While Canon has already dipped its toe into the mirrorless waters with its modest range of APS-C sensor-based EOS M cameras, including the EOS M6 and EOS M5, the EOS R is the debut model in a new line of full-frame mirrorless cameras, based on a new lens mount that will be known as the RF mount.
A lot of Canon users have been waiting a long time for the EOS R, so the question is whether it can deliver on its promise, and justify its price tag, in the face of some tough competition.
Canon EOS R review: features
- 30.3MP (effective) full-frame sensor
- New RF lens mount
- 4K video recording
The EOS R uses a full-frame 30.3MP sensor without an optical low-pass filter. If that sounds familiar it’s because Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR shares the same pixel count, although Canon stresses this isn’t the same sensor. We suspect it’s very closely related to the chip used in the EOS 5D Mark IV though, which is no bad thing as it’s one of Canon’s best performing sensors.
There’s also a new DIGIC 8 processing engine and a healthy native ISO range of 100-40,000, which can be expanded to settings equivalent to ISO50 and 102,400 – matching the EOS 5D Mark IV exactly.
Like Nikon with its new Z range of full-frame mirrorless cameras, Canon has opted for a new lens mount for its R range (we’re assuming there will be more) of mirrorless cameras. The new RF mount shares the same throat diameter of 54mm as Canon’s EF lens mount, but has a considerably shorter flange distance (the distance from the rear of the lens to the sensor). This has dropped from 44mm to 20mm, though it’s a little longer than Nikon’s Z mount flange distance of 16mm.
Four new RF lenses are being launched alongside the EOS R: the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, RF 28-70mm f/2L USM, RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro.
As you’d expect, you’ll be able to use your Canon EF lenses on the EOS R via an adapter, but rather than launch one variant Canon’s launching four different adapters. There’s the simple (and cheaper) EF-EOS R mount adapter, the EF-EOS R mount adapter with control ring (more on that in a bit), EF-EOS R mount adapter with a built-in circular polarizing filter, and the EF-EOS R mount adapter with a built-in variable neutral density filter.
Interestingly, Canon has also opted to omit in-body image stabilization, something that rivals Sony and Nikon offer in their full-frame mirrorless cameras. Canon’s argument is that it’s better to tailor the IS to a specific lens rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, which would also mean a larger camera footprint. That said, two of those new RF lens don’t feature any form of image stabilization at all.
The EOS R is surprisingly only the third EOS camera to feature 4K after the EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS M50. However, while rivals offer full recording across the sensor, the EOS R is compromised a little here with a 1.7x crop factor, which will make wide-angle framing difficult. There’s a choice of 30p or 24p however, while Full HD video can also be shot at up to 60p.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the EOS R features an impressive 3.69-million dot resolution and a magnification of 0.76x, so while it matches the EVF in the Nikon Z7 and Z6 for resolution, it can’t quite match the 0.80x magnification offered by its Nikon rivals.
The EOS R’s EVF is complemented by a large 3.15-inch vari-angle touchscreen at the rear of the camera, with a decent 2.1-million dot resolution.
While Nikon sparked some controversy by implementing a single XQD card on the Z7 and Z6, Canon has opted to stick with SD cards for the EOS R, with a single UHS-II compatible slot available.
If you’re an existing Canon user who’s planning on using the EOS R alongside your existing kit, you’ll be pleased to know that the EOS R is compatible with Canon’s LP-E6 battery, which is used by numerous EOS DSLRs. The EOS R itself is supplied with the LP-E6N battery, which allows for in-camera charging.
Canon EOS R review: build and handling
- Magnesium alloy body
- Weather resistance
- New control bar
The styling of the EOS R is somewhere between an EOS DSLR and Samsung’s underrated NX1 mirrorless camera.
The body of the EOS R has a pleasing matte finish, with a magnesium alloy body and magnesium shell. Combine this durable construction with a DSLR-sized handgrip and it certainly feels very well made. A side-by-side comparison with the similarly sized EOS 5D Mark IV, though, shows that, while thinner, the EOS R isn’t hugely smaller, and feels very similar in the hand to something like an EOS 6D Mark II.
This might be good news for many Canon users, who will no doubt welcome the EOS R’s familiarity, as it means they get the same great handling they already enjoy, and also better support for longer and/or heavier lenses. That said, if you’re after a mirrorless camera for its smaller size over a DSLR, you may not find as great a difference as you might imagine.
