The Canon EOS M, how does it stack up?
Canon EOS M
The blogosphere and rumor sites got it right and indeed Canon did announce their long-awaited mirrorless system camera today on Monday, July 23rd. With Canon’s announcement, all the major players have jumped in or crawled into the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera market. Last week I posted Is it too late for Canon? where I speculated about Canon’s mirrorless entry. What would they have to do to get me interested in their camera. Despite being a Canon DSLR user for the last 6 years, I got tired of waiting for Canon’s small interchangeable lens camera. I first got myself a Sony NEX-5 but found a few things lacking. Nowadays, I’ve been shooting quite happily with the Olympus PEN series and have invested in several bodies and lenses. So given my mirrorless investments, is the Canon announcement enough of an enticement for me to jump back in with Canon?
Before I answer that question, here are the specs that make me potentially interested in the camera. First, Canon opted for a nice and large 18MP APS-C size sensor. They managed to fit this into a small body for a Sony NEX-ish form factor albeit with more of a conventional, point and shoot design. I like that they are shipping a f2.0 35mm equivalent prime lens as part of the initial configuration. The unit comes with a hybrid focusing system similar to the one in the Rebel T4i DSLR. Unlike the NEX-5 and 5n which has a proprietary flash connector, the EOS M come with a standard hot shoe that supports the external Canon flashes. Canon also appears to have implemented a decent touch screen interface, as observed on the short demo movie clips.
Not so hot and not surprising for Canon is the lack of in-body image stabilization. The 18 – 55mm kit lens comes with IS but the 22mm f2.0 prime does not. The EOS M lacks an EVF or even an EVF accessory port; the rear LCD is the only way to compose on this camera. For me this is not a big issue but I know this is a negative for a lot of people. Unlike the NEX-5 line, the Canon does not have a articulating LCD, which is really handy to have.
Internally, there are many similarities of the EOS M to the new Canon Rebel T4i DSLR that recently shipped. They seem to use the same 18MP sensor, the some Digic 5 image processor and they both have hybrid focusing systems. Even the touch screen controls and the user interface looks quite similar. So given the similarity in internal hardware, can we conclude that the EOS M has the same image quality as the Rebel T4i? Possibly. I reserve final judgement until the reviews are in however, it may be a reasonable working assumption for now. So let’s assume for this post that the Rebel and the EOS M have the same performance and image quality, what do we know?
On dpreview, the have a preview of the T4i image quality. In their handy-dandy image comparison page, I compared a Canon Rebel T4i, a Olympus E-M5, Olympus E-P3 and a Sony NEX-5. To my eyes, all 4 cameras were about the same at ISO 800. At ISO 1600, the OM-D and the NEX-5n begin to pull a head while the E-P3 falls behind. I’m ignoring the slight softness in the Canon image, I think the folks at DPreview might have mis-focused at ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 the Canon image is sharp again but nosier than both the Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-5n. The E-P3’s image is clearly behind. Do you agree with my assessment. Try it for yourself. Some of my conclusions may be up for debate but what I can conclude is that the APS-C sensor is not giving Canon the assumed better image quality over the newest micro 4/3 sensor in the OM-D E-M5. I do like Canon’s colors however. The seem very similar to the Olympus colors while the Sony’s colors look a bit different.
How does the camera compare to the other mirroress contenders? The Canon EOS M seems to be the most similar to the Sony NEX-5 series. You gain a real hot shoe but loose the tilting LCD and the option of a view finder. Both cameras have the IS in the lens. Both cameras have an APS-C sensor. Both cameras are about the same size. I think Canon’s 35mm equivalent prime is more useful and general purpose than Sony’s 24mm prime and it is a stop faster, f2.0 vs. f2.8. Canon even copied Sony’s minimal modern looking lens design.
Compared to the Olympus, image quality wise, the Canon easily beats the Pen line. The OM-D however more than keeps up and in fact, it bests the Canon’s high ISO noise levels. Olympus’ ace in the hole is the in-body image stabilization. Paired with a large aperture prime, you can get a higher image quality with the Olympus than the Canon for stationary subjects. It certainly is not fair to compare the just released Canon lens line with Olympus however, the reality is that the micro 4/3 has a really large head start. With Panasonic and Olympus joining forces, the micro 4/3 line has more lens options than any other mirrorless system camera. Panasonic is a certainly a contender here too but I believe the king of the micro 4/3 hill right now is the OM-D and the Olympus has the in-body IS advantage. For video though Panasonic, particularly the GH2 is considered to be one of the best.
The Nikon 1 is not in the same class as the Canon EOS M capability and market wise so I don’t think it is worth comparing. The same goes for the more expensive Fujifilm X-Pro1. So this is the quick landscape of the mirrorless market as I see it. I think Canon appears to have a solid offering for a particular kind of customer. One that has an investment in EOS EF and EF-S lenses that may optionally want to use the Canon Speedlites. So for a Canon DSLR user that does not own a mirrorless and wants a compact, high quality camera, the EOS M might be the ticket. For a first time mirrorless customer that owns no Canon gear the EOS M is a harder proposition. It is similar enough to the NEX-5n that I think people will naturally compare the two. And between the Sony NEX-5n and the EOS M I would probably recommend the Sony. The Olympus and Panasonic line is so wide that they can potentially appeal to the budget conscious customer as well as the high-end, serious photographer. I think the middle ground is where Olympus and Panasonic tend to be weaker.
As for me, if I did not own a mirrorless camera, I would be enticed by the EOS M. I’ll be banking on the promise of more to come and the security blanket of EOS compatibility. Of course, I do own several mirrorless cameras and for this reason, this camera is a hard sell. I’m keeping an open mind and will be looking at the test results. But for a couple hundred more, the Olympus OM-D offers so much more.
Update: I posted another EOS M blog entry, Taking risks, the Fujifilm X100 vs. Canon EOS M. See how risk taking and making bold bets affects product design.
Update 3: I finally get to play with a EOS M. Read about it at Canon EOS M, first impressions.