We’ve long awaited the day for Canon to release its first full-frame mirrorless camera, and we’re pleased to see that day has finally arrived. The Canon EOS R, initially release spring of this year, marks the first-ever mirrorless camera from the manufacturer. It has a 30.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF), Digic 8 image processor, and Canon’s renowned Dual Pixel AF technology. At first glance, these specifications sound identical to Canon’s 5D Mark IV, which offered a similar resolution, shooting speeds, and 4K specs.
If you’re familiar with the current marketplace, you’ll already know that Canon has some fierce competition amongst other mirrorless manufacturers. Namely, the Sony A7 III, A7R III, and Nikon Z6. They have quite an interesting game of catch-up to play as well. Canon previously released the EOS M50, an APS-C mirrorless camera, which proved to be a home run for the manufacturer. But, as this camera marks their first full-frame release, will we see this camera follow suit as their professional-grade digital SLR replacement? Canon tends to take their time to deliver more thoughtful products to the market. But, with Sony having a nearly six-year lead, have they waited too long? Was the wait worthwhile or just an uninspired effort to stall loyalists? It’s been almost a year since Canon announced their first full-frame mirrorless to the world. So how does it hold up a year later? And what is the future of the camera maker? Today we find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Canon EOS R?
As mentioned in the intro, this camera inherits the identical sensor from the previously released 5D Mark IV. The only difference between these cameras is the lens mount they use, where this camera now sports the new future proof RF mount. Overall, the image quality this camera delivers is the best Canon has to offer to date. The 5D’s sensor was already excellent, and this camera follows suit. It provides sharp images with Canon’s renowned color science for pleasing color rendition. They’ve nailed the image quality here, no complaints.
It shoots at a continuous burst rate of 8 fps (without AF-C), 5 fps (with AF-C), or 3 fps (with tracking priority). While not earth-shattering figures, it delivers an excellent buffer depth due to the Digic 8 image processor. It produces 47 RAW or 100 JPEGs at its highest shooting rate, or virtually unlimited shooting at 5 fps.
The dynamic range of this camera is improved, especially compared to the 6D Mark II. On this front, this is the best Canon has to offer to date, though still slightly behind the competition.
In video, this camera represents a huge leap forward for Canon. Video quality, overall, is comparable to the 5D Mark IV and is excellent across the majority of the camera’s native ISO range. In this case, it delivers attractive and usable footage up to ISO 6,400, which makes it better than Sony, Nikon, and Fujifilm alternatives at this price-point.
It shoots 4K up to 30p at 480 Mbps (8-bit 4:2:0), 1080p up to 60p, and 720p up to 120p.
It outputs clean 4K 30p (10-bit 4:2:2) via HDMI, which makes it an excellent choice for streaming.
It has Canon’s C-Log profile built-in. Thank goodness, we no longer need to purchase this feature as a secondary upgrade if we want to shoot in a flat cinematic color profile. Not only that, but this camera also has a View Assist Mode, which helps users better judge exposure and white balance when shooting in this profile.
It has zebras for exposure clipping, though this feature only works when using an external recorder. Strange.
Low Light Performance
It has a native ISO from ISO 100 to ISO 40,000. While this is the same range as the 6D Mark II, performance in both photos and videos are excellent. It delivers usable results up to ISO 12,800. Low light performance is respectable, but not class-leading by any means.
It inherits Canon’s renowned Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, which is the best iteration of this technology we’ve seen from Canon to date. It offers a whopping 5,655 AF points, which cover 100% horizontal and 88% vertical planes of the focusing field. The result is excellent focus coverage, a superb focusing performance. This focusing system is also sensitive down to an impressive – 6 EV as well, when using compatible f/1.2 RF lenses and with the centermost focusing point. This is the greatest sensitivity we’ve seen in a camera to date, and are class-leading as most cameras typically focus at – 4 EV.
It has focus peaking to help users when manually focusing.
It has a focus guide, which indicates when you’ve reached critical focus or which direction to adjust focus when slightly out of focus.
Battery performance is excellent, but not class-leading. Previous Canon shooters will be pleased to know, however, that this camera uses Canon’s long-standing LP-E6 batteries, which are incredibly cheap. Battery life is rated at 370 shots per charge, slightly above the industry-standard of 340 shots expected for mirrorless cameras.
Display & Viewfinder
It has a 3.15-inch fully articulating touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 2.1 million dots. This combination makes it the ideal choice for vlogging, self-composed videos, or shooting at awkward angles. We’re happy to see this kind of implementation on a full-frame camera with Dual Pixel AF, as they combine to create a compelling vlogging and YouTube content creators tool.
