Canon EOS M Review

Canon EOS M
In-Depth Review

The Canon EOS M delivers arguably the best image quality per cubic inch (mm) - or per ounce (gram) of any Canon digital camera produced as of review time. When small and light are important specifications, and when image quality cannot be sacrificed, the Canon EOS M (the refreshingly shortest EOS camera name we've seen in a very long time) should be on your consideration list. If fast autofocus is a requirement for your application, the EOS M is going to leave you wanting in this regard (update: AF speed is now much improved - please read on).

Let's jump right into image quality. Sensor size plays an important an important role in image quality and the EOS M receives a full APS-C format imaging sensor. Here is a graphic that helps visualize sensor size across the formats including Canon's most recent large-sensored small camera, the Canon PowerShot G1 X.

Sensor Size Comparison

While the EOS M's sensor size isn't dramatically larger than the G1 X's sensor, I definitely like 3:2 aspect ratio better. And the EOS M's sensor is huge relative to similar-in-physical-size point and shoot models such as the PowerShot G12.

Below is a mostly-sensor attribute comparison chart. Note the similarity between the EOS M and the 7D/60D/T4i-era DSLRs.

ModelFOVCFSensorPixel SizePixels/MegapixelsViewfinderDLA*
Canon PowerShot G1 X1.9x18.7 x 14.0mm4.3µm4352 x 326414.3  f/6.9
Canon PowerShot G124.7x7.4 x 5.6mm2.7µm3648 x 204810.0  f/4.3
Canon PowerShot G94.7x7.6 x 5.7mm2.5µm4000 x 300012.1  f/4.0
Canon EOS M1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0  f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / 100D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .87x95%f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel T5i / 700D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .85x95%f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel T4i / 650D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .85x95%f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel T3i / 600D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .85x95%f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel T2i / 550D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .87x95%f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel T1i / 500D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.7µm4752 x 316815.1 .87x95%f/7.5
Canon EOS Rebel T5 / 1200D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .80x95%f/6.8
Canon EOS Rebel T3 / 1100D1.6x22.2 x 14.7mm5.2µm4272 x 284812.0 .80x95%f/8.3
Canon EOS Rebel XSi / 450D1.6x22.2 x 14.8mm5.2µm4272 x 284812.2 .87x95%f/8.3
Canon EOS Rebel XS / 1000D1.6x22.2 x 14.8mm5.7µm3888 x 259210.1 .81x95%f/9.1
Canon EOS Rebel XTi / 400D1.6x22.2 x 14.8mm5.7µm3888 x 259210.1 .80x95%f/9.1
Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D1.6x22.2 x 14.8mm6.4µm3456 x 23048.0 .80x95%f/10.2
Canon EOS 300D Digital Rebel1.6x22.7 x 15.1mm7.4µm3088 x 20566.3 .80x95%f/11.8
Canon EOS 70D1.6x22.5 x 15.0mm4.1µm5472 x 364820.2 .95x98%f/6.6
Canon EOS 60D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 .95x96%f/6.9
Canon EOS 50D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.7µm4752 x 316815.1 .95x95%f/7.5
Canon EOS 40D1.6x22.2 x 14.8mm5.7µm3888 x 259210.1 .95x95%f/9.1
Canon EOS 7D1.6x22.3 x 14.9mm4.3µm5184 x 345618.0 1.0x100%f/6.9
Canon EOS 6D1.0x35.8 x 23.9mm6.54µm5472 x 364820.2 .71x97%f/10.5
Canon EOS 5D Mark III1.0x36.0 x 24.0mm6.25µm5760 x 384022.3 .71x100%f/10.1
Canon EOS 5D Mark II1.0x35.8 x 23.9mm6.4µm5616 x 374421.1 .71x98%f/10.2
Canon EOS-1D X1.0x36.0 x 24.0mm6.9µm5184 x 345618.1 .76x100%f/11.0
* Learn more about DLA (Diffraction Limited Aperture)

Per Canon's Chuck Westfall, the Canon EOS M has received the exact imaging system found in the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D DSLR Camera. Looking at the image quality comparison between the EOS M and T4i, we see that the two cameras deliver equally sharp images at equivalent resolution - equal to the best available in a Canon APS-C sensor format camera.

