This is an in-depth review of the Canon EOS M camera that came out on July 23, 2012, the first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera from Canon. Along with the EOS M, Canon also announced the first two lenses for the new “EF-M” mount: Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM. Among major camera manufacturers, Canon was the last to enter the mirrorless market. Aside from Panasonic and Olympus sharing the same Micro Four Thirds sensor and Nikon going with a smaller “CX” sensor, all other manufacturers chose large APS-C sized sensors (Samsung, Sony, Fuji and Pentax), each with its own proprietary lens mount. With the introduction of the EOS M system, Canon has officially joined the APS-C club. Instead of developing a new sensor format, Canon chose to reuse the same 18 MP sensor from the EOS Rebel 650D / T4i DSLR camera. Canon also released an EF-M to EF / EF-S adapter for mounting existing and future DSLR lenses on the EOS M, with full compatibility with all lens functions such as autofocus and image stabilization. In this review, I will go over the features and capabilities of the camera and compare it to other mirrorless options, including Nikon 1, Sony NEX series and Olympus OM-D E-M5.
With its arch-rival Nikon debuting the Nikon 1 CX mount with a smaller 2.7x crop factor sensor a year earlier, Canon made sure that the 1.6x crop factor APS-C sensor was in the headlines of its announcements, with “The Quality of a Canon DSLR” title being a major part of the initial marketing effort. I spent over two months with the Canon EOS M while testing other mirrorless cameras for my “Battle of the Mirrorless” series, so I will be doing a lot of comparisons of the EOS M to other cameras in this review, along with discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the camera. Let’s take a look at the Canon EOS M in detail.
1) Canon EOS M Specifications
- 18 MP CMOS image sensor, 4.3 µm pixel pitch
- ISO 100-12800 native, expandable to 25600 in H mode)
- Hybrid CMOS AF (phase-detection AF/contrast-detection AF)
- 31 AF points
- 3″ Touchscreen LCD with 1040K dots
- Full 1080p HD movie shooting 30p/24p/25p
- Face Detection + Object Tracking AF
- 4 Standard “Creative Zone” Exposure Modes (Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual) and 8 additional presets
- Battery life for up to 230 shots
- Vertical-travel, mechanical, focal-plane shutter with all speeds electronically-controlled (1/4000 max)
- Compatible with Canon EF and EF-S lenses via an optional EF-EOS M mount adapter
- Standard size flash hot shoe
- Up to 4.3 fps continuous shooting
Detailed technical specifications for the Canon EOS M are available at Canon.com.
2) Canon 18 MP CMOS Sensor
One of the most important attributes in a digital camera is its sensor – the heart of the camera that is responsible for capturing images. As I have already pointed out, the Canon EOS M has exactly the same APS-C sensor as the Canon 650D DSLR. It is a big, 1.6x crop factor sensor that can deliver ISO 100 to 12800, expandable to ISO 25600. Here is a chart that shows how Canon’s APS-C sensors compare to others (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Another big advantage of a larger sensor is smaller depth of field, which translates to better opportunities to isolate subjects from the background – an important factor for many photo enthusiasts and pros out there. Once Canon releases fast primes for the M mount, it will be possible to capture creative photographs with beautiful bokeh; something that is tougher to achieve on small sensor cameras. At the same time, a larger sensor requires a bigger image circle from lenses, which means bigger lenses. So a big sensor can be both good and bad, depending on how you look at it (more on this below).
In terms of image quality, as you can see from the Camera Comparisons section of this review, it is very good at low ISOs below ISO 1600 and a little weaker at high ISOs when compared to the excellent 16 MP sensor from the Sony NEX-5R. It is also weaker in dynamic range when compared to the competition (as can be seen further down below). But despite this, the EOS M produces the same excellent colors and skin tones as Canon’s DSLRs and 18 MP is more than plenty for most photography needs. Hence, while image quality is important, I would not look at it as the only benchmark. That’s why I recommend reading about all other features of the camera and then decide if it fits you or not.
