Canon EOS M5 Gordon Laing, September 2016

Canon EOS M5 preview

Canon's EOS M5 is a mid-range mirrorless camera, aimed at enthusiasts and featuring a 24 Megapixel APSC sensor with Dual Pixel CMOS AF, a built-in electronic viewfinder and a tilting touchscreen. Announced in September 2016, it's the fifth mirrorless interchangeable lens camera from Canon since the original EOS M launched the system just over four years ago.

Having concentrated on entry-level models so far, the EOS M5 becomes Canon's first attempt at a higher-end mirrorless and indicates the company is finally taking the category seriously. Forget the non-sequential model numbering so-far: the EOS M5 is Canon's most serious mirrorless camera to date. Most obviously it's the first EOS M with a built-in electronic viewfinder, a 2.36 Million dot OLED that, despite fairly modest magnification, delivers a crisp image with a smooth 120fps refresh. This is complemented by a large 3.2in screen that tilts up by 90 degrees or down by 180 degrees to face the subject for selfies or pieces to camera (albeit handheld as tilting the screen down will block the tripod mount). As a higher-end model, the EOS M5 is also equipped with dual control dials, a dedicated exposure compensation dial and solid build, albeit not stretching to official weather-proofing.

Inside, the EOS M5 employs a 24 Megapixel sensor - the same resolution as the earlier EOS M3, but more importantly becomes Canon's first mirrorless camera to feature Dual Pixel CMOS AF which allows up to 80% of the sensor area to double-up as phase-detect AF points, supporting smooth and confident continuous AF for stills and movies. It'll shoot up to 31 JPEGs with continuous AF at 7fps and film 1080 movies up to 60p (sadly no 4k though). These specs sound similar to the EOS 80D's sensor, although Canon assured me it was a new design. The M5 does however pair the sensor with the latest DIGIC 7 processor and offers five-axis electronic (not sensor shift) stabilisation. Finally, the EOS M5 includes Wifi, but in a first for Canon, complements it with Bluetooth which can maintain a constant low-power connection with your phone. Bluetooth is used to initiate a Wifi connection without having to touch the camera, and can also be used with a new app to deliver a simple but more responsive remote shutter release. PS - Expect the EOS M5 at the end of November at a body price of $979 USD / 1049 GBP or in a kit with the new EF-M 18-150mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM lens for $1479 USD / 1399 GBP. I had a chance to try out the EOS M5 at a preview event, so keep reading for my first impressions!

Canon EOS M5 review

Canon EOS M5 first impressions

The EOS M5 is Canon's most powerful mirrorless camera to date and proves the company is finally taking the category seriously. The four earlier EOS M cameras were all aimed at entry-level photographers, but the M5 is the first that will really appeal to enthusiasts. This is thanks to the presence of two main features which arguably should have been available in the range much sooner.

The first is a built-in viewfinder, amazingly the first time Canon has fitted one to a mirrorless EOS M body. It's a high quality 2.36 Million dot OLED with a fast refresh rate and while the image magnification is fairly small compared to other cameras in its class, it still transforms the shooting experience over using a screen alone.

Canon EOS M5 review

The second feature making its debut on an EOS M is Dual Pixel CMOS AF, Canon's fantastic sensor technology which allows 80% of the surface area to be redeployed for phase-detect autofocus, allowing smooth and confident continuous focusing for stills and movies. This works an absolute treat with a touch-screen, allowing you to tap to reposition single AF areas or pull-focus during movies.

The sensor itself has 24 Megapixels and supports 1080p video up to 60p and a top shooting speed of 7fps with continuous AF or 9fps with focus-fixed; I was unable to evaluate the viewfinder lag and blackout, but will report back once I've had a longer look. In terms of specifications, the M5 sensor sounds very similar to the EOS 80D, although Canon assured me it was new, but couldn't confirm in what way. Perhaps the micro-lenses are better-optimised for the shorter flange distance of native mirrorless lenses. Canon's also quoting built-in five-axis stabilisation for movies, but before you get your hopes up too high, this isn't a physical sensor shift system like Olympus, Panasonic or Sony. Instead, the M5 implements this digitally with a crop. It also works at light levels down to -1 EV with an f2 lens - average but not as low as some rivals.

