Has Canon turned up fashionably late or has it missed the party altogether with the launch of its first compact system camera, the 18-million-pixel EOS M? Read the Canon EOS M review...
Canon EOS M at a glance:
- 18-million-pixel, CMOS sensor
- Hybrid contrast and phase-detection AF
- 3in, 1.04-million-dot touchscreen
- ISO 100-25,600
- Optional EOS EF-mount adapter
- Street price around £650 with 18-55mm kit lens
Canon EOS M review – Introduction
Canon has left it late in the day to release its first compact system camera: the EOS M. While other manufacturers have had a few years’ head start, Canon has had the advantage of watching its competitors and the reactions of customers. When designing a CSC, the defining feature has to be what size sensor to use, and it is here that Canon will have undoubtedly spent some time on research. A larger sensor will generally offer improved image quality, although it will also mean having a larger camera body and larger lenses.
In the EOS M, Canon has, sensibly, decided to use an APS-C-sized CMOS sensor. It is the same 18-million-pixel unit as that found in Canon’s EOS 650D and EOS 60D models. This puts Canon in line to go head-to-head with Fujifilm, Samsung and Sony, which also use APS-C-sized sensors in their X-series (Fuji), NX (Samsung) and NEX (Sony) CSCs. The reasonably high resolution, combined with the physical size of the sensor, should give Canon’s first digital CSC a chance of having better image quality than that found in micro four thirds system, Pentax Q and Nikon’s 1 system cameras.
However, a CSC isn’t just about image quality. The main consideration for many photographers is the size, weight and handling of the camera, otherwise most would simply purchase a DSLR. The EOS M is around the same size as a large compact camera, with a reasonable number of controls. The question is whether Canon has been able to get the handling correct first time, or whether, like Sony’s first NEX cameras, compromises have been made with the handling that enthusiast photographers will find cumbersome.
Canon EOS M review – Features
The Canon EOS M uses an 18-million-pixel, APS-C-sized, CMOS sensor that is a variation of the same unit found in the Canon EOS 60D and 650D DSLRs. In tests of these DSLRs we found that the sensor provides good detail resolution and excellent colours, so the EOS M will hopefully follow in their footsteps.
The sensor has a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800. There is also an extended setting of ISO 25,600, which is impressive for a CSC and matches the high sensitivity range of the Sony NEX-6, which the EOS M will no doubt be competing against.
Image: The black & white mode is good, and the large sensor allows for a shallow depth of field even at f/5.6
Processing the data provided by the sensor is a Canon Digic 5 processor, which again is used on most of Canon’s latest cameras, including the EOS 650D. Both raw and JPEG images can be captured and saved, and simultaneous capture of both file types is also an option. Images are saved onto SD memory, including the latest SDXC cards that are UHS-I compliant. This should allow the EOS M fast read and write speeds.
The camera’s continuous shooting rate is good, at 4.3fps for 17 JPEG images or six raw files. However, it lacks a very fast burst shooting mode like that of the Sony NEX-6 or the very fast and powerful Nikon 1 V2. I suspect that most photographers will hardly use these extremely fast-burst shooting modes, so the 4.3fps rate of the EOS M should be more than sufficient.
A nice feature of the EOS M is the ability to rate images from one to five stars in-camera. This is also found in a few other Canon cameras, and is extremely useful for ranking images in between shooting. The star rating is embedded in the image file and is compatible with most image-library software, such as Adobe Bridge, Lightroom and Apple Aperture. This can really speed up the process of sorting through images when you return to your computer.
Canon EOS M review – Canon EF-EOS M-mount adaptor
The EF-EOS M-mount adapter, which allows regular Canon EOS EF lenses to be mounted on the new camera, was launched at the same time as the Canon EOS. The adapter provides a full electronic connection between the EOS M and an EF lens, which in turn allows aperture control, optical stabilisation and autofocusing to take place.
With a hybrid, on-sensor, phase-detection and contrast-detection autofocus system, EF lenses can be focused in the same way as M-mount lenses. I used a Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens mounted on the EOS M via the mount adapter. The combination handled reasonably well, with plenty of room to grip the camera with my right hand while supporting the lens.
