Body, handling and controls

The M5 is the most enthusiast-friendly EOS M camera yet. We say this not only because of its DSLR-esque shape but because of its twin command dials and dedicated exposure compensation dial. These allow a faster way of engaging with the camera's exposure settings than previous models or, for that matter, most of Canon's entry-level DSLRs, which tend to have a single command dial.

Interestingly, the camera learns some tricks from the GX line of PowerShot compacts (such as the G7 X II), most notably in the inclusion of a 'Dial Func' button, which re-purposes one of the command dials at the press of a button. However, if you find that you don't need to change the dial's function regularly, you can configure them in the main menu and then re-purpose the 'Dial Func' button to do something else instead.

The tilting touchscreen makes it easy to take photos at odd angles without lying on your back in inappropriate places to do so - like the library. Straight-out-of-camera JPEG, Canon EF-M 22mm F2 lens. ISO 320, 1/60 sec, F2. Photo by Carey Rose

Your assignable options for the Dial Func. button are as follows: Standard (the default dial assignment for that exposure mode), ISO, White Balance, Metering Mode, AF mode and Drive Mode. The other dials can also be reconfigured so that they hold different functions depending on your exposure mode. Some editors took issue with the placement of the Exposure Compensation dial relative to the customizable control dial, and wished they were swapped - your mileage may vary.

In general, the M5 offers a better degree of customization than the similarly priced Rebel models. Thankfully, Canon has made the list of customizable functions universal across nearly all assignable buttons (with some specifics regarding the shutter and 'star' buttons, effectively allowing for back-button focus), so you're not left wondering what can be customized in what way. Here's a complete list of those options.

  • Not assigned
  • Movie record
  • Manual focus
  • Flash firing
  • Touch & drag AF
  • ISO speed
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer
  • White balance
  • Picture Style
  • Drive mode
  • Self-timer
  • AF method
  • Metering mode
  • Still image aspect ratio
  • Raw or JPEG
  • AF operation (one shot, servo)
  • Touch shutter
  • Peaking
  • Depth-of-field preview
  • Switch between viewfinder / screen
  • Eco mode
  • Display off

Touchscreen

The most striking feature of the EOS M5 is its touchscreen interface and how this integrates with its Dual Pixel AF system. The Dual Pixel design means much of the sensor is able to contribute depth information to the AF system, meaning that the camera is generally able to jump directly to the correct focus distance, rather than having to hunt to find it.

The M5 uses the rear screen as a touchpad. You can select which region of the screen is active, to avoid nose-focus. The touchpad can either be used to specify an absolute position or one relative to the current position.

Canon has clearly learned a lot from Panasonic in the way the touchscreen works when the camera is to your eye (although they still haven't matched the fluidity of Panasonic's implementation). Like on a Panasonic, you can decide whether the AF point jumps to the point you've pressed on the screen or whether it is dragged, more like a computer mouse, relative to its existing position. But Canon builds on this capability in two significant ways.

The big distinction is that Canon allows you to select which region of the screen is active, down to your preferred half or quadrant. This means that, regardless of whether you shoot with the camera to your left or right eye, you can ensure that you don't accidentally enable 'nose focus.' Note, though, if you are a 'left-eyed' shooter, you may find operating the control dials on the right shoulder of the camera bring your thumb disconcertingly close to poking your own face. In other words, despite the central location of the viewfinder, it's far less comfortable to use with your left eye as opposed to your right.

The second big touchscreen distinction is that in face detection mode, you can drag your finger across the screen and prompt the camera to refocus to and follow a different face in your scene - something that could be especially useful when shooting video, and works reliably well.

Despite the enthusiast-friendly, multi-dial interface, the M5 won't get between you and your 'selfie' - but if you're a 'vlogger' with your camera on a tripod, this screen orientation won't really work for you.

You may find the eye sensor frustrating when the screen is folded out, as moving your hand in front of it - to, say, place an AF point - will disable the screen. It's an annoyance that may prompt you to assign a custom button to manually switch between the touchscreen and the EVF, and it's not helped by the rather pronounced delay the camera exhibits when switching between the two.

Moreover, it's an issue avoided on Olympus OM-D cameras and Sony's a6500; those cameras disable the eye sensor as soon as they detect the screen being flipped out, and frankly, that should be standard practice by now.

Adapted lenses

The EOS M5 is compatible with Canon's EF - EOS M adapter, which is little more than a solid chunk of metal with some electrical contacts that retails for $199 MSRP (third party adapters cost a fair bit less, but we haven't tested them). 

Got a 'nifty fifty?' It'll feel right at home on the EOS M5.

The real story is how well adapted EF and EF-S lenses now work on the M5 compared to previous M models - they generally work about as well as they would on an EOS 80D in Live View mode. Autofocus is snappy and decisive thanks to Dual Pixel tech, but it's not perfect - as you'd expect, some larger lenses can lead to an unbalanced feeling, but larger telezooms meant for two-handed shooting, like the 70-200mm F4L, balance rather well.

Auto ISO

Inexplicably, the Auto ISO behavior on the EOS M5 has been crippled in comparison to the EOS 80D, and even the G7 X Mark II. You are only permitted to select the maximum ISO speed the camera can choose, while the camera chooses whatever shutter speed it deems fit - and it usually isn't, often locking at 1/60 with the 15-45mm kit lens, regardless of where you find yourself in the zoom range.

Although I ended up liking the bit of motion blur on the subject in this image, the Auto ISO behavior meant I'd have to swap settings and miss this shot if I wanted to change it. Processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw, Canon EF-M 22mm F2. ISO 1600, 1/60 sec, F2. Photo by Carey Rose

On the G7 X II, you are at least allowed some control over the 'Rate of Change' of your shutter speed (though 'Fast' will lock the camera at 1/1000 sec as its slowest speed), and the 80D goes two steps further, allowing you to specify your slowest allowable shutter speed manually, as well as let you choose the lowest ISO speed you'd like to use.

Of course, you can shoot in full manual to choose your ideal shutter speed and aperture and use exposure compensation to bias the brightness, but still, we really hope this lack of control will be addressed in a firmware update, as it severely limits the usefulness of Auto ISO in general.