When Canon first introduced Dual Pixel CMOS AF on the EOS 70D, I said it was a very nice addition for a DSLR, but one that could transform its mirrorless range into industry-leaders. Well, it's been a long time coming, but finally EOS M5 gains the technology and in one fell swoop boasts one of the best AF systems of any mirrorless camera. But rivals haven't stood still and Sony's A6300 features a similar spread of phase-detect AF coverage (albeit embedded rather than switchable), while the latest Fujifilm, Panasonic and Olympus bodies all enjoy compelling AF benefits of their own.

Moving on, a genuinely new feature on the EOS M5 is the presence of Bluetooth in addition to Wifi. Like Nikon's SnapBridge technology, this maintains a constant low-power link with your phone, but unlike Nikon, Canon doesn't use it to transfer actual image data - Bluetooth is mostly used on the M5 to make the initial Wifi negotiation / connection easier. So you can now copy images from the camera to your phone using the app without actually touching the camera itself (it could even still be in your bag), but the transfer still exploits the speed of Wifi. While the Canon app still also lets you fully remote control the camera over Wifi, an additional new app exploits the faster response of Bluetooth to provide a simple remote shutter release - great when shooting wildlife or other subjects that need quicker response. At the time of writing though, I was unable to confirm whether the standard Camera Connect app would be able to record a location log using your phone's GPS, as this feature is annoyingly disabled for other EOS cameras.

Canon EOS M5 review

Enthusiasts will also appreciate the physical controls on the EOS M5 which include four custom buttons, twin dials and a third dedicated to exposure compensation. The thumb dial can also be configured to provide two different functions, switched by a button in the middle - a little like the Olympus 2x2 switch control.

Canon EOS M5 review

The screen is a generously-sized 3.2in touch-panel, inherited from the 5D Mark IV, and tilts 90 degrees upwards for waist-level shooting, or up to 180 degrees down for high-angles or to face the subject. The decision to angle down by 180 degrees rather than up was dictated by the presence of a central viewfinder hump, and a side-hinged screen ruled-out on thickness. So while you won't be angling the screen towards you when mounted on a tripod (sadly also ruling-out vlogging), it remains suitable for handheld use. As a side-note, I continue to be amazed how no mirrorless cameras to date feature the combination of a phase-detect AF system and a screen which can angle forwards to face you when mounted on a tripod - the critical requirements for easy vlogging.

Canon EOS M5 review

I should note Canon lets you use the touch-screen to move the AF area while composing with the viewfinder. You can also configure the size of the active screen area, so it should be possible to avoid inadvertent nose-adjustments.

The EOS M5 is launched alongside a new native EF-M lens, the EF-M 18-150mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM, offering an 8.3x range with four stops of optical stabilisation. This brings the total number of native EF-M lenses to seven, which continues to be a lot less than other mirrorless systems. Of course Canon will tell you the EOS M5 can also use any of the enormous EF lens catalogue via the EF to EF-M adapter which in some regions may even be bundled with the M5. Thanks to the Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor, the M5 will also do a fair job at focusing EF lenses too with a similar experience to the 80D in Live View.

But while access to the existing EF catalogue with respectable autofocus sounds like the killer feature of the M5, don't forget this is also something that's possible with the Sony A6300 when fitted with the Metabones Smart Adapter IV, and lest we forget, Sony has a considerably broader catalogue of native lenses too.

Indeed I'd say the Sony A6300 is the major competition for the EOS M5 if you're after a 24 Megapixel / APSC mirrorless with confident phase-detect autofocus. Both bodies cost roughly the same too, but there are a number of key differences to weigh-up. In its favour, the EOS M5 has Bluetooth for easier Wifi negotiation, and a screen that's larger, touch-sensitive and able to angle forwards to face the subject, but in the A6300's favour are weather sealing, faster continuous shooting, a larger viewfinder magnification, USB charging, 1080 video at up to 120p and 4k video at up to 30p. Depending on the blackout and lag of the viewfinder, the A6300 may also end up being more practical for following action. See my Sony A6300 review for more details.

I'm not surprised to find the M5 lacking 4k video, but it already makes it quite old-fashioned against rivals. Sony has it on the A6300, Fujifilm has it on the XT2 and Panasonic has it on almost everything, including several bodies at a lower price point. If you don't need 4k though, the M5 remains an attractive proposition, especially with its Dual Pixel CMOS AF, tilting touchscreen, OLED viewfinder and Bluetooth-driven Wifi. I look forward to putting it through its paces soon!

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