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Canon EOS M Review

By Tim Barribeau, Shawn Barnett and
Preview posted: July 23, 2012
Review posted:

Canon EOS M review -- Front quarter view

Canon finally entered the mirrorless camera market last year with a simple, consumer-targeted model dubbed the Canon EOS M. Named after the new EF-M mount, the Canon EOS M is best described as the Canon T4i whittled down to a compact system camera. From its Hybrid AF system to the stepper-motor-driven STM lenses, the menus to the touchscreen and most of the special capture modes, Canon T4i owners will feel right at home with the EOS M. Naturally, the Canon EOS M's resolution is the standard 18-megapixels in an APS-C format that has propagated across most of Canon's consumer DSLRs.

Design and build. With a look and feel reminiscent of the Canon S100 premium pocket camera, the EOS M is sized a little larger, more on the scale of an enthusiast compact such as the Panasonic LX7 or Olympus E-PM2. But it's the camera's overall heft that's impressive. The EOS M really does feel like an EOS: Solid as a rock. The camera has a small rubber grip in the front, and an AF-assist lamp shines out from above the infrared remote sensor, both nice features to have.

Canon EOS M review -- Front view

Imaging. The EOS M's use of an APS-C sensor will draw the attention of those wanting DSLR quality in a small camera. The new EF-M mount supports shorter back-focus lens designs, like Canon's EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, which is available in a kit with the EOS M. If you add on the EF-EOS M mount adapter, the EOS M is also compatible with Canon EF-S and EF lenses up to 800mm -- which looks somewhat comical with all that glass attached to a relatively small body, but it's a viable pairing.

Controls. With an equivalent focal length of 35.2mm, the 22mm f/2 pancake kit lens is perfectly aimed at the recently reborn street photographer, a smart choice that nonetheless feels incongruous alongside the EOS M's lack of physical controls for aperture and shutter speed. The M relies instead on the touchscreen and a rear control ring, which may be more appealing and familiar to consumer shooters, rather than serious photographers. For a mode dial, the EOS M features a three-position ring surrounding the Shutter Release button. It's three positions are Scene Intelligent Auto, Still Photo and Movie. Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure modes are available in the Auto mode via the touchscreen. The EOS M has no built-in flash, but includes a full hot shoe, compatible with Canon's EX flashes and wireless flash system. A small accessory flash was also introduced with the EOS M, dubbed the Speedlite 90EX.

Canon EOS M review -- Top view

Stereo microphones also appear on the top deck of the EOS M, marked by seven holes each; a stereo microphone jack is also built in, available on the camera's left side. A simple power button is well-placed as the top deck begins to slope toward the rear of the camera, making it easily visible and easy to press from the rear. A small LED lies behind the button. Though the EOS M's front grip is scant, it's bolstered by the nice plastic thumbgrip on the back. A small record button, marked with the traditional red dot, appears in the upper right corner and starts or stops Movie recording.

Touchscreen. Here's where things get unusual, relying more on the touchscreen. The Menu button obviously brings up the traditional Canon DSLR menu, and the INFO button changes among available displays. Pressing the center button, which on PowerShot-series cameras brings up the Function menu, now brings up the Quick Menu on the EOS M, just as the Quick Menu button does on the Rebel T4i. The Quick Menu looks almost identical to that on the T4i, making changes very easy either with a touch, or via navigation with the wheel or four-way navigator. Nothing about the interface was re-invented for the EOS M, just repurposed, mostly with a very good end result. The EOS team is said to have worked with the PowerShot team to refine the design, and the melding of thoughts is evident, if more heavily influenced by the PowerShot side.

Canon EOS M review -- Rear view

Who it's for. In some ways the Canon EOS M seems aimed clearly at the low-light, street-shooting photographer who wants something small and high quality, and who wants more than the tiny flash that can be wedged into a such a compact camera body. Features like Handheld Night Scene and HDR Backlight Control also target the savvy shooter. On the other hand, the Canon EOS M's lack of physical controls and emphasis on the touchscreen are indeed designed more for the full-auto shooter who just wants to get the shot quickly and without a lot of fuss. The camera also features a Creative Auto Mode that simplifies advanced concepts -- including depth of field -- for entry-level photographers.

 

Shooting with the Canon EOS M

by Tim Barribeau

Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo

The Canon EOS M is a decidedly late arrival in the already packed world of mirrorless compact system cameras. But so am I, having spent the bulk of my digital photography experience using primarily pocket cameras and DSLRs. I thought that would make us a perfect match, and I was eager to see if Canon's prowess in both interchangeable lens cameras and point-and-shoots would translate to their first CSC. Of course, I knew about the bad buzz surrounding the EOS M, but I wanted to approach my review with an open mind.

