Three days with Canon’s EOS R full-frame mirrorless camera

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It’s very hard to judge an autofocus system in a few days because it takes a while to master one. The EOS R has the Dual Pixel autofocus used on a number of Canon DSLRs and EOS-M mirrorless cameras, but it’s a better implementation. It can meter in very low light (down to -6EV with an F1.2 lens), and while the 5,655 selectable AF positions sound ridiculous, it does make for uncanny focus tracking.

I expected the EOS R’s video autofocus to be superb, and it is. It tracks subjects well enough to make even the hackiest shooters (ahem, moi) look good. That has carried over to the photo side, as it can maintain focus on moving subjects under very difficult conditions. I’m not crazy about the touchscreen AF select, though, and I’ll need more time to see whether AF as good as Nikon’s D850 or the Sony A7 III.

The 8 fps shooting speeds (a mere 5 fps with continuous AF) won’t set the world on fire, but the speeds are fine for the intended amateur enthusiast buyer. More importantly, it nails focus on most shots, and with a fast UHS-II card, you can buffer 100 JPEGs and 47 RAW images.

The EOS R feels very sturdy thanks to the big grip, premium feel and weatherproof magnesium body. Once you’ve programmed the buttons, touchpad and dials to your liking (I hadn’t quite succeeded by the end of the week), it felt responsive and easy to use. The touchscreen is a bit laggy, which isn’t ideal, because there’s no joystick for touch focus.

Here’s a nice touch: Canon has equipped the EOS R with a sensor cover that deploys when you turn the camera off. That way, when you remove a lens, there’s zero chance the sensor will attract dust or other nasties. If you don’t turn the camera off before removing the lens, however, it doesn’t work.

The two best new EF lenses, the 50mm f/1.2 and 28-70 f/2.0, don’t have built-in stabilization. Since the EOS R also lacks in-body stabilization (IBS), that makes hand-held shooting and especially hand-held video a lot more challenging. I tried to shoot with the 28-70mm f/2.0 lens, and, well, didn’t succeed.

On the other hand, the lens is so fast, that you need IBS a bit less for photos. Let’s hope Canon’s next RF mount body has IBS, as the lack of it is a bad look next to Nikon’s Z6/Z7 and Sony’s A7 III.

Unlike Nikon, Canon let us shoot (a lot) with the EOS R using any RF or EF lens we wanted — so naturally, I chose the $10,000 400mm f/2.8 L model. Again, it’s hard to judge image quality in a short time, especially since there’s no software yet to read the RAW files. Though Canon isn’t known for its super-great dynamic range, the images I saw in JPEG form looked very good — skin tones, in particular, were very natural.

In terms of video, the situation is less good. 4K is cropped by 1.7 times, as mentioned. That means you’re not getting the maximum low-light capability and depth of field out of that big sensor. Canon told Engadget that this was done in order to reduce heating because the small body can’t dissipate heat well. That doesn’t explain, though, why Sony and Nikon’s similarly-sized mirrorless cameras can handle a full pixel readout just fine.

I shot most video with the 24-105 f/4.0 kit lens, as it has optical stabilization. With that crop, however, 24 mm instantly becomes 41 mm, which is a pretty dramatic punch-in. That keeps the camera well out of arm’s length if you’re trying to get more than your head in a self-filmed video. It also makes landscape videography challenging.

Surprisingly, the EOS R also has a lot of rolling shutter (jello), considering the reduced pixel count. And as usual, you can’t shoot for more than a half hour. Nikon’s Z6/Z7, on the other hand, allows for continuous recording via split files.

Image shot with Canon EOS R and 50mm f/1.2 lens

On the positive side, the touchscreen flips around for easier vlogging. The EOS R can output clean, 4:2:2 10-bit video from the HDMI port, and it’s uncanny how the Dual Pixel autofocus keeps moving subjects in rock-solid focus. Canon needs to keep pushing its video capabilities, though, particularly considering rumors that video-savvy Panasonic will launch a full-frame mirrorless camera.

The EOS R is a groundbreaking product in many ways, but the missed opportunity here is frustrating. Canon specifically bragged at its event that it’s almost never first to market, but instead, tries to be the best when it does come.

Despite those words, it did break ground with the new mount and surprised a lot of folks with that stunning 28-70mm f/2.0 lens. The new body layout and touch bar also showed some pioneering spirit.

However, Canon has to start looking at what its competition is doing. A lot of folks have already jumped ship to Sony’s more innovative mirrorless models, and the EOS R is not necessarily going to make them regret it. As I said before, Canon has to at least match its rivals’ features, and preferably beat them, if it wants to win in mirrorless. Being conservative is no longer an option.

Some gallery images and video clips were shot with Canon’s 35mm macro, 28-70 f/2.0 lens and 400mm f/2.8 lens. All of these lenses are pre-production samples. The final appearance of the 400mm production model might change.


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Camera: Steve Dent
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