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The Canon EOS-M
The reason for my excitement over
this camera is its size and relative simplicity. The EOS-M is about
the size of an old style rangefinder, or the old Instamatic cameras
many of us remember from long ago. The Instamatic was not a very
capable camera; but it was handy, unobtrusive, and fun to use. Even
better was the classic rangefinder camera, like the old Leica M3, or
Canon's own Canonette. These cameras were effortless to use, did not
intrude into the scene like the large, noisy, and heavy SLRs that
were to follow, and gave the photographer complete control over what
he was doing. The top end rangefinder cameras could mount a
selection of lenses. These were great old cameras of what many
consider to be the golden age of photography. Their only limitation
was the inability to view or meter through the same lens with which
the exposure was being made. The EOS-M, and other mirrorless cameras
harken back to those great old classics.
Walking the street with this little 10.5 oz gem around my neck, the camera was almost unnoticed, by myself as well as anyone I might care to photograph. The black bodied, low profile camera is only about an inch thick, with the lens protruding perhaps an inch and a quarter from the front. The camera body is a diminutive 4.3" wide by 2.6" high. The spoiler here, for covert photography, is the blinking autofocus assist light, which flashes orange while the camera focuses. This can be turned off in one of the camera's many menus. In regards to the focus, I found that the almost universal criticism was quite exaggerated. I had no issues focusing, both outdoors at night, and inside with regular room lighting.
There appear to be two secrets to satisfactory autofocus with this camera. The first is to get the newest bios, version 2.02, from Canon, and install it. The second is to actually read the manual and learn how the camera works. One thing you absolutely want to do is turn off the continuous AF feature, which will cause the focus to hunt around a bit. You also want to set the camera for single shot, rather than rapid fire, or it will attempt to anticipate focus. With the camera so set, I had no issues with auto focus. Another setting you may want to check is to turn off the Touch Shutter feature. This is the feature that allows you to release the shutter by tapping on the touch screen. This annoying feature will cause you to constantly be taking pictures accidentally when you touch the camera, adjust your grip, or allow it to fall back to your chest. While it may seem like a great feature to a software engineer, no one who knows anything about photography would have suggested such a thing.
camera body has a great feel to it, and is finished off in a grain
texture that gives a decent grip. The body is made of magnesium (not
plastic, as some have claimed), and though it has its share of
curved and beveled edges, the sides and base are flat for resting or
steadying during exposures. In the base of the camera is a steel
threaded tripod mount. A small sliding door on the right hand
side of the camera base holds the battery and the SD card. At
highest resolution and best quality, an SD card will hold about 60
photos per GB. A batter will last for 200 - 300 shots per charge, so
an extra battery or two is a must. A full charge takes about two
hours. For video, at highest quality,
330 mb per minute of video is required, and a battery will last for
about an hour and a half.
For an old line or experienced photographer, most of the complaints leveled at this camera are downright silly. When I first got serious about photography, these would not have been complaints. Slow autofocus would not have bothered us – there was no autofocus. You focused using the focusing ring of the lens, and after a bit of practice you did this quickly and automatically. No built in flash would also not have been a complaint – no serious cameras had a built in flash. Cameras had a hot shoe flash mount so that you could mount the flash of your choice. We also would not have complained that the LCD screen did not pivot or rotate – we had no LCD screens. Finally, the 230 shot estimate per battery charge would have seemed a luxury to those of use using 36 exposure film cartridges. The LP-E12 battery of the EOS-M is show below with its charger, next to the BP-511 of the D series EOS DSLR, and the NB-2LH of the Rebel series.
What we did have was an eye level viewfinder, something I really miss in this camera. We also had easy to find and manage controls for aperture, shutter speed, and focus – giving us complete control of the process without having to slog through a series of menus. The only computerized control we had was our brains – computer number one. This worked far better than any modern 9 point, twelve point, thirty one point, or any other number of autofocus points. Also regarding focus, we had focusing aids in the viewfinder, usually a prism or microprism.
What this camera does have is several selective metering modes including a great 11% semi spot, reminiscent of that of the beloved F-1 and FTb cameras of days long gone by. This is a great setting for strongly back lit of high contrast situation, such as stage lighting. Even better is a 2.8% spot meter. When using spot and semi spot, a small area in the middle of the screen turns slightly grey to indicate the metering area. The metered area can be moved around through use of the touch screen.
