Canon EOS R Video Features, Specs & Analysis

This is not the video camera you've been told it is

by | Posted: 10/22/2018

There seems to be this pervasive belief that in order for a camera to be good, it has to be somehow life-changing, industry-shattering, and future proof. Though these things are nice, they should not be considered a necessity. We've gotten to the point where we've been spoiled by technological achievements, and if a new product doesn't take us beyond the best that is out there, then it is a failure. This seems odd to me, as there are very few industries where we hold this kind of a standard over the manufacturers. The Nissan Leaf is not a Tesla Model S, but it sells well. Same for the Chevy Volt. They're different takes on a wholly game-changing idea, but they are not ridiculed for those takes. They work for a large group of people, and that is exactly what Nissan and Chevrolet were going for.

When we look at the Canon EOS R, the immediate reaction is to compare it to the Sony line, and I understand that and did it myself. But where things get dicey is when someone is willing to say that the EOS R is a "bad camera" because it may not stack up to what the Sony Alpha does. I've even heard that it's "not a professional camera."

Stop it. The EOS R is not a bad camera. And what does that second part even mean? That a professional would never buy it? How would you know? I'm a professional, and I used it successfully on three separate commercial video shoots.

I'll say it again: The EOS R is not a bad camera. Far from it. Is it game-changing and future proof? No, it's not. But those are not mutually exclusive descriptors. There are photographers who shoot full time who make beautiful work with cameras from five, ten, even thirty years ago. So while I do agree that the EOS R lacks in places compared to its competition, it is by no means a bad camera. It has its place, and when used in that place it does a very good job.

Aside from photography, where there is quite a lot to be pleased with as we've noted, the EOS R is a very solid video-making device. It has quite a lot that works well, and I'm going to discuss just what you can do with simply the camera and a lens. It does have the ability to record even higher quality footage to an external recorder, but let's just focus on what you can expect by spending the least amount of money as possible and only using what comes in the box.

Main Video Features

  • 3840 x 2160p at 23.98/24/29.97 fps (No DCI 4K 4096 x 2160)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 23.98/24/29.97/59.94 fps
  • 1280 x 720p at 29.97/59.94/120 fps
  • ALL-I and IPB quality options
  • MP4 video format instead of MOV
  • C-Log profile option, with either internal and external recording
  • Clean HDMI output at 10-bit 4:2:2
  • 4:2:0 8-bit internal recording
  • 1.7x crop factor with 4K
  • 29:59 continuous video recording limit
  • UHS-II V60 (Video Speed Class 60) SD card required for ALL-I recording at 4K
    • UHS-I U3 card okay for IPB video and HD resolutions

The EOS R is a good video camera

As a commercial filmmaker, I use the cameras that work best for certain situations. When my team, and that means more than just me, are hired for a large job, we go all out. We shoot with full-size camcorders in log profiles to external recorders. We truck in cases upon cases of cameras, lenses, adapters, tripods, audio equipment and gimbals, as well as grip and lighting equipment. And this setup makes for truly spectacular video.

But these setups take time and a crew. Working quickly, a team can get this setup in place and ready to go in about an hour and a half. For larger sets, the setup can take a full day.

As you can imagine, the costs for these larger set pieces is high. Yes, the final product is exceptional, but it is often out of reach even for larger companies. Part of that is an education issue that falls on us as videographers, and part of it that there will always be different tiers of customers. An "Apple" is going to spend a lot more money on ads than your local credit union, but both have marketing goals that require video. This is a difference of $500K multi-day, large crew job, and a one man, half-day $2K shoot.

When I'm shooting for the latter, I'll do it as a one-man-show, on location and in four hours or less. Recently I was asked by a client why I prefer to shoot these jobs on my Canon 1DX II, 5D Mark IV and Panasonic GH5, as the other videographer they use brings in a Canon C-series camera for all his jobs. I responded that while his camera certainly has advantages, I prefer the small profile of the cameras I use. I can fit four cameras, 10 lenses and my audio kit into one small rolling bag, while if I used his setup I would have to make concessions somewhere in order to keep using this same rolling bag. Otherwise, I'm carrying additional bags and when I'm out on the road, running-and-gunning by myself, that just doesn't seem like an attractive option.

And not to toot my own horn, but I do good work with this setup. I've shot more than 25 commercials using this method, and it continues to work.

Back to the EOS R, its size is exactly what I'm looking for when I do those smaller, less formal jobs. I still love my 1DX II, but after using the R for three shoots, I could very easily see myself just using two or three of those and fully trusting them. The quality is indistinguishable from the 1DX II, and it's a quarter the weight and half the physical size. I've actually preferred using the R over the 5D IV lately, for no other reason other than it has a fully articulating screen and it's smaller and lighter. And it's exactly the same! Well, almost. The EOS R is actually better.

