Canon EOS M5 review
While Canon has, along with Nikon, long dominated the DSLR market, it has struggled to replicate that success with mirrorless cameras. The EOS M was underwhelming to say the least, with poor autofocus performance, while the EOS M3 and M10 haven’t really progressed the range that much.
The arrival of the M5 could shake things up a bit though. Sitting at the top of Canon’s (albeit still modest) mirrorless range, the M5 is designed to appeal to experienced users, with Canon hoping it will appeal to current higher-end EOS DSLR users looking for a more portable alternative to their DSLR.
- All-new 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- Great touchscreen control
- Only 1080p video capture
The EOS M5 sports an all-new 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor, though its DNA can be traced to the excellent sensor we’ve already seen in the EOS 80D enthusiast DSLR, with a sensitivity range running from 100-25,600.
The original EOS M suffered from a notoriously slow AF system, and while the EOS M3 featured a Hybrid CMOS AF III system that was a noticeable improvement over its predecessor, the EOS M5 takes advantage of Canon’s latest sensor technology and uses its now proven Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which has impressed in the past, partnered with its latest DIGIC 7 image processor.
In a first for Canon’s mirrorless range, the EOS M5 incorporates a built-in electronic viewfinder with a 2.36-million dot resolution and fast 120fps refresh rate. There’s also a large 3.2-inch tilt-angle display – and what’s really nice to see here is that Canon has implemented touchscreen technology, just as it’s done with the 5D Mark IV.
The screen can be tilted upwards by approximately 85 degrees for waist-level shooting, and downwards by up to 180 degrees should you be ever tempted to take a selfie with your M5. It features the same impressive 1,620,000-dot resolution as we’ve seen on both the 5D Mark IV and 1D X Mark II.
The EOS M5 is also the most connected Canon camera we’ve yet seen, with not only Wi-Fi and NFC, but Bluetooth. This allows a low-power, constant connection to be maintained between camera and smart device for what promises to be easy transfer of images between the two.
Perhaps a little surprisingly, given the recent arrival of 4K video on the 5D Mark IV and the increasing prevalence of 4K on rival cameras, the EOS M5 sticks with 1080p video, although it’s possible to shoot at up to 60p.
While manufacturers like Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic have steadily built up their lens ranges over the past few years to cover a range of focal lengths, with a decent mix of primes and zooms to suit a range of budgets, Canon’s EF-M lens range currently stands at a paltry seven.
Of these, five are fairly slow variable-aperture zoom lenses, while the other two are primes, the fastest of which is the 22mm f/2 – no nice f/1.4 optics here. Yes, there is the EF-EOS M adapter available, enabling you to use Canon’s huge back catalogue of EF-mount lenses, but putting often chunky lenses on a small body feels a little perverse when the whole point of the M5 is acting as a smaller, more pocketable alternative to an EOS DSLR system.
It’s hard to say whether Canon is waiting to see if the EOS M5 is a success before developing more lenses for it, but having such a limited range of dedicated lenses compared to rivals may be one of the key things that holds back the M5.
Build and handling
- Polycarbonate construction
- Dial function button
- Weighs 427g
Rather than the compact-style look that previous EOS M series CSCs have followed, the EOS M5 looks like a mini DSLR, thanks in part to its built-in EVF sitting relatively central above the lens – there’s also a small built-in flash tucked away in the raised hump of the camera. It’s certainly very petite, but not so small that it’s an issue when you pick it up.
Taking its styling cues from both the EOS DSLR and mirrorless ranges, the subtle two-tone finish of the EOS M5 gives the camera a premium look, with the metallic grey matching that of the lenses in the EF-M range.
Despite appearances though, the chassis is constructed from strong polycarbonate and not aluminium alloy, and weighs in at 427g body-only with battery and card. In the hand, while there’s no getting away from the noticeable plasticky feel, especially when you tap the top plate, the modest grip is nice and comfy, with Canon’s pleasing textured rubber coating enhancing the feel.
The EOS M5 is the most enthusiast-focused mirrorless camera we’ve seen from Canon to date, with numerous body-mounted controls. As we’ve seen on other EOS mirrorless cameras the shutter button is ringed by a front command dial, while there’s an exposure compensation dial at the rear (similar to that seen on the likes of the Fuji X-T2).
Taking inspiration, though, from Canon’s range of G-series enthusiast compacts is the addition of a Dial Func. button, which is effectively a command dial with an additional button in the centre.
Whereas Canon DSLRs with top-plate LCDs have four buttons dotted along the top for access to ISO, WB etc, on the M5 you simply have to press this central button, which will then allow you to toggle through the settings (White Balance, ISO, Metering mode, AF mode and Drive mode), and select one by pressing the button again.
The setting you’ve selected is displayed either in the viewfinder or on the rear screen, and you then use the command dial to adjust the desired setting. In practice, it’s a system we have to say works very well, delivering a refined way of quickly accessing and adjusting a range of key settings.
As well as a rear scroll wheel control with four-way controls, there’s a decent degree of customisation available, and that’s not forgetting the touchscreen interface, which makes selecting desired settings and reviewing images that much more straightforward, while there are some clever tricks that allow for quick AF selection.
