Canon EOS M - My Take After Three Weeks

January 01, 2014  •  3 Comments

Canon EOS MShown with the optional lens adapter allowing use of all EF and EF-s lenses, sort of (see text)

 

I have to admit that I had high hopes for the Canon EOS M, mirror less camera.  I bought it just a few weeks ago in hopes of having a way of replacing my crop frame DSLR's, cut down on weight and allow some video work as well with fast follow-focus.  In Summary, I was expecting:

  • Fast focusing
  • Accurate focusing
  • Good video quality
  • Lighter weight
  • Low noise

I can say that the Lighter weight goal was met quite handily.  The thing is small, light and packed with features and familiar menus although these are on a touch screen interface.  I knew up front that I was giving up an optical viewfinder, that the screen on the back was bright but did not swivel, rotate or move in any way, shape or form.  I figured an optical viewfinder was not a deal breaker.  WRONG!  I tried using the device in bright sunlight.  Looking at the screen, all I could see was the reflection of my face staring back at me.  With a lot of maneuvering, I could sort of make out the subject but by then the subject (elk, in this case) had moved, changed positions and the magic of the moment was lost.  Problem number one had reared its ugly head.

The focus point (OK, not really a point, more on that later) is selectable by touching on the screen where you want the device to focus.  A cool feature!  Pick out a spot on the screen, touch it and the focus point jumps to your selection.  That was easy and quick as well as accurate with your touch.  I sometimes held the camera a little too close to my jacket in the cold conditions we were shooting under.  The collar of my jacket would touch the screen and the focus point would shift.  I raised the camera only to find the focus point in some obscure corner of the screen, requiring me to move it back to the subject position in my composition.  This feature is both good and bad.

EOS M with AdapterSimple controls until you get into the menus on the touch screen. The "Focus Point"?  Well, to those of us used to DSLR's, it is not a point but rather an area, much too large to do pin point focusing on a small target.  I was shooting from a distance at a lone elk on a ridge with some grasses in the foreground.  If I raised to focus point too high, the camera focused on the sky, too low and it went for the grasses in front of the elk.  The focus area is just way too large to be of any use to a serious photographer trying to shoot shallow depth of field images, isolating the subject from a blurred background/foreground.  This says nothing about the focus accuracy.  The clouds and background were sharp, the grasses in the foreground were sharp, depending on what the large rectangle decided was the subject.

Accuracy of focus?  The default setting is for the focus to be in continuous mode.  I found this setting to be annoying as the camera was constantly shifting focus, seeking something sharp to lock onto and this was not only in still mode but video as well.  I turned off the continuous focus mode after about 30 minutes of watching things go in and out of focus almost constantly.  For shots of the kids standing in front of a brick wall, I am sure the camera would work fine but for serious nature, landscape of wildlife photography?  Just not going to cut it.  I will admit that I have not tried birds in flight yet but I can bet that without a clear sky background tracking focus would be jumping from the bird to the clouds, trees or whatever was in the background and back again.

I shot in video mode for about an hour as this was the use I fully expected to apply this device for the most.  My first few videos were awful!  The problem?  The continuous focus capability that sold the camera to me in the first place, was constantly shifting slightly, causing several apparent issues in the finished product.  First, the focus shift was noticeable, with things in front in focus then quickly the subject, then back again.  Also focus changes slightly alter the focal length of the lens causing the entire frame to move slightly but noticeably.  I got in the habit of getting an accurate focus on the subject, then switching off the autofocus on the lens I was using, a Canon 70-300L IS lens.  What a pain.  The one really cool feature I was looking for in a large sensor video camera, continuous focus, was spending all its time shifting around within the subject area.  Damn! Now that was a deal breaker but there is more!  Image stabilization on the Canon 70-300L IS lens is superb on my 7D and the 5DIII, even in video mode.  Shooting with the "M", I actually thought I had switched off stabilization on the lens.  Every little twitch was translated into a movement on the screen.  I took the lens off the "M" and put it on the 5DIII thinking maybe the lens IS had failed.  I flipped the 5DIII into video mode and WOW! the image was stable and unwavering taking out my small movements resulting in a very stable video.  For some reason the "M" doesn't activate the IS on the 70-300L IS lens either very well or at all!  I need to check this out on other IS lenses I own to see if any of them will work.

