canon eos m review 03 640x426Canon is the last “big” player to enter the compact camera system market by introducing this small EOS M camera. It is fair to say that a compact system with the EOS name was eagerly awaited with great expectations given that the EOS line of DSLR cameras from Canon have such a glorious name. The camera has arrived, and we have used it for some time.

Among the selling points from Canon: the Canon EOS M shoots 1080p movies and can keep the image in focus, thanks to its continuous tracking. It has stereo microphones. Canon touts its hybrid autofocus (AF) to be fast for both still photos and video. That sounds great, but we have to put it to the test in the real world.

Finally, the EOS M has an optional adapter to for Canon EOS lenses designed for DSLR cameras, instead of the Canon EF-M lens format which has been created to suit Canon’s compact EOS line. OK, that’s enough for the introduction. Let’s see how it is to use this Canon EOS M camera in the field.

What I do with my cameras

Before we go on, I think that it’s important that you know how I’m using my compact camera as this inevitably shapes how I perceive its qualities and pitfalls. Also, in the reviews I mainly use the fully-automatic mode or the shutter-priority mode as most people (not all, I agree) want to simply “point and shoot” and get great photos with this type of compact digital cameras.

The micro-camera follows me when I roam around trade shows or go on a trip. I also own a Canon 50D, which is a really good -but bulky- camera. I have clearly chosen this compact camera for its small size and weight, and I love the fact that it can fulfill most of the duties that my 50D does for me (I insist on the “for me” part).

In both situations, I tend to shoot in difficult lighting conditions, whether it is on a poorly lit showroom or at a dinner with friends. But whatever happens, I rarely use the flash as I personally prefer photos without it. Also, I tend to use my photos only on the web, and I rarely print anything larger than letter-size, if at all.

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Technical Highlights

18 Megapixel Sensor, APS-C Size
RAW+JPG stills. Largest photo: 5,184 x 3,456, smallest photo 720 x 480
EF-M lens mount
SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card
Auto-focus assist light (Approx. 8.2 ft./ 2.5m range)
Fastest shutter speed: 1/4000
Burst mode: 4.3 fps (with continuous focus), 3 to 15 shots, depending on size.
1080p video: max 1920 x 1080: 330 MB/min 30FPS
3” display 1M pixels
108.6 x 66.5 x 32.3mm,  9.2 oz (body only)

Official specifications page at Canon.com

Overall, the Canon EOS M shares a lot of hardware features with the Canon EOS T4i (aka EOS 650D in Europe), so it’s easy to think that it is basically an EOS T4i in a small body. While the logic is correct, this is not the conclusion of this review (spoiler alert!). Also, note that in the USA I’ve only seen the Canon EOS M ship with the 22mm f2.0 lens (seen in the first photo of this review), while in Europe it ships with a 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS. I have a personal preference for the 22mm pancake lens as it makes the Canon EOS M smaller and more balanced, but you will have to decide what your own needs are. With the pancake, the EOS M is pocketable in a big vest, but definitely not in pants pockets.

Industrial design (very good)

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The Canon EOS-M has a simple and clean design that I really like. It is a bit “fat” when compared to something like the Sony NEX-5N, but overall, the “box” shape works quite well, and you can easily hold it with one or two hands without accidentally pressing any buttons. The lack of a grip in the front didn’t bother me at all.

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There are not a whole lot of manual controls or dials in the back, so this is a camera that is mostly meant for a quick point and shoot. We’ll talk about the controls later, but for this type of camera, they are relatively efficient. Canon touts that its screen has an anti-fingerprint coating, and I have to say that my fingers leave a lot less fingerprints than they do on the Olympus OM-5.

At the top of the camera, you can find the typical camera controls on the right (auto-mode, manual mode and video mode). The the left, the two microphones are there to record stereo sound. In the middle, there is a hot shoe which can be used to plug a flash, or a microphone accessory which plus on the left side of the camera where the I/O connectors are: Mini-USB, mini-HDMI and 3.5mm audio input.

You can’t tell from the photos, but the body is made of magnesium, and it feels extremely rigid and durable. It’s a little heavier than cameras like the Sony NEX or the Samsung NX300, but feels more solid. Not that we would like to perform a drop test right now, but it certainly feels like it could survive a rough trip or a drop or two. Hopefully, you will never have to find out.

At this time, there is no viewfinder option, and that’s too bad because some photographers would definitely want to spend more to be able to see what they shoot on a sunny day. We’re in California after all.

Photo quality (excellent)

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For full-size photo samples, with additional comparison shots taken with a Canon 50D and Sony NEX-F3, head to our EOS M Photo Sample set in our Ubergizmo Flickr account.

When it comes photo photo quality, the Canon EOS M does very well. In fact, in most of our indoor test, the EOS M and its “fast” (large aperture) 22mm lens can snap very good photos in low-light conditions, and in bright light situations, it has nothing to envy to my Canon  EOS 50D or any other compact camera that we had on hand. Obviously, all the cameras that we had in the office had different lenses, so it’s hard to provide an “apples to apples” comparison, but overall, I would say that the photo quality of this camera is high. For example, I’ve shot this photo with the 50D and the EOM — with different lenses:

canon eos m vs eos 50d

Obviously there is no “fair” comparison here, but my point is that the EOS M perform very well relative to what I could get with a full-on DSLR and my current lenses.

