Canon EOS M hands-on preview
The EOS M isn't the first mirrorless camera to use a touchscreen - that was Panasonic's Lumix DMC-G2 over two years ago - but it is the first to offer complete control of all functions via a capacitative-type multi-touch screen. This means that it works much like a modern smartphone, with a highly responsive, intuitive interface. As with other most touchscreen cameras you can set your desired focus point simply by touching the screen, and if you like, even have the camera take the picture at the same time.
|The EOS M's lack of physical controls relative to an SLR means its touchscreen takes centre stage as the quickest method of interaction with the camera|
The EOS M's interface is essentially the one we first saw on the EOS 650D/T4i but, even though it seemed good there, that didn't really prepare us for how well it appears to work here. In part this is because the EOS M's lack of physical controls positively encourages you to use the screen and get into the habit of operating the camera by touch; it's also easier to hold the small-bodied M in your right hand and operate the screen with your left.
Fast processing and a capacitative touchscreen mean the interface immediately feels responsive. Pressing the center 'Q' button on the back of the camera brings up a touch-sensitive quick menu, with each icon retaining the same position it holds when the camera displays its current settings on the screen. This gives it an almost smartphone level of intuitiveness.
The camera's focus on beginners means the range of available options isn't comprehensive but, in PASM mode, we found we could very quickly get at the settings we wanted. Whether you're looking to engage picture styles or creative filters, or adjust white balance, the setting is at your fingertips. During normal shooting you can also make use of the camera's buttons and dials to change exposure settings, of course.
Ironically, given its touch-sensitive nature, it's hard to put your finger on exactly why the system seems so obvious to use. In part it's down to icon design, most of which appears fairly self-explanatory, but it's also related to the responsiveness of the system. It seems to make it easier to associate the cause and effect of your actions. This, in turn, makes it more apparent what you are supposed to do next.
If you don't want to use the touchscreen, you can do pretty well everything with the physical controls too - but as on similarly stripped-down models such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5, it just takes longer to change some settings. Overall we found there was a happy medium, making use of the physical controls where most appropriate (e.g. to change basic parameters such as shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation) and touch controls where they speed up the process.
|This is the EOS M's basic shooting display. There are four touch buttons at the corners of the screen, allowing you to change exposure mode, call-up the onscreen Q menu, enable/disable touch focus and touch shutter, and magnify the display. You can place the focus point where you want just by touching the screen.
The exposure settings along the bottom of the screen are also touch buttons; press one, then spin the dial to change it.
|Pressing the Info button brings-up this more complex display showing the status of a range of other settings. There's a choice of gridline settings, or you can opt for none at all.
There's also a display mode that simply shows the live view with no overlaid information at all, so you can focus solely on composition.
|There's also the option of overlaying a live histogram (based as always on the live view feed, which may not be a perfect match to the final image). Unique to Canon is the option to show this as individual red, green and blue channels.|
|Pressing the Q button - either onscreen or in the centre of the rear controller - 'activates' the information display to this detailed touch panel. The available options are arranged in columns down the left and right hand side of the screen; tap one and its associated settings are shown in a strip along the bottom of the screen.
You can navigate and change settings using the 4-way controller too, it's just nowhere near as fast.
|Pressing the lower button on the left allows you to apply 'Creative Filter' effects, which are previewed live onscreen - a first for a Canon EOS. Here we've selected the ever-popular 'toy camera' mode.|
|Some filters have additional options, accessed by buttons that appear below them. For Toy Camera you can change the colour tone towards Warm or Cool, for example.
The fact that these variants appear onscreen when you select the desired Filter encourages you to explore them. It's an example of how well-thought out Canon's touch interface is.
|You can also display this decidedly EOS-esque information panel, which summarizes all of the main camera settings in a single, easy(ish) to read display. Again it's activated to a touch-control panel by the Q button - pressing Av at this point will bring up the exposure mode selection screen, for example.|
|The EOS M doesn't have a conventional mode dial - instead the exposure mode is set using an on-screen menu, rather like Panasonic's GF and Sony's NEX models. The touch buttons are large and largely self-explanatory - the camera can also show a snippet of text to guide your selection.|
|Not everything is available from the Quick Control scene, though, and certain settings are relegated to the menus - including the Focus mode selection between auto and manual. (This simply reflects the fact that Canon expects its target users to use autofocus by default.)
