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Canon’s First Mirrorless Camera, the EOS M

By Bjorn Petersen
Published: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 12:01am

The new EOS M is Canon's first mirrorless camera. Combining the imaging quality of a DSLR with the convenience of a point and shoot, it features an 18 Mp APS-C sensor, a DIGIC 5 image processor, and a 3.0" 1,040k-dot touch-screen LCD. It comes bundled with a 22mm f/2.0 STM lens for continuous and quiet autofocus when shooting video or stills. Canon’s first mirrorless camera, the EOS M, combines the imaging quality of a DSLR and the convenience of a point and shoot into a single body. It has an expandable ISO of up to 25600, and full HD movie mode with the recently introduced Movie Servo AF system.

Canon EOS-M Digital Camera

Mirrorless Design

While the idea of a mirrorless camera is not entirely new, the EOS M is Canon’s first step into this particular arena.  Although Canon has just entered the ring, they have come out swinging, and introduced an entirely new lens mount for the mirrorless design, the EF-M.  While the EF-M is the proprietary line of lenses for Canon’s mirrorless cameras, there will be an optional lens adapter that will provide expanded compatibility with the entire line of Canon EF and EF-S lenses.

One of the most noticeable aspects of a mirrorless design is its size; it is portable enough to be carried with you at all times.  While not quite as compact as a point and shoot, it is significantly smaller than a DSLR due to the removal of the mirror inside the housing.  The interchangeable lens capability allows for you to choose various sized lenses depending on your desired shooting situation, and provides better designed optics than a built-in lens.  Also in opposition to a point and shoot camera, by using lenses with potentially larger maximum apertures with the camera’s a large APS-C sensor, you will have much greater control of depth of field and selective focus, thereby allowing you to more easily blur backgrounds and isolate your subject matter.

Also well-integrated into the design of the camera is a large, vivid 3.0” Clear View II LCD monitor with a 1,040K-dot resolution.  This display features touch screen functionality with a smudge-resistant coating, to maintain a bright and clear display even in sunny outdoor settings.  The touch screen supports Touch AF, allowing you to choose your focus points by simply touching specific areas of the image.  Menu navigation is also simplified and more intuitive throughout since you can tap to select options rather than relying on a scroll wheel.

18 Megapixel APS-C CMOS Sensor and DIGIC 5 Image Processor

At the core of the EOS M lies a remarkable 18 megapixel APS-C-sized CMOS sensor (1.6x crop factor) that is well-complemented by the quick-performing DIGIC 5 processor.  Together, these combine to provide excellent image quality, as well as smooth color transitions and gradations across your entire image. The camera records these in JPEG, RAW, or JPEG+RAW formats.  The DIGIC 5 image processor provides increased low-light sensitivity from ISO 100-12800, which is further expandable to ISO 25600 for shooting in incredibly dim situations.  For countering the inherent noise when working at such high ISOs, Multi Shot Noise reduction can effectively lessen the appearance of image noise by combining several images together to effectively build up to a sufficient, well-detailed exposure.

The processor also lends itself to giving the camera fast operational speeds, in both how the camera records images and how it functions during navigation.  With its remarkably short shutter lag, it can turn on and capture images between 0.2 - 0.5 seconds; while its maximum burst speed captures up to 17 JPEG or 6 RAW images when saving to a fast UHS-I memory card.

A new Hybrid CMOS AF system is another product of this increased performance.  This AF mode combines both contrast and phase detection AF technologies for faster and more precise focusing.  By utilizing specific pixels on the CMOS sensor, this focusing system is also able to assist in more predictive means of determining focus for subject tracking or work in continuous shooting situations. The built-in Autofocus assist beam aids in achieving quick and accurate focus, however with an EOS-dedicated Speedlight attached to the camera, it will switch to emit the Speedlite’s AF assist beam instead.

