Finally…Canon announce their mirrorless system … but it does seem quite under-whelming .. after all this is late 2012 not 2008 and the game has changed

Written by Gary on July 24th, 2012

I own a number of excellent Canon pro lenses including the 17mm tilt shift, 45mm tilt-shift, 90mm tilt shift, 24-105mm f/4ISL, 85mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2.0L which are great companions for my now aging Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR.

I have been waiting several years now for Canon to show their hand and enter the extremely popular compact mirrorless camera system market.

Luckily for me, Panasonic and Olympus have really progressed their Micro Four Thirds system into a lovely high quality and versatile compact camera system led by the brilliant Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, 12mm f/2.0, 45mm f/1.8 and 75mm f/1.8 lenses all of which I have bought or plan to buy as soon as available (the superb 75mm lens is not on our shores yet).

Yesterday Canon finally showed their hand, and I must say even though it is clearly targeting the entry level consumer market, I felt somewhat under-whelmed by it for the price point being offered and the reportedly slow AF performance.

Their take on mirrorless compact camera system is to go the conservative route with a 1.6x crop APS-C sensor to reduce confusion amongst their users and to potentially give a 1 stop improved capacity for lower image noise at high ISO and shallower depth of field at same field of view and aperture when compared to a 2x crop system such as the Micro Four Thirds.

The massive downside though is that they are now burdened with always having to have larger, heavier lenses which defeats the whole purpose of a compact system – no matter how small you make the camera as Sony discovered, the lenses just look bigger and more awkward to use.

They will also have difficulty matching edge-to-edge optical image quality of the 2x crop sensor with lenses at wide aperture as they will always be fighting the laws of physics on this arena – aberrations increase the further you go from the centre, some at an exponential rate!

Canon perhaps have been wise at least in offering their small well built but mid-level EOS-M camera with a nice small 22mm f/2.0 STM pancake lens with the option of a reasonably compact 3x kit zoom lens as starters to their new system.

Unfortunately, the EOS-M camera seems to have little better functionality than the initial Olympus PEN cameras in 2009 which were plagued by the lack of viewfinder, the lack of built-in flash and slow AF. Most importantly now, the reportedly very slow “Hybrid AF” system Canon has borrowed from the live view function of their 650D dSLR – would seem is so far behind the Micro Four Thirds pack it is just not funny, but in Canon’s favor is that they have until the October release date to try to remedy the slow AF speed and get at least part of the way to the fast AF of Olympus, Panasonic and Nikon.

Canon users with existing EF-S or EF lenses who want to use these on the EOS-M will likely find they will focus slowly as they are not optimised for CD-AF or the “Hybrid-AF” technologies as they do not have STM AF technology built in, and apart from smaller size camera and quieter shutter there are no gains compared to using a Canon 650D dSLR but they would lose:

  • ergonomics to handle the larger lenses
  • built-in viewfinder
  • fast phase detect AF
  • built-in flash
  • marginally faster 5fps burst rate (4.3fps on EOS-M although burst rate with pancake lens in AF tracking mode is only 1.2fps!)
  • articulated, swivel LCD screen
  • remote control
  • +/- 5EV exposure compensation (only +/- 3EV on the EOS-M)

Those wishing to use their EF or EF-S lenses on a mirrorless camera would find much justification in choosing an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera instead, because, even though you lose AF altogether, at the slow AF speeds available on the EOS-M, you may as well use manual focus anyway, and loss of aperture control is usually not a big deal as you tend to want to use these lenses for a specific purpose at a given aperture anyway, and the Olympus gives you some enormous benefits over the 650D or the EOS-M including:

  • optional battery holder makes ergonomics of using these heavy lenses more practical
  • “5 stop 5-axis” built-in image stabilisation
    • allows much easier, faster and more accurate manual focus using magnified view with IS enabled
    • converts ALL lenses into image stabilised lenses even tilt-shift and prime lenses for still images (this is not yet available for movie mode but I expect this will come sooon)
    • allows slow shutter speeds hand held using wide angle lenses for flowing water shots without having to lug a tripod around, or from positions where tripods would be impossible
    • allows hand held infrared photography at low ISO without resorting to costly modification of the camera
    • allows use of long prime telephoto lenses or the 90mm tilt shift lens hand held with fill-in flash at x-sync – great for fashion shoots
  • quiet shutter capable of 9fps burst rates (4fps with IS on)
  • high build quality with weatherproofing of the body
  • built-in high quality viewfinder means
    • you hold the camera to your eye to improve stability
    • you don’t need your reading glasses to operate the camera or review images – try chimping your shots to see if you had accurate focus on an LCD screen without your reading glasses!
    • you have access to magnified view for manual focus, live histogram, full camera settings control and electronic horizon levels all within the EVF
    • you can see the image in bright sunlight
    • you can be more discrete in low light environments such as concerts and weddings without having a distracting bright image show up on your LCD screen
  • tiltable touch screen for easier high and low angle shots as well as tripod mounted and astrophotography work
  • Live BULB mode which can change the way you work in low light and open up new options such as iPhone lighting, fire twirling, moving subjects – seeing the image build up in long exposures can make a difference, plus it makes you more efficient for astrophotography – if you made an error just terminate exposure when you notice it on screen.
  • ability to use the fastest AF currently available on any camera with the lovely 45mm f/1.8 and 75mm f/1.8 lenses
  • ability to have fast AF on the closest eye of your subject – fantastic for portraits and fashion shoots – no more focus then recompose, and far more accurate and faster focusing (when using the dedicated lenses)
  • ability to use any of the 30-40 Micro Four Thirds lenses – the biggest range of dedicated AF lenses in the mirrorless market
  • ability to use the superb quality but slow focusing Four Thirds lenses
  • high quality jpegs straight from the camera – the best colors and among the best dynamic range jpegs you can get in cameras under $10,000
  • high quality 30″x 40″ prints almost indistinguishable in image quality to current full frame dSLR cameras (if depth of field is not part of the comparison)
  • greater hand holdable telephoto reach thanks to the 2x crop factor, complimenting a full frame dSLR very nicely indeed
  • greater depth of field at low ISO when shooting hand held shots at night for urban landscapes or at dusk for normal landscapes or waterfalls when you really want everything sharp!

Of course, if high quality video is your main thing, and you want a mirrorless camera, then one can’t really go past the Panasonic GH-2 or its forthcoming replacement, the GH-3.

I will await pricing on the newly announced Kipon EOS-Micro Four Thirds lens adapter with full electronic control of aperture as I just can’t see the Canon mirrorless camera system without built-in image stabilisation being the future, but for many it may be a useful tool.

Canon it would seem has been worrying that introducing a mirrorless camera system would consume their profitable dSLR sales – well on this initial offering, I don’t think they have much to fear!

As an entry-level camera for users who ONLY want to use a pancake lens or 3x zoom, and have no interest in adding fast AF wide aperture lenses in the near future, then the EOS-M with pancake lens does offer some reasonable competition to the likes of Olympus E-P3, E-PL3, E-PM1, Panasonic GF3, GF5, GX-1 as it does offer good video, a touch screen, great build quality, hot shoe and perhaps better image quality, and if the pancake lens proves to be sharp with nice bokeh, then the $899 may be very reasonable price point.

It is essentially the same price as an Olympus E-P3 with its 3x zoom kit lens but the E-P3 has fast AF, optional EVF, pop-up flash and built-in IS while the EOS-M has a higher resolution larger sensor and LCD screen, and 24fps HD video.

I would be hoping that Canon follow this up with some real killer cameras with features similar to the Olympus E-M5 and lenses but if history repeats, I would not be too optimistic on the high quality lens front, after all, there is only one reasonably high end EF-S lens to support their cropped sensor dSLRs and they have been around for over 10 years now.

NOTE to Canon – you MUST have fast AF to appeal to almost anyone in 2012 – even if you only have 2 dedicated lenses, no EVF option and no IS built-in.

Seems I am far from alone on my opinion on the EOS-M strategy – just Google the web for a multitude of similar opinions such as Kirk Tuck‘s.


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