The new EOS R is not just Canon's first full-frame mirrorless camera – but the forerunner of an entire new system
The two giants of the SLR world – Canon and Nikon in case you didn’t know – have finally jumped on the full-frame mirrorless bandwagon, and both in the same month. From Canon we have the EOS R system, and PN went along to the London launch last month. Here, there was the chance to get hands-on with the camera, as well as shoot pictures on a set comprising a dimly-lit indoor theatrical scenario representing the world 400 years into the future, populated by colourfully made-up actors.
I was armed with a fully-functioning, full production sample of the EOS R. It came complete with the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM that’s due to be the kit lens in one of the outfits Canon is offering, so I was well prepared for all eventualities and also able to find out for myself how well the camera could cope in low light, both from an exposure point of view but also in terms of AF speed and accuracy.
All manufacturers are inclined to reach for the hyperbole when launching a new product, but this felt like something special. Much as Nikon had done a few weeks earlier, this was not a one-off new model that was being announced, rather the start of an entire new system centred on a brand new mount. With four impressive (but expensive) new lenses being available in the new fitting from day one, there was the further tantalising taster of an extensive line-up of anonymous lenses shown in one of the introductory slides, with the promise that there was a lot more glass to look forward to over the next few years.
Until then, there is the EF-EOS R mount adapter to fill the gap, ensuring that the entire line-up of EF, EF-S, TS-E and MP-E lenses will be compatible with the camera. There is more, however: in addition to the standard R mount adapter, Canon has also created a drop-in filter mount adapter and a control ring mount adapter to add additional functionality – such as using filters and a customisable control ring – when using non Canon EOS R lenses.
The drop-in filter mount adapter is available with a variable neutral density (V-ND) filter or a circular polarising (C-PL) filter, while a third clear (CL) filter is also available if you don’t wish to have any effects.
So Canon is making sure its army of current users can take the journey to the mirrorless promised land without the inconvenience of losing the use of all those lenses they’ve so expensively acquired over the years. However, there can be little doubt that the long-term future of Canon lenses will be RF-shaped, and that this is where all the advances will be seen. The new mount features short back focus and the widest lens throat of any sub-medium-format system (54mm, the same diameter as the Canon EF mount), and Canon says this will enable future advances in lens design and performance.
So, to the camera itself. This did indeed feel good in the hands, being noticeably smaller than a conventional DSLR but nicely balanced and solidly made. It’s not easy to get to grips with a new model when you’ve only just got hold of it, but I started off in the auto modes and slowly but surely investigated a few of the many customisation options – such as autofocus, ISO and white-balance – that are available, these being accessed via a swipe or a tap on a multifunction touch bar just to the right of the EVF.
The EVF itself is one of the most impressive features of the new camera, as it needed to be for a mirrorless model to make any sense. For those who remember early EVFs that resembled an ancient TV screen, complete with horizontal lines and flickering, this is worlds apart. It’s so good, in fact, that one professional who had been working with the camera said he’d forgotten this wasn’t a direct view, and had then been surprised when wording suddenly appeared.
One reason for the low light setting was to demonstrate how well the camera’s viewing features work once the light starts to drop. In short, it did very well indeed: in fact, looking through the EVF or on the 3.1in LCD, I got a much clearer view of things than I did with my naked eye.
The setting was also to show us how good the new AF system is, thanks to the impressive number of autofocusing points it features, no fewer than 5655 manually selectable points up to f/11 (compared to a more modest 61 in the EOS 5D Mark IV). It uses Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS autofocusing system and can acquire focus in very low light, right down to -6 EV. It also focuses extremely quickly, with Canon suggesting that it’s 0.05 seconds. Focus acquisition is the fastest in the world, claims Canon. Suffice to say I found AF to be lightning-fast, even when the lighting got really low, and this is set to be one of the big selling points.
Although it wasn’t necessary in the situation I was in, I can also confirm that the camera operated in complete silence, which could be crucial for those at weddings or in tense sporting situations. So quiet is the whole process that, at first, it can be difficult to believe that the shutter has actually fired, but fortunately Canon has thought this one through and there is confirmation in the viewfinder that the shot has been successfully taken.
At the heart of the camera is a 30.3-megapixel CMOS sensor with a native ISO range of 100-40,000 (expandable to 50-102,400), backed by a DIGIC 8 image processor. There’s a low pass filter in front of the sensor that helps combat moiré patterns at the cost of slightly reduced sharpness, and the camera features an 8fps continuous shooting speed for bursts of up to 100 max-quality JPEGs, 47 Raw, or 78 C-Raw. The shutter lag is as short as 50 milliseconds, and a start-up time is 0.9 seconds.
I managed a few short video clips, and having subsequently spoken to a few filmmaking pros they tend to agree that there’s enough onboard here to satisfy most professionals that might want to shoot some video around the stills for the benefit of their clients.
The EOS R can shoot in 4K at 30fps – though, as many have pointed out, not at 60fps, which is only available at 1080p. This, however, will still be more than enough for most users, and there are further video-orientated features on board, such as Canon Log with 12 stops of dynamic range, 10bit 4:2:2 HDMI output and a maximum recording time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds. The side of the camera also features microphone and headphone jacks, but this is still clearly a photographer’s camera rather than one specifically aimed at filmmakers.
Clearly a lot of thought has gone into what is not so much the launch of a new camera but the unveiling of what will become a complete system. The signs are good and, given Canon’s pedigree, you sense it knows exactly what will be required to make it all work successfully. The full benefit of the new RF system will reveal itself in the fullness of time, but lenses such as the fast new 50mm f/1.2 provide a tantalising taste of what can be expected; this is where all the innovation will be coming in the future. There will also be a line-up of R camera models to choose from, with this first one destined to be somewhere in the middle of the range. It’s best to hold judgement until we put the Canon EOS R through a full test.
|Sensor||30.3 megapixels, CMOS|
|Sensor format||35mm full frame, 6720x4480pixels|
|Aspect ratios||4:3, 1:1, 3:2, 16:9|
100-40,000 (expandable 50 to 102,400)
|Shutter range||30secs to 1/8000sec, flash sync 1/200sec|
|Drive modes||8fps with fixed focus, 5fps with AF tracking|
|Metering system||Multi-zone, centre-weighted, spot, partial|
|Monitor||3.2in articulating touchscreen, 2100k dots|
|Viewfinder||3690K dot EVF|
|Focusing||Contrast detect (sensor), phase detect|
|Focus modes||AFS, AFC, AFF (flexible)|
|Focus points||5655 points|
|Video||4k 3840x2160 @30p/24p/23.98p and 480Mbps and 120Mbps|
|Connectivity||USB 3.1, HDMI mini, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Other key features||USB in camera charging (with LP-E6N), Dual Pixel Raw support, CR3 (Raw and C-Raw)|
|Storage media||1xSD card|
|Weight||660g body with battery|
As featured in Issue 60