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The Canon EOS-M
The reason for my excitement over
this camera is its size and relative simplicity. The EOS-M is about
the size of an old style rangefinder, or the old Instamatic cameras
many of us remember from long ago. The Instamatic was not a very
capable camera; but it was handy, unobtrusive, and fun to use. Even
better was the classic rangefinder camera, like the old Leica M3, or
Canon's own Canonette. These cameras were effortless to use, did not
intrude into the scene like the large, noisy, and heavy SLRs that
were to follow, and gave the photographer complete control over what
he was doing. The top end rangefinder cameras could mount a
selection of lenses. These were great old cameras of what many
consider to be the golden age of photography. Their only limitation
was the inability to view or meter through the same lens with which
the exposure was being made. The EOS-M, and other mirrorless cameras
harken back to those great old classics.
Walking the street with this little 10.5 oz gem around my neck, the camera was almost unnoticed, by myself as well as anyone I might care to photograph. The black bodied, low profile camera is only about an inch thick, with the lens protruding perhaps an inch and a quarter from the front. The camera body is a diminutive 4.3" wide by 2.6" high. The spoiler here, for covert photography, is the blinking autofocus assist light, which flashes orange while the camera focuses. This can be turned off in one of the camera's many menus. In regards to the focus, I found that the almost universal criticism was quite exaggerated. I had no issues focusing, both outdoors at night, and inside with regular room lighting.
There appear to be two secrets to satisfactory autofocus with this camera. The first is to get the newest bios (version 2.02,as of this writing) from Canon, and install it. The second is to actually read the manual and learn how the camera works. One thing you absolutely want to do is turn off the continuous AF feature, which will cause the focus to hunt around a bit. Continuous AF is great for shooting sports and fast action; but requires lots of light to work properly. You also want to set the camera for single shot, rather than rapid fire, or it will attempt to anticipate focus. With the camera so set, I had no issues with auto focus. Another setting you may want to check is to turn off the Touch Shutter feature. This is the feature that allows you to release the shutter by tapping on the touch screen. This annoying feature will cause you to constantly be taking pictures accidentally when you touch the camera, adjust your grip, or allow it to fall back to your chest. While it may seem like a great feature to a software engineer, no one who knows anything about photography would have suggested such a thing.
camera body has a great feel to it, and is finished off in a grain
texture that gives a decent grip. The body is made of magnesium (not
plastic, as some have claimed), and though it has its share of
curved and beveled edges, the sides and base are flat for resting or
steadying during exposures. In the base of the camera is a steel
threaded tripod mount. A small sliding door on the right hand
side of the camera base holds the battery and the SD card. At
highest resolution and best quality, an SD card will hold about 60
photos per GB. A battery will last for 200 - 300 shots per charge, so
an extra battery or two is a must. A full charge takes about two
hours. For video, at highest quality,
330 mb per minute of video is required, and a battery will last for
about an hour and a half.
For an old line or experienced photographer, most of the complaints leveled at the EOS-M camera are downright silly. When I first got serious about photography, these would not have been complaints. Slow autofocus would not have bothered us – there was no autofocus. You focused using the focusing ring of the lens, and after a bit of practice you did this quickly and automatically. No built in flash would also not have been a complaint – no serious cameras had a built in flash. Cameras had a hot shoe flash mount so that you could mount the flash of your choice. We also would not have complained that the LCD screen did not pivot or rotate – we had no LCD screens. Finally, the 230 shot estimate per battery charge would have seemed a luxury to those of use using 36 exposure film cartridges. The LP-E12 battery of the EOS-M is shown below with its charger, next to the BP-511 of the D series EOS DSLR, and the NB-2LH of the Rebel series.
What we did have was an eye level viewfinder, something I really miss in this camera. We also had easy to find and manage controls for aperture, shutter speed, and focus – giving us complete control of the process without having to slog through a series of menus. The only computerized control we had was our brains – computer number one. This worked far better than any modern nine point, twelve point, thirty one point, or any other number of autofocus points. Also regarding focus, we had focusing aids in the viewfinder, usually a prism or microprism.
