Canon EOS R
It’s been a long time coming, but Canon finally has a full-frame mirrorless camera to its name. Michael Topham reveals his honest opinion
Michael Topham tests Canon’s long-awaited full-frame mirrorless
Canon’s entry into full-frame mirrorless has arrived with one camera and four full-frame lenses that centre around the manufacturer’s new RF lens mount. This large- diameter, short back-focus mount has been designed to enable faster focusing and extra flexibility in lens design, which combined with the debut of the EOS R, marks a momentous chapter in the company’s history. Canon users haven’t been silent about what they’ve wanted from the company’s first full-frame mirrorless camera. This poses the questions: has Canon delivered what millions of Canon-faithful users around the world want and has it made the best-full frame mirrorless camera it can? With the EOS R being the first model in Canon’s new system it has a lot to answer for, but before we get stuck into the nitty- gritty let’s refresh ourselves with the camera’s key features.
Canon has taken a different approach to Nikon, releasing one versatile all-rounder as opposed to two cameras built around the same body with different sensors and specifications. The EOS R is the first model in the fledgling system to be built around the new RF lens mount that has a 54mm internal diameter, 20mm flange distance and 12-pin data connection. Behind this rests a 30.3- million-pixel full-frame CMOS sensor that we’re told is a different chip to the one used within the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. The pairing of sensor and Canon’s latest DIGIC 8 image processor provides a sensitivity range of 100- 40,000, which like on the
5D Mark IV is expandable to 50-102,400.
The faster processor allows the EOS R to boast what Canon claims is the world’s fastest AF speed of 0.05sec and a maximum burst rate of 8fps with fixed focus. This equates to being 1fps faster than the 5D Mark IV and 1.5fps faster than the 6D Mark II. Switching to AF tracking sees this speed drop to 5fps, but at 8fps the buffer can handle 100 JPEGs, 78 C-raw images or 47 raw files being captured continuously.
The EOS R integrates Canon’s sensor-based, phase- detection Dual Pixel CMOS AF system that works by splitting all the effective pixels on the surface of the sensor into two individual photodiodes – one for left and one for right. This system is good for photographers and videographers who’d like to focus quickly without having to put up with clumsy focusing in live view. Better still, the EOS R can focus down to an impressive - 6EV, where it performs extremely well when challenged by low-light situations. On the subject of focusing, the EOS R offers users no fewer than 5,655 selectable AF positions using the touch-anddrag AF function on its vari-angle screen, covering 88% and 100% of the frame across the respective horizontal and vertical axes.
To counteract the rapid on/off pulsing you can get with some artificial lights, the EOS R inherits Canon’s anti-flicker technology that made its debut in the EOS 7D Mark II and provides exposure compensation across +/-3EV, but this isn’t as extensive as the +/-5EV range as you get on the 5D Mark IV or 6D Mark II.
While optical stabilisation is featured on some of the new RF lenses (if not the 28-70mm f/2 or the 50mm f/1.2) and many existing EF lenses, the EOS R lacks in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) like its Nikon and Sony rivals. Unlike Canon’s DSLRs that you’ve been able to quieten but never totally mute, the electronically controlled focal-plane shutter on the EOS R enables completely silent shooting when you’d like to work inconspicuously, and it finally supports USB charging on the go via its USB Type- C port that sits alongside an HDMI mini out port and 3.5mm microphone and headphone sockets at the side.
This takes us nicely onto the EOS R’s video capabilities, but again unlike its Sony and Nikon rivals, the EOS R falls behind the competition here as it’s unable to achieve full-sensor readout 4K video. Just like the 5D Mark IV, the EOS R’s 4K video has a 1.7x crop factor, with 4:2:2 10-bit video output via the HDMI port. Internal 4K 4:2:2 8-bit recording and Full HD 1080p video using the full width of the sensor at up to 60p is available, and there’s a 4K frame grab option that allows users to extract an 8.3-million-pixel JPEG image from 4K footage.
In a similar move to Nikon, Canon has equipped the EOS R with a single card slot, but rather than opting for XQD, the camera accepts SD UHS- II cards. Wi- Fi is built into the camera too, offering the flexibility to take control from a smartphone or tablet running Canon’s Camera Connect app. The EOS R doesn’t feature built-in GPS functionality, but it can collect GPS data and automatically add it to images via the same app. Bluetooth connectivity can be used to remotely control the camera without having to
mess around setting up a Wi- Fi connection, plus it can also be set up to instruct the camera to fire up Wi- Fi when you’d like to copy images across to your phone.
