(Note August 2013: I had meant to publish this post prior to going away or at the very least while I was away. When I went to start publishing the follow up to this article I realized I never did publish it)
When Canon first announced their late entry into the mirror less camera market back about a year ago, my first thoughts were that this could easily be my new pocket camera. What was not to like? 18 MP APS-C sized sensor, Digic 5 processing, basically a Canon Rebel T4i in a package that was only slightly bigger than a Canon Powershot S100. They announced that 2 lenses would be available at release as well. These were the EF-M 22 mm F2 STM lens and the EF-M 18-55 mm F3.5 –5.6 IS STM lens. Both lenses featured the new Canon M lens mount. Also announced at the same time was an adaptor that allowed the user to mount any Canon EF or EF-S lens to the tiny body with no loss of light or compatibility issues including full auto focus. OK, this was starting to look really interesting! Then they also announced a flash unit, 90EX specifically designed for this camera but that also has the ability to control other Canon Speedlites and can be used on any Canon camera with a hot shoe. Now I am really interested. Announced pricing didn’t seem to bad at about 850.00 CAN for the kit with the body, 18-55mm lens and the 90 EX flash.
I have always loved shooting my larger Canon DSLR bodies and I have made a substantial investment in Canon lenses in particular my collection of L series lenses. I don’t mind carrying a big DSLR around for the day and both my 7D and my 5D MK III also have battery grips attached to them making them larger and heavier. But I have always wanted a smaller camera that was close to pocket able and offered great image quality, the ability to shoot in RAW and was decent in low light. I had purchased a Canon G1 X to be that camera, (I have owned several of the G series cameras) and that camera almost lived up to my expectations. Image quality is very good and low light performance was also very good due to the larger than previous sensor. However, I do find that the G1 X is slow to autofocus and then is sluggish when trying to shoot a couple of images in rapidly.
The EOS M was due out in the fall of 2012, so I had to wait to get my hands on it. I did see some interesting blog posts where different photo web sites had mounted Canon 800mm F4 IS L lenses on this tiny little body and it did look quite humorous. I was also blown away that one could actually do that! Some of the early complaints about the camera was that it lacked a view finder and relied heavily on a touch screen interface to apply a variety of settings.
When the camera was finally released in November 2012, I read the reviews closely and I have to say they really scared me away from the camera. The lack of a viewfinder turned off several reviewers, several complained about the lack of available lenses although the adaptor worked well. Then what I considered the killer for me was it was reported over and over that the auto focus system on the camera was incredibly slow. Strangely the camera was slow to focus when you half pressed the shutter button but was faster when you used the touch shutter on the body (fire the camera by touching the LCD screen). This was a big stop sign for me. I wasn’t planning on using the camera for shooting sports but if my G1 X was slow to auto focus I didn’t want a smaller camera that would be the same. I put away my thoughts of picking one up thinking that Canon would get it right with the next body. My G1 X has a viewfinder even though I rarely use it however I almost exclusively shoot through the view finder on my DSLR bodies.
There have been continuous rumours that Canon is developing a more Pro like body of the EOS M that would come with a view finder and more pro features. I resigned myself to the fact that I would wait till that one came out.
In February 2013, I finally got to play around with the EOS M at the Canon Image Centre in Calgary. To me the autofocus didn’t seem to be too bad on the camera and I could see it was extremely well built (like a tank) from magnesium alloy and not plastic. Design wasn’t that exciting as it is basically a black rectangle. I didn’t have long to play with it but I wasn’t completely turned off by it either, again the idea of using any of my lenses on this little body was starting to intrigue me again.
Then in early June of 2013, Canon announced that a firmware update was coming for the EOS M that would dramatically improve the autofocus system ( up to 2.3 x faster) and that it would be released at the end of June. OK, Canon you got my attention again! Then around the middle of June some videos started to surface of the EOS M with the new firmware comparing it to the old firmware. It did appear to be much better at auto focus speeds over the previous firmware.