Design and construction. My first impressions of the Canon EOS M were good ones. Despite the negativity that abounded about its dreadfully slow Hybrid CMOS AF system, I desperately wanted to like the camera. Happily, upon opening the box and getting my hands on it, I found its design to be both sleek and solid. Rather than traipse down the retro path that we've seen Olympus and Fujifilm so thoroughly embrace, the EOS M was built with sleek lines and minimal interruptions. There's definitely a link here to some of Canon's point-and-shoots, most notably the compact and minimalist designs of the S110, SX280 and their ilk.

Canon EOS M review -- Front quarter view with lens

The Canon EOS M has an immensely pleasant balance and heft, with a feeling of solidity that's encouraging. The grip, unfortunately, is on the small side, comprised of just a small raised strip on the camera's front and a thumbpad on the back. Obviously Canon was trying to keep the body as small as possible, by forgoing a more substantial grip. Fortunately, the EOS M isn't heavy enough to feel like you're going to drop it, but it does get a bit uncomfortable to hold over a long period of time -- especially with the relatively sizable 18-55mm lens attached. I can only assume that if Canon puts out a proper telephoto for the M line, it'll be even more tricky.

Canon EOS M review -- Strap lugs

One small design feature I have to really give Canon credit for is the neck strap attachment points. It may seem like a minor touch, but speaks of an overall care for design. Rather than the standard loops that you have to awkwardly thread the strap through, the EOS M has small metal lugs resembling the head of a nail. The strap is simply placed over these and locked in place by rotating a bolt in place with a coin. For me, it was markedly less awkward than the usual style.

Unfortunately, as much as the design hits some rather nice highs, there are also some noticeable omissions. Primary among them is the lack of a built-in flash. Sure, full credit to Canon for including a standard hot-shoe in an entry-level system camera (and make no mistake, this is decidedly an entry level offering), but the fact that the company hasn't managed to include even a rudimentary flash is a bit bewildering. As we mentioned earlier, Canon did develop a compact accessory flash, the Speedlite 90EX, to pair with the EOS M, but it's an additional $149. Also, as of now, there's no add-on viewfinder option, which seems like a missed opportunity. More advanced photographers will have to decide if an LCD viewfinder (even an excellent one, like the EOS M's) is acceptable for their shooting needs and habits.

How good is the Canon EOS M's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM kit lens?
Find out by clicking here to see our optical test results.

There's also the issue of lenses. Right now, even one year after the camera was announced, there are still only two dedicated lenses available for the Canon EOS M in the U.S. -- though they're both quite good -- an EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and an EF-M 22mm f/2 STM (which has the smallest front element I've ever seen). (Note: There's also an EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens that's not yet available in the U.S.) Of course, you can mount other Canon EF and EF-S mount lenses with an optional adapter, but that's a pretty minute lens collection for a new, compact format.

Canon EOS M review -- Camera with lenses

Canon EOS M review -- Graphical user interface

Display, interface and menus. Much like the design, the user interface is a mix of some excellent implementations and some questionable decisions. On the positive, the fixed-position, 3-inch LCD touchscreen is one of the best I've seen on a camera. It's seriously fantastic, responsive and sharp, with 1,040K dots of resolution. And it's easily readable even in bright sunlight. Now, the multi-touch capacitive touchscreen doesn't feel quite as quick as the screen on my iPhone-- something that's most noticeable when flicking through images on playback -- but compared to pretty much every other camera touchscreen I've tested, it's fantastic.

Most of the camera's core settings can be controlled through both the touchscreen and the buttons on the back of the camera, so you can default to the method that suits you best. The graphical buttons on the touchscreen are a good size, and easy to hit, so I rarely chose the wrong setting. The ability to tap to focus on a specific area on screen is always handy. You can also assign the touchscreen to act as a shutter, if you so desire.

Canon EOS M review -- Mode dial

But there are some serious downsides here. Perhaps my biggest complaint is that the EOS M doesn't have a complete mode dial. Make no mistake, there's a Mode dial, but all it switches between are Scene Intelligent Auto, Still Photo and Movie modes. To change to Program, Priority, Manual and Scene modes, you have to use the in-camera menu system. This makes no sense to me. After all, the dial is already there. All they had to do was add a few more clicks to get full PASM, and it wouldn't have taken up any extra space.

There are also frustrating inconsistencies in the UI. Earlier I mentioned that some settings could be controlled by both button and touch, which is great. But not all of them. And there's no real way to intuitively know which controls which, except for trial and error, or getting lost deep in the owner's manual. The learning curve isn't the steepest I've seen for camera menus and controls, but it's not easy.

Canon EOS M review -- Rear-panel controls

The other obvious issue is the small amount of buttons and other physical controls on the Canon EOS M. These are limited to just the Control Dial, a Four-Way pad, and five buttons on the rear (Q/Set, Menu, Playback, Info and Movie). For those of you not familiar with Canon controls, the four-way pad not only allows you to navigate screen menus, but also gives you instant access to settings as such: Left - AE lock; Right - Exposure compensation; Up - Drive mode; and Down - Delete.

