Canon EOS M50 Field Test

Canon's first 4K-capable M-series camera has many new tricks up its sleeve

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 06/21/2018

Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 55mm (88mm equiv.), f/11, 1/500s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

More than an entry-level camera but not quite an enthusiast-grade one, the new Canon EOS M50 mirrorless camera includes a lot of very interesting features and in some ways tops every other Canon M-series camera despite not having the highest price. The M50 is the first M-series camera with 4K video, for example, but that's far from the only new feature it includes. Let's take a closer look at the Canon M50 and see how it performs in real-world shooting situations.

Key features and specs

  • Compact APS-C mirrorless camera
  • 24-megapixel CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 8 image processor
  • Built-in electronic viewfinder
  • Vari-angle rear display
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • Up to 10 frames per second continuous shooting
  • 4K video recording
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Canon EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 15mm (24mm equiv.), f/7.1, 8s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

Camera body and design

The Canon EOS M50 is a well-designed camera that is quite easy to use. It may not have as many physical controls as the M5, but the M50 does have a very useful Vari-Angle touchscreen display. Further, the M50 also has an electronic viewfinder, something the Canon EOS M6 lacks. The viewfinder works well too, particularly in conditions when the light is too bright to easily see the rear display. With that said, thanks to the excellent fully articulating design of the rear display, it is not difficult to orient in such a way that you can eliminate the glare. The articulating display also makes working at unusual angles very easy, such as shooting from down low or holding the camera up high.

The Canon EOS M50 shares a lot of its design with prior EOS M cameras.

The button layout is quite good, too, and they feel nice to use. The shutter release has a good amount of travel distance and works well for focusing and shooting. The control dials are fine, although they rotate perhaps a bit too freely to easily make precise changes to shutter speed, aperture or other shooting parameters.

If you don't want to use many physical controls, the touchscreen user interface along with the Quick Menu works great. You can adjust a lot of settings, including shutter speed and aperture, right on the touchscreen display. When shooting in manual mode or adjusting exposure compensation, it's helpful to see the result of your changes via live view.

The back of the camera is laid out well, but the highlight is the excellent Vari-angle touchscreen display. The electronic viewfinder is also a nice inclusion.

Overall, the Canon EOS M50 is a well-designed, easy-to-use camera. It offers the user a lot of control without being overwhelming. The built-in electronic viewfinder and articulating touchscreen work very well, too. The camera will feel familiar to DSLR users without being too much for photographers who are purchasing their first dedicated camera. This camera, like other M Series cameras before it, strikes a good balance between simplicity and functionality.

Image quality

The Canon EOS M50 utilizes a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor. The sensor has a native ISO range of 100 to 25,600 and is the same sensor used in the Canon EOS M5 camera.

Sharpness and color

While the sensor produces images with pretty good detail, nice colors and generally fine high ISO performance, the M50 does leave a bit to be desired with respect to pure sharpness and resolving power.

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 187mm (299mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 320.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 187mm (299mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 320.
100 percent crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

When paired with M Series lenses, the M50 simply doesn't produce images with overly impressive sharpness and resolution, at least not when viewing them close-up or making large prints. To get the most from the sensor, you will want to shoot raw and apply careful sharpening, otherwise images will look a bit soft.

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 117mm (187mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.
Even though images are a bit soft, the color rendition form the sensor is quite impressive.

High ISO

Although the Canon M50 doesn't blow you away with fine detail rendition, the nice trade-off is that it also doesn't suffer from unsightly noise. The camera performs quite well at higher sensitivities, given its APS-C sensor.

EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM:13mm (21mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1/25s, ISO 6400.
Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 13mm (21mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1/25s, ISO 6400.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.
As we can see, there is quite a bit of noise at ISO 6400, but the camera does a pretty good job of eliminating the worst of the visual noise with its JPEG processing. Do note near high-contrast edges, such as the trees near the top of this crop, that there is a bit of false color artifacting that happens, likely as a result of the noise reduction process. It is also possible that the false colors were always there, but the noise reduction processing just struggles to eliminate them in fine detail areas such as sharp edges. Nonetheless, it's a pretty good performance here from the EOS M50.

