The last few years have seen a very large push in the photographic landscape toward smaller, lighter, high performing mirrorless interchangable lens compact system cameras. Most of the major camera manufacturers have produced something in this new segment. As Panasonic started the whole party off with the G1 a few years back, Olympus, Sony and Samsung jumped in quickly thereafter. Pentax and Ricoh have even had some interesting ideas since. Nikon and Canon watched this segment closely I’m sure, and calculated their entry into the mirrorless ring. Nikon took a different tack, creating a very small (comparatively) sensor system and Canon came up with this, the EOS-M. A few weeks ago, and after what many saw as a response to very poor reception and subsequent lack of sales since its introduction, Canon dropped the price of this APS-C sensor, mirrorless compact camera through the ground and I bit. Here are my thoughts on the camera itself, the Canon approach and where I think they need to go in the future with this…
I will try to keep this short and sweet. My initial opinions on this camera when it was announced have not changed much after having finally succumbed to Canon’s marketing prowess (as well as insane discounts) and purchased one. What I saw as a feeble first attempt going into a competitive market, with too little firepower to compete at it’s entry price, still seems a justified opinion. But, now that prices are lower than most any decent point and shoot, is this a viable option? Simply put, yes. Is it the best value for between $300-400? That entirely depends. I purchased the kit with the 22mm f/2 (35mm E-FOV) lens because I like to keep a compact kit, appreciate fast lenses, and seeing that they only have two lenses available (the only other lens currently on offer is the kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6) my options were limited to one.
I’ll start off with my opinion on the upside for this little camera.
- The 18 megapixel sensor is the same sensor that has been used in most every Canon APS-C camera for the last few years. Granted, there have been a few processing tweaks over that time, the fact still remains, this sensor is good. Perhaps not great compared to competing sensors over the same time period, but very good.
- One big bonus is that it employs the Canon 14 bit RAW file compared to 12 bit RAW files from many of the other prominent mirrorless systems. This is a good thing for RAW shooters and post processing aficionados, but completely moot for those shooting JPEG’s.
- The 22mm pancake lens is by all accounts a great little lens. Sure it is slow to focus, but the lens physical focusing speed is going to be the least of your worries with this system if you’re in a situation where physical speed of a camera is going to be a big issue.
- The touch interface is clean, as is the menu system. Intuitive, simple and obviously borrowed from the DSLR’s.
- The image quality is good, low light performance is adequate and fidelity seems to stick with other Canon sensors in that it is very good to my eye. The promise of EF lens compatibility was very enticing as well. While I will continue to keep an eye on the system, ultimately my decision was decided by this camera’s faults and drawbacks.
So, onto the bad.
- This camera has very obviously been built to cater to the point and shoot crowd. Now, this isn’t “bad” per se if you are stepping up to an interchangeable lens system camera from a Canon point and shoot, and want your new camera to feel familiar, or don’t really care.
- For those who were hoping for a DSLR companion with a similar level of external control, don’t like having to use a touch screen to change settings, or have the hope of any type of proprietary viewfinder, you may be disappointed. All the standard adjustments are there in the EOS-M’s defense, and aside from a couple niggles, I had no real problems with the ability to interact with the camera, but the fact that I can only operate the camera in video mode for video, and stills mode for stills, and then whatever A+ mode (fully automated P&S mode) is, living on a dial surrounding the shutter button is a bit crummy in my opinion. Very reminiscent of any P&S cam I’ve seen over the last 10 years. It is easy to accidentally switch between these 3 modes and those three modes completely change the functionality of the camera, disabling certain functions and enabling others making for a somewhat frustrating experience if you’re caught in the wrong mode when trying to capture the moment, quickly. Once used to it, you know to look at the function switch first if the camera seems to be functioning incorrectly.
- The play button, if pushed, will turn the camera on, in review mode. The placement of the play button had me pushing it inadvertently, all the time, getting the camera in and out of the bag.
- Canon, your EOS-M specific (Hassleblad knockoff) strap lugs suck. You cannot use any type of strap without using those cheap feeling, aluminum and plastic locking knobs. I’m not a fan at all.
