Canon is one of the last major camera manufacturers to release a compact system camera despite its long history. So was it worth the wait? Well, if you’re familiar with Canon S-series compacts, you’ll certainly find the EOS M looks reassuringly familiar. Except of course for the interchangeable lens attached to the front of the body, which is available in red, white and black, so you can choose the colour you prefer.
The EOS M features an 18MP APS-C sensor powered by the 14-bit DIGIC 5 processor. You might be interested to hear this is exactly the same sensor and processor combination as Canon’s entry-level DSLR – the 650D. Image quality at sensor level is therefore exactly the same, although lenses are obviously different if you’re using those designed specifically for the EOS M.
Despite this important similarity to the Canon EOS 650D, the EOS M doesn’t possess quite the same continuous shooting speed. It’s slightly slower at 4.3fps in bursts of 17 frames in JPEG mode, and bursts of six frames in RAW. ISO performance is, however, practically identical with the same native range of 100-12,800, which is expandable to 25,800. There are few CSCs out there with APS-C size sensors and equivalent processors, so Canon really has set its marker in the sand when it comes to image quality.
The EOS M is capable of full manual control, but for those of you who like to point and shoot knowing that the camera will take care of everything there’s Scene Intelligent Auto. This mode evaluates the scene, including whether people are present, and chooses the best camera settings for the situation. Like any system of this type it’s not perfect, but it does a reasonable job that makes shooting as simple as with a compact camera. Then there are seven creative filters that can be added to your photos, including Grainy B/W, Soft focus, Fish-eye, Art bold effect, Water painting effect, Toy camera effect and Miniature effect. These effects are applied to images you’ve already taken, rather than at the point of capture. A new JPEG is created so the original JPEG or RAW file is left untouched – the same applies to images that are resized in-camera.
If you’re already a Canon DSLR owner you are able to use your current range of lenses, but to do this you’ll need the Mount Adapter EF-EOS M, which retails for £129. If you have a few Canon EF or EF-S lenses already this is definitely a worthwhile investment, but will obviously increase the overall size of the M.
When we hold the EOS M it reminds us a little of the Sony CSC range, where the camera body is slimline but the lens makes the overall package much larger. The main differences are that the EOS M is shorter and fatter than Sony CSCs and doesn’t feature a small grip to add comfort when holding the camera. The EOS M uses a thumb pad on the back and a strip of rubber on the front that only really works if you hold the camera in a particular way. If you have a tendency to hold small CSCs with your fingertips, you’ll find the weight of the lens creates an imbalance where the camera and lens are front heavy. If you hold the camera the way Canon has intended, it’s comfortable and very easy to keep it steady. Our main gripe in this area is the close proximity of the menu and image review buttons to the thumb plate. We found ourselves accidently hitting one of these when we raised the camera to take a shot. It’s probably something you’d get used to, but it did mean we missed the odd shot when we were using it for testing.
If you currently shoot with a DSLR, the controls of the EOS M take a little getting used to. Half are accessed using direct access buttons that open up options and menus on the LCD screen, while the other half are accessed using the touchscreen or the main camera menu. However, nearly all the main camera controls can be changed using the touchscreen, and once you get used to this it becomes quick and easy to change settings. The touchscreen itself is clear, crisp and bright, and as sensitive as a Smartphone. All you need is a gentle touch to activate different functions. Images can be scrolled through with a swipe, and the pinch motion can be used to zoom in and out of photos. Touch shutter allows you to touch the screen where you want focus to be and releases the shutter with a single press.
Considering the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM is essentially a kit lens, image quality is very good but there’s still room for improvement. At 18mm the lens suffers from barrel distortion, but at 55mm there’s only a small amount of pin-cushion distortion. Image sharpness is at its highest at mid-range aperture settings, followed by the wider settings at each end of the zoom. Sharpness falls off at f/22, but with any camera with an APS-C size sensor it’s best to only stop down to f/16. There is a small amount of chromatic aberration present, but nothing that Lens Correction couldn’t take care of.
ISO response is on par with the 650D, as they share exactly the same image sensor and processor. And since the EOS M uses an APS-C size sensor ISO will be better than many competitors. Noise levels are very low, with perfectly useable results up to ISO 1600. ISO 3200 is also useable but noise levels are high, so you wouldn’t want to use this setting too often. Once you get to ISO 6400 or higher noise levels are so strong that these levels are for emergencies only. Like with the 650D, high ISO grain does have an aesthetically pleasing look that’s perfect for grungy black & white shots.
Considering this is Canon’s first CSC, the EOS M is an impressive camera in many ways, and not least in terms of image quality thanks to sharing its sensor and processor with the EOS 650D. The camera body is extremely compact, which is good if you want a camera that’s small and lightweight. However, the size makes it easy to accidentally press some of the buttons when you intend to shoot, but this is possibly something you’d get used to over time. The EOS M is available in red, white and black so you can choose a colour that best suits your taste. The question is, do you go for the EOS M or the EOS 650D? Whichever option you go for there are rarely times where you can achieve the same level of image quality from two very different types of camera.
- Kit price: £586 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
- Effective resolution: 18MP
- Sensor type: 22.3x14.9mm CMOS
- Crop factor: 1.6x
- Autofocus: Hybrid AF system – 31 points
- ISO range: 100-12,800 (expandable to 25,600)
- Metering: Image sensor
- LCD: 3in 1040k dots touchscreen
- Viewfinder: N/A
- Shooting speed: 4.3fps
- Video: Full HD (1080p)
- Sensor cleaning: Yes
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I), Eye-Fi cards
- Weight: 298g
- Visit: www.canon.co.uk
This review was first published in the March 2013 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.