3) Camera construction and handling
The Canon EOS M has a solid build, with a magnesium alloy body that does not feel cheap like some of the entry level DSLRs do. Despite the great build, it is unfortunately not weather-sealed for photographing in harsh environments. Design-wise, the EOS M looks and feels a lot like the Nikon 1 J2 that we reviewed earlier. It is almost identical in size and width, except it is a little taller. Just like the J2, it does not have a protruding grip, although Canon equipped it with a piece of plastic for slightly better handling, similar to what Nikon did on the Nikon 1 V1. The front of the camera has a very simplistic design that resembles the J1/J2, with only a single button to release the lens, as seen below:
Interestingly, the lens release button and the AF assist lamp are located in the same spot on both cameras.
The top of the camera is designed differently, with an ISO standard hot shoe, a power On/Off button, camera mode dial with a shutter button on top of it:
The ISO standard hot shoe is a huge plus to this camera. One of my biggest complaints of the Nikon 1 system, is its proprietary flash mount, which limits the cameras to speedlights that are only designed for the Nikon 1 cameras. Canon took a different route with the EOS M and decided to use the same hot shoe it uses on its DSLRs, which makes all existing speedlights fully compatible with the camera. It also means that you can use the EOS M with third party flash triggers like PocketWizard and attach various accessories. Since the camera does not have a built-in flash, Canon threw in the Canon 90EX flash into the kit, which is a compact and pretty good quality flash when compared to the cheap N50 flash that Sony bundles with the NEX-5R.
I did not like how Canon implemented the On/Off button with the dial. Instead of having a separate power button, Canon should have integrated it into the dial, similar to what Sony did on their NEX cameras. It is much more convenient to rotate the dial to turn the camera on and off, instead of pressing a small button (especially when wearing gloves in winter). On NEX cameras, you power on the camera and the shutter release is right there on the top. Simple and convenient. The dial on the EOS M is used to switch between three shooting modes: Scene Intelligent Auto (same as on Digital Rebel DSLR cameras), image stills and movies. Unfortunately, there is no traditional PASM dial anywhere on the camera – the only way to switch between different camera modes is by using the Info button on the back of the camera, then using the rotary dial or the touchscreen to choose between Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes. When I started using the camera for the first time, it took me some time to find these hidden settings. Naturally, I went into the camera menu looking for the shooting mode setting, only to find that it was nowhere to be found there. I am not sure why Canon came up with this idiotic method to change the most basic exposure setting. If there is no dial or button to do it, it should have at least been included in the camera menu.
The back of the camera is designed similarly to Nikon 1 and Sony NEX cameras. The 3″ LCD touchscreen is located to the left of the camera, while all function and control buttons are located to the right:
The video record button is on the top right side, which conveniently puts it right where your thumb would be. Most of the buttons are located lower, with the Menu and Playback buttons first, followed by a rotary dial that is very similar to the ones on Nikon 1 J2 and NEX-series cameras. The last Info button is located on the left bottom side of the dial. The design is indeed very simplistic – there are no additional buttons, including a function button anywhere else on the camera. Clearly, Canon’s goal was to minimize the number of physical buttons on the camera and increase the interaction on the touch LCD instead.
Speaking of the touchscreen LCD, it is surely Canon’s biggest success on the EOS M. I have used the touchscreen LCD on Sony NEX cameras and I have tried it on other cameras before. Canon’s touchscreen LCD implementation beats them all very easily, by far. It is a very responsive design, without any noticeable lag. You touch an area of the LCD once and it responds immediately. It reminds me of the touchscreen on Apple’s iPhone – it is that good. Images look beautiful on the gorgeous LCD with 1040K dots. When viewing images, you can swap the LCD and it will move to the next or previous image. The touchscreen LCD is multi-touch, which means that you can pinch your fingers to zoom in and out of an image. I wish Canon added a double tap to zoom to 100% of the image view and implemented more multi-touch features to take it to the next level. Clearly, I have not seen touchscreen LCD this good on any other camera. Sony’s touchscreen is terrible in comparison.
Now let’s talk about the size and bulk. While the camera itself is small and lightweight, it has a rather large lens mount, which translates to bulky lenses. The standard 18-55mm zoom lens that is shipped with the EOS M is a massive chunk of glass, as clearly shown the below image:
The lens extends even more when zoomed in to 55mm. The lens resembles Sony’s 18-55mm kit lens in size and bulk, although the Canon version is much better in quality and optics (more on this below under “Lenses”).
