Canon is one of the last of the bigger camera manufacturers to bring a mirrorless camera to market and true to form over the last few years, they have done so by announcing a product and only releasing it many many months later. Unfortunately this trend has started to irritate a lot of it’s loyal users, which is unfortunate, because I think they did produce a very nice camera here… This is my “in use” review, not a comparative review, but forgive me if I refer to some other cameras here for reference (in this class, we own the Fuji X100 and Nikon J1 and shoot with them regularly).
As mentioned, I have in my bag a Fuji X100 which I got because I needed an inconspicuous camera but that can produce commercial quality work. That means a large sensor that can be pushed up in ISO to at least ISO800 for low light scenarios (APS-C or larger), an edge to edge, sharp, high quality lens (in the case of the Fuji, it’s a 20mm f/2) and the ability to shoot RAW with full manual control. I got all that in the X-100 so that was the camera to beat for a space in the bag.
When the Canon EOS M finally arrived it was to mixed response. Most reviewers said something to the line of “Good Build Quality, Auto Focus terrible…” and comparing with something like the Nikon 1-series, that was not good. Although the Fuji is a bit of a slouch in low light as well although the replacement for the X100 is now tagged as fastest in class AF.
It’s a bummer about the AF, but not something that was going to put me off. If I want super AF, then I’ll use my 5DmkIII that is much better suited to the task. The fact is that this camera seems to be designed for Professional Photographers or photographers that want or need a small package but very good IQ and ability. Walking around with this camera, you look like a tourist, nobody gives you a second glance. It’s much lighter and smaller than a Canon EOS 650D or 1100D and just slightly bigger than Canon G1X (due to the lens) and the fact is that it’s an awesomely capable camera!
Some of the very handy features includes RAW+JPEG shooting, AF Anywhere, 3 Frame Bracketing, Flash Exposure compensation, Exposure compensation, and even White Balance Bracketing. Adjustable Auto-ISO from ISO400 to ISO6400. It has single shot, 4.3 fps, 10sec self timer, 2 second self timer and then a second 10 second self timer with a twist… You can let it shoot 2-10 shots in a row after the countdown… great for catching those self portraits/family groups where somebody is always looking away. 60sec exposure, down to 1/4000th with a flash sync of 1/200th is not bad at all, and the best part… it’s an APS-C sensor running at 18mp. This is a very capable camera!
Using it with big, fat fingers:
Initially I was miffed at the ridiculous way you have to move around to get to things with small buttons. My big hands does not like this at all, then my 4 year old son wanted to see the pictures I took of him, and swiped the screen like an iPhone. What do you know… not only does it move between pics, you can pinch or drag to zoom and move around!
With this revelation, I set out to see what else can be done.
You can adjust absolutely anything on the back of the screen. tap once, and adjust in steps with the scroll wheel. Tap twice, and all the settings open up for that item. To give you a “for instance” – if you want to adjust ISO from 100 to 200, tap ISO and turn the wheel to adjust. But if you want to adjust from ISO100 to ISO 1600, tap the ISO icon twice, and all the available ISO settings pop up, and simply tap on the one you want.
Now, I can hear you say that it takes you absolutely no time to switch ISO (for instance) on your regular camera, which is true, but on both my X100 and the wifey’s Nikon 1, you have to go through menus to do it (although, on the Fuji X100 I could assign a custom button to go there directly in the menu).
After a while of using it, you really get why they designed it like this with a capacitative touch screen (and I am sure the other brands will follow this trend soon) It’s just very fast to work that way. You really can adjust everything that fast!
Two other things the touch screen does is that you can set a touch shutter. That will let you touch on the screen where you want to focus, and as soon as focus is achieved, the camera fires… super handy when shooting long exposures of food in a restaurant while balancing the camera on the sugar pot. You can disable this (again, at a touch of an icon on screen, NOT by delving through menus and menus) which will allow you to move the focus point to any place on the screen. Shooting a portrait with one hand? No sweat! Instead of focus-recompose you simply compose, touch the screen on the model’s face, and release the shutter. It’s just so fast!
People complain about the lack of a viewfinder, but that would make all of these touch functions impossible… or at least a lot more complicated.
In the end, if you own a Canon DSLR, the menus and screen layout for information will be very familiar to you, and it will take no time at all to find your way and become comfortable.
Enough about the touch and interface and menus for now, lets talk about the lenses. Right now Canon only has two lenses for this camera. The Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM and the Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-f5.6 STM.
The kit I am using came with the 22mm f/2 lens and a nice feature of the lens is FTM (Full Time Manual) like most of Canon’s L-series lenses. That means that if you focus, as soon as the camera has locked (or indicated that it’s not confident with its AF lock) you can just simply turn the Focus ring and adjust your focus. Great when shooting close-up subjects or objects with shallow DOF! I am assuming the 18-55mm works the same way.
The build quality of the lens is just great. Fit and finish is really nice, and it feels very solid on the body.
Like the Nikon 1-series, you also get an adapter (Mount Adapter EF-EOS M) to fit your regular EF and EF-s lenses on this camera. Mount something big on it, and AF slows down even more, but I went and mounted a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM to get me closer to a portrait feel and a bit less distortion, and AF was still pretty good. In good light it was very usable, and in bad light, it would hunt a bit, but still lock well (you do lose the FTM though on this specific lens) As I have mentioned before, the slowish AF on this camera doesn’t really bother me. It would drive me mad if it didn’t lock though, but luckily, it seems to be doing an ok job of it for the most part.