It has a 3.69 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 0.76x magnification, making it directly comparable to Sony’s A7R Mark III. The viewfinder overall is excellent, with ample sharpness and accurate color representation.
It also features a backlit top status LCD, which displays the current shooting mode as well as other critical shooting parameters at a glance.
It has a programmable multifunction touch bar, a new feature in a Canon full-frame camera. This touch bar functions as a fully customizable button that allows users to make a multitude of changes by either sliding their thumb or by pressing the left or right areas.
The entire user interface is touch-optimized, well implemented, and a joy to use.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Its robust magnesium alloy body is both dust and weather-sealed, so much so it’s on par with the 6D Mark II in this regard. In weight, it comes in at 1.5 lbs, comparable to both the Nikon Z7 and A7 III. For a mirrorless camera, it feels reminiscent of a traditional SLR, more than expected. Its grip is both deep and quite functional. Overall, it’s suitable for professional use.
It has a silent shooting mode though this mode does not support continuous burst shooting.
It has a unique built-in shutter that functions to protect the sensor from dust and other debris when changing lenses. Massive kudos to Canon for implementing this feature, as it is a first for a mirrorless camera but one that makes so much sense we’re dumbfounded that it isn’t a standard at this point.
It has built-in 4K timelapse.
It has a microphone input.
It has a headphone input.
It has USB charging.
It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which allows the camera to transfer images to a paired device wirelessly. Once connected, the paired device can also control the camera remotely in both photo and video modes as well.
With this new system, Canon is pushing forth with its latest RF lens mount. This new mount promises sharper lenses with even greater performance than before without a dramatic increase in weight. It’s been 32 years since Canon first introduced the EF mount, and the time has come to move forward to the next generation. However, this change does mean that within the next 5-10 years, current EF lenses will be systematically phased out. Current Canon shooters will be pleased to know this new platform supports EF lenses via lens adapters, which only cost $100. The standard EF-RF adapter comes with no restrictions in existing performance. There are also two additional adapters available, one of which has a built-in neutral density filter. This particular adapter is a first and a revolution in the industry, as it adds neutral density to all lenses without the need to purchase separate filters for different lens sizes. The second adapter includes a built-in control ring, a new feature for Canon, which functions as an additional custom button to add niche functionality to existing EF lenses. Overall, this is an incredibly helpful and inventive feature as it provides smooth immediate accessibility to critical shooting parameters (exposure compensation, ISO, or Aperture). While people initially criticized this new system, it appears to be proving itself as the greatest strength with this new camera. Kudos to Canon to turning these adapters into an asset rather than a liability. If you don’t mind adapters, you have a complete lens ecosystem.
While the sensor of this camera is best Canon has to date, the technology here is still lagging behind the competition. Dynamic range struggles during shadow recovery, where banding occurs at only moderate ISOs.
It lacks a blackout-free viewfinder when shooting during a continuous burst. Instead, the camera displays the last frame of the burst, giving you the impression of a full view when, in actuality, that’s false. The Nikon Z6 does the same. However, its behavior is adjustable via the settings menu. We don’t see that option here, unfortunately.
The biggest gripe, bar none, is the crop experienced when shooting in 4K. In this case, that’s a whopping 1.74x crop, effectively turning this full-frame sensor into that of a Micro Four Thirds sensor similar to the Panasonic GH5S and smaller than Canon’s 80D. This crop does two things. One, it alters Depth of Field. Secondly, it significantly changes the framing.
This camera lacks 1080p FHD at 120p. 1080p is strictly reserved for 60p recording, which caused quite a bit of disappointment from loyalists. For many, this lacking feature will be the single reason why users migrate to other systems. Not only that, 720p at 120p lacks both audio and continuous AF. Ouch.
This camera suffers from rolling shutter when filming in 4K, though not uncommon for cameras in this range.
While this camera has C-Log, we can only shoot in manual exposure only when in this mode. You cannot film in Aperture or Shutter Priority modes or use Auto ISO.
While this camera has Eye AF, this feature is limited only to the single-shot mode ironically. You cannot do continuous eye tracking whatsoever, which in many respects, defeats the purpose of this feature altogether. Odd, considering this is a feature several other competing cameras have. Canon claims this will be released as a later firmware update, however. The Eye AF system currently in place also has relatively limited conditions where it’s accessible as well. It only works in headshot range, shooting any further will default the system to Face Detect AF, which by itself isn’t accurate enough to detect an eye. In all, this relegates users down to using a single AF point in situations where immediate and critical focus is needed.
