Canon EOS M £769.99

19th Aug 2013 | 12:30

Canon EOS M

Canon's smaller alternative to an SLR

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

18MP APS-C sensor; DIGIC 5 processor; Small size; High-build quality; Excellent touchscreen;

Dislike:

AF system a bit slow; No optional EVF; No built-in flash; High price;

Introduction

Canon hasn't exactly been quick out of the blocks in the race to launch compact system cameras and its first, the EOS M, comes four years after Panasonic kicked-off the whole shebang back in September 2008 with the launch of the Lumix G1.

Unlike some compact system cameras, however, the Canon M has an APS-C format sensor.

In fact it has the same 18MP CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 processor as the Canon 650D, so in theory at least it could be capable of matching one of Canon's most recent SLRs for image quality.

This could set the EOS M ahead of cameras such as the Nikon J2, Nikon V2, Pentax Q, Pentax Q10 and even the Panasonic G5 and Olympus E-PL5, which have smaller sensors.

Canon EOS M review

Although Canon has used the same sensor in the M as is in its EOS 650D, omitting the mirror and shifting the lens mount closer to the sensor means that a new breed of lenses is required. Consequently, Canon has introduced a new mount for the M, the EF-M.

Canon has launched two new EF-M lenses to complement the EOS M; the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and the EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM.

The 18-55mm is likely to be the most popular, since it's more versatile: it's noticeably smaller and considerably better built than the current EF-S 18-55mm lens, with a metal, rather than plastic, barrel and mount.

Canon EOS M review

Meanwhile, the EF-M 22mm f/2.0 pancake lens perhaps gives away Canon's aspiration to create a CSC that also appeals to enthusiast photographers, since it is these users who are more likely to appreciate the benefit of such a wide maximum aperture and a fixed focal length.

Existing Canon users may be pleased to learn that Canon has also unveiled the Mount Adapter EF-EOS M, which enables EF and EF-S lenses to be mounted onto the EOS M.

This contains no optics, but has contacts to enable communication between the camera and optic.

Features

Canon has given the EOS M many of the features that the EOS 650D has for use in live view mode and in addition to the 18MP APS-C format (22.3x14.9mm) CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 processor, there's the 31-point Hybrid AF system that was debuted by the 650D.

Canon EOS M review

This system is intended to combine the speed of phase detection with the accuracy of contrast detection AF.

The screen is also the same 3-inch 1,0404,000-dot touch-sensitive device as is found on the 650D, but it's fixed rather than mounted on an articulating hinge.

Canon EOS M at a glance
Sensor:
18MP APS-C format (22.3x14.9mm)
Crop factor: 1.6x
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC
Viewfinder: None
LCD: 3-inch 1,0404,000-dot touchscreen
Video: 1920x1080 at 30, 25 or 24fps
ISO range: 100-12,800 expandable to 25,600
Autofocus: 31-point Hybrid system
Max burst rate: 4.3fps
Dimensions: 108.6 x 66.5 x 32.3 mm
Weight: 298g (including battery and card)

This is the only means of composing and reviewing images on the M as it doesn't have a viewfinder and there's no port to attach an external electronic viewfinder (EVF).

There's also no built-in flash on the M, but it does have a hotshoe that is compatible with all Canon's current flashguns.

Canon EOS M review

There's also a new Speedlite 90EX flashgun that is very compact and specifically designed to complement the M. In the UK this is included in the box with the camera and lens.

Although it has the same sensor and processing engine as the 650D, a difference in the shutter build means that the M has a maximum continuous shooting rate of 4fps rather than 5fps.

Canon says it is aiming the EOS M at people who wouldn't have considered buying an EOS camera before; those who like the small size and simplicity of a compact camera but who want to take better quality images.

Canon EOS M review

Naturally, then, Canon has given these users a healthy collection of automated shooting modes such as Scene Intelligent Auto, in which the camera selects the settings to suit the scene automatically, as well as a collection of scene modes that the user can select to match the subject.

Those looking to develop their understanding of photography will find the M's Creative Auto mode useful; it's essentially a form of aperture priority mode, but adjustments are made via an onscreen display that allows the user to choose whether they want the background sharp or blurred.