Canon has tried to maintain a similar button layout and user interface to its existing range of DSLRs, so it should be familiar to those already at home with the EOS ecosystem. There are a few little differences though, some good and some bad.
One feature we particularly like is the new top-plate LCD screen, not simply because it presents key information at a glance, but because it shows more information than expected, and has a little more thought behind its implementation.
For example, pressing the lamp button illuminates the screen, but you need to hold it down for a little longer than usual. The reason? Pressing it quickly brings up a screen which provides secondary shooting options (the primary ones shown at default being aperture, shutter speed and so on). It’s a clever use of existing and familiar controls, even if the lamp button is a little small, and not prominent enough for the most comfortable operation.
If this screen is a welcome feature, less impressive is the new (and snappily named) M-Fn control bar, located just below the top-plate screen on the rear of the camera. How does it work? The control bar can be customized to access different settings on the EOS R, and it responds to swipes and taps – so drag your thumb over it and you can zip through the ISO range, or scroll through white balance settings, or something else.
However, while Canon should be applauded for trying something new, we didn’t really get used to this control, and we reckon many users would prefer that Canon had used the space the control bar takes up for a joystick-type AF lever.
Canon EOS R review: autofocus
- 5,655 phase-detect AF points
- -6 to 18EV working range
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF
Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system has impressed when we’ve used it on recent EOS DSLRs (as well as on Canon’s EOS M mirrorless range) for Live View focusing, and the enhanced version of this system found on the EOS R is one of the camera’s main highlights.
This sees a phase-detect AF system with a staggering 5,655 points (that’s not a typo, there are 5,655 selectable positions), with 88% vertical and 100% horizontal coverage, and a working range that goes as low as -6EV (with an f/1.2 lens).
Paired with the new RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, the EOS R powered through its focusing range at speed, making focusing between different distances straightforward and fast.
The autofocus system also did a brilliant job of identifying eyes when set to track faces, even when the subject wasn’t looking directly at the camera, either looking down or side-on. This worked a little less impressively in sub-par lighting conditions, but we imagine people will be pleased with how well the AF manages to pick out and lock onto eyes when shooting everyday portraits.
Focus tracking was also very effective, doing a good job of keeping up with fast-moving cars when we tested the camera at a motorsports circuit. Our major gripe, though, is the absence of the AF lever found on Canon’s more advanced DSLRs; instead you have to rely on using the EOS R’s rear touchscreen to select the AF point you want.
Canon EOS R review: performance
- 8fps burst shooting
- Responsive vari-angle touchscreen
- Detailed and stable EVF
The EOS R is capable of shooting at 8fps – that’s faster than Canon’s own EOS 5D Mark IV (7fps), but behind both Sony’s Alpha A7 III (10fps) and Nikon’s Z6 (11fps). This drops down to 5fps with focus tracking, or a pedestrian 3fps if you want to use the EOS R’s ‘tracking priority’ mode.
The buffer on the EOS R is pretty decent though, recording 47 raw files or 100 JPEGs before needing time to pause to process the data.
Canon, though, has its touchscreen functionality nicely sorted. Unlike Sony’s limited touchscreen implementation on its mirrorless cameras, the EOS R’s system lets you control a breadth of features. This not only covers shooting (including using the rear screen to touch and drag the AF point) and reviewing shots, but also navigating the EOS R’s menu system and Quick menu. The touchscreen itself is nice and responsive under the finger.
The viewfinder in the EOS R doesn’t disappoint either, and although the viewfinders inside the Nikon Z6 and Z7 offer a touch greater magnification, you probably wouldn’t notice much difference between them unless you were comparing them side by side. It’s large and detailed, and works very well in low light.
The responsiveness of the touchscreen is carried through to much of the camera’s operation. Menus and captured images can be scrolled though without delay, while zooming in and around images is equally fast and fluid. There appears to be very little delay with the camera registering changes as you make them too.
Instead of the rear scroll-wheel that’s found on high-end EOS DSLRs, the EOS R features a smaller control dial that wraps around the mode button on the top plate of the camera. This mode button is a curious affair – it feels like something that would be more at home on a PowerShot compact camera, and you can only see what the current shooting mode is on one of the displays, rather than on a physical control.
The large on/off switch to the left of the viewfinder feels like wasted space though; a better use of this space would be to have a mode dial with an on/off switch collar. To be fair though, Nikon’s high-end DSLRs have relied on a single mode button for years and it hasn’t been an issue.