The vast majority of settings require you to go diving into menus to tweak. Even settings as basic as white balance, ISO, and exposure mode all require using the LCD menus before you can set them. The fact that one of the few buttons is entirely devoted to recording movies -- to the point where it can't be used in other modes -- seems something of a waste to me.

Of the buttons on the Canon EOS M, there's also only one that can be customized on the camera -- the Down-arrow button on the Four-Way pad. In Record mode, this defaults to resetting the focus point to the center of the screen, although it isn't marked as such. It can, however, be repurposed to a variety of other tasks. You can also add frequently-accessed Menu settings to the My Menu. That's more handy than it is on many other Canon cameras, given the small number of physical controls -- and hence, the time you'll be spending in the menu system.

Canon EOS M review -- Creative Auto mode

Creativity and feature set. The Canon EOS M's built-in features are a decidedly mixed bag, though there are some interesting nods towards entry-level users. For instance, you have Canon's Creative Auto Mode, which simplifies -- and renames -- some of the controls in a way that might make more sense to a newbie. For instance, rather than adjusting the aperture to control depth of field, it prompts users to change the background from blurred to sharp along a five point scale.

But Canon seems to have kept a short leash on the available exposure modes. Where some cameras will pack a few dozen, this has just the basic Program, Priority, Manual, and then eight scene modes -- your usual smattering of macro, portrait, landscape and so on. The only two of note are Handheld Night Scene, which combines four images into one -- so you have to have a steady hand -- and HDR Backlight Control which is designed to retain more detail in high-contrast scenes by merging three consecutive shots into one.

Canon EOS M review -- Special effects

It would have been nice to see more of the fun, special effects filters that have become almost ubiquitous in other entry-level cameras slotted in here, too -- like maybe a Panorama mode. The EOS M offers fairly run of the mill Creative Filters such as Grainy B/W, Soft focus, Fish-eye effect, Art bold effect, Water painting effect, Toy camera effect and Miniature effect. They're all pretty lackluster in my opinion, but you can see a full range of them for yourself below.

 

Canon EOS M - Creative Effects
Canon EOS M review -- No effect Canon EOS M review -- Art Bold
No effect Art Bold
Canon EOS M review -- Water painting Canon EOS M review -- Toy camera
Water Painting Toy Camera
Canon EOS M review -- Miniature Canon EOS M review -- Grainy B&W
Miniature Grainy B/W
Canon EOS M review -- Soft focus Canon EOS M review -- Fisheye
Soft Focus Fisheye
Unfortunately, the Canon EOS M is rather spare on creative filters and special effects, and the ones it does offer aren't tremendously dramatic.

Much ado about AF. There's a lot to like about the Canon EOS M. Unfortunately, there was even more to dislike about it during my first shooting experiences with it. In fact, before the firmware update last month, the EOS M had a flaw so large that I couldn't in good conscience recommend it to anyone, as it was. Its autofocus speed was utterly abysmal -- truly, worryingly slow. For comparison's sake, I own a Canon SX200 point-and-shoot from 2009, and this 3-year-old point-and-shoot focused faster and more accurately than the EOS M.

And not only was the Canon EOS M sluggish to focus in bright light, but also it was an absolute mess when faced with dark shooting conditions. Low-light AF was glacial, seesawing back and forth as it struggled to find focus, and frequently downright failing to lock on anything at all. And when I shot with multiple-point autofocus on, the camera was slower still.

Even if you shot in bright sunlight, with just a single focus point, it was just barely usable. And it wouldn't catch anything fast moving. Simply put, I wasted too much time trying to get it to focus like I wanted it to. While the single focal point improved the situation, that point itself is placed by your finger on the LCD touchscreen, and so it has to be relatively large -- which makes getting pinpoint precision problematic.

But that was before the Canon fixed the AF problem. In late June 2013, Canon released a new version of the firmware, and we're happy to report the Canon EOS M's AF has been markedly improved -- in our tests we've found single-shot AF to be about a half a second faster across the board. However, we'd still only call the AF acceptable at best -- the EOS M is still not as speedy and decisive as most of its competitors. As such, its AF system remains a major shortcoming, though no longer a completely crippling one.

If the AF system still isn't fast enough for you, you can manually focus the Canon EOS M by setting it to manual focus mode and using the lens' focus ring. It's fairly easy and intuitive to use, and you can get either a 5x or 10x magnified view on the LCD touchscreen to make sure you're honed in on your target. In AF+MF focus mode, you can let the camera get close with AF and then you can turn the focus ring to get what you want razor sharp. There is, however, no focus peaking function to help you nail the point of focus.

Find out more about the Canon EOS M's autofocus and other performance stats by clicking here to see our full battery of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Bundled with the 22mm lens, the Canon EOS M could have been an excellent street photography camera for quickly snapping shots on the go -- but the slow focusing limits that dream. In my real-world testing, I also found the manual focus mode to be nothing special, and certainly not good enough to pre-focus with enough precision to shoot from the hip. Since the EF-M lenses use STM stepper motors for focusing, you can turn the focus ring eternally in either direction, which means you can't even take a guess at manually pre-focusing before lifting your camera.

Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo

Image quality. OK, after that downer, here's some much better news. I discovered the overall image quality of the Canon EOS M to be pretty amazing for a mirrorless model. Photos are sharp and vibrant, and the 18-megapixel APS-C sensor delivers a great deal of resolution -- more than many competitors. I was lucky to hit a run of warm, sunny weather -- rare for the Bay Area! -- and captured several images that show off what the EOS M can do in near-ideal conditions.

Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo
Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo
Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo
It's amazing how nice your images can turn out when you're not forced to shoot under overcast skies! Though I struggled with the Canon EOS M's sluggish autofocus, I was thoroughly happy with the resulting photos when I got the AF to lock on like I wanted it to.

The EOS M's low-light images surprised me. In particular, I thought the kit lens demonstrated stellar image stabilization, allowing me to be able to shoot down to one tenth of a second hand-held at night with very little blur.

Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo

I found the EOS M's dynamic range also to be decent. Maybe the small size of the camera had me thinking my shots would come out more like a point-and-shoot, but the EOS M captured the highlights and shadows I was looking for in most of my shots. I was even able to capture a street sign backlit directly by the sun and still have the image come out correctly.

Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo Canon EOS M review -- Sample photo
The EOS M definitely demonstrated good dynamic range, something that it borrows from its Canon DSLR cousins, and that separates it from most point-and-shoots.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Canon EOS M image quality test results by clicking here,
and read further on in the review for side-by-side comparisons
against the Canon EOS M's top competitors.

Video. The Canon EOS M's Movie mode is quite fully featured. It records at Full HD (1080p) at up to 30 frames per second, and at 720p at up to 60fps. You can leave the EOS M on Movie Auto, or set it to Movie Manual for precise control over aperture and shutter speed. You can also customize a wide array of photographic settings while recording, including ISO and white balance. In Movie mode you can also enable wind noise reduction, audio attenuation, and watch the feed of audio coming through each of the stereo mics.

As I mentioned earlier, it seems a bizarre design decision that one of the few buttons on the rear of the camera is devoted solely to starting or stopping recording while in video mode. While on the positive side, it means you can shoot still images with the shutter button while you keep recording video, it also means that while in normal camera modes, one of the few physical buttons is out of commission.

One of the advantages to the focusing system that Canon instituted with the EOS M is that, paired with an STM lens, it's totally silent, so it won't interfere with your audio while filming. However, just like it is in still mode, the AF remains fairly sluggish, so you'll probably want to pre-focus whenever possible.

1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original (170MB MOV)
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original (154MB MOV)

Wrapping it up. I wanted to like the Canon EOS M, I really did. But after my first few days shooting with it, I had given up hope. I was going to pan the camera for its slow-as-molasses autofocus system, which rendered it almost unusable. And I was going to knock it for its lack of a built-in flash, electronic viewfinder and physical exposure mode controls, not to mention its sometimes-frustrating menu and navigation quirks.

But then a June 2013 firmware update finally came from Canon and put the spotlight back on what the camera does well. First off, the EOS M takes great still pictures, thanks to its 18-megapixel APS-C-type sensor that's related to those of the Rebel T4i, T5i, and SL1. It's also a very sophisticated movie-making tool, especially in Movie Manual mode where you can change aperture, shutter speed and more. I particular loved the bright-and-sharp LCD touchscreen, though sometimes I got confused on how exactly to change settings since the touchscreen and physical dials often seemed at war with one another.

I still want to like the EOS M. But I don't think it's for me personally. There are just too many other mirrorless options out there that don't have such a notable (and once fatal) flaw. The AF speed may be better, acceptable to a point, but it's still not what you'd expect from Canon.

However, if I were a Canon DSLR owner looking to add a compact backup body that was compatible with my all my lenses (thanks to the EF-M adapter), I'd probably seriously consider the EOS M. Especially at the $400 pricetag for which it's currently selling.

 

Canon EOS M Technical Info

by

Canon EOS M review -- Sensor
Canon EOS M review -- DIGIC 5 processor

Like most of the company's recent consumer and mid-range DSLRs, the Canon EOS M features at its heart an 17.9-megapixel, APS-C sized CMOS image sensor.

The EOS M's image sensor offers the same 3:2 aspect ratio and maximum image dimensions of 5,184 x 3,456 pixels as that seen in its sibling, the EOS Rebel T4i digital DSLR.

The 18 megapixel sensor is coupled with a DIGIC 5 image processor, a designation seen previously in the EOS-1D X and Rebel T4i. (Note that while the EOS-1Dx had twin DIGIC 5 processors plus a tertiary DIGIC 4 processor, the EOS M only includes one DIGIC 5 chip, as did the Rebel T4i.)

DIGIC 5 is, says Canon, five times faster than the preceding DIGIC 4.

