Canon's first CSC has arrived in the shape of the EOS M. Has the wait been worth it? We find out in the What Digital Camera Canon EOS M review
With rivals already establishing market share and offering similar user-orientated models, has Canon arrived too late with the EOS M or is it good enough to muscle its way to the top of the pile?
Canon EOS M review – Features
While there was some speculation that Canon would use the 4:3 format, 18.7 x 14mm 14.3MP sensor that found its way into the G1 X, Canon’s opted to borrow a lot of the innards from it’s EOS DSLRs instead. This sees the EOS M with a large APS-C sized sharing, sharing the same 18MP resolution as most Canon DSLRs, while the ISO range is identical to that of the EOS 650D, running from 100-12,800 and expandable to an ISO equivalent of 25,600. There’s also Canon’s 14-bit DIGIC 5 image processor working behind the scenes to provide the EOS M’s processing power.
The EOS M may use the same image sensor format as Canon’s APS-C DSLRs, but the lens mount is different. The new EF-M mount is 58mm in diameter and has a flange distance of 18mm. Launched with the EOS M are two dedicated EF-M mount lenses – the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM standard zoom producing a 35mm focal length equivalent of 28.8-88mm and the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM with a focal length equivalent to 35.2mm, providing a moderate and fast wide-angle ‘pancake’ prime lens for the EOS M. The STM refers to the stepper motor used for the autofocus and is designed for smoother and quieter focus during video capture.
While only two lenses at the time of launch might seem a little restrictive, Canon has the luxury of and extensive lens line-up already for its DSLRs, so an EF-EOS M mount adapter is available to attach Canon’s range of EF and EF-S lenses to the EOS M.
The EOS M also does away with a built-in flash, with the camera coming bundled with a very compact Speedlite 90EX that fits onto the EOS M’s hotshoe, while the EOS M is fully compatible with the full range of digital EX Speedlites from Canon. There’s no integrated electronic viewfinder or the facility to attach and external one either, instead the EOS M relies solely on a 3in 1040k-dot 3:2 ClearView II LCD touchscreen for composition.
The EOS M boosts a 31-point Hybrid AF system that provides a combination of contrast and phase-detection AF. The idea being that the faster phase-detect AF points are used initially to acquire focus, before the more precise contrast-detect system then takes over to fine-tune focus. There are a decent amount of AF modes available that includes Face Detection, AF tracking, FlexiZone-Multi and Flexizone-Single, and thanks to the touchscreen, Touch AF as well so you and not only tap on the rear screen where you want the camera to focus, but also simultaneously fire the shutter as well.
For novice users looking to upgrade from a compact, there are a host of automated modes to make the transition easier. Scene Intelligent Auto adjusts the camera settings according to the subject and shooting conditions, rendering the EOS M a very advanced point-and-shoot camera, while there is also a selection of Scene modes as well. If you’ve got a bit more experience, then you’ll be able to use the full suite of creative manual modes including shutter and aperture priority as well as full manual shooting. To add a creative twist to your images, the EOS M includes 7 Creative filters that you can apply to your image such as Grainy B/W, Toy camera and Fisheye. Perhaps a little surprisingly for a camera of this type, there’s no Wi-Fi functionality supported by the EOS M unlike some rivals.
If you want to double up the EOS M as your video camera as well, the EOS M can record footage at Full HD 1080p, with a choice of frame rates at either 30, 25 or 24fps. To slow the action down, you can also capture video at 60 or 50fps at 720p. The EOS M features a pair of small stereo microphones, but there’s also the option to attach an optional stereo microphone via the 3.5mm socket on the side of the camera.
Canon EOS M review – Design
The EOS M appears to have borrowed some of the design DNA from Canon’s PowerShot and IXUS range of compact cameras, with a clean, unfussy design that plays it safe. Soft, curved edges round the body are only interrupted by the EOS M’s main design cue, the sculptured indent round the shutter button. This has allowed Canon to angle the shutter button by a few degrees to produce a slightly more comfortable position when firing the shutter.
At just under 109cm in length and only 32cm in width, Canon have kept things compact with the EOS M, with similar dimensions to Nikon’s J1/J2. The obvious difference being that the EOS M houses a much larger APS-C sized sensor compared to the J1/J2’s 1in sensor. With a flange distance of only 18mm between the rear of the lens and sensor (compared to 44mm on an EOS DSLR), the chip does appear to be worryingly exposed to dust when changing lenses. This is not necessarily a unique problem to the EOS M as other CSCs also suffer from this also and Canon provides an integrated cleaning system to combat this.
There’s no handgrip as such, but the EOS M sports a small, rubberised grip at the front and a curved thumb rest at the rear to provide a pretty positive hold. Thanks to the body panels being constructed from magnesium alloy, the EOS M is a pleasing weight and has a quality feel for a camera of this class. It’s worth noting though that the different colours available have slightly different finishes – we’ve had both the chance to handle both the white and black models and we have to say we prefer the matt, ever-so slightly textured black model in the hand rather than the ultra-smooth and shiny white equivalent.