- Now, I bought this camera AFTER they announced the new firmware update which by most accounts remedied the horrifically slow auto focus speed. I’m not sure how slow it was before, but it must have been painfully atrocious because it is far from what I’d consider “fast” or even remotely quick now and at its best seems very comparable to a mid level point and shoot camera keeping with this supposed theme. It is absolutely fine for slow moving or static scenes. Most of the stuff you’d be shooting with a camera like this should be just fine. The larger problem for me was the focus accuracy. When the auto focus hit, the images were very sharp. Problem was, if I was shooting anything that was quite a ways away from background elements, a third of the time or so, the larger AF box would grab hold of something in the background if it fell within that rectangle as opposed to the subject. Nothing that couldn’t be remedied by readjusting the AF point to a different location, but in many situations, that would find me missing the moment. Not a decisive moment shooters dream camera, but in fairness, most all mirrorless cameras I’ve yet used have some level of this issue, and in my opinion is largely down to the contrast detection auto focus defaulting to the greatest point of contrast in that focus point which may or may not be where you want it to focus. The shot below took me about three tries to get focused on the flower that I wanted to as an example.
In conclusion, I could look at this camera from one of two angles. First, if you like a 35mm FOV, this could be, hands down, the BEST $300 point and shoot available. OR, if looking to invest in a fully featured MILC system, I feel it is too little, too late for the mirrorless party. Perhaps if you really wanted to use EF lenses, it could kinda make sense, but if that were the case, save the time and get the little EOS 100D.
While I feel that for the $300 I paid for the kit with the 22mm lens is a good deal, capable of sharp, high quality images, shallow depth of field, good low light performance and great color, it is bested in every way by other mirrorless cameras. The 22mm lens is great and while it does vignette a bit wide open, it also combines with the sensor to be sharp enough to really show some moiré. Both of these issues are correctable in post, and I like having the problem of a lens being sharp enough to have to combat moiré in post.
Ultimately, I chose to trade this camera to my Father in law in order to reunite with my beloved GF1 and 20mm f/1.7 which I find to be a better camera and lens combo for me, albeit with a more challenging sensor. I just prefer using the GF1 personally. Seeing as you can get quite a few quality camera + lens combos right now at bargain basement prices, I think my money would have been better spent on a Panasonic G5 or GX1 (which I’ve also recently acquired and was ready to trade for the GF1 too) which would also open up a much more diverse and mature system in the Micro 4/3 camp.
The EOS-M is not a bad camera, it is just obviously an intentionally hindered camera, and the system has not grown since it was announced (aside from the supposed 11-18mm zoom which will not be available to us in the USA, which I find bizarre). I assume Canon wanted to accomplish two things with this initial try. Firstly, to not cannibalize the sales of their entry level DSLR’s while throwing their hat into the mirrorless ring, and secondly, market this entry directly to phone and point and shoot photographers to try and address the hemorrhaging from the shrinking P&S market. I think they accomplished both of those things in theory, unfortunately nobody seemed to be interested. I felt at the time of announcement, and still to this day, Canon was way too cautious with this camera. They could have destroyed the mirrorless market with their name recognition alone if they’d brought a fully functional, pro-sumer spec’d camera, at under a grand into the fold. Originally, I thought they would have used this to almost replace their high end point and shoot division, and would have worked harder to make this appeal to existing Canon shooters with a fully functional “backup” option. Instead, they built a new platform with a new lens mount, handicapped this camera and continued to build other hindered DSLR’s into this crowded sector of the marketplace… I don’t get it, but then, I’m not being paid to make money for these camera companies, although, if they asked, I feel like I could certainly save them some in their R&D with a few simple suggestions. If you want another system to invest in, or are happy with a single lens situation for a budget pocket shooter and can get used to a very point and shoot interface, it is a good camera, no doubt about it, but I can’t personally say it is any better than any other mirrorless camera I’ve used, and is certainly worse in various ways. Good, but perhaps not good enough when looking at what else is out there in this segment, even at comparable pricing. It will be interesting to see if Canon continues to develop the EOS-M line, but they’d really need a home run with the next announcement, and of course, there is the severe lack of EF-M lenses, so there’s a whole lot of work to do if they’re going to try and compete here.
Thanks for the read and as always I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments.
If you are interested in purchasing the EOS-M, as I was, to perhaps have a cheap way to buy the 22mm lens and gain access into the system, you can see their combos while they still exist here at B&H:
Now that I look through, it strikes me as kind of funny that many of the shots I took with this were of sleeping creatures… 🙂
Cheers and happy shooting,