What this camera does have is several selective metering modes including a great 11% semi spot, reminiscent of that of the beloved F-1 and FTb cameras of days long gone by. This is a great setting for strongly back lit or high contrast situations, such as stage lighting. Even better is a 2.8% spot meter. When using spot and semi spot, a small area in the middle of the screen turns slightly grey to indicate the metering area. The metered area can be moved around through use of the touch screen.
Exposure modes will be familiar to long time EOS users. Using the collar around the shutter button to select the A+ setting puts you in full auto mode. You point and shoot. With apologies to camera snobs, this setting actually works pretty good most of the time for most things. It helps that the LCD shows what the picture will look like, so you can hunt around to find the best focus and exposure. For those that don't like to hunt around, there is the middle setting, called the still photo setting.
The still photo setting has Canon's various types of auto exposure selected according to scene type. These are called the basic modes. So there is the portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, backlit, and night portrait styles. They are selected from the touch screen and then left alone to determine exposure according to a series of parameters programmed into each mode. Also available are the classic aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes. These are called the creative modes. With shutter and aperture priority, the photographer sets the shutter or aperture on the touch screen, and the camera does the rest. In manual mode, you tap on the shutter speed indication in the touch screen and then use the setting dial to adjust. You then tap on the shutter speed and repeat. An exposure scale shows you how your settings compare to what the camera says they should be.
While using the touch screen and moving to the dial is a bit cumbersome, compared to the classic controls of the old manual cameras, it does allow full control of exposure. When used along with the spot or semi spot metering. This is my favorite way to use this camera. Autofocus works great during the day and in most situations indoors and at night. Yet there are still some times I prefer manual focus. This is an issue with the new EOS-M lenses, which do not have any mechanical focus control at all. Turning the focus ring on one of these lenses engages the focus motor. It is less precise than I like, and I actually find manual focus better with one of the old FD lenses, when using the FD adapter.
The best way to manual focus is to use either an older FD lens, or use an EF lens with the focus switch set to manual. You then hit the little magnifier icon on the touch screen to get a 10x zoom of the center, and focus carefully. You then recompose, if required, set exposure, if you haven't already, and shoot. If you are also shooting stopped down, you must meter and set exposure first, and then open up to focus. Like many things with the EOS-M, it can be done very well, and give great pictures; but it doesn't always happen quickly.
This may be the ultimate amateur
video camera, for its size and price. It records in full 1080 high definition, has a metal
body, is fairly compact - smaller than any decent quality camcorder
of which I am aware, and takes the full Canon series of M, EF
(With adapter), and FD (with adapter) lenses, as well as lenses from
many other manufactures. Compare this to most
of the plastic bodied camcorders, with their built in zooms. Then
consider that the EOS-M can be had for around $300. I am not aware
of any reasonably priced video gear that has the ability to change
lenses. So imagine being able to shoot nature videos using a 300mm
lens (a magnification of about 10x) at full high def. This could turn me into a videographer - to a certain extent
it already has. The photo above shows it with some of the lenses I
have for it, next to a pair of standard size camcorders.
As is the case with taking still photos, videos may be shot in manual or automatic modes, with either manual or autofocus. This gives a lot more creative control than most of us are used to having with today's crop of little camcorders. Also, in common with its use as a still camera, the EOS-M has great low light performance. It shoots in 720 or full 1080 hidef. I have not explored this side of the camera to any extent yet; but will update this site after some experience. In particular, I am looking forward to being able to put some videos on this site.
LENSES AND ADAPTERS
I am presently able to use three different types of lens mounts on this camera. There is the standard EF-M mount, native to the EOS-M, the regular full sized EF native to the standard EOS DSLR cameras, and the old style FD lenses, standard on Canon cameras until the eighties. Technically, I can also use the special EF-S mount lenses as well, so it is like being able to use three and a half mounts. I am going to dedicate a considerable amount of space here to these mounts, and to the practice of using the different types of lenses on the EOD-M, because it is one of the most exciting things about this camera.