Exterior controls are kept to a minimum on the EOS M, with the main interface and adjustment of settings the rear touchscreen instead. Round the collar of the shutter button is the EOS M’s mode switch, with the choice of Scene Intelligent Auto, Still Mode (this provides access to M, A, S, P controls as well as Scene modes) and Video.
At the rear and things look very non-threatening for the first-time user. Towards the top is a single movie record button and as you move downwards, you’ll find Menu, Playback and Info buttons also. There’s a 4-way control button offering one-tap controls for exposure compensation, drive mode and auto exposure lock, while the delete button acts as a quick way of returning the AF point to the centre of the frame while shooting. If you wish, it can be customised to control other settings via the menu.
Canon EOS M review – Performance
While some touchscreens that have found their way on to cameras have left a lot to be desired in the past, the EOS M’s has to be one of, if not the most responsive we’ve seen, with light touches triggering changes, rather hard presses, while it’s possible to swipe, pinch and zoom in on an image just as you can a smartphone.
This responsiveness from the touchscreen combines perfectly with the EOS M’s well thought out interface and the few exterior controls on the body of the camera. There’s a handy Quick Menu button for instance that lets you change a host of key settings with ease via either the touchscreen or scroll wheel, while altering the shutter speed or aperture can be done just as quickly.
The screen itself, with its 3:2 aspect ratio that matches the sensor, provides a decent viewing angle, while the display itself has plenty of clarity and contrast. Icons are large enough in the main to allow you to be relatively relaxed with your selections, rather than the pin-point accuracy that some models demand due to their small icons, while the overall look of the EOS M’s interface and easy-to-follow navigation all add to the experience.
If there are any niggles it’s the fact that you can’t double tap in the image to review it at 100%, while the image suffers from an ever-so slight delay before its rendered at full quality as you’re flicking through your images.
That aside, it has to be said that EOS M’s blend of responsive touchscreen and intuitive interface delivers a fast and seamless user experience that’s hard to beat on a CSC.
The EOS M’s Hybrid AF system is up against some stiff competition that has had the luxury of being refined over 2 to 3 generations to offer rapid AF acquirement (in single-shot AF at least). That said, straight off the bat and there’s little to moan about with the AF performance of the EOS M. Side-by-side with some rivals, it’s not quite as instantaneous as some at locking on. This could be attributed in part to the STM technology employed in both the 18-55mm and 22mm lenses that are designed to provide smooth transitions in focus for video capture, which naturally takes a little longer. Don’t get us wrong though, the focusing speed is still fast, accurate and very rarely hunts. The Stepper Motor also sees focusing noise kept to a minimum and barely audible in general use, while you’ve got that smooth transitional focus during video recording.
Selecting the AF area while in FlexiZone Single couldn’t be easier, with a simple tap on the area of the screen where you want to focus, and if you wish, trigger the shutter at the same time while you can quickly revert to focus in the central area of the frame by a hitting the delete button. When using the EOS M’s focus-tracking mode, again, tap the area of the rear screen and then the M will lock-on to that point or subject. It does a pretty good job, but like the majority of CSCs, it falls down a little when it comes to keeping up with a relatively fast moving subject.
The EOS M is capable of shooting a burst of images at 4.3fps, which when compared with the Sony NEX-5R’s 10fps and Samsung NX210’s 8fps, looks somewhat slow, while it can only sustain this for 11 JPEG shots or 5 Raw files before the buffer needs to be cleared and the frame slows further. It’s also a touch slow to fire-up, with a 2-3 second delay from switching the camera on until it’s ready for you to start shooting.
The EOS M’s anti-shake system is a lens based system, with the bundled 18-55mm kit lens offering Canon’s tried and tested Image Stabilization (IS) technology. This offers a 4-stop stabilisation system to combat the risk of camera shake, but the 22mm pancake lens doesn’t feature IS.
Canon EOS M review – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
Unlike the majority on Canon’s EOS DSLRs that utilise a iFCL 63-zone metering system, the EOS M offers real-time metering direct from the image sensor with the choice of Evaluative, Partial, Spot and Centre-weighted metering modes.
The EOS M’s metering system can be relied upon in pretty much most conditions, delivering pleasing results. They’ll be a couple of times when shooting high contrast scenes that the EOS M can overexpose just a touch, requiring a little exposure compensation to correct for this.
The EOS M also features Canon’s Auto Lighting Optimizer that’s found in all current Canon DSLRs. This in-camera processing is designed to balance highlight and shadow areas, with Low, Standard and High settings as well as a disabled option. It’s especially suited to relatively high contrast shots, but when the highest strength setting is used, it can result in a slightly HDR-type effect.
White Balance and Colour
In our lab tests, the EOS M’s auto white balance delivered pleasing, neutral results when shooting in either natural or artificial light sources, though could be considered a little cool in some circumstances. The EOS M delivered pleasant skin tones, while there is a selection of Picture Styles to choose from, including landscape, portrait and monochrome that can be applied to the image, though the differences can be subtle.
Sharpness and Detail
With the exception of the 1100D, all Canon APS-C DSLRs feature a variation on their 18MP CMOS sensor, and the EOS M is no exception. Delivering one of the highest pixel-counts offered by a CSC, the EOS M delivers a very good level of detail.