I'll let you use the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D DSLR Camera review's color block and fabric comparisons to see how the 18mp EOS M-equivalent T4i compares to many other current and recent Canon EOS DSLR Cameras in regards to noise. Basically, with the T4i's exact imaging system, the M will deliver low noise images equal to the best Canon APS-C DSLRs and at review time, image quality that is equal to the best in the APS-C class.

What I'm seeing in real life use supports what the lab results and technical specs say I should see. You give up nothing in regards to APS-C image quality to have such a tiny camera.

Let's look at size next as size is of course one of the EOS M's most attractive features. Never before has such a tiny EOS camera been available. With only the body cap attached, it easily fits in most typical pockets - a claim the already small EOS Rebel bodies cannot begin to make. The following table shows comparative RAW file sizes for a photo of a standard in-studio setup with a moderately-high amount of detail taken with the referenced Canon EOS DSLR body.

Model / File Size in MB @ ISO:(MP)100200400800160032006400128002560051200102400204800
Canon PowerShot G1 X(14.3)19.119.620.220.921.723.124.926.2    
Canon EOS Rebel SL1(18.0)23.724.224.825.827.128.730.833.437.2   
Canon EOS Rebel T4i / T5i(18.0)24.124.525.226.127.629.031.133.737.4   
Canon EOS Rebel T3i(18.0)25.525.926.627.528.730.332.434.9    
Canon EOS Rebel T2i(18.0)25.525.826.527.428.630.232.334.9    
Canon EOS Rebel T1i(15.1)20.621.021.522.423.425.027.129.8    
Canon EOS Rebel T5(18.0)25.425.926.627.528.830.232.535.1    
Canon EOS Rebel T3(12.2)17.818.018.318.919.720.622.0     
Canon EOS Rebel XSi(12.2)15.415.916.617.518.7       
Canon EOS Rebel XS(10.1)10.410.610.911.311.9       
Canon EOS 70D(20.2)25.125.726.527.729.331.133.335.939.5   
Canon EOS 60D(18.0)25.225.626.227.028.329.932.234.8    
Canon EOS 50D(15.1)20.320.721.322.123.224.726.729.5    
Canon EOS 7D(18.0)24.124.525.326.227.328.630.733.2    
Canon EOS 6D(20.2)25.325.626.026.727.929.230.933.135.338.642.5 
Canon EOS 5D Mark III(22.3)28.629.029.530.331.633.135.337.840.644.749.2 
Canon EOS 5D Mark II(21.1)26.927.127.728.629.731.333.636.741.2   
Canon EOS-1D X(18.1)23.723.924.324.825.726.727.929.731.834.537.441.3
Canon RAW file sizes increase with: 1. Resolution 2. Bit Depth (14-bit is better/larger) 3. Detail (noise adds detail, so high ISO file sizes increase). Memory and disk are cheap - buy more. :)

Putting the numbers into perspective, following are three examples of the Canon EOS M in front of the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D:

M in front of Canon T4i

M above Canon T4i

M in front of Canon T3i

The size difference between these two cameras is impressive. But of course, you usually do not get something for nothing. Gone is the viewfinder, the flash, many controls/knobs and the DSLR grip you are likely used to.

Here is a much broader graphical comparison of the M back:

Canon EOS M Back View Comparison

M | G1 X | T4i | T3i | T2i | T1i | T3 | XSi | XS | XTi | 60D | 50D | 40D | 30D | G12 | G9

To be blunt: I miss the viewfinder. Not a barely-usable viewfinder like that found on the PowerShot G1 X, but a real DSLR viewfinder. I find composing handheld to be more difficult - and I end up with far more tilted images (the M has no electronic level). I find shooting handheld to be less stable without the viewfinder pressed into my eyebrow (I frequently have a red mark by my eyebrow from doing such).

Life is better when shooting from a tripod where the ideal composition can be dialed in without arms-at-eye-focusing-distance moving constantly.

The EOS M receives a very nice 3", 1,040,000-dot 3:2 ratio LCD display - though somewhat regrettably, the M LCD does not receive the Vari-Angle treatment. Making up to the loss of controls/buttons/knobs/etc. is the M's also T4i-inherited, nicely implemented touch screen capability.

I liked the touch screen on the T4i, but ... I still had the alternate controls to use. On the EOS M, many functions including Mode, shutter, aperture and ISO settings can only be changed using the touch screen. I still like the touch screen and find it well implemented in what is essentially Canon's first DSLR version of such. But I find it slower to change settings using only the touch screen.