For still-image shooting, the Canon EOS M offers ISO sensitivity ranging from 100 to 12,800 equivalents, expandable to ISO 25,600 in H mode. The upper limits are lowered for video shooting, with the standard range peaking at ISO 6400, and the H mode equating to ISO 12,800. A Multi-Shot Noise Reduction function is available for still imaging, enabling a reduction in noise levels for any given sensitivity, so long as your subject is relatively static.

Canon EOS M review -- Burst shooting
Canon EOS M review -- Lens mount

The EOS M offers burst shooting at up to a rate of 4.3 frames per second. Note, though, that this speed is for One Shot AF, so focus is locked from the first frame. For continuous servo autofocus, the rate drops to 1.2 fps with the EF-M 22mm prime, or 1.7 fps with the EF-M 18-55mm zoom.

Burst depth is 17 large/fine JPEG, six raw, or three Raw+JPEG frames at ISO 100, using a high-speed UHS-I card.

Like almost all mirrorless camera manufacturers, Canon has had to introduce a brand-new lens mount for the EOS M.

The alternative would be, like Pentax's K-01, to discard the main advantage of a mirrorless camera by retaining a DSLR's bulk while throwing away the advantage of an optical finder.

Canon EOS M review -- EOS M cutaway to scale
Canon EOS M review -- Rebel T4i cutaway to scale

The size advantage to be gained in removing the DSLR's mirror box is made clear in the two images above (shown approximately to scale.)

On the left is a cutaway of the Canon EOS M, showing the lens mount (dark green), contact unit (orange), shutter unit (light green), image sensor assembly with cover glass (light blue, red, and yellow), and LCD monitor (purple).

At right is a similar cutaway of the EOS Rebel T4i, one of the smaller cameras in Canon's digital SLR lineup.

As you can see, the Rebel T4i has to fit quite a lot more inside its body, and so is much thicker.

At top, you can see the viewfinder prism (dark blue), in front of five lens elements for the viewfinder and metering sensor. Below the prism is the focusing screen, while the metering sensor (purple) sits above the viewfinder.

In front of the shutter unit is the reflex mirror, and beneath is a secondary mirror that redirects light to the autofocus assembly (dark blue with purple sensor.)

Canon EOS M review -- EF-M 22mm f/2 STM prime lens
Canon EOS M review -- EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom lens

Two lenses have been offered for the new Canon EF-M mount since launch: one prime which is included in a kit with the camera body, and one zoom that will be sold separately.

The Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM prime lens offers a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 35mm on the EF-M, while the optional EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom provides 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from approximately 29 to 88mm.

Thanks to STM autofocus motors, both lenses are said to provide smooth, silent autofocusing.

The zoom lens also includes Dynamic IS image stabilization, as seen previously in the EF-S mount 18-135mm STM lens. Ordinarily, the lens can offer a four stop correction, but will offer even greater stabilization capability--said to be enough for steady video when walking--via the Dynamic IS function.

Canon EOS M review -- Mount Adapter EF-EOS M
Canon EOS M review -- Mount adapter attached to camera

Of course, an interchangeable-lens system with just two lenses would be limiting indeed, and so Canon is offering an optional mount adapter allowing use of EF and EF-S lenses on the Canon EOS M.

Lenses mounted on the adapter are fully supported; autofocus, exposure metering, and stabilization work as per normal. The tripod mount bracket is removable.

The adapter will allow use of around 70 current and historic lens models from Canon's EOS SLR series on its new mirrorless model, and is said to be capable of handling anything up to a 600mm lens.

Note though that older, non-STM glass is more likely to have intrusive noise and less-smooth focus, potentially making it less suitable for video capture.

Like the Canon Rebel T4i before it, the Canon EOS M offers on-chip phase detection autofocus from the main image sensor, or Hybrid CMOS AF in Canon parlance. The system, used both for still and movie capture, combines phase detection and contrast detection when the subject is near the center of the image frame, and uses only contrast detection when the subject strays outside this area. When phase detection is used, it's only to determine the focus direction and get focus in the ballpark; focus is always fine-tuned with contrast detection towards the end of AF operation.

The Canon EOS M's autofocus system operates in one of three modes: Face Detection & Tracking AF, Multi-point AF, or Single-point AF. A total of 31 autofocus points are available.

Unlike many current compact system cameras, the Canon EOS M lacks a built-in electronic viewfinder, or any way to attach an external electronic viewfinder. Presuming you can find one with the appropriate framing guidelines for your chosen lens, you could of course use a hotshoe-mounted external optical viewfinder accessory, but otherwise you'll be limited solely to framing on the LCD screen.

Canon EOS M review -- LCD monitor
Canon EOS M review -- Touch panel

Thankfully, the EOS M offers up a high-resolution three-inch, 3:2 aspect LCD panel with 720 x 480 pixel resolution (~1,040,000 dots), similar to those used in recent Rebel DSLRs.

