The Canon EOS M, how does it stack up?

Canon EOS M

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 2: I added two more posts related to the EOS M. Of course, boring is perfectly fine and Canon quantifies creativity with the EOS M.

Update 3: I finally get to play with a EOS M. Read about it at Canon EOS M, first impressions.

15 thoughts on “The Canon EOS M, how does it stack up?

  1. I think you’ve got it right here.

    What is also attractive about m 4/3 is that you have a boatload of adapters out there right now to use a wide variety of third party stuff – Leica M, old Pentax screwmount, Nikon. The first thing I did with the Oly PEN was throw a nIkon adapter on it. I made sure the kit lens worked when I got the camera, then put it back into the box. I;ve been using the Oly primes and nikon stuff ever since.

    So in this respect alone, there is a lot of catching up to do with regards to lens options for both native Canon M and third party stuff. In my opinion, this makes the camera much less attractive to the small camera enthusiast that cares about quality images and wants to explore.

  2. Looks ugly.The lens,especially the 18-55mm looks so so so Simmiler to the nex series lenses…but i would say the nex series has evolved into a better camera whereas the EOS M has just entered the competition……and yes the in body IS is required to use the Manual lenses especially the zoom ones.Plus i think it also needs to put in a system that moves the sensor back and forward for perfect focus..(both cameras)

  3. Canon seems to have put a decent sensor in it and compatibility with EF lenses via an adapter is nice. Lack of viewfinder and real physical controls is a huge disappointment. I’ll pass on this one.

  4. aside from lack of specification, there is no reason to assume that the flash shoe cannot also serve as an accessory port, put a flash on, the camera could determine a flash is attached and respond in one mode, place an EVF in place and it could respond in another mode. However, without an EVF I think canon has managed to produce a really lackluster product, which I don’t think there is much room for. Good news I suppose for anyone interested in this body: prices will plummet if proven unsuccessful.

    1. shawn, I’m not an electrical engineer or a hardware person but I don’t think the contacts for the hot shoe have enough contacts to pass EVF signal data through.

      It will be interesting to see what kind of pricing power this camera has. If it drops enough it might even entice me to get one.

  5. I agree with your assessment on the DPReview image comparison. There is little difference between the OM-D and APS-C cameras. In many cases I prefer it. Coming from a Canon 7D to the OM-D with primes I don’t feel I’ve given up anything significant IQ wise.

    I actually think that selling the EOS-M with the prime may be a smart move for Canon. Selling the Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm pancake got them off the ground running. It changed how I thought about compact cameras. When I see P&S users buying dSLRs with the kit lens, I’m not surprised when their results aren’t a whole lot different. Putting a fast prime on this body will help differentiate the pictures people get, though I agree that those same users may balk at the price and wish it was available with a zoom. But the fast aperture will not only offer a different look to photos from a P&S, it will also keep the ISO way down in comparison. That same market of people are used to having a phone with no zoom. If Canon was thinking they’d make it really easy to crop or digitally zoom in camera with the touchscreen (maybe they have done that?).

    And as for the viewfinder: I personally wouldn’t buy a camera this expensive without one, or at least the option of one. But realistically almost every P&S camera people are stepping up from would have LCD only. And a camera with the touchscreen as the primary interface is almost useless held to the eye – suddenly you need more dials and buttons to change settings. Panasonic has the GF series with no EVF, albeit at a lower price point – but the lack of EVF on the EOS-M doesn’t preclude having one on a more expensive body later.

    Lots of things to like, some to not like, but the biggest negative right now seems to be the price – in my opinion.

    1. Brad, well said. I agree with all your points. I do like the 35mm equivalent f2.0 Great move on Canon’s part. If I didn’t have my micro 4/3 cameras I’ll probably be a lot more tempted…

  6. Maybe that camera is just a message to all the current Canon DSLR owners : “you can keep buying our lenses (or start investing in our DSLRs) , they will never be obsolete, even if DLSR technology will probably be, one day”. That camera changed my mind and convinced me to buy an entry level DSLR (my first “Serious” digital camera) and a fast prime. Because I know that I won’t be stuck in a dead end.

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