Canon EOS M Review 1


I got the Canon EOS M to serve as a compact travel camera or a backup/B-cam to my Canon 5D Mark II. What sold me on the camera was the small size, microphone input, standard shoe, and 3-10x digital zoom (more on this fiasco later, read on).

eos-m-270-ex

Canon EOS M with 270 EX.

Autofocus

Let’s start with the top grievance people have with this camera: slow autofocus. Granted, it is not as fast as a traditional DSLR, I found that the problem isn’t so much speed as reliability. When it works, it’s usable for casual photo situations but sometimes it may focus quickly once on a subject and fail the second time even with good light and contrast.

For movie mode, the servo autofocus is annoying because it is equally unreliable as photo mode and continues to hunt even after having focused on a still subject. Fortunately, there is an alpha version of the Magic Lantern firmware available which adds peaking, magic zoom, and other wonderful features.

Lens

22mm Prime
I opted for the 22mm (35mm equiv.) f/2.0 prime and the EF-EOS M adapter to use with my existing lenses. The 22mm is fast and compact but I find the focus-by-wire ring not as responsive as traditional designs. There is also no focus distance, DOF meter, or even AF/MF switch.

From the Sky to the Sea — Taipei & Hong Kong from FugLee.
A short video shot entirely with the Canon EOS M and 22mm f/2.0.

Screencap from 3-10x product advisory. Notice the page location is in the EOS M directory.

Screencap from product advisory. Notice the EOS M directory.

EOS M box with 3-10x feature.

EOS M box with 3-10x feature.

3-10x Digital Zoom
The 35mm equivalent focal length is ideal for shooting news/documentary and would have been sufficient with the 3-10x digital zoom feature (even if it is only usable up to 5x) but unfortunately this feature was removed! The 3-10x digital zoom was shown in some of the previews back in July. All of the major manufacturers have some form of digital teleconverter function so it’s really puzzling as to why Canon left out a feature it had already developed successfully with the T3i. There’s also a product advisory for this feature in the EOS M directory and certain boxes were shipped with a white sticker covering the feature on the box. This is clear indication that it was an intended feature that Canon removed. What makes it worse is that there was over 3 months from the time the camera was announced to when it shipped and Canon made no effort to correct the previews.

Canon EOS M with 70-200mm f/4 lens mug.

Canon EOS M with 70-200mm f/4 lens mug.

EF-EOS M Adapter
The EF-EOS M adapter connects the M flawlessly to the rest of the Canon lineup. The only issue I had is with the tripod adapter which does not extend forward so unless it’s attached to a small lens, it becomes unbalanced and a quick-release (QR) plate likely cannot be left on because it hits the body when attaching the lens.

Canon EOS M with lens adapter and Gitzo QR plate. Notice the plate is obstructed by the body.

Canon EOS M with Tokina 28-70mm, EF-EOS M adapter, and Gitzo QR plate.
Notice the plate hits the body when twisting the lens.

 

Standard Zoom
Due to the balance and QR plate issue, it makes my standard zoom impractical. The 18-55mm introduced with the M is neither fast nor compact, so until Canon introduce a fixed 2.8 or pancake zoom to the M system (or a firmware update for 3-10x digital zoom), I’d look into other systems that can fill that role.

Features

Bodily Functions
On the top is the power switch, hot shoe, and a highly under-utilized mode dial with only 3 modes (auto, photo, movie) but there is fairly quick access to the other modes with the touchscreen. While a traditional mode dial may not be necessary, having a dial there just begs for exposure control which the M could have really used since it doesn’t have many buttons or dials elsewhere.

The back has buttons for record, menu, playback, info, and a dial with a four way controller. The rest is dominated by a 3″ fixed touchscreen. The front has the lens mount, AF assist beam, and a small rubber strip for grip.

The left side have ports for microphone, mini HDMI, and mini USB. One welcome feature are the new lugs for attaching strap hooks, which offers quick and easy removal of the strap.

A comparison of the tripod hole to battery door distance between Sony (above) and Canon (below).

Comparison of the tripod hole to battery door distance between Sony (above) and Canon (below).

The bottom has a lens-aligned tripod hole adjacent to the SD card/battery battery door which will likely be obstructed if used with QR plates. Overall, the EOS M has a small yet weighty metal body with decent ergonomics, but it pales compared to Sony Nex, which shifts the lens all the way to one end and a battery slot oriented for a deeper grip, thus solving the tripod QR problem.

Flash (or lack thereof)

The lack of built-in flash escapes me, especially considering so many of its competitors offer small pop ups with the ability to bounce light surprisingly well. Even the 90ex being released with this camera doesn’t offer a tilt feature, and the next smallest speedlite that does, the 270ex, looks rather oversized on this camera.

Canon uses the standard shoe but without electronic controls so there is no hope of attaching other accessories such as an electronic viewfinder. The standard shoe paired with a shotgun microphones attached makes for an ideal compact run and gun setup.

Image and video Quality
The image quality is nothing short of what you’d expect from Canon. In movie mode, grain becomes noiceable at ISO 800. Moire and aliasing is still present (you can judge the severity for yourself at 1:00 into the Cats & Camera Video below). The codec is the usual h.264 wrapped in Quicktime mov file. While I am okay with this codec, I wish Canon would adopt AVCHD 2.0 for 1080p60 and the smaller filesize.

Cats & Cameras in Taipei & Tai O from FugLee.

Recap

The good:

  • Small yet solid metal body.
  • 3.5mm microphone input.
  • New quick and easy to remove strap lugs.
  • Automatically starts recording a new video when 4GB limit is reached.
  • Magic Lantern is available and awesome for manual focus and time-lapses.

The bad:

  • Unreliable auto focus/servo AF is annoying.
  • No built-in flash.
  • Tripod hole too close to battery door.
  • Cannot reverse dial directions.
  • Video grainy beyond ISO 800.

The fuglee:

  • No 3-10x digital zoom and poorly handled on Canon’s part.

Final Thoughts

I pointed out a lot of flaws with the camera but I have grown attached to this camera nonetheless. I can cope with many of the flaws for my purposes. I knew auto focus was going to be bad going into it but as primarily a video shooter, I get decent results using manual focus with the assistance of Magic Lantern. To work around the tripod compatibility, I switched to the smaller Joby QR plates which is adequate up to medium lenses. The major things keeping this camera short of perfect is the lack of a built-in flash and the 3-10x zoom.

I’ll leave you with one final video I shot with the Canon M and the 22mm prime.

Cooking Eggs in Beitou from FugLee.


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