Build and handling
The EOS R offers the size and weight advantages we’re used to when choosing a mirrorless camera over a DSLR. The body weighs 660g with a card and battery inserted – a saving of 230g over the 5D Mark IV and 105g lighter than the 6D Mark II. Canon has managed to uphold a reassuringly solid feel to the body, which partly comes down to it being built around a magnesiumalloy chassis. To ensure it’s up to the task of enduring heavy and demanding use, it’s constructed to the same weather resistant standard as the EOS 6D Mark II.
From the front, the EOS R has a distinctive Canon DSLR look about it, albeit less thickset than Canon’s 5D-series models. With less space on the top-plate it’s forced Canon to rethink the arrangement of buttons and dials, some of which won’t be instantly familiar to existing DSLR users. There’s no mode dial on the top-left shoulder of the body where you’d expect to see one, just a basic on/off switch. Instead you get a mode button located inside the rear thumb dial. Below the EOS R’s top-plate LCD, to the left of where your thumb lays, you’ll spot a new customisable multi-function M- Fn bar – the first on an EOS model. Hold your thumb across it and you’ll be prompted to customise various settings to it in shooting and playback modes using slide or touch movements with your thumb. To prevent accidental changes to this Canon has also introduced a safety lock feature that requires users to hold the left end of the bar for one second to temporarily activate it. Back on the top-plate, the LCD illumination button has two purposes. It can be held to darken settings against a lighter background or tapped to switch the standard view of exposure variables to an advanced one that shows a broader overview of shooting information. There’s a dedicated movie button to start recording video in an instant and you’re required to hit the mode button followed by the info button to switch between movie modes.
Like the 5D Mark IV, it has a small multi-function (M- Fn) button behind the shutter that can be customised, but it works well set to the Dial Function setting for instant access to ISO, drive mode, AF mode, AWB and exposure compensation. The level of customisable control is by far the best we’ve ever seen on an EOS camera and there’s the advanced option to segregate customised settings between stills and movie modes. The customisable control ring at the front of RF mount lenses is a clever idea that’s been executed nicely. It brings aperture, shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation control directly to your left hand supporting the lens, leaving your right hand to control the rear dial and shutter button.
One of the disappointments is the lack of an AF toggle to move the AF point intuitively around the frame. In this respect it’s a bit like the EOS 6D Mark II, but then again unlike this enthusiast DSLR, the EOS R’s four-way directional pad isn’t set within a rotating rear command wheel, making it little different to the basic four-way directional pads you get on entry-level DSLRs. In an attempt to make up for these omissions Canon has introduced the M- Fn bar and a touch-and- drag AF function that lets you shift the AF point with your thumb on the screen when the camera is raised to your eye. It’s most effective when the positioning method is set to absolute, but even with the active touch area assigned to the top right of the screen it’s not easy shifting the AF point to the edge of the frame without handling being compromised. One thing in the EOS R’s favour is that touch-anddrag AF isn’t affected when the screen gets wet, and performs just as well with water droplets on the screen’s surface as when it’s dry.
There’s the option to use the EOS R’s AF point select button in combination with the four-way directional pad too, but when you’re under pressure this simply isn’t fast enough and can result in shots being missed. Going from a DSLR with an AF toggle to the EOS R which doesn’t have one feels like a step backwards and underlines the EOS R as more of an enthusiast-friendly camera than one that’ll satisfy semiprofessionals and working professionals who ultimately need the finest ergonomics and control.
Viewfinder and screen
At the rear of the EOS R is a 0.5in OLED EVF boasting a
3.69-million- dot resolution with a 0.76x magnification. The eye sensor switches the feed between screen and EVF in an instant, with exposure information, battery life and shooting mode all displayed clearly below the preview image. There are two performance modes – power saving (30fps) and smooth (60fps), but for the fastest refresh rate and finest viewing experience you’ll want to keep it set to the latter.
In terms of its performance, it’s the best EVF we’ve ever used on a Canon camera. It’s exceptionally sharp and faithfully represents how an image will appear, with the luxury of accurately showing live exposure adjustments and changes in depth of field. Hit the info button and you can call up more shooting info on either side of the frame or view the electronic level at the same time as the histogram. Unfortunately, though, it’s not possible to view these two shooting aids independently.
