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Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R

EOS R with new, wide R F mount allowing an enormous range of lenses to be fitted.

Canon's first full frame mirrorless camera examined

In need of a mirrorless camera to use for Digiscoping, the new EOS R was an obvious choice. I pre-ordered and purchased one of the first bodies available in the UK, in October 2018. Included with it was the simple EF to RF lens adapter making the use of my existing L-series glass seamless.

My initial reaction was glowing and the first Barn Owl sequence with my EF500mm / F4L IS II suggested that the AF was far better than had been suggested by friends at Canon.
The ‘R’ has now done a great deal of work; primarily interiors and product work with landscape, wildlife and digiscoping thrown into the mix and I have been asked many times how I am getting on with my ‘Baby’ camera. Here are my thoughts:

The size and form factor of the EOS R are superb; it is a real joy to be able to wander around with a small, capable camera with such minimal weight. Image quality is truly excellent and the dynamic range is a huge step up from previous generations. However, there are a few niggling negatives that spoil the overall experience of what could be an outstanding camera.

EOSR0001.jpg - first frame from the camera

First and foremost are ergonomics; for such a compact body, the grip is excellent and the ‘hold’ feels good, even for those with larger hands. However, the normal EOS Control Wheel on the rear of the camera has been replaced with a Quick Control Dial that is not ideally positioned, requiring thumb contortions to reach it. Along with it is the new ‘Multi Function Strip’ placed on one of the key areas of camera body real estate: beside the viewfinder, to the right. For a right-handed photographer, it is exactly where you want all the key camera controls.

The Control strip offers a broad range of assignable functions, but none that are usefulful, or justify its prime position. The obvious option for exposure compensation is missing and setting it for ISO, potentially the most helpful of the available options, results in countless unintended exposure changes.

Tellingly, I noticed that during one of Canon’s EOS R promo films, Brent Stirton has found no better use for it than scrolling image previews. Enough said.

The Quick control dial is heavily recessed, making it hard to use.

Flash

For users who use flash heavily, wedding photographers come to mind, Canon have taken a backward step by changing the way flash works by default in Aperture priority, Shutter priority and the new Fv mode. One of the beauties of using Av for flash on most of the professional / semi-professional EOS cameras is that shutter speeds follow ambient light, with flash emitted as a fill. Some beautiful effects can be achieved with very low shutter speeds, movement and flash synchronised to the second shutter curtain.

The EOS R has been designed differently and aimed at the consumer market: with flash connected and in low light, shutter speeds are limited to a minimum 1/60th second, meaning a lot of dark backgrounds and the main illumination provided by flash only. If you want more control, you will need to use manual or to dig through the menu and set ‘Slow Synchro’ to allow shutter speeds with flash to be as low as 30 seconds At least the option is available, but should perhaps be a default on a camera at this level?

Comparing

A Canon user for nearly 30 years, I felt very guilty when I originally bought my Panasonic GH5. In 2017, there were no professional-level Canon mirrorless cameras and I needed a camera body with an OLED viewfinder and in-body stabilisation for filming work.

Compare the Canon closely with the Panasonic GH5 and it is clearly apparent where their inspiration came from.

The two cameras are nearly identical in size. Many controls are matched, yet somehow the GH5 manages to have the functional edge, both ergonomically, and operationally.

EOS R top versus the very similarly sized and older Panasonic GH5

On the GH5, Exposure simulation in the VF is smoother, more usable, the rear dial is better placed and IBIS (In body image stabilisation) is truly excellent, nearly rivalling Olympus’ system.

Panasonic have capitalised on the small form factor of the GH5 to create a very versatile and niche product. Professional movie options like a 10bit codec, including Log, generate clips that can be graded beautifully. Movie quality exceeds many camcorders and an optional audio interface allows input of professional microphones with XLR plugs. Panasonic are very big in the movie field, yet clearly they have taken the decision that by not crippling functionality, this camera will enhance the sales of their professional camera. Perhaps Canon could take note?

Despite the many qualities of the GH5, for stills, the EOS R takes the crown. Image quality from the EOS R’s full frame sensor is in a different league to the Panasonic, with over 13.5 stops of dynamic range and a real world usable sensitivity of around 2700 iso in low light.

The EOS R gives beautiful - looking, razor sharp images with an outstanding ‘Bokeh’ from the magnificent new RF prime lenses. Then there is the infinitely clever ‘Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R’ with variable ND filter or polariser for use with the original EF lenses. For stills, it beats the little Panasonic comprehensively.

8 out of 8 sharp images on the first sequence. Experience has taught me that this was exceptional.

Autofocus

Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF has justifiably received much attention and on the ESO R, it offers some clever functionality involving ‘pushing’ around the active AF point from the huge number available via the back screen. This can be extremely useful with ultra-fast lenses and low light, so perfect for documentary and editorial work. Accuracy is excellent although the system is not so ideal though when trying to work extremely fast, when it can be too fiddly.

For long lens work with ultra-telephotos, the overall experience of the camera is not so ideal: the balance is off due to the light body (adding a battery grip will help). The EOS R was never really designed for this work and will generally achieve 6-7 sharp frames of out 10 with fast moving birds or animals.

For comparison, an EOS-1Dx will generally give 8-10 sharp frames and EOS-1Dx Mk II will give 10/10, in most cases.

More troubling, the R does not play nicely with the IS (Image Stabilisation) during prolonged use as it appears to be ‘always on’. There is a very urgent need for a selectable time-out option for image stabilisation, ideally 5 or 10 seconds.

The eye detection AF system has promise, but is, in my opinion, currently not accurate enough to consider using it on assignments or for portraits (July 2019)

Finally for close static shots, single point AF can be a little hit or miss; shots that should be perfectly in focus are slightly ‘off’. However there is a simple remedy hidden deep within the camera menu. Change ‘AF frame size’ from ‘Normal’ to ‘Small’. Problem solved!

Successful!

Conclusion

If you are a Canon photographer, not a professional video shooter, this camera deserves a very careful look; it is not perfect, but image quality is unrivalled for the price, the form factor and battery life are excellent and low light performance is superb. Clever focus functionality allows AF points to be chose from almost the whole image area, so ideal for documentary making it ideal for event or wedding photography.

More exciting though is the bar that this sets for the heralded professional EOS mirrorless camera, designed to match the outstanding RF lenses that have already been launched.

Update: September 2019:

The EOS R has now dropped in price and with the imminent arrival of new firmware targeting autofocus, the Eye detection AF is set to improve significantly, making it genuinely useful addition to the camera’s toolbox.
If you have questions about the EOS R, Digiscoping or anything else, feel free to message or call me via the Contact page. It is always interesting to talk to people and help if appropriate.
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