The design of this camera makes it superbly adaptable to the use of various lens mounts. With a live view from the sensor, no bulky pentaprism assembly is required to view, compose, and focus through the shooting lens. This permits the lens to be mounted very close to the image plane. Distance from the rear of the lens to the image plane is 18mm. For a standard EOS camera, this distance is 44mm. The small lens mount, and the very close distance from the mount to the image plane (called the flange distance) makes it possible to use just about any lens from any manufacturer on this camera. There area a lot of great old lenses out there, including lenses from old screw mount rangefinders, professional video cameras, CCTV units, and old SLR's, that have been gathering dust, are great optically, and are available very inexpensively. Combine this with the fact that this camera is capable of shooting full high definition video, and things start to get pretty interesting. I have so far stuck with Canon lenses; but who knows what the future may hold?
In order to keep the camera small, the length from the rear lens element to the image plan was shortened. This required a new lens mount. The EOS-M lens mount is electronically the same as the standard EOS mount, yet it is housed in a smaller package scaled to the size of the smaller camera. The wide angle lenses are actually superior to the same lenses produced in the standard mount, due to the difference in distance between the mount and the image plane. A traditional SLR, with its mirror and pentaprism actually position a wide angle lens artificially further from the image plane than the actual focal length of the lens. This requires some optical lengthening of the focus point, without changing the characteristic perspective of the focal length - a very difficult trick. The EOS-M mount removes or reduces the need for this. On longer lenses the effect is not as noticeable, but on a short lens, like the new Canon 22mm F2, the lens can be very small, quite simple, and exceptionally sharp. The actual distance between the rear element and the image plane on an EF lens is 44mm. The distance on an EF-M lens is 18mm.
There are two excellent quality lenses available for the EOS-M in the United States, and a third available off shore. This particular example has the standard fixed focal length 22mm F 2.0. This tiny lens has the smallest front element I have ever seen on a standard size camera, yet at F 2.0 it is faster than the standard zoom lenses used as primes on most point and shoot cameras, and many SLR's. A photo of this lens, next to a similar EF lens (a 28mm F1.8) shows just how much of a different this can make. Also notable in the photo is the similar layout of the electrical contacts, and the slightly smaller diameter of the new M mount lens.
I also have the standard kit zoom, the 18 - 55 F 3.5 - F 5.6. This is a pretty standard lens, and appears to be optically a mate for the standard EOS-S kit lens of the same focal length and aperture. The two differ in the size of their EOS lens mount, and in the closer image distance of the EOS-M version, which also does not need extra optical elements to set the image further out and to correct for further aberration. What this means is that the EOS-M version is sharper, and transmits more light. It is an optically superior lens.
There are also some great EOS-M lenses by Tokina, with perhaps others coming from other manufacturers - if the format takes hold. If it does not, an adapter allows the use of the entire line of Canon EF lenses, and there is another adapter which will allow the mounting of the old FD/FL series of lenses. Presumably, due to the close proximity of the lens mount to the imager, just about any lens could be physically coupled to this camera, though most would likely lose some functionality.
Even so, with only a few lenses available, and many photographers having a substantial stock of older mount lenses, It would be a good thing to be able to use other lens mounts. Canon and a number of aftermarket companies make this possible. It is particularly easy with the EOS-M, because of the camera's small size and thin profile. This opens the possibility of not only using older Canon lenses, but of using lenses from just about any manufacture, as long as the EOS-M owner understands that on non EF lenses autofocus will be lost, as well as full aperture metering.
In the meantime, the two available lenses are well built, optically excellent, and very compact. It is a good start, and I don't see this mount or camera style going away any time soon.
The first and most obvious lens mount adapter would be that for
Canon's current EF series of lenses. Canon wisely offered an EF lens
adapter at the same time it introduced the EOS-M. This greatly
increases the lens selection, though the standard EF lenses can look pretty ungainly on the
little EOS-M body.
