Straight Talk Q&A On Canon’s EOS R Full-Frame Mirrorless
I’m back from Hawaii(I know, tough life) — Canon had us out there for the launch of their EOS R full-frame mirrorless camera, and we were able to broadcast a live episode of ‘The Grid’ that morning after the announcement.
There are already reviews all over the Web about the new camera, both from those who have actually shot the camera (mostly very positive) and those from those who are judging it strictly on specs (mostly very negative). On the day of the launch, between ‘The Grid,’ and some Facebook live stuff we did, we had nearly 2,000 questions and comments — so today I thought I’d answer some of those questions that I’m getting again and again, in a Q&A format. Here we go:
Q. What was the vibe from the other journalists at the launch?
A. When we’re all sitting around the bar, far out of Canon’s earshot, everyone I talked to there liked the camera quite a bit. I think a lot of folks were pleasantly surprised (myself included). In this group were, of course, some serious tech nerds who had their “I wish Canon had added this…” or “Why doesn’t it have that…” but none of it was major missing stuff. One thing everybody seemed to be in love with across the board were the new RF-mount lenses. I didn’t hear anything but serious love for them.
Q. But what about the harsh reviews online?
A. You mean, the ones from people who have never touched the camera; never taken a shot with it, never seen a print from it, and never even held it up to their eye? Just like with any other camera release (Canon or otherwise), I pretty much ignore those. I did get in-person reviews from two top pros I really respect; two working professionals who shot the camera in multiple situations; had prints made, and actually know what it can do. My friends and colleagues Lindsay Alder and Joel Grimes both had great things to share with me about shooting with the camera, and killer images to back it up. That speaks way more to me than some tech nerd pixel-peepers comparing a list of features and specs. The image quality we see with our eyes will always beat the results of pixels measured on some oscilloscope. Lab tests can’t measure a quality — that certain something that makes an image look “just so.” The combination of this camera, with these RF lenses, has its own look, and it’s beautiful.
Q. So which is more important, how the specs look on paper, or how the images from the camera look?
A. You tell me. :)
Q. The lens control ring. Gimmick or gold?
A. Absolute gold! When I heard about it (in a training class shortly after the launch), I thought it sounded really cool. Once you use it, you’ll fall in love with it. It’s highly customizable, so I assigned mine to exposure compensation, and I gotta tell you, it’s way better than it sounds.
Q. This is a mirrorless camera, so it’s smaller and lighter, right?
A. It’s a little smaller, a little lighter, but once you put a decent lens on it, it weighs about the same as a DSLR. I don’t think this camera was about being small and light at all. I think it’s about starting an evolution of where Canon is going in the future, and this is the first step of a long journey.
I know that for some folks, smaller and lighter is the most important feature any mirrorless can bring, but I don’t think that’s how Canon sees the future of Mirrorless. In the big picture, I think they see it replacing mirror-based cameras altogether at some point (just my opinion) and while smaller and lighter may be a side benefit, in some of their bodies; I don’t think that’s where their focus is. In short: I think you’re going to see big ol’ cameras going mirrorless in the near future.
Q. But I wanted something really small and lightweight.
A. If that’s your main concern, then get the Canon Rebel SL2 DSLR. It’s doesn’t even weigh 1-pound, yet it has 24-megapixels; it has a touchscreen, and it’s got a full tilt and a flip-out screen; it has an external microphone input, built-in flash, Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth built-in; it shoots 5-frames-per second, and it’s only $550. It’s why I crack up when people tell me “they switched to Mirrorless because they wanted a small, lightweight body” and then they buy a camera that costs five times as much and weighs 50% more than the SL2, and when you add a decent lens to their $3,000 body it virtually weighs the same as a big DSLR anyway.
Q. Wow, you’re making a pretty good case for the Rebel SR2. Should I get one?
A. Hell, no! I mean, “It’s probably a great beginner camera, with a lot of features you wouldn’t expect to get on a $550 super small, super lightweight DSLR.” There, that’s better. But don’t get it. It’s not for you.
Q. How does the new EOS R feel?
A. Just like a DSLR. How a camera feels in your hands is really important to me, and it feels better than I was expecting. They crushed it on the ergonomics.
Q. What about the build?
A. Really, really good. I think it’s a magnesium alloy body, and it feels like you could drop it, pick it back up, and keep shooting without missing a beat. Really solid feel. Fairly weather sealed, too.
Q. How many cards slots does it have?
A. One. It’s an SD slot, but it also supports the UHS-II SD cards.
Q. How can they call it a pro-body if it only has one card slot?
A. I asked Canon that question live on the air. Their answer was “It’s not a pro body.” They said it was aimed at serious amateur shooters, so it’s essentially a consumer body (which is one reason why it only has one slot) — their pro body is the Canon EOS 1Dx Mark II, and yes it has two slots. That being said, a lot of pros will wind up shooting with this body.
