DSLRs once reigned supreme. Top cameras from Canon and Nikon delivered reliability in camera bodies and lenses for serious photographers looking for high-end cameras to do professional work. However, these days, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras seem like they are taking over.
In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that mirrorless cameras were the new kid on the block, making up only a small fraction of camera shipments. Since then, however, they have made rapid gains with the big camera manufacturers getting on board.
If you’re wondering why, it’s because mirrorless cameras make a lot of sense. They can be smaller, there are less mechanical moving parts, and when looking into the electronic viewfinder, you will see exactly the exposure you are going to get. That’s unlike DSLRs where the light from the lens is optically reflected into the eyecup by a mirror which moves out of the way when the exposure is taken. Mirrorless cameras are also cheaper to manufacture.
Along with the written review of the Canon EOS R, we’ve also produced a video version of this review.
While previous generations of mirrorless cameras featured smaller sized sensors such as Micro Four Thirds or APS-C, which allowed for things such as more compact lenses, nowadays the trend in mirrorless has shifted to full frame. Of course, Canon is no stranger to full frame sensors, they’ve long appeared in their professional-grade cameras such as Canon’s EOS 5D and 1D EOS cameras. However, until now, Canon did not offer a full-frame mirrorless full-frame camera on the market — that is until the EOS R, Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera (and its less expensive younger sibling, the EOS RP).
Since full-frame sensors are the same size as traditional 35mm film, lenses that were developed for that film format will work without any crop factor when shooting stills (if the lens mounts are compatible). Conversely, one of the negatives of using smaller sensors with those same lenses is that the image is cropped on the edges which, in effect, transforms the lens to a higher focal length equivalent. Thus, a 50mm lens will end up looking like a 80mm lens or whatever the crop factor might be for those smaller sensors (typically between 1.3 to 2 times the original focal length).
Aside from the wider angle of view, full frame sensors offer other benefits such as increased depth of field. This allows you to keep your subject in focus while blurring out the background. Since they’re larger in size, full-frame sensors are also more sensitive to light due to their lower pixel density. This results in less noise in your images, particularly when shooting in low-light with high ISO levels. Full frame sensor cameras also have greater dynamic range. However, it should be noted that large sensors are also more expensive to produce.
The RF Mount
For this review, I received a Canon EOS R camera body along with two new lenses, a 24-105mm f/4 zoom lens and a 50mm f/1.2 prime lens, both based on the entirely new RF mount, an advanced optical system that, according to Canon, is the foundation of the EOS R system and designed with the future in mind. Other RF lenses currently available include a 35mm f/1.8 macro and a 28-70mm f/2 and new lenses have also been announced.
Part of what makes the RF mount compelling is its large 54mm internal diameter which, along with the camera’s mirrorless design, allows the lens’s rear element to be closer to the image plane. This near back focus distance along with the RF mount’s 54mm diameter lends itself to better optical quality and faster performance. The RF mount on the EOS R also has more pins, 12 of them, which allows for higher data transfer rates between the lens and the camera.
A nice thing about Canon’s RF lenses is that they have a customizable control ring that you can use to adjust exposure settings such as ISO, aperture and exposure compensation (among other things). That is very handy while shooting, since it lets you keep an eye on the shot without having to remove it from the viewfinder.
The RF lenses also include built in optical image stabilization. While some other camera manufacturers employ in body image stabilization (IBIS), a technique that moves the sensor around to compensate for shaky movement, Canon has decided, for their own reasons. not to employ it on the EOS R since they believe stabilization in the lens is a more effective approach.
Also included in the review was an EF mount adapter which makes the camera compatible with EF and EF-S lenses. In fact, there are three lens mount adapters available for the EOS R. The first is a simple adapter mentioned above that allows you to use EF and EF-S lenses. There’s also an adapter that includes a customizable control ring (like the one found on the RF lenses themselves) that you can program to adjust exposure settings. Finally, there is a lens adapter that allows you to drop in filters such as neutral density and polarizers.
One of the first things I noticed was the smaller size of the camera body compared to Canon’s other full frame offerings such as the Canon 5D Mark IV. The camera feels good in your hand with a grippy feel that makes you want to grab it and start shooting.
The 35mm Canon-developed and produced full-frame CMOS sensor in the EOS R is 30.3 Megapixels, a resolution that allows for exquisite levels of details in your images. Together with the help of Canon’s DIGIC 8 image processor, the camera can perform impressively under low-light stituations. It has a standard ISO sensitivity range of 100–40000 for stills and 100–25600 for video (100–12800 for 4K video shooting).
I found Canon’s proprietary Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus system on the EOS R impressive. It has a maximum of 5,655 manually selectable AF points (covering almost the entire image) and has a range of modes including single point AF, Expand AF Area, Zone AF and, importantly, face-tracking AF which uses the subject’s eye as the AF point. According to Canon, the camera delivers the world’s fastest AF focusing speed of 0.05 seconds (almost instantaneous).