As in the T4i, the EOS M's display is the current-generation Clear View II type, which removes the air gap between LCD and cover glass, reducing glare.

Unlike the T4i, the display is fixed in place, though, and not mounted on an articulated mechanism.

Like the T4i, the Canon EOS M's display is overlaid with a touch-sensitive overlay, allowing it to serve as a user interface element.

It's a multitouch-capable glass capacitive display like those found on most smartphones these days, and so can be used for intuitive functions like pinch zoom, swiping between photos in playback mode, and for touch autofocus.

Touch control is also functional for menu navigation.

Canon EOS M review -- Hot shoe
Canon EOS M review -- Speedlite 90EX flash strobe

Another area in which the Canon EOS M harkens back to early mirrorless models from some competitors is its lack of a built-in flash strobe. Instead, your sole option for flash is a top-mounted hot shoe, compatible with all Canon Speedlite accessories.

That includes not only the radio-controlled Speedlite 600EX strobe and Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT that were announced alongside the EOS 5D Mark III DSLR...

...but also a brand-new compact, lightweight Speedlite 90EX strobe that's better-suited to the EOS M's body size.

The Speedlite 90EX has 24mm coverage, and a guide number of 9 meters (30 feet) at ISO 100.

Thanks to its small size, it's rather weaker than the built-in strobes on Rebel-series DSLRs; power comes from two AAA batteries.

In addition to the usual Program, Priority, and Manual exposure modes, the Canon EOS M also offers a variety of creative options including a Scene Intelligent Auto mode which uses scene detection to determine the scene type, and thus, the appropriate settings. There's also a Handheld Night Scene mode, an HDR Backlight Control mode, and seven Creative Filter functions, plus a variety of customizable Picture Style settings.

The Canon EOS M looks to offer a fairly comprehensive video mode, by compact system camera standards. Resolution choices vary from Full HD to standard-def, recorded using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression and a .MOV container. Between NTSC and PAL modes, resolution and frame rate options include 1,920 x 1080 (1080p) at 29.97, 25, or 23.976 frames per second, 1,280 x 720 (720p) at 59.94 or 50 fps, and standard-def at 29.97 or 25 fps. It's possible to control exposure manually for video capture, and a Movie Servo AF mode which also provides a tracking function is the default autofocus mode. Note that STM lenses are required for smooth, silent autofocus during video capture; other lenses will offer varying levels of smoothness and AF drive noise. For creative effects, Canon's Picture Styles are applicable to video capture. Canon is also including a Video Snapshot mode in the EOS M, which allows you to combine a series of video clips in-camera. Clips can be cut, deleted, or rearranged using touch-screen controls.

Canon EOS M review -- Stereo microphone
Canon EOS M review -- Connectivity

Audio is recorded with a built-in stereo mic or via an external microphone jack.

As well as both wind filter and attenuator functions, there's also a 64-step manual audio level control.

As well as the aforementioned microphone jack, the EOS M also offers both Mini (Type C) HDMI high-definition and composite standard-definition video outputs. The latter port also doubles as a USB digital connection for data transfer. An infrared remote control is also supported.

Canon EOS M review -- GP-E2 hotshoe-mounted GPS receiver
Canon EOS M review -- battery

The EOS M stores its data on Secure Digital cards. It's compatible with both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC card types, as well as the higher-speed UHS-I types.

Additionally, the EOS M is compatible with Canon's GP-E2 hotshoe-mounted GPS receiver accessory. This connects to the camera body via USB, and allows the automatic tagging of images with their capture location, altitude, and direction. It also corrects the camera's clock automatically.

Power comes courtesy of a new, proprietary LP-E12 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. The battery is CIPA-rated for 230 shots per charge, or for 90 minutes of video capture, at 73°F / 23°C. That's pretty limited battery life for its class.

A dedicated LC-E12 battery charger is included in the bundle, and an optional ACK-E12 AC adapter kit is also available.

 

Canon EOS M Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Canon EOS M with the Canon SL1, Nikon J3, Olympus E-PL5, Panasonic G6, and the Sony NEX-3N. We're starting with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do, then moving onto ISO 1600, 3200, and then finer details with ISO 6400 below.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction.

Canon EOS M versus Canon SL1 at base ISO

Canon EOS M at ISO 100
Canon SL1 at ISO 100

We expected similar results from these two mini-Canons with 18-megapixel APS-C-type sensors, and that's what we got. Virtually identical performances from these two.


Canon EOS M versus Nikon J3 at base ISO

Canon EOS M at ISO 100
Nikon J3 at ISO 160

Nikon tends to do a great job with our difficult red leaf swatch, and the J3 is no exception. But in all other areas of these crops the EOS M far out-performs the smaller-sensored J3 in sharpness and detail. Not really in the same league as the EOS M.


Canon EOS M versus Olympus E-PL5 at base ISO

Canon EOS M at ISO 100
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 200

The E-PL5 has a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor and lower resolution than the EOS M, and yet clearly out-resolves it in our mosaic pattern. A close call between these two solid cameras, but a slight nod to the E-PL5 for detail and color. The EOS M does outperform the E-PL5 on the red fabric swatch, however.


