Montreal Photography & Filmmaking Blog

Canon EOS-M : Small camera, Big results

The Canon EOS-M gives you amazing pictures in the palm of your hand

The EOS-M is Canon’s first adventure in mirrorless land : a large sensor in a compact body. Right away, let me tell what the Canon is NOT : a replacement for your DSLR, an A camera, a portrait camera, or a camera you are going to win gigs with. The camera has the worst focus in Canon’s DSLR camera range, with focus hunting and also very small precision that makes it unfit for most action shots or serious jobs such as fashion or editorial. The Canon EOS-M excels in a few categories though : high-quality image in a compact, interchangeable body.

Canon EOS-M and 22mm pancake lens

The Canon EOS-M has the same internals as the Canon T4i, i.e. a 18Mpx sensor and a Digic 5 processor. You will find the same exact menus. The mount is new, and Canon offers now 3 lenses : a prime 22m (35mm equivalent), a normal kit lens, and a wide-angle zoom lens that’s only available in a few Asian countries.

Past those initial impressions, the Canon gets very interesting. You can even extend it: Canon offers a EOS-M to EF adapter that lets you put in all sorts of Canon EOS lenses. The official adapter retains autofocus as well as image stabilization, although making the setup front-heavy. That means you can put a super-wide such as the Tokina 11-16mm on it or a telephoto such as a 70-200mm IS or more.

A small and sharp 22mm pancake lens

You can get the EOS-M with the prime 22mm, an amazing lens that can fit in any pocket or bag. You can be tempted by the zoom’s versatility, but nothing equals the 22mm’s sharpness, aperture. At various events or in the streets, people always think of it as another compact camera and don’t pay attention, which means you can be the random person or tourist snapping pictures and no-one will ever try to pose or get akward. Walk around the subject, emphasize the social interaction as if the camera is no big deal, and you’ve shifted quickly the focus from photography and documentation to just human interactions. Another side-effect is because of the small size and weight, you tend not to really care if someone would steal or not the camera.

I went recently to this Montreal “street art” gallery where there was live art creation. The artists were busy on their illustrations, an inspiring experience. I took the picture of Adi Fallen Angel, a gifted visual artist who’s between Montreal and Israel:

He didn’t really mind since I had a small camera and he could focus on creating his art.

The 22mm pancake lens on the Canon EOS-M allows you to take those close portraits and connect at the same time with the subject. No humongous camera that forces the subject on the action of photography instead of the action of creating.

The lens opens up at f2.0 and I find it’s very sharp at that initial aperture, however it has significant vignetting at that aperture. Since you can easily correct that in Lightroom/Aperture (or Photoshop), I shoot mostly at f2.0 in aperture mode. 22mm is 35mm equivalent so you don’t get a very shallow depth of field, but at f2.0, you can still get creative and get a nice subject isolation.

F2.0 is very handy as well for concert photography as well as events with minimal lights. The focus will hunt a bit, but the shots will be beautiful. Here’s a shot of at Sala Rossa, a local venue on St-Laurent bvd:

If you are on a serious project and can’t afford to miss shots, the Canon EOS-M with the 22m lens pairs up well with a normal DSLR with a 70-200mm. That means you have a handy wide-angle for environment and group shots, and a telephoto for those portraits and get details.

Image Quality

The image quality is very similar to any other APS-C Canon DSLR right out the box, without any kind of configuration. Skin tones look great, and the camera is very capable with whatever lights you throw at it, even if they are of different types (tungsten, LED, candles, sunset, flashes etc.).

Here’s a sunset shot taken in Montreal:

As you can see, the camera delivers beautiful orange and yellow tones.

Dynamic range is good, as well as high-ISO shots. Of course this is a crop Canon camera and you get all the usual problems : banding for high ISO on dark areas and highlights are burnt easily.

Video Quality

The Canon EOS-M shoots 1080p (24 or 30 fps), has a hot shoe, and also has a mini HDMI out for monitoring and an audio IN. A good setup is adding a Rode Video Mic pro on the hot shoe and plugging it to get minimal audio quality.

Focusing is done through the touchscreen – the camera will hunt for a couple of seconds before getting it.

The codec is basic : resolution is very low (almost 720p compared to other cinema cameras), dynamic range is bad (burnt highlights everywhere), and you can see distracting moiré if you happen to shoot someone with a stripped shirt. That said, Canon never advertised this is as a professional video camera.

What’s interesting here is the weight and size though. The video quality is way ahead of your typial gopro 3 (what everyone is using as a small speciality camera). It’s possible to get a 3-axis gimball camera that can handle the EOS-M and get super-stable action shots, dancing moves, crane/dolly/cinema movements that sets you apart. You can also easily mount it in a corner of your car, or super low to get those impressive shots.

Of course with the 1/4″ accessory mount and the cold shoe, it’s possible to “dress up” the camera, with an Audio Recorder (I recommend a Tascam DR-60D), add a wireless lavalier on the hot shoe, and with a good zoom lens (Sigma 18-35mm) with a ND Filter, and it looks and works like a pro video camera.

Canon EOS-M and Magic Lantern

For serious & paid jobs, you can also get a Sandisk Extreme Pro SD Card (>95mbps) and install Magic Lantern to get raw video. The resolution is about 1700 pixels wide for 16:9 although you can go to 1920 wide if you are ok with wider screen rations. You also get pink point and other artefacts that can be corrected in post-production.

Generally, the video you get through the Canon 5D Mark III is way ahead of what you get from the Canon EOS-M. Add that to the expensive SD Cards, no sound, buggy interface as well as the long transcoding and processing in post and it’s much more preferable to shoot in H264, especially when you are in paid productions.

Adapters

Canon offers a EF to EOS-M mount adapter that opens up later the camera’s flexibility.

Here’s a video taken with the vintage “Dog Schidt Optiks Flare Factory 58″

As you can see, it’s a speciality lens that adds an orange hue, and is also very prone to flares.

Here’s a super wide shot taken with the Tokina 11-16mm:

Quite dramatic isn’t it?

Conclusion: What I Love In the Canon EOS-M

In summary, Canon excels in many areas

SMALL BUT BIG RESULTS – It’s a pocket camera that delivers top of the line results. Take it anywhere and good results are guaranteed

CHEAP – You can get it on Ebay for $300 or so

FULL-FEATURED – It’s small but has 100% of the features you would find in a regular DSLR camera. The Build quality is also very high – which means this is a camera that will last

BETTER PICTURES – Because of its small size, you can get very close to your subject for intimate portraits.

AMAZING 22mm – The 22mm prime lens is sharp and takes 99% of the pictures you want.

Of course, it’s not perfect: autofocus can be a deal breaker for many. Forget it for action shots or other time-sensitive shots. Battery doesn’t last long enough, plus you need to unmount the camera if you want to switch batteries.

Rating : 4/5 Highly Recommended if you like small cameras

Available for rental in Montreal

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