Under The Hood Of The Canon EOS M: Finally, A Tiny Camera That Slays At HD Video

Canon's compact, large-sensor camera is finally here. Until now, Canon was the last major manufacturer that didn't offer a mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera, and from what we can tell it was worth the wait. The Canon EOS M looks like a beast. And it's pretty cheap, too. Get ready to swoon.

As we previously suspected, the Canon EOS M is basically a shrunken version of the new T4i DSLR. It carries the same groundbreaking, continuous Live View autofocus that's ideally suited for video; the same beautiful capacitive touchscreen that makes changing settings a breeze; and the same 18-megapixel APS-C image sensor and Digic 5 image processor that should capture beautiful photographs even in difficult shooting conditions. All that, and a 22mm lens for $US800 (we're still waiting on an official Australian price). Sounds great!

But as with all mirrorless cameras, jamming tons of fun into a smaller body means making some sacrifices on functionality. We've yet to find a camera that definitively nails the compromise. Is the Canon EOS M the first?

Design and usability

Before we get down to the EOS M's guts, let's talk about its styling. More than a shrunken down DSLR, the magnesium and stainless steel build and smooth lines remind us of Canon's slick, consumer-minded Powershot cameras like the Canon s100. The EOS M has been stripped of everything that could add any bulk to it and it shows in its size: the camera with kit lens and battery included weighs just 14 ounces. That's crazy light. Canon basically built a box around an image sensor.

How did Canon do it? First of all, the EOS M uses a new lens system that's smaller. Initially, the company is releasing two lenses specially for the camera. The EOS M ships with a new EF-M 22mm f/2 STM lens. A longer, zooming EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens will also be available for $US300. With the former lens, the camera is about as small as a camera with a DSLR sensor can be. With the latter, the camera resembles the Sony NEX-F3. Canon also saved space because the EOS M has no built-in flash. But Canon did design a new, small external flash for the camera. The Speedlite 90EX will cost $US150. You can also use the camera's hotshoe to attach your favourite DSLR flash.

The EOS M employs Canon's gorgeous, second-generation touchscreen that was first introduced on the T4i. We've said it before: When you shrink down a camera, it gets harder to use because there's less space to cover it with buttons that make adjustments easier. The EOS M is no exception to this rule. It just doesn't have very many buttons. The 3-inch, capacitive touchscreen is a crucial solution to that problem — especially when the touchscreen's as slickly designed as this one. The one difference between this touchscreen and the one on the T4i is that the EOS M's screen doesn't flip out or tilt, which is a huge drawback for videographers.

T4i video made tiny

The new continuous AF on the T4i is one of the camera's most intriguing features, and it has been carried over to the Canon EOS M. The camera employs an innovative, sensor-based AF system that uses both phase and contrast detection to focus super fast continuously. That's a mouthful, but when you're using the camera to shoot video that means you can move your shot around a room from one subject to another and the camera's focus will lock on instantaneously and automatically.

As with the T4i, the EOS M's lenses also use STM (stepping motor) technology. In short, Canon engineered special AF motors for use in video. Unlike old lenses, STM lenses adjust silently so that they won't screw up the sound on your video. While we're on the topic of sound, the Canon EOS M has built-in stereo mics with an optional input for an external microphone. Unfortunately, there's no headphone jack, but considering everything you do get, that's not the end of the world.

Taking Photos

If the EOS M carries most of the T4i's video power, it's not as strong a camera for taking pictures. No mirror means no optical viewfinder, which many serious photographers find essential. As of right now, Canon doesn't plan to offer an electronic viewfinder like Sony does for its NEX cameras.

No mirror also means that the EOS M will have to use the camera's new sensor-based AF system to focus. While this system is groundbreaking for video it's not nearly as powerful as the T4i's 9-point optical autofocus sensor. Bottom line: focus is going to be slower.

But otherwise, the camera should be amongst the most powerful in its class. The EOS M sports a pro-grade DSLR sensor capable of glorious photos. The 22mm kit lens opens all the way up to f/2.0. That's wider than other lenses, which means the lens can let in more light when it's all the way open allowing you to shoot in dark situations at faster shutter speeds. As for sensitivity, the EOS M can shoot up to a standard ISO of 6400. That means camera will be able to record usable photos in very dark and very fast-moving situations. The camera can shoot at up to 4.3 frames per second in its fastest continuous mode, which is respectable if not blazing.

Mount Adaptor

In order to squeeze more compact lenses onto the EOS M, Canon actually had to design an entirely new lens system. If you've sunk tons of money on Canon lenses over the years, fear not because the company will offer an adaptor that'll allow you to use any Canon lens out there with the camera.

