Canon’s full-35mm mirrorless camera system employs a different design approach to Nikon’s, continuing the ongoing philosophical individuality of the two great rivals.
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If you’re old enough to remember when autofocusing in SLRs was finally perfected, Canon and Nikon did things very differently. Nikon opted for body-based AF motors, Canon put them in the lenses which, of course, necessitated a new lens mount. It caused a fair amount of grief at the time, but has ultimately been proven right, although Nikon did find ways of making its venerable F mount work right up until now (albeit with gradually diminishing backward compatibility).
The two brands have essentially always done things differently –particularly as far as pro-level cameras are concerned – ever since Canon launched its F-1 to compete with Nikon’s F back in the early 1970s. Those two cameras were very different too. Over the decades it’s resulted in “Canon people” and “Nikon people”, two fiercely-loyal tribes whose members have rarely been convinced to swap sides. And, as all the many other brands who have had a stab at the pro market have discovered, are even less likely to stray outside the duopoly.
So here we are at the start of another new era in pro cameras and there some key points of difference in how Canon and Nikon have tackled the design of their full-35mm mirrorless camera systems.
Of necessity, both employ all-new lens mounts with, now that the reflex mirror is gone, much shorter flange back distances than their existing D-SLR fittings. Both camera makers are emphasising the increased possibilities in lens design that their new mirrorless mounts will enable, although it’s interesting to note that the inner diameter of Canon’s new RF bayonet fitting is the same as that of the EF mount, indicating that there was a fair amount of forward thinking going on when it made its debut back in 1987. Given the disruptions caused by introducing a new lens mount (although it’s less problematic now than previously), both systems include an adapter which maintains a high degree of compatibility with the current D-SLR systems, although Canon has gone further here, offering three options (more about these shortly).
The new RF mount retains a three-claw mechanical configuration and has the same internal diameter of 54 millimetres as the EF mount, but the flange back distance is reduced to 20 millimetres (compared to 44 millimetres). There’s a total of 12 communication pins for faster communications between camera body and lenses (up from eight on the EF mount).
For the record, Canon now has four lens mounts in play (EF, EF-S, EF-M and RF), but interestingly the two mirrorless fittings aren’t compatible as EF-M has an even shorter flange back distance of 18 millimetres. Consequently, there’s no adaptor for EF-M lenses, but there’s a choice of three for fitting EF and EF-S types (and, unlike the D-SLRs, the camera automatically switches to ‘APS-C’ format with the latter). In addition to the standard EF-EOS R mount adaptor, one adds the multi-function control ring that’s a feature of all the RF mount lens and the other incorporates a drop-in filter holder and is bundled with either an ND filter or a circular polariser. Canon says that over 70 EF and EF-S lenses are supported by the adaptors.
Four RF mount lenses have been launched with the first camera body – a 35mm f1.8 Macro IS STM, a 50mm f1.2L USM standard, a 28-70mm f2.0L USM zoom (which is truly massive, but magnificent) and a 24-105mm f4.0L IS USM zoom. More lenses are to come, of course, but remain unspecified at present with Canon simply saying there will be an emphasis on “f2.8-speed L series zooms”. As just noted, all the RF lenses have a multi-function control ring which is click-stopped and can be assigned to setting apertures, shutter speeds, the sensitivity or exposure compensation.
While Canon says the philosophy of its new mirrorless camera system is, on balance, more about leveraging the expanded possibilities in lens design and performance rather than just building smaller camera bodies, it has nonetheless come up with a camera body that is significantly smaller and lighter than the comparable D-SLR.
Canon kicks off its EOS R system with a camera that’s simply also called the EOS R and, in the current scheme of things, is a rival to Nikon’s Z 6 and Sony’s A7 III. There are quite a few elements of the EOS 5D Mark IV in the EOS R, but it’s not quite as highly-specced overall and the expectation is that Canon will announce a faster, higher-end model – to compete with Nikon’s Z 7 and the Sony A7R III – over the coming months.
As we did with the Z 7 and the D850, put the EOS R alongside the 5D IV or the EOS 6D Mark II and the size difference is graphically illustrated… plus, it has to be said, so is the modernity.