 

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 55mm (88mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/500s, ISO 3200.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

Raw file versatility

As mentioned, the M50 shoots raw images, and if you want to get the most from the camera, this is the way to go. However, the files are not as flexible as other APS-C cameras I've used recently, although they are on par with what you can expect from other Canon M Series cameras.

My primary issues with the raw file versatility relate to highlight and shadow recovery. You cannot rescue as much highlight detail as I would expect from an APS-C sensor. If you overexpose badly on the camera, the highlight data is basically gone. With respect to shadows, images with strong shadow recovery applied look a bit flat and fake, and it's not easy to make a natural-looking recovery. The sensor also produces a lot of noise when you try to recover shadow detail, leading me to believe it is an ISO-variant sensor. This means you are better off increasing ISO to get a good exposure than trying to fix it in post. Technicalities aside, the gist is that you don't want to push shadows too far with raw files from the M50 as you'll be introducing quite a lot of noise. Getting the exposure right in-camera is pretty important with the EOS M50. To that end, the camera does a good job of helping you nail accurate exposures.

EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 13mm (21mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 500.
Original JPEG image. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 13mm (21mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 500.
Modified raw image. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

C-RAW

With the EOS M50, Canon has introduced a new raw file format, .CR3, which replaces .CR2. With .CR3, there's a new "C-RAW" image quality option. The "C" stands for compressed. You save anywhere from roughly a quarter to around a half of the storage space per file, when shooting C-RAW compared to regular raw. What are you giving up? C-RAW is a lossy compressed raw file, but does this really matter in real-world use? I don't really think that it does. Even when underexposing an image at ISO 100 by three stops and then correcting the underexposure in a raw processor, the differences between the two files are hard to see. Obviously, there's a lot of noise introduced when you push an image by three stops, even at base ISO, but it's hard to choose which image looks better.

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lens: 200mm, f/8.0, various shutter speeds, ISO 100.
100% crops. raw images processed in ACR with listed settings, all other settings at default. Click image for full-size 0EV raw file.

Click here for -3EV C-RAW file. Click here for -3EV raw file.
Click here for 0EV C-RAW file. Click here for 0EV raw file.
Click here for +3EV raw file. Click here for +3EV C-RAW file.

In the case of a properly-exposed image, I can't spot any significant difference, even at 100 percent. If you can't see a difference at 100 percent, then there's likely not a practical difference to worry about. For this reason, I think C-RAW is a fine choice. There's minimal quality drop-off, and you will save space. However, it is worth considering that a lossy compressed raw file may not offer you the same ability to repair a corrupted file. Granted, I've never had to deal with a corrupted image file, so I can't say with certainty if raw would offer better recoverability than C-RAW.

Shooting Experience

The Canon M50 is easy to use. If you want to use the automatic modes, that's fine and the camera will be successful much of the time. For those who want more creativity, it offers that as well. It's good as a point and shoot and as a manual camera.

Autofocus

As has often been the case, Dual Pixel CMOS AF works well with the M50. On the EOS M50, the autofocus covers a very impressive 100 percent of the vertical area and 88 percent of the horizontal area of the sensor. This allows you to focus, even when your subject is on the edge or near the edge of the frame. It's worth noting that this is only true with select compatible lenses, including the EF-M 18-150mm, 55-200mm and 28mm lenses. With these lenses, you have access to 149 autofocus points, compared to 49 points on other recent EOS-M cameras. With that said, EF-M lenses that are not compatible with the 149 points on the EOS M50 still have access to 99 AF points within the old 80 percent x 80 percent coverage area, so there are still improvements to autofocus even when not using one of the three aforementioned lenses.

Not only does the autofocus system work very well for still shooting in many situations, including in low light, it also works at up to 7.4 frames per second when shooting continuously. Dual Pixel CMOS AF is quick, decisive and one of the better features in the Canon EOS M series of cameras. The M50 also offers touch autofocus, including touch and drag AF, as well as face detection, all of which work quite well. All in all, the camera's autofocus is a strong suit.

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 200mm (320mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 1250.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.
In low light, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system still works pretty well, although it is noticeably slower in very dim conditions.