Exposure modes will be familiar to long time EOS users. Using the collar around the shutter button to select the A+ setting puts you in full auto mode. You point and shoot. With apologies to camera snobs, this setting actually works pretty good most of the time for most things. It helps that the LCD shows what the picture will look like, so you can hunt around to find the best focus and exposure. For those that don't like to hunt around, there is the middle setting, called the still photo setting.
The still photo setting has Canon's various types of auto exposure selected according to scene type. These are called the basic modes. So there is the portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, backlit, and night portrait styles. They are selected from the touch screen and then left alone to determine exposure according to a series of parameters programmed into each mode. Also available are the classic aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes. These are called the creative modes. With shutter and aperture priority, the photographer sets the shutter or aperture on the touch screen, and the camera does the rest. In manual mode, you tap on the shutter speed indication in the touch screen and then use the setting dial to adjust. You then tap on the shutter speed and repeat. An exposure scale shows you how your settings compare to what the camera says they should be.
While using the touch screen and moving to the dial is a bit cumbersome, compared to the classic controls of the old manual cameras, it does allow full control of exposure. When used along with the spot or semi spot metering, this is my favorite way to use this camera. Autofocus works great during the day and in most situations indoors and at night. Yet there are still some times I prefer manual focus. This is an issue with the new EOS-M lenses, which do not have any mechanical focus control at all. Turning the focus ring on one of these lenses engages the focus motor. It is less precise than I like, and I actually find manual focus better with one of the old FD lenses, when using the FD adapter.
The best way to manual focus is to use either an older FD lens, or use an EF lens with the focus switch set to manual. You then hit the little magnifier icon on the touch screen to get a 10x zoom of the center, and focus carefully. You then recompose, if required, set exposure, if you haven't already, and shoot. If you are also shooting stopped down, you must meter and set exposure first, and then open up to focus. Like many things with the EOS-M, it can be done very well, and give great pictures; but it doesn't always happen quickly.
This may be the ultimate amateur
video camera, for its size and price. It records in full 1080 high definition, has a metal
body, is fairly compact - smaller than any decent quality camcorder
of which I am aware, and takes the full Canon series of M, EF
(With adapter), and FD (with adapter) lenses, as well as lenses from
many other manufactures. Compare this to most
of the plastic bodied camcorders, with their built in zooms. Then
consider that the EOS-M can be had for around $300. I am not aware
of any reasonably priced video gear that has the ability to change
lenses. This could turn me into a videographer - to a certain extent
it already has. The photo above shows it with some of the lenses I
have for it, next to a pair of standard size camcorders.
As is the case with taking still photos, videos may be shot in
manual or automatic modes, with either manual or autofocus. This
gives a lot more creative control than most of us are used to having
with today's crop of little camcorders. Also, in common with its use
as a still camera, the EOS-M has great low light performance. It
shoots in 720 or full 1080 hidef. I have not explored this side of
the camera to any extent yet; but will update this site after some
experience. In particular, I am looking forward to being able to put
some videos on this site.
In order to keep the camera small, the length from the rear lens element and the image plan was shortened. This required a new lens mount. The EOS-M lens mount is electronically the same as the standard EOS mount, yet it is housed in a smaller package scaled to the size of the smaller camera. The wide angle lenses are actually superior to the same lenses produced in the standard mount, due to the difference in distance between the mount and the image plane. A traditional SLR, with its mirror and pentaprism actually position a wide angle lens artificially further from the image plane than the actual focal length of the lens. This requires some optical lengthening of the focus point, without changing the characteristic perspective of the focal length - a very difficult trick. The EOS-M mount removes or reduces the need for this. On longer lenses the affect is not as noticeable, but on a short lens, like the new Canon 22mm F2, the lens can be very small, quite simple, and exceptionally sharp.
There are two excellent quality lenses available for the EOS-M in the United States, and a third available off shore. This particular example has the standard fixed focal length 22mm F 2.0. This tiny lens has the smallest front element I have ever seen on a standard size camera, yet at F 2.0 it is faster than the standard zoom lenses used as primes on most point and shoot cameras, and many SLR's. A photo of this lens, next to a similar EF lens (a 28mm F1.8) shows just how much of a different this can make. Also notable in the photo is the similar layout of the electrical contacts, and the slightly smaller diameter of the new M mount lens.
