The EOS M is Canon’s long-awaited entry into the mirror-less compact system camera market. For its debut, Canon has chosen to target the compact upgrader and those looking for a DSLR replacement that favours ease of use over comprehensive control. With a touch-screen providing the main user interface, few physical controls and a design in tune more with the ELPH and IXUS ranges, rather than the EOS brand, the enthusiast response to the EOS M has been lukewarm.
But beneath the EOS M’s consumer exterior lies a wealth of technological sophistication. The EOS M shares its 18 Megapixel hybrid CMOS sensor, and most of its features with the EOS T4i / 650D SLR, with on-sensor phase detect AF points, backed up by contrast detect AF for fine tuning. It includes the Digic 5 processor which provides sophisticated scene and face detection for automatic exposure and shares the T4i / 650D’s HD movie modes.
And if there’s one thing for enthusiasts to get excited about it’s the new EF-M lens mount. True, Canon currently has only two lenses to boast of in the EF-M line-up, the EF-M 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom and the 22mm f2 STM pancake prime, but with the relatively inexpensive EF-EOS M adapter you can attach any lens from Canon’s huge range of EF and EF-S lenses to the EOS M and, this is the key point, retain full autofocus (albeit not continuous nor quick), along with autoexposure and electronic aperture control.
The EOS M does however face very stiff compatiion from Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony, all of whom have been in the mirror-less CSC market for a while now. Even Nikon, the most recent entrant until Canon joined the fray, has second generation products on the shelves and the others have mature product lines with something to appeal to users of all skill levels. As a debut product the EOS M has some tough battles to fight. No doubt the EOS M will enjoy success with Canon brand loyalists, but it’s not the kind of debut that will likely be turning the heads of those already considering a mirrorless CSC from one of the other big brand manufacturers.
Compared to Olympus PEN E-PL5
From the point of view of a compact upgrader, the Canon EOS M and Olympus E-PL5 offer two very different propositions. Despite the different sensor size – the 18 Megapixel APS-C sensor in the EOS M is a little larger than the PEN E-PL5’s 16 Megapixel Four Thirds sensor – in quality terms there’s actually little to choose between them.
In terms of native lenses, the PEN E-PL5 is an easy winner, with access to over 30 options from the mature Micro Four Thirds catalogue, compared to just two native lenses for the EOS M at the time of writing – the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 zoom and 22mm f2 pancake prime. Crucially though, with the EF-EOS M adapter you can mount any EF or EF-S lens on the EOS M and still have full use of AF and all exposure modes. To be fair, the E-PL5 can also accommodate other lenses via an adapter, but the only ones you’ll enjoy autofocus with come from the original Four Thirds mount system.
The E-PL5 body is little thicker and heavier than the EOS M, but it has built-in sensor-shift image stabilisation that works with any lens you attach – a key advantage Olympus compact system cameras have over rivals. Because of the EOS M’s larger sensor, EF-M lenses are also bigger to begin with, plus the existing 18-55 and any new stabilised lenses will involve additional weight and cost. And though you have access to the entire Canon EF and EF-S lens catalogue, many of these lenses are designed for full-frame pro DSLR bodies and will dwarf the EOS M body negating any size and weight advantage it might have had. So for anyone who doesn’t already own Canon lenses, the adapter isn’t as attractive an option as a wide choice of native mount lenses.
Both cameras offer touch-screens; the PEN E-PL5’s 460k dot screen is lower resolution than the EOS M’s 1040k. Both measure 3 inches diagonally, but the EOS M’s fixed screen shares the same 3:2 aspect ratio as its sensor, so still images fill the screen. The PEN E-PL5’s 16:9 screen is much wider than its 4:3 proportioned still images which only fit the central portion, with wide black bars down either side, a much worse arrangement for stills shooters, but better for shooting HD video. In its favour, the PEN E-PL5’s screen is articulated and flips out and over so you can see it from in front of the camera. And If you don’t like composing with the E-PL5’s screen, you have the option of fitting one of two electronic viewfinders (or an optical one), a choice that’s sadly lacking on the EOS M.
Compared with the PEN E-PL5’s fast contrast detect AF, the EOS M is sluggish, to put it charitably. So for street, sports and action photography of any kind, the EOS M comes a poor second and not just to the PEN range, but just about any other mirror-less CSC you care to mention, with the possible exception of the Fujifilm X-Pro 1, at least with its original firmware.
Both cameras have a conventional hotshoe, but the PEN-E-PL5’s included flash accessory is powered by the camera. Canon’s Speedlite 90EX supplied in some regions with the EOS M takes a couple of AAA batteries and is larger, but with roughly equivalent output when base sensitivities are taken into account. And talking of power, the EOS M’s battery will last for 230 shots compared with a more generous 360 shots for the E-PL5.
All in all the PEN E-PL5 is a smaller, less expensive and more versatile camera than the EOS M, but If you’re upgrading from a Canon compact, or have a Canon DSLR and lenses, the EOS M still has plenty to offer.
See my Olympus E-PL5 review for more details.
Canon EOS M final verdict
The EOS M is a debut model competing in a market full of mature products. For first time CSC buyers, there are better options, with superior handling and versatility, greater customisation, a wider choice of lenses and accessories, and many are also less expensive than the EOS M. Enthusiasts hoping for a compact body to complement their Canon DSLR are going to be disappointed with the slow AF, lack of viewfinder or the option of fitting one, and the poor customisation options.
That said, for Canon compact owners looking to move into the world of interchangeable lens photography it offers a sensible and in many ways attractive upgrade path. Sure, it lacks a comprehensive catalogue of native lenses, but they will come. Yes, the AF is sluggish, but not everyone is a sports or street photographer, and you can take action shots with the EOS M, it’s just easier to get good result with models that have have faster AF sytems. Plus, the EOS M combines the best of consumer friendly ELPH / IXUS design, auto exposure and creative modes with the more advanced EOS menu system.
For enthusiasts there’s plenty to gripe about; no dedicated mode dial, no viewfinder, few programmable controls, and again, sluggish AF. But balance that against the ability to use any EF or EF-S lens on the EOS M with full AF support and it begins to look a whole lot more attractive. Just remember when using EF lenses, the already slow AF of the EOS M becomes even slower and you won’t be enjoying continuous autofocusing either.
There will be many who will be hoping to see rapid developments in the EOS M line including new models that fill in the gaps – particularly the ones where faster AF, a viewfinder, physical controls and greater customisation fit. As it stands, though, there will be no shortage of Canon compact upgraders who see the EOS M as the logical path to more sophisticated photography as well as DSLR owners keen to try out their EF and EF-S lenses on a compact body. The slow AF even with native lenses, lack of viewfinder options and limited native lens catalogue at the time of writing rule out our top rating, but it remains a solid beginning to Canon’s mirror-less compact system camera line and one deserving of the Cameralabs Recommended Award. Just be sure to compare closely with the competition, especially if you want a viewfinder, quicker AF or access right now to a broader native lens catalogue.
(relative to 2012 system cameras)
17 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20