Performance

Alongside the capable and improved Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system, the Canon EOS M50 also comes equipped with a new Canon DIGIC 8 image processor. The camera can shoot at up to 10 frames per second, but as I mentioned above, with full autofocus the burst rate drops to 7.4 fps, which is still quite fast for a camera in this class.

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM: 200mm (320mm equiv.), f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 400.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.
With moving subjects, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system works quite well. The camera also processes images pretty quickly, although the raw buffer does fill up quickly.

The buffer can be rather quick to fill up when shooting raw images, and is somewhat slow to clear. Further, the battery life is not very impressive, and it seemed to drain quite quickly in real-world use; you'll definitely want a spare battery. On the plus side, the menus are quick and easy to navigate, and the touchscreen interaction is fluid.

Wireless

The Canon EOS M50 has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC and boasts a first for Canon cameras in that it allows you to transfer images automatically to a connected smartphone as you are shooting. The wireless functionality is simple to set up. You start a connection by pressing the dedicated wireless button on the right side of the camera. On an iPhone, I went to Settings and then chose the camera via the wireless access points. After connecting, you start up the dedicated Canon smartphone app and you're all set.

Once connected, you can view and transfer images, geotag, wirelessly control the camera and more. The app is easy to navigate and runs smoothly. When controlling the camera via your phone, the live view quality is good and you have a lot of control. You can change shooting parameters such as shutter speed and aperture, along with ISO, autofocus mode, white balance and more. You can double tap the display to zoom in as well, which is handy. Overall, the app provides a lot of control and is easy to use.

The EOS M50 has great wireless features and functionality.

Video

First, the good news. The Canon EOS M50 is the first Canon M-series camera to capture 4K video. However, the 4K video recording is capped at 24 frames per second, includes a ~1.6x crop factor and does not utilize Canon's excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF focusing system, instead relying upon contrast detect autofocus. Nonetheless, it records 4K video and that's a big deal for Canon shooters.

Canon EOS M50 4K Test Video
3840 x 2160, 24p. Recorded with Canon EF-M 15-45mm lens: 24mm. ISO 100.
Download Original (194 MB .MP4 File)

 

Canon EOS M50 4K High ISO Test Video
3840 x 2160, 24p. Recorded with Canon EF-M 15-45mm: 45mm. ISO 6400.
Download Original (271 MB .MP4 File)

The 4K video quality itself is not particularly impressive, although it certainly looks better than Full HD video. Like with 4K shooting, however, the 1080p video quality itself is decent, but not great; the image quality looks a bit soft. Unlike 4K, 1080p video is available up to 60 frames per second and also makes use of the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, which makes it a better choice for shooting fast subjects than 4K video.

Canon EOS M50 Full HD Video
1920 x 1080, 30p. Recorded with Canon EF-M 55-200mm lens.
Download Original (143 MB .MP4 File)

Ultimately, it is technically a 4K camera, but the 4K video is not as good as some of the competition. However, when compared to other EOS M cameras, being able to record 4K video is a welcome change. The overall user experience when recording video is quite nice, especially thanks to the vari-angle LCD touchscreen. It's very easy to record video with the EOS M50, and you can even shoot full manual video, which is nice. The EOS M50 is a capable video camera overall, and it's easy to use.

You can see the large difference in the crop factor for Full HD video (top) versus 4K video (bottom).

Canon EOS M50 Field Test Summary

A well-rounded, easy-to-use M-series camera that offers a lot of features for a low price

What I like:

  • Good design
  • Excellent Vari-angle touchscreen and touch-based user interface
  • Easy to use
  • Reliable and improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • Generally good image quality

What I dislike:

  • Underwhelming battery life
  • 4K video is heavily cropped and not particularly good
  • EF-M lens selection is still a bit weak, although you can adapt other EF lenses to the M50

EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 16mm (26mm equiv.), f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. Click here for raw image.

The biggest strengths of the EOS M50 are its good design, great touchscreen interface and strong autofocus performance. The camera is easy to pick up and use, which is important for a camera in this segment. However, that doesn't mean it's not a powerful and capable camera. You can easily take full control of the camera and get your creative juices flowing. The image sensor holds up well in many situations too, allowing for a good amount of versatility and flexibility in a wide array of shooting situations.

 



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