this is the most difficult review i've ever had to write about the easiest decision i've ever made.
(note: it's really nice that the shutter curtain is down when a lens is detached. keeps the sensor cleaner. it's open on sony and nikon mirrorless bodies)
let's set some expectations. there are few things more complicated than trying to outline an opinion about something as subjective as a camera body, and forget about an entire camera system.
after all, i could hand you my “perfect camera” and you could instantly be fueled with rage as you fight against the fact that i have the aperture and shutter wheels reversed. you’re just not used to it.
this bias is something i’ve always been sensitive to, and tried to push past. it's something that stops many photographers from ever evolving their gear list, which really can put you in danger of falling behind when it comes to embracing what new technology allows for.
every camera/lens/flash deserves time. too many “reviewers” issue an option based on paper stats, sponsorship, or limited trial runs with the gear. i’ve given nearly every mirrorless camera maker more than it’s fair share of time. i’ve owned and shot extensively with pretty much every sony a7 and a9 series body. i’ve gone through 8 sony bodies, 3 fuji bodies, the nikon Z7, and now the canon eos-r.
i’m going to resist making this strictly an eos-r vs nikon z7 vs sony a7riii kind of review, but i will have a few short points of comparison along the way.
for now… the beginning.
the EOS-R was the first camera since my D700 that i was so excited about i feel asleep configuring it and woke up configuring it. obsessed with learning its limits and developing my muscle memory not just for the ergonomics, but it’s quirks and shortcomings (spoiler: there are plenty).
a part of me knew within the first frames of the first session in the first hour of owning the camera that finally i had an extension of my creative mind. however, i wasn’t ready to fully admit it until i’d photographed at least 10k images with it. i’d been burned with the “new camera high” many times before.
in an effort to keep this review from spiraling into a long winded novel i'm going to try and stick with the basics. the topics that are most important to me.
battery life is excellent.
simply put… i’m consistently averaging 1600-2000 images per charge, without any special tricks or “eco” mode. that’s far beyond the rated ~400 canon states in their stats, and i’m perfectly happy with it. obviously, still a far cry from my Nikon DSLRs, but enough that I leave for weddings with 4 batteries and no range anxiety at all.
speaking of the battery… this camera has a USB-C port. FINALLY. you can charge through the camera, or through the grip add-on (it has its own USB-C port too so you can charge it standalone). you can charge using any USB-C cable/port including your MacBook brick. it is delightful to have one fewer cable or battery charger to keep track of.
speaking of USB-C… let’s talk about the memory cards slots. errr, memory card slot.
“how are you dealing with the single card slot?”
this has been far and away the most often asked question of me.
my short answer is “i’m treating it like internal memory.”
essentially, i’m unloading all images directly from the camera via its USB-C port to my computer. this avoids having to mount and unmount the SD card, which is the point you're at greatest risk of corruption for any external data storage.
listen. you’re going to have to make your own pros and cons list between this camera and your current rig and see if the mirrorless enables you enough of an advantage to justify not having a real time backup of your raw files.
for me, it does. excellent edge to edge auto focus, overall size, ergonomics, lens character, and color science all add up to enable an easier, better, faster result than shooting with my beloved Nikon D850 or sony a9.
the truth is, we’re spoiled these days with dual slots to the point that it's incredibly uncomfortable to think about not having an instant backup, but with reasonable backups discipline the risk of photo loss is minimal.
personally, i’ve never had an SD card corrupt. maybe nikon has better programming. maybe i’m patient and eject every card before pulling it from the reader slot. maybe i’m lucky. i’ve also never been given an SD card i couldn’t recover images from (using a disk doctor program) that wasn’t accidentally shot on top of or low level formatted.
as far as i'm concerned you’re far more likely to have your camera body stolen with both cards in it than you are to have an SD card corrupted.
if you're on the fence about the EOS-R, but must have everything in two places at once try something like this standalone SD card backup drive from gnarbox (https://www.gnarbox.com/products/gnarbox-2-0-ssd)
or wait for the next canon miriness body to be announced this april :)
aside from that, floating between two bodies throughout a wedding day also provides a layer of redundancy and i DO consciously divide my shooting between two cameras throughout the day... instead of my usual one camera body when i shot nikon.
it's the same approach i used to with my D700 and a similar approach that most videographers use even today.
so let’s move onto some external handling of the camera.
see that flippy screen? at first i HATED it. having to do two movements to shoot from the waist was incredibly annoying. however, once i realized i was fine to leave the screen closed (see next image) and just use the EVF unless i needed the angle.. all was good.
i’m realizing having a consistent experience between the EVF and the display screen is supremely amazing. it’s not something we've ever had with a DSLR, and i’m realizing that mentally processing the tradeoffs between live view and an optical viewfinder was adding up throughout a wedging day and it's nice to be free from it.
so, for the most part i shoot like this until i need a creative angle:
the overall ergonomics of the camera are my personal favorite of any mirrorless camera i've tried... right down to the matte textured finish! there’s still plenty that needs improving, but more on that in a moment.
right out of the gate i’d like to point out the superior placement of the aperture wheel compared to every sony body.
it might be hard to tell with just a photo, but the sony is so cramped that it’s actually more comfortable to adjust that wheel with my middle finger. that’s not ideal at all.
let's talk about that touch bar.
it’s not great. it’s accidentally touched too easily and intentional touches aren’t always understood by the camera accurately. it needs a lot of work, but i have found it very helpful for white balance. it does have a “lock” feature so it doesn’t become enabled unless you hold it for 3 seconds. so, that’s what i do and for the random white balance (i usually shoot auto and adjust later) it works pretty well.
i do appreciate the innovation of the Touch bar, but canon needs to have a better implementation.
speaking of innovation… let's talk about auto focus.
see those images up there? yeah… that’s a groom jogging down the aisle and that’s me attempting to capture him with the notoriously slow Canon 85mm f/1.2… at f/1.2. guess what? it nailed it. a few images are soft/missed focus, but for the most part the canon adapter for EF lenses to the new RF mount is a gift from heaven.
it literally improves the AF functionality of your old EF lenses to perform better than you could imagine.
canon also has a respectable first try implementation of eye/face tracking.
canon and sony:
it’s good. dare i say fantastic. i brought my 50mm f/1.0. (yes ZERO) to photograph a family and it kept up beautifully with this crazy kid! all of these are f/1.0 through the new canon EF-RF adapter.
the biggest shortfall is that it won’t allow you to take images with the eye tracking outside of being in “one shot” mode. which means, you can’t take the photo before the camera locks focus.
that might sound counter intuitive, but i haven’t found that to be the case. in fact, i use one-shot with eye tracking during all flash/reception/dance shots and have had fantastic results.
speaking of the flash… and we just talk about this little guy canon released?
it’s so tiny! canon released the EL-100 at the same time as the eos-r and it is a great fit for the camera. BUT one of the most frustrating parts of the entire EOS-R is that it requires you to use the orange glowing in body AF-assist beam for focus assist with a flash. it WILL NOT work with the IR beams in most flashes, right now. i’m not entirely sure if that’s a software issue or a physics issue, but i will say the body AF assist beam as done a perfectly fine job, even though it’s probably a little more annoying for guests to look at the orange beam
i’m working on a separate review of the new canon 50mm f/1.2 RF lens, but i did want to talk about one aspect of the entire canon mirrorless experience that i absolutely love… the customizable control ring.
i can’t tell you how much i love using the control ring for ISO adjustment. there's even a control ring in the EF-RF adapter so you can maintain the feature with old canon lenses. i can finally adjust shutter, aperture, and ISO at the exact same times using both hands. this is fantastic and i highly recommend setting yours up with that. you can also have it set to adjust shutter, aperture, or exposure compensation if you prefer.
speaking of the lenses…. let’s talk about the look of the files and the character of canon’s lenses.
confession time. i’ve always been pretty jealous of canon’s color science and lens character. this is a purely subjective opinion and each of us will have our own tastes in this arena. i’ve always found Canon to have better sensibilities about the look of their files and glass.
simple example: the sunstar on the 24mm L at f/22 is beautiful:
here are two comparisons between the sony 50mm @ f/1.4 and the canon 50mm @ f/1.2
same exact edit settings.
(sony left / canon right)
you’ll have to decide for yourself what you prefer, but to my eye the canon files are superior in both color and bokeh rendering.
here’s one more. sony left / canon right:
i find canon’s color science to be exactly what i’m looking for. especially in the reds and blues. the only nikon camera that even came close was the nikon d5.
canon eos-r w/ 24mm EF:
canon 50mm f/1.2 RF:
ok, so what about dynamic range and high iso?
i learned a lesson with the Nikon D5, which had pathetic dynamic range but beautiful color. we’ve reached the “megapixel point” of dynamic range. nearly any camera that ships has more than enough. it just does.
the above image was shot at low iso and pushed +5 in lightroom. the banding is bad, but i’ve found it’s mostly because i shot this in C-Raw. C-raw is canon’s proprietary compressed raw format, and you will notice more banding in C-raw than RAW.
example in normal RAW:
pushed +5 stops:
final edit. the only banding i see if the natural flare of the lens:
unless you TOTALLY miss your exposure, the dynamic range is more than enough to retain highlights in really contrasty scenes. it’s not as much as the D850 (reigning champ) but it’s excellent.
high iso? you’ll be fine up to 12,800 and even 20,000 iso as long as you expose well in camera. there’s still tons of headroom for improvement (across all camera sensors), but again… it’s good enough.
canon’s implementation of multiple exposure is exactly the same as the canon 5d mark iv. quirky, but amazingly helpful to have live view overlay of the first image as you compose the second:
so let’s move onto some straight up frustrations.
- auto iso is glitchy as hell. i move in and out of auto iso constantly, and there are times it’ll just randomly decide not to let me enable it. no reason to it… it’s a glitch.
- exposure simulation is unnecessarily dumb. you have to hold the aperture preview button to see anything render other than f/1.2. that sunstar at f/22? must hold preview button to compose with it. sometimes if it’s really bright outside the camera just decides to show you everything at f/5… even if you have it set to f/1.2. this is craziness, but i believe the same as how it works on canon DSLR bodies.
- you can’t copy config/settings to a memory card to apply it to a second body easily. totally lame.
- can’t customize the frames per second. you’re either super fast or super slow.
- you can't import images WHILE charging over USB-C.
you have to enable LOW-ISO in the menu. by default it only goes as low as iso 100, which is still too bright if you shoot in bright sun at f/1.2.
here's some more eye candy from my past 4 weeks with it:
i can't sum in one concise answer "why?" i sold off all my nikon lenses and bodies and jumped all into the canon miriness system.
there is no one single feature that convinced me. it's a combination of the entire experience.
a lot of it had to do with my specific settings and shooting style. i'll work on a video post specifically explaining all my settings of the EOS-R.
a lot of it has to do with the sense that i now have the equivalent capability of nikon's AF and dynamic range with canon's colors and glass, but a sony like footprint.
that's not exactly correct, of course. no one system seems to give us exactly everything we could possibly want, but canon is the lead for my needs. i’m simply able to shortcut straight to the concept of a photo without having any major trade offs with AF performance, live view speed, lens character, workflow, color, DR, or high iso. in every metric the eos r is better or good enough for me. it just is.
please feel free to ask any questions in the comments. i'll be doing some followup posts with raw files to play with etc. i'm currently traveling and just don't have all the raw files with me, but here are many examples for you to try out in the meantime.
//////////////////// UPDATE ////////////////////
a few things have unfolded in the past few months.
1) the totally silent shooting mode on this camera is fairly problematic. very susceptible to a rolling shutter so shooting with lenses longer than 50mm, or quick moving action makes everything very distorted and unusable. also, in artificial/indoor light you get some really heavy banding that's hard to ever correct for properly. i only recommend using silent shooting in outdoor light, with slow moving subjects, and a focal length of 50mm or shorter.
2) the firmware update is an absolute MUST. it vastly improves the face/eye tracking and has a crazy improvement with shadow noise, which lets you push underexposed photos 1-2 stops MORE. it's really crazy!
3) with the release of ios 13 I now recommend importing directly into an iPad Pro w/ usb-c cable if you’re worried about the single card slot and having a backup onsite.