Strictly from a video shooter's perspective, there is no reason to pick the 5D IV over the EOS R. The 5D IV is $3100, and the R is $2300. Both cameras feature C-Log and an internal capture of 4:2:0 8-bit, but only the EOS R can do 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI out. Both cameras share the exact same sensor, but the EOS R has a larger, nearly edge to edge autofocus system using Dual Pixel AF. The EOS R also shoots to a more manageable file type than the 5D IV. The 5D IV shoots cinema 4K 4096x2160 at 500 MB/s in Motion JPEG, while the R captures UHD 3840x2160 at 480 MB/s in MP4. Some might complain that the EOS R can't capture the more cinematic, wider 4096x2160 video, but I actually like that it captures UHD instead. Most televisions and YouTube aren't displaying that wider format, and UHD is a far more common frame size from my clients. Yes, you can always scale the cinema 4K down, but it's one more step and more data captured than I need.

If that inability to capture cinema 4K is a complaint of yours about the R, I won't say it's not valid. It definitely is. I'm just saying I personally prefer what Canon has done here. Would it be better if you could choose to capture either? Yes of course, and that is a knock on all Canon SLR-style cameras (style, as in look and feel and not actually having a physical SLR build). None of them let you pick one or the other, and that's a problem.

Side by side, the EOS R beats the 5D IV in every capacity when it comes to video capture in a smaller body with an articulating screen. You can probably see why I love shooting with it now.

But wait, that crop! Don't I just despise the massive crop factor of 1.7x? Isn't it "really bad" and "awful" and "just the worst?" Doesn't it make me smack my forehead and raise my fists to the sky in exasperation?

No, not really. I honestly don't care.

Look, I come from shooting Super 35 and Micro Four Thirds. I'm used to huge crop factors. Does that make it OK? No. Do I wish the EOS R was capable of full frame video capture with all the same specs it currently has? Yeah, I do. But not having that ability doesn't make it a bad camera.

Canon EOS R: 1080p video framegrab
Canon EOS R: 4K video framegrab

This is a subject for a wider conversation at another time, but having a crop on video footage honestly means very little to video professionals. From an on-paper perspective, it's annoying sure, but from a "I'm using this on set" perspective, you quickly just don't notice, nor care. If I'm using the EOS R or the 1DX II for video, I understand their limitations going into it. I don't pull the camera out, start shooting and then suddenly get upset at my camera. I know what I've gotten myself into, and I choose to shoot Canon for video for a reason.

What's that reason?

Color science. Looking at how Canon color science treats skin melts my heart every time I look at it! I just cannot get enough of how good Canon footage looks when shooting people.

Canon EOS R: 4K video framegrab from Premiere Pro. Click for full-resolution.
Canon EOS R: 4K video framegrab from Premiere Pro. Click for full-resolution.

Earlier I mentioned that up until a month or so ago (before I got the EOS R), I shot 1DX II, 5D IV and GH5. Why that combination? For b-roll, I love the GH5 because of the stabilized sensor, internal 4:2:2 10-bit V-Log, and the compact, lightweight body. I also like that I can swap over to 4Kp60 without sacrificing too much in terms of quality to gain 4K slow motion. But when it comes to the interview portion of my shoots, I always reach for the Canon bodies. Without using Log, Canon Standard Profile just looks so. Damn. Good.

If I have to take a crop factor to have access to that kind of goodness, that's absolutely a sacrifice I'll make. No other camera on the market makes me mentally fist pump in joy quite like the Canons. The EOS R continues that legacy, and it's 1.7x crop means nothing to me if it means I can have their color science in exchange.

And hey, thanks to that crop, I can use great cinema lenses designed for Super 35 on the EOS R, or just great lenses period like the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8.

One other thing: The fact that the shutter closes over the sensor when the camera is off is a boon. I don't struggle with dust on the sensor at all, which is in stark, stark contrast to my life shooting with Sony. I feel like with Sony cameras, I'm constantly in dust hell, and it's not what I want to be thinking about when I'm shooting. I just want to focus on capturing a scene, not whether or not there is a giant speck of dust on my sensor or not.