The 22mm /f2.0 pancake lens is a great kit-lens in my opinion, and I suspect that most buyers will stick with that one for a while, given that EF-M lenses are relatively expensive and don’t offer the same richness available in the EF lenses ecosystem (thanks to 3rd parties). If in your country you only have the option of having the 18-55mm – to bad. I always liked to be able to choose.

canon eos m high iso tests

Noise at high ISO: I’ve taken a few shots with different ISO settings to show you what the noise looks like. In the image above, you can see 100% crops of this tiny portion of the original photo shot with ISO 400, 3200 and 12800. It is obvious that ISO 12800 does induce quite a bit of noise, but in a low-light situation, that could be handy. In the real-world, I don’t think that I’ve shot anything with an ISO higher than 3200 and I found the noise-reduction to be quite acceptable (for my taste). Your own tolerance may vary, and I always recommend to keep the ISO in check whenever possible.

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This photo was shot in a very dim corner of a room. It came out much brighter than what my eyes could perceive

Multi-photo HDR mode: If you are willing to put a little thought into it, the Canon EOS M has a night mode that shoots four consecutive photos with different exposure (no tripod required) and compose a final frame using an HDR technique. It takes about 1 second to snap all four shots, so this works best for static scenes (moving objects will make things blurry), but I’ve been impressed with what the EOS was able to do. I took a (handheld) photo of a small cardboard box in a dark corner of a room and the Canon EOS M has done a great job at composing all four shots into one clear and bright photo. The brightness was much better than what my eyes perceived.

canon eos m backlight hdr on off

HDR Backlight Control: if you shoot a photo of something that has a strong light behind it, this multi-shot mode can help you as well. Again, the Canon EOS M will capture several photos at different exposure, and combine them into a single one where the exposure is chosen on a per-pixel basis so, things don’t get too bright or too dark – at least, as much as possible. The result is pretty good. Not as good as what my eyes can see, but it is much better than without HDR Backlight Control enabled. I wish that the full-auto mode was smart enough to switch to that mode by itself. The recent Sony NEX switch to HDR automatically.

Burst mode: while there is a burst-mode for the camera, it has proven to be much slower than what DSLRs can do. If you add to that the difficulties to focus, I would say that action shots are extremely difficult with this camera.

Video quality (very good)

The video quality mostly reflects what we have observed with the still images video quality. The image looks great, and as long as the subject is in focus, life is very good. If you are going to record action sequences, or if you like to pan the camera quickly, I recommend using 1280×720 60FPS as it will provide a smoother movie in general. For more static/slow scenes, 1080p 30FPS should work nicely. Here’s a sample video that shows how the camera reacts in bright and low-light:

For most people, I think that 60FPS is relatively important because regular folks just want to capture what they see, and they often tend to pan the camera quickly, or film kids running around. This is where 60FPS can help a lot because the video won’t stutter as much. It is clear that many professionals do produce great footage using 30FPS, so I can’t say that it is a bad thing, but in my opinion, it does require a little more effort when filming.

On the technical side, the recorded videos are limited to 30mn, which we think comes from the fact that in some countries, any recording device that records more than 30mn should be labelled a “camcorder” and be subject to different regulations — probably taxes… yes, that’s pretty broken, and we don’t think that this is a U.S law, but it’s probably easier for Canon to create a single firmware for everyone. In fact, we’ve seen this with the Sony NEX as well, although the Samsung NX300 does not have such a limit. As a tech reporter who wants to capture panel sessions etc (45mn+), this is tough to work with.

But there’s more: because any video file is limited to 4GB, the recording may actually be split into several 4GB files if needed. It’s not the end of the world, but depending on your video setup, this may be a slight inconvenience.

Finally, I really like the fact that it is possible to use an EOS Shoe mount for an external 3rd party microphone. Because Canon uses a regular 3.5mm jack on the left side, there is a vast array of models to choose from, and the choice is truly yours. You can also mount of kinds of crazy lighting setup, although I’m not sure that you’ll “want” to as they all make the camera bulkier.

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Crazy setup with the hot shoe LED light and the EOS lens adapter. Again “possible”, but not really so “compact” anymore

Performance (average) and auto-focus speed (slow)

In terms of overall performance, I didn’t find the Canon EOS M to be impressive. From the speed at which images get processed (and saved) to the menu navigation, I would compare it with a mid-range DSLR camera. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in that area. The auto-focus is the achilles heel of the Canon EOS M. To put it bluntly, it’s bad. I’m not sure how Canon benchmarked its auto-focus in order to claim that it is fast, but frankly, this is the slowest auto-focus that I’ve seen in a $800 camera in the past year (or two). It feels like the auto-focus performance that my Panasonic GF1 has. Ouch. Not only the focus is slow, but it keeps chasing targets too (see my MS Surface unboxing video as an example). I’ve put together a video that shows the auto focus in two situations: fixed camera and tap-to-focus and camera looking at multiple targets:

And you may think that this is a only low-light auto-focus problem, but it’s not. I’m typing this in a medium-lit office on a sunny day in California, and as I’m trying to focus on various objects here in the office, The camera routinely spends more 1-3 seconds trying to focus on something. Below, I’m including the video fo the Microsoft Surface Unboxing that I’ve shot in decent lighting. Some early users have reported that the kit lens (22mm) is responsible for the slow-focus, but I’ve tested it with the EF-lens adapter and my Tamron f2.8, and it is worse, and much slower than on my 50D DSLR.