Not only is Dual Pixel AF faster and more precise than other AF systems, it also works in situations where other systems can have issues such as tracking your subject as they walk around without losing focus — important for both stills and video. The dual pixel AF system in the Canon EOS R camera also performs well in low light (as dim as EV -6) where other AF systems might fail or search. In addition, the AF area coverage is large, approximately 88% horizontal and 100% vertical of the entire image and you can simply touch and drag the AF point on your touchscreen to the place you want the camera to focus on.
The Canon EOS R’s 0.5-type OLED EVF (electronic view finder) is detailed and precise with approximately 3.69 million dots. As mentioned above, having an EVF to look into is one of the benefits of a mirrorless camera (DSLRs are optical) and is important when checking focus and exposure settings.
The Canon EOS R also has a 3.15 inch, 21 MP touchscreen LCD on the back of the camera where you can access the various settings of the camera such as ISO, Shutter, aperture, white balance, codecs and, of course, focus.
Another important feature of the touchscreen is that it that it swivels around so that it faces outwards, towards the subject. This has become an incredibly important feature for vloggers or people who want to film themselves such as musicians. While it might seem like a small point, having a vari-angle touchscreen (otherwise known as the flippy screen) has become a major consideration when purchasing a camera.
Instead of a twirlable settings wheel, the kind found on many traditional cameras, here is also a small and handy dot matrix panel on the top of the panel that displays the current mode of the camera and is always on even when the camera is powered down.
The Canon EOS R shoots both Full HD and 4K video. In addition, Canon log is included with the camera which delivers 12 stops of dynamic range for color correction providing the most flexibility in bringing out shadow and highlight detail. This feature is useful for serious filmmakers and, together with the full frame sensor and the advanced RF lens system make it an attractive camera for shooting video.
It should be noted, however, that there is a 1.7 lens crop factor when shooting 4K video. That’s because the EOS R delivers a 1:1 pixel readout from the center of the sensor and crops out the extra pixels — an approach that avoids the serious amount of processing power that would be necessary to downsample from a 30.3 MP sensor. You can minimize the crop factor by using a very wide lens or you may wish to consider a true cinema camera such as the Canon C300. This is, of course, not an issue for still photographers which don’t experience lens crop.
The camera can shoot video in various frame rates. For those who want their camera to shoot slow motion, they can shoot 1080p at 59.97 fps and play it back at 29.97 for half speed slow motion or at 119.9 fps at 720p for quarter-speed slow motion. Some have bemoaned the fact that the camera cannot shoot 119.9 fps at full HD on the EOS R. I suppose it depends what you want to do and how important slow motion at full HD is to you. For professional videographers that use external recorders, the Canon EOS R can output 10-bit 4:2:2 from its built-in HDMI port. The camera can also output 10-bit movie footage in ITU-R BT.2020 color when Canon Log setting is activated.
Also, when recording 4K video, you have the option of using IPB or ALL-I compression. ALL I is a newer intraframe compression format that generates a higher quality image but generates files about three times larger.
The compact and comfortable design of the Canon EOS R makes it a pleasure to shoot with (the body weighs just 1.28 lbs) and while they’re not exactly lightweight, the new RF lenses are impressive and feel as though they’re engineered to very high standards of quality. The programmable control ring on the lenses is an especially nice touch.
The EOS R is capable of shooting quality video. It’s built-in Canon Log profile as well as its ability to output 10-bit 4:2:2 video and the new ALL-I Intraframe codec are features videographers and filmmakers will appreciate though some may be a little disappointed in the 1.7 crop in 4K and the fact that slow motion at 120 fps is only available at 720p. Then again, it all depends what you’re doing — slow motion may not be important to you.
However, there is some exciting news on the horizon. Recently Canon has confirmed that a new Canon EOS R is in development that will feature improved video features — most remarkably the ability to shoot 8K video. Recently, during an interview by Dave Etchells of Imaging Resource, Canon’s Yoshiyuki Mizoguchi confirmed that video will play a huge role in the EOS R system going forward, with an 8K video capable camera already on the EOS-R series roadmap. That is outstanding news for filmmakers. How long it will take for that camera to arrive remains is a good question, however I would expect it to address the 1.7 crop factor and higher frame rates at 1080p and perhaps beyond.
With that said, the current EOS R is a strong entry into the full-frame mirrorless world by Canon. The EOS R ecosystem, camera and RF lenses offer many useful innovations. However, I think the strength of the system is best suited for professional photographers whose primary concern is taking photos with video being a secondary concern. If you’re primarily a photographer, there is no reason to hesitate. If you’re a filmmaker or videographer, you may wish to stick around for the EOS R Mark II.