Sadly, the autofocus is even slower with EF-S lenses mounted. The 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 jittered back and forth, finding an approximate focusing before fine-tuning it further. In bright light, while focusing on high-contrast objects, there was a slight improvement in speed, but generally it still takes around 1sec for an EF lens to focus.
At around £130, the adapter is reasonably priced. There is an issue with the speed of focusing, but the adapter offers a huge range of EF lenses, particularly specialist models. This makes the EOS M an attractive option as a secondary camera that complements a Canon EOS DSLR.
Canon EOS M review – Build and handling
The overall design of the EOS M is fairly straightforward, being very similar to the Canon PowerShot S110 compact camera, but slightly larger in every dimension. That is not to say the EOS M is a big camera. It will comfortably slip in to a pocket, and the accompanying 18-55mm and 22mm lenses are also fairly small in size.
Made of a magnesium alloy, the EOS M feels solid in the hand, and the slightly rounded edges make it comfortable to hold. There is little in the way of a handgrip, although a small rubber strip on the front of the camera offers some form of purchase. On the back there is a well-contoured area on which to rest the thumb that helps to add slightly more grip. I would have preferred a little more in the way of a hand grip. There is room to add just a few of millimetres to form slightly more grip without compromising the size of the camera too much.
Anyone familiar with Canon compact cameras should have no trouble using the EOS M, as the button layout is very similar. On the top of the camera, around the shutter button, is a switch to select between video, camera and automatic mode. A small on/off switch, a flash hotshoe and holes for a pair of stereo microphones also sit on the EOS M’s top-plate. The rear of the camera centres around a directional control dial, with a surrounding jog wheel and a centre button, while three additional buttons allow quick access to the camera’s menu, playback mode and different screen display options.
One thing that photographers will either love or hate is the touchscreen. I find a touchscreen useful for certain tasks, such as selecting an AF point, but much prefer using buttons for changing settings. I found the touchscreen of the EOS M to be very responsive and accurate, and I was able to change features using the touchscreen faster than when using the button arrangement. However, there are a few things for which the touchscreen must be used. For example, the AF point must be changed via the touchscreen, as it cannot be changed by using the rear directional control. This is worth noting, as although the touchscreen makes it faster to change the AF point, some photographers would much prefer the directional-control option. Similarly, to magnify an image you must press the on-screen magnifying glass as there is no physical button for this task.
Designating features to the on-screen buttons frees up valuable space on the body, allowing it to be as small as it is. The screen is very responsive and it is easy to press the required icon, but it is a very different experience to using a DSLR. I would like to see a DSLR-style front dial added, as this would allow the rear wheel to be used, for example, to control the aperture value while the front could be for exposure compensation.
Using the EOS M is like using an advanced compact camera. The handling isn’t too reliant on the touchscreen, but the screen serves as a useful means to make faster changes to some settings. Those photographers looking for an experience more akin to using a DSLR would be better served by a camera such as the Sony NEX-7 that has a full complement of controls.
Canon EOS M review – Metering
Image: Generally, the evaluative metering works well, but it can be fooled depending on the point of focus
Evaluative, spot and centreweighted metering are found in the EOS M, as well as the partial centre metering that is found on Canon EOS DSLRs. Generally, evaluative metering works well, although it is weighted heavily towards the AF point. I found that using centreweighted metering and adjusting the exposure compensation often provided more consistent exposures, particularly if you try composing the same scene in different ways.
With four different ways to meter a scene, plus AEL and exposure bracketing, the EOS M is laden with ways to help get the correct exposure, although it is worth experimenting with the various methods and finding the one that works for you. I find that when using the evaluative metering, it is best to use the touchscreen to select an AF point. Working in this way also identifies the AF point from which to meter. Use the AEL lock button to lock the exposure to this point. Then simply press the touchscreen again to decide the point of focus. The exposure is locked, so the new AF point won’t be taken into consideration.
Canon EOS M review – Autofocus
Rather than relying solely on contrast-detection autofocus, Canon has followed a similar line to that taken by Nikon’s 1 series by also using on-sensor phase detection. The hybrid CMOS AF system has 31 AF points, as well as face detection and AF tracking.
