Top positive review
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Superb image quality from a compact camera
on 3 July 2013
So...I'm a keen photographer and have kept an eye on the micro four thirds/mirrorless compact/E.V.I.L. (electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens) for a long time, waiting for a really good model to come out from a big manufacturer. Sony, Olympus and Pentax brought out some reasonably good models but I kept my wallet in my pocket until the Big Two (Canon, Nikon) released their models.
Canon got out ahead of Nikon with the EOS M, a camera with superb build quality that kicks out great images, but when it was first released (July 2012, I think) it was expensive (£799, comparable with a decent mid-range SLR) and had some problems, notably the notorious autofocus issue, where the camera would "seek" endlessly when trying to focus an image. I waited until Nikon brought theirs out but their model was underwhelming for a variety of reasons. The EOS M didn't sell well, mostly because of the autofocus issue (if you believe the forums) and a couple of months ago (May 2013) Canon dropped the price of the EOS M by half, so you could get the body, 18-55mm kit lens and 90EX speedlite for £399. And they had a £50 cashback offer on at the time. For £349, I was in. I'd heard rumour that Canon were preparing a firmware update that would address the autofocus issue and was prepared to take the risk - £349 for a small, carry-around camera with loads of functionality and all the control I needed.
So...I took delivery of the camera on the Monday, flew out to LA on the Friday, having downloaded the manual to my tablet and frantically learned how to use it during train journeys in the interim. I learned enough to do all I needed to do whilst I was touring the west coast, with a few little learning points along the way.
First of all, the build quality, as mentioned previously, is excellent. I went for the red body; it's distinctive and stylish (IMO), with a lovely lacquered sheen. It feels solid and well built - some people have complained about the grip but I haven't had any problems with it so far. Swapping lenses is a doddle, taking the usual precautions of course, to avoid dust getting into the body. It's no bigger than most point-and-click cameras, though the 18-55mm lens looks a bit out of place stuck on the front (the fast 22mm lens looks much more at home, and is more discreet).
Functionality is terrific - pretty much all the SLR-type features are here. Aperture and shutter priority, Program AE, bracketing (only three frames, unfortunately, but it's better than nothing), bulb exposures, white balance control etc., all are easily accessible. The only downside that springs to mind is the touchscreen, which is fiddly and over-sensitive; the "button" to change program modes is tiny, and despite switching off the touchscreen focus and "tap to take a photo" options in the menu, they keep coming back on when you change into certain auto modes. It's very easy to change all the settings, aperture, focus points, exposure compensation etc. simply by the action of the camera touching your chest when it's on the neck strap, or even just by picking it up. I've learned to work my way around this, but it is a bit of a pain. Other functions more than make up for this, though; there's an excellent HDR mode that takes three photos in rapid succession (at different exposures) then auto-aligns them and blends them to get a terrific, balanced exposure, full of punch. You only really need it when you're photographing high-contrast scenes, but it works extraordinarily well, with no ghosting. Of course you can also use bracketing with a tripod and post-process multiple exposures to make your own HDR images with more control, but the built-in HDR mode in the Canon allows you to take HDR images hand-held. Great! The battery life is not so great - a fully charged battery barely lasts a day (couple of hundred photos), so you will definitely need to take a charger pack and mains adapter if you're out in the field or travelling.
Onto image quality - it's stunning. On a par with a mid-range APS-C SLR with a fairly decent lens, which is perhaps not surprising since the EOS M features...an APS-C sensor (18 megapixels). I always shoot in RAW mode for more control, but even the JPG tests I did produced excellent images: crisp, full of colour and life, with none of the fuzziness associated with compacts. Low light performance is knockout - you can take very good photos indoors under artificial light, handheld (at higher ISOs, naturally). Noise is very manageable and easily removed in Lightroom or whatever you use for your processing. One thing I've noticed is that there is always a little bit of noise in the blue channel when shooting in RAW mode, even at ISO 100, but that's common to pretty much all digital cameras, and again you can knock it out very easily. One thing to mention about the lenses (I have the 18-55mm kit lens and the 22mm f2) is that they are subject to quite heavy vignetting; there are in-camera functions to reduce this but you're better off dealing with it via lens correction plugins in your processing suite.
FINALLY for the main part of this review, Canon have just (as of 27th June 2013) released a firmware update, namely v2.0.2, which addresses the autofocus issue, and BOY does it make a big difference! I installed it yesterday and the autofocus is hugely improved, with none of the contrast point seeking that it used to it. It's as fast as two cats now, and the update has made me very happy with the EOS M overall.
Great image quality
Excellent build quality - solid, dependable magnesium alloy body
Loads of functionality for the adventurous photographer
Bargain at £349 with the 18-55mm kit lens and flash unit
Touchscreen is fiddly
Limited range of dedicated lenses (though you can use an adaptor and use most regular Canon SLR lenses)
Battery life is not great
Thanks to the price drop and cashback offer (is it still on?) you can grab this superb camera at a very reasonable price, and following the firmware update that addresses the autofocus issue this represents a massive bargain. It's unlikely that you'll be able to get a mirrorless camera of this quality at this price again, as Canon are unlikely to slash the price of any future models by 50% overnight, so I highly recommend grabbing one of these whilst stocks last (they're unlikely to last very long, so don't hang about).