Published on 9th October 2018
The Canon EOS R full frame mirrorless camera is finally here. As I write this it is actually the official retail launch date (9th October 2018) and there will be a lot of very happy Canon fans getting their pre-orders in their hands. I can’t even begin to say how much I have been looking forward to finally getting to use a full frame Canon mirrorless camera, and I have been lucky enough to spend some time shooting with the EOS R and putting it through it’s paces in varying shooting conditions at an pre-launch event hosted by Canon.
Mirrorless is the future of cameras. There is no need any more to have a mechanical shutter and moving parts that limit the cameras features, require extra bulk and weight in the body to implement and that could potentially wear out over time. Removing the mirror allows the camera body to be much smaller and lighter. Optical viewfinders provide the advantage of being able to see how a scene is going to expose at the settings you have dialled in. Generally faster burst rates are possible on mirrorless cameras due to the lack of moving parts required to create an exposure. But on the down side, battery life has been an issue with most of the currently available mirrorless cameras. The optical viewfinder, back screen and other features like in body image stabilisation (on some camera models) require a lot of battery power to work.
I was offered the opportunity to attend a “first touch” pre-product launch hosted by Canon in Jervis Bay and get my hands on this new mirrorless camera and a full range of lenses for the event. We were provided plenty of opportunity to test and push the capabilities of the new 30MP image sensor through a number of different scenarios and lighting conditions including acrobatics, ballet, portraiture, wildlife, astro and all sorts of other interesting scenes. I am sure many people that know me, listen to or read some of my previous articles will know I am a long term Canon user. And I have also been quite vocal in my wish for Canon to enter the full frame mirrorless sector. Well that time is finally here… Here are my initial impressions of the Canon EOS R.
Build Quality & Ergonomics
So let’s start with the thing most people are going to notice about the EOS R when they pick it up – build quality and how it feels in the hands. My initial impressions when picking it up are that it is very light, smaller than the 5D range of cameras I shoot with on a daily basis. But I couldn’t help but feel like there were a lot of similarities in overall quality of the body itself to an older 650D (especially around the rotating and tilt-able back screen) that I shot with prior to shifting over to full frame many years ago, and I am not so sure that’s a good thing when thinking about a $3500 camera.
The physical dimensions of the camera feel a little bit too small for my big hands, especially when using the new multi-function bar combined with the Touch & Drag focusing feature. I found myself needing to change my grip quite often to use these features, and that slowed me down considerably when needing to adjust focus points. With the Touch & Drag feature turned on, I couldn’t get it configured correctly to suit the way I shoot (left eye to the viewfinder and I am right handed) as my face touched the screen continually, making it difficult to use this feature for focussing. No matter how I had the camera customised, I felt as if I was searching for the multi-function touch bar and needing to move my hand away from the main controls a little too much for the Touch & Drag feature. Over time I guess I would adjust to this and it would become more natural, but then switching back to any of the 5D range of DSLR’s may become cumbersome as the “muscle memory” of changing between different cameras kicked in.
The new RF mount lenses that I got to use felt great in the hand. The 24-105 f/4, 50mm f/1.2 and the 28-70mm f/2 have a premium feel to them, especially the 28-70mm. These lenses paired with the body felt perfectly balanced. The EF – EOS R adaptor allows the use of a huge range of lenses, but when attachend to the EOS R body some of the lenses didn’t feel “perfectly” matched with weight distribution, which is something I would have expected anyway. That is not really an issue for the type of photography I do (tripod mounted long exposure landscapes). Over time Canon will release a much larger range of lenses in the RF mount that will be designed from ground up to suit the new system. For now though those who have invested good money into any of the current EF series lenses will have no issues using them with the Canon EF-EOS R lens adaptors.
As of writing this article, the RAW profiles for the EOS R have not yet been released (I have been assured they are not far away), so it is a little hard to do a full image comparison against any other cameras in the Canon range. I will update this with more detailed information when the profiles are made available.
From what I have seen though image quality is very comparable to the 5DMKIV, which is exactly what I would expect from the 30MP full frame sensor. I was able to put the camera through a number of different tests in different lighting conditions and when exposure is correct, I feel comfortable that images shot at ISO6400 and even higher would still be usable. Low light performance and shadow recovery seems on par with the 5DMKIV (a camera that is at least $1500 more to buy new). Noise is controllable and isn’t causing any real issues in the images that I did shoot up to ISO6400. Colours seem nice and vibrant straight out of the camera (I have only been able to look at JPG files so far). Image clarity and sharpness is perfect edge to edge with the native lenses I have tested as well as adapted lenses like the 16-35mm f/2.8L III and the 70-300mm f/4L and 100-400 F/4L.
As soon as the RAW profiles are available and I have had time to assess my RAW files, I will update this with more information about the image quality, particularly compared to other cameras within the Canon full frame lineup.
