We were initially surprised that Canon agreed to loan us the EOS R for review, given that our coverage doesn’t really revolve around photography or creative works. Look, we even made a meme about it!
Still, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to not only try a new mirrorless on the market. It would also let me sample the performance of something that could potentially replace my aging 60D in the future.
Does the EOS R fit the bill for my next full-frame? Let’s find out.
What is the Canon EOS R?
The Canon EOS R, and by extension, the EOS RP, is Canon’s first foray into the world of High-end mirrorless DSLRs.
As the demand for mirrorless systems grew with the likes of Sony coming in from the left field, it was only a matter of time before the old guards of the DSLR world get in on the piece of the pie; the EOS R was Canon’s result.
Canon seems to have wanted to play it safe for now as you could say that the EOS R is basically a mirrorless version of the 5D Mk IV while its younger sibling, the EOS RP is just a mirrorless revision of the 6D Mk II. While we might not be seeing new sensors for these bodies, they are certainly a step down from the price you would pay for their current DSLR.
What I look for in a professional camera.
As this is our first camera review on the site, I would like to set a precedent on what I would personally look for when buying a camera coming from a media perspective:
Real performance, great in a clutch.
While I do like performance metrics and numbers and all that jazz, those metrics are not going to objectively tell you the whole story. As a near perfect (horse)-man, I am still subject to conditions and events beyond my control. This where the camera needs to step up on its game, figuratively speaking.
I cannot remember the countless times I’ve seen the number of pictures that looked pretty good when viewed on the small LCD screen only to be blatantly disappointed on the details or focus when viewing it on the desktop. Yes, “You miss every shot you don’t take” does apply here but sometimes even the opportunity eludes even me to take multiple pictures of the subject.
This is where “You only have one shot” become the most literal way of interpretation. You need to be able to salvage the picture you just took, this is where sensor performance comes heavily into play; on how decent you can make it to at least be presentable to the client, be it freelance, to companies or otherwise.
Pricing and Specifications.
Since local pricing for cameras seem to vary from their US counterpart, we will be using prices in USD for a more apt comparison. Also, since Canon has announced the price cut of the EOS R from $2,299 to $1,999, it would be much easier to take into account as the APAC region has not received this discounted rate yet.
Of course, we would be comparing it against the major brands that also have a market presence in cameras, mirrorless or otherwise.
|Camera||Canon EOS R||Nikon Z6||Sony A7 III|
|Sensor Size||Full Frame||Full Frame||Full Frame|
|Sensor Size (MP)||30.1 MP||24.5MP||24MP|
|Shutter Burst Rate||8 fps||12 fps||10 fps|
|Video Recording Modes||1080p60/ 4k30 (1.75x crop)||1080p120/ 4k30 (1.5x crop)||1080p60/4k30 (1.2x crop)|
|Price (Body only)||$1,999 USD||$1,999 USD||$1,999 USD|
Honestly, the real sore thumb I could see from the get-go is definitely the missed opportunity to also offer In-body Stabilization, especially on their current flagship product.
I could harp on this subject but it really all comes down to the fact that third-party lenses, and in fact even Canon’s own lenses, are going to be more expensive in the long run without it.
We will certainly not see very compact prime lenses if they have to cram in the additional electronics for image-stabilization.
As you might well know, these new Canon mirrorless bodies come with a new lens mount coupled with a few lenses. The selection currently isn’t that great at the moment with only very limited selection of lenses but according to the rumor mill, more “workhorse” lenses are due for release sometime in the second half of the year.
Fortunately for current Canon users upgrading from a previous setup, Canon has already provided an EF to RF mount converter so that you could use your older EF lenses on this new system. Unfortunately for those people, it costs around ~$300 SGD for the adaptor which is a little too steep for my tastes.
It is also noteworthy to mention that there are currently no cheap lenses available for the system so users should really consider just saving up for the (admittedly pretty good) 24-105 kit lens instead of spending an additional sum for the adaptor so that you could use cheap EF lenses.