Suddenly, these D-SLRs – good though they undoubtedly still are – look distinctly like yesterday in comparison to the brave new world of the sleeker, smoother full-35mm mirrorless bodies. This is especially true of the EOS R which, unlike the Nikon Z cameras, has a new and more contemporary control layout which retains fewer D-SLR throwbacks and includes something we’ve never seen before – a customisable touch bar located on the camera back adjacent to the thumbrest. It has swipe and left/right tap actions which can each be assigned various functions for either capture or playback; the former including ISO speeds, white balance settings, selected AF operations (such as changing the AF frame size), and selecting the manual focus assists. Curiously, it can’t be used for AF point selection which, given the absence of a joystick-type controller for this, would have been an obvious application. Presumably, Canon thinks there’s no need to replicate one of the monitor’s touchscreen functions, especially given ‘Touch And Drag’ control is available when using the EVF.
The bodyshell comprises a magnesium alloy chassis and covers with weather sealing, and the styling is still similar to a D-SLR due to the housing for the EVF. In addition to the touch bar, the main elements of the control layout are a mode button, front and rear input wheels, a four-way navigator keypad and a handful of function buttons. As on the Nikon Z cameras, a top deck info screen is retained, and again it’s a more contemporary OLED-type panel with a choice of four display configurations and switching between white-on-black or black-on-white read-outs.
With a critical D-SLR audience to convince like Nikon, Canon has made sure the EOS R’s electronic viewfinder is capable of keeping them happy. It’s 1.27 cm OLED-type panel with a resolution of 3.69 megadots and a magnification of 0.76x (with a 50mm lens). The coverage is, of course, 100 percent. The eyepoint is 23 mm and an eyepiece strength adjustment is built-in. The panel itself is adjustable for brightness (over five levels) and colour balance (with four settings called Warm Tone, Standard, Cool Tone 1 and Cool Tone 2). A proximity sensor is located below the the eyepiece and enables automatic switching between the EVF and the monitor screen. The latter has Canon’s ‘Vari-Angle’ articulation so it’s adjustable for both tilt and swing. The panel itself is a 8.01 cm TFT LCD with a resolution of 2.1 megadots and capacitive touchscreen controls. As with the EVF, the monitor screen is also adjustable for brightness – but over seven levels here – and colour balance with the same four settings.
At the heart of the EOS R is a sensor that has essentially the same specs as that in the 5D Mark IV, except it’s not the same as it has a lot more ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ pixels at work on the autofocusing. Nevertheless, the total pixel count is still 31.7 million and the imaging area is 24.0×36.0 mm. The effective pixel count is marginally lower at 30.3 megapixels (versus 30.4 MP), but it delivers the same maximum image size of 6720×4480 pixels and the pixels themselves are still a healthy 5.36 microns in size which translates into a higher signal-to-noise ratio. An optical low-pass filter (OPLF) is retained.
Canon has gained a little more sensitivity at the top end of the range due to better noise reduction processing – up to ISO 40,000 from 32,000 – but the minimum remains
at ISO 100 and the extensions are to ISO 50, 51,200 and 102,400. Improvements in NR are the work of the EOS R’s processor which is Canon’s latest-gen ‘DiG!C 8’ engine and, among other things, enables continuous shooting at up to 8.0 fps and 4K video recording in the Ultra HD resolution at a bit rate of 480 Mbps (go to the ‘Making Movies’ panel for the rest of the EOS R’s video story).
JPEGs capture can be configured in one of four image sizes, two compression levels and a choice of the 3:2, 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios. Additionally, the 1.6x crop is available for when EF-S lenses are mounted via one of the adapters.
RAW files are captured with 14-bit RGB colour, but only in the maximum image size, and with lossless compression. Instead of the smaller image sizes, the EOS R has the Compact RAW (cRAW) option – originally introduced on the consumer-level EOS M50 – which has a .CR3 file extension and reduces the file size by up to 40 percent due to the use of lossy compression algorithms. It’s a handy option for eking out memory card space, especially as there appears to be no discernible loss of quality compared to the .CR2 RAW files. Any combination of size and quality is available for RAW+JPEG capture.