Canon EOS M versus Panasonic G6 at base ISO

Canon EOS M at ISO 100
Panasonic G6 at ISO 160

The G6 also has a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor, and yet does slightly better at resolving fine detail in these crops than the EOS M, out-performing it in most every section of the test target, including the mosaic pattern and the red leaf pattern.


Canon EOS M versus Sony NEX-3N at base ISO

Canon EOS M at ISO 100
Sony NEX-3N at ISO 200

The NEX-3N has a similarly-sized APS-C sensor, and even with 2 megapixels less resolution, still out-resolves the EOS M by a slight margin in most areas except for the pink fabric swatch.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Canon EOS M versus Canon SL1 at ISO 1600

Canon EOS M at ISO 1600
Canon SL1 at ISO 1600

Once again, very similar results between these two first cousins. A slight nod to the EOS M in the detail of the mosaic pattern perhaps, but almost identical performances.


Canon EOS M versus Nikon J3 at ISO 1600

Canon EOS M at ISO 1600
Nikon J3 at ISO 1600

The small sensor in the J3 really shows as ISO rises. Again, it's clearly not in the same league as the other cameras in our comparisons here, but it is Nikon's current entry at this price level for compact, interchangeable-lens cameras.


Canon EOS M versus Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 1600

Canon EOS M at ISO 1600
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 1600

The E-PL5 shows more noise suppression artifacts in the bottle crop, but is far superior to the EOS M in the mosaic crop in terms of both color and detail.


Canon EOS M versus Panasonic G6 at ISO 1600

Canon EOS M at ISO 1600
Panasonic G6 at ISO 1600

Virtually identical performances from these two here. Not much to add except a slight nod to the G6 for a bit less noise in the shadows.


Canon EOS M versus Sony NEX-3N at ISO 1600

Canon EOS M at ISO 1600
Sony NEX-3N at ISO 1600

The NEX-3N also shows slightly less noise in the shadowy areas and smoother detail in the bottle, as well as a bit more contrast detail in the red fabric swatch.


Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600, so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Canon EOS M versus Canon SL1 at ISO 3200

Canon EOS M at ISO 3200
Canon SL1 at ISO 3200

Again, very similar results between these two. Not bad for ISO 3200, and not much to say in the way of comparison.


Canon EOS M versus Nikon J3 at ISO 3200

Canon EOS M at ISO 3200
Nikon J3 at ISO 3200

The J3 is simply unable to produce any fine detail here, so clearly it's not a camera to reach for in low-light situations where higher ISOs are desired to keep shutter speeds fast.


Canon EOS M versus Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 3200

Canon EOS M at ISO 3200
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 3200

A solid performance here from the E-PL5. There are some apparent artifacts from noise suppression and sharpening, but the images overall are generally superior to the EOS M.


Canon EOS M versus Panasonic G6 at ISO 3200

Canon EOS M at ISO 3200
Panasonic G6 at ISO 3200

You can see aggressive noise reduction going on in the bottle of the G6 crop, producing an odd and unnatural result. The G6 does look a bit better than the EOS M in the other two crops however, so a definite trade-off there.


Canon EOS M versus Sony NEX-3N at ISO 3200

Canon EOS M at ISO 3200
Sony NEX-3N at ISO 3200

Similar results in the first two crops between these two APS-C rivals, but the NEX-3N does far better at resolving some detail in the fabric swatches.


Detail: Canon EOS M versus Canon SL1, Nikon J3, Olympus E-PL5, Panasonic G6, and Sony NEX-3N

Canon EOS M
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon SL1
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon J3
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus E-PL5
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Panasonic G6
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Sony NEX-3N
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. This crop comparison is designed to compare high-contrast detail, and the results from these models range all across the board. The J3 with its small sensor is unable to resolve detail this fine at any sensitivity, so is the obvious trailer of the pack here. The E-PL5 turns in a stellar performance, and along with many of its PEN cousins can deliver better detail and low light performance than many other cameras in this general price range. The G6 comes in second at base ISO, doing a respectable job with the lettering, and both the G6 and the NEX-3N do a good job as ISO rises. Both of the Canon models fall towards the back of the pack in terms of fine detail and higher ISO performance, unfortunately, eclipsing only the far-outclassed J3.

 

Canon EOS M Print Quality Analysis

Overall, very good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 100/200; ISO 1600 capable of a good 13 x 19; ISO 12,800 prints a nice 4 x 6.

ISO 100/200 images are quite nice at 24 x 36 inches, with rich detail and accurate colors. Wall display prints are possible up to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 400 yields a nice 20 x 30 inch print, with wall display prints possible up to 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 800 prints well at 16 x 20. Minor noise becomes apparent in shadowy areas, but still produces a nice printed image.

