Canon EOS R: The Art of Mirrorless?

 

The EOS R is the first full-frame mirrorless camera from Canon, but does it have potential? Shridhar Kunte puts it to the test.

Mirrorless cameras are not unfamiliar to Canon, as they are already present in this segment with their M series cameras, based on APS-C size sensors. EOS R comes with an all new lens mount called R mount, which has been specially designed for cameras that have a shorter flange distance. This is the fourth mount design Canon has come out with, since the introduction of their first digital interchangeable lens camera. Thankfully, Canon has bundled a basic adaptor, which will allow you to use existing EF lenses on the EOS R. Moreover, unlike full-frame Canon DSLRs, it’s also possible to adapt and use EF-S lenses too, although there will be a reduction in the field of view (1.6x for photos and 1.74x for movies).

Features
This is the first step from Canon in the full-frame mirrorless camera segment. The camera is built on a newly developed CMOS, which has a resolution of 30.3MP, and is backed by the DIGIC 8 image processor. A large 30.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor offers excellent balance in terms of resolution count and detail, while continuing to improve on low light shooting capabilities, and also enabling a high frame rate. Taking advantage of the DIGIC 8 image processor, the EOS R offers a native sensitivity of ISO 100-40,000, which can be expanded to ISO 50-1,02,400, for working in a variety of lighting conditions.

The moderate dynamic range allows to recover both highlight and shadow detail exceptionally well. I adjusted exposure to ensure that highlights did not clip. Exposure: 1/8sec at f/8 (ISO 3200). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

The Dual Pixel CMOS AF on the R works even in low light at -6EV, when used with a lens of f/1.2. The camera has a burst speed of 8fps, but when used in the continuous autofocus mode, it drops down to 4.5fps. Its AF system comes with Dual Pixel CMOS AF and a confounding 5655 manually selectable AF Points, which covers 88% of the frame horizontally, and 100% vertically. To my surprise, there is no image stabilisation built in the camera body, which is being widely employed by Sony (5-axis image stabilisation, since 2014) and Nikon (the Z series has it). I think it is related to the specific lens design, which is distinct to each lens’ unique elements and focusing mechanisms.

This is the third camera from Canon ( EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS M50) that supports 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) recording at up to 30fps at 480 MB/s, along with 1080p shooting at 60 fps and 720p at 120 fps, for slow motion playback. When recording video on the SD card, 4K video has 4:2:2 sampling and 8-bit colour depth. But if you are recording videos on an external recorder, it is possible to get a clean 4:2:2 10-bit output.

I was comfortable using the Aperture Priority mode, even at low light conditions, at dawn. This JPEG is straight out of the camera, with high ISO noise reduction set to low. Exposure: 1/64sec at f/4.0 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Handling
At first glance, you are most likely to get confused looking at the size of the camera, as it very closely resembles a mid-range DSLR, rather than a compact mirrorless. The R has a pronounced battery grip. Combined with its durable construction, it certainly feels very well made. The magnesium frame and polycarbonate resin gives it a sturdy look and feel, and it doesn’t feel small in large hands). While holding the camera, there is a texture rubber ridge on the back, where you can rest your thumb, allowing you to hold the camera very securely. A majority of buttons and dials are located on the right side of the camera on two different planes, either on the top or at the back. This makes it easy to operate with the right hand, while holding the camera steady, and gripping the lens with the left hand.

There are new controls on the camera, with the main addition being the control bar that is located just below the top LCD panel. Canon has also introduced a Control Ring for all RF lenses. This control bar can be operated in three different ways—you can swipe left or right, as well as a left tap or right tap. Each action can be assigned a different function for recording or playback. I was initially very happy with the touch bar, but as time passed, I found out that it was not simplified. You have to work around it by enabling the half-second touch activation for safety. However, it slows down the shooting process. By the end of the day, I was happy to disable it. This bar offers lesser flexibility as compared to the traditional AF joystick.

Auto white balance under shadow worked very well by capturing colours without any bias, and reproduced the colours true to life. Exposure: 1/20sec at f/8 (ISO 100). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Performance
The enhanced version of Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system gave impressive performance while using the native lens. The focus tracking did a very good job on fast moving subjects. This was evident when I tested the camera to shoot helicopters on the day of the Beating Retreat on Navy Day, in Mumbai. The overall image quality was closer to that of EOS 5D Mark IV, but it lacks the dynamic range when compared to all the big boys having resolutions of 40MP and over. Still, I was able to recover a decent amount of detail in the shadows, and reserve highlight detail in post-processing. The images that I captured exhibited natural tones, with skin tones being rendered faithfully. The metering did reasonably well in different lighting conditions. The auto WB performed the way it was supposed to, under light sources with different colour temperatures. Images taken above ISO 1600 has a hint of luminance noise.

The multi-segment metering was spot on while capturing this backlit image of foliage. Exposure: 1/320sec at f/9 (ISO 800). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Conclusion
If you already are an existing user of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and are expecting a similar performance from the EOS R, you will be disappointed. To me, the camera is closer to EOS 6D Mark II, on most fronts. It delivers excellent images with native or adapted lenses and offers great video capabilities with great AF. The EOS R kit is available at Rs. 2,78,945, and the similar kit of the EOS 6D Mark II is available for Rs. 2,02,995. The cost difference here is not worth the performance of the R. But if you look at the EOS R in isolation, it is a very capable camera, and should satisfy many Canon DSLR owners… Even those who have the Canon mount glass, and are looking for a solid mirrorless alternative.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Dual Pixel system, 4K video with crop
14/15
Performance
JPEG quality, colour accuracy
42/45
Build Quality
Magnesium alloy frame, weathersealing
17/20
Ergonomics
Customisable, improved handling
12/15
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, wide service network
 4/5
MRP Rs. 2,78,945
OVERALL 89%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4.5/5
Who should buy it? This camera is perfect for video professionals or enthusiasts who want professional results.
Why? The first mirrorless DSLR that offers high quality video, along with a smooth, accurate, touchscreen focus.
Tags: Camera review, Canon, Canon EOS R, January 2019, Shridhar Kunte