The top shooting speed of 8.0 fps is achieved with the AF and AE locked to the first frame, and the rate slows to 5.0 fps with continuous between-the-frames adjustment. If you need more speed, but are happy with a lower resolution, there’s always the ‘4K Frame Grab’ option which derives 8.3 megapixel stills from 4K video footage at 30 fps. As has been proven with Panasonic’s popular ‘4K Photo’ modes (which are the same), there are many applications where 8.3 MP is quite sufficient resolution.
It’s probably timely here to do a quick recap on Canon’s ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ sensor architecture which is a clever bit of technology that’s already been used in a number of the higher-end D-SLRs (for live view and video) and, of course, the EOS M series mirrorless cameras. The design employs a pair of photodiodes at each pixel point which are read separately to give the required offset for phase-detection autofocusing and then together for image capture.
Canon doesn’t only use its dual-pixel arrangement to deliver PDAF either, and as was introduced on the 5D IV, the EOS R also has ‘Dual Pixel RAW’ capture. Logically, DPRAW uses both photodiodes for image capture so these files are twice the size of the standard RAW files, but the very slight variation in perspective between the two sets of image data is used to enable some slight adjustments. These are made post-camera in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. The processing options are called ‘Image Micro-Adjustment’, ‘Bokeh Shift’ and ‘Ghosting Reduction’, and they all use the offset at any given point in the two images to enable small corrections to be made by applying shifts of varying magnitudes. The effectiveness of these micro-adjustments depends on a number of external factors, including the lens focal length and the aperture setting as both relate to the depth-of-field. The shallower the depth-of-field, the more noticeable these corrections will be, particularly to the focusing point. Depending on the content, a processed DPRAW file is going to be sized somewhere between 65 and 75 MB after the two sets of image data are combined (they exist as separate – but linked – files up to this point) so they’ll chew up more storage space, but this is probably a small price to pay if a ‘just missed it’ image can be rescued. As we noted with the EOS 5D IV, don’t expect miracles, but the DPRAW adjustments have the potential to enable small, but potentially quite significant corrections.
It’s worth noting here that Canon has gone against the trend in mirrorless cameras – especially in the full-35mm format – and elected to stick exclusively with lens-based optical image stabilisation rather than sensor-based in-body stabilisation. Canon maintains that OIS optimised to each lens’s optical design is a superior method of dealing with camera shake which is probably true, but IBIS allows for correction across more axes of movement and the latest systems from the likes of Sony, Nikon and Fujifilm are incredibly efficient. Given that image stabilisation can be equally handy with short focal length lenses as well as telephotos, this seems like a bit of a miss for the EOS R compared to its direct rivals from Nikon and Sony. Incidentally, only two of the new RF lenses have optical image stabilisation so already there are situations where you won’t have any correction for camera shake at all.
The Detail Is In The Details
In terms of the in-camera processing functions for JPEGs, Canon has basically given the EOS R everything that the 5D IV has, starting with a set of eight ‘Picture Style’ presets which includes the Fine Detail option first seen on the 50 megapixels EOS 5Ds models. The adjustable parameters include additional tweaks for sharpness which are labelled Strength, Fineness and Threshold. These work in a similar fashion to Photoshop’s Unsharp Masking, so the Strength adjustment controls the amount of sharpening, Fineness determines the size of the details to be sharpened, and Threshold sets the contrast level at which an edge will be sharpened.
The colour presets are also adjustable for contrast, colour saturation and hue in addition to the sharpness controls while the monochrome preset replaces the colour controls with a set of contrast filters (i.e. red, orange, yellow and green) and toning effects. Additionally, there’s an Auto ‘Picture Style’ which adjusts the processing parameters according to analysis of the subject using data from the AF, AE and white balance systems. Furthermore, up to three customised ‘Picture Styles’ can be created and subsequently stored.
Canon’s long-serving ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ processing functions are provided for contrast control and dynamic range expansion respectively. Alternatively, there’s multi-shot HDR capture which operates over three frames with the exposure adjustment manually set to +/-1.0, +/-2.0 or +/-3.0 or automatically adjusted according to the brightness range detected in the scene. An auto image align function is available along with the option of saving all the files or just the final merged HDR image. There’s also a set of four creative effects – called Art Standard, Art Vivid, Art Bold and Art Embossed – which vary the colour saturation, brightness, tonality and boldness of the outlines. You can tick the boxes for a multiple exposure facility (for combining up to nine frames with either average or additive exposure regulation), noise reduction for both long exposures and high ISO settings (the latter with a multi-shot option), automatic flicker detection, and a bulb timer.