- 49-point AF system
- Phase-detection points built onto sensor
- One-shot AF and Servo AF
As we’ve mentioned, Canon’s original EOS M got quite a kicking for its sluggish AF performance. There was no issue with its accuracy; the problem was with the time it took to lock onto subjects, and it wasn’t anywhere near as snappy as its rivals. Things have improved since then with the M3 and M10, and the M5 things takes things up a sizeable notch.
The camera uses Canon’s latest Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, in which all the pixels on the surface of the sensor are made up of two separate photodiodes, which are read separately for phase-detection AF, and together for imaging.
We’ve been impressed with this system in the likes of the EOS 80D and 5D Mark IV, and it doesn’t disappoint in the EOS M5. Compared to the original EOS M, AF performance is almost unrecognizable.
Focusing is nice and quick, while the ability to touch and drag the AF point with your thumb on the rear display while you have the camera raised to your eye makes quick AF area selection very straightforward. You don’t have to swipe across the whole screen either – if you want you can set this function to half or a quarter of the display in the menu.
Coverage is pretty good too, with 80% of the image area covered and 49 AF points at your disposal (on a grid of 7 x 7), while face and subject tracking can also be specified.
- 7fps burst shooting with AF
- 295-shot battery life
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
With some help from the new DIGIC 7 image processor the EOS M5 is capable of shooting at a burst rate of 7fps, with full AF functionality and metering, and it can sustain this for up to (approximately) 31 JPEG files, before dropping in speed to 4fps, continuing at this rate until the card is full. Should you want to shoot faster than this, 9fps is possible, but focusing and metering will be locked once the shutter has been fired; this rate can be sustained for 26 JPEGs.
The EOS M5’s metering system offers the choice of evaluative, partial, centre-weighted and spot metering modes, with the default evaluative option working well (as with the shot above), although it’s worth remembering that this is hooked up to the chosen AF point, so in some scenes you might need to dial in some exposure compensation.
The EVF is very good – it has a decent 120fps refresh rate, and while the 0.62x magnification isn’t the biggest out there the view doesn’t feel cramped when you raise your eye up to it, and it compares favourably with rivals like the Fujifilm X-T10 and Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II.
The rear LCD’s touchscreen interface is excellent, tying in seamlessly with the M5’s body-mounted controls to offer quick access to pretty much any core setting you want – tap the Quick Menu button and you can select and adjust every key setting.
Swiping to scroll through images is a breeze, while the pinch-to-zoom feature makes it easy to quickly assess image sharpness, and, as we’ve mentioned, tapping to adjust the AF point works a treat.
The 295-shot battery life lags a little behind the likes of the X-T10’s 350 – an extra battery is something we’d certainly recommend – while the combination of Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity makes it pretty hassle-free to transfer images from the M5 to your smart device.
- Built-in low-pass filter
- +/-3 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments
While there’s been a recent trend of doing away with an optical low-pass filter on sensors in an effort to squeeze out even more detail, Canon has kept the filter on the M5’s chip, and the 24MP sensor still delivers bags of detail, especially at low ISOs – see image below. Detail does drop off when you take the sensitivity beyond ISO6,400, but this is to be expected.
This not only provides the potential for producing decent-quality A3+ prints – the flexibility offered by the densely populated sensor means you can crop images pretty aggressively if required.
The EOS M5 handles noise well, which isn’t surprising given that, as we’ve mentioned, its sensor has much in common with the 80D’s, which was excellent in this respect.
Noise between ISO100-400 is virtually non-existent, with the M5 delivering lovely, clean images, while things still look pretty good above those settings. Luminance (grain-like) noise only really starts to make a noticeable appearance at ISO1600, while color noise also starts to encroach at ISO3200.
Detail also begins to suffer beyond this point, but results are more than acceptable at ISO6400 (see image above), while at the upper limit of ISO25,600 images do show a smudgy loss of detail, but are still useable.
There’s much to like about Canon’s little EOS M5. The 24MP APS-C sensor delivers images with bags of detail, while the polished handling, including a well thought-out control layout that’s brilliantly integrated with the touchscreen interface, makes it a nice camera to shoot with.
The EVF works well too, while the AF is much improved thanks to the inclusion of Dual Pixel CMOS AF – AF point selection using an area of the touchscreen is a joy.
Some may feel the absence of 4K video is an oversight, given that many rivals now include this as a standard setting, while the relatively small selection of EF-M lenses could prove limiting. Granted, you’ve got Canon’s huge range of EF and EF-S lenses available via an adapter, but with the likes of Micro Four Thirds and Fuji offering a growing selection of dedicated lenses the fairly entry-level range of EF-M lenses looks weak by comparison, and out of keeping with the high-end credentials of the EOS M5.
Also, for a camera at this price point, a few more bits of metal in the construction wouldn’t have gone amiss. But perhaps the biggest sticking point is the M5’s price tag. While it does a lot of things very well, so do its rivals – and for a much more attractive price.
Unless you’re a die-hard EOS user with a stack of lenses that you want to use on a smaller body, then, until the M5’s price drops a touch, there are better options out there.
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