ISO 1600 is capable of a good 13 x 19 inch print. There is a noticeable drop in contrast in our target red swatch here (typical for most cameras) and some luminance noise apparent in shadowy areas, which is also common for ISO 1600.

ISO 3200 prints a fairly good 8 x 10, albeit with similar issues as seen with the 13 x 19 at ISO 1600.

ISO 6400 makes a nice 5 x 7. Colors are no longer as vibrant, and there is some minor noise in certain areas, but not bad for this ISO.

ISO 12,800 prints a reasonable 4 x 6 with only minor apparent noise in shadowy areas.

ISO 25,600 does not print a usable 4 x 6 and is best avoided.

The Canon EOS M holds its own in the print quality department alongside its newer cousin the Canon SL1, as well as the enthusiast DSLRs T4i and T5i. If you are comparing the M to the SL1, image quality is virtually identical, so you'd do best to choose a model based on other criteria such as size, feel, features and performance. If you are considering getting one as a back-up or sidekick to your T4i or T5i, you can expect similar printed results with no loss in quality due to its smaller size. Its print sizes are also right in step with the Olympus E-PM2 and E-PL5.

 

In the Box

The Canon EOS M retail kit contains:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Canon EOS M Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Solid, compact build and attractive, sleek design that borrows from Canon's PowerShot compacts
  • 18-megapixel, APS-C sensor delivers great, DSLR-like image quality (similar to the Rebel T4i, T5i and SL1)
  • 3-inch LCD touchscreen monitor is bright and high-resolution
  • Robust video capabilities, including Full HD (1080p) recording at up to 30fps with stereo audio
  • Manual Movie mode allows for setting and changing aperture, shutter speed, ISO and more
  • External mic jack
  • Good kit lenses (22mm and 18-55mm), which both feature STM for virtually silent autofocusing
  • Records RAW and RAW+JPEG files
  • Very fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Currently available at an appealing price
  • Autofocus speed, though now in the acceptable range thanks to a recent firmware update, is still slower than most other mirrorless cameras
  • Navigation and changing settings can be confusing as it's not always intuitive whether to use physical or touchscreen controls
  • Limited creative filters and special effects modes
  • LCD does not articulate (it's fixed flush to maximize compactness)
  • Poor low-light focusing
  • Slow single-shot cycle times
  • Below average burst speed for a compact system camera
  • No built-in flash
  • No electronic viewfinder option
  • Poor battery life
  • New lens mount (EF-M) with very limited lens selection
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance too warm in tungsten light
  • Movie Record button does nothing in still capture mode

 

Late to the mirrorless camera game, the Canon EOS M wasn't a big hit at launch -- primarily due to reports of its glacial autofocus speeds. (Something we discovered here at IR immediately.) Due to what was considered a fatal flaw, the camera was mostly ignored until recently when Canon finally addressed the AF issue with a much-anticipated firmware update. We're happy to report that this update did in fact markedly improve the EOS M's speed, shaving an average of a half a second off its single-shot autofocusing times. While it's still not as fast as many other compact system cameras, it brought the Canon EOS M back to the acceptable range -- and back to life in the minds of photographers.

Up to this point, demand had been so low for the EOS M that its kit price dropped from an MSRP US$800 at launch in October 2012, down to a street price as low as US$300 in recent months. That cost certainly makes up for a lot of shortcomings, and focuses attention back to what the camera does well -- take great pictures and videos.

The Canon EOS M's 18-megapixel, APS-C-type sensor delivers images that rival those of the manufacturer's Rebel T4i/T5i/SL1 DSLRs. And the camera has some serious video skills, too, offering Full HD 1080p recording with stereo audio, and manual movie control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO and more. Meanwhile, two very good kit lenses -- a 22mm prime and an 18-55mm zoom -- both feature STM (stepping motor) AF for very silent operation while filming.

Add those positives to the EOS M's solid, compact build and sleek design -- plus the fact that the camera can be adapted to accept other Canon EF / EF-S lenses -- and it becomes a very viable option for Canon DSLR owners looking for a second, more portable body without having to change systems.

However, along with the still-slow AF come a few other missed opportunities -- most notably, the EOS M's lack of a built-in flash and electronic viewfinder, a heavier reliance on touchscreen navigation and settings selection (there are no Program, Priority, or Manual modes on the Mode dial!), and poor battery life. Potential Canon EOS M buyers will have to weigh these negatives against the positives to determine if the camera is right for them.

What do we think? Well, we're with our reviewer on this one. Such slow AF is pretty hard to swallow, especially considering the competition, and we miss some of the features (built-in flash, complete Mode dial, tilting LCD) that were omitted for the sake of size. But while we probably wouldn't buy one ourselves (OK, one of us actually did, but he's a diehard Canon guy and the deal was incredible), we'd still recommend it for the right photographer -- either a Canon shooter looking for a compact companion, or someone looking for a steal of a deal. For these reasons, the Canon EOS M squeaks in and earns a Dave's Pick.

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