In 'AF+MF' mode you can manually adjust focus after the camera has autofocused - rather like the 'full time manual' system on Canon's USM SLR lenses.
|The touch screen has two sensitivity settings, making it easier to use with gloves, or if you simply don't find it catching all your taps, touches and swipes.|
Video displays and features
|This is the EOS M's movie preview screen. Again we have four touch icons in the corners: the one at the top left chooses between auto and manual exposure, and lower left switches continuous (Servo) AF on and off. The Q and magnify buttons are also present, as in stills mode.|
|Again, pressing the Q button brings up a screen that allows you to select and change a range of settings.
The EOS M offers a 3-10x digital zoom in movie mode - a feature we first saw on the EOS 600D, that disappeared on the 650D. Assuming the EOS M behaves the same way, at 3x there should be minimal loss of quality.
|Tapping the button at the top left corner of the screen allows you to choose between autoexposure for movie recording, where the camera will do everything for itself, and manual exposure where you can take control over settings yourself.|
|This is the video Quick Control panel. Again, it offers touch-based access to most of the things you might reasonably wish to change - for example the volume control and wind-cut filter.|
|In fact there's plenty of control over sound recording available in video mode. You even get separate volume meters for the left and right microphones to help you judge the right setting.|
|Canon is emphasizing the EOS M's video capabilities, and one interesting feature that's unique to the company is video snapshot mode. This records short clips of a pre-determined length and stitches them together into a multi-take movie. In principle this should give a more interesting result than long, unbroken footage.|
|Snapshots can be 2, 4 or 8 seconds long, but you can't mix and match lengths in a given album.
You can freely re-order the sequence in which clips are played-back, and easily delete those you don't want to use.
Under the hood, the EOS-M shares a great deal with the EOS 650D. Here we're highlighting a few of its newer or more-advanced features.
|The EOS M has no built-in flash, but offers lots of control over add-on flash units. It's fully capable of controlling complex off-camera flash setups, and the tiny Speedlite 90EX can be used as a controller unit.|
|The maximum setting the camera will use in Auto ISO is user-selectable, from 400 to 6400. Frustratingly you're not allowed to set the top available ISO (12800), and there's no way of biasing the camera towards choosing faster shutter speeds for moving subjects (as there is on Canon's more-advanced Powershot compacts such as the G1 X).|
|The EOS M the same 'Multi Shot Noise Reduction' setting in its High ISO Speed NR menu as we saw on the EOS 650D. When enabled the camera takes four shots and averages the results to reduce visible noise.
As with all multi-shot modes, this is likely to work best with static subjects.
|The EOS M has the ability to correct both chromatic aberration and peripheral illumination (vignetting) in its JPEG processing. It needs to know the characteristics of the lens to do this, so the function only works with Canon lenses.
The EOS M comes pre-loaded with data for those lenses which Canon considers most likely to be used.
|The EOS M's Delete key ('down' on the 4-way controller) can be customized to control any one of the settings listed here.|
|There's a 'Release shutter without lens' option which will allow the EOS M to work with adapted manual focus lenses, making it the first EOS to be able to use Canon's old FD lenses properly. We fully expect to see third-party adapters for a wide range of lenses to start appearing within a few months of the camera's launch.|
|The EOS M's shooting display is customized. You can opt to display a live histogram, showing either overall brightness or the red, green and blue channels...|
|...and there's also a choice of grid overlays to aid composition.|
We've waited a long time for Canon to finally reveal its hand on mirrorless cameras, but now it's finally arrived the EOS M offers few surprises. It's a predictably solid offering that makes full use of the technologies unveiled with the EOS 650D, including the Hybrid CMOS sensor, STM lenses and touchscreen controls. Canon tells us that it's designed to appeal to buyers looking for the image quality of an SLR in a smaller camera that's as unthreatening as a compact, and while this isn't new idea, the EOS M looks to be a well-judged offering in this sector.
The flipside of this, of course, is that the EOS M may not set pulses racing for enthusiast users looking for a more compact camera to use alongside their Canon SLRs (but then again, it's not really supposed to - that's the Powershot G1 X's job). However its highly-developed touchscreen interface does go a long way towards making it much more fluid to use than its simplified external controls might lead you to expect. But it still lacks enthusiast-friendly features such as a tilting screen and plug-in electronic viewfinder option that can be found on relatively inexpensive models such as the Olympus PEN E-PL3 or Sony Alpha NEX-5N.
Of course the really big question is how well the EOS M will fare against established competitors from the likes of Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. We're not expecting any surprises in terms of image quality; Canon says the EOS M's stills and video output will be identical to the EOS 650D, which means it should be a close match to anything else in its class. In terms of features the EOS M looks reasonably competitive, although without perhaps an obvious standout selling point against its peers. As always, we're looking forward to getting our hands on a fully-working example for an in-depth evaluation.