I also have the standard kit zoom, the 18 - 55 F 3.5 - F 5.6. This is a pretty standard lens, and appears to be optically a mate for the standard EOS - kit lens of the same focal length and aperture. The two differ in the size of their EOS lens mount, and in the closer focusing distance of the EOS-M version, which also does not need extra optical elements to set the focus further out and to correct for further aberration. What this means is the the EOS-M version is sharper, and transmits more light. It is an optically superior lens.
There are also some great EOS-M lenses by Tokina, with perhaps others coming from other manufacturers - if the format takes hold. If it does not, an adapter allows the use of the entire line of Canon EF lenses, and there is another adapter which will allow the mounting of the old FD/FL series of lenses. Presumably, due to the close proximity of the lens mount to the imager, just about any lens could be physically coupled to this camera, though most would likely lose some functionality.
Even so, with only a few lenses available, and many photographers having a substantial stock of older mount lenses, It would be a good thing to be able to use other lens mounts. Canon and a number of aftermarket companies make this possible. It is particularly easy with the EOS-M, because of the camera's small size and thin profile. This opens the possibility of not only using older Canon lenses, but of using lenses from just about any manufacture, as long as the EOS-M owner understands that on non EF lenses autofocus will be lost, as well as full aperture metering.
Unfortunately, despite its simplicity, the Canon adapter retails at around $200. Due to the slow market for these cameras, street price on the adapter has fallen to about half of retail, and I managed to get mine for around $50. Right now, if you have an EOS-M camera, you have to get one of these, they will open up the entire universe of Canon EF lenses. Additionally, when Canon introduces its promised follow up EOS-M model (sometime in 2015), street price on these adapters may very well go back up to the full $200 level - or more. Aftermarket companies make something similar for around $30. I have not used the aftermarket versions; but I have little doubt they work. The Canon adapter works flawlessly, though it does tend to make the camera a bit front heavy, even with a normal lens. Right now this ability to use the full line of Canon lenses with their full feature set enabled is a huge selling point. it makes this a natural back up, or kit camera for anyone already invested in the EOS system.
Physically, the standard EOS lens mount has a diameter of *****, and holds the lens at a distance of **** from the image plane. The newer S mount EOS lenses, designed for the APS-C imagers, allow the rear of the lens of protrude slightly into the camera body, putting them **** from the image plane. The EOS-M mount has a diameter of ****, and places the rear of the lens **** from the image plane. As the EOS-M uses an APS-C imager, it can use the standard and S mount EOS lenses with this adapter. All lenses retain full function, with no vignetting or other issues.
I probably wouldn't want to use anything much over 135mm or 200mm at the most on this little camera. A comparison of the two mounts is shown in the photos below.
Canon FD Adapter
Technically, there is no FD adapter from Canon; but several aftermarket camera makers produce them. Back when the original EOS film cameras were introduced back in the eighties, Canon came out with an FD lens adapter. It did not do well in the marketplace, due to some incompatibilities of the two systems, and was withdrawn from the market. Aftermarket companies still produce such adapters, but their performance leaves much to be desired.
The main reason for the problem with using FD lenses on the original EOS cameras was two fold. The first issue was that the EOS is an electronically controlled lens system. The old FD series lenses were mechanically controlled. So putting an FD lens on an EOS camera meant that you lost autofocus. This was a huge problem because the EOS series of cameras have no focusing aids in the viewfinder. Though it is possible to get focus aids on some optional or aftermarket screens for certain of the EOS models, it is an expensive option. You also lost auto aperture, when using the FD lenses on the EOS mount, and had to meter with the lens stopped down, which made precise focus even more difficult, in addition to producing a dimmer viewfinder.
The second big problem with using an FD lens on an EOS camera is that the FD mount cameras were slightly thinner, and had the lens mount closer to the image plane. This makes it impossible for a physical adapter to permit focusing an FD lens at infinity or even at any relatively far distance, on an EOS camera. The only solution was to put an optical component in the lens. Even the best optical component will introduce distortion, and reduced light transmission. Despite the high quality of the old FD lenses, the adapter was too expensive, and too problematic to make it worthwhile. Yet there are some mitigating factors when using these lenses with the EOS-M mount.
