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Here’s an attractive idea: An 18-megapixel camera from Canon with interchangeable lenses, with a body that still fits into a jacket pocket. Add its reasonable $339 price point into the mix, and the Canon EOS M becomes a very interesting option for anyone looking for great image quality and manual control on a budget.
The EOS M is in an interesting position: It’s not a new camera, but doesn’t have a replacement out just yet. It was first available in November 2012 for $800 (with a 22mm kit lens), and in late 2013, Canon announced the EOS M2 that replaced it. However, you won’t find the M2 anywhere in the States: in fact, Canon has no plans to sell it in North America.
So it is technically not the latest mirrorless camera from Canon, which only serves to make it more attractive for some. After all, the best time to get a great gadget is often when it isn’t the newest kid on the block: That’s when prices drop, and you get the same great quality for a far lower price than before.
To understand the Canon EOS M in context, we have to compare it to other mirrorless cameras of similar vintage. These aren’t the latest and the greatest currently on offer: For example, we’ll be looking at Sony’s NEX-5R, even though the NEX-5T is already available.
The reason for this is simple: Price range. The EOS M can be had for around $340, and all three competitors we’ll be looking at here can be had for less than $400 (with one retailing for less than $300).
Sony Alpha NEX-5R: Retailing for $396, the 5R features Sony’s Bionz processor coupled with a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor (compared to the EOS M’s 18 megapixel one). In terms of trim, it comes with a metal top and front plate, but the body itself is made of polycarbonate. It also has 25 focus points, compared to the EOS M’s 31 points. One big plus it has over the EOS M is with the display: Its 3-inch screen can tilt, unlike the EOS M’s fixed display.
Samsung NX2000: Samsung isn’t known primarily for its cameras, but they merit attention – especially given the NX2000’s attractive $320 price point. With a 20-megapixel sensor, it offers a slightly larger resolution over the EOS-M. The sensor is also a tad larger: 23.5 x 15.78mm, versus the EOS M’s 22.3 x 14.9 mm. Of course, when getting a Samsung mirrorless, one key consideration is the lens mount: Samsung’s NX system is not very well established for now. That said, if you want to use Canon’s huge array of lenses with the EOS M, you will have to fork over for a dedicated adapter.
Nikon 1 S1: The cheapest of all three competitors comes from Canon’s fiercest rival. The Nikon 1 S1 can be found for $259 (though there is already a Nikon 1 S2 for $447). It has a relatively small 1″ 10-megapixel sensor — much smaller than the EOS M’s, both in physical dimensions and megapixel count. Its display (a key component for a mirrorless camera) is half the resolution, too, at 460,000 pixels vs. the EOS M’s 1,040,000. It’s also not a touchscreen (unlike the other two competitors). On the plus side, its continuous shooting mode blazes along at 15 fps, more than 3 times faster than the EOS M which can only shoot at 4fps in continuous mode. In almost all other respects, it is a lesser camera.
Let’s Talk Specs
The Canon EOS M is a Canon. An obvious point, maybe — but the most important thing to understand about this $339 camera. It means you can get a $134 adapter that works with Canon’s fearsomely massive line of EF and EFS lenses. It also means the control scheme is familiar if you’ve ever used a Canon before – something we’ll cover in detail later on.
In terms of raw specs, let’s first go over what the EOS M doesn’t have: No built-in flash (though my unit came with a flash that plugs into the camera’s hotshoe); no viewfinder (EVF); no Wi-Fi, and no built-in GPS either. It’s not waterproof, and is unable to brew even a mediocre cup of coffee.
So what do you get? An 18-megapixel sensor that yields 5184×3456 pixel images. A Digic 5 image processor; ISO that spans the range from 100 to 25600 (boosted). RAW image support. 31 autofocus points. A custom lens mount, EF-M, that doesn’t have many lenses yet. A decent LCD that’s flush with the body and doesn’t articulate.
These are the raw specs — and they do very little to convey what the EOS M is like to use. Holding the camera, the numbers and acronyms fade from view.