As I have already pointed out, a larger sensor requires larger lenses, which is a definite disadvantage for any APS-C sized sensor camera, including the EOS M. The good news is, you can use small pancake lenses like the Canon EF-M 22mm to fit the camera into your pocket. And because it is Canon, you can expect lenses to be excellent. The bad news is, any decent f/1.4 or f/1.8 portrait or telephoto lens that Canon makes in the future will not be small or lightweight. Definitely not anywhere close to what Olympus and Panasonic were able to achieve with their Micro Four Thirds system. I hope Canon is working on “collapsible” zoom lenses for the EOS M and shorter focal length prime lenses like 35mm f/1.8. The EF-M mount desperately needs smaller and lighter lenses, instead of 18-200mm superzooms. Otherwise, large lenses defeat the purpose of a compact mirrorless system the EOS M intends to be.
A very important feature that is missing on the EOS M is an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Unlike the entry-level Sony NEX cameras that come with a port that you can attach a viewfinder to (which you can purchase separately), the EOS M has no such option. For me, this is almost a deal breaker, because I am used to composing shots using a viewfinder. I find it hard to take good shots when I have to photograph with my arms extended.
Battery life is also pretty low. Just like the Nikon 1 J2, it only lasts up to 230 shots. In comparison, the Sony NEX-5R is rated at 330 shots, while the Nikon 1 V1 can do 350 shots. While writing the review, I had the battery charged close to 50% and the battery died pretty quickly (in less than an hour) when I was going through the camera menu, playing with autofocus and taking random shots. The camera was not powered on all the time either.
Overall, it looks like Canon is going after the beginner crowd with the EOS M, rather than a serious enthusiast / amateur with this simplistic design, lack of EVF and a touchscreen LCD. For me, the ergonomics are rather poor and I would say that the EOS M rivals the Nikon 1 J2 and NEX-5R, than the more serious cameras like Nikon 1 V1/V2, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D E-M5.
4) Camera Menu System
If you have used a Canon DSLR before, you will be pleased to see the same “tabbed” menu system on the EOS M. Navigating through the menu system is easy and you can either use the touchscreen or the rotary dial to move between the settings and choose them. Being a Nikon user, I have always disliked the Canon menu system. I could never understand why Canon does not group menu items properly, allowing one to scroll down for more options. Instead, they use small icons with dots that indicate the menu number, making the menu system appear a little cluttered. And the Custom Functions menu setting is even more confusing to comprehend for a beginner. There goes my Nikon vs Canon rant :) On the other hand, the Canon EOS M has a lot of menu options and plenty of customization capabilities. Way better than Nikon 1’s oversimplified menu system or Olympus’ cluttered “Custom Menu” in my opinion.
5) Features and Responsiveness
The Canon EOS M comes with a standard set of in-camera features that can be useful for everyday photography. The “Lens aberration correction” feature found in the menu allows for in-camera peripheral illumination (vignetting) and chromatic aberration corrections. 7 picture styles with 3 custom styles can be selected from the Info menu screen. “Auto Lighting Optimizer”, which is similar to Sony’s “Dynamic Range Optimizer” and Nikon’s “Active D-Lighting” is also available in 3 different presets (Low, Normal, High). In-camera HDR is included, but there are no options for automatically stitching panoramas, as on Sony NEX cameras. Exposure bracketing and built-in intervalometer are also missing.
As for responsiveness, the Canon EOS M is very similar to the Nikon 1, which is excellent. I have not yet experienced any lags with the camera menu or touchscreen (like on Sony NEX cameras) and navigating through the camera is a pleasure. On the negative note, the camera does take over a second to power on, so the Nikon 1 comes out with an advantage there.
6) Canon EF-M Lenses
As I have previously mentioned, the Canon EOS M came out with two lenses when it was launched – the Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM. These are the only two lenses available for the EF-M mount, which is very limiting in my opinion. Unfortunately, Canon has not published any EF-M lens roadmaps either, which makes it impossible to know what is in the works for the new mount. I think Canon should have launched the EOS M with a couple of more lenses to give more options to the end user. In comparison, Nikon came out with 4 lenses for the CX mount upon launch. So for now we only have two lenses to list for the EF-M mount:
As with DSLR cameras, Canon chose to go with lens rather than in-camera stabilization, so small and short focal length lenses like the 22mm pancake will not have built-in IS.
