Special Report: The Canon EOS R is Winning My Heart as a Portrait Photographer

The Canon EOS R has a relatively mediocre sensor and I’m not even that in love with the body; it’s the lenses in front of that sensor that simply serenade my troubles away.

Full disclosure, this piece is being written on an all expenses paid trip by Canon to Hawaii with a number of other journalists; but as I’ve stated before with not only the launch of the Canon EOS R, I’d much prefer to be at home in NYC testing a camera like this on my own terms and with little interference from a manufacturer for ethical reasons. I’ve built this site on now almost 9 years of winning trust and we’ve recently rightfully earned a bump from Google for being a verified and ethical reviews website.

With all that said and out of the way, the Canon EOS R per se isn’t particularly winning over my heart–but these lenses are.

Editor’s Note: This is not a sponsored post. You can see those here and you can see our policy on that strict policy on that stuff here.

So what am I really liking about the Canon EOS R?

  • The sensor is okay enough for what most folks will need to do. I don’t think that it’s going to win any awards and I don’t even think that that’s the strongest part of the camera at all
  • Canon’s sensors, as opposed to Sony’s have this look that renders it looking like slide film
  • The Canon EOS R, when overexposed by a stop, gives off that muted look like Fujifilm PRO 400H that everyone adores
  • The ease of use with the Wifi and Bluetooth transfers
  • The autofocus in most situations
  • Face detection and then Eye AF is weird but it works. I say it’s because I’ve come from the Sony family using their methods which make more sense to me logistically, but it only failed on me a few times during this trip
  • And most of all, the lenses.

Yes, in all honesty what I’m falling in love with the most about the Canon EOS R isn’t really the camera itself, it’s the lenses. Their Canon 50mm f1.2 L USM is fantastic in every single way and I genuinely feel like it bests the older version. However, I also don’t think that it’s going to win awards in the chart tests. This inference comes from the fact that if you look at various websites who test using charts, then you look at how Canon primes perform vs those of Zeiss and Sony, then you see that it’s all about numbers. But what isn’t quantifiable in a numerical format is that special Je Ne Sais Quoi with the images that you get. There is pop, there is a low contrast look if you overexpose and a high contrast slide film look if you underexpose. I want to call it mojo. The only lenses that I’ve genuinely felt had mojo for years are Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss, Lensbaby and Lomography. Something tells me that a Japanese engineer didn’t sit there in a lab all day thinking about just finding a way to please the DXO Mark and DPReview gods. Instead, they focused on the look.

And more than anything else, the look is important. Nearly 9 years ago I founded this website on the belief that photographers didn’t practically care about shooting brick walls and charts. And for 9 years, I’ve upheld that tradition into what is now a much more lifestyle environment of the photography web.

The day of the forum troll is quickly coming to and end–or at least I hope it finally collapses under its own weight eventually as more photographers realize that tech isn’t everything. Instead, I genuinely want to say that making your jaw drop is all that matter.

That’s what I seriously think that Canon is doing here. I plan on purchasing the Canon EOS R, but I seriously don’t think that it’s going to be a camera body that replaces what my two Sony bodies and even my two Fujifilm bodies can do. Instead, I think that it’s going to be a more specialized tool. You see, as every single model who I’ve shot here on the island has told me, I’m a different photographer that is all about shooting like I’m shooting film. I try to get everything right in camera down to manual white balance and all. I don’t care to use the likes of VSCO, or presets,or anything. In all honesty, I’m perfectly fine with the JPEGs that the Canon EOS R is giving me as Capture One 11 doesn’t allow me to edit the RAWs yet. Am I still shooting RAW? Of course I am; I’d be a complete idiot to not give myself that lifeline later on. But the way that I’ve trained myself to shoot over the years is to get it right in camera.

So what’s great about the Canon EOS R for portraiture? To go in depth, I really enjoy the autofocus. There is a single point focusing mode that allows you use a standard point and then a smaller point. In general, you’re best off moving the smaller point using the back directional pad. I genuinely feel like Canon missed the boat by not giving the Canon EOS R a directional joystick. It desperately needed it. But it doesn’t make the job impossible.

What is sort of weird is how the Canon EOS R is implementing Eye AF. You have to go to face detection focusing mode and then press the info button to cycle through Eye AF or Face AF. The problem: it doesn’t always detect faces in the scene depending on the angle of your subject, the lighting, etc. I much prefer Sony’s option where I can choose the focus point, focus, it detects that there is a face, and then I press the center button to tell it to find an eye. Then finally, I shoot. Instead, the Canon EOS R is making me either do things in the way that I used to shoot (which is almost archaic now) or it will just do everything for me. I like to call it the equivalent of either shooting in full manual or full auto with no in between. It’s something that I need to wrap my head around and I hope that Canon will fix via a firmware update.

Lots of these images were shot with the Canon EOS R and the Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS USM (which is nice), the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art adapted which autofocuses well, and the Canon 50mm f1.2 L which I’m very in love with. Is it a huge lens? Yes. But in real life use you get used to it. You’d have to say the same thing about the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master, the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art, the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art, etc. Lenses are getting bigger and bigger. Where I’d really sit there and scratch my head is with the 28-70mm f2 L. While I think that design and the lens is fantastic overall, I’m just more of a prime lens vs zoom guy.

I hate the 50mm lens and focal length, but this lens is really making me reconsider. Now if only Canon made a 35mm f1.2 L then I’d be all set.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.