Design And Feel
The EOS M comes in black, white, silver, or red. Our own model is red, obviously. The body itself measures just 32mm thick (1.3″), or slightly less than two modern smartphones stacked together.
While not made of metal, the camera feels satisfyingly solid and dense in the hand. Coming from a dSLR, its compact dimensions can feel disorienting at first: Gone is the comfy molded grip, to be replaced by an almost symbolic rubber strip. Yes, you could use it to hold the camera, but not very securely. In use, I found I wanted to hold the camera mainly by the 18-55mm lens, using the rubber grip just for added support.
You won’t find many physical buttons and knobs on the EOS M. Up top, you’ll find a simple dial for toggling between auto mode, manual mode, and video mode. To its left is the small on/off button, followed by the hot shoe (there is no built-in flash), and finally two stereo microphones. On the front of the camera, the only button you’ll find is the lens release.
The EOS M also features a mic jack, as well as a hot shoe for attaching the included Speedlite 90EX flash.
All other controls are laid out on the back of the camera. You get Menu, Play, and Info buttons which surround a central dial. Coming from a Canon dSLR, this layout feels familiar but lacking — the most notable omission is the jog dial that the EOS dSLRs use to control anything from exposure compensation to aperture. In the EOS M, that’s what the touch screen is for.
Touchscreen and Menu
The EOS M’s 3″ touchscreen is high-resolution, bright, and responsive. It is also flush with the camera’s body, and doesn’t swivel or articulate — yet another drawback compared to, say, the T3i.
In the field, the touchscreen is the biggest single difference between my T3i and the EOS M. The icons used on the screen are the same icons, and the controls are presented nearly identically — so getting used to the idea you can touch things to manipulate them, rather than use physical buttons, actually takes a moment.
You can use the touchscreen to move quickly move the focus point, and there is even a “touch shutter” mode that takes a photo as you touch the screen — just like a smartphone. Not everything on the touch screen can be touched: You will sometimes see icons which are not buttons. The buttons are denoted by a rounded frame, while icons are left bare.
You will need to use the touchscreen to switch between manual mode, Program AE, shutter priority, aperture priority, and the various creative modes. That’s one operation that is notably slower on a touchscreen as opposed to a physical mode dial: With a dial, it’s a quick rotation to the right position. With a touchscreen, you need at least three taps.
The same goes for exposure compensation: You can touch the familiar exposure compensation bar at the bottom of the screen, and then tap the screen to set the desired level. But it’s a multi-step operation, and it often feels cumbersome.
Using The EOS-M, Touchscreen And All
Dangling from an R-Strap, the EOS M was barely noticeable in the field. It’s just so much lighter and less bulky than a full-size dSLR (or even a smaller dSLR such as the T3i). I could easily carry it slung over my shoulder for a full day and feel no strain at all.
I took the EOS M outside on a hot, sunny day, and the bright screen did not disappoint me — as long as I was looking straight at it. Viewed head on (the way most photos are taken), the screen remains clearly visible, and the icons are crisp.
It is when trying to get creative that the fixed screen’s limitations become apparent. Put it far over your head or close to the floor and peer at it from an angle, and using it becomes much more difficult. It’s not so much a panel issue: The viewing angle is quite good. It’s the fact that the screen is flush with the camera’s body.
This part of the review is simple to write: The EOS M works, and it works well. It was able to quickly focus on my subjects, and I could get the shots I wanted. Fiddling around with the touchscreen was annoying at times, but for the most part, Program AE mode worked as reliably as I’ve come to expect from Canon’s dSLRs.
In this section, I’ll let the camera speak for itself. Here’s a gallery of full-size images taken with the EOS M, unaltered and unedited in any way.
To me, the EOS M offers a satisfying balance of price, performance, and form factor. If you’re in the market for a mirrorless camera and don’t mind the lack of an EVF or built-in flash, the EOS M should be near the top of your wishlist.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it.
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