With the sensor crop factor of 1.6x, you have to multiply the focal length of each lens by 1.6 to get an equivalent field of view of a full-frame camera. For example, the 18-55mm lens is equivalent to a 28.8-88mm lens, while the 22mm pancake is equivalent to a 35.2mm lens.
Both lenses are very good in sharpness, contrast and colors, as expected from Canon optics. The Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is sharp all around, making the Sony 18-55mm lens look bad in comparison. The 22mm pancake is also excellent, even wide open. I am planning to write full reviews of both lenses and evaluate their sharpness using Imatest software within the next few weeks.
A very big plus to the EOS M, is the possibility to mount any Canon EF and EF-S lenses on the EOS M with an adapter. This is a huge advantage for anyone that owns Canon lenses, because the adapter is fully electronic, which means that all normal lens functions such as auto exposure, aperture control, metering and autofocus work. So you can take any EF or EF-S lens, mount it on the adapter and attach it to the camera and it will work almost natively. Why almost? Because autofocus only works in single servo mode. Continuous servo mode does not function with the adapter. I did not find this surprising, as continuous AF is really bad to start with on the EOS M.
7) Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
Canon engineered the image sensor a little differently on the EOS M and 650D, with phase-detect sensors built right into the sensor, which is why it calls its autofocus system “Hybrid CMOS AF”. The technology is similar to what Nikon uses in its Nikon 1 cameras and Sony uses on its latest NEX cameras, so this is Canon’s first attempt to bring faster AF to the traditionally slow contrast-detect autofocus. By combining phase and contrast-detect autofocus, the camera can potentially acquire focus much faster, because it would rely on phase-detect autofocus in good light and switch back to contrast-detect when the light conditions are poor. You might be wondering why the hybrid AF system switches back to contrast detect in poor light. The reason why this happens, is because the phase detect sensors on the image sensor are designed to only receive half of the light. So manufacturers had to program their camera firmware to automatically switch to contrast detect when the amount of light that reaches the sensor is too low.
With the fancy “hybrid autofocus” name, I expected the Canon EOS M to focus very quickly before I received the camera. I thought it would be as fast as the Nikon 1 system, which is still among the fastest in terms of autofocus, especially continuous AF. Unfortunately, the EOS M is a huge disappointment in terms of AF speed, so the fancy name is just a marketing gimmick. It certainly did not live up to my expectations and this was the deal breaker for me. Autofocus speed was poor in both daylight and low light conditions, especially with the 22mm pancake lens. The camera often makes the lens hunt for focus back and forth and only acquires focus at the very end, when it finds enough contrast. I went to the Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike on a sunny day and the despite the almost ideal conditions, the camera went back and forth trying to acquire focus in high-contrast scenes (with the 22mm pancake). The 18-55mm lens focuses a little faster, but it is still too slow. The Sony NEX-5R acquires focus faster and the Nikon 1 cameras or the Olympus OM-D E-M5 are lightning fast in comparison. So forget about trying to capture anything that moves. I don’t even know why Canon included the Servo mode in the EOS M, because it clearly cannot handle it.
As for manual focus, unlike the Nikon 1 lenses, the Canon EF-M lenses feature a manual focus ring for smoother and more precise MF operation. You can choose to have the camera only engage in autofocus, manual focus or you can do autofocus with manual focus override. Once you put the camera into manual focus mode through the menu, you can zoom in by using the touch interface. The live view does not get interpolated, which is great. Unfortunately, focus peaking feature is not available on the EOS M.
Overall, the autofocus system on the EOS M sucks, period. I don’t know if Canon can issue a firmware update to improve the AF speed, but it needs to address this as soon as possible.
In terms of exposure and metering, I found it to be quite accurate and in par with what a Canon DSLR would yield. In most cases it provided accurate results, minimizing the use of exposure compensation (I primarily shot in Aperture Priority mode). White balance was also fairly accurate, whether shooting indoors or outdoors, although for a RAW shooter like me, it does not matter.