It was also unfortunate that our test unit did not come with the adapter included so we are unable to test any functionality or quality in regards to that.
Design, Build Quality & Ergonomics.
Note: All testing is done on my trusty 128Gb Sandisk Extreme Pro card
The design of the Canon EOS R doesn’t differ much from your other Canon bodies: It still has the same ‘feel’, the same kind of Canon Ergonomics that makes you feel oh so good carrying around the camera. Fortunately for me, the grooves of the right-hand grip fits perfectly on my hands without me feeling cramped in the hands.
There is also no compromise in the material in Canon’s flagship mirrorless; a magnesium alloy coupled with a polycarbonate body ensures that the body is resilient to wear and tear and environmental forces while still being the lightest of the bunch in comparison with its competitors.
Menu & Buttons.
Frankly, the only nitpick I could find was in the buttons.
Only one in particular though, was the slight recess in the “mode” button that changes camera modes; I would like to see it instead be a slight bump so that it would be easier to feel without tilting the camera towards yourself too much.
These buttons can, of course, be customized to your liking via the appropriate menu setting.
Here you can find a plethora of customizations too large to list within this review; though one did catch my eye. Canon has, due to the use of the electronic focusing design, been able to reverse the way to focus in and out via the “Nikon way” by reversing the signals via software; a cool feature meant to improve individual Ergonomics definitely gets a thumbs up from me.
SD Card Slot.
Ah, my favourite topic.
It looks like the number has went from not having one at all, to having one too little. Professionals would prefer to have two slots so that they have a redundant backup in case one fails during an event or trip.
I will mark them down for this, though, as it is marketed as a professional camera. Though to be fair, the Z6 also lacks the second card slot in our comparison and only the Sony body comes out on top with 2.
As many no doubt noted, Canon has decided to implement touch controls on the camera body itself in the form of a touch bar. While I, like many others, prefer physical buttons on a camera, I still decided to give it a try.
For me personally, I feel like touch controls belong on a device when general gestures will do the trick; Phones are a good example as they require general, not very precise gestures in order to work. I can’t think of any setting that would fit this criteria except for switching modes.
The slider is simply too inaccurate to fine-tune anything that I would like to change on the fly such as aperture, focus or even ISO. Speaking of ISO, under manual mode and using the touch bar, I had some trouble switching from Auto ISO to manual (100) iso then back to auto again within the video mode UI.
Auto Focusing & General Use – Still dual-pixel, still (mostly) good
Note: We are using the default v1.0 of the firmware installed so some things might be improved in the latest version, we decided not to touch anything firmware-related as it is a test camera.
Continuous auto-focusing (Stills Mode)
In stills mode, the auto focusing works decently well under single shooting mode. In what I could only describe as a really excited dog playing fetch that will occasionally bring back something else other than the thing you’ve just thrown; the auto focus is quick but has troubles finding the right subject around 25% of the time while looking at the entire AF area.
At times, it also has trouble finding the subject even if you try to lock on by zooming into the subject and half-pressing the shutter button. However, once the target is locked, the tracking is good and the focus remains on point when clicking on the shutter.
It is unfortunate that Canon was unable to get this mode to also work with eye-detection as that would guarantee good focus on the eyes when taking portraits. It is unknown if they would be able to include this in a firmware update much like Sony has with their animal eyetracking.
Continuous auto-focusing (Video Mode)
In video mode, focusing is surprisingly fast and accurate, at times even more accurate than stills mode. Most objects come into focus decently quickly and there was only one time in the Toys R’ Us walkaround where it didn’t focus properly on the fur of the soft toys.
Clicking the “AF-on” button will also trigger a manual AF that seem to work about 100% of the time, focusing on the right subjects and such which is nice to see.
Low speed continuous (tracking priority)
In this drive mode, the camera is also able to track and shoot subjects at a low speed while holding down the shutter button. I didn’t find this mode to be not very useful though, as it seemed to have trouble locking on to the moving subject even after a few half-presses and seem to like to fixate on stationary subjects more than walking people; even if the person is standing near the center of the frame.
