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Canon EOS M review: At least a generation behind

Despite nice photo quality, the EOS M delivers too little too late compared with competing cameras that have had generations to work out the kinks.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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6 min read

I liked the Canon EOS M more than I expected -- but less than I should have.

Canon_EOS_M_35560442_04.jpg
6.9

Canon EOS M

The Good

With a very nice touch screen, a well-designed body, and excellent photo quality, the <b>Canon EOS M</b> has some attractive qualities.

The Bad

Seriously poor autofocus performance and battery life detract from the overall package.

The Bottom Line

While it provides one of the best touch-screen experiences in its class and the compact body is quite comfortable to shoot with, the Canon EOS M's disappointing performance and blah feature set make it less attractive than competitors.

It's got a compact, well-built and well-designed metal body, and a responsive touch screen with a streamlined interface, and it delivers the photo quality you expect from this class of camera. But the feature set is pretty blah, and it suffers from lackluster performance. And the fact that there are only two native lenses for the system, an 18-55mm standard kit and a 22mm f2 pancake, makes it less attractive than the more established systems with which it competes.

Image quality
As is par for the category, the EOS M delivers excellent photo quality. JPEGs look clean up through ISO 800 and reasonably good through ISO 1600, though raw delivers better quality even at low ISO sensitivities -- better color and reduced edge artifacts. I didn't enable aberration adjustment during testing, however, which may reduce the fringing from the 22mm lens at wide apertures.

Canon EOS M photo samples

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As is usual for all Canon's consumer cameras that predate the EOS T5i, the default Auto Picture Style boosts saturation and shifts some hues -- notably reds -- a lot more than I like. Normally I use Neutral on Canon cameras, but even that proved odd in the EOS M. Faithful seems to deliver the most neutral results, but you need to bump the sharpening up a bit.

Exposures are consistent with no surprises, however, and images look appropriately sharp; not too soft and not too crunchy.

Click to download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

Unsurprisingly, the video bears a lot of resemblance to that of the T4i and T5i. It has nice tonality, but even more moiré and aliasing than the video from those cameras.

Performance
Let's just call the EOS M's performance...flawed. It's based around the same hybrid CMOS sensor as the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/T5i, which includes both the contrast autofocus sensors, the type of autofocus used in camcorders and other video AF systems, and the traditional phase-detection sensors you find in dSLRs. That's nice, but autofocus performance in ILCs has become extremely good of late, even in contrast AF-only models. And for some reason, it just doesn't work as fast here as it does in the dSLRs.

The autofocus is relatively slow -- the 18-55mm lens has notably faster autofocus than the more popular 22mm lens -- and the camera itself seems just a tad sluggish. It takes 2.9 seconds to power on, focus, expose, and shoot. To focus, expose, and shoot in good light runs 1.3 seconds (22mm) or 0.9 second (18-55mm), which is pretty slow; those times rise to 2.5 seconds and 2 seconds, respectively, in dim light. Two sequential shots run between 1 and 2.2 seconds depending upon lens and file format (raw or JPEG). While it has a seemingly fast burst of 6.6fps for an effectively unlimited run -- during testing it zipped past 20 shots with a 95MBps card -- and raw sustains 5fps for 6 shots, both of which exceed Canon's rated speed, that's without autofocus enabled. I didn't test it with Servo AF, but can tell it's a lot slower.

The centerpoint AF is fairly accurate, but like all fully automatic AF systems it routinely choose the exact wrong subject for the scene. Servo AF operates fine while shooting video, with just a little pulsing when focusing on still subjects. Though the screen magnifies the view for manual focus, like most cameras it doesn't magnify while you're recording; it would be much easier with focus peaking.

Even though the flash uses its own pair of AAA batteries, after firing two shots with the camera's battery level at 3/4, the camera battery dropped to blinking red. And it has a subpar battery life to begin with.

Design and features
The compact, magnesium alloy body is well designed, with enough of a grip and thumb rest area to make it easy enough to shoot single-handed. As long as you're not looking for a lot of physical controls, the interface operates in an intelligent and straightforward manner. On top are the power button and a three-way switch for auto, movie, and what I think of as the kitchen sink mode -- a single setting on the switch from which you access all the other shooting modes via onscreen menus. Those include the usual manual, semimanual, and automatic modes.