Canon is known for its excellent touchscreen displays and the EOS R upholds this reputation. The 3.15in, 2.1- million- dot screen is the fully articulated type, allowing it to be pulled out and tilted to almost any angle. It’s more manoeuvrable than the tilt- only units on Nikon’s Z-series cameras, making portrait format shooting a breeze, especially from low or high angles. It displays accurate colour that’s consistent with the EVF and is responsive to light touches, making navigation of the main menu easy and quick if you don’t use the four-way controller.
The EOS R’s staggering number of 5,655 selectable autofocus positions makes it one of the most advanced offerings of any mirrorless camera on the market. Having the ability to shift the AF point so extensively across the frame with the choice of two different AF frame sizes (normal or small) is great, but as briefly mentioned, what it really lacks is an AF toggle to shift the AF point around the frame intuitively. Users are given access to AF area and AF modes from the quick menu and if the M- Fn button is set to its Dual Function setting, it’s possible to switch between One Shot and Servo AF in an instant. If users would like an immediate way of changing the AF area this can be assigned to the M- Fn bar. The real highlight of the EOS R’s autofocus is its ability to acquire focus in light levels as low as - 6EV. The way it locks on and focuses accurately in dark conditions is remarkably impressive. This will go down well with photographers who regularly work in poor lighting conditions or shoot under the cover of darkness.
Testing the various AF area modes in combination with Servo AF demonstrated that the AF is fast and silent just as you’d expect. The disappointment when shooting with AF tracking is
that the burst drops from 8fps to 5fps. Though I did capture some reasonable shots of moving subjects, high-speed action and sport isn’t the EOS R’s forte. Trying out the EOS R’s Eye AF system, which is enabled as part of the Face Detection AF option, revealed that it only works in AF-S mode and not AF- C. It’s reasonably effective for stationary portraits when the face is fairly large in the frame, but less so for people who move or are at a distance from the camera. From my experience it isn’t a patch on Sony’s highly accurate and reliable Eye AF functionality.
Our review sample was supplied with the EF- EOS R mount adapter, which was used to couple EF and EF-S lenses as well as a variety of third-party EF-mount lenses kindly supplied by Sigma. Tests confirmed that all these lenses performed no differently than if they were coupled to a Canon DSLR, with the EOS R going about its business of producing cropped 11.6MP images that match the smaller image circle of EF-S optics automatically.
It’s noticeable that the EOS R gets through its power quickly. In autumn temperatures, I was getting around 400 shots from a single charge, whereas with cameras like the 6D Mark II we’re used to shooting closer to 1,200. You do get good power-saving modes to preserve battery life, but users shouldn’t expect a single battery to be enough for a full day’s shooting.
With evaluative metering being linked to all autofocus points, the EOS R can be trusted to analyse scenes and expose for them correctly. Users will feel confident using the camera in its evaluative metering mode, but for scenes that are harder to expose there’s always spot, partial and centreweighted average modes to choose from.
Like we’re used to seeing from Canon, the EOS R proved to be a reliable performer during the time we used it and the way it delivers punchy images and strong results at high ISO makes it versatile for those who like to shoot a variety of subjects. The operation and control is very different to Canon’s traditional DSLRs though, so much so, it’s not a camera Canon DSLR users will pick up and feel at ease with straight away. The EOS R’s idiosyncrasies take time to learn and although an improved level of customisation is a good thing, not having buttons for things such as ISO, drive mode and AF mode makes it feel rather peculiar the first few times you use it. I can imagine many Canon users feeling lost when they pick it up, just as I did at the start. As with switching to anything new you do slowly get used to it, but my opinion is that the ergonomics and usability are by no means perfect.
Avro Vulcan XM655 photographed at Wellesbourne Airfield courtesy of TimeLine Events (www.timelineevents.org ) Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, 30sec at f/11, ISO 50
This portrait was taken while testing the EOS R with EF lenses using the EF-EOS R mount adapter Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM, 1/1250sec at f/1.8, ISO 800
A real strength of the EOS R is its focusing ability in low light Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM, 1/320sec at f/1.8, ISO 12800
The Eye AF function is most effective when the person you’re photographing is fairly large in the frame Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, 1/1000sec at f/2.8, ISO 400