The other week I spent a couple of days using one of the latest compact / mirrorless cameras to hit the market, Canon’s EOS M thanks to those lovely people at Digital Depot (Stevenage).
Now Canon was a late joiner to the growing Compact Camera System (CCS) family. The new EOS M will have to compete with likes of the Sony NEX series, Panasonics GF/ GX models, Olympus’s EPL models and even Samsung’s NX range, all of which are well established with the buying public, and crucially are models supported by growing lens ranges. Also the EOS M will no doubt also be compared to Canon’s own G1X a fixed lens enthusiast camera that has developed quite a loyal following and a camera which impressed me greatly when I tested one back in March this year. Now I’ll confess to being not only a Canon DSLR owner (7D) but also as someone who has developed a growing appreciation for what a decent CCS model can deliver via the micro 4/3rd system and my ownership of an Olympus OMD EM5. So can the EOS M which sports a new EF-M lens mount, a 18Mp “Hybrid” APS-C CMOS sensor (the same from the EOS 650D DSLR) and a fixed 3.2” 1040K touch screen really bring something new to the table? Does the EOS M offer a viable alternative to the more established CCS models? Will it entice new comers into the whole CCS concept or offer something to the Canon faithful?
Getting straight to the point, I wasn’t expecting too much from the EOS “M” when I first looked at its bare specifications. However I’d admit to being pleasantly surprised by the camera because images from the EOS M are excellent. In fact the “M” produces images which are easily on par with the obvious competition (Sony NEX5 /6, Panasonic G5, Olympus EPL2, and Samsung NX200). In fact in low light, high ISO settings the “M” probably beats most of them giving a superb performance in this particular area of image capture. Clearly the presence of the new Digic 5 processor paired with the sensor from the 650D makes a positive a great combination.
Between ISO 100 – 1600 images are detailed, pretty much “noise” free, have great colour rendition, display accurate white balance and all in all are first rate. Even ISO3200 produces useable images. Additionally there are plenty of options to tweak the look of JPEG whilst one can also shoot RAW if so desired. There are various scene / filter / effect modes available to tweak the look of images whilst the less ambitious user can simply use the auto mode.
The one stand out feature of the EOS M is the presence of an excellent, highly intuitive very “sharp” and detailed rear touch screen. My only disappointment was the fact that it’s fixed and not articulated. It’s clear that from the onset “M” has been designed to work and function around this impressive touch screen. I loved the touch focus and shoot capacity as well as the ability to determine very easily the focus area. The camera’s handling and functionality are both hugely dependant upon the rear screen. Therefore it’s a relief that the touch screen is so well executed, it is in fact a joy to use.
Physically the overall camera body is surprisingly small & minimalistic but still manages to give a reassuring “meaty” solid feel. The cameras physical size is particularly well complemented by the new “M” 22mm F2 pancake lens. On the negative side I would have liked a slightly more substantial finger grip to be present and there will be those who will miss the lack of direct buttons or even a mode dial for that matter.
In this sense (i.e. ergonomics – handling) the EOS “M” is no OMD EM5, NEX6 or even Panasonic GX1 for that matter. No doubt some potential users may also moan the lack of an electronic view finder (EVF) and that’s why it was important for Canon to get the interface capacity of the touch screen right, and on the whole in fairness they have.
Unfortunately there is no virtual horizon / level gauge display available and no built in flash either although a hot shoe allows use of any Canon Speedlit flashes including the new petit Speedlit 90EX designed to be used in conjunction with the “M”. Bearing in mind the potential audience the lack of these two features does seem like a peculiar omission.
Currently there are only two EF-M lenses available, the standard 18-5mm F3.5 – 5.6 IS STM and the lovely 22mm F2 STM (35mm in old film terms). The later makes a wonderful “street lens” and was the lens I used pretty much exclusively during my time with the “M”. Canon will make available as an extra option (or in some markets as part of a kit) an EF -M lens mount adaptor, thereby giving access to a vast range of EF lenses. I used the adaptor with some of my own EF lenses and it worked perfectly but focussing was truly lethargic plus depending on what EF lens is attached the resulting combination adds a fair bit weight and size to the EOS “M”. One hopes that Canon will produce more “fast” fixed focal pancake lenses in the near future as its type of lens that complement the body so well.
So did I find any obvious deficiencies over than the ones already mentioned? Well I certainly wouldn’t call the “M” “snappy” finding that its AF performance lagged behind the current competition. Whilst the touch screen interface was very well executed, I personally would still have preferred if one or two programmable direct buttons were present or maybe a function wheel. And why oh why is there no level gauge display?
Battery life was disappointing, you certainly won’t get a full days shooting on one charge that’s for sure. And then there’s the lack of an articulated screen, what an earth was Canon thinking? The lack of articulated screen, built in flash and level gauge display represents serious omissions to my mind.
Taken in overall context the Canon EOS M represents a reasonably competent, although rather uninspiring first foray by Canon into the CCS market. It is doubtful any current Sony NEX or micro 4/3rd users will swap systems, although am sure it’s bound to attract a lot of compact camera upgraders. In fact in Japan the Canon EOS “M” has proved a very popular model indeed.
The brutal truth however us that Canon could and most definitely should have done better with their “M” system, its not as if they have rushed to join the CCS party after all. It goes without saying that Canon will need to get more “M” lenses onto the market as quickly as possible in order to give the “M” system a fighting chance of being properly viable alternative to the current competition, all who have at least a 3-4 years lead on them at the moment.
To be fair the Canon EOS M will probably disappoint a sizable number of the Canon faithful who after a long patient wait were expecting (no hoping) for a more “professional” outing from Canon. At first glance the “M” also appears to lack any obvious killer features, and undoubtedly there has also been some rather strange omissions as well. However in the real world the EOS M is capable of producing excellent image quality, has great touch screen capacity and when paired to the new 22mm “M” lens can make a discrete, portable and highly capable “street camera”. For the intended audience the new Canon EOS M probably ticks quite a few boxes but regrettably to my mind as a Canon “loyalist” and CCS convert the EOS M stands as an opportunity missed and enthusiast should maybe look elsewhere for the time being? If I was to give the Canon EOS M a grade it would be a solid C+ or 7/10.
The Canon EOS M:
The “M” is a neat little camera with fantastic touch screen versatility and one that can produce excellent images. However ultimately its camera that lacks a certain degree of “refinement” and flexibility when compared to the established opposition.
Mark Baynham (November 2012)]