Shooting the Canon EOS M5

The Canon EOS M5 is the latest offering by Canon in the mirrorless form factor. Offering the same sensor and much of the performance of the mid-range DSLR’s, the mirrorless bodies are far smaller. This allows the photographer the chance to use these cameras in places a full sized DSLR would be too cumbersome.

The Canon EOS M5 and the 22mm f/2 EF-M lens
The Canon EOS-M5

I am a veteran of the original M and the M3, carrying both cameras extensively. From Nicaragua to Alaska, and around the islands, I have used these little cameras to capture some excellent images.

I had issues with the original, returning my first copy. I eventually gave the camera another chance and have learned to like the capability the cameras provide a mobile photographer. I carry the camera on the job atop the incomparable Mauna Kea, a place where you always want a camera handy!

A trio of EOS-M's, including the original M, the M3 and the M5 (left to right)
A trio of EOS-M’s

The critics have not been kind to the previous M series cameras. While they are decent cameras, offering excellent photo quality, they have lagged behind the competition, particularly the Sony mirrorless, on the features.

The M5 marks a change in this, several reviews from the key sites note that M5 performance and features places it among the best on the market in terms of features and cost. The comment echoed by several critics… This is the camera Canon should have built to start with.

Yeah… I wanted one.

Lucky for me, an EOS M5 appeared at Christmas with my name on it. I have a very good wife.

Christmas Lights
Christmas lights on the front lanai, Canon EOS M5 and 22mm f/2

I do need to take the obligatory first photos with the camera. Unpacking the camera at the kitchen table the first target is my cat. Not exactly a great photo, even if he can be quite the character, maybe step outside?

The Christmas lights on the front lanai offer a much more interesting target. Shooting with the 22mm f/2 I use the resulting bokeh to get some interesting and rather fun shots. the camera had not been out of the wrapping paper much more than a few minutes at this point.

Preparing for Shipment
Photo with the M3 and the 22mm f/2 pancake, vignetting uncorrected

I have come to love the little 22mm f/2 pancake lens. It is fast, offers excellent bokeh, it is sharp, it is also quite small, not adding much bulk to the camera. Lately you will usually find it on the front of whatever camera I am carrying.

The EF-M 22mm f/2 does have some interesting field illumination issues, gently darker in the corners of the frame. The effect is completely correctable using the lens profile in camera or in Lightroom. But often I find myself leaving the dark corners in the final image, providing a brighter center and a moody image that works well.

I have both the 22mm and the 18-55mm EOS lenses, finding both quite good. I also shoot with some EOS lenses from time to time using the adapter. The cameras works fairly well with the 70-200mm f/4L for longer reach, even if a bit absurd with a lens far larger than the camera. My 70-200mm f/2.8L is simply ridiculous with an M on the back, but it does work. Using some vintage prime glass with adapters can also be quite fun. I have the EF-M new 28mm macro lens on order.

Now to shoot the camera and get a feel for what the EOS-M5 can do. I took the camera to the summit with me between the holidays, but was too busy to shoot much. I did get a few nice photos of the guys.

Gold dust day gecko on pineapple
Sometimes these little guys are just shy

The camera handles very well. The grip is excellent, offering a secure hold on the camera under just about any conditions. the controls are well laid out, though the differences between the M’s take some getting used to. The power button has been relocated to a lever under the mode dial, the preview button moved under the multifunction dial on the back. I do find the record button a bit awkward to use, I would prefer to use the main shutter button to start and stop a video.

The touchscreen remains one of the best features of the EOS M series. The display is responsive, allowing a convenient way to access many camera functions. Reviewing images is simple and fast, swiping and zooming using the same gestures one is used to from other touch devices. The touch and shoot focus point is simply wonderful to use.

Focus has always been one of the issues with the EOS M series. It was focus that had me returning the original M, it was simply unacceptably sluggish and inaccurate. This was helped with software on the original, and is somewhat better in the M3. Still it is not up to the standards of the competition. The M5 seems to have changed this, on sensor dual pixel phase detect is the major improvement to the M5, borrowing the technology from the Canon 80D. And it is vastly better, focus is fast, accurate and sharp.

A set of drill bits await use in the Keck machine shop
A set of drill bits await use in the Keck machine shop

It was New Year’s day that trouble started. On a walk in the saddle region between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa the camera refused to shoot a photo. An error message for error E20 appears, recommending power cycling the camera. Nothing fixes it, change the battery, change the lens, power on and off several times… Error E20. Just a faint and unhealthy mechanical sound from inside the camera at each frame. Oddly I can take video just fine, it is just the shutter mechanism that seems the cause of issue.

I have no idea why the camera malfed, I was not doing anything unusual to the camera, no hard knock or fall. I was shooting a 70-200 f/4L lens with the Canon adapter when the problem occurred, changing to the 22mm f/2 did not help. The camera looks to require service… Disappointing.

I will not hold this against Canon, as an engineer I am all too aware how easily these things can happen. In general I have found Canon gear to be extraordinarily reliable despite the abuse I heap upon it. The proof is in the service, how will the Canon service department handle this?

Various types of hammers await use in the Keck machine shop
Various types of hammers await use in the Keck machine shop

Pretty well it turns out. Hit the website, get a Repair Order Number, and mail it off. A few days later I get a message that the camera will not be repaired, rather a new camera will be sent to me. I expect that as a new camera model that failed quickly in the field, the Canon engineering department responsible for the EOS M5 wants to see this camera and figure out what went wrong. Better yet, as I sent the camera in without any accessories and got back the whole retail kit, I now have an extra battery and charger for my trouble. I can deal with this, time to take more photos with it!

What is there not to like about the M5? The focus is fast and precise, the handling quite good, the touch screen extremely useful, and the photo quality is excellent. The addition of the electronic viewfinder is huge, particularly for bright sunlight. It is limited to 1080p/60 video, no 4k, but this is not an issue for me. My impressions of the camera seem in line with the reviews that are now popping up across the web.

Shooting with the camera is a pleasure… No fuss, no muss, it just does the job. Fast and accurate focus, very good exposure balance when presented challenging scenes, usually without photographer intervention to force the issue. Modern digital cameras really are approaching the ideal, it has been great to watch the progression in features and capabilities over the decades. In that respect it is always fun to buy the latest new model and see where state-of-the-art stands today.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

One thought on “Shooting the Canon EOS M5”

  1. Thanx man, you gave a me hope. I’m a 5dII user, with all the lens gear, a M5 could be my next thing! the 5DiV didn’t do it….thanx

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