8) Movie Recording
Every new camera that comes out seems to have impressive movie features and the Canon EOS M is no exception. It can record full 1080p HD movies at 30, 24 and 25 fps and if you scale it down to 720p, can record up to 60 fps. Another advantage of the movie mode is that you can fully control the exposure when recording movies – you can easily adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO when shooting videos in Manual mode. If the scene you are recording is too bright or too dark and you are in one of the P/A/S modes, you can also use exposure compensation to adjust the brightness level. The camera LCD will reflect these changes and you will see exactly what you are capturing. Autofocus and subject tracking both work when recording videos, and the new hybrid AF system definitely helps.
9) Dynamic Range
For some reason, Canon’s image sensors have not been very good with capturing a lot of dynamic range. You can see a proof of it at DxOMark, where Canon DSLRs constantly rank lower than Nikon, Sony and Pentax. I decided to start evaluating the dynamic range of cameras myself using Imatest, so after putting a number of mirrorless cameras to the test, I was able to confirm DxOMark’s test results – the Canon EOS M scored pretty low, with results similar to the Nikon 1 cameras that have much smaller sensors. Here is a graph that shows my results:
As you can see, the Canon EOS M scored pretty low overall at all ISO values, which is disappointing for an APS-C sized sensor.
Let’s see how the camera does in ISO performance against other cameras.
10) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4500 Temp, +6 Tint in Lightroom
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Tested with Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, IS Off
- Aperture: f/5.6
- Manual Focus
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- No exposure adjustments were performed in Lightroom (besides White Balance)
- No image resampling was performed (100% crop)
- Lightroom sharpening: 25, 1.0, 25, 0 (default)
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Let’s take a look at how the Canon EOS M performs at low ISOs. Here are some 100% crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
Both ISO 100 and 200 look very clean with no visible artifacts, even in the shadows.
ISO 400 adds a tiny amount of noise. At ISO 800 we see even more noise, but the image still looks very good with no loss of details anywhere in the image, including the shadows.
11) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-25600)
Let’s see what happens when ISO is boosted to much higher levels:
ISO 1600 increases the amount of noise and the grain size now looks bigger and more noticeable, especially in the shadows. Increasing ISO to 3200 nearly doubles noise and now we are starting to see some artifacts in the shadows. Both ISO levels are very usable though and a single pass of noise reduction software will deal with it pretty well, since most details are preserved.
Further increasing ISO to 6400 adds a lot more noise and now we are at a point, where we are starting to lose details in the shadow area. And by ISO 12800, the image looks pretty much unusable to me, although down-sampling the image might produce acceptable results for the web.
Overall, the ISO performance of the Canon EOS M is pretty good. Let’s see how it fares against other cameras.
NOTE: In order to properly compare image sensors with different resolutions, we downsample/resize images from both sensors to 10 MP. This is the only proper way to assess noise performance. If you want to compare images at 100% crop, then you can use the images from the previous section and compare them to images from other reviews. For example, to compare pixel level performance of the Canon EOS M with the Sony NEX-5R, download images from the “ISO Performance” section of this review and then grab the ones from the same page in the Sony NEX-5R review. We do not provide 100% crops for all camera comparisons in individual reviews.
12) Canon EOS M vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 200-800)
Let’s take a look at how the Canon EOS M compares to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. The base ISO of the Olympus sensor starts at ISO 200 and it can go all the way to ISO 25,600. Please note that the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was not very accurate with the sensor ISO – it consistently produced slightly underexposed images when comparing image sensors at the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO (by about 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop). That’s why the below images from the Olympus appear darker. Here is a comparison of both cameras at ISO 200 (Left: Canon EOS M, Right: Olympus OM-D E-M5):
Both cameras look very clean at ISO 200, with no difference in noise characteristics.
The same is true for ISO 400.
As we increase ISO to 800, we start to see more noise on both cameras. But I can’t say that one is better than the other – despite a smaller sensor size, the OM-D has impressive image quality.
13) Canon EOS M vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
At ISO 1600, there is still very little difference between the two.