Q. But I can’t live with just one card slot?
A. You do realize that most of the cameras Nikon, Sony and Canon all make only have one card slot? I’m just curious, what did you do before cameras had two cards slots? Did you just not shoot back then? (by the way, the Sony mirrorless just got two card slots about a year ago — it wasn’t born with two.
Q. But everybody’s talking about the one card slot thing. It started with Nikon’s Z7 mirrorless when we learned it had just one card shot, now Canon’s mirrorless, too. I think I need to get on board with this ‘slot shaming’ thing, right?
A. Or, maybe you need to buy better quality memory cards. I shoot on Lexar memory cards, and in my entire career I’ve only had three cards go bad total (none of them SD, and only one a Lexar), and I was able to recover the images from all three cards. People used to be concerned about dynamic range, and megapixels, and how the images looked, and stuff like that, but now it appears the only measure of whether a camera is good or not, is whether it has two card slots. This is a weird time we live in.
Q. Why do you think Canon went with SD cards instead of something faster like Nikon did with the XQD cards?
A. I’m not certain, but I for one am glad they didn’t go the XQD route, strictly because of price. You can get a 1000-speed Lexar 32GB SD card for around $27 a card (B&H has them two for $54.99). If you want a 32GB XQD card, just one will run you around $90 (B&H). Ouch!
Q. The touchpad (above with arrows) on the back of the camera: Gimmick or Gold?
A. They struck gold again with this one. You can assign so many things to it (up to three), it really is incredibly handy. Anytime I can keep from searching under a menu for something, it’s a win. It takes a little getting used to at first, but once you do, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
Q. Are there other features that stand out to you?
A. They told us it’s important to turn off the camera before changing lenses. Why is it so important? Because when you do that, a little door comes down and blocks the sensor from getting dust and junk in it. Don’t know why it’s taken all this time for someone to come up with that, but it’s pretty clever. Also, it’s fairly weather-sealed (at the level of a 6D Mark II, not the level of a 1Dx, but still). Also, the viewfinder is very crisp. I’m still an optical guy, but this is the best I’ve seen, and you can really control what you choose to see and how it’s displayed.
Q. Is there in-body Image Stabilization?
A. There is not. I asked Canon about it (also during that live poolside episode of The Grid), and they said they made the decision not to because while in-body works fine for wide angle shots, it doesn’t work nearly as well for long lenses, so they kept it in the lenses instead.
Q. I can’t believe that this camera doesn’t have every single feature I ever wanted it a full-frame mirrorless camera. Why would I buy it?
A. Maybe it’s not for you. Not every new camera that comes out has a feature set that was aimed squarely at you. That’s why camera companies make more than one camera body, with different features, for different people. If this camera’s not for you, it’s not the end of the world — you just probably need to look at a different camera.
Q. What are your seven favorite features?
A. They are [in no particular order]:
(1) the flip-out touch-screen (my 5D Mark IV doesn’t have that)
(2) the customizable control ring on the lenses (and the fact that you can get an adapter so you can have a control ring for your existing EF Canon lenses)
(3) the RF mount and the lenses made for it
(4) the directional touchpad on the back
(5) the amazing level of customization — you can configure the buttons and knobs in so many ways — making it feel like it was made just for you.
(6) You can set your focus point with your eye still on the viewfinder by just touching the touchscreen with your fingers (kind of like you’d do in Live View mode, but while your eye is still on the viewfinder). You can have it work with half the screen (which is what I set mine to), or you can use the full screen.
(7) A ridiculous number of auto-focus points. Not 500. 5,000+
Q. What do you wish were different?
A. I wish it shot more frames per second (I know, I’m the only one talking about this, but only because everyone else is so busy ‘Slot Shaming’). It’s got the best Electronic Viewfinder I’ve seen (and I’ve tried quite a few), but I still prefer optical viewfinders. That will change one day, and I’m going to work on getting used to this one (and I’m sure I will), but it’ll take me some time. I haven’t tested the low noise capabilities yet, but with a similar sensor to the 5D Mark IV, I imagine it won’t be noticeably better (I could be wrong, but haven’t read anything raving about lower noise, so I’m guessing no). So, I would have loved one of the features to be 1Dx-style low noise. It’s like the latest cameras from Sony, and Nikon — they all have something missing; some Achilles heel, that keeps it from being the perfect camera for everyone on earth, but in reality, it’s really all about what matters to you. For example, I don’t use my DSLR to shoot video, so whether it has this kind of 4K or some video fps rating or whatever, it simply doesn’t matter to me, but for some folks, that’s all that matters.
