First impressions

By Carey Rose

Out-of-camera JPEG using the 'Standard' profile.
ISO 320 | 1/640 sec | F4.5 | Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM
Photo by Carey Rose

When I picked up the EOS R for the first time, I was struck by how solid it feels and how comfortable the grip is. The viewfinder looks excellent, the camera feels responsive, and I found some comfort in the familiarity of the M-Fn, AEL and AF-point selection buttons as well as the touch interface.

And come on - it's got Canon's first new full-frame mount in over three decades, complete with new lenses! How can a camera reviewer not get excited about it?

Then I set about actually using the EOS R, and working with its revamped controls. Feelings of excitement quickly turned to frustration. But I resolved to give myself time to work with the camera, find my way around it, customize it a bit. After a few weeks, I confess the frustration has given way to grudging acceptance. I continue to have gripes with general button and dial placement, but have found some reasonably painless ways to get at most of the functions I want quickly and easily.

Out-of-camera JPEG using the 'Standard' profile.
ISO 100 | 1/640 sec | F5.6 | Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM
Photo by Carey Rose

But there's one part of the camera that continues to irk me - the M-Fn Bar. It's the only all-new control point on the EOS R, and it's placed so that your thumb instinctively lands on it when you operate the camera. It's impossible to miss, and as such, makes it all the more frustrating that it's such a pain to use.

Dive Bar

At first blush, the M-Fn Bar seems a creative solution to adjusting a parameter with a wide range of values - AF Area modes, ISO values, or white balance presets. But it comes with three fatal flaws; it's imprecise, it's easily activated by accident, and it simply appears buggy in its operation.

The M-Fn Bar is a solution in search of a problem.

The first issue is perhaps the most damning. It's far too easy to swipe past your intended selection, necessitating a reverse swipe or some taps to get where you wanted to go. If you disable the swipe functionality and use the bar as two soft-touch buttons, you'll still be accidentally hitting the bar and changing the value all the time. You can enable a two-second 'touch to unlock' ability, or have the dedicated 'Lock' button prevent inputs when you don't want them, but that takes added time and misses the larger issue: In its current state, the M-Fn Bar is a solution in search of a problem.

Almost every staff member that's used the EOS R has ended up disabling the M-Fn Bar altogether. With the possible exception of silently controlling audio levels while recording (heavily cropped) 4K video, the M-Fn Bar basically accomplishes the same thing that a standard rear jog dial could accomplish, only in a less precise, less useful and more time-consuming fashion. It's the last control you'll want to deal with if you're trying to catch a fleeting moment.

The rest

Of course, we're not done testing the EOS R and we're not dismissing it just yet - there's far more to the camera than just one flawed control point. However, I do think it's somewhat telling that, aside from the mount, the M-Fn Bar is the only other truly novel feature on the camera's exterior and is something most of the staff has simply disabled. Canon has a long track record of ergonomic excellence, making this all the more surprising.

Come on, M-Fn Bar. You can do better. Out-of-camera JPEG using the 'Standard' profile.
ISO 100 | 1/80 sec | F4.5 | Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM
Photo by Carey Rose

But on the whole, it's important to recognize that the EOS R can take some really nice photographs. Its sensor, closely related to the one from the EOS 5D Mark IV, gives great resolution and color. There's the same degree of weather sealing as the 6D Mark II. The autofocus is accurate and works in exceptionally low light. It's got 'good enough' battery life for a day of shooting, and the new RF lenses look truly excellent.

It's not a sports-shooting, speed-demon mirrorless equivalent EOS-1D X Mark II, and it's not meant to be. It's not even the mirrorless EOD 5D IV that the leaked specs led some people to hope for. More than anything, the EOS R seems poised as an indicator of what's to come from the new RF mount.

Out-of-camera JPEG using the 'Standard' profile.
ISO 100 | 1/500 sec | F2 | Pre-production Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM
Photo by Carey Rose

I suspect that most users that will invest in an EOS R will be mid-level enthusiasts (i.e. Rebel and EOS 80D upgraders) that are most interested in the larger sensor and the fact that it says 'Canon' on the front; I also suspect they'll not be terribly interested in the fact that it's Canon's first 'serious' mirrorless offering. Unfortunately for those users, if you come to the EOS R with expectation of how a Canon camera 'should work,' you're likely to be frustrated for a bit. You'll be much better off approaching it with an open mind.

All that said, we're not meaning to let Canon off easy on this one. There are definitely some aspects of the EOS R that need to be refined or reworked (the default out-of-box action for the M-Fn Bar is to cryptically flash 'not available' at you), even for a less demanding audience. We'll of course be addressing those when we complete our full review. In the meantime, for those of us waiting for Canon to usher in a truly revolutionary camera built around the new RF mount, one aimed at more demanding users and more demanding use cases, I think we'll just have to wait a little longer.