha sensitivity, and tend to produce more richly colored subs right out of the camera.
Old, used Canon Rebels used to be THE go-to camera for beginner astrophotographers. That paradigm, which has been in place for near a decade, is rapidly shifting. The D5100, 5200, and particularly the D5300 have become the new darlings of the novice. They can be picked up for similar used prices as Canon Rebels, but they have significantly lower dark current (for all except the 7D II), have very low read noise (the D5200 in particular, as it uses the Toshiba sensor and has some of the lowest high ISO dark current I've ever seen), and have absolutely no banding or blotchiness of any kind.
I know this is all anecdotes...but, it's things I've observed. I've been observing little things like this for years now. The trend keeps spreading as the years go on. I used to recommend Canon Rebels or DSLRs in general for new astrophotographers, as Canon used to take the cake on signal linearity. Today, Nikon and Sony cameras are significantly more linear. Nikon has even stopped using black point clipping in their newest models, and are now using a small bias offset of 600 natively. The Exmor sensors had very good linearity to start, but both Nikon and Sony were black point clipping. Removal of the black point clipping results in even better linearity, and consistent linearity across ISO settings (something that Canon is actually fairly poor at...there are one or two thresholds where increasing Canon ISO results in key changes in signal linearity in Canon cameras, probably due to the secondary amplifier kicking in.)
Bill Claff recently generated new plots on his charts from some Samsung NX1 data. The NX1 has some of the best linearity I've ever seen, besting even the D810. The NX1 has one of the most advanced sensors on the market, and is the first APS-C camera to get a BSI sensor design. It's got an extremely compelling featureset that directly competes with the 7D II (and the key features have nothing to do with DR)...Canon may well be losing a 7D II sale to me, as I am pretty sure I'll go with an NX1 instead.
I notice these things as I continue expanding my knowledge of photography and cameras. I also notice that I'm not the only one noticing them. I hear a lot more in recent months people questioning why Canon does the things they do. Those questions are even more significant when they come from modders who are actually in the guts of these cameras on a regular basis, seeing the differences in design and construction.
I think Canon is right in their assessment that lax technological improvement has, in part, hurt sales. It's certainly making me hold back, consider other options. It's also certainly made me recommend cameras from different brands.
Has any of this impacted Canon's bottom line? Well, tough to say. I do know that I've recommended the D5100 or D5300 to many new astrophotographers who took the advice. I would say those are at least some sales that at the very least did not go to Canon (not sure that's a "lost" sale to Canon...but Canon did not get the sale.) I know a number of skilled astrophotographers who rave about the D800/810 for anyone looking to buy a 6D...bit of a price dichotomy, but the D600 is just as good, and priced much more like the 6D (and that's often my recommendation, for them to get the D600 instead.) Not everyone takes that advice, the 6D is one of the best astro cameras Canon currently offers, but some people do indeed take it. More sales that Canon did not get.
How long does it take for such small changes in purchasing decisions to become a big trend? I dunno, but Canon has seen falling DSLR sales. Too bad we can't get information about WHY each manufacturer is seeing falling sales... ;P What about Canon's mirrorless offerings? They repeatedly pale in comparison to the big players in that segment...such as Panasonic and Sony. Sony's A7 line is quite new to that market, but is still more highly regarded by far than any EOS-M option. The A7 series even made digital-converts out of many die hard large format film landscape photographers, the ones who said they would never, ever give up their Velvia 50 4x5. That's really saying something...
I can't say that Canon is "in fact" losing
sales to the competition because they don't have more DR. What I can say is that I see people questioning what Canon is doing with their cameras, and I see many of them (a growing majority, even?) ultimately buying non-Canon. It isn't just a handful of pain in the ass nutcases here on CR bitching about Canon...people are actually making purchasing decisions based on information from people like myself, like my camera-modding friend Mike, etc. and most of that information is based on the core, fundamental technology. In the astro world, basically the only piece of technology that matters is the sensor, and how it's read out...which makes sensor technology the key deciding factor for many discerning astrophotographers (which, BTW, is a growth market.