Canon EOS M Digital Camera Review

In case you didn’t know already, quite a few of us who work here at Wex Photographic are pretty keen on photography too. So when it came to reviewing a recent camera on our list of models to check out, I roped in my colleagues Paul, Hattie, Simon, Katie & Jonethan to test, play and review the EOS M and report back.

Canon’s first compact system camera has been out for nearly a year, and while we had a quick hands-on preview when it was launched, we were also looking forward to taking it out on the streets of London, Norwich and beyond to see what it’s really like as a day-to-day shooter.

Here’s what we thought of Canon’s first compact system camera offering...

The Wex Team

To give you a bit of background as to who’s behind this review, most of us would describe ourselves as keen amateurs - not complete beginners but all of us love to get out and take photos at any opportunity. A couple of us in the group have been into photography for a while longer and would describe ourselves as serious or semi-pro photographers. Across the team, we enjoy a pretty wide mix of shooting portraits, street, landscape, travel, wildlife and sports photography.

Canon EOS M + 22mm Lens - Photo by Simon Partridge

First impressions

The EOS M makes a pretty good first impression really, especially on account of its small size and very light weight but solid feel. Being able to slip it into a coat pocket straight away, we soon got used to carrying it around with us everyday throughout the time we had to borrow it. Although it has a compact camera shape and look to it, the mag allow body certainly makes it feel a lot more substantial than it might suggest at first.

One thing that didn't go unnoticed when it was first launched was the lack of viewfinder and many people are hoping to see this in the next M iteration. For those us who spent time with the EOS M, it was more of an issue for some than others. Some DSLR users will demand a viewfinder on their smaller, lighter, walkabout cameras while others will enjoy it as a compact camera alternative with much better image quality and a much nicer lens.

Canon EOS M + 22mm Lens - Photo by Natalie Williams

Image Quality

One aspect where the EOS M excels is that it produces an outstanding image, with the output being comparable to what we’d expect from our DSLRs – after all, the EOS M is pitched to be on par with the 700D and 100D when it comes to image quality. As we know, it has an APS-C sized sensor, so DSLR quality photos are what we were hoping to see. The camera performed well for us in a variety of shooting scenarios, including low-light, indoors, street scenes and in bright sunlight.

Some of the landscape and street photos that came out of this experiment are particularly impressive, and the EOS M really seemed to excel in these areas. I would definitely be happy carrying this around as my day-to-day camera, with the clean, sharp images it can produce.

Canon EOS M + 22mm lens  - f/2 at 1/400 sec and ISO 100 - Photo by Hattie Mobbs
It wouldn't be a camera review without a photo of a cat!  The EOS M handles this high contrast, normally impossible-to-photograph subject - Photo by Paul Morgan

Autofocus

One of the main criticisms of the EOS M, which has been widely documented in other reviews and reports online, is its sluggish autofocus. So, how bad is it? And is it a deal-breaker? Well, that probably depends on what you want to photograph.

Within the team we shared varying opinions on the EOS M’s autofocus capabilities. At one end of the spectrum, some of us thought the criticism was justified, especially when it was tested with moving subjects where we struggled to get sharp results, even in daylight. In this regard, some of the EOS M’s competitors will outshine it in an AF speed test.

On the other hand, there were several of us who didn't find it too be such a sticking point, especially for travel, landscape and street photography that we were testing it with walking about in daylight. I had a fairly successful attempt at photographing pigeons in London (who don’t keep particularly still), and with a little perseverance and patience I managed to get my feathered subject in acceptably sharp focus.

Canon EOS M + 22mm Lens - Photo by Natalie Williams

We wouldn't necessarily recommend this camera if fast moving subjects make up the majority of what you shoot or if you need to get really precise with focus, because the EOS M doesn’t specialise in that domain. But for someone who shoots a variety of subjects, perhaps leaning towards more landscapes and travel images, then you might just find the AF capabilities of the camera fine for your needs.

Many of us liked the touch to autofocus feature that the EOS M has, which allows you to select the AF point via the touchscreen with just a quick touch or by dragging your finger around until you get the right spot (and like with many DSLRs, it’s more accurate in the central part of the frame). By selecting the point it also releases the shutter, so choosing a focus point and releasing the shutter in one tap makes the process quite quick. It worked particularly well when it was mounted to a tripod, as in some situations when you’re holding the camera with one hand but using the other hand to release the shutter via the touchscreen can destabilise your grip on the camera itself.

Canon EOS M + 22mm Lens - Photo by Jonethan Lee

Build & Handling

The touchscreen - If you thought touchscreens on cameras were a bit of a gimmick at first, we’re here to tell you there’s a bit more to it. We could see how it can be really useful, both for AF selection and by giving fast direct access to a huge range of settings in the Q menu. When you’re used to shooting with a DSLR and you’re handed a compact camera or CSC, it can take a while to figure out where to change something as simple as the White Balance or ISO - which can be frustrating! With the EOS M we found it very easy to access all these key settings that we’re used to having right at our fingertips via the touchscreen menu on the EOS M.