I expected the phase-detection facility to allow the EOS M to snap quickly into focus, offering an advantage over contrast detection. Sadly, the hybrid focus system is slow and sluggish compared to the systems used on similar cameras. This system is more like that fitted to one of the first-generation CSCs from a few years ago.
With the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kits lens attached, the EOS M gradually searches back and forth, honing in on the point of focus. There was little difference when the 20mm lens was attached, with both lenses being particularly slow in subdued light and sometimes taking more than a second to find focus. An adapter is available to use Canon EF lenses on the EOS M. For more on this adapter and how EF lenses focus, see Canon EF-EOS M-mount adaptor.
Focusing is also available by using the EOS M’s touchscreen. The screen has a good level of sensitivity and it takes only a slight touch to pick a focus point, which is extremely useful for making fast selections. The touch-sensitive screen can also be used to fire the shutter after a focus point has been selected, although I recommend switching this feature off because it means you are pressing against the camera when the image is being taken. Also, on reviewing my images, I found a handful that had been accidentally taken when the screen had been touched while carrying the camera.
Overall, the AF is something of a disappointment. While those photographers shooting scenic images or still-life shots won’t have too much to worry about, documentary-type shots may require careful prefocusing and moving subjects will prove challenging, to say the least.
Autofocus is something that can be improved via firmware, as we have recently seen in quite dramatic style with the Fujifilm X-Pro1. Hopefully, Canon engineers will be able to address the focusing speed in a firmware update, as even a slight improvement in speed could make a significant improvement to the camera.
Canon EOS M review – Dynamic range
With a full APS-C-sized DSLR sensor, the dynamic range of the EOS M is very good. I had no real concerns with blown-out highlight and shadow detail, except on particularly high-contrast scenes, but overall the EOS M produces images with the same level of highlight and contrast detail that I would expect to see in a DSLR.
Canon EOS M review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
As much detail is resolved by the Canon EOS M as other Canon cameras that also have an 18-million-pixel CMOS sensor. At the lowest sensitivity setting, JPEG files just about reach 28 on our resolution chart, while raw files are capable of being sharpened to reveal just a little more detail.
Colour noise is dealt with extremely well in-camera, with the first signs of it becoming a problem at ISO 6400. Above this, the level of colour noise in raw files gradually increases, and I suggest avoiding using the higher sensitivities unless there really is no other option.
Luminance noise is also fairly well controlled, although at around ISO 800 you can see that noise reduction is taking place in JPEG files. The reduction seems reasonably intelligent, as key textures retain a hint of noise to preserve detail. At around ISO 3200, luminance noise reduction is obvious, but is far less aggressive than I have seen on other cameras.
Images still retain a good level of detail and texture, and for general shooting I would happily shoot JPEG images of ISO 100-3200, which is a good usable range for most photographers.
As we have seen previously with a number of Canon cameras, while the JPEG images are very good, a surprising amount of detail can be revealed in raw files. The EOS M is no different and I would suggest that those photographers really wanting to get the full potential of the sensor should shoot raw and take time to carefully sharpen the images, and use luminance noise reduction sparingly.
Canon EOS M review – White balance and colour
Image: This is a JPEG image taken with the default image style and just a slight adjustment to the contrast
The colours from the Canon EOS M are as good as those you would expect from an EOS DSLR. In the standard colour setting images look natural, with just slightly more contrast and saturation than the actual scene. This creates images that look pleasing and ready to print.
I was fortunate to be out with the EOS M during an amazing sunset, and the camera did an excellent job of capturing the stormy blue and orange colours. The standard setting added a little punch to the colours without being over the top, and the AWB did nothing to detract from the vivid orange sunset.
In more flat lighting conditions, the AWB setting did an equally good job, and although I switched to the daylight and overcast settings to test them out, I felt very confident leaving the camera on AWB.
The EOS M has the standard Canon range of colour settings, including three user-defined options. Each of the default settings can be customised in the main camera menu, and the monochrome mode has the option to use a digital colour filter effect.
