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Canon EOS M hands-on preview

July 2012 | By Andy Westlake
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Preview based on a pre-production Canon EOS M

It's now almost four years since Panasonic first introduced us to the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, in the shape of the Micro Four Thirds Lumix DMC-G1. Since then, all of the other major manufacturers have entered the fray, in the process offering cameras in a variety of shapes and sizes - from diminutive beginner-friendly models such as the Olympus PEN E-PM1, to unashamedly high-end models like the Sony NEX-7 and Fujifilm X-Pro1. Nikon, meanwhile, has ploughed its own individual furrow with its family-friendly 1 J1 and 1 V1 models. This simply reflects the fact that different cameras are targeted to different kinds of users - be they serious enthusiasts looking for a small, highly capable camera, or compact-camera upgraders looking for SLR-like image quality in a smaller, easier-to-use package.

Canon is the last big player to show its hand, and its initial entrant - the EOS M - is unashamedly targeted to the latter group of users. To all intents and purposes it's a mirrorless version of the recently-announced EOS 650D, but with a simpler interface that's designed to be more approachable for novice users, and obviously much more compact in size. It's based around a new 'EF-M' lens mount, and two matched lenses will be available at launch: the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom, and the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM 'pancake' prime. But it's still very much part of the EOS system, and all of the company's existing EF and EF-S SLR lenses can be used via the co-announced 'Mount adapter EF-EOS M'.

The EOS M features a compact, magnesium-alloy body, and will be available in four colours - black, white, silver and red. It has no built-in flash, but instead a hot shoe on the top plate, and in many markets (although not the US) it will come bundled with the new AAA-powered Speedlite 90EX unit. There's neither a built-in viewfinder, nor connector for an external unit - composition is solely using the camera's rear screen (which is fixed, rather than articulated).

Canon EOS M key features

  • New EF-M lens mount (optimized for APS-C sensor size)
  • 18MP APS-C 'Hybrid CMOS' sensor
  • Continuous autofocus in movie mode with subject tracking
  • 14-bit DIGIC5 processor
  • ISO 100-12800 standard, 25600 expanded
  • 4.3 fps continuous shooting, 3 fps with autofocus tracking
  • 1080p30 video recording, stereo sound (with 25p or 24p options)
  • External microphone socket and adjustable sound recording level
  • 1040k dot 3:2 touch-sensitive ClearView II LCD (capacitative type, multi-touch support)
  • Standard EOS hot-shoe for external flash (no built-in flash)
  • 'Creative Filters' image-processing controls, previewed live on-screen
The EOS M will be available in four colours - silver, red, black or white - although they may not all be sold in all markets.

The EOS M's commitment to simplicity is reflected by its physical control layout, with buttons and dials kept to a minimum. The exposure mode dial - a staple of Canon's EOS range for over 20 years - has been reduced to just three positions, distinctly reminiscent of the company's Ixus / Elph compacts. The rear of the camera is also rather compact-esque, with a familiar combined 4-way controller / settings dial and just a smattering of buttons.

The lack of physical controls is, however, substantially made up for by the large capacitative touchscreen on the back. This uses much the same interface that Canon introduced on the EOS 650D, and stands out as the most usable, comprehensive and engaging touchscreen that we've yet seen on an interchangeable-lens camera. But whereas on the 650D its use is very much optional, on the EOS M it becomes the preferred method of interaction with the camera.

Because mirrorless cameras have struggled to make headway in the US, Canon is only going to sell one kit option in this market. Targeting an enthusiast buyer, the camera plus 22mm pancake will be available from speciality photo stores only for $799, with the 18-55mm zoom sold separately for $299. The company will also be emphasizing its video capabilities, which are essentially the same as the EOS 650D but in a smaller, cheaper package.

Movies can be recorded in Full HD 1920x1080 resolution at 30, 25 or 24 fps with stereo sound, using the highly-compatible MOV format and H.264 compression, with a time limit of 29 min 59 sec per clip. The EOS M offers a choice of either fully automatic exposure in video mode, or as much manual control as the user wishes to take. The 3-10x electronic zoom first seen on the EOS 600D, but mysteriously missing from the EOS 650D, is also available - with minimal loss of quality at the 3x setting.

