Canon EOS-M: what’s the point?

Image Credit: Canon USA

At the risk of sounding like all the other photography bloggers on the internet, here are my thoughts on the newly-announced Canon EOS-M, which is apparently their entry into the compact, interchangeable-lens marketplace.

I’m not going to give a full rundown on the camera – I just want to talk about a few points. And mostly express my general mystification as to how Canon thought this was a camera (and possibly even a system) that would compete with the m4:3 and Sony NEX systems.

For any new readers here, a quick disclaimer: I shot with Canon gear for 6 years. This past spring I sold it all and replaced it with m4:3 equipment. I love my Olympus E-M5 and haven’t regretted the switch for a moment.

So I was definitely interested to see what Canon would come up with, although I didn’t hold high expectations – there was virtually no chance that they would be able to lure me back, no matter what they released. And the EOS-M is anticlimactic, to say the least. Here are my thoughts:

  • For the price of an EOS-M, you can buy an actual DSLR; and can possibly even get the DSLR cheaper. The Nikon D3100 and Canon T3 are both just under $500, each with a kit lens. There are multiple Canon, Nikon, and Sony body-only and body + lens kits below the EOS-M kit’s $799. So smaller camera, fewer lenses, fewer direct controls, no viewfinder…but more expensive.
  • The EF-M lens system has only two entries, so anyone buying into it is also buying into the implied promise that Canon will continue to develop it. Given Canon’s track record, I find this risky. Canon introduced the EF-S lens line with the same implied promise, appeared invested for the first few years, then quietly redirected their attention and let the EF-S line essentially sink.
  • The EF to EOS-M mount adapter. People are excited about this, but it’s actually ridiculous. And also a cop-out on Canon’s part, essentially saying, “We don’t really have any lenses for this camera yet, and maybe we won’t even develop that many of them, but that’s okay – you can use your existing EF lenses with it. Except the size of an EF lens relative to the EOS-M body is entirely disproportionate. The consumer-level EF primes may not be too large or heavy, but the majority of zoom lenses – and especially any L-series lenses – are going to be huge in comparison.
    • From one end, the people who are buying the EOS-M for its small size aren’t going to want to sacrifice that by attaching huge EF lenses to it. (Otherwise they would have saved some money and bought a T3.) They’re going to want small lenses that maintain the portability of the system. And at the opposite end, the L-lens crowd isn’t going to want the EOS-M body on the end of their expensive glass, as it will almost always be too small and unwieldy. These people tend to be photography enthusiasts; they’ll want a comfortable, responsive camera body that fits the lens – a DSLR.
  • The feature set of the EOS-M is uninspired. It’s very much a point & shoot with interchangeable lenses, having all the weaknesses that plague most P&S cameras: limited physical controls and no viewfinder. The EOS-M is apparently controlled primarily via its touch screen. Granted, this is the way everything will be controlled sooner or later, but my own experience with camera touch screens tells me that the software needs to let you make all the necessary control inputs for it to be truly viable. Any sort of half-baked setup (and my Olympus OM-D falls into this category) is just frustrating.
    • The lack of a viewfinder is the most puzzling. It’s not unexpected that there isn’t an EVF built in, but there doesn’t seem to be one available as an accessory, either. Nor any mention of one in the future. The lack of a true viewfinder is the kiss of death to this camera for almost any semi-serious photographer; using the rear LCD just isn’t the same. (And the EOS-M’s screen is fixed, so it can’t even claim the occasional benefit of being useful as a tilt screen.)

I’m sure that the EOS-M will sell, simply because it says Canon on the front. The same way that Nikon’s compact system is selling. But that doesn’t mean it makes much sense. From a purely photographic standpoint, I’ll just shake my head and go back to my micro four-thirds system, which kicks the EOS-M’s ass in everything except sensor size. And even there, without any decent EF-M lenses to take advantage of it, I imagine that m4:3 would still win in terms of image quality.

So that’s my take on it. Unimpressed, and a little baffled. I think I left Canon at the right time. Small, mirrorless, EVF cameras are the next step in camera evolution. And Canon still doesn’t have one.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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  1. Counterpoint…

    The DSLR’s you mention (3100 and T3) are older models with older sensors and effectively being cleared as they have or soon will be discontinued.

    What Canon has done is introduce a new system. The key to it is they have designed it with the APS-C sensor. As the flange to focal plane distance is less than a DSLR (EF in this case), the lenses are smaller than the equivalent DSLR lenses. Smaller and lighter has many benefits. They chose to start at the very bottom of the range I would assume partly because they don’t have the stable of new lenses available yet – so the new camera plays to the P&S user who is considering a move up but isn’t likely going to go past the kit lens.

    I would hope/assume that forthcoming models of M bodies will come with more features such as built in EVF, articulated screens, more sophisticated autofocus, weather sealing, etc. To offer that now without deeper selections of dedicated glass would be foolish. Those who are thinking about the EF adaptors as a key part of the strategy/future are naive. This system is going to replace the DSLR in the APS-C market. Once the lenses and upscale bodies are available, there would be no reason to buy a Rebel, xxD or 7D. The EF system will continue but only for full frame sensor cameras and high end “L” glass, and those bodies probably will also lose the mechanical shutter and mirror as well.

    As for the pricing, we really don’t know what the street pricing will be. Like anything it is ultimately supply and demand set within the constraints of currency exchange and profit maximization for both manufacturer and retailer. In general Canon and Nikon are premium priced brands – its not that their products are necessarily better, but due in large part to inertia built up over decades of market success.

    • Brent Pennington

      Always good to have a counterpoint – thanks, Mike!

      I’m fully with you on the benefits of a small, mirrorless camera. So long as it’s a well-designed camera with a strong lens system, then it does fulfill a necessary role for many photographers. What we also seem to agree on is that the EOS-M is currently sitting at the bottom of the range. Canon may develop it over the next several years into a full-fledged system, and I could see it eventually replacing the Rebel line altogether, in the long term. But that “long term” may be 5 years or more.

      At the same time, I’ll just reiterate that this is Canon we’re talking about and we’ve seen false starts from them before. For example, the EF-S lenses, which were going to be a whole sub-range to the EF system when they were introduced, and instead managed to include a couple of good offerings and a few cheap kit lenses before being essentially orphaned by Canon. Now we’re looking at the EOS-M, which requires an entirely new lens range. Plus, it’s a system that threatens not only their low-end DSLR sales, but also their high-end P&S sales. A strong EOS-M line could wipe out both the PowerShot G series and the Rebels, and would have to be popular enough to make up for both of them.

      It’s a tall order. Granted, I’m biased with a lack of faith in Canon these days, but I see them as being too stuck in their ways (and too convinced of their own superiority) to adequately adapt to a changing market, as evidenced by their behavior thus far. But this is also a whole other issue. For the time being, I’m just talking about the EOS-M being a disappointment, at least from a photographer’s standpoint.

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