We mounted the biggish EF 24-110mm f/4L IS USM lens (Not pictured, btw) we use frequently with Canon DSLRs to a pre-production EOS M just to see what it would feel like, and we were impressed. It feels initially strange to have such a large lens attached to a tiny camera, but the ergonomics are definitely workable. If you're a serious photog or videographer with a big DSLR and lots of lenses, throwing an EOS M with an adaptor in your bag as a secondary camera seems like a no-brainer.

Bottom line

We've been waiting a long time for a compact interchangeable-lens camera from Canon, and from the looks of it the Canon EOS M is a winner. Some of the traditional questions about mirrorless cameras remain, though. Will the camera be practical and easy enough for regular consumers who want a more powerful camera? Is the camera powerful enough for someone who's used to a DSLR? At $US800 with the 22mm lens, it's not the cheapest camera of its kind out there, but it's mighty reasonable considering others can cost upwards of $US1000. We'll know for sure how good a deal it is when the Canon EOS M is available in October.


Comments

    dont know whats crappier Nikon announcing its cameras and not actually having any stock for 3 month
    or canon making announcements for cameras that are not on a market for 3 month

    Seems pretty sweet for me - I have been looking for an affordable camera to work with for short film and this seems pretty fantastic provided the video quality lives up to canon standard.

    just buy the 600D for $200 less....

      +1
      And it's available now ...but those who want that hipster smallness feel will have to wait :)

        Hipster smallness!? Don't know what hipsters you are referring to because hipsters tend to favour outdated, gigantic and vintage everything including cameras. not the latest tech, small and efficient .

          there are hi tech hipsters that like new gadgets that look like old ones - and they more $$$ for that very reason :)
          but yeh nothing hipster about this camera

        Maybe I've grown tired of the theme of little camera big lens shape on front ....I feel like I've been seeing it for a long time

    Niiice. Question: does the kit with the 22mm lens come with the flash as well?

    Im torn betweem a 600D and this. The 600D is great but its a big camera, the protability of this is a BIG plus for me (very novice photographer).

    Lets see how much it costs when its released....

      If you're gonna be getting more than one lens, get the 600D. Seriously, the bulk of the weight comes from lenses, not the body. And if you're only gonna be getting one lens, get the Fujifilm X100. Jokes aside, imho, ILC's have a long way to go before they catch up with the shooting experience of even the cheapest SLRs. The size and weight of the bag you'll carry for an ILC with 2 lenses will roughly be the same as for an SLR with 2 lenses.

    If this had a flip out screen like the 60D then it would have been a definite buy for the video capabilities. After using a flip out screen I can never go back!

    Gizmodo your coverage of anything photography really sucks. Like, is just awful. Please hire someone, anyone, who knows anything about cameras.

    Even if it were $AUD800 that is way overpriced for the $500-700 price bracket its competing in, against the likes of the Nex-C3/F3, Panasonic GF3/5 and Oly EPL3/EPM1. The $1000+ mirrorless cameras (OMD, Nex7 and X-Pro 1) are in a different league to this camera and offer you substantially more features for the extra cash.

      Harsh. If Giz don't make up my mind, who will? *Must.. buy.. Canon... Must.. do.. as.. Giz.. says...*

      Yep like " EF 24-110mm f/4L IS USM”

      Are you sure you don’t mean the EF 24-105mm?

      Agreed.
      Please, tell me how canons continous autofocus in video is groundbreaking. No really, im listening...

      Compare it to Panasonic's video in the gh2. Then get back to me.

      On the subject of the camera itself, it's essentially an F3/GF5 featured camera in a much bigger "box". It's missing so much that the competition has already nailed.

      This review simply screams Canon fanboy. Maybe research what's out there before crowning this big/little jigger.

    Second story in 24 hours... some one bidding for Canon's upcoming ad campaign ?

    I know this is targeted at entry level users moving up from P&S, but the lack of a EVF is a deal breaker. Composing via the screen with the camera at arms length with the sun making it unreadable is a joke. It's an advanced camera that's should be weaning P&S users off the woeful practice they're used to. That's the only real criticism I have, but a flipout screen would have been good too.

    I've had my Sony NEX-C3 since it was released, and although I am not a serious photographer, I have gotten some really nice pictures (IMO) using it.

    Compact, (fairly) easy to use with advanced features. The only let down is the actual lenses. I borrowed a mates Alpha lens and lens adapter and the difference in the results was pretty obvious.

    I have to agree with Jays comment above though. This Canon camera (once it hits Aus) will be priced closer to $1K, and that's another bracket of camera altogether.

    I'd actually be interested to see a test where you use the lenses of the various 4/3rds mirror-less cameras on a test rig to see who makes the best lenses; As opposed to who as the best after shot processing software. The software (Digic5 or whatever) will do it's best to compensate for your crappy pictures / the data it's received through the lens to begin with.

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