Problems with the EOS R

I've heaped a lot of praise on the EOS R to this point, but the camera's not without fault. Look, the EOS R sucks for handheld work. The lack of any stabilization on the sensor and no stabilization on lenses like the 28-70mm f/2 or the 50mm f/1.4 means that the second you take a step with this camera off a tripod, you notice. I've noticed a lot of shake when you use the EOS R off a tripod, and I know that IBIS isn't something that has been around that long and that I've grown weak/soft/complacent with it on my equipment, and I accept that. But I personally can't go back now. I'll keep using my GH5 or a Sony when it comes to b-roll just because I can't run around with a tripod for all my b-roll shots... or any of them for that matter. Shoulder rigs, handheld or gimbal-mounted rigs still, for me, require the use of some kind of stabilization on the sensor to make up for the kinds of lenses we put on bodies. I don't want to feel like I can't use a certain lens because it doesn't have IS and I'm afraid of the shake.

Also, the EOS R has some pretty bad rolling shutter. Things get kind of jello-y when you move it around too fast, especially when panning. I'm really not one to complain about rolling shutter because it so often doesn't matter, but you can see it in tracking shots, and if it's bad enough to see in moves like that, I just can't recommend it. Just a light, slow pan from left to right will make everything lean a bit left or right in the frame, and it looks pretty weird.

No, for me, the EOS R finds its home right next to my 1DX II on a tripod as Camera 2 during an interview. And there, it does an outstanding job.

This next note isn't just something the EOS R struggles with, but something all compact full frame mirrorless cameras have to deal with: sometimes its small size is a problem. Because the space between the bottom of the lens mount and the base of the camera is so small, larger, bulkier lenses actually stick down below the EOS R. That means that when I'm mounting it on my video tripods, the plate can't actually fit properly. I have to mount the plate under the camera very far forward, and then mount it on a smaller video head that doesn't' get in the way of this small distance. A battery grip would fix the problem immediately, but if you don't have one it can be kind of tricky to properly mount the R.


 

This next note is not just an EOS R problem, it's a problem for a lot of companies. Only Panasonic really has this solved, in my opinion. When you shoot in 4K, the quality of the footage is just spectacular. Sharp, crisp, and high quality. But when you drop down to 1080p, it just feels... lesser. If you want the best quality 1080p footage, you need to capture in 4K and then scale down to 1080p. Natively captured 1080p video is less sharp and colors are less vibrant. I personally don't know why this happens to everyone, but it does. The GH4 had this problem, but Panasonic stepped their game up and the GH5 looks great regardless of what resolution you're shooting. Canon should strive to offer the same. For me, I have to always shoot in 4K in order to keep the quality of my footage high.

Other little things that the EOS R does that bother me:

  • I really don't like not having a dedicated ISO button. With the native RF glass, I have mapped the new front ring to be ISO, but it's a new thing to remember and train my muscle memory on, and it doesn't translate to any other Canon camera ever made. So it's slightly slower for me to do anything on the R because its operation is different from any other camera I have or have shot with. I have to actually stop and think about changing a setting whereas I don't need to do that on my other Canon cameras.
  • Speaking of operation, switching modes between photo and video is a pain. I hate that I have to hit the Mode button, then press the Info button, then select my shooting mode. It's ridiculously clunky. Luckily, I am usually just shooting video with it so I don't really struggle going back and forth with this as much as others might.
  • The new Touch Bar control is completely useless to me. I do not like how you have to pick between always accidentally hitting it, or having to wait a second to activate it. I've turned it off entirely on my R and that seems like a huge waste of space back there.
  • It's hard to describe, but I don't like how the EOS R displays its EVF only when in video mode. In photo mode it's totally awesome, but something about video mode always looks a bit laggy to me. I don't notice it if the camera is locked down, but moving it around is unsettling. It might have something to do with the rolling shutter.
  • Not giving me 4Kp60 is really disappointing, but not something Canon alone hasn't done on their video cameras. Sony and Nikon are guilty of this too. The lack of other slow motion frame rates even in 1080p though is a head scratcher. No 1080p120? That's pretty lame.

The EOS R is not the perfect camera for every situation, but it does have its place. Personally, I love it for my smaller jobs because it fits into a bag (several of them could fit in the same space a C300 would take up) and the quality of the footage is wonderful. Sure, it has problems but, when used specifically and with an understanding of its limitations, there is a lot to like about it. It's cheaper than the 5D IV, which I actually liked using for video (you can read about that here), and as mentioned the EOS R better in every way than the 5D IV for video production.

Look, it's not going to change the industry in any meaningful way. It's just not that kind of a product. But it is a far, far cry from being a "bad" camera. The Canon EOS R is a very good camera with a lot of advantages that should not be overlooked. It's not for everyone, and that's OK. It works well for me and for those who shoot like I do.

 



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