Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hands-on Review of the Canon EOS M Mirrorless Camera

Hands-on Review of the Canon EOS M Mirrorless Camera

By Dan M. at H and B Digital
Canon’s long-awaited entry into the increasingly popular mirrorless digital camera field, the EOS M, is finally available.  Solidly and beautifully built, intuitively designed, and sporting a useful and versatile touch screen LCD, the EOS M also delivers typical Canon image quality with the included EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM lens.  Despite some autofocusing issues with the EF-M 22mm and the resulting shutter lag, the EOS M will still appeal to Canon EOS shooters, who will be able to attach any EOS lenses to the M with an optional adapter.

Out of the Box

The EOS M is a beautifully designed all metal camera that looks and feels like a larger version of Canon’s highly successful PowerShot S90 – S110 series.  It is a reassuringly hefty (but comparatively light) 11 ounces without a lens, has rubber grips on the front and rear, and feels built like a tank.  Sized similarly to Canon's excellent PowerShot G Series (the G15 is Canon's latest), it is small enough to put in a jacket pocket, though perhaps a fraction too small for those like me with bigger hands. The M has smooth, uncluttered lines, and, with the help of the optimized touch-sensitive screen, Canon has cut the number of buttons and dials down to a pleasing minimum.

Canon EOS M Digital Camera Hands-on Review

Canon shunned the popular Micro Four Thirds format for the EOS M in favor of the larger APS-C-sized sensor found in its latest APS-C DSLR, the EOS T4i.  This 18 Megapixel sensor with a DIGiC 5 image processor has expanded ISO sensitivity to 25,600, allowing for shooting in very low light conditions.

The included EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM lens (35mm equivalent of 35mm) has a pleasingly low profile (only about 1 inch deep) with a manual focus ring its only accessory (i.e., it looks and feels great).  Canon has somehow finally seen fit to include a Nikon-style center pinch lens cap (Canon's typical edge pinch lens caps are incredibly frustrating when used in conjunction with lens hoods).   

The lens takes typical Canon quality images that are sharp and that convey the appropriate amount of color and contrast.  Unfortunately, as further discussed below, the lens suffers from some rather slow autofocusing issues.

Canon EOS M Sample Image
Canon EOS M with EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM, 1/640 sec. at f/2.0, ISO 400.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of the EOS M is the optional EF to M lens adapter that allows one to use any EF-S or EF lens on the EOS M.  It is not clear at this time whether such lenses (many of whom have very quick USM motors) would suffer the same slow-focusing fate as the EF-M 22mm.

The ClearView II Touch Sensitive LCD Screen

The EOS M also borrows from the EOS T4i the 3.0 inch, 1,040,000-dot touch screen LCD.  The LCD employs the same capacitive technology found in many smartphones such as the iPhone; in fact, many similar pinch and swipe movements are used to zoom or flip through images and dials.  Similarly, focus points and shutter release can be activated on the screen with the touch of a finger.   

I personally don’t see much use for the latter—or, rather, wish I didn’t seem much use for it.  In reality, given the slow autofocus mentioned further below, the touch-to-focus-and-shoot feature might actually speed up the photo-taking process for some; I still prefer to use the center focus option and then recompose my shots as opposed to changing the focal point to somewhere else in the photo.

The LCD is great for quickly accessing options such as ISO, white balance, and metering in the more advanced manual modes (the familiar Aperture (Av) and Speed (Tv) Priority and Manual (M) modes) that might otherwise get buried in menus or require additional buttons, as with the EOS DSLR line.  But such access is not available in either the A+ Auto Mode or the various scene modes, such as portraits or landscapes.  In those auto modes, the camera only offers the following adjustments:  focus method (face-tracking, multiple or single autofocus points), optional creative filters and effects, and white balance equivalent adjustments.

This highly optimized LCD is therefore great for people who shoot in the manual modes such as Aperture Priority.
Finally, the touch-sensitive screen and high resolution are great for reviewing photos for those used to smartphone-like movements.


The Achilles Heel of the EOS M is its comparably slow autofocus, at least with the included EF-M 22mm STM lens; there are reports that the recently released EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens will focus faster than the 22mm STM.  (The EF-M 18-55mm is also now available as an alternative kit lens with the EOS M.)  

The M has a tendency to search for a focus lock longer than competitive setups from other manufacturers (notably super-fast Olympus E-PL5, which also can shoot an amazing 8 frames per second).  Apparently this slow speed is similar to using the EOS T4i in LiveView mode, where one would expect autofocusing to be slower as compared to using the T4i’s viewfinder.  The EOS M is effectively always in LiveView mode, however, since Canon does not offer an optional electric (or optical) viewfinder.

Indeed, the slow focusing with the 22mm STM is the only thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly endorsing the EOS M, which I otherwise really, really enjoy.  As a longtime Canon shooter, I love Canon’s intuitive user interfaces, and the EOS M is no exception.
I also love the thought that I could carry the EOS M around as a lightweight second body with any of my EOS lenses attached via the optional adapter.  I feel that such option may actually be the EOS M’s saving grace, since EOS users will not have to ditch their entire collection of lenses in order to switch to a new format.
In short, I love this camera, or want to . . . until I have to rely on its autofocus to catch a moving subject.  I believe the EOS M will appeal to those looking to do portrait or landscape photography, or those already committed to the EOS line and looking for a tiny body to which they can use their excellent L series glass.  Street scene photography might work if no subjects are moving, but I don’t think the EOS M will be great for taking pictures of kids or sports—at least with the current 22mm lens.

Sample Images to Follow . . . 

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