Both cameras add plenty of noise at ISO 3200, but despite its smaller sensor, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 shows less noise and artifacts in the shadows.
The difference is even more obvious at ISO 6400 – the OM-D clearly produces less noisy image. Take a look at the shadow area and compare the two…
At ISO 12800, there is too much noise on both cameras, but the OM-D still has the upper hand. The Canon EOS M looks a tad sharper, thanks to its high resolution sensor, but it has more noise artifacts throughout the image.
14) Canon EOS M vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Summary
Judging from the above comparison, the Olympus OM-D produces better image quality than the Canon EOS M at high ISO values above ISO 1600. It has cleaner shadows and less noise artifacts throughout the frame. This is rather surprising, because the Canon EOS M has a bigger 1.6x crop factor APS-C sensor, while the Olympus OM-D E-M5 has a 2.0x crop factor Micro Four Thirds sensor. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 also has better dynamic range.
Unfortunately, it does not stop there for the Canon EOS M. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 has the best in class autofocus performance that is way ahead of the Canon EOS M, much better ergonomics, a built-in viewfinder, more customization options and above all – smaller lenses. The only area where the EOS M shines is its cool touchscreen LCD, which is not even that relevant for serious shooters anyway…
15) Canon EOS M vs Sony NEX-5R/NEX-6 (ISO 100-800)
Physically, the sensor on the EOS M is a little smaller than the ones on the NEX-5R/NEX-6 (1.6x vs 1.5x crop factor). Since both the NEX-5R and the NEX-6 have exactly the same sensor, I will only provide crops from the NEX-5R.
As usual, there is no difference in noise characteristics at such low ISO values. The Canon EOS M looks much sharper, because its 18-55mm lens is excellent, while the Sony 18-55mm resolves much less detail in comparison.
The same goes for ISO 200 – both cameras show no noise, even in the shadow area.
At ISO 400 we start to see some grain on both cameras.
ISO 800 looks equally good on both.
16) Canon EOS M vs Sony NEX-5R/NEX-6 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-12800)
Boosted to ISO 1600, the Canon EOS M seems to produce a little more noise in the shadows, but the difference is very small.
However, at ISO 3200, the shadow area on the EOS M certainly looks grainier in comparison.
At ISO 6400, the EOS M shows more noise, especially in the shadows. There is also a loss of detail and colors in the shadows.
And at the maximum ISO of 12800, the EOS M definitely shows worse performance, with more artificial colors throughout the image. Overall though, both are pretty close in performance, with perhaps 1/3 of a stop advantage on the NEX-5R/NEX-6 at very high ISOs.
17) Canon EOS M vs Sony NEX-5R/NEX-6 Summary
Despite the 2 MP resolution difference (the EOS M has an 18 MP sensor), the NEX-5R/NEX-6 showed impressive performance, surpassing the EOS M at high ISOs. All three are very similar in performance at low ISOs, but the NEX-5R/NEX-6 certainly performs better at ISO 3200 and above. I would not judge the performance of these cameras by just looking at images though – the NEX-5R is a more mature camera, with a much better autofocus system and other neat features like focus peaking, while the NEX-6 has an electronic viewfinder, a standard hot shoe and much better ergonomics. Where the NEX-5R-NEX-6 are both a little behind, is the touchscreen LCD – the one on the Canon EOS M is much better in comparison.
18) Canon EOS M vs Sony NEX-7 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Let’s take a look at how the Canon EOS M compares to the high resolution NEX-7. Here is a comparison of base ISO 100 on both cameras:
While both cameras produce impressive, noise-free images at ISO 100, the Sony NEX-7 produces slightly sharper images. This is due to downsampling – the NEX-7 has more resolution to play with.
ISO 200 again looks impressive on both cameras.
We start seeing some noise at ISO 400, but there is no clear winner here – both cameras produce about the same amount of noise at the same resolution.
At ISO 800, the Sony NEX-7 appears a tad cleaner in comparison.
18) Canon EOS M vs Sony NEX-7 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
The NEX-7 looks slightly cleaner and sharper.
Both seem to tie at ISO 3200, with noticeable grain and noise artifacts in the shadows.