EOS Full HD Movie Mode and Continuous Autofocus

Featuring the ability to record full HD movies in 1080p, the EOS M can record well-rendered video in great detail to an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card, or through the video out and two mini-HDMI out ports.  These HDMI ports also allow you to easily display your photos and videos directly onto an HDTV in real-time. When recording you have the option to choose from a variety of resolutions and frame rates, including 1920 x 1080 at 30, 25, or 24fps.  Continuous shooting can last up to 44 minutes on a 16 GB memory card, and half that with an 8 GB card. Full manual control over exposure settings and focus is also supported, providing you with the ability to more easily dictate focus and creative exposure techniques.

Manual audio adjustment is possible across 64 different levels, and sound is recorded via a built-in stereo microphone.  Another recently introduced feature unique to video shooting is Video Snapshot; this mode captures short video clips at 2, 4 or 8 seconds and automatically combines them into one reel, giving you something reminiscent of a highlight reel or album.

The most significant technology the EOS M supports in relation to video recording is the Movie Servo AF system, providing continuous focusing and full-time subject tracking while recording.  This focusing mode is further benefited by the use of an STM lens with an integrated stepping motor.  Aside from quick and precise focusing, the stepping motor is also incredibly quiet while acquiring focus, which is something especially necessary for recording the highest quality video.

Creative and Intelligent Modes

While the EOS M does support fully manual operation, you can also employ the Intelligent Auto mode in order to quickly and seamlessly determine the best exposure settings depending on a range of pre-configured settings.  When working in this mode, the camera will automatically determine the scene-type you are working in and apply different settings in order to render the scene as best possible.  This mode can prove to be exceptionally useful when working at night or during other difficult situations.

Before you take the shot, you can view cropping lines for various aspect ratios, right in the Live View mode of the LCD, so you know exactly how much of the scene will fit into the photo. The camera's Live View function provides Canon's Aspect Ratio feature that allows you to view 1:1, 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios in addition to the standard 3:2 ratio. These cropping lines make it easier to compose images, and they can help to expedite printing. Custom aspect ratios are also applied to JPEG images captured directly in-camera.

In addition to the Intelligent Auto mode, there is a range of other features designed to improve how you work with your camera in depicting scenes.  Modes like Handheld Night Scene and HDR Backlight Control will help to modify your exposure by combining separate frames together in order to cover a wider range of exposure values.  The Handheld Night Scene mode will build up the effective exposure by layering several shorter exposures together rather than one long one. 

HDR Backlight Control mode works similarly, however it is combining exposures of differing amounts in order to control highlights and shadows into a single exposure.  For even greater creative applications, seven different Creative Filters, including Miniature Effect, Art Bold Effect, and Water Painting Effect, have been incorporated allowing you to modify your exposures in a more wide-ranging and versatile manner.

Once you have captured your scenes, make adjustments to the look of an image without having to understand complex adjustment options, or using a computer and editing software. The strength of the adjustments can be changed between Low, Standard, and Strong, and you can also get away from fully automated white balance by adjusting the look to your taste with the Shoot by Lighting or Scene Type option. These features allow you to get more creative with the look and tone of your images, without having to dive deep into the camera’s menu options or any computer software.

EF-M 22mm f/2 STM and EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lenses

Two lenses are being released in addition the EOS M body, a 22mm f/2 wide angle and an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 standard zoom lens.  The 22mm f/2 STM lens is equivalent to that of a 35.2mm lens in full-frame format, and offers a moderately wide angle of view.  This lens’ bright maximum f/2 aperture aids in low light and action shooting as well as providing greater room for selective focus.  The lens construction features one aspherical element for aberration reduction and a circular aperture with 7 diaphragm blades for a soft out-of-focus quality.

The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens is a standard length zoom lens equivalent to a 28.8-88mm lens in 35mm format, giving you an apt range of focal lengths for many different situations.  This lens features 3 aspheric lens elements for minimizing lens flare and ghosting throughout the entire zoom range as well as providing greater image clarity and fidelity.  It has Dynamic IS that provides the image stabilization needed whenever you record video while walking, and this built-in image stabilization, provides up to a 4-stop equivalent reduction in camera shake.  It will prove to be especially useful when working at longer focal lengths or when working in dimly lit situations as well.