Our resolution test chart revealed the EOS M is capable of rendering finely spaced horizontal lines right down to 28, tailing off slightly as the sensitivity is increased.
The EOS M delivers some very good results for a camera of this class, with image noise very well controlled. Results are pretty much image noise free from the base ISO until ISO 800, when it starts to encroach on the image. Above that and image noise becomes progressively more apparent, with ISO 6400 just about acceptable, though colour noise does see the image deteriorate quite a bit.
Raw vs. JPEG
If you compare Raw files alongside JPEG files, and the JPEG files have a touch more contrast and slightly punchier colours. At higher ISOs, JPEG files have a decent amount of ISO noise control applied, which results in smoother images, but at the expense of sharpness. At these sensitivities Raw files are preferred, delivering greater levels of detail.
Value & Verdict
Canon EOS M review – Value
At £699 for the standard 18-55mm kit, The EOS M is a touch more than the similarly spec’d and user orientated Sony NEX-5R, while almost £200 more than the very capable Panasonic GF5 that also aims to appeal to the novice, first-time user.
What’s really interesting though is that the EOS M is actually more than the EOS 650D, a camera that it shares many of its technologies with, though whether you opt for the EOS M or its DSLR stable mate will be dictated by how you want to take pictures.
Canon EOS M review – Verdict
Blending the best bits of their compact and DSLR range, Canon has delivered one of the most easy to use, capable CSCs around today.
While there are a couple of things that are missing on the EOS M – Wi-Fi connectivity for instance, on the whole it’s a very well specified camera, with plenty to keep both the entry-level and more experienced users happy. To back this up, the EOS M’s large APS-C sized CMOS sensor delivers the goods, providing some of the best results for a camera in this class and a match for a lot of DSLRs.
All this is cloaked in a very well made, sleek but understated body, with the magnesium alloy body panels deliver a very solid feel that rivals some much pricier models.
What really sets the EOS M apart though is the touchscreen interface. While the Sony NEX-5R’s interface can be clunky to use and the Panasonic GF5’s doesn’t muster quite the same level of control, the EOS M’s is both responsive and easy to use.
There’s still some room for improvement though. While the EF-EOS M mount adapter is a handy accessory to attach existing EF and EF-S lenses, there needs to be more EF-M mount lenses than the current two to build the system, while the AF speed and burst shooting could both be faster.
For those looking to upgrade from a compact, this is a great CSC option, while DSLR owners looking for a lightweight alternative shouldn’t discount it either as once you’ve got round the lack of body mounted controls will find a camera that’s both responsive and quick to use.
With all other major players establishing themselves in the CSC market place, Canon needed to deliver something special, and with the EOS M, they pretty much have.
Late last week What Digital Camera took delivery of Canon’s first compact system camera – the EOS M. The product sample we used was a pre-production model meaning we weren’t able to assess the image quality produced by the 18MP CMOS sensor and we’d have to wait for our full production sample to arrive before we could post our image sample gallery online. In the meantime we used the pre-production EOS M to get a better understanding of how it operates and handles in a real-life shooting environment.
The EOS-M was supplied with Canon’s EF-M 22mm f/2 STM lens that’s equivalent to 33mm in film terms. This is one of two lenses that have been developed for the EOS-M system. The other is Canon’s EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM standard zoom. Trying out the EOS M in a busy city environment uncovered a few interesting points.
Firstly, being such a small camera it’s easy to use the EOS M inconspicuously without drawing too much attention from those around you. Setting up the camera for a series of portrait shots revealed how quick and easy the camera is to navigate and use. The combination of large onscreen icons and an extremely responsive touch screen lets you find what you want and select it in a matter of seconds and though there’s no mode dial we had no complaints hitting the info button to quickly load the quick menu from which you could choose between manual, Shutter priority, aperture priority or program mode.
At first we thought the size of the control dial at the rear of the camera was rather small. In operation this wasn’t a huge concern however and just like the touch screen it’s incredible responsive, making it quick to scroll through the ISO settings for example.
Rather than manually repositioning the AF target with the d-pad we relied on using the touch screen with the AF mode set to single. Touching the display would instantly move the AF point but we did notice a slight hesitation and some signs of hunting on occasions before the green square confirmed correct focus. Again we can’t read too much into this side of the performance as it was a pre-production sample and not a full production sample, which we’re expecting to arrive for our full review this week.
For Canon users, the EOS M is a camera you can pick up get familiar with very quickly. The menu system is colour coded much like Canon DSLR’s and everything is found where you expect it to be.
As for the build, the EOS M feels solid and very well constructed. The high gloss finish to our white EOS-M won’t be to everyone’s taste and there’s not much of a handgrip to wrap your fingers around. There has clearly been some inspiration from Canon’s Power Shot models in the design and creation of the EOS M but our first impressions of the performance makes it seem like you’re operating a camera that’s faster and more akin to an APS-C DSLR.
We’ll bring you the full review of the EOS M and an image sample gallery as soon as our full production sample arrives.