At ISO 6400, it is hard to say which one looks better. Both cameras show plenty of noise, although the Canon EOS M seems to retain the shadow colors a little better.
ISO 12800 looks terrible on both cameras, but the Canon EOS M definitely retains the colors better (see the shadow area).
19) Canon EOS M vs Sony NEX-7 Summary
When comparing images between sensors with different resolution, the only proper way to do it is to downsample images. Otherwise, sensors with bigger pixels (lower resolution) are always going to show better noise characteristics (assuming both are of similar generation/technology). In this case, the Canon EOS M has an 18 MP sensor, while the NEX-7 has a high resolution 24.3 MP sensor. A 6.3 MP difference can play a huge role when comparing sensors. The NEX-7 has the advantage of a high resolution sensor and its images retain excellent detail even at very high ISO values. It starts out pretty strong at ISO 800-3200, but certainly does lose to the Canon EOS M in the shadows at the highest ISO levels, resulting in visible artificial colors in the shadow areas. But keep in mind that this is just a single comparison that shows ISO performance between the cameras. We are not looking at the whole picture here, because the Sony NEX-7 has features that are nowhere to be found on the EOS M. The NEX-7 is Sony’s high-end mirrorless offering with a best of the class electronic viewfinder, better ergonomics and superior design, better AF system, built-in flash and more. In short, the EOS M cannot directly compete with the NEX-7, it is more along the lines of the Sony NEX-F3 or NEX-5R.
20) Canon EOS M vs Nikon 1 J1/J2/V1 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Lastly, let’s take a look at how the Canon EOS M compares to the Nikon 1 system. The Nikon 1 J1, J2 and V1 share the same sensor, so do not wonder why I am comparing the EOS M to the J2 below. Here is a comparison of base ISO 100:
Again, sensor size and resolution win big time here – the Nikon 1 looks noisy in comparison to the EOS M even at base ISO of 100.
No need to repeat the same words – the EOS M looks very clean and practically noise-free at ISO 200 and 400 in comparison.
At ISO 800, there is a little bit of grain on the Canon EOS M, but it still looks very good compared to the J1/J2/V1.
21) Canon EOS M vs Nikon 1 J1/J2/V1 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-6400)
Again, the much larger and higher resolution sensor of the Canon EOS M does make a difference here – it performs very well at high ISOs, even at ISO 6400 when downsampled.
22) Canon EOS M vs Nikon 1 J1/J2/V1 Summary
As I have numerously talked about before, the only proper way to look at sensor performance is by down-sampling. While the J1/J2/V1 looks great at pixel level, it certainly disappoints when its competition is down-sampled to the same resolution. The Canon EOS M looks very good when its images are at 10 MP – those extra 8 MP help reduce noise and bring out the sharpness of the image. At the same time, don’t forget that the sensor of the EOS M is also 3 times larger than the one on the Nikon 1 system. A larger size sensor also means larger lenses – and that’s a general weakness of any APS-C camera. On the other hand, a large sensor also means two things: shallower depth of field and better dynamic range – two major factors that work in Canon EOS M’s favor.
One area where the Nikon 1 system is way ahead currently, is autofocus. As I have previously pointed out in my Nikon 1 V1 and J1/J2 reviews, Nikon designed an excellent hybrid AF system that works quickly and accurately not only for stationary, but also for moving subjects (its AF-C mode is still the best in the market). If Canon EOS M had as good of an autofocus system as on Nikon 1, it would have become a popular camera very quickly…
When the first rumors of the Canon’s mirrorless camera started circulating on the Internet, I was dying to see how Canon would respond to the Nikon 1 system. I wondered if Canon would release a small sensor mirrorless like Nikon, or go with a bigger sensor and a bigger mount. When the Canon EOS M was finally announced, it was clear that Canon took a completely different route than its competitor, choosing the same 1.6x crop factor APS-C sensor as on its DSLR cameras. Unlike Nikon, it did not seem to be afraid to cannibalize its entry-level DSLR sales in the future. Nikon made a number of bad mistakes with the introduction of the Nikon 1 system and ended up practically giving away its high-end Nikon 1 V1 camera last year at a 66% discount. Looks like Canon followed Nikon’s lead with the EOS M, because despite having a bigger sensor, its 18-55mm kit price of $850 is pretty darn close to Nikon V1’s original price of $899. For an entry-level camera that has no built-in viewfinder and a new system that only has two lenses, this is a high price tag to enter the market with. Nikon went cheap with the sensor, but tried to compensate it with a solid AF system, fast speed and a built-in viewfinder, while Canon started out with a big sensor, but went cheap on almost everything else. Considering that the mirrorless market is more or less getting mature with great options, what were both Nikon and Canon thinking? Who is going to buy these cameras at such high prices?