One place that I would have personally liked to have seen a bump in specs is resolution. 30MP is a lot less pixels than some of the top end cameras both within the Canon range (5Ds & 5DsR are 50MP sensors) and from other competitors on the market. But at the price point it is basically competing with the Sony A7III (24.2MP – retail $2999) and the Nikon Z6 (24.5MP – retail $3198) which both have a lower resolution than the Canon EOS R. So in terms of price point comparisons with the EOS R costing AU$3599, it does offer slightly higher specs than similarly priced mirrorless cameras. I just wanted it to be a bit higher. We can’t always have everything we want though I suppose..
One of the key features Canon has been marketing in their “Rethink” campaign is the fast focus speeds, (as fast as 0.05 seconds apparently) and I have to admit that from what I have seen this is very impressive. Focus speeds were extremely fast and accurate, even with fast moving subjects in low light. I did have a few occasions though where backlit subjects were not being focussed on correctly (both moving and still subjects), which caused tracking of the lens and the obvious out of focus images. To be fair, many cameras have focussing issues under these harsh lighting conditions, but I was asked to push the camera to it’s limits and I believe I have found a small limitation.
As I mentioned above, the new Touch & Drag feature allows you to touch the screen and drag your finger around to change focus points, of which there are 5655 selectable AF points across the frame. I found the Touch & Drag feature a little cumbersome to use while looking through the optical viewfinder due to the size of my hands and my face making continual contact with the screen, but for those with smaller hands than me this is going to be a feature many people will like. The insane number of focus points and very fast focus speeds mean subject tracking is incredible. Even in very dark situations I had no issues with getting a sharp shot with fast moving subjects (namely an acrobat and ballet dancer) while shooting bursts.
The new customisation options with the Control Ring and multi-function touch bar are two things many people are going to find very useful. The Control Ring which is an additional ring on the end of each RF mount lens (as well as an addition on one of the EF-EOS R adaptors) is positioned in front of the manual focus ring. The ring is able be customised to control aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation as well as being customised to work in combination with a half press of the shutter button. By rotating the ring in either direction, you are making adjustments either up or down to any of the mentioned settings.
The multi-function touch bar is activated with a one-second hold down and has three settings: swipe right, press left and press right which can be completely customised for the user and will perform different tasks when shooting movies, stills or reviewing images in playback mode. I personally had the multi-function touch bar set to be able to slide left or right to make adjustments to ISO and the control ring set to change aperture. I am sure there are many different configurations that would suit different shooting styles and I would love to experiment with this more in future.
The menu system will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has used any of the more recent Canon DSLR’s (anywhere from 2012 onwards). There are custom menu options to be able to create shortcuts. This can be very useful for making changed on the fly to different focusing types, metering modes or anything else you may need to change regularly.
There is only one SD card slot. Let’s not blow up the internet by complaining too much about this. I do find it a little surprising but this wouldn’t be a deciding factor for me personally.
One feature that I believe should be implemented into the EOS R which hasn’t been is the ability to get a meter reading when shooting images longer than 30 seconds. There are cameras on the market that can shoot in selectable increments above the 30 second mark in manual mode, with some having the ability to go as high as 60 minute exposures and still get the exposure reading. The advantage of this as a landscape photographer is being able to judge how a scene will expose when shooting longer exposures with neutral density filters. While it’s not too hard to do the exposure time calculations when using something like a 10 stop ND, in my experience one of the most commonly asked questions during the workshops I host is about how to do those calculations. For a beginner photographer (and even professionals) the camera is delivering you this information rather than needing to calculate it, and this is a good feature to have in my opinion. Sadly this is not something Canon have implemented in the EOS R. Maybe next time….
Overall Initial Opinion of the Canon EOS R
I have to be honest in that I wasn’t expecting to be completely happy when I used the Canon EOS R. I have been quite vocal through the Project RAWcast podcast and in other articles about Canon not entering the full frame mirrorless segment, and in my opinion falling behind in “innovation”. There are some incredible mirrorless cameras on the market now from other manufacturers with features that genuinely assist in making photography “easier”, as well as delivering incredible image quality in very high resolutions. As someone who loves his technology I have been hoping for that “perfect” feature rich camera with very high resolutions, incredible dynamic range and ergonomics that just make it fit perfectly into my hands. The reality is though that for all of the temptations from other brands, and from all of the experience I have using a lot of cameras from all of the big manufacturers during the workshops and other events I am part of hosting, not one camera from any brand has ever given me that feeling of being “perfect”. There are always things that can be improved on in any camera.
Something that cannot be stated enough is that no matter what the specs are on a camera, it’s the enjoyment you get from using them that ultimately counts in the end for many people. And I really enjoyed using the EOS R. It has that familiar feeling of being a Canon product I know inside and out after many years of shooting with them. But it also offers enough to feel like it is actually something new and exciting to use and learn how to maximise its’ potential. The optical viewfinder is extremely good. There was no noticeable lag in the viewfinder in any lighting conditions for me. The ability to see how your image is going to expose before you take the shot while looking through a viewfinder is awesome (and has been for quite some time in many mirrorless cameras).