Q. Are the new RF-mount lenses as good as people are saying?
A. They are very sharp and crisp, all the way to the edges, but I think focusing on the sharpness is missing what makes these lenses so special. The combination of this body with these lenses create images that have a certain something. It’s hard to define, but I really like what I see. This is the kind of stuff you can’t measure on a spec sheet — how the images from the camera and lenses really look.
Q. Is there a loss of quality if you use the Adapter to use your existing Canon EF lenses?
A. Nope — no loss of quality at all. No losing stops of light either (been asked that a bunch).
Q. How much is the Adapter ring?
A. The one that lets you use EF lenses is $99 I believe. There are two other adapters available — one that lets you drop in filters like a variable ND filter or a Circular Polarizer, but those don’t ship until Feb. 2019.
Q. What about the batteries, and battery life.
A. Thankfully, they went with the same batteries many Canon cameras already use (like the 5Ds, and the 70D, 80D, etc.), and you get around 370 shots per battery. You can get a battery grip for a 2nd battery.
Q. How much is it?
A. $2,299 for the body.
Q. When does it ship?
A. Sometime in October of this year. One of the lenses ships as well, and the Adapter ring that lets you use the EF lenses, too.
Q. Are you getting one?
A. I have a loaner unit now, but if this past few days of shooting with it are any indication, I will have to get one when it ships next month, but this isn’t just a camera. It’s a new system, and a big step into the future for Canon and I really like where it’s going. Plus, the price is right. The new RF lenses are insane — Canon’s optics are brilliant, the new features of the camera are really compelling, and I love the images I’m seeing from it. That right there is really all that matters. The rest of the features may make using the camera more fun, or easier, or speed my workflow, and that’s all good, but at the end of the day, it’s the images — not the feature specs — that really matter. I saw some incredible images from this camera, and I took a few decent ones myself. I hope to have some to share after this week’s trip.
Q. What if I use a different brand of Mirrorless camera. Should I write defensive things in the comments? Should I mention how it missing some feature that’s a deal-breaker for me? Should I do some light slot shaming while I’m at it?
A. You don’t have to defend your choice of camera. Canon releasing a new camera shouldn’t threaten you. It doesn’t make a judgment about the camera brand you chose; it doesn’t make your current obsolete, or effect you and your camera choice in any way. Your camera is still just as good today as it was last week, and if this isn’t the camera for you, for whatever reason, lots of companies make different model cameras for a reason — not every camera is for everybody. I’m celebrating this new camera as a win for the future of photography. This is a birth of a new system, and Canon coming out with this, pushes Sony and Nikon and the whole industry to keep innovating and competing, and in the end…we all win. Our cameras get better, we get new innovative features like we’re seeing in the EOS R, and a rising tide raises all ships. Canon just helped raise the tide a bit more, and I’m digging the results.
Q. So, is this going to be your new camera?
A. I’m thinking this is my new camera. I have a loaner unit now, but if this past few days of shooting with it are any indication, I will have to get one when it ships next month, but this isn’t just a camera. It’s a new system, and a big step into the future for Canon and I really like where it’s going. I’m taking the EOS R with me this week to shoot landscapes out West (in the Golden Triangle), and then to Rome with me the following week, and then to Austria right after that. I got to shoot with it out in Maui, and so far it’s pretty darn close to a perfect travel camera.
The images look very much like the images look from my 5D Mark IV (they share a similar sensor), which I love, but it has some features my 5D Mark IV doesn’t have, like a full flip-out touchscreen, which I fell in love with while using it mounted on my Platypod this week in Hawaii. Also, the control ring and touchpad on the back, along with a ridiculous level of customization of dials and buttons (more on this later). Plus, the price is so right. Lower than I was expecting.
The new RF lenses are insane — Canon’s optics are brilliant, the new features of the camera are really compelling, and I love the images I’m seeing from it. That right there is really all that matters. The rest of the features may make using the camera more fun, or easier, or speed my workflow, and that’s all good, but at the end of the day, it’s the images — not the feature specs — that really matter. I saw some incredible images from this camera, and I took a few decent ones myself. I hope to have some to share after this week’s trip.
Q. Bottom line?
A. It’s a dang good camera for the money. Dang good! You’ll see what I mean when it ships. It’s way better than you’re hearing from people who haven’t shot it, seen a print from it, or even touched it.
Hope you found that helpful.
I’m off to Vegas, to the Mirage (a planning trip for Photoshop World 2019), and then I’m off shooting landscapes in Utah and Arizona.
Here’s to a week full of opportunities and great possibilities. :-)