Both of these lenses feature Canon’s recently introduced STM stepping motor for improved autofocus capabilities that are especially prevalent when working with HD video.  The stepping motor provides extra smooth, quiet auto-focusing so there is a noticeable lack of recorded internal noise and smoother transitions while changing focus while recording.

These two lenses provide a solid introductory point for Canon’s mirrorless entry, however they still lack in comparison to the wide range of lenses Canon offers for its general EF lens lineup.  However, you can make use of the entire Canon EF range with the EF-M Lens Adapter for full compatibility with both EF and EF-S lenses.  The design of the adapter incorporates a tripod collar for use with some of the longest telephoto lenses and it also fully supports all image stabilization and autofocus types found throughout the EF series.

  Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM EF-M 22mm f/2 STM
Focal Length 18-55mm 22mm
35mm Equivalent Focal Length 28.8-88mm 35.2mm
Maximum Aperture f/3.5-5.6 f/2
Lens Construction 13 elements in 11 groups 7 elements in 6 groups
Aspheric Elements 3 Not Specified by Manufacturer
Diagonal Angle of View 74°20′ – 27°50′ 63°30'
Focus Adjustment Inner focusing system Inner focusing system
Minimum Focus Distance 9.8" / 25cm 5.9" / 15cm
Zoom System Rotating type N/A
Filter Ring Diameter 52mm 43mm
Dimensions 2.4 x 2.4" / 60.9 x 61mm 2.4 x 0.9" / 60.9 x 23.7mm
Weight 7.4oz / 210g 3.7oz / 105g

Speedlite 90EX

Lastly Canon is also introducing a new Speedlite, the 90EX, which has been designed with the EOS M’s stature in mind.  This compact and lightweight flash still features a sufficient guide no. of 30’ / 9m (at ISO 100) and has enough coverage for use with a 24mm (35mm equivalent) lens.  The 90EX can also serve as a master transmitter to wirelessly control multiple flash units for more creative lighting setups.  Through a 4-channel optical pulse, this flash can control up to 3 other flash groups from 8:1 to 1:8 power setting in 1/2 EV steps from distances of 16.4’ indoors and 23’ outdoors.  Even though this flash is specifically designed for the EOS M, it can also be used equally effectively with any other EOS Canon camera with a hot shoe.

The EOS M is debatably overdue from Canon; however their entry into this realm of camera type is certainly worth noting.  Pulling features from their DSLR line and inserting them into a body slightly larger than a point and shoot is impressive alone.  The large sensor and quick-performing image processor result in exceptionally high quality imagery that is further aided by the use of interchangeable lenses.  This camera will certainly serve as a stepping stone for Canon to enter a new market of photographers looking to have the performance of an interchangeable lens camera with the convenience of having something you can carry at all times.

Compatible Cameras EOS cameras (ETTL II/ETTL Autoflash)
Guide Number 30' / 9.0 m at ISO 100
Number of Flashes Approx. >100 flashes
Recycling Time Approx. 0.1-5.5 sec.
Flash Range (at Manual) f/1.4: 21.2’ / 6.0 m
f/2: 14.6’ / 4. 5m
f/2.8: 10.6’ / 3.2 m
f/4: 7.4’ / 2.3 m
f/5.6: 5.3’ / 1.6 m
AF Assist Beam System Intermittent flash firing system
AF Assist Beam Effective Range At center: 9.2' / 2.8 m
Periphery: 8.2' / 2.5 m
Channel Receiver 4 channel optical pulse
Slave Speedlights Controlled Up to 3 flash groups
Controlled Power 1:8, 8:1
1/2 EV steps
Controlled Distance 16.4' / 5.0 m indoors
23' / 7.0 m outdoors
Compatibility Any EOS system camera with hot shoe
Custom Functions Auto power off (ON/OFF)
Power Source 2x AAA / LR03 batteries
External Power Source N/A
Dimensions 1.7 x 2 x 2.6" / 44.2 x 52 x 65 mm
Weight 1.8 oz / 50 g

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