Mirrorless cameras have been around for over a decade, capturing both stills and video almost from the start. Many are considered hybrid cameras because they can serve both functions, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're optimized around both tasks.

In most cases, they have effectively been photography cameras that can shoot high-quality video when commanded to do so. A notable exception is Panasonic's GH/S1H series, which has always been video-oriented. Still, from a practical standpoint, even these have been built around photography-based workflows and menu systems but have extra tools included to support video.

I've used both mirrorless and pro video cameras for video work. As specialized tools, pro video cameras are great. They excel at what they do, but there's a place for cameras that can bridge the gap between a photo camera with video features and pro video tools. Unfortunately, when it comes to being true hybrid cameras, mirrorless bodies have historically fallen short in a meaningful way: when shooting video, the user interface is typically shoehorned into a system designed for photographers.

The buttons on the R5C have two sets of labels, one that represents photo functions and one that represents video functions.

If you've shot with both types of cameras, you've likely noticed this. Pro video camera interfaces and menus are designed for a video workflow, and they typically include video-specific tools as a standard feature.

Most mirrorless camera models include few, if any, dedicated video tools and often bury those items inside menus overflowing with photo settings. They're not optimized to support a video workflow, and manufacturers usually expect you to do things like use histograms as a proxy for waveforms. Ironically, given the subject of this article, Canon has been an offender here, disabling histograms when you hit the record button on some cameras.

Among mirrorless camera makers, Panasonic has historically done the best job of including video-specific tools such as scopes, shutter angle, built-in LUTS, and, more recently, the settings display from its Varicam cinema cameras on its video-oriented models. However, most of these tools remain nested inside a menu system alongside settings for still photos. It's not a bad solution, and I quite like Panasonic's menus, but I've often wished for a better way.

Among mirrorless camera makers, Panasonic has historically done the best job of providing video-specific tools, including this information display from its Varicam cinema cameras, on mirrorless models. However, it still relies on a shared menu system and user interface for both photo and video modes.

This is where the R5C comes in. It takes a different approach. Its power switch allows you to toggle between photo and video modes, but unlike other cameras with similar controls, it does a lot more than remember your settings in each mode.

When powered on in photo mode, it operates just like a Canon mirrorless camera designed for photography – in this case, the EOS R5. It has the same image quality, menus and performance that you'd expect from that camera.

However, when powered on in video mode, it operates like a Cinema EOS camera. It uses the Cinema EOS menu system and has the same options as Cinema EOS motion picture cameras, including video scopes, false color displays, and an interface and menu system designed around a video workflow. If you want to get a sense of how this works, you can try Canon's Cinema EOS C300 Mark II menu simulator.

When powered on in video mode, the R5C operates like a Cinema EOS camera

Allowing a camera to operate using two entirely different user interfaces based on which application you're using makes a lot of sense, yet nobody has done it until now. I suspect there are myriad reasons for this, ranging from corporate structures that silo photography products from video products, the added complexity (and cost) of design, and possibly even different hardware requirements to support all the features of both modes.

From an end-user perspective, it's a great development, and I hope Canon's move spurs other manufacturers to follow suit.

The Photo/Video switch on the EOS R5C starts the camera in two entirely different modes. Photo mode provides the same user experience as the Canon EOS R5, while video mode provides the same user experience as a Cinema EOS camera.

In addition to separate menus, the buttons on the R5C have two sets of labels, one that represents photo functions and one that represents video functions. I'd call it innovative if it weren't so simple, but it would be a pretty easy thing for any manufacturer to do.

Is the R5C perfect? Far from it. It still omits some features that would be useful on a hybrid camera, like ND filters. These are a pretty essential tool for most video shooters, and in my mind, a true hybrid camera would include them. Sure, it would be a challenge, but the engineers who work at camera companies are pretty smart people.

I have other criticisms of the R5C, such as using a micro HDMI port, a battery that doesn't deliver enough power to control lens functions at all settings, and a delay when switching between photo and video modes, but these are solvable problems.

Canon has demonstrated a model for hybrid camera design that's optimized around each camera mode

The important thing is that Canon has demonstrated a model for hybrid camera design that's optimized around each camera mode, rather than hobbling one mode by bolting it onto the framework of the other.

Any hybrid product designed to perform multiple specialized tasks will have some compromises. If you need an excellent filet knife or a pair of industrialized scissors, you get a specialized tool. But if you want one tool that can serviceably perform both tasks in many situations, a Swiss Army knife can take you a long way.

The same holds for cameras. If you need a no-compromise tool to meet your requirements, they exist, but mirrorless cameras are a solid choice for many tasks or for those who prefer an all-in-one solution. Canon has demonstrated a great approach to making mirrorless cameras that better support a hybrid role, even if its particular implementation isn't perfect on the first try.