I could maybe use 50% of the shots I’ve taken in this mode.
Single AF (with and without eye tracking)
In single AF mode, the dual pixel AF really shines through as a fast-focusing system. Most of the time it gets the subject dead-on on first try and doesn’t take long at all for the focusing system to kick in. A solid performance if I must say so.
Although, I feel like with eye-tracking, the process did get somewhat slower even if used in conjunction with “face detect” mode. The eye reticule just doesn’t seem to show up even if face-detection is working. When it does work however, the focus on the eyes is good and has no trouble with the subject moving their head around.
Video (4k) performance
4k video is by far the most popularly complained feature of this camera; simply because you are sacrificing too much in terms of the crop factor to be able to do so. At 1.75x the normal crop, you are not leaving much Field of View to work with unless you happen to also have an expensive wide angle, low aperture lens.
While the 30-minute limit on 4k videos doesn’t bother much to me personally, I can see why it is an inconvenience to people who frequently shoot video.
In our rolling shutter test where we simply do some horizonal and vertical pans to check for distortion due to the rolling shutter, the camera performed well under the quick pan situation and is not really of a concern for video shooters.
Electronic View Finder (EVF)
Since this was my first opportunity to shoot on a mirrorless system, here is my take on the EVF. I found to be actually decent; the screen didn’t have much noticeable delay from what you would get on a traditional viewfinder although it could use some improvement in the FPS department; while it didn’t make me nauseous when using it, there is certainly room for improvement to make it a smoother experienced for the keen-eyed.
I will also note here that an EVF does have its benefits such as a better preview of the final image before pressing the shutter being a primary advantage. While technology has not yet negated its disadvantages, I feel like it is currently good enough, at least for general photography.
While a proximity sensor below the viewfinder seemed like a good idea on paper being able to save on the battery powering the small LCD, I found that it actually triggers the main screen to be turned off on the proximity of your hands. I feel like this is quite the oversight to be able to do so, especially in in menu mode where it wouldn’t make sense to navigate it within the EVF anyway.
Canon should provide users with a way to turn off the sensor in menus and only activate when out of it.
ISO performance – A 5D Mk IV under the hood.
ISO performance hasn’t changed with regards to the ‘graininess’ of the sensor at high ISOs. The pictures look usable for me personally, up till 12800 ISO. Any higher than that and it would be too grainy for practical use, I feel.
In low ISOs, there is really not much to compare when you have ample light and all modern cameras will perform similarly.
Exposure Recovery .
Exposure recovery is the meat and bones of every decently performing camera; a true metric worth contesting for all manufacturers. Below we will take a look at a +3 -3 situation where it is the most common scenario photographers will encounter during general shooting:
Below we will take a look at recovering detail from a +3 stop over exposure.
Below we will take a look at recovering detail from a -3 stop under exposure.
As you can see, in both instances I was able to bring back most of the details with contrast being on the weak side for the over exposed photo which can still be further refined and fixed. This camera will do fine for most users, even if the camera sensor is not technically the best-in-class in comparison.
No surprises here with the battery performance either. Based on the very common LP-E6 battery we’ve seen in countless Canon bodies although this is a slightly newer revision named LP-E6N. I’ve tested the system using the regular LP-E6 battery from my own 60D and that works just fine.
A quick google suggests that the LP-E6N battery is rated for 370 shots; I think the battery I got for the system didn’t quite reach that as I was only able to take about 130 shots together with around ~15 minutes of footage which already left me at ~30% battery capacity.
YMMV as the manufacturing date indicates that the battery is already 3 years old; it is expected for the battery to lose some performance as it ages.
It is important to note that the system accepts third-party batteries just fine from my own experience so users may opt to go for that cheaper route if one chooses to do so.
Kit lens: RF 24-105 f/4 IS USM ‘L” mini review.
You know Canon isn’t playing around when the default kit lens come with the ‘L’ series designation; recommending their top-quality line-up of lenses for a “basic” kit setup. At $900 USD (or about $1,499 SGD as of current writing) at those specifications, this lens won’t be breaking any records even comparing it to the EF counterpart, the EF 24-105mm F/4 IS USM Mk II.