Interestingly, Nikon did not completely go wrong with its Nikon 1 system. The Nikon 1 J1 was the best selling mirrorless camera in Japan in 2012. When the V1 price went down to $299 in the US, it was cheaper to buy the V1 kit than the J1/J2 kit. And it still is, believe it or not. A high-end camera sells cheaper than a lower-end camera, just because the latter is more popular. Crazy!
So what is the future of the Canon EOS M? While Canon did a pretty good job with integrating a big sensor into a tiny body and made a great touchscreen LCD, the EOS M still feels like the Nikon 1 J2, only with a big sensor. It is certainly not in the same league as the Sony NEX-6/NEX-7, Fuji EX-1/X-Pro 1, Olympus OM-D E-M5 and even the Nikon 1 V1/V2. Without a built-in viewfinder and no option to add one, crappy autofocus and lack of good lens selection, it will not appeal serious shooters. Just like the Nikon 1 V1 failed to appeal serious shooters initially, I do not see how photo enthusiasts and pros will embrace the EOS M. Who else is going to be willing to pay $850 for it? An average consumer will not buy the EOS M just because it has a bigger sensor. Price matters and there are many great options out there for much less than $850, with more features. Looks like neither Nikon nor Canon want to try to understand what their real target markets are with these mirrorless cameras. If the Canon EOS M had a solid AF system, a built-in viewfinder, a better lens selection and ergonomics suited for someone who knows how to work with cameras, the EOS M would sell like crazy, even at a higher price. Look at how well the Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic GH3, Sony NEX-7 and Fuji X-Pro1 cameras are selling. They are all priced higher than the EOS M and each has a fast growing fan base. Just wait a little and you will see how quickly the EOS M’s price will drop. It already has dropped by close to $100, but that’s just the beginning. When warehouse shelves pile up with EOS M boxes and they start accumulating dust, the prices will drop much more.
But all is not lost…yet. The Canon EOS M may soon become Canon’s first failed mirrorless camera, but the EF-M mount definitely has a future. If Canon devotes more of its resources to the mount, fixes the AF system, gets more good lenses to the market fast and releases a high-end mirrorless camera targeted for pros and enthusiasts, then it might spike up a lot of interest in a relatively short amount of time. I believe Canon made the right move by choosing a large APS-C sensor. The Nikon 1 system will always be considered to be something in between a point and shoot and a DSLR, just because of its sensor size. No matter how many great options Nikon adds, other APS-C cameras will lead in image quality with better sensor IQ. And Canon’s EF-M mount is in that group.
I believe we will see very attractive cameras from Canon in the future. I am sure there will be an announcement later this year with a higher-end EF-M camera from Canon, in addition to at least 2-3 more lenses. I just hope that Canon addresses the AF issues, adds a good EVF, gives more customization options and designs a better overall camera for a more serious user. Give it 3-4 years and I believe we will start seeing the EF-M mount taking over the EF-S mount, just like I projected in my “Why DX has no future” article. Once the EF-M mount grows in popularity and prices drop to entry-level/mid-range DSLR levels, there will be little reason to buy bulky cropped sensor DSLR cameras. I believe Canon knows quite well that this will eventually happen.
Overall, while I am not very impressed with the EOS M’s performance, I cannot wait to see what Canon will do during the next several years with the EF-M mount. If Canon takes mirrorless seriously, it might take a big chunk of the mirrorless market share fairly soon. But if we see more cameras with issues and a bad lens line-up with only large zoom lenses, then the EF-M mount will suffer greatly.
24) Where to buy and availability
25) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Canon EOS M
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Packaging and Manual
Photography Life Overall Rating