On the back are menu, review, and info buttons; info controls what displays on the screen. The button locations on the adjustment dial offer autoexposure lock, exposure compensation, and drive modes. The bottom button can be programmed to set the center autofocus point, a depth-of-field preview, ISO sensitivity, or flash exposure compensation, or to toggle LCD brightness. A movie record button sits to the right of the thumb rest. All the controls provide nice tactile feedback.

The EOS M has an easy-to-use and responsive touch-screen interface.

The touch-screen LCD is similar to that of the T4i/T5i, responsive with an interface laid out for quick access. It's very nice for shooting video; you make silent adjustments while you're shooting, which is really convenient.

  Canon EOS M Nikon 1 J3 Samsung NX300 Sony Alpha NEX-5R
Sensor (effective resolution) 18MP hybrid CMOS 14.2MP hybrid CMOS 20.3MP hybrid CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm 13.2mm x 8.8mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 2.7x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (expanded) ISO 160 - ISO 6400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting

1.7/1.2fps depending upon lens
(4.3fps with fixed AF)

15fps
n/a
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
8.6fps
n/a
3fps
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None None None Optional
Autofocus 31-point contrast AF 73-point
phase-detection, 135-area contrast AF
105-point phase-detection, 247-point contrast AF 99-point phase-detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/200 flash sync 30 - 1/16,000; bulb; 1/60 sec. x-sync 30-1/6,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec. x-sync
Metering n/a n/a n/a 1,200-zone
Metering range n/a n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Flash Optional
$149.99
Yes Included optional Included optional
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p 1080/60i/30p, 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo, mic input
LCD size 3 inches articulated touch screen
1.04 megapixels
3-inch fixed 920,000 dots 3.3-inch tilting AMOLED touch screen
768,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless file upload None Optional
(with WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter)
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 230 shots 220 shots n/a 430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.3 4 x 2.4 x 1.1 4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 10.9 7.1 (est.) 10.9 (est.) 9.7 (without flash)
Mfr. price n/a   n/a $599.99 (body only)
$649.00 (with 18-55mm lens) $599.95 (with 10-30mm lens) $749.99 (with 20-50mm i-Function lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$599.99 (with 22mm lens) $849.95 (with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses) n/a n/a
Ship date October 2012 September 2012 March 2013 October 2012

From a features standpoint, however, the EOS M is pretty blah.  The only uncommon features are the ability to adjust sound levels during video and the clip-based Video Snapshot feature that debuted in Canon's camcorders and has since made its way throughout the rest of Canon's cameras. It's got a handful of special effects, but doesn't render them with any novelty, and you can't layer them or use them during video shooting. There are two multishot modes, a four-shot handheld night scene and a three-shot HDR backlight control mode. It's got a hot shoe, but the only flash is extra-cost and bulky relative to the size of the camera (although it's pretty powerful).

The camera uses the same STM-technology lenses that Canon announced with the T4i. But since the shallower flange back of the mirrorless model requires a new lens mount -- voila, EF-M. Canon offers an optional adapter to allow the camera to use standard EF-mount lenses, so that you're not stuck with just the the 22mm f2 and 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 OIS lenses that are currently available, but using it puts the camera in the annoying small-body-big-lens category. While it works fine with other lenses -- I used it with a Canon 24 f1.4 L lens -- that type of solution only makes sense for enthusiast-level cameras, not the entry-level camera that this seems intended to be, given the predominantly touch-screen operation and no option for an electronic viewfinder.

Conclusion
The Canon EOS M's image quality is good, but not better than the "="" rel="follow">Sony Alpha NEX-5R's. And given the paucity of native lenses, poor performance, and unexceptional feature set, it's hard to declare this more than an average interchangeable-lens camera. And you might even find some fixed-lens models a better option. I suggest you check out the EOS M's ILC and advanced compact competitors before you buy.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Alpha NEX-5R
1.8 
0.6 
0.6 
0.8 
0.4 
Samsung NX210
2.7 
1.8 
2 
0.6 
0.6 
Canon EOS M (18-55mm)
2.9 
2.1 
2 
2 
0.9 
Canon EOS M (22mm)
2.9 
2.2 
2.1 
2.5 
1.3 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon EOS M
6.6 

Canon_EOS_M_35560442_04.jpg
6.9

Canon EOS M

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 5Image quality 8
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