The customisable Control Ring and multi-function touch bar is going to be very useful to many people. Even though I don’t think the camera fits my hands perfectly, those features as well as the Touch & Drag feature will work for a lot of people. I actually quite like the idea of them and would love to see that implemented into any new cameras within the future full frame mirrorless range by Canon.
The focussing speed is incredible. I really felt confident in nailing shots in some very dark conditions with a lot of movement happening in the scene. Every lens I tried in both the new RF mount as well as my adapted EF lenses performed very well with extremely fast focussing speeds. Focus speed generally isn’t a major issue for me with the style of photography I mostly shoot, but I was really happy with the images I did create. Seeing how the image is exposing accurately through the optical viewfinder or the back screen, and being confident in the focussing speed allowed me to really concentrate on framing the subjects I was shooting rather than on the camera settings. This is a good thing as it gets people thinking and concentrating on the creative side of photography, rather than the technical side of camera settings.
The image quality that I am seeing from the JPG files I have (I have the RAW files, just can’t edit them yet as the RAW profiles for the Canon EOS R have not been released as of writing this) is on par with image quality from the 5DMKIV in a camera that costs $1500 less. So for those that do not currently own a 5DMKIV or 5Ds / 5DsR or who want a second body, are either looking to purchase a full frame camera or upgrade from a 5DMKIII or 6D / 6DII, or for those that may already have some level of investment in Canon EF lenses, the EOS R is a camera to seriously consider. Canon have designed their EF-EOS R adaptor to provide very good performance when using EF lenses and this is going to make many existing Canon users think about whether the EOS R is for them.
Canon will sell a lot of EOS R cameras. It’s a camera that delivers great image quality and has the ease of use offered by mirrorless cameras. The customisability in the Control Ring and multi-function touch bar is going to help some people get their shots quicker. The size and weight of the camera is going to suit many people and even though I have said it doesn’t fit my hand perfectly, over time I am sure I would adjust to it and be able to get the control customisations spot on to suit my needs. I may find it hard switching between any of the current 5D cameras and the EOS R though as they do feel quite different due to it’s physical size and location and customisability of the buttons and other controls.
I have enjoyed shooting with the Canon EOS R. It’s a camera that offers enough in terms of features and performance for a broad range of photographers that makes it a product to consider if you are in the market for a new camera . It’s going to be a great camera for a lot of people. It’s not that perfect camera. Not yet. But I am looking forward to seeing where Canon go from here with their mirrorless range. The Canon EOS R has done enough to get me excited about the Canon brand again.
What I really like about the Canon EOS R
- Focus speeds – to say the autofocus speed is fast is perhaps an understatement. Canon claim a 0.05 second focus speed and I have no reason to doubt those claims. Focus was snappy and accurate and stayed locked on even in low lighting situations.
- Customisable Control Rings on the lenses and adaptors – This is a great addition and something that even the Canon team have admitted should have been done a long time ago. The control ring can be used to change aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation.
- Multi-function touch bar – another great addition in terms of flexibility of controls. I will admit though that I found it a bit “clumsy” needing to adjust my grip due to my big hands and the smaller body when compared to a DSLR. Still though a great feature that will be very useful for many shooting situations.
- The optical viewfinder – the 3.69million pixel, 0.5″ screen has no noticeable lag, shows exposure simulation and looks great. I personally like the experience of using optical viewfinders and I think many others will too.
- Image quality – The 30MP sensor produces a high image quality, great low light performance and low noise at high ISO settings.
What I don’t like so much about the Canon EOS R
- Resolution – 30MP is now in the “mid range” territory of the camera market. For many this is all they will ever need, but when compared to the higher end competitors there is a big difference. But for the price point it is comparable and higher than the current competition.
- Build quality – The overall build quality kind of feels to me like the 650D, especially around the flip out screen. For a $3500 camera I don’t think this is a good thing.
- Limited to 30 seconds metering – I really don’t understand why Canon have limited the EOS R to only meter up to 30 seconds in manual mode or any of the semi automated modes. There are plenty of mirrorless cameras on the market that remove this limitation and allow metering above 30 seconds, up to and between 15 – 60 minutes. This feature would be extremely beneficial when shooting with neutral density filters. Surely this cannot be too hard to implement.
- No In Body Image Stabilisation – Canon believes that it can deliver better image stabilisation by putting it in their lenses rather than putting it in the body. And this makes sense. But not all Canon lenses have stabilisation in them and IBIS is proven to work very well in other mirrorless cameras on the market. I would have liked to see IBIS implemented, but thats just my personal opinion.
- Only one SD Card – There are some photography professions and situations where a backup memory card could be useful.