Tech review: Canon Eos R
Canon has finally produced a full-frame mirrorless camera. But is it worth the attention of professionals?
I recently got the new Eos R to test. Because I own (and use) Canon's 6D Mark ii and lots of lenses for it, I was interested in how the new mirrorless model compared in quality and usability.
Here are some early conclusions on the Eos R's advantages and disadvantages, including the reasons I would possibly consider buying one (and one important issue that might veto this).
As you'll see from my headings below, I think a useful way of doing this is to compare it to the 6D Mark ii, which is probably the Canon model you might consider buying instead of the Eos R.
WHY YOU MIGHT BUY AN EOS R OVER A 6D MARK ii
1. It has a better, more accurate focusing system.
2. It can shoot completely silently.
3. Its electronic viewfinder means you don't keep checking to see whether shots 'came out okay', wasting precious seconds each time.
4. The camera body is slimmer and lighter than other pro-level Canon DSLRs.
5. Most of Canon's future R&D effort is now likely going into its mirrorless systems: this model is the future for Canon.
6. The quality of the images, through the new native lenses and older DSLR lenses, is excellent.
WHY YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO BUY AN EOS R OVER A 6D MARK ii
1. It's almost €1,000 (60pc) dearer.
2. Some of your existing lenses may not work properly with it, even with the adaptor.
3. The new 'RF' lenses are quite expensive and there are only four so far; they're also huge and heavy, negating any mirrorless portability advantage.
4. It only has one memory card slot, no better than the 6D Mark ii.
5. It has almost no video advantage: its 4K mode is a 1.7x crop, rendering it impractical with all but very wide lenses.
Anyone who says that this is in some way a poor camera is lying to you. The image quality from the Eos R is superb. It's also nicely ergonomic and comfortable in-hand. And it has advantages unavailable to any other professional or semi-professional Canon camera that can't be taken for granted.
For example, many DSLR shooters are still unaware just how much time an electronic viewfinder saves you: even the most seasoned professional still wastes a considerable amount of time 'chimping', to see if the shot(s) taken are properly exposed. You simply don't have to do this with the Eos R (or any mirrorless camera).
A close second is silent shooting. Because Sony, Fuji and Panasonic mirrorless pro cameras have been able to silently shoot for several years, they have had a massive advantage over Canon and Nikon for certain kinds of professional work. A silent shutter is invaluable at a wedding ceremony, for example. For certain sports events, such as golf, silent cameras are now the only variety allowed for tee-off shots.
The Eos R's touchscreen is a crucial draw, too: it flips out in the same way that Canon's current 6D ii does. This gives huge flexibility, both for photos and video. (It's the reason I bought the 6D ii earlier this year.)
But the touchscreen has one other trick: it can be used to select your focus point when you're using the viewfinder. In other words, when your eye is up to the viewfinder, your thumb can guide where you want the focus to be by moving it about on the touchscreen.
Presumably, Canon chose this instead of the joystick used by some other pro-level cameras. This gives it a big advantage over the 6D Mark ii, which inherits the original 6D's (pretty awful, restricted) focus selection system. It's not flawless, however: I found that it is sometimes a little jittery or jumpy. I wouldn't like to totally rely on it professionally - a joystick would be more reliable.
There is also a marginal advantage in the Eos R's shape and size: it's slimmer and lighter than any other full frame Canon camera because of its mirrorless technology. (Although some of that advantage is negated by the slightly larger, heavier native lenses for it, or by the extra length that the adaptor adds when you want to use one of your existing Canon DSLR lenses.)
Is the Eos R a perfect first full-frame mirrorless camera for Canon? Not by a long shot.
Canon has made one of those maddening moves by only putting in one memory card slot. This guarantees two things. First, certain professionals, such as wedding photographers, will feel they can't risk switching to it yet.
Memory cards rarely fail, but it's a fear that hangs over many event photographers: their livelihood depends on that card. The single card slot also ensures that Canon leaves the way open for a more expensive mirrorless model next year with a second card slot, marketed as the true professional mirrorless camera.
It's a risk, though: Sony's highly accomplished A7 and A9 range have two memory card slots. They recently overtook Canon in professional camera sales. The Eos R, unaccompanied by future dual-slot models, won't make much of a dent in this momentum.
Canon is also worryingly behind on video technology in its professional cameras. The Eos R shoots 4K resolution but at a ridiculous 1.7x crop, meaning no-one who needs 4K video will really consider buying it.
Price is also an issue. At €2,729 (with the mount adaptor included) for the body only, this is almost €1,000 more than a 6D Mark ii, and over €1,200 more than the excellent mirrorless (though cropped frame) Fujifilm X-T3, which I recently tested at length.
The lenses, too, are expensive. Canon's new 24-105mm (F4) is €1,319 (but around €130 cheaper if bought with the camera body). Its new 28-70mm (F2) lens is an eye-watering €3,549. Granted, it's a new fast speed for a zoom lens, but even still.
Speaking of lenses, this camera failed to work with one of my most important lenses, a Tamron 150-600mm telephoto. I rely on this lens a lot for wildlife and landscape photos, including sunsets and sunrises.
This is an issue for me and would likely prevent me from buying it.
I didn't have any such problems with Canon lenses, including the 16-35mm (F2.8), 70-200mm (F2.8) and 85mm (F1.2). And it should be pointed out that the adaptor also works with EF-S (cropped) lenses, although I don't own any of them. Lastly, it did seem to work fine with another Tamron lens I own, a 24-70mm (F2.8).
But the Tamron telephoto zoom lens issue bothered me. If there are going to be issues with legacy lenses, I'd be reluctant to commit to buying this camera until I know that they might be ironed out or I'm ready to invest in a new lens ecosystem.
One final point about the native 'RF' lenses for this machine - they're disconcertingly huge. They're so big, in fact, that they knock out any possible portability advantage this camera should have because of its mirrorless nature.
I don't really care that there is no in-body stabilisation (Ibis) in the Eos R, as few rival cameras have this.
So who is this camera for? It's not really for videographers: Panasonic's GH5 and GH5s still rule there, even if the Eos R's flip-out screen is excellent in this regard.
It's not really a professional camera for news media as the lens range is still too small and there is still a question over compatibility.
So what does that leave? I would say semi-professionals, enthusiasts, video-bloggers and hobbyists who want the benefits of a full frame sensor and who are also aware of the mirrorless advantages (EVF, silent shooting, smaller size).
In other words, people like me. I can forgive the EOS R its lack of 4K, stabilisation and super-high frame rate because it has things that might deliver slightly superior photos for me than other camera systems, like excellent autofocus.
However, this is a relatively expensive option for this kind of purchaser.
If the Eos R was the same price as the 6D Mark ii, I would definitely recommend it over the DSLR model. It produces excellent results and has some solid advantages. But is it worth €1,000 more, when you could spend that on a really good lens? (Or you just don't have the guts of €3,000 for a camera body?)
That's a much harder question to answer. I strongly suspect that the price might restrain sales of this camera as it may get caught between price-conscious amateurs and professionals waiting for a second card slot, better video and more lenses.