Canon has thus far resisted the lure of the halfway house. It is four years since rivals such as Panasonic first delivered a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. Has the time been spent wisely, waiting for others to bash the kinks out of the format before arriving with a market leader?
The initial signs are promising. Not only has Canon delivered a whole new lens system for the EOS M, but an accompanying mount adapter (around £110 inc VAT) also allows Canon DSLR owners to attach their existing EF and EF-S lenses. The new lenses – an 18-55mm kit lens and 22mm pancake prime – have a reassuringly solid metal barrel, which is a vast improvement on the increasingly plasticky kit lenses Canon has supplied with its recent DSLRs.
The gunmetal lenses and matching camera body give the EOS M an unquestionably premium feel, which is what we’d expect at this DSLR-level price. We’d also expect spotless performance and image quality, but sadly that’s not the case.
The EOS M uses a touchscreen control system similar to that first introduced with the EOS 650D. This allows you to navigate the menus, adjust settings and even choose a focus point and fire the shutter without pressing a physical button. That’s just as well, because the EOS M’s compact body affords little room for regular buttons.
The shutter/mode-switch button and on/off button are the only controls you’ll find on the top of the camera, while the rear sports only four more (Movie Record, Menu, Info and Playback). There’s also a four-way navigation pad, which has a wheel mounted underneath for cycling through photos in playback mode or cycling through settings when shooting. If you’re the kind of photographer who likes ISO or exposure compensation buttons resting under your fingertips, strike the EOS M off your shortlist.
In general, the touchscreen controls are perfectly sufficient, with icons and menus just big enough to avoid fat-finger syndrome and allow easy access to key settings. However, in the creative modes that allow you to use the screen to fire the shutter, we often found ourselves accidentally taking a photo when we went to adjust a setting. If anyone needs photos of a middle-aged man’s feet, we’ve got plenty.
Our main gripe with the cameras ergonomics, though, concerns handling. There’s little room to place your fingers to the left of the lens barrel, and the hand grip to the right is too small to hold the camera confidently in one hand. We actually found it most comfortable to grip the camera with the lens barrel when using the kit lens, but that’s not an option with the slender 20mm pancake, so we often ended up holding the camera in an awkward claw-like grip. Fit a hefty zoom using the optional adapter and the whole camera feels horribly unbalanced, like towing a caravan with a Mini.