Those controls remaining are very nicely laid out for right thumb access. The multi-controller has a crisp edge ring with well-defined clicks and an easy-to-find set button. There is a good quality feel to this controller and the surrounding buttons.

Canon EOS M Top View Comparison

M | G1 X | T4i | T3i | T2i | T1i | T3 | XSi | XTi | XS
1D X | 1D IV | 1D III | 5D III | 5D II | 5D | 7D | 60D | 50D

On top, we find a pair of microphones revealing the EOS M's stereo recording capabilities.

Also found on top is a hot shoe revealing the EOS M's compatibility with the vast Canon Speedlite flash system. The Canon EOS M does not have a built-in flash, but the Canon Speedlite 90EX Pocket Flash will give you basic flash capability - plus the ability to master remote flashes.

In addition to the requisite power button and shutter release, a small mode ring is provided. The A+ green square is the M's fully automatic point and shoot mode (Scene Intelligent Auto using EOS Scene Detection Technology). The white camera mode position opens up a vast array of control over the camera settings (those familiar with DSLRs will be pleased with the available options). The actual mode (M, Av, Tv, P and a host of creative auto modes) and all of the other related settings are selected using the touch screen.

The movie camera mode is of course for shooting movies. Space-constrained production-quality video needs are a capability the EOS M is well-suited for. The EOS M is essentially equivalent to the excellent Rebel T4i in regards to video capabilities.

Where the Canon M fits into the Canon Video-Capable Camera Lineup

Especially obvious from the top view is the EOS M's lack of grip surface. The grip had to go to conserve space, but I think Canon did a good job with what remained to work with. My middle finger positions vertically along a raised strip in front of the camera with my thumb resting on the slightly recessed area made for it on the back of the camera.

I've spent a significant number of hours with this camera in my hand (no strap attached) and I like the grip design. But, with all but the smallest lenses attached, you are going to want to carry this camera by the lens itself - or the neck strap.

Canon EOS M Side View Comparison

M | T4i | T3i | T2i | T3 | 60D | 7D | 5D III | 1D IV

Again, small size is really a big deal with this camera. But, all DSLR cameras and MILCs (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras) need a lens - and the lens size must be factored into the final functioning size equation.

Along with the EOS M comes a new lens format - the EF-M lens. I forgot to ask, so I will dangerously assume that "M" (in both EOS M and EF-M) stands for "mirrorless". Like the EOS M camera, the new EF-M lenses are tiny. The downside is that there are only two EF-M lenses available at review time. They are the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM Pancake Lens and the Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens. Fortunately, both are quite good optically

Those wanting a very compact overall camera size will want to select between one of these two lenses. The EF-M 22 will give the tiniest overall camera size, but most people are going to want the zoom range and image stabilization features of the modestly larger 18-55mm lens. Note that the EF-M lenses have lost their switches also. The only way to set auto/manual focus and IS on/off is from within the menu system - both of these options now live on my My Menu setup.

Canon EF-EOS M Adapter

The Canon EOS M is not limited to only EF-M lenses. With the addition of the Canon EF-EOS M Adapter (shown above with included, removable tripod mount), any of the incredible selection of Canon EF, EF-S, TS-E or MP-E lens can be mounted on the EOS M. Yes, ANY of those lenses - including the very-significantly-large Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II USM Lens as shown below.

Canon EOS M with EF 600mm f/4 IS II Lens

Obviously, overall functioning camera size is seriously impacted by many of these larger lenses. Here is a look at various lenses mounted to the Canon EOS M:

Canon EOS M with various lenses mounted

And here is a similar comparison from the top:

Canon EOS M with various lenses mounted - Top View

The bigger the lens, the less relative difference this little camera makes in your overall carry size relative to having a DSLR camera mounted.

Those stepping up to the EOS M from a fixed-lens point and shoot camera should note that zooming and manual focusing utilize the lens rings. Most DSLR lens rings are a huge step up from the electronic zooming and manual focus controls in the P&S cameras - such as the G1 X.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, autofocus speed is a shortcoming of this camera. If image quality for the size/weight is the EOS M's biggest asset, AF is its biggest liability.