Flicker detection is designed to deal with the rapid switching characteristics of gas-ignition light sources (i.e. fluorescent tubes) which can affect both exposure and colour balance when shooting at faster shutter speeds. The anti-flicker capability detects the frequency of a light source’s blinking and subsequently times the shutter release to minimise the effect, even with continuous shooting. The bulb timer can be set for long exposures of up to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, but its main benefit is over shorter durations, as it eliminates the need for a remote trigger to manually lock the shutter open and then close it. The in-camera lens corrections are for vignetting and distortion, with the option of the ‘Digital Lens Optimiser’ which additionally processes for chromatic aberrations, diffraction and the effects of the sensor’s low-pass filter on sharpness.
Not surprisingly, there are no filter effects, but also missing are in-camera panorama stitching and an intervalometer… despite time-lapse recording being available for video recording. Curious.
Seeing In The Dark
With pernickety D-SLR converts no doubt uppermost in mind, Canon has gone to town on the EOS R’s autofocusing which, as noted earlier, takes its ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ technology to the next level. Consequently, there’s a massive 5565 focusing points which provide very close to full-frame coverage –100 percent vertically and 88 percent horizontally. Also dramatic is the increase in sensitivity which extends down to -6.0 EV at ISO 100 and f1.2… so the EOS R can pretty much see in the dark, but more practically, allows operations to continue when the maximum aperture is just f11. In reality, you may never need this, especially as the emphasis with the new RF lenses is going to be on fast maximum apertures, but at least you know there won’t be too many times when the AF isn’t on duty. Canon also claims that it’s super-fast, quoted a time of just 0.05 seconds… partially achievable because phase-difference detection measurements are doing all the heavy-lifting.
The area modes start single point selection with the option of varying the frame size between normal or small. Next up is Expand AF which employs five points in a + pattern or it can set to use a cluster of nine points in a 3×3 pattern. If you want to go larger still, there’s Zone AF which has a square-shaped area with the option of either vertically- or horizontally-orientated boxes if these better suit the subject matter.
The Face+Tracking mode has been upgraded to include an eye-detection capability which obviously utilises the higher AF point density to enable the tracking of a much smaller subject area. Additionally, the focus tracking can be fine-tuned via three adjustments for sensitivity to obstacles (from Locked-on to Responsive), the sensitivity to changes in the subject’s speed (i.e. acceleration or deceleration) with three levels, and the speed of point switching as the subject moves.
In practice, the touchscreen is the most efficient method of selecting a focusing point or zone, or moving them around. In the absence of a joystick control, the ‘mechanical’ methods are to use either the navigator keypad – which is quite slow in comparison – or the even more cumbersome combination of the front and rear input wheels. The touchscreen is still best option even when using the EVF thanks to the availability of ‘Touch And Drag’ control (a.k.a. ‘Touchpad AF’) which can be fine-tuned in terms of the positioning method (Relative or Absolute) and the active screen area (the whole panel, right, left, top, bottom, top right, bottom right, top left and bottom left). Even if you’ve been a fan of the joystick for AF point selection, it won’t take long to convince you that the touchscreen is unquestionably the more efficient option… which is presumably Canon’s intention (well, that and gently pulling you into the 21st century).
A magnified image – at either 5x or 10x – is available to assit with both autofocusing and manual focusing, but the latter can also be guided by a distance scale and a focus peaking display which is available in red, yellow or blue at two levels of intensity. There’s also a new ‘Focus Guide’ display which first appears wherever you last parked the AF frame, but then can be moved as desired and indicates the degree of back- or front-focus as well as when the subject is in-focus.
Switching to manual focus operation is now simply done on the lens and the camera body responds accordingly, but a full-time manual override is available with the RF mount lenses (and the fly-by-wire focus ring’s rotation direction and sensitivity can be adjusted).