The Canon EOS M also bundles in some kits with a small flash unit, a Speedlite EX-90 that mounts on top of the camera. Unlike the Nikon, you can mount any Canon flash up there (or even a pocketwizard) But, unlike the Nikon 1-series, the flash uses it’s own batteries (another charger and batteries to carry around) and worst thing about the EX-90… It’s forward facing. Cannot swivel, cannot tilt. WHY?! You were doing so well!
“Just don’t use the flash then…” I hear you say, but the thing is that, that little EX-90 with it’s Guide Number of 9 can wirelessly control and trigger your other slaved Canon flash units, but now you are stuck with a forward facing flash on your subject… not cool.
Not bundled, but sold separately is the iR remote trigger for the Canon EOS M, the RC-6 standard remote. It’s Cheap, It works, and by using this remote, Canon has completely missed out on a great opportunity. No Timelapse or long distance wireless triggering. I am nitpicking now, but This camera seems perfect for it. It’s light, it’s got good low light performance, it has all the manual functions you would need to make this happen, but no way to trigger the camera… At least my Gigapan Epic has a servo arm that can press the button, so I am not completely lost with it, but it feels like a major lost opportunity when they have given the camera all the amazing features and abilities they already have.
Oh well, can’t have everything I suppose!
Then, like every camera today (except the new Hasselblad, it seems) the camera has video, with AF and stereo mics. It shoots 1080p full HD at 30, 25 & 24fps or 720p HD at 60 or 50fps. You can shoot auto everything or manual control, which is nice… AF… a bit iffy but usable if you must. A feature I think they borrowed from other manufacturers is what they call a Video Snapshot… Nikon does a 3 second video that ends in a photograph, which is a nice feature. The Canon M has taken the concept a little bit further. You can set up your video snapshots to be 2,4 or 8 seconds in length. Every video you take after enabling video snapshot then gets added to the whole video. So instead of shooting 2 minutes of some place in your holiday, for instance, it adds small 4 second cuts together into one movie clip, making it more interesting to watch at the end of the day… Not sure if I like it yet, but time will tell.
Right, so that’s a bunch of features and buttons and stuff out of the way. How does it work in real life?
Well honestly? Better than expected. I fell in love with this camera! The retro X100 was cool, and I love it. I love shooting with it, it feels like the days when I started out in photography with my Pentax K1000 (and quite looks the same!) and off course, it has the IQ I want. The Canon M doesn’t have that nostalgic feel, but it does produce the results. And to me, THAT is what matters.
My wife uses the Nikon for Interviews, event feedback on blogs, etc… in good light it performs very well and you can do rather nice prints from it, but anything commercial will be a stretch without some serious work put into it unless you are shooting in really good light.
The Canon doesn’t have this limitation. Its not as fast at catching action, but it definitely produces the results in IQ, and that has always been my biggest complaint with a small P&S… the quality isn’t good enough, so when I open the files on screen, they frustrate me. Great for snaps and memories, but terrible if you come across a small flower or a sunset or where you want good quality but not allowed or possible to carry the bigger cameras. No such problems here.
I think this camera will make a perfect companion camera for the Pro Photographer, the perfect camera for the Travel Writer, a great camera for a Street Shooter. Frankly, anybody that requires very good image quality in a small package. Is it for everybody? No, I don’t think so. The OM-D has the edge in some features and speed (and lens range) as does the NEX, although smaller sensors. The Nikon 1-series has the edge on speed and, well, funkiness. But a small sensor makes it a camera for people that like photos and taking photos of things they like and love, not specifically people that like being photographers, that love photography.
To be honest, I believe this camera will work its way into the place occupied by the Fuji X100. The IQ is very similar (although, at f/2 the canon STM lens has the edge) and the fact that I can change lenses on the Canon EOS M makes it more attractive in general. The speed at which I can adjust it and use it will clinch the deal, I think…
Getting down to the nitty gritty of the camera, it has all the manual control functions you may want. It has very good lenses in the kit as far as IQ is concerned and can take any of your regular canon lenses as well. It also has some “special effects” filters if you want to use it like a grainy Black-&-White, Miniaturization (shallow DOF, tilt-&-Shift effect), Fisheye, etc… are they any good? I can see myself using them here and there for something quick, but not typically.
I spent some time with the camera in various scenarios, trying to create straight portraits, some panoramas with the Gigapan Epic100, a few more arty shots, some still life shots, etc, etc. I just wanted to get a feel for the camera that would allow me to play with a good quality image at the end of the day, with good enough control to fulfill my vision, and good enough IQ to allow me to work the files later in my RAW converters and Photoshop. Something small to take along wherever I go, that is not an iPhone.
Is this camera perfect? No ways, it has many flaws and space for improvement, The AF is one, the LCD display in sunlight is another (its not bad, but can be improved) and you want to get your exposure right in camera (to far on the over exposure in good light and you will clip).
Will it replace my 5DmkIII? No.
Is it a usable and capable camera? Absolutely!
Will I be getting one?