However, this doesn’t mean that there are no improvements when it comes to the fine grain details as we take a closer look at this workhorse of a lens. It is interesting to note that our test unit did not come with a lens hood, although that could be the fact that we may not have the retail version of the box.
Design, Build Quality and Ergonomics.
The housing and build quality seem to have taken a step up when compared to the EF mount equivalent. As far as I can tell, the housing is not only solid but also made mostly of metal. At a hefty 700g, the weight is pretty chunky and is actually quite a bit heavier than the camera body itself, although not by much.
When it comes to holding the system, the weight is evenly distributed and doesn’t tilt in the direction of the lens, making handheld video a bit easier.
The 3 rings that are on the lens are all very pleasant to use and feels nice and damp; although I did find the zoom ring to be a tad bit difficult to turn in comparison to the other rings but I’ll assume that it does get looser with time. The zoom ring also has both a different groove and a slight bump with the banding to photographers differentiate the focus and zoom rings without looking at the lens itself; a neat and certainly appreciated feature from Canon.
Interestingly, Canon has gone for and electronic focusing system for this lens meaning that turning the ring in manual mode will only allow you to change the focusing electronically; this lens might not work without electronic coupling if this were the case. That is, even if we see any adaptors being made for other mounts to RF, it is probably not cheap. The upside is that it does electronically show the focusing distance, which might help gauge the distance a little better than traditional “eye power” manual focusing.
Lastly, there is a third, customizable ring around the iconic red banding of the ‘L’ series that can be used to configure whatever you like to it; personally, I fancied it to be aperture (though I don’t change it much) so that all the main methods of operating a lens are on the lens itself.
At the bottom, it is all the usual switches for these types of lens; Canon also included a locking switch for those that don’t want to accidentally change the focal range of the lens. Unfortunately, the lens doesn’t lock in place at any range other than the maximum 24mm which is sad to see; this would be a handy feature for taking video at a fixed zoom other than at the widest angle.
I feel like they must’ve improved on the hardware without telling anyone; the image stabilization is actually awesome! I found this to be the variation of an IS system to be the quietest motor Canon has released as of yet. I basically couldn’t hear anything coming from the lens be it using it in video or stills mode, not to mention it definitely wasn’t picked up by the camera’s internal microphone; a great performance by this lens.
While I don’t have the EF version of the lens at hand for comparison, this IS system showed no signs of jitter and compensated for movement like walking pretty well; another great performance.
At the minimum focus distance of 0.45m, the maximum image reproduction is typical of this type of lens so not much to see here.
Straight from the maximum aperture, this lens performs well in terms of sharpness. Center sharpness, even at F/4, is more than satisfactory. Center sharpness gets even better if you stop it down to F/5.6 or lower but this really isn’t necessary, its good enough wide open.
Going into the corner sharpness, we see above average performance, nothing as fantastic as the center but still really serviceable for a multi-purpose zoom lens. Stop down to F/5.6 or lower to get slightly better results.
Note: No lens hood was used for this test (not that we have one, but still) to simulate the worst-case scenario for this lens
In our optical flaring test, I put the optical quality and coating of the lens to the challenge of a street flood light at night; a tough situation for most lenses. Based on their usual Super Spectra Coating that most ‘L’ lenses use, Canon veterans should know what to expect from this particular coating.
Fortunately, we see great performance with this lens as demonstrated with the video above. Lens flares are minimal even if the strong light is coming in from a sharp angle. I’d say the lens is doing a good job at preserving the quality around the highlights and even more details can be recovered if you take the time to do so through software.
To minimize flaring, it is recommended to shoot the Canon EOS R with Auto ISO enabled to preserve as much detail as possible in this situation.
In most of my pictures, the lens seems to have decent control with regards to color distortion from the fringes but unfortunately, they are still visible when you zoom in close enough. In a real scenario for professional work, these can be removed easily via software but it is actually optically challenging for Canon to eliminate it via good glass coating, especially with a zoom lens when all ranges need to be considered.