New EF-M lens mount

A new mirrorless system needs a new lens mount, which Canon has called EF-M to emphasis its continued compatibility with the company's existing EF mount for autofocus SLRs. It's a fully-electronic bayonet mount, with 9 contacts between the lens and camera. Unusually, the white dot for aligning the lens is at the 11 0'clock position on the mount.

The EF-M mount is 58mm in diameter, with a flange distance of 18mm from the bayonet to the sensor. As the image above clearly shows it's matched specifically to the APS-C sensor size. So don't expect a future full frame EF-M mount camera - it's not going to happen.

Like all other mirrorless cameras, the EOS M's shutter is open by default even when the camera is turned off, exposing the sensor. This may seem disconcerting to SLR owners, but we've never experienced any problem with this approach. Like Canon's live view-capable SLRs the EOS M uses an electronic first curtain to activate the exposure, and the physical shutter is only used to end it. This helps reduces shutter lag and keep shutter noise down - meaning the EOS M is one of the quieter models of its type.

Two new EF-M lenses: EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and EF-M 22mm f/2.0 pancake

The EOS M is released with two new lenses for the EF-M mount - an 18-55mm image-stabilized standard zoom and a compact, 'pancake' prime. Both feature Canon's 'STM' stepper motor for autofocus, which allows near-silent refocusing during video recording. This means electronically-coupled 'focus-by-wire' manual focus; thankfully though Canon hasn't been tempted to discard physical focus rings. However there are no switches to set the focus or IS mode - these are controlled from the camera.

Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM

The lenses use minimalistically-styled, plain cylindrical barrels that bear more than a passing resemblance to Sony's NEX series optics. In terms of dimensions they're fairly typical for their class, which means they're smaller than corresponding SLR lenses; the zoom is near-identical in size to the Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS, whereas the pancake is very similarly-sized to Panasonic's Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH.

As the only cameras we've seen so far are pre-production, it's premature to say much about focus speed. But while on first impressions the 18-55mm focuses pretty quickly, the 22mm is distinctly slower. This is not totally surprising given that the entire optical unit racks back and forth for focusing; this is not a design approach that's ever been associated with ultra-fast focusing on this type of lens. But we'll wait for production cameras and lenses to make a proper judgement.

Lens specifications

 

Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
IS STM

Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM
 Format  APS-C  APS-C
 Focal length  18-55mm  22mm
 35mm-equiv focal length  29-88mm  35mm
 Diagonal angle of view  74°20' - 25°70'  63°30'
 Maximum aperture  1:3.5-5.6  1:2
 Lens construction  13 elements / 11 groups  7 elements / 6 groups
 Focus motor type  Linear Stepper Motor  Linear Stepper Motor
 Focus method  • Internal focus
 • Focus-by-wire manual focus
 • Unit focus
 • Focus-by-wire manual focus
 Zoom method  Rotary, extending barrel  n/a
 Minimum focus distance  0.25m / 0.82 ft  0.15m / 0.49 ft
 Filter thread  • 52mm
 • Does not rotate on focusing
 • 43mm
 • Does not rotate on focusing
 Dimensions  60.9 x 61mm (2.39 x 2.4 in)  60.9 x 23.7mm (2.38 x 0.93 in)
 Weight  210g (7.4oz)  105g (3.7 oz)

Size compared

The EOS M is a small camera - indeed one of the smallest APS-C models around. Here we compare it to the EOS 650D and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3.

Here's the EOS M with the 22mm f/2 next to the camera with which it share its innards - the EOS 650D with EF 40mm f/2 STM lens. As you can see, eliminating the reflex mirror and optical viewfinder has enabled a dramatic reduction in size.
Here's the EOS M side-by-side with the Panasonic Lumix GF3 - a model that's similarly-aimed at compact camera upgraders, and one of the smallest mirrorless cameras around (it's since been replaced by the similar-size GF5). Both cameras use a touchscreen to complement their limited array of physical controls, but the GF5 has a built-in flash rather than a hot shoe. It also uses the slightly smaller Four Thirds sensor.

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X, Y, and Z and ideally A, B, and C.

This article is Copyright 1998 - 2015 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.

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