Exposure metering is, of course, also sensor based and employs 384-zones with evaluative (linked to all AF points), selective area (6.1 percent of image area), spot (2.7 percent) and centre-weighted average measurements. There’s the standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure modes plus something new called ‘Flexible Priority Auto’. This is a fully automatic mode, but with full-time overrides for the manual setting of apertures, shutter speeds or the ISO value… so it’s essentially P, A, S and M all rolled into one. As with any of Canon’s higher-end D-SLRs, there are no standalone subject modes, but the ‘Scene Intelligent Auto’ mode adjusts exposure settings according to analysis of the scene via the AF, AE and white balance systems… which is probably more reliable anyway.
The program and semi-auto exposure control modes are supplemented by an AE lock, up to +/-3.0 EV of compensation and auto bracketing with the same amount of adjuistment available over a sequence of three frames. The EOS R has both a conventional focal-plane shutter and a sensor-based shutter, but both have the same speed range of 30-1/8000 second, so the latter’s role is purely to enable silent (and vibration-free) shooting, but this is limited to single-frame shooting. However, in the camera’s ‘Silent Live View’ mode, a hybrid ‘electronic first curtain’ combination of the FP and the sensor shutter operate so continuous shooting is now possible (and electronic flash can be used). Flash sync is at all speeds up to 1/200 second with Canon’s E-TTL II auto flash exposure control available, but the EOS R doesn’t have a built-in flash and only a hotshoe for on-camera synching. However, the optional BG-E22 battery grip provides a PC socket. The shutter focal-plane shutter is rated at 200,000 cycles.
The white balance controls start with the choice of either ‘Ambience Priority’ or ‘White Priority’ modes for the automatic correction. The latter aims for neutrality while the former is a development of the old ‘keep warm colours’ correction, but works with whatever colour cast predominates in a scene. Alternatively, there are six lighting presets, one custom preset, fine-tuning, auto bracketing (but again only over three frames) and manual colour temperature setting over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin.
ABOVE & BELOW: Test images captured as JPEG/large/fine files with Canon RF 24-105mm f4.0L IS USM zoom lens, shutter-priority auto exposure control with multi-zone metering, and the Landscape ‘Picture Style’ preset. Image quality is superb with crisply resolved detailing, great colour reproduction, very smooth tonal gradations and a wide dynamic range. Sharpness and saturation are well maintained up to ISO 6400 and still quite acceptable at ISO 12,800.
In The Hand
Starting with a clean slate, Canon has taken the opportunity to give the EOS R its own identity rather than simply reprising one of its D-SLR designs. In comparison, Nikon has been rather more conservative with its primary objective being to ease its high-end D-SLR users into the world of mirrorless cameras with the minimum of pain. There’s merit in both approaches, but Canon’s has allowed it to explore whether things can be done better… and it seems that they can. The implication here is, that if you’ve ditched the archaic reflex mirror and optical viewfinder, perhaps it’s also time to ditch some of the old ways of working.
What strikes you most first is just how tidy-looking the EOS R is… a Sony A7 series body seems positively cluttered in comparison. And there’s a touch of elegance that the EOS D-SLRs have never had. As mentioned earlier, the main mode dial is actually a button which sits in the middle of the rear input wheel… the new interpretation of the D-SLR’s ‘Quick Control’ dial. Press the mode button and spin the wheel to select the exposure mode, while pressing the ‘Info’ button switches this operation to setting the movie mode.
The touchscreen is very much an integral part of the flying the EOS R with its implementation extending to the main menus, the ‘Quick Control’ screen, the live view screen (including autofocus, shutter release, exposure compensation and image magnification) and the key replay/review functions (including browsing, zooming and thumbnails). The ‘Quick Control’ screen can be conventionally navigated, but why would you bother when everything is just a tap away? A total of 14 buttons and keys are multi-functional to one degree or another (and separately for shooting video), along with the front and rear input wheels and, of course, the touch bar and the control ring on the lenses. Included in the 14 buttons is the ‘AF Stop’ button which isn’t provided on all lenses, but nonetheless the scope for customisation is still endless and, frankly, all looks a little daunting at first. By our calculations, there are no fewer than 48 functions and operations available for customising the EOS R’s buttons alone. Gulp!
