The digital camera market is rapidly evolving as always, and while DSLRs were the absolute option for anyone looking for solid image quality, the line has been blurred with the arrival of impressive interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras by Panasonic, Nikon, Samsung and others.
But Canon has been late to enter the increasingly popular mirrorless camera market, much to everyone’s wonder. However, with the EOS M, one can term their entrance as ‘fashionably late’. The EOS M is a very impressive mirrorless camera that rivals entry level DSLRs in terms of image and video quality, with a slow autofocus being its only major weakness.
Design & Features
With a solid body that doesn’t cut any corners in terms of build quality, Canon has taken the best of both DSLR designs and point and shoot designs to come up with a pleasing yet sturdy body that just feels right. It’s not light and plastic as most point and shoots are, but instead feels like a little DSLR in your hand.
The buttons and dials are inspired by their DSLR range, but the options have been simplified for non professionals which is what the camera is aimed at. Instead of the dozens of shooting modes at the top, we now only have three simple modes. There’s Scene Intelligent Auto, Manual and Video mode and that’s pretty much it.
The buttons below are still very much like their DSLRs, but they’ve been made less necessary by the fact that the camera rocks a pretty functional and impressive touch screen interface that is reminiscent of the newly released 650D. Even the menu buttons look exactly the same as their DSLRs, which leads me to believe that Canon really wanted people who’ve used their products before to feel right at home with this one. And it definitely works in that regard.
In terms of specifications, the EOS M truly blurs the line between an entry level DSLR and a mirrorless camera. It boasts an 18 megapixel APS-C sensor, Digic 5 processor, 31-area AF and 3-inch touchscreen with extra bells and whistles like USB/HDMI out and an external microphone jack. In order to cater to the casual user, there are a lot of creative filters that one can apply to their images that will seem familiar to a lot of Instagram users and hence makes the camera more accessible.
But it’s disappointing to see a lack of Wi-Fi in the camera, which is strange since almost all other mirrorless cameras of 2012 and even Canon’s own 650D has the feature. Not a deal breaker, but definitely something that could have helped.
Image & Video Quality
There’s been a debate lately among the digital camera community whether a strong mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses (since mirrorless is the newest technology in the industry) can truly beat the quality of DSLRs or at least match them. Many hardcore DSLR enthusiasts refuse to believe that anything will ever be able to match the control that the DSLR offers, but using the EOS M, even they will have a hard time arguing with the fact that the camera can definitely match the quality of Canon’s own entry level DSLRs like the 600/650D. Well, I’m an owner of a 600D so I decided to put this theory to the test. But more on that later.
First up, we test out the image quality of the EOS M in ample outdoor lighting. Armed with the 18-55mm kit lens that we received with the camera, we venture out of our offices for some imagery. And just as expected, the EOS M thoroughly impressed with crisp images and vivid colors that you wouldn’t generally expect from cameras of this size.
Even zoomed in, the image doesn’t go fuzzy on the details and remains sharp as ever.
But the real test of any camera is when you take it out in the night or in low light conditions, and here is where we’re going to do something interesting with this review. We took out our 600D with its 18-55mm kit lens (and our office 550D occasionally) and paired it with the EOS M with its own kit lens, and took a lot of similarly framed shots right after another to test the theory of whether the mirrorless matches DSLR quality.
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But instead of labeling the images and telling you which is what, we’re going to show the images below side by side shuffling them randomly without labeling what camera they are taken from. It’s an interesting test to see whether your eyes will be able to figure out which one is taken from the EOS M and which is from the 600D. The meta tags from the downloaded images can reveal the answer, but we’ll still list the answers at the end of the review so you can really find out how right you were.
But overall, the EOS M matched if not outmatched the quality of our entry level DSLR. The image sometimes looked sharper on the camera and they’re nearly indistinguishable in quality. The only time you will actually notice the difference in the above images is when the images are at a high ISO. Unlike modern DSLRs which are trying to improve the kind of noise that appears on the image at high ISOs by making them more like grain. But EOS M unfortunately doesn’t adhere to that improvement, and at high ISOs like 12,800 it suffers from the same red/blue digital noise that has plagued photographers for years. But if you won’t find yourself shooting in extreme low light conditions, this will not be a problem especially considering there’s a pretty effective flash that comes in the box for most such cases.
But the only major weakness the camera currently faces is also something that will unfortunately make some kind of shooters really think twice about the purchase. Canon hasn’t always had the best of autofocus in their cameras, but the EOS M unfortunately continues that legacy with a disappointing slow AF system that sometimes lags before it takes an image. It’s not a limitation of the mirrorless system, because similar competitors fared better in that regard. But this lag of sometimes more than one second to autofocus can be a deal breaker for sports photographers or those who want to capture the briefest of moments. Now this is something that can potentially be fixed by Canon in a firmware update, but that’s in Canon’s hands now.
When it comes to video quality, Canon has always been known as the king in that regard once they released their 5D Mark II which spurred an independent DSLR filmmaking revolution so it was no surprise that their robust video features and solid quality will translate here too. The EOS M features full HD 1080p recording at 24fps (which most cameras don’t offer) and the standard 30fps, with higher framerates on 720p mode. The camera always has continuous autofocus in video mode, which will be useful for event videographers more than filmmakers (although the autofocus suffers from the above issues). The quality is highly impressive and completely matches the video quality of the 600D, but not as detailed and crisp as the much more expensive 5D or 1D of course.
Answers - 1st Row- Left EOS M, Right 550D. 2nd Row - Left 550D, Right EOS M. 3rd Row - Left 550D, Right EOS M. 4th Row - Left EOS M, Right 600D. 5th Row - Left 600D, Right EOS M. 6th Row - Left 600D, Right EOS M. 7th Row - Left EOS M, Right 600D. 8th Row - Left 600D, Right EOS M. 8th Row - Left 600D, Right EOS M.
Canon definitely took their time to enter a camera market segment that is becoming increasingly attractive to consumers, but they can take solace in the fact that they mostly delivered a product worthy of the wait. The image quality of the EOS M is excellent, the feature set is robust, and Canon loyalists who waited up are definitely going to love this especially considering their Canon lenses can be used with an adaptor here.
But autofocus being an important factor for almost every photographer, it’s disheartening that it’s the one area where the EOS M falls through with disappointing performance without any reasoning to back it up. And for that, I can’t blindly recommend the product despite it excelling in almost every other way.
In the end, it’s upon the consumer whether he’s willing to accept a shortcoming in return for an impressive camera that can easily replace the need of a budget DSLR with great portability in form factor to boot.