Despite a rough introduction the Canon EOS-M series is developing into a solid product offering. And it was a rough start, the first model with the first software version was so bad I sent the first camera I ordered back in frustration and disappointment.
In time, and after receiving a withering round of criticism, Canon fixed some of the most striking deficiencies in the original EOS-M, in particular the sluggish and erratic focusing. With the fixes in place, and steep price discounts, I gave the camera another try. I have gradually come to like this little camera. The photo quality is quite good, the EOS-M lenses are nice and sharp, and the touch screen a very usable feature I have often missed in my full size DLSR’s.
After a couple years of shooting with the EOS-M I decided to order the EOS-M3, the latest offering in the product line. For reasons a mystery outside Canon the camera was originally not released in the US, available in Japan since early 2015. Only in the last month has news come that the camera will become available for order here in the US. Not willing to wait, and the start of an adventure looming on the calendar I ordered a Japanese version on eBay. No issue, there are YouTube videos that explain how to navigate the kanji menus and set the language to English. Thus my fun with a new camera began.
Packing the camera for a trip always presents a set of vexing decisions for a photographer. What do you plan on shooting? What gear will be needed? This particular trip would be to a place I have never been and would present a range of unique photo opportunities. Nicaragua for the first time!
While I had never visited Nicaragua I had been in Mexico many times, I expected the photographic situation to be much the same, an expectation that was not disappointed. Each town in Latin America may be unique, but at at the same time looks much the same as the last. The character of these towns offers varied photo opportunities. Best of all to my thinking… Many towns feature markets, a sampling of the people and goods unique to the region, a condensation of the local culture in one convenient place.
Thus I chose my gear uncompromisingly for street photography. Leaving the big DSLRs and lenses at home I loaded two EOS-M bodies. I have one original model and one of the new M3’s purchased just before the start of the trip. These two cameras would take very little room in the luggage and offer a good range of capability. Traveling with only a single backpack meant space was at a premium. The primary lens would be the 18-55mm to allow a good general purpose walkabout capability.
One of the real advantages of the mirrorless cameras, like my little EOS-M, is the ability to mount just about any lens. The small cameras have very shallow back focus requirements, the distance from the lens mount to the sensor. With the correct adapter they can mount the old Canon FD, Nikon, Leica, anything! I find myself unpacking my old photo gear, and wondering about the possibilities.
I do have some really good old Canon and Nikon primes around, lenses from the manual focus days. When I assembled an EOS-M to FD adapter, an extension tube, and a 50mm f/1.4 lens onto the front of the camera it resulted in a rather odd looking setup. Odd looking, but it works, providing an impressive macro capability. With better than 1:1 magnification I was able to keep a reasonable depth of field in the test shots. I need try some tests with the 100mm f/2.8 lens, for even higher magnification.
Aside from the FD to EOS-M adapter this is all gear I had sitting about unused. I never used it much in my film days. Digital is different, the ability to examine the result immediately and the elimination of per frame costs enables an ease of experimentation that was not there before. I am going to play with this a bit!
With the rumors of a new model or two on the horizon the prices on the original EOS-M dropped. Not just a little either, a camera that listed for over $800 was now available for $360 with the 18-55mm lens. Even less if you wanted the 22mm f/2 lens. For this price would I give the camera a second go?
In the interim a new revision of the camera firmware has addressed some of the major complaints about the camera, including the sluggish focusing. Low price, improved focusing, why not give it a try? I still like the idea of a camera with near DLSR capability, that is small enough to be carried at all times. Fine, I will order it again.
With EOS-M in hand I went on two trips this summer, to Oregon Star Party and a ten day boat trip out from Juneau. On both trips I used the camera extensively, shooting under a huge range of conditions. This includes a fair amount of night shooting under the stars. I also set up the camera on the telescope again.
In Alaska I had four cameras with me… A Canon 60D, the EOS-M, a GoPro Hero 2 HD, and a Canon G12. It was the EOS-M that I used for all of the walkabout shooting on and off the boat.
The only real drawback to the EOS-M is speed, it simply does not shoot fast. As a result I kept the full DLSR ready with the long lens, the 70-200mm L series telephoto. When wildlife appeared I was ready to shoot fast. Whales bubble net feeding, a gizzly on shore, for these it was the Canon 60D I grabbed. For everything else it was the EOS-M in my hand.
One of the features I liked about the camera when first trying it was the touch screen. My first thoughts about this feature were not positive, I wondered just how useful it would be. I have come to really appreciate the touch screen and the ease with which some functions can be used. With my heavy use of an iPad and iPhone, the touch gestures are quite natural. There are drawbacks, inadvertent photos with the touch shutter are common. Plus, it is possible to switch a setting without knowing. Many operations such as selecting the focus point or reviewing exposures are much easier with the touch screen. More than once I have found myself brushing fingers on the LCD of my Canon 60D before remembering it is not a touch screen camera.
I have come to appreciate the EOS-M for the reason I originally wanted the camera. It is a great carry camera, small enough to keep with you at all times, ready to get the shot. It isn’t fast, but it does take beautiful photos, providing better quality than a compact and capable of shooting in a wider range of conditions.
The first astrophoto taken with the EOS-M. Considering the trouble it is to manually trigger the exposures without proper camera control, I am surprised I stuck it out to take 40+ subs. Since 30 seconds was the longest I could program the camera for I simply maxed out the ISO and took a lot of subs plus a dozen darks. There is still way too much noise in the resulting frame. Still, the ISO 12,800 frames are not all that bad, better than I expected. If this camera had remote control it would be a decent little astro camera. Longer subs and a lower ISO would deliver decent results.
In the few days I had the camera I was determined to acquire some astrophotography test shots with the EOS-M camera. Even if it meant getting up at 3am to have some dark sky after moonset. It would have been easier a few days before, but a Pacific storm system had provided several days of overcast with occasional rain. This particular morning was just about perfect, clear skies, decent seeing and no wind to bounce the telescope around.
For testing I used the same setup I often use with my Canon 20Da or 60D. An Astro-Tech 6″ (150mm) Ritchey–Chrétien telescope riding atop a Losmandy G11 mount. A 0.8x focal reducer has T-thread at the rear allowing a Canon EOS lens adapter. To attach the EOS-M I used the Canon M Mount to EOS Mount adapter. An SBIG STi autoguider completes the setup.
The result is an f/7 optical system with 1080mm focal length. This gives a field of view of about 72×48 arc-minutes (1.2 x 0.8 degrees) on the sky when using a camera with an APS-C sensor.
DSLR cameras have been the design of choice for professional and serious amateur photographers for over a decade, ever since the era of digital photography began. Big lenses and big sensors made the most of what light was available offering the best possible photographic performance. This performance is a huge jump over what the smaller lenses and sensors of compact cameras offer. A performance gain that makes carrying such a large camera worthwhile.
A DSLR is big because of the demands of the available technology. The swinging mirror directs light into optical viewfinders and phase detection focus sensors. Over the last couple years a new type of camera has appeared, taking advantage of advances in technology to dispense with the bulky swinging mirror design. Fast, high resolution electronic viewfinders and better focus technology allow this transformation. Engineers can create a camera far smaller while keeping the large sensor and interchangeable lens. Better yet, getting the lens closer to the image sensor allows a smaller, lighter, less expensive lens without sacrificing performance. Enter a new paradigm of camera that offers much of the performance of a DSLR in a compact design.
All of the major players have now released their own spin on the mirror-less design. Panasonic and Olympus jointly released compatible designs under the Micro Four-Thirds standard. Sony has released their NEX system and Nikon the Nikon 1 system. A number of lens makers, Zeiss, Tamron, and Sigma now make lenses for these cameras. Canon was the last to release an entry into this new market segment.