With the Adapter in place, the EOS-M suddenly sheds its mild mannered persona, like Clark Kent becoming Superman, and turns into SUPERCAMERA, able to take tall lenses in a single bound. This is the equal of any full sized EOS DSLR as far as image quality is concerned. It is also equal optically when using the adapter. The one disadvantage is the rather low battery life of the EOS-M.
than the obvious, what this adapter offers is the advantage of being
able to have this very small and easily pocketed camera available for
use as a back up or auxiliary to supplement a photographer with an
extensive EOS DSLR kit.
It takes little room in a camera bag or pouch, and can be used
with its own small EF-M lenses as a more personal and intimate
camera for candids or test shots.
this writing, the EOS-M and these adapters are discontinued; but
both are still readily available. Even so, Canon has not given up on
this line, and is selling the new EOS-M2 in Asia, where it is
selling quite well. Rumors are
rife about new models being in the works. Canon had high hopes for this
system, and produced quite a number of cameras and accessories for
export into the United States and Europe, where the market for them
never developed. So a number still sit in warehouses, waiting to be
sold, in most cases at less than half of their original asking
Mounting the adapter is similar to the process of mounting the EF/EF-M unit, though operation is slightly different. With the FD adapter, the camera has no control over the lens, so you must focus and set the aperture manually. You control aperture by setting the aperture ring on the lens, and then turning a stop down ring on the mount. The camera will automatically set the shutter speed to the correct exposure. When you first stop down, the viewfinder dims briefly, but quickly returns to full brightness.
The photo to the right shows the stop down ring, with the markings Lock - Open. Turning the ring to the left, stops down. The aperture scale can be seen above the stop down ring, and indicates an aperture of F 1.8 - full open. The system, is easy, and faster than it sounds. It is far easier and faster than trying to trick your camera's auto-exposure system.
Manual focus has become a lost art; but it is not difficult to learn. It is best to focus with the lens at full aperture, where focusing errors are much more apparent. Once focus has been set, turn the stop down ring, and shoot. This is a process familiar to old time photographers who had to use this method well into the sixties or early seventies.
What is difficult is that there are no focusing aids in the viewfinder. the best solution to this is to zoom in the digital magnifier while focusing. The neatest solution I have seen comes from Magic Lantern, a free bios upgrade. The Magic Lantern firmware allows the center of the viewfinder to zoom in at about 10x, for focusing, while the rest of the frame is at normal size for composition.
While manual focus is a requirement for the use of the old FD lenses, manual exposure is not. Using the camera's auto exposure system, you can either stop the lens down and shoot, or leave it wide open, always shooting at full aperture. You can also set the camera to manual, and stop down manually, while also manually setting the shutter speed. The camera will show you, on a sliding scale, how far off your exposure is from what the camera thinks it should be. This is great for strongly back lit or front lit scenes, or subjects that are especially bright or dark. This is made even better by the ability of the camera Live View system to show you the scene as the camera sees it.
The Fotasy mounts securely, has a sturdy feel, and no play at all on either of its lens mounts. I was easily able to focus at infinity, and was not able to focus past infinity, indicating that the dimensions were just where they should be. All surfaces were parallel, so that I noticed no focus shift from top to bottom. The relatively low price of the unit made me look extra carefully for flaws; but I found none.
With the whole range of FD lenses now available, it might be tempting to pick up some bargains, and get a nice collection of manual lenses. Yet some care should be taken in making selections. Not all of the old FD lenses are such bargains, and in some cases, you might be better off and even cheaper off buying something newer.
Canon FD lenses were made for full frame 35mm film cameras. There were no digital consumer cameras when these lenses were being made. As such, they project a full frame image onto the image plane, and were designed for a 42mm flange distance, in a film format where 50mm was a normal lens.
When photographers talk about a normal lens, they mean a lens whose focal length is the same as the diagonal measurement of the film (or imager) frame. This is important because focal length affects proportion. A long lens (telephoto) will tend to flatten perspective and make everything look closer together. A short lens (wide angle) will tend to distort and emphasize features and distances. A normal lens will have the same perspective as the human eye.