A nice touch is the addition of a control ring on the new RF lenses, similar to what you’d find on a lot of high-end fixed-lens compact cameras (like Canon’s own PowerShot G1 X Mark III for example). The function of this can be adjusted to suit, with options including ISO and exposure compensation, and the fact that this is a clickable ring (the operation can be changed to smooth in the menu) will no doubt please many, as you get that useful immediate feedback.
The battery is good for between 330 and 560 shots, depending on how you’re planning to use the camera – if you’re predominantly using the electronic viewfinder you can expect it to be closer to the former. While this doesn’t match the endurance of the battery in the Sony Alpha A7 III (710 shots), as we found with the Nikon Z7 (another new mirrorless camera with a modest ‘rated’ battery life), you can expect to get more shots under real-world shooting conditions.
Canon EOS R review: image quality
- Results very similar to EOS 5D Mark IV
- Image noise is handled well
- Good dynamic range
With the Canon EOS R having a similar sensor to the EOS 5D Mark IV, it’s no surprise to see the EOS R deliver comparable image quality. That’s very good news, as while it perhaps doesn’t quite hit the heights in terms of resolution and dynamic range as the pricier 42MP and 45MP sensor rivals from Sony and Nikon, it’s certainly the pick of Canon’s sensor arsenal at the moment.
How does that translate to the real world then? Well, you should have no issues with producing a highly detailed Super A3 print, while A2 printing shouldn’t be discounted given the appropriate post-production techniques.
Turning to sensitivity performance, and the EOS R controls image noise well. Results up to ISO800 show no signs of noise, with only a hint of luminance (grain-like) noise appearing at ISO2000. Push the sensitivity up to ISO10,000 and chroma (color) noise becomes noticeable, along with more pronounced luminance noise.
Dynamic range is very good, although the EOS R doesn’t afford you the same class-leading flexibility as Sony and Nikon’s full-frame megapixel monsters. That said, it’s still possible to recover a decent amount of detail in the shadows, and preserve highlight detail, in post-processing,
We’ve come to expect very good color reproduction from Canon cameras, and the EOS R delivers nice, natural tones, with skin tones faithfully reproduced too; there are also a host of Picture Styles to choose from if you’re planning on shooting JPEGs,
The EOS R’s metering system also works well, delivering well-balanced exposures, while there are no nasty surprises when it comes to the camera’s auto white balance system. There’s a choice of either Ambience or White priority auto settings, with the latter delivering neutral images even under tungsten lighting, while Ambience priority has a bias to retain some warmth in the image.
Canon EOS R review: verdict
First things first: the Canon EOS R is not a mirrorless EOS 5D Mark IV. It’s best to think of the new camera as closer to the more enthusiast-focused EOS 6D Mark II.
We also can’t underestimate what a balancing act Canon has had to perform to deliver a camera that would appeal not only to the EOS faithful, but also to those tempted by Sony’s Alpha full-frame mirrorless cameras (and now by Nikon’s Z range too).
Has it got it right? In many ways, yes. Canon has done a great job of carrying over what its user base knows and loves about its DSLRs, while also adding a few extra layers to make the EOS R a more capable and more enjoyable camera to use.
The finish is lovely (although somewhat prone to the same scuffing as some other matte-finish models), and the autofocus system is reassuringly fast and sophisticated, while image quality is also hard to fault.
Handling overall is very good, but there’s certainly room for improvement here. The lack of an AF joystick, the absence of a mode dial, and the questionable M-Fn control all frustrate. Some will no doubt also be miffed at there only being one card slot (although others won’t mind this too much), while there’s also the slightly under-baked 4K video, and the absence of in-body image stabilization.
This is also a pretty bulky camera. While we’ve seen mirrorless cameras pile on the pounds in recent years, the EOS R doesn’t feel that much more compact than one of its DSLR stablemates, while the lenses themselves are quite substantial.
The EOS R is a very capable camera, and should satisfy many Canon DSLR owners looking for a solid mirrorless alternative. If we weren’t bound by a system, however, we’d find it hard to recommend the EOS R over its rivals, especially when you consider the price premium over the likes of the excellent Sony Alpha A7 III. Once the rough-edges of this first-generation model have been smoothed out, though, it could be a very different story with the EOS R II.
Canon EOS R review: competition
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