Don't get me wrong - the M focuses accurately and is completely usable in this regard - if you are not in a hurry, your subject is not in motion or you are not focusing in very low light conditions at distances the built-in AF assist light cannot reach (8.2'/ 2.5m).

With the mirror removed, fast conventional sub-mirror-based DSLR phase detection is also removed. The EOS M gets the Rebel T4i's Hybrid on-sensor AF System that combines sensor-based phase detection with contrast AF.

"The EOS M APS-C sensor features a new Hybrid AF System with a total of 31 AF points which uses the central pixels of the sensor to enable continuous AF when shooting in Live View Mode or when recording EOS Movies. The Hybrid AF system uses a combination of both phase detection and contrast AF to ensure quick and accurate auto focus." [Canon]

The on-sensor phase-detection AF quickly brings the subject into near-accurate focus and contrast detection more slowly completes the task.

While the EOS M's AF system perhaps deserves some of the speed criticism it has received, it has been over-beaten-up from my perspective. This camera is not the right choice for shooting fast action, but it is an excellent choice for a multitude of other uses. Performance with the EF-M 18-55mm Lens is actually quite reasonable.

2013-06-27 Update: Canon has just release EOS M firmware version 2.0.2 update. This update markedly improves the M's AF speed – this difference is very noticeable. Do not expect conventional phase detection speed, but AF speed is much less of an M issue.

Essentially, The EOS is completely a Rebel T4i from a feature set perspective - with the viewfinder, pop-up flash, conventional DSLR AF system and grip removed (and a few other already-noted changes - especially related to the major size reduction). There are vey few significant differences remaining, so I suggest you read the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D DSLR Camera review to learn more about the EOS M's other capabilities. Or read the EOS M owner's manual (link at the top of this review).

A couple of more differences between the T4i and M that I should mention:

The T4i allows ±5 stops of Exposure Compensation vs. ±3 stops for the M.

The T4i's drive is rated at 5 fps vs. 4.3 fps for the M (with significant limitations in AI Servo mode - again, this is not an action camera). The T4i's buffer depth is 22/6 vs. 15/6 (JPG/RAW shots) for the M.

The T4i's metering range is EV 0-20 vs. the M's EV 1-20.

The EOS M's Canon Battery Pack LP-E12 is another EOS M limitation. Though tiny, this battery is only rated to deliver approximately 230 shots when shooting still photos. I am getting a healthy percentage higher shots-per-charge than the rating suggests (perhaps 300+), but you should have two or more of these batteries for serious shooting. The EOS M indicates battery level in one of four levels on LCD.

Sample Picture

The EOS M sample picture above was captured handheld with the EF-M 18-55mm lens at 43mm (1/15, f/8 and ISO 100).

With the tiny size of this camera, many of us DSLR shooters lack the proper case for compactly storing and transporting it. I asked Maury over at Lowepro for his suggestions. If you want a SlipLock-attachable case to carry the M with the EF-M 18-55 mounted, consider the Lowepro Dashpoint 30 or the S&F Utility Bag 100 AW. The M with an EF-M 22mm lens mounted packs perfectly in a Dashpoint 20 (thanks John).

Other good Lowepro options are the Adventura TLZ 15, Adventura 120, Apex 110 AW, Compact Courier 70, Compact Courier 80, Edit 110, Rezo 110 AW and Streamline 100.

The M with an EF-M 22mm lens mounted packs perfectly in a Dashpoint 20 (thanks John).

I purchased a Dashpoint 30 at B&H - and really like it. It compactly holds the EOS M with the EF-M 18-55mm mounted.

I spent an entire day skiing in the Catskills with the EOS M in a Dashpoint 30 under my ski jacket. I didn't even think about it being there most of the day. Of course, the 2°F temps combined with stiff winds made using this bare-hand-only camera not-so-desirable - and framing using the LCD in bright snow while wearing sunglasses made getting good results even more challenging.

Yes, I'm keeping this camera (purchased retail). I love it. The Canon EOS M has replaced the Canon PowerShot G1 X in my kit. I will be using the M for my compact imaging needs and for DSLR camera backup purposes. The image quality this camera delivers, especially in low light, is excellent. Build quality is great and the camera is overall well-designed. It is a pleasure to carry and use.

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Canon EOS M
Canon EOS M gives the Canon EOS M an overall 4.5 rating
Manufacturer ID: 6609B003
Review Date: 2012-12-24
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