The 1,040k dot resolution Clear View LCD is a pleasure to view images on, very crisp with great colour and sharpness. Reviewing images is also made easier when you’re able to swipe through your photos and pinch-to-zoom for a closer look. For many of us smartphone users, we’re used to absolutely instant touchscreen functionality and the image review via touchscreen was just a tad slower than what you get on the iPhone (which is still pretty fast!). For navigating settings through the menus, the EOS M’s touchscreen is quick as a flash though.

Moroccan food photographed in dim light (not that you'd know!) - Canon EOS M + 22m Lens - f/3.2 at 1/30 sec and ISO 3200 - Photo by Simon Partridge

Size & weight - The build is excellent and it certainly feels like a premium quality camera that will be very durable. For travel photography, the EOS M’s size and weight was a definite advantage and at a glance (with the 22mm lens attached) it’s such a low-profile package that it could be passed over as a compact - which can definitely be a good thing! While we had the camera to review, one of the team took it to Marrakech for a weekend away and as well as being impressed with how it performed, he found the low-profile of the EOS M (when compared to his DSLR) quite an advantage too.

The 22mm Lens & Adaptor

The mount adaptor is pretty sizeable and a bit larger than the 22mm lens, but it feels well built and durable like the EOS M. Once the adaptor is attached it makes the camera much less pocketable and even with Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 on top of that, it’s no longer something that you can carry in your coat (unless you’re wearing this one perhaps). But, if that’s not an issue for you and you really want to swap in another lens in Canon’s vast EF range, then it’s great that it’s so easily achieved.

As well as the nifty fifty, between us we also attached the Canon 100-400mm, Sigma 50mm f/2.8 and the Canon 50mm f/1.4 to test with the EOS M and adaptor. In practice, many of us struggled with autofocus – for those of us who hadn't previously had an issue with the AF before with just the 22mm lens attached, I think most of us noticed a much slower performance with the adaptor. In saying that, Hattie managed to get a couple of great example shots with the adaptor and two different lenses she tested it with:

Canon EOS M + Adaptor + Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens - 400mm,  f/8 at 1/125 sec and ISO 400 - Photo by Hattie Mobbs

"Using the adaptor and 100-400mm I struggled to get focus. I did get some sharper ones with a tripod on static subjects but they were very dull - moving subjects are more fun!"

Canon EOS M + Adaptor + Sigma 50mm f2.8 - f/7.1 at 0.6 sec and ISO 100 - Photo by Hattie Mobbs

"In this photo taken with the Sigma 50mm f2.8 lens I had to use the focus magnifier to get it as sharp as possible"

On the topic of Canon’s first EF-M Mount lens, many of us fell in love with the 22mm f2 Pancake Lens we borrowed along with the camera. When paired with the EOS M, it’s such a versatile focal length, with a fast maximum aperture and the images it produced were sharp.

Canon EOS M + 22mm Lens - Photo by Katie Dix

Paul commented “the 22mm F2 lens was one of the best things about the whole package – really great sharp little lens, nicely quick enough aperture-wise and with a nice smooth focus ring"

Simon thought it "held its own for portraits, close ups, street views and landscapes. Really sharp, it really is a lovely little lens and I’d probably buy an M just for it". 

The winning combination of stunning image quality, pancake-sized dimensions and a mere 105g in weight make this lens a perfect partner for the EOS M. The pocketable size with this lens attached made us love the EOS M for how easy it was to take it anywhere and the brilliant image quality it produced made us want to get out and take more photos.

So, who is the EOS M for?

For existing Canon SLR users or compact upgraders it is a really nice choice for a day-to-day shooting companion you can carry in your pocket if you keep the brilliant 22mm lens on the front (we didn't get to test the alternative 18-55mm kit lens). It's great for walking about without the weight of a DSLR and it captures street scenes and landscapes well, making it a great travel option. It looks good and delivers the image quality, but for people with young families or fast-moving subject shooters, the sluggish AF will probably be a sticking point.

Final thoughts

As Canon's first compact system camera offering - it's not quite perfect but it's definitely not bad. It's built well, it has a wonderfully useable touchscreen and it's easy to operate. More importantly, it takes a great photo - just as good as the entry-mid level DSLRs around, and they're getting pretty darn good now too!

There is room for improvement though and this has been documented fairly widely, with the slow autofocus being the main culprit. As we saw with the much-loved Fuji X100, which was also haunted by AF criticism when it first launched, there may be some improvements we see via a firmware update (update: Canon NZ have revealed a firmware update with major AF improvements is on the way). The X100S shows vast updates to its autofocus capabilities too, so we look forward to seeing the next camera in Canon's EOS M line - I'm sure it'll be an even slicker machine.

Another improvement many wanted to see was a viewfinder so this is also something that we may see addressed in future M cameras. Some people will swear by the viewfinder and others not so bothered, so an external add-on option would be very welcome.

Ratings

Build 9/10 Excellent quality feel, what you'd expect from Canon
Image Quality 9/10 Impressive image output on par with a DSLR
Performance 7/10 AF was sluggish for moving subjects
Handling 8/10 Easy to operate and change settings quickly via touchscreen
Value 7/10 Reasonable for image quality & lens flexibility

Overall score:
8