Canon EOS M Not-Quite-A-Review

I normally talk about software development and computing generally here but I thought I would post a quick note about this new piece of camera gear that I got recently.

It’s a Canon EOS M, their first mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera. I hadn’t planned on getting any new camera gear but I saw this camera with a 22mm ƒ/2 lens on sale at newegg.com for $450 so I grabbed one.

I’m not going to go over the basics (plenty of others have covered those aspects admirably), I’ll just point out a few things I’ve noticed in the week I’ve been playing around with it.

#1: the 22mm ƒ/2 lens that it comes with is really a nice lens. It’s a pancake lens so it doesn’t take up much room at all. On the APS-C sensor size of the EOS M the focal length equivalent comes out to 35mm which is a great “walk around and be able to catch everything” kind of lens. The ƒ/2 maximum aperture is quite fast considering its size. Overall I like it and will likely keep it on the camera as the main lens I use for photography.

#2: yes, the focusing system does suck that bad. The biggest complaint with this camera is that focusing is slow and unreliable and I’d have to agree with that wholeheartedly. I’m used to my 10D and 5D being able to focus in basically 1/4 a sec maximum (unless it’s REALLY dark), so waiting around for 2 to 6 seconds to get the focus right (assuming it doesn’t fail) is very very aggravating. Especially if you are using bigger apertures, getting the focus right is really important and the EOS M is the worst camera I’ve ever used in this respect.

#3: I’ll have to stop shooting in RAW mode. The 10D I’ve used for years produces RAW files of 4-6MB. The 5D just about doubles that. The EOS M doubles that again so now I’m looking at 20-30MB for each photograph I take with this camera. This is just unsustainable especially in the era of solid state hard drives. A high quality JPEG takes up just 3-6MB and I guess I’m going to have to live with that.

#4: The video from this camera is just amazing ASSUMING YOU FOCUS BEFOREHAND. You’ll get super high bitrate (around 45megabits/sec according to my tests) 1080p video from your favorite lenses. My favorite setting is “Neutral” with just a hint of sharpness added, a touch more saturation, and “Auto Optimized Lightness” which seems to boost the low/mids without blowing out the highlights (which seems to more closely match the gamma of film.) Shooting video with my Sigma 10-20mm ƒ/4-5.6 lens attached is my new favorite thing in the world. BUT, if you need to focus while you’re shooting video be prepared for frustration.

#5: Using Lens•Lab has really helped out with getting a feel for depth of field when shooting video. It’s a great feeling to use something you’ve made yourself to solve real world problems.

#6: strapping a normal lens (like the Sigma 10-20mm or the Canon 24-85mm) to the tiny EOS M body is a bit ridiculous.

All in all, I’d say the EOS M is a much more impressive video camera than it is a photography camera. It’s handy to carry around with the 22mm pancake prime (I’ll definitely use it in places where I don’t want to carry around the bag with the 5D, 10D, and lenses, batteries, etc.) But the focusing problems are really hard to look past.

It’s an odd duck. The tech specs and interchangeable lenses say semipro/pro but the tiny size and abhorrent focusing say “mediocre consumer photography gear.”

I still have a 5D and 10D around for doing “real” photography. But I think the EOS M will find a place in the jacket pocket or glove box or backpack far more often than the more pro level gear.

Check out some photos from the camera here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmenter and some video here: http://www.youtube.com/jeffmenter

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