I started looking at some of the older camera reviews ignoring the complaints about the lack of a view finder and the slowness of the autofocus and looked at what was being said about the image quality from the camera. Ok, excellent image quality, decent but not outstanding low light performance, poor battery life, but a well built somewhat boring camera. Poor battery life can be fixed easily enough by purchasing an additional battery so I discounted that issue. Low light performance could be boosted by using a faster lens on there as well. I really started to get excited about the EOS M once again!
I kept on reading and watched the prices which by the way have substantially dropped from the original release prices. You can now get the kit with 90 EX Flash and 18-55mm IS STM lens for 499.00 and the body and 22mm F2 lens are 479 (prices are local here from http://www.thecamerastore.com in Calgary. Our friends in the US can get much better pricing on the camera from outlets like B and H and Adorama. I went to visit my friends over at The Camera Store here in Calgary and picked up the kit as well as the EF to EF-M lens adaptor because I knew there I could purchase the camera, test it for a few days and return it if I wasn’t satisfied. (Update August 2013 – prices are lower than quoted above as well)
The day I got the camera, the firmware was released by Canon but I held off updating it and tested the camera a little before doing anything. While this isn’t a comprehensive review I want to touch on a few of the points that I found in using the EOS M. I will be taking the tiny little thing on an upcoming trip to put it through some further testing.
The first thing I really want to say about the camera is that it is really a fun little camera to use! It is a little more than pocket able with the the 18-55 mm zoom on it but with the smaller lens I could see it as a pretty unobtrusive little camera. The image quality is actually very good and the low light performance is not too bad. I do like using the touch screen as I can change my aperture or exposure compensation as fast or faster than I can with my DSLR bodies and be back shooting again and I really like the fact that I can move my focus point simply by touching the LCD screen where I want focus to fall. The touch shutter is a neat feature and I find that I will probably use it sometimes. The only thing is I have to remember to turn it off after using it!
The camera body is small is fits very comfortably in my hands. I have tried shooting with almost every lens that I own including my 100 – 400 F4.5 – 5.6 L IS zoom lens. I have even shot with my 70-200 F2.8 with both the 1.4 x and the 2 X tele-converters mounted.
With the EF M lens I didn’t actually find the autofocus all that bad prior to installing the firmware. The camera did hunt a bit in low light but in good light I would say it was slightly faster than my G1 X. It did struggle in certain situations where there wasn’t much contrast in the scene but every camera will to some degree (think blue sky). A little tip I came across when reading all of the reviews about the camera and a method of speeding up the autofocus was to turn off continuous auto focus in one shot mode. I found this made a big difference in speed and helped with some of the frustration as I could focus and recompose as opposed to focusing, recomposing and then having the camera try to focus again. There is an AI servo mode so if I need continuous focus I would likely turn this feature on instead!
There are a few little things that I don’t like about the camera, but these were not big enough factors for me to take the camera back.
Firstly, the camera has a new system for installing a camera strap. There are simply two lugs on each side of the body and the Canon supplied strap has proprietary clips to attach to the body. I hate this system as I would prefer to use one of my favourite straps (the Upstrap Pro) on the camera with quick releases. I haven’t looked hard but I am trying to find a smaller tripod mount sling strap than my Black Rapid for the camera itself.
Secondly, No port for a camera remote. This camera only offers IR remote firing and no way to hook up a wired remote or Intervolumeter to the camera! This makes it almost impossible to do time lapse photography with it which I think it would be very well suited for! I do have an old Canon RC1 infra red release so I will use that.
Thirdly, No tethered shooting! I can’t hook this camera up to my laptop running the EOS software and control the camera using USB or even hook it up to my tablet for Live View shooting and viewing!
I am including a few images that I shot with this camera when I first started playing with it! I am planning on taking this camera with my as my primary secondary camera on our upcoming trip. I hope to put the camera through it’s paces over a couple of weeks in Kauai! I should have a post up upon our return with more thoughts on the camera so stay tuned.