Canon EOS M Just for grins and to show the relative size I mounted the "M" on my Canon 300/2.8 with the Canon 2X. It is so small that the camera could be mistaken for a high tech rear lens cap of some sort. Noise?  I found the noise levels in still mode to be very similar to the Canon 7D, maybe a little worse but not enough to really see the difference so that was a plus.  I needed a lot of plus marks to offset the negative marks this thing was racking up. 

 

I need to run more tests with this camera before I decide if it won an all expense paid trip to Tanzania later this year.  I feel like there is some learning I can do to better utilize its convenience and size but there are also major hurdles to get over.  The major deal breakers for me are the lack of a viewfinder and focus peculiarities.  An EVF would have been a nice addition, even as an option.  I did determine that there are third party screens that can be added that run off the HDMI port but they cost about the same as I paid for the camera and I just don't see myself putting any more money into this thing.  I will learn what it can do and use it for those purposes.  For now, it has gone on a couple of local trips and the results have been so-so.  I know that I will not take it out as my only camera!  Something else will be in the bag as well.  There are numerous mirror less camera systems out there including Sony, Panasonic, Olympus (rated the best in tests), Nikon and Samsung.  I was advised to look at either Olympus or Panasonic as they seem to be leading the pack on these devices.  My goal was to carry one set of lenses and have options on which camera to use them with.  Canon was also the only company to offer a APS-C sensor with a 1.6X crop factor. The others were smaller sensors with the inherent noise issues I wanted avoid.  I did talk at length with John Ellert who has the better of the two Nikon versions and his conclusion with the Nikon 1-J2 was in line with mine and the Canon "M", filling but not satisfying.  Canon is rumored to have a third generation coming out late in 2014 with the second generation already out but available only in the Far East.  I will plod along and see...


Comments

lof(non-registered)
Got the new M10 yesterday. Same focusing issues as you rightly described. The AF square is way too big for precise and reliable focusing. Focusing of this camera is generally very slow and hunts back and forth a lot (even with the 22mm f2). High ISO performance is also poor. Like you, I was hoping for a light-weight APS-C package to replace my DSLR. I'm sure this isn't it. Very disappointing.
Shirley Popp(non-registered)
Funny that I just saw and read this blog ....I was just thinking earlier about the photo of it you had on fb a few days ago, and was wondering what you thought of it. I like your straightforward opinions. I've been thinking about either upgrading to something bigger than my Sony Alpha 65 or going back to a Canon Powershot for all the traipsing around I do with a camera as I go about my ranching and farming work. So, in other words, thanks for the report. Helps a bunch!
Sparky(non-registered)
I'm disappointed in Canon and Nikon's entries into the MILCs. I was happy with my first gen Sony NEX-5 except for the lack of a EVF and lack of buttons. Good, fast focusing, clean images (sometimes cleaner than my D300s), small, lightweight, etc. The lack of a viewfinder killed it for me for the reasons you mentioned.

My NEX-6 fixed the lack of a viewfinder and has a better sensor to boot. It's the "real" camera I carried with me in Europe while I traveled there for two weeks. I want a Zeiss 24-70 lens for it, I think I'll get some serious, high-quality photos from it then.

I've been looking and thinking on an α A7 or α A7R. Full frame with the same form factor as the NEX-6 with 1/2 the weight of the D800, while having basically the same sensor (α A7R). Yes, please!!!

I'm not ready to sell out of Nikon yet, but as the new lenses for the EF mount come online, I'll be more and more tempted, with my travel style being so light.
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