In practice, you’re unlikely to change many of the default settings, but rest assured that no matter how idiosyncratically you’d like to configure your EOS R, it can be done. Included in the customisation options is a ‘My Menu’ which can be up to five pages each containing six user-selected items. You can also rename the ‘My Menu’ tabs so, for example, you might assemble all the frequently-used functions for shooting a certain subject and label this page accordingly. The main irony here is that the EOS R is surprisingly efficient straight out of the box with the new control layout proving to be well designed and not really in need of much tweaking. That said, it’s a bit surprising there isn’t a bigger choice of functions assignable to the touch bar… this control really has potential, although its responsiveness needs to be improved.
The monitor’s display can be cycled through five screens, including a set of read-outs for the main capture settings. The live view screen options include a real-time histogram with the choice of either brightness or RGB channel graphs (and two sizes), dual-axis level display, focus distance display and a guide grid. All these configurable elements also appear in the EVF.
There are three screen options for playback, again configurable… this time to include a guide grid, highlight alert and an AF point display which shows the active point or zone. The shooting information page includes a thumbnail (again with the guide grid, highlight alert and AF point display if they’ve been preselected), basic capture data and a brightness histogram. The thumbnail pages progress through four, nine, 36 and 100 images while, in the opposite direction, zooming is available at up to 10x and centred on the AF point/zone used to achieve focus. The slide show function has adjustable image display times and a choice of transition effects plus a repeat function. The in-camera editing functions include all the basics (such as cropping or resizing) plus Photobook Set-Up and RAW-to-JPEG file conversion. A handy ‘Quick Control’ menu is again available as an alternative to the conventional menu and with the convenience of speedy selection via the touchscreen.
The RF lenses mount with a short right-hand twist from, conveniently, the 12 o’clock position so it’s always easy to line up the index marks on lens and camera body. When the camera is switched off, the focal plane shutter closes over the sensor so, when there’s no lens fitted, it isn’t horribly exposed which is an issue with very short flange back distances. Of course, if you detach the lens when the camera is still switched on, the sensor will be left uncovered.
As is now becoming standard, the EOS R’s WiFi is supplemented with the Bluetooth LE ‘always on’ connectivity which enables easier pairing with mobile devices. Canon’s free Camera Connect app enables remote camera control as well as wireless file transfers.
Speed And Performance
With our reference memory card – Lexar’s 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/U3 (Speed Class 3) Professional – loaded into the appropriate slot, the EOS R captured a burst of 75 JPEG/large/fine files in 9.425 seconds, representing a shooting speed of 7.96 fps. This is as close to the quoted 8.0 fps as makes no difference. For the record, the average test file size was 15 MB.
Immediately impressive is the autofocusing which is both fast and consistently reliable, with the near-full frame coverage meaning that virtually nothing gets away. Likewise, the extremely high density of measuring points means that this is true of very small objects which are tracked reliably even when moving quite quickly. The face-detection works well too, but unfortunately the eye-detection option isn’t available with continuous autofocusing which is when you’d think it would have been most useful. While there’s no EVF black-out with continuous shooting, there’s no live framing which can make tracking moving subjects a bit of a challenge at times, especially if they’re not keeping to a constant course.
Like the EOS 5D Mark IV, the EOS R delivers superb-looking JPEGs straight out of the camera, but subjectively a little better – particularly in terms of noise levels – thanks to the later-generation processor (and, of course, the sensor isn’t exactly the same either). The definition and detailing deliver a wonderful crispness and clarity which is complimented by beautifully smooth tonal gradations, excellent colour accuracy across the spectrum, and a wide dynamic range which is thanks mainly to the size of the pixels. The RAW files are better again as far as both the detailing and dynamic range are concerned. The noise reduction processing nicely balances the resolution of fine detailing without over-sharpening and the colour saturation is also well maintained up to ISO 6400. At ISO 12,800 some chroma or colour noise starts to become more evident and the luminance noise increases (although, as with 5D IV, it’s quite
finely grained), but the overall image quality is still pretty good. However, it does start to deteriorate noticeably from ISO 25,600.
What’s particularly important here though, is that the wide dynamic range combined with the low-noise characteristics combine to enable plenty of exposure latitude. Consequently, deliberate underexposure can be used to better preserve details in the brighter highlights, but the shadow areas still won’t be unduly noisy when lightened up with post-camera processing.