Additionally, wide angle lenses, those with a shorter focal length and a wider field of view, are rather difficult to make, and require some optical tricks in order to have an image that will cover the full image field. This is because the smaller focal length wants to make an image about the same size as its focal length. So a 50mm lens will want to make a 50mm image circle. This is a problem with a wide angle lens, because to make a short focal length cover a wider field, the image must be stretched. This tends to make the image dim, distorted, and fuzzy. Such lenses must be carefully designed, and are very complex.
The EOS-M, and most of the EOS cameras have an APS-C sized sensor, which does not require as large a projected image as a standard 35mm. This sensor has a 1.6 focal length factor, because the image diagonal, and normal lens focal length, are around 30mm. So a 50mm normal lens for a standard camera, would be like an 80mm lens when it is used on an APS-C. This is great for telephoto lenses, and increases their magnification. It is not so good on wide angles though. Where a 35mm lens on a standard camera will need to be stretched somewhat to fill the frame, the same is not true on an APS-C camera.
So a 35mm lens for an APS-C camera can be made smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the same lens designed to cover a full frame 35mm image. The standard 22mm F 2, EF-M lens of the EOS-M is a great example. It is tiny, has a small primary element, and is relatively cheap at around $100 (Though I have seen them for as little as $80). It is also, at F 2, fairly fast. The same thing, in full frame, will cost several times as much and be several times larger and heavier. Similarly, a standard 18-55 EF-S series lens goes for around $100, and is reasonably light and small. The same thing in full frame is $600 at least, and will be large and heavy.
For the reasons given above, I do not search for or use FD lenses shorter than 50mm. There's just no point when smaller, lighter lenses can be had for less money at these focal lengths, in modern mounts. What you are losing, with the newer lenses, is a larger image field that your camera can not see or make use of. What you are gaining in return, is the capacity to use the full features of auto exposure, auto focus, and diaphragm control. As far as costs, I go into a bit more detail in the section below.
There is no reason this should not be a very popular line of cameras, and perhaps that is part of the reason Canon hamstrung the model and is not pushing it as hard as it could. With a good, eyelevel electronic viewfinder, and an improved autofocus system - both well within the reach of Canon, this camera could have been a breakthrough model. So it is not as bad as many think, but not as good as it should be. It is hard not to think that Canon is not protecting its higher end and higher priced EOS DSLR's from internal competition; but this is a risky gamble to take.
Presently, for someone already invested in Canon lenses, the EOS-M is good enough. Yet Canon needs to get seriously on the ball. Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, and even Sony and Samsung all have good mirrorless cameras, in a variety of formats, including full frame 35. Canon was the breakthrough company when it came to professional digital camera systems for the mass market; but they have been resting on their laurels. If I did not already have a collection of Canon bodies, and an investment in Canon lenses, I would have gone with the Nikon, Fuji, or Olympus systems. I like this camera, and really enjoy its compact dimensions and handling qualities; but it would be true love if it had an eye level viewfinder, and better focusing system, with some better manual controls and less reliance upon the LCD.
I believe, along with many other serious photographers, that the mirrorless camera is the wave of the future, and will eventually replace the DSLR, as the model of choice for professional and serious amateur photographers.
This camera is fun, easy to use, compact, and unobtrusive enough to almost be considered a stealth camera. The street photography role of a semi-stealth camera can not be overstated. I love to shoot street scenes and candids; but people are getting rather paranoid these days. I have had the police called, on three separate occasions, for simply shooting busy street scenes, or scenes in public buildings or shopping malls. My large and bulky DSLR's may have seemed somewhat threatening to people. The little EOS-M is a very unobtrusive little gem of a camera.
Canon has been hinting around (This is being written in late 2014), that it will be making vast improvements on its EOS-M series cameras in the coming year. This is great news, if true. I would hate to have my camera become an orphan, like the old Pentax 110 series SLR's. I would also hate to see Canon fall from a leadership position into obscurity.