Canon is the biggest camera maker in the world, so when the company execs feel it’s time to release a full-frame mirrorless camera, it must be a big deal. The EOS R is that camera, and though not the super-professional option many were expecting, it is a very capable prosumer choice that is a good sign of things to come for the nascent system.
The Specs and Image Quality
As the first model in a brand-new system, we should run through the basics. The biggest change comes in the form of the RF mount, a large 54mm diameter bayonet with a 20mm flange-back distance. This means new lenses and that plenty of adapters will become available. Canon has three coming out for using EF and EF-S glass, including a basic electronic one, one that adds the Control Ring we will get to later, and one that takes drop-in filters. In my limited testing with select Canon and Sigma lenses, all of them performed practically as well as if they were mounted on a DSLR. Of course, some new lenses are coming out too, though at the time of review we were only able to get our hands on the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. Intriguing lenses that will be available soon are the RF 28-70mm f/2L USM, RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, and RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM.
Running through the highlights of the EOS R, we have a 30.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 8 Image Processor, UHD 4K30 video recording with C-Log gamma and 10-bit HDMI output, Dual Pixel CMOS AF with 5,655 manually selectable AF points, approximately 8 fps continuous shooting speed (5 fps with Servo AF), and an expanded sensitivity range of ISO 50-102400. In terms of stills quality, it is everything you have come to expect from Canon. Sharp at low ISOs and decent performance going upward. I would say that getting north of ISO 6400 will reveal a bit of noise but, depending on your needs, can be quite usable. The lens, mentioned above, is impressively sharp, too.
Since the release of the 5D Mark IV, Canon has done quite well on the dynamic-range front. Raw files now have a good amount of flexibility when pulling up the shadows, no longer bringing a lot of noise with them. I shot backlit subjects in a few of these images, and was still able to pull plenty of detail out of the foreground. The images are also very sharp and highly detailed. I picked up a Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art Lens for Canon EF, popped it on with the help of an adapter, and was able to get incredibly sharp photos.
The EOS R has an impressive set of specs for a mirrorless camera. Unfortunately, it still suffers from the Canon crop of ~1.7x when shooting in UHD 4K. It does have Canon Log, which is still a wonderful thing to grade. In DaVinci Resolve, the colors and contrast are so easy to bring back and look great. Bump that up to 10-bit with an external recorder and it will only get better. One area of concern, however, is the overall detail. The footage just doesn’t seem as crisp as it should be—considering I am shooting at the base of ISO 400 and with a great lens at f/5.6, the footage looks soft. It seems like the crop, combined with some sharpening, gives it a muddied appearance. A positive is that Dual Pixel CMOS AF is as effective as ever, with brilliant tracking and accuracy.
The 5D-Sized Elephant in the Room
How does the EOS R stack up against the 5D Mark IV? Interesting question. I would say the R is a budget version of its DSLR counterpart, with a smattering of advantages and disadvantages. It would also be fair to think of the R as a perfect, lightweight backup or secondary camera to the 5D series. A more interesting comparison would be to compare it to the 6D Mark II, but in this case, it seems to sit a bit above it, with similar features but a few more notable enhancements.
Compared to the 5D Mark IV, the EOS R surprisingly outmatches it when it comes to video. It’s very similar, considering both have 4K (though the 5D has DCI and the R only has UHD) and, unfortunately, the same cropping, but it adds C-Log as a standard function and the ability to output 10-bit over HDMI. For stills, they are quite evenly matched, with 30.3MP resolution shared between them. Where they start to differ is in the physical design.
Professionals may balk at the fact that the EOS R only has a single UHS-II SD card slot while the 5D has CF and SD slots. Also, the EOS R is smaller and lighter, and is likely less durable over time. It also lacks many of the familiar dials and joysticks you may have come to love on the 5D series. This puts the R more in line with the prosumer 6D series. So, in general, I would recommend this as a potential lightweight backup or B cam for pro shooters, or for semi-pro Canon photographers looking to get their first serious camera and looking toward mirrorless.
For the most part, the EOS R is a nicely built camera with a solid grip, responsive controls, and a well-designed screen and interface. However, I do think that this model suffers from some innovation for the sake of innovation, when it comes to the M.Fn Touch Bar. It would be different if it functioned perfectly, but there were plenty of moments where taps weren’t registered and swipes didn’t accomplish exactly what I wanted. With winter quickly approaching, I’m skeptical of how this will work with gloves, in the cold. The classic clicking dial does this job better with a perfect degree of response, so you know exactly what is happening without looking at anything.
Speaking of dials, the smaller body led to the elimination of a conventional mode dial. It is now combined into the rear dial and requires a button press and looking through a menu on the screen to accomplish. I never thought I would miss that lame old mode dial found on other cameras, but I apparently switch settings often enough that this menu-based system became a nuisance. To be fair, its use as a standard dial is quite functional and the consolidation of the dials does provide a cleaner design.
Other than these concerns, the EOS R has many classic and quality Canon controls. The grip is large enough and comfortable, with a rubberized feel, and even has a top LCD for quickly checking your settings. The front dial feels great, and this is when we can get into the lens design, incorporating a Control Ring. This clicking ring can be programmed to provide rapid access to settings such as aperture or even ISO. It’s a nice addition to the lenses, especially since Canon hasn’t offered a tactile lens control for aperture in a while.
Canon cameras do screens very well. The rear vari-angle display has a high 2.1m-dot resolution and a 3.15" size. It is bright, flips out for selfies and vlogs, and has a very responsive touch system. That isn’t the only screen here though; a nice 3.69m-dot OLED EVF is available, too. I was quite happy with both and constantly switched between them during my time shooting. The eye sensor for the EVF is quite sensitive, and may cause some grief if you have it too close to your body and want to use the screen. Menus on Canon cameras have been quite good for quite some time, and the EOS R is following the same trend. I’ve personally felt Canon’s menu is one of the best and it was super easy to find everything when using this camera. For a brand-new system, the Canon EOS R benefits greatly from Canon’s history of camera design, including the smart decision to use the ubiquitous LP-E6-type battery pack.
While the EOS R attempted to strike an odd middle ground—something it did a very good job of, for better and worse—it does have many features that indicate the RF system will be quite capable in the future. The few lenses that have been released are interesting and high performing, and the feature set on a higher-end model seems like it may even surpass that of the 5D, given the quite similar IQ coming out of the EOS R.
Are you curious about the EOS R or the RF system in general? What would you want out of the next full-frame mirrorless camera from Canon? Start up a conversation in the Comments section, below!