Suffice to say that, like Nikon’s Z 7, the EOS R’s image quality is as least as good at that of the best-performing full-35mm D-SLR in the stable, if not better.
Canon must have faced a bit of dilemma here as its EOS 5D Mark IV is as popular with videographers as photographers and so still a very strong seller… but mirrorless is made for video shooting. So how far to go with the EOS R?
The end result suggests that nobody was quite sure of the answer to this question and so the EOS R is a bit of a mixed bag here, but it has to be said, less so than the 5D IV. The big plus, of course, is that it’s a mirrorless camera so it’s both more compact and lighter weight, but also more convenient to use. The fully-articulated monitor screen is another plus as is the excellent implementation of the touchscreen controls, especially when it comes to the focusing functionality. And video recording is where the ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ really comes into its own… especially with the EOS R’s expanded point count and frame coverage. With ‘Movie Servo AF’ operation both the focus transition speed and tracking sensitivity are adjustable.
Before you get too excited though, there’s no Cinema 4K wide format setting and the 4K Ultra HD recording is still with a hefty 1.7x crop and at only 25 fps (or 30 fps in NTSC)… so no 50 fps. Additionally, the slow-mo speeds of 120 or 100 fps are only available in the HD resolution of 1280×720 pixels, and of course, there’s only one memory card slot. That said, if you’re serious about video-making, you’re likely to be recording to an external device anyway and for this the EOS R can deliver 10-bit 4:2:2 colour to its HDMI output with a flattened C-Log gamma profile to maximise the focal range. C-Log recording is also available internally but with 8-bit 4:2:0 colour. And the EOS R now uses the more efficient MP4 codec so you can make better use of the available memory (the 5D IV uses unwieldy Motion JPEG compression). SDXC cards are formatted in exFAT so clips are saved as a single file rather than in 4.0 GB ‘batches’, allowing a maximum duration of 29 minutes and 59 seconds (assuming there’s enough space on the card).
This is the start of the good stuff which includes the choice of ALL-I (inter frame) or IPB (intra frame) compression with 4K UHD recording, the former giving a very healthy bit rate of 480 Mbps. And remember that you can now use EF-S lenses on the EOS R (via a mount adaptor, of course) which have a focal length magnification factor very close to the 4K crop… in other words, giving back wide-angle capabilities if you need them. The EOS R has built-in stereo microphones supplemented by a stereo audio input and there’s an output for hooking up headphones too. Sound levels can be manually adjusted with a wind-cut filter and an attenuator provided to deal with excessive noise.
The ‘PASM’ exposure control modes are available along with the ‘Picture Style’ presets, the ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ correction processing, lens aberration corrections, high ISO noise reduction and all the same white balance control options that are available for photography.
There’s also electronic image stabilisation (although it’s no substitute for efficient IBIS), time coding with drop-frame correction, focus peaking displays and image magnification to assist with manual focusing, and the added security of having the FP shutter close over the sensor when the camera is switched off. Dust on the sensor is even more of an issue when shooting video.
On balance then, the EOS R is a more capable video camera than the EOS 5D Mark IV and in quite few ways too, capped off by the fact that it’s significant cheaper too. It could have been even better of course, but it’s the best hybrid still/video EOS camera Canon has made to date… so no contest really.
It’s interesting to see that Canon’s approach to the design of its first full-35mm mirrorless camera is actually far more progressive than that of either Nikon or Sony (and, from what we’ve seen of the Lumix S1 prototypes, Panasonic as well). The EOS R represents quite a significant break from Canon’s D-SLRs and, if you’re prepared to go with the flow, is actually a much better camera for it. It’s incredibly comfortable to handle and the ergonomics are excellent, but the best operational efficiencies come from the touchscreen which may challenge the traditionalists. However, the reality is that there isn’t an EOS D-SLR that gets close to what the EOS R offers in terms of how it balances size, weight, features, performance and image quality. Like it or not, this is the future in ILCs and, like Nikon, Canon has created a compelling case.
The more we used the EOS R, the more we liked it and, we suspect, Canon’s forward-thinking will serve it well as it further develops the system. It is a very different camera to Nikon’s Z duo, but to use the tag line from a certain German supermarket chain’s advertising campaign “Good. Different”.