The news for EOS-M owners is almost all good. The EOS-M mount puts the lens closer to the image pane, so that no optical correction is required, and thus no introduction of aberration or distortion. There is also no light loss, since there is no extra glass (or plastic) in the light path. The lens will need to be stopped down to meter, which was a common practice years ago, before auto diaphragm lenses were developed. The traditional process was, compose, focus, stop down and meter, then shoot. It takes longer to say than to do. One disadvantage to the process was that the viewfinder would go dim when stopping down, but with the electronic LCD self adjusting this does not happen on the EOS-M.
Setting the exposure can be done manually , through these lenses, or simply by stopping down and letting the camera system set the shutter speed. In this way, the EOS-M with an FD lens is operationally similar to an aperture priority camera. With the camera being rather slow at auto focusing, manual focus with an FD lens may be faster and could be more accurate. Though manual focus is an option with the standard lenses on the EOS-M, the process is painful, and involves a focus ring which activates a focus server motor. So the focus is indirect. With the FD lenses the mechanical system is much faster and more natural, with less of a tendency to overshoot the focus. In some ways, operation with the FD lenses is better than with the EF or the EOS-M mount lenses.
At its introduction, the EOS-M was somewhat overpriced, at $800, and this along with its amazingly slow autofocus system were the major reasons it was so seriously panned. Yet a couple of things have changed, making the camera quite a bit more desirable. The first is that the price has been more than cut in half. Street price on the EOS-M is around $300 as of this writing. Canon has also released a firmware upgrade that improves the autofocus, though this is still a weak point. Really, the camera has a lot going for it. The all metal body is durable, light, and feels solid. It can function as an interchangeable lens full HD video camera. It can use the full capacity of the entire series of Canon EF lenses, and FD lenses as well, though at reduced functionality. It is also capable of great picture quality, and is quite compact.
When compared to the Nikon **/*, which now sells for about the same price, the EOS-M really shines. Both cameras are of similar size, and function similarly, yet the larger and higher resolution imager of the EOS-M takes better photos. The Nikon does have the edge in autofocus performance, yet the EOS-M is good enough under most circumstances. The final factor, for me, was that the EOS-M will use all of my current EF lenses with no loss of functionality. If I did not have a collection of Canon lenses, the decision might have been more difficult; but I very well may have gone with the EOS-M anyway, due to its better imager.
I have listed the recent cost of some of these items, for the budget conscious photographer. The system is particularly cost efficient if you use some manual aperture FD lenses. You are better off with telephotos or normal lenses when purchasing FD equipment, since the newer EF-S and EOS-M wide angle/normal lenses are not for full frame and can be made a bit smaller and cheaper than a lens designed to cover the whole 35mm frame size. So I would stick with FD lenses of 50mm and above. Prices are subject to change, and sometimes people get bargains - still, this is what I spotted on ebay (buy it now prices) in December 2014.
There is no reason this should not be a very popular line of cameras, and perhaps that is part of the reason Canon hamstrung the model and is not pushing it as hard as it could. With a good, eyelevel electronic viewfinder, and an improved autofocus system - both well within the reach of Canon, this camera could have been a breakthrough model. So it is not as bad as many think, but not as good as it should be. It is hard not to think that Canon is not protecting its higher end and higher priced EOS DSLR's from internal competition; but this is a risky gamble to take.
Presently, for someone already invested in Canon lenses, the EOS-M is good enough. Yet Canon needs to get seriously on the ball. Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, and even Sony and Samsung all have good mirrorless cameras, in a variety of formats, including full frame 35. Canon was the breakthrough company when it came to professional digital camera systems for the mass market; but they have been resting on their laurels. If I did not already have a collection of Canon bodies, and an investment in Canon lenses, I would have gone with the Nikon, Fuji, or Olympus systems. I like this camera, and really enjoy its compact dimensions and handling qualities; but it would be true love if it had an eye level viewfinder, and better focusing system, with some better manual controls and less reliance upon the LCD.
I believe, along with many other serious photographers, that the mirrorless camera is the wave of the future, and will eventually replace the DSLR, as the model of choice for professional and serious amateur photographers. *******
Canon has been hinting around (This is being written in late 2014), that it will be making vast improvements on its EOS-M series cameras in the coming year. This is great news, if true. I would hate to have my camera become an orphan, like the old Pentax 110 series SLR's. I would also hate to see Canon fall from a leadership position into obscurity.