Canon EOS R review: a new era for full-frame mirrorless

Change is one of those things many thrive on but which many fear. The Canon EOS R is all about change: the first full-frame mirrorless camera embodies a new mount (called RF), a new format and working methods, even more than a nod to Canon's tradition at its very core.

When Canoon announced the camera in 2018, we had to spend a day filming in what we can only describe as the most kooky but out of this world live and interactive theater production. Like being on set live in the future, over 100 international journalists and photographers were given free rein to explore the site as the actors worked through the story in real time. So, we borrowed a camera to get a more real appreciation for this camera.

So is this vision of a full-frame canon of future change for the better, or is it a step too far? With Nikon, Panasonic and others now in full space frame, it's a challenging game with a champion.

Design: new lenses, new layout

  • EOS RF lens mount
  • Ff-to-rf adapter included
  • User programmable m-fn bar and customizable buttons

First things first: what's new RF mount. This line-of-lens arrived with four optics from one day, all of which offer high end users in mind. The 50mm f/1.2, for example, costs £2,350 – making it the same price as a body camera. Since launch, the day's line-up has more than doubled in just a year, which is about to show just how canon this new mountain is.

Part of the EOS R point having a new mount for a shorter distance from the rear flange (it's 20mm between the rear lens and sensor), making it possible to build lenses smaller than their digital SLR (EF mount) equivalents. However, 28-70mm f/2 and 50mm f/1.2 RF lenses are massive optics. So don't buy the EOS R If you're looking for an ultra-finished and portable system; it's a full frame setup and it really feels like it.

That WB said the R is smaller than a DSLR like the 5D Mark IV, for example, so the mirrorless system's layout has been modified to accommodate its size. Which brings some smart ideas along with a slightly unpretentious and close. I see change is good and bad at the same time, huh?

The main arrivals on the letter "R", called the M-NS-bar, tapping the left or right-touch pad on the back, which are not clickable buttons, more sensors. It's fully programmable, so you can have it switch between, say, ISO sensitivity, AF angle views, white balance, and so on. The problem is it must be used to activate it, then click-and-pass before it will be fully engaged. That's just stupid - we think it should be configurable, as reactive as it should be, as many users like to part with this asset at all times to quickly adjust important settings. Give with one hand, take with the other.

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Next, the EOS R has a top display (backlit for use in the dark) that presents the most common shooting information, but is much smaller than the 5D IL equivalent. Small doesn't mean it's bad, though, and that's how we found this panel to be useful for quick glances.

The big problem is the relationship between this top display panel and the mode and M-FN buttons. Due to space limitations, normal WB/metering, driveAF, exp comp/ISO have all moved that one M-button Fn, then the front and rear dials are there to rotate through such settings. Which means a lot of scrolling and less immediacy. The M-FN bar goes some way to counter this, but it's still not particularly quick to select a new mode and adjust the exposure.

Ultimately, using the EOS R will be a learning curve if you're a staunch canon DSLR user. You'll find a lot to love about its customization options - a bunch of buttons can be customized too, plus the lenses have control rings that you can program to customize - but you have to sleep in, take your time, and make all the settings however you please.

Performance

  • Built-in 0,5-inch OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF), 3.69 M-dot, 0.76X magnification
  • 3.15-inch, 2.1m dots, vari-angle LCD touch screen
  • Autofocus operates at -6EV for capturing in the dark
  • 0,05 second autofocus is very fast
  • 5,655 positions autofocus
  • 8 fps burst shooting maximum

Being a mirrorless camera means the EOS R is fully digital, so no optical viewfinder is to be found here. In its place is the built-in electronic viewfinder, which is out there among the best on the market (this will give the Panasonic G9 a run for its money), offering a massive look and high resolution with no lag issues even in low light.

Being mirrorless also means EOS functions R, whether using the Finder or the rear screen. And that rear screen is not only big and strong, it's built on a vari-angle bracket, making it extremely useful for waist-level, overhead and video work. We're so used to wall-mounted LCD screens in mirrorless cameras now – with so many DSLR cameras missing, its presence in the EOS R seems important.

When it comes to autocenter we often complained about the canon lines of EOS and mirrorless being too simplistic. The WB R is different, with more focus areas: there's face detection and AF tracking; 1 point autofocus; expansion of the AF zone; and AF areas. Combined with the M-NS bar and touch screen, you can easily switch between them and use any of the 5,655 positions across the screen (literally the entire screen, edge to edge, top to bottom).

Above: ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/250th sec

That said, WB R small/large AF area size setting is limiting, as we found some focus accuracy to be erroneous. When shooting with an f/1.2 lens in low light, the depth of field is so narrow that it's easy for things to fall out of focus, so more accuracy would be great, such as a manual over-ride with an in-zoom screen. It's as much user error and craftsmanship as it is something that Canon can help improve.

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By and large we are very impressed with the autofocus. It's fast, touchscreen, and runs down to -6EV, which is so dark that you'd struggle to see by eye. And having fired in various situations where the EOS R has brought images out of the shadows, it's pretty unbelievable that you'll be able to shoot (especially with the 50mm f/1.2, I must say).

Above: ISO 250, F/2.0s, 1/s 30s

Using the dual pixel autofocus system of the EOS "R" autofocus was inevitable. It's commendable, though it can't match Canon's top-spec DSLR when it comes to continuous autofocus. This is one area we doubt the shooting sports pros will want nab. R. Besides golf and tennis cuties, because the silent electronic shutter option can certainly be useful.

Image Quality And Video

  • 30MP full frame CMOS sensor
  • Sensitivity ISO 100-40,000
  • 4K video, HDMI output

Under the right conditions, with the right settings, EOS' R's product quality is nothing short of exceptional.

It took a fair amount of time to get used to the camera layout and setup, however, as flicker reduction killed our ability to shoot in burst mode, failing to set the minimum shutter speed (which is possible in settings) saw a number of our shots present some blur.

Above: ISO 800, f/2.5, 1/30 second

A full frame sensor at this 30 million pixel resolution obviously runs the risk of some blur due to handshake and subject movement, so those shutter speeds rise beyond the norm. Especially when there's so much to decide on resolution on offer, as is clearly shown in the lower ISO sensitivity shots here (eg the young man with his eyebrows sticking up the page).

That said, with a steady hand and subject, it manages to capture very low light portraits with illumination at 1/30 sec, ISO 800, f/2.5. Take a look at our android friend a few paragraphs down.

Not that high resolution means you can't have high ISO. By default, the EOS R runs from ISO 100 to ISO 12800, but this can be pushed back up to 40000. We emptied this setting to shoot an air hoop act that was backlit and moving in extremely dark environments. Of course, we won't be using a close-up shot, but the camera handled the conditions admirably all things considered.

Above: ISO 40,000, f/2.0, 1/640th sec

On the video front, Canon is clearly Sony at its heart, as the EOS R delivers 4K capture with pure HDMI output and a Canon magazine for a pro-class process. Or just capture in the camera, although with only one SD card slot (damn) you could end up filling up that card pretty quickly.

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