Image: This shot demonstrates just how good the colours are straight out of the EOS M
Canon EOS M review – LCD, live view and video
There is no optical or electronic viewfinder available for the Canon EOS M, and with no accessory port near the camera’s hotshoe it is unlikely that an EVF will become available. However, perhaps Canon will consider incorporating an EVF on a future model.
Photographers must compose their images on the rear LCD screen. Not only is the sensitivity and accuracy of the touchscreen excellent, but it is also of a high quality. The 3in, 1.04-million-dot screen is presumably the same as the model we have seen on a few other Canon EOS cameras, and it performs just as well.
Default settings produce colours that are accurate to the digital image when displayed on a computer monitor, and there is a good level of brightness and contrast, making it easy to compose and review images. The lack of a tilting mechanism or articulation on the screen helps to keep the size of the camera down, and the screen has a very good angle of view. There are some reflections visible in very bright light, but this doesn’t hinder composition. More importantly for a touchscreen, the screen was bright enough that errant fingerprints didn’t cause any problems.
Video capture is available, with movies saved in 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution with a choice of 23.976fps, 25fps or 29.97fps. Footage is compressed using H.264 compression and sound is recorded via two stereo microphones. An external microphone can be connected via a 3.5mm jack socket on the side of the camera.
Canon EOS M review – The competition
Image: Sony NEX-5R
At around £650 including kit lens, the Canon EOS M is competitively priced, but I think it may struggle against the established Sony NEX and Samsung NX ranges, and the ever-growing Fujifilm X-series models.
The Sony NEX-5R has a 16.1-million-pixel resolution, and fast phase-detection autofocus, as well as a phase-detection mount adapter that makes Alpha-mount lenses focus as quickly as they would on a Sony Alpha DSLR. With the NEX range already established with a number of lenses, it will probably be the EOS M’s biggest competitor.
Image: Samsung NX210
Samsung’s NX210 has an impressive 20.3-million-pixel resolution and built-in Wi-Fi, and with aggressive marketing and pricing from Samsung it could prove to be another option for those looking for an alternative to the EOS M.
Canon EOS M review – Our verdict
As its first compact system camera, Canon has done a reasonable job with the EOS M. It is a good size for those who are looking for a pocketable DSLR alternative. Similarly, the initial lenses are quite small given the APS-C-sized sensor, and they are of a good quality. More importantly, the image quality of the EOS M matches that of Canon’s EOS DSLR cameras.
Those who are wary of touchscreens shouldn’t worry too much about the unit fitted to the EOS M. It works well and the only time it is regularly needed is for changing the AF point, and then it is quick and easy to use.
The EOS M isn’t perfect, though. The AF is slow, particularly in low light, and when used with the EF-to-M-mount adapter, expect EF lenses to take almost 1sec to focus. This is quite surprising given that this camera uses a hybrid contrast/phase-detection sensor. Canon really needs to improve the AF via a firmware update, if possible, as this takes the shine off of what is otherwise a very good camera.
Canon EOS M review – Key features
This is a standard hotshoe that can be used with compatible Canon Speedlite flashguns.
Under the side panel on the left of the camera are sockets allowing an HDMI cable or an external microphone to be connected, as well as a USB connection.
Just to the right of the thumb rest is the direct record button that allows video recording to be quickly started or stopped.
This button scrolls through the various on-screen display options.
Unlike the Canon EOS 6D and PowerShot S110, the EOS M does not have built-in Wi-Fi. However, it is compatible with Eye-Fi SD cards, which will give the camera Wi-Fi functionality.
Built into the EOS M’s menu is a function to turn on the automatic correction of lens distortion and chromatic aberration. Data can be read from each EF-M lens so that specific corrections can be applied to JPEG files for that lens.
The LP-E12 Lithium-Ion battery of the EOS M is quoted as having a battery life of around 230 shots, although it provided fewer shots for me. However, this is understandable given that I spend a lot of time with the camera’s screen switched on while testing focusing. I would suggest 180-210 shots is more reasonable.
As well as using the touchscreen to select a focus point, you can also set it to focus and fire the camera’s shutter. I find this somewhat unnatural when shooting handheld, but as only a very light touch is needed it can be useful when using a tripod for landscape or macro shots.