Canon hasn't abandoned its existing EOS users who want a smaller alternative to their SLR, however, as program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual exposure modes are also present.

Canon EOS M review

In addition to the Picture Style options that we see with Canon's SLRs and that tailor the colour of JPEG files to suit a particular subject (landscape, portrait), the EOS M has a collection of Creative Effects that give JPEG images a particular look as they are captured.

Similar effects are possible with the Canon 650D, but they can only be applied post-capture.

It's worth noting here that although the Picture Style options can be used whatever the file format you choose to store images in, the Creative Effects options can only be selected when the M is set to shoot JPEGs and not raw files.

Build and handling

Appearance and size wise, the EOS M is like one of Canon's mid-range Powershot compact cameras with a bigger-than-usual lens.

Its stainless steel, magnesium alloy, polycarbonate and glass fibre construction also gives its body a solid, high-quality feel.

This high-build quality is complemented well by the new EF-M 18-55mm kit lens which has a metal barrel and feels superbly built, with smoothly rotating zoom and focusing rings that have just the right tension. Interestingly, although this lens is smaller than the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II sold in the EOS 650D kit, at 210g it is 10g heavier.

Canon EOS M review

Unfortunately, the EOS M only has a shallow ridge of plastic to serve as a finger-grip and this doesn't give much purchase - especially with the 18-55mm kit lens mounted.

The strap is needed unless you are happy to carry the camera by the lens or by holding the top and bottom of the camera.

Although it doesn't have the same number of button and dial controls as the top-end G1X and G12, all the key features are within quick and easy reach via the touch screen.

Canon EOS M review

Thankfully, Canon has opted for a capacitive screen (like an iPhone's) so it doesn't rely on pressure and instead responds to a touch of a finger. It is one of the most responsive screens we have seen on a camera and it makes quick work of changing settings via the main menu and Quick menu.

There are still navigation buttons and a wheel on the back of the camera, so they can be used to scroll through settings options and make changes, but using the touchscreen is quicker and more intuitive.

A switch around the shutter release allows the user to choose between Scene Intelligent Auto (green square), Camera and Video mode.

Canon EOS M review

In Camera mode a touch of an icon on the screen brings up the various options, including manual, aperture and shutter priority, as well as Creative Auto and a selection of scene modes. It's very quick and easy to do.

The touch controls are also useful when reviewing images, as a swipe moves from one to another while the pinch-zoom movement can be used to zoom in and out to inspect details.

In most situations the screen provides a very clear view of the scene, but it suffers from reflections in bad lighting, making composing images a bit trickier.

With SLRs like the 650D you would usually employ the viewfinder in such conditions, but this option isn't available with the EOS M.

Performance

One of the Canon EOS M's major drawbacks is its slow focusing speeds. Using the original firmware, we found that the speed of the camera was very sluggish, especially compared with other excellent compact system cameras on the market, most notably from Panasonic and Olympus.

In an attempt to address that, Canon has issued a new version of firmware that can be installed via a free download. This makes focusing much quicker, and although it still doesn't have the excellent speeds of something like the Olympus E-P5, for instance, it's much more acceptable and could even be described as quick in good light situations.

As the light drops, there is more hunting around for focus, but generally speaking, the camera is now much quicker and more accurate than before, making using it less frustrating than previously.

Canon EOS M review

When using the camera in conjunction with the lens mount adaptor to use existing EF/EF-S lenses, focusing speeds also drop somewhat, but again, in good light it's acceptable if not super fast.

The APS-C format sensor and Digic 5 processor show their mettle in the quality of the images that the M produces. They have plenty of detail and noise is controlled well from ISO 100-3200. Above this value JPEGs start to look a little soft at 100% on-screen and are best restricted to around A4 size.

As we'd expect, better results are possible at ISO 3200 and 6400 if raw files are recorded and processed with bespoke noise reduction to preserve details.

Canon EOS M review

We recommend staying within the native sensitivity range (ISO 100-12,800) and only using the ISO 25,600 (equivalent) expansion setting for emergencies.