Controls & ergonomy

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As we mentioned earlier, the Canon EOS M doesn’t really have a whole of of controls, so you first have to select if you want to be in full auto mode, in semi-manual mode or in video mode.If you really want to tweak settings, Canon does indeed offer some options, but I personally find tweaking options on the screen to be slower.

That said, Canon did a good job with the menu, and it’s relatively fast to choose between full-manual and semi-manual (aperture and shutter priority modes). Using the dial, you can quickly set a single value in the semi-manual modes, typically the shutter speed or aperture value. All the other values can also be changed, but you would have to go to an option screen and use the dial/joystick or your finger to choose new options.

Yes, the Canon EOS M features a touch screen, and it allows you to do things like defining a focus area, zoom in and out during photo slide shows (using a pinch and zoom gesture). It is also much faster to navigate the photo settings menu to change the ISO, color balance, photo size etc… All the touch functions are reasonably fast, except for the pinch and zoom which could clearly use more processing power to look fluid.

EF mount adapter

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This may be of great important for Canon users like myself who have acquired many few lenses over time, so we took a look at it. Admittedly, it is great to be able to re-use some lenses and I’m grateful that the option does exist. That’s particularly true if you are using a long telephoto, or some fish-eye lens that wouldn’t exist (yet) with an EF-M mount. However, that’s not a silver bullet or a replacement for the need of having more EF-M lenses, including from third parties. Once outfitted with a regular EF-lens, the look, feel and balance of the overall package can be odd, not only to the eye, but also as you carry and use the camera.

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Yes, you “can” mount an 17-50mm Tamron f2.8 EF lens. But would you want to?

Who castrated the EOS M?

When we first heard of the Canon EOS M, and that it would support the Canon EOS utility, we were very excited, and so were a large number of astro-photographers and other folks who need support for remote shooting (shooting directly to a computer disk). Well, that was quite a disappointment: Canon has decided to not support the remote shooting option to the surprise of many. I imagine that this is a decision driven by marketing that is not based on any technical hurdle, since the Canon EOS M shares most of its hardware with its DSLR cousins. Too bad.

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This extract of the specs sheet hints towards Remote Shooting support. That’s not the case in reality

I’m not the only one to be sorry that Canon actually calls this camera an EOS, if it doesn’t support the software features found in every other EOS cameras. Some say that Canon should call it “PowerShot M” instead. There is a possibility that Canon would support remote shooting in the future, but I’m afraid that their fear of seeing the EOS M cannibalize their DSLR market supersedes the need of their users. And this is nonsense: At Ubergizmo, we spent thousands of dollars on Canon DSLRs and lenses, and although we see the EOS M as a partial replacement for our 50Ds, we would be surprised if it would really damage the EOS market.

What could be better?

Obviously, the focus speed needs to be fixed if this camera wants to seriously compete in the $800 space. There is no other way. While Canon is at it, it would be very nice if they could make it USB rechargeable. Sony is doing it, Samsung is starting to do it, and although I don’t mind having the option to charge it faster with an external charger, I think that most people would benefit from a micro-USB charging capabilities since that format is so ubiquitous.

Finally, Canon should support all EOS software functionalities, including remote shooting. Without this, whether I have a Canon or a Sony, or a Samsung compact camera makes little difference. The EOS software features are a great differentiator that can serve Canon very well — this is a mistake to ignore that reality.

Conclusion

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After using this camera, I had very mixed feelings about what to conclude and what to recommend. Obviously, this is through the prism of my personal usage and experience, but if I had to sum it up, I would say that you should hold off buying this camera until Canon has significantly improved the auto-focus. The Canon EOS M can capture excellent pictures but, if you want to “capture the moment”, the slow auto-focus does get in the way.

The auto-focus performance is the most important thing that you should look at when considering the Canon EOS M. It’s fine if you can take the time to focus and shoot something stationary and you will get great photos, but you can forget about action shots, even if broad daylight.

Beyond that, I’d love to see Canon take one some of the suggestions in the earlier paragraph, most importantly make it a real “EOS” camera, especially if it wants to sell it in the $800 range. We love Canon products, and we were hoping that the EOS M would make a fine addition to our gears, but not now, not yet… Someone said that Canon should have called it a PowerShot and to be brutally honest, there is some truth in that.

I hope that this review gave you a good idea of how it is to use the Canon EOS M in the real-world. Instead of trying to review *everything* I tried to narrow things to the most useful/popular aspects of the camera. If you would like to ask a question, or give us some feedback, please drop a comment below. Thanks!

Filed in Photo-Video >Reviews. Read more about camera reviews, Canon, canon eos and EOS M.

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