Still, I don’t find it a problem submitting work without correction as it is decent enough in most situations without being too obvious or overbearing; unless under the most offending of cases.
At F/4, the bokeh isn’t going to blow anyone away with deeply blurred backgrounds. What you do get when using it, is surprisingly pleasant. I can’t say that they, for a lack of a word, are creamy, with a severe blur going on the further away from the focal length of your subject, but they are not distracting. The blur serves its primary function well, separating your subject from the background while emphasising on the details of your subject.
I quite like the bokeh of this lens so this gets a thumbs up from me; though this is really only a matter of preference.
Due to the constant max f/4 aperture, expect the same kind of blur across the entire zoom range; an especially useful feature for videographers who like to zoom a lot as there would be no lighting changes to the scene when zooming in.
Note: For this testing, nothing will be modified from raw to jpg unless stated otherwise
As I’ve said previously, I really value real-world performance much more than simply taking a sample “test shot” in a more controlled environment (which was why I hardly had any test shots in the first place). Here, the sum of its parts is definitely greater as a whole:
Here I generally took an assortment of random pictures while walking outside; this is, of course, no challenge to this lens + body setup as this is where it is in its element. Since the lighting is mostly even, I’ve used the following setting just in case I need to shoot a moving subject:
- Auto ISO
- Servo AF + Face Tracking
- Partial metering in single shooting mode
As per usual, I went and covered several events as part of my practical testing scenario in order to reliably test a camera in real-world situations.
Let’s take a look:
Ramadan Bazzar @ Suntec
I had a chance to go to the Ramadan Bazaar on one of the weekends. There was a particularly large crowd of people looking to buy food after breaking their fast and the place was smoky and filled with even but incandescent lighting with people wearing colourful but contrasting colors; a perfect time to test out some of that Canon color science.
I used the following settings with white balance set to white priority (a mode to keep the whites as close to neutral as possible):
- Auto ISO
- Servo AF + Face Tracking
- Partial Metering in single shooting mode
ASUS launch event @ Scape.
We were invited to cover Asus’ launch event @ Scape and encountered the greatest challenge of the bunch: moving lights coupled with both incandescent and white lights both in a mostly poorly lit hall full of flashing colors. Still, the results speak for themselves:
- Auto ISO
- Servo AF + Face Tracking
- Partial metering in single shooting mode
Fireside talk with Dr. Janil Puthucheary @ ThoughtWorks Singapore.
In our third stop, we went to an actual press event under even, office lighting conditions; something most press in the media would be more akin to be, environment-wise. Of course, the camera didn’t even break a sweat in these conditions:
- Auto ISO
- Servo AF + Face Tracking
- Partial metering in single shooting mode
I think it that it is safe to say that any product offered within this price range isn’t going to suck; you’re going to get exactly what you paid for.
The EOS R is really only suited for general photography as I didn’t find the hit-rate using the low speed continuous AF system to be particularly good even under “not very challenging” situations.
While sports can be done with 8FPS shooting, it is not the most recommended system to do so on and there are better options in the market out there. The lack of Servo AF with eye-tracking is also a shame as that would’ve really helped with portrait shooting (although I honestly think this could be patched via firmware).
But hey, not all is doom and gloom for the red team. It still has the same software, Canon ergonomics and color science and ease-of-use that everyone praises them for. If you do not mind 4k recording in particular and like Canon for the strengths that they provide (provided it out weighs the cons for you), then just taking this as a 5D Mk IV BUT very much cheaper and lighter doesn’t seem like a bad deal at all!
Great camera and you get major bang for your buck, though it does come with some downsides.
– Lightest camera, high MP, great build quality.
– Great kit lens.
– Canon auto-focusing for stills/videos.
– Good articulating screen; decent OVF.
– Current lack of RF lenses.
– Lackluster 4K video mode.
– Continuous tracking AF w/ tracking priority could be improved.
– No In-Body Stabilization