Maintaining image quality to the corners of the frame is more of a challenge for the M because the lens is closer to the sensor, and this increases the likelihood of coma distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration at the periphery of the image.

However, our test revealed that with the EF-M 18-55mm lens mounted, the M captures better image quality across the frame than the 650D with the EF-S 18-55mm kit lens mounted.

Doubtless, this is the result of the superior build (and we assume better optics) of the EF-M lens.

Canon EOS M review

Canon cameras' automatic white balance systems can usually be relied upon to capture colours that reflect the atmosphere of the scene, with a tendency towards warm notes.

With the EOS M even shots taken in overcast conditions can look warm whether they were taken using the Auto or Daylight white-balance setting.

While this may not be a completely accurate representation of the scene it usually results in pleasant images and the colour shift is likely explained by Canon's perception of its target audience's preferences.

Canon EOS M review

We also found that the M's real-time Evaluative metering system does a good job in most situations, only faltering in very high-contrast conditions when there is a tendency to underexpose to protect the highlights.

Canon's new STM lenses use a stepper motor which gives slower, smoother focusing when shooting video.

Unfortunately, this has a knock-on effect for the M when shooting stills as when the 18-55mm kit lens is mounted the autofocus system lacks the speed of some competing cameras such as the Panasonic GF5.

In low light there's a pronounced back-and-forth adjustment of focus. This is also sometimes discernable (though less of an issue) in good light as well, and it slows down the M's Touch Shutter feature that sets the camera to focus and fires the shutter with a touch of the finger on the subject on the LCD.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Canon EOS 5D MK III we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the 5D MK III is capable of resolving up to around 28 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Canon EOS M review

ISO 100

JPEG images

Canon EOS M review

ISO 100, score: 24(Click here to see full-resolution image)

Canon EOS M review

ISO 200, score: 24(Click here to see full-resolution image)

Canon EOS M review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see full-resolution image)

Canon EOS M review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see full-resolution image)

Canon EOS M review

ISO 1600, score: 20(Click here to see full-resolution image)

Canon EOS M review

ISO 3200, score: 20 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 6400, score: 18 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 12800, score: 16 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 25600, score: 12 Click here to see full-resolution image

Raw images

Canon EOS M review

ISO 100, score: 24 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 200, score: 24 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 400, score: 24 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 800, score: 22 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 1600, score: 20 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 3200, score: 20 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 6400, score: 20 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 12800, score: 16 Click here to see full-resolution image

Canon EOS M review

ISO 25600, score: 12 Click here to see full-resolution image

Noise and dynamic range

Signal-to-noise ratio

Not surprisingly, the Canon M put in a very similar performance to the Canon 650D in our lab tests.

JPEG Files

Canon EOS M review

The JPEGs from the M don't quite match those from the Olympus E-PL5 and the Nikon J2 from ISO 800 upwards, indicating the benefit of shooting raw images (see below) that you process yourself using Canon's excellent Digital Photo Professional software which is supplied or a third-party raw converter.

Raw files (after conversion to TIFF)

Canon EOS M review

The M's raw files (after conversion to TIFF) compare well for signal-to-noise ratio with those from the Olympus E-PL5, Panasonic GF5 and Nikon J2.

Canon EOS M review

JPEG Dynamic range

Canon EOS M review

None of the cameras compared here can quite match the Olympus E-PL5 for dynamic range, though the Nikon J2's JPEGs come closest at around ISO 1600-3200.

Raw file (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range

Canon EOS M review

Raw files (after conversion to TIFF) with a dynamic range of around 12EV at ISO 100, dropping to about 9.5EV at ISO 3200 means the Canon M can certainly hold its own and images have a good tonal range.

Sample images

Canon EOS M review

Click here to see full-res image

Colours straight from the Canon EOS M are bright and punchy, with skin tones showing pleasant natural tones.

Canon EOS M review

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Using the 22mm pancake lens is a good option for a variety of different subjects and makes the overall size of the system small.

Canon EOS M review

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Images taken at very high sensitivities (such as ISO 6400 in this shot) show a good level of noise control while also maintaining plenty of detail.

Canon EOS M review

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The Canon EOS M's large sensor (APS-C sized) means you can achieve creative shallow depth of field effects.

Canon EOS M review

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Grainy B/W Creative Effect mode produces some nice results, it especially suits portraits of men.

Canon EOS M review

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The M's automatic white balance system has coped well with this indoor scene.

Canon EOS M review

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The 18-55mm lens has created a beautiful bokeh effect in the background.

Canon EOS M review

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Another graphic Grainy B/W Creative effect shot. It's a shame these filter can't be applied with raw and JPEG files.

Canon EOS M review

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There's bags of detail in this ISO 100 JPEG image.

Canon EOS M review

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The Evaluative metering has responded as we would expect to the very bright sky and underexposed the foreground as little.

Canon EOS M review

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Using the Landscape Picture Style has boosted the greens and blues in this image and made the distant hills look sunlit even though the sun was behind the clouds.

Canon EOS M review

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Canon EOS M review

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Despite shooting in a shaded woodland, the M produced a warm image whether the auto white balance or Daylight white balance settings was used for this scene.

Canon EOS M review

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Colours are generally pleasantly saturated, but natural direct from the camera.

Canon EOS M review

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Another Grainy B/W image.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Canon EOS M review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 100

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 200

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 400

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 800

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 1600

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 3200

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 6400

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 12800

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 25600

Raw

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 100

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 200

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 400

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 800

Canon EOS M review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Canon EOS M review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Canon EOS M review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Canon EOS M review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Canon EOS M review

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ISO 25600

Verdict

Broadly speaking, compact system cameras (CSCs) can be divided into two groups; those that are designed to look and feel like mini-SLRs, and those that have a more rectangular appearance and look more like compact cameras.

The mini-SLR style CSCs are usually better specified, having key features like an electronic viewfinder and built-in flash, while the compact-style cameras are often a little more spartan, with some such as the Sony NEX distinguishing themselves with luxurious additions.

Canon has opted to go down the compact-camera style route for the M, and has shied away from giving it a viewfinder or a pop-up flash.

Although there's no port to attach an external viewfinder, there is a hotshoe to attach an external flashgun (and UK buyers get the Speedlite 90EX in the kit). This puts the M in the entry-level realm where it competes with the likes of the Panasonic GF5, which at £374/$499.99 with the standard 14-42mm kit lens, is considerably cheaper than the M.

We liked

The M's touchscreen is very responsive and the control layout has been well thought through so the camera is easy to use.

There's also plenty of control for more experienced photographers, and well as fully automated and hand-holding modes for less-experienced photographers.

Canon hasn't stinted on the build quality of the M, and with its 18-55mm kit lens this combination is capable of producing excellent results that challenge the company's SLRs.

We disliked

With the 18-55mm lens mounted the M feels unbalanced in your hand and the slim grip on front doesn't provide enough purchase.

Canon's Hybrid AF system isn't as fast as Panasonic or Olympus's contrast detection systems - or Sony's Hybrid AF system - and the M isn't suited to shooting anything other than stationary subjects.

We'd also like a less reflective screen to provide a better view in bright sunlight.

As yet Canon only has one CSC and two compatible lenses (plus and adapter), and potential buyers might like some indication of the level of Canon's commitment to the M system before they invest.

Final verdict

Despite being very late to the CSC market, Canon has managed to produce a camera that isn't too far off the pace in many respects, and it should give the Nikon J2 a serious run for its money.

Thanks to the combination of the 18MP APS-C format CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5 processor and the high-quality EF-M 18-55mm kits lens, the M is capable of producing superb quality images that even outperform those taken on the Canon 650D EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II mounted.

The touchscreen controls are also very good and it doesn't take long to get to know the camera.

However, the M is let down by its AF system and its unbalanced feel that stems from it not having a decent grip.

First reviewed 16th November 2012

Canon Canon EOS M compact system cameras mirrorless camerascarousel-en-gb camerascarousel-en-us camerascarousel-en-au
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