Unlike the 5D Mark IV, it lacks a dedicated mode dial switch. Instead, changing modes occurs solely through the unnecessarily tedious menu.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
While the new multifunction touch bar in theory sound revolutionary, in practice it’s not. The main issue is that the sensitivity is inconsistent, making it easy to swipe past the desire option while also increasing the occurrences of accidental changes. While you can delay its activation in the settings, this delay in real-world use considerably slows down your workflow. Not only that, but the positioning of the bar is on a critical gripping point of the camera, increasing the likelihood of accidental changes dramatically.
It lacks a traditional AF joystick, replaced with using the touchscreen as an AF touchpad instead when composing via the viewfinder.
It only has a single SD card slot, which makes it a questionable choice for the working professional needing redundancy while shooting. However, it is UHS-II compatible, unlike the 5D Mark IV.
It lacks in-body image stabilization. Instead, Canon’s opting to rely solely on lens-based IS instead. Considering this is a distinct advantage over mirrorless technology compared to traditional digital SLRs, it’s a real shame to see this feature lacking. This is the only camera of its competing range lacking this feature.
While the camera supports USB-C charging, this feature is only available via a $200 proprietary charger.
It lacks a built-in intervalometer. Without this feature, it means you’ll have to use an external one if you desire timelapse functionality with individual photos. Thankfully, this camera can shoot time-lapse movies in both 4K and 1080p modes, which delivers in-camera rendered movies instead.
Is the Canon EOS R a good starting camera?
Yes, it is an excellent starting camera. Essentially, you get the image and video quality ofthe highly popular 5D Mark IV, at the price point of a 6D Mark II. That’s a steal in our book. However, bear in mind, Canon does market this camera as more of a supplemental body that users should add to their existing kits, rather than an exact replacement. With that, it makes a better starting camera for users not already entrenched in the Canon ecosystem. In all, this camera sits quite nicely between the two outgoing SLRs it compares with, and in many ways, melds the best of both cameras into a single futureproof body. With this camera, Canon has entered the full-frame mirrorless realm with a bang, though a bit late to the game. But, we’re glad to see them in this game nonetheless before it was too late.
Is the Canon EOS R a good camera for you?
Yes, but it’s quite a situational based option.
It makes an excellent upgrade for current Canon shooters who are using APS-C or older generation full-frame SLRs. If you currently have an 80D, this is an especially right choice to upgrade to as it inherits much of the successful elements from that camera and is now full-frame. Sure it experiences a crop when shooting in 4K, but 1080p records in full-frame, which provides a serious advantage over a strictly APS-C sized sensor. If you’re a current 6D Mark II or 5D Mark IV user, this camera makes a compelling choice to ease your transition over into the mirrorless realm. Mirrorless is genuinely the future of digital photography.
While this camera would be sufficient for sports, action, or wildlife photography, several other cameras on the market offer better continuous shooting speeds. In all, you’d pay a premium to shoot at 5 fps so it’s not the greatest option.
If you’re a big video shooter, this will make an excellent secondary body to add to your existing kit and a solid choice for a newcomer.
While this camera still makes an excellent vlogging camera as it has an articulating screen, superb color science, c-log, and renown focusing. Consider the effect the added crop factor will have on your composition when filming in 4K. We don’t think this is a deal-breaker, as most footage online is still 1080p, and the 1080p footage here is excellent. But, if you prefer filming strictly in 4K, then you will struggle to get a wide enough focal length to vlog handheld.
It’s been almost a year since release, and Canon was already slightly behind the curve during the initial launch. A year later, it’s slowly still falling behind. However, it serves its purpose as an excellent starting point for the manufacturer. While not a replacement to their flagship 1DX or 5D series, it’s a step in the right direction. We’re curious to see how the lifespan of this particular camera unfolds over the coming years.
The Canon EOS R sits nicely between the outgoing 5D Mark IV and 6D Mark II. And, in many ways, melds the best of both cameras into a single future-proofed body. With this release, Canon has entered the full-frame mirrorless realm with a bang, though a bit late to the game. It makes a compelling upgrade for current Canon shooters using APS-C or older generation full-frame SLRs. For video shooters, it’s an excellent second body to add to an already existing kit. While an excellent choice for the vlogger with it’s articulating screen, superb color science, and renown focusing. It’s been almost a year since release, and